How it Started 50 Years Ago
By Bala Dan Abu
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Aliyu Ocheja Obaje, Attah Igala who last year marked his 50th year on the throne looks back at how it started then
His capacity for hard work is legendry. Those who work with him know so. By 8 a.m. on Saturday October 6, Aliyu Ocheja Obaje, the Attah Igala and chairman Kogi State council of chiefs, was already dressed up and ready to attend to his visitors. The Attah Igala who ascended the throne at 36, in November 1956, is now 87 years old. He marked the 50th anniversary of his reign as the Attah Igala in November last year.
Obaje's journey to the highest traditional stool in Igala kingdom started six month before his formal inauguration. He was then a civil servant at the Staff Development Centre in Kaduna. He was an instructor in the institution. Ameh Oboni, who was the incumbent Attah Igala had died suddenly and there was tension in Idah and the entire Igala land on the choice of the next king. All eligible princes went to work in search of endorsement.
In the midst of that confusion, came a terse message from the colonial office in Kaduna. "Any person wishing to take the office of the Attah Igala must belong to the Attah Igala Ruling Family and must be literate so as to give his people good leadership in this modern era." That message significantly changed the destiny of the young Aliyu Obaje who, because of his relative youth, did not even aspire to the throne. That statement disqualified most, if not all aspirants. An account of events then recorded by P.E. Okwoli, the most authoritative chronicler of the Igala royal history, said: "the statement or policy distinguished most people from the Attah Ruling families because, at that point, most of them were not literate."
While the confusion was raging, some Igala patriots working in the civil service of the then Northern region informed the colonial office in Kaduna that Obaje, was the most qualified. The colonial office then invited the then Prince Aliyu Obaje. According to Okwoli, in his book: The History of the Fifty Years Reign of the Attah Igala, the prince was then interviewed by officials of the colonial office and found suitable. He was subsequently appointed.
Since then, His Royal Highness, the Attah Igala has lived a life of total commitment to the service of his people. He recalled the beginning of his journey in the service of the Igala people when Newswatch met him recently in his palace in Idah. "When I became the Attah of Igala 50 years ago, the situation in Igalaland was far different from what it is today. "Then schools were not many and children had to go away from their parents to the towns and villages where there were schools. There were no qualified teachers, no hospitals, no qualified doctors and social amenities were virtually non-existent." The Attah said he was happy that those things are now available. He would, however, want to see more of these coming to all nooks and corners of the kingdom. "I am not satisfied with what we have now. The situation is only better compared to what we had in those colonial days. It is still far from being satisfactory. I would really want to see more development in Igalaland. And the federal government especially, should consider doing more for my people."
What are the specific things that are still lacking in his domain. In response to this, the Attah said: "Roads in a Igalaland are all in a terrible state. I would like to plead with the new administration of President Umaru Yar'Adua to do something for my people. I want him to come and see things for himself whenever he's is touring the states. My people have not been well treated at all," he said.
The Attah would also want the federal, state and local governments to address the problems of lack of potable water, health care, electricity, poor state of educational institutions and the total absence of industries as a way creating employment opportunities for the youths.
The Attah of Igala's reign has been a period of peace and progress in Igalaland. At the beginning of his reign, Igala land was just a distant political unit which did not count much in the Nigerian political equation. Today, it is no longer so. The Igala have transited from that stage into a large ethnic group with a bigger and more respected political voice. In Kogi State, the Igala are the largest ethnic group and their numerical strength has put them in a position to assert themselves better in the political equation in the state.
The Attah emphasised this point when he spoke to Newswatch. He said he was proud of the Igala people. "I am proud about the progress my children (Igala people) have made over the years. They are very hardworking and the news I get about them gives me a lot of joy. They are very law-abiding and you hardly find them engaging in crime. I am proud of them."
But are there areas in which he would want them to do better? "Certainly yes," said the Attah. "A lot of them are not gainfully employed and this gives me a lot of worry. Because the Igala are very industrious people. They hate idleness. They want to work. But many of them have no jobs. I know this problem is not peculiar to my people but I would like to see industries in Igala land that would provide them jobs." He advised those who have the means to set up industries to do so in Igala land.
Aliyu Obaje's reign has also brought more respect and recognition for the stool of the Attah Igala. In 1956 when he ascended the throne, the stool of the Attah was that of a second class chief. Three years later, in 1959, it was upgraded to the first class status. That elevation made the stool the highest and most respected in Kabba province, the area which is today known as Kogi State. In Kogi State, the Attah Igala is the chairman of the council of chiefs. The council advises the government on chieftaincy issues and in other matters relating to the traditions of their people. But the Attah would want this to change. He would want to see traditional rulers being given specific roles in the administration of their areas of authority. He argued that prior to the local government reforms of 1976; traditional rulers were the administrative heads of their natives authority and thing worked better as compared to the present situation."
That was under the Nigerian Republican constitution which allowed the regional governments to appoint ministers from both the house of assembly and the house of chiefs. Under that dispensation, Aliyu Obaje served as minister without portfolio. That appointment was in 1961. As chairman, Kogi State council of chief, the Attah Igala has helped the state government to maintain peace and order in the various chiefdoms. And as the foremost traditional ruler in the state, he enjoys the respect of other members of the council. Members have used the forum provided by the council to encourage free-flow of information between rural communities and the two levels of government - the state and local governments. This has helped to smoothen relations between the governments and the people, thereby promoting peace.
The Attah Igala is a Knight of the British Empire. In Nigeria, he has been honoured by distinguished institutions. One of his awards is Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR. He also hold several honourary doctorate degrees. He is currently the chancellor of the University of Lagos.
Aliyu is impressed with the on-going efforts to sustain the country's democracy. He said with what he had seen so far, "there are hopes that our present democracy will survive" and wants all those who are in the position to ensure its survival to do everything possible to achieve that because according to him, "the worst civilian administration is better than the best military rule."
The Attah Igala wants Igala people all over the country and the world not to forget their roots. He wants them to work hard and to distinguish themselves in their professional callings but in doing so, they should be law-abiding. "Wherever they find themselves, whether in Nigeria or outside Nigeria, they should be good ambassadors of the Igala race and Nigeria and they should project the cultural values of the people and Nigeria.
The Attah Igala traditional institution is rooted in a unique history. The earliest Attah Igala, according to Okwoli, lived in the Igalamela area called Opata. Some of the notable occupants of the stool in the past include Omi'Idoko, Akumabi Ayiegba, Akogu Ayegba, Ohiemi Obogo, Itodo Aduga, Ekelaga, Ame-Ocheje, Akwu Odiba, Okoliko, Omuche, Amaga, Ocheje Onokpa, Oboni Akwu, Oguche Akpa, Obaje Ocheje who is the father of the present Attah Igala and Ameh Oboni. Ocheje ruled between 1925 and 1945. His wife was Laraba Akpidi. She was the mother of the incumbent Attah Igala.
Some of the main historical edifices standing in Idah, the headquarters of the Igala kingdom today include the Inikpi statue and the Odogo, a tall building used by the Attah's security details in those days for spying on enemies of the kingdom. Inikpi was the legendary daughter of one of the early Attahs who had to be sacrificed for the Igala kingdom to survive the attacks on it by invaders from neighbouring kingdoms.
Aliyu Obaje was 50 years old on the throne in November last year. That event brought many of Nigeria's political leaders to Igala where the event was celebrated. They included serving state governors and ministers. That occasion was one for stock-taking for the Attah. Most of those who spoke at the event were full of praises for the Attah Igala whose reign has brought tremendous progress to the Igala kingdom.