The traditional ruler of Ebelle kingdom, Igueben Local Government Area of Edo State, His Royal Highness Joseph Aikpaogie, speaks with ADEYINKA ADEDIPE about his journey to the throne and the rich culture of his kingdom
Can you give a brief history about your kingdom?
To us, Ebelle is as old as the world. We came from Benin, initially moving to Otagbuna before finally settling in Ebelle. The first king of Ebelle was Agbaoko. When he got to Ebelle, he discovered that the area was very peaceful, good for agriculture and he settled there with some of his brothers. Other people came to join him. The kingdom is made up of five main quarters managed by chiefs. This was how Ebelle originated as far back as the 1300s. I am the 17th royal father of the town since it was founded.
What event stood out during your coronation?
My coronation took place on November 30, 1999. It was an exciting day with prominent people from the state gracing the occasion. It was a colourful event, which set precedence for others to follow. Many were surprised that an elaborate event came up in Ebelle. It was during the administration of Lucky Igbinedion and he was the one who gave me the staff of office. The governor promised to develop Ebelle, which he did. And we have been experiencing development in our community. On the cultural side, we had dancers from all quarters of Ebelle displaying their skills. Many other cultural activities took place which excited the people that came.
How challenging has it been administering your kingdom?
I must say that the experience I got as a member of the Governing Council of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma was an eye-opener for me and my interaction with people in the council was highly beneficial. It also helped me to tell members of my community to seek higher education and I also helped them fulfill their ambition of studying in the university when the need arises. Also, when issues arise in the kingdom, I also seek the opinion of knowledgeable people to find solutions that will be acceptable by many. If we want to demand amenities from the state government, I have people who I am talking to about the way to get those things done in the community. And that is how we have been able to develop the kingdom. We were able to get the police divisional police headquarters through the efforts of Alex Iziyon, one of my subjects. The roads are also being tarred and streetlights mounted for the benefit of the people. There are also functioning boreholes, which were achieved through the efforts of our people who are highly placed.
How was growing up among your siblings in the palace like?
Actually, I was the only child of my father, so I didn't grow up among siblings. Despite being the only child, I was well brought up and wasn't over-pampered. They brought me up in the ways of our culture. I was put under the training of someone who didn't live in the palace. I was also brought up to be morally upright and as a young man, I didn't have intimate relationship with the opposite sex and I got married when I was already a man. I have 15 children and I will be 71 years old soon.
How are you training your son to take over from you?
My first son has a master's degree in Political Science and that is a good step in preparing him for the task ahead. I also have a set of twins who are also graduates. For me, education is the key to success. Some of my children graduated from Ekpoma (Ambrose Alli University) and I have a girl who is currently studying Law in the same university. The one that will take over from me is learning from me. He is already married and hopefully he can get a better job to help him become his own man, who can superintendent over his people when the time comes.
Did being the only child of your parents, in any, affect your upbringing as the heir to the throne?
I was kept out of the palace while growing up. I was already an adult when I met my father but he did his best while on the throne and I improved on what he did, which are all to the benefit of my people.
How did you feel when you were called upon to ascend the throne?
I was in Lagos when I was called to come back to the kingdom to assist my father who was ageing. They felt he needed help because of the state he was in. But it was decided that instead of waiting for his demise before I assume the throne, I should enroll in Ambrose Alli University where I studied to gain more experience. So, when he eventually passed on, I took over from him immediately because the throne couldn't be left vacant. My late father's burial rite was in three stages. After I completed the second, I wanted to do my coronation but the elites in the community told me I had to do the last rite before my coronation. So, I concluded the rites within a year after which a committee was set up for my coronation. Most of my friends and former colleagues came to support me. Some of them still rally round me now and it gives me joy.
Despite your age, you are still full of life; do you go on special vacations to take a rest from the taxing job of a royal father?
Well, I try to rest when I have the opportunity but I am always at home, save for few times when I visit Benin. But if I travel abroad, I still ensure that the elders are well briefed about the need to administer the kingdom in my absence. While abroad, I still attend to people of my kingdom who are always around to welcome me and make my stay a memorable one.
How do you resolve disputes in your domain?
As royal fathers, settling of disputes is one of our major responsibilities. In my kingdom, what I do to ensure fairness is to invite all parties involved in a dispute. The elders are also part of the dispute resolution mechanism. We listen to all the parties before a decision is reached. Once a decision is reached, it becomes binding and anyone who errs will be reprimanded.
What is the religious culture of the Ebelle people?
In Ebelle, we have the traditional religion, Christianity and Islam. They all have their modes of worship and sets of beliefs. I have impressed it on their leaders and devotees that they must respect one another as well as avoid unnecessary clashes that can destroy the peace of the Kingdom. Fortunately for us, there has never been a clash between the religious groups. However, I am always carried along whenever they have programmes. They also consult me when they have issues they need my advice for. Islam is new to the area because of the Hausa who are settling in the area. They also have their mosque. I told them that now that they are with us, I do not want any problem and since they have arrived in the town they have been cooperative with us.
What taboos do people need to know before visiting Ebelle?
Before our annual festival every year, we let visitors, indigenes and other residents know that having sexual intercourse with another man's wife is a big taboo here because it has grave implications. The woman must reveal it to her husband or else she will be cursed. If she reveals to her husband and he refused to tell those who need to know for spiritual cleansing, the curse will be on the husband. However, the process of cleansing the woman would be done by elderly women in the kingdom. If a man also goes in with her brother's wife, he will be ordered to go for cleansing before he can continue with his life. However, issue like this is unheard off and it has helped keep infidelity out of our society. Even the Bible is against infidelity. It is also a taboo to steal in Ebelle. Those who are caught are banished and not allowed to come back to the kingdom. Also, if you see someone trying to charm his neighbour and you do not report, the gods will take action against that person. But if you report the act, the accused will take an oath if he refuses to own up to his evil deed. We also tell our people not to abhor any bad feelings or behave badly to strangers because we are all humans.
What's the biggest festival in the kingdom and how is it celebrated?
The biggest annual festival is the Ilumlini. It is celebrated between December 27 and January 1st of the following year. I pick and announce the date so that all our people can travel home to be part of it. It doesn't leave out any religious sect. All the spiritual activities around the event are done in the palace after which the chiefs and I dance around the village. Also, during this festival the married men are expected to pay homage to their in-laws, bringing gifts, while the in-laws, in appreciation, bless the husband and wife. Families also use the opportunity to celebrate other social events, such as burial, naming ceremony and many others.
What is the relationship between your kingdom and Benin kingdom?
We originated from Benin and we have a good relationship with the Benin kingdom because it is our headquarters. We do not pay homage directly to the Benin Kingdom anymore because Ebelle is a kingdom on its own. However, most of the people in the state originated from Benin. My forefathers migrated from Benin to Otagbuna and then to Ebelle. According to history, my father and two other men were instructed by his father, who was the king of Benin, to go and kill some women in the bush but because of the sympathy they had for the people, they let them go. So, they fled because they knew the consequences of their action – they would be killed if the Oba got to know. The first place they got to was Otagbuna but they didn't feel safe there, so they fled further and got to Ebelle where they settled. They also discovered that the place was good for farming and palm wine tapping.
How do you ensure security is maintained in your kingdom?
We are very serious about security in our kingdom. Long before now, we had set up a local security outfit in the town which ensures that the community is safe. In the 80s when electricity came into our domain, some people came to steal the cables but the people formed themselves into a security group and they were able to apprehend those thieves. When banditry became the order of the day, we told our people to be more vigilant. We have seen movements of kidnappers and bandits but we have been able to conquer their threats and reduce it to the minimum through the efforts of the vigilantes.
With the growing tension in the country, what is your advice to the government and Nigerians?
I must say that government needs to provide jobs for our graduates and many others. If people are gainfully employed, they will have no need to engage in Kidnapping and other vices. Provision of employment will definitely reduce crime in society. In this country, the minimum wage earners struggle to make ends meet, to send their kids to school and support their family but legislators, governors and other political office holders earn fantastic salaries and allowances. For me, they are taking the money meant for the masses, which is not good. They are not setting up industries for people to work. These are the problems fuelling insecurity. Until the federal and state governments provide jobs and do the right things, I don't think the security of the country is assured. We also see that money meant to provide weapons for the armed forces is being mismanaged. We hear announcement from President Muhammadu Buhari about money for arms for police and armed forces but one is not sure if the funds are judiciously used. The guns the bandits use are more sophisticated that the ones used by the police. I have been to the US, United Kingdom, and many other countries where people move about freely without fear but if you commit any crime, their police force is well equipped to fish you out and arrest you. They make use of CCTV but we don't have that here. If someone commits a crime abroad, he is the only one that would be arrested but here the police will arrest many people so that they can use that to make money. There is corruption in the system. Soldiers are meant to protect the country against external aggression but they are now at checkpoints because of insecurity and they are also extorting money from motorists. I am sure the government is aware of this. The ministers are buying cars and amassing wealth without taking the poor people into consideration. They say there is no money in governance but they all fight to be there. Things are also bad at the grassroots level with council chairmen and councillors claiming there is no money but are ready to die than vacate their positions.
What has Ebelle enjoyed under this state government?
I hear the government is constructing roads and providing other amenities. Many people voted for this governor but we don't know what he is doing. Also, the delay in appointing commissioners will speed up development in other areas of the state. He has concentrated his efforts in Benin. We suffered under Adams Oshiomhole when he was governor because we were in the opposition but even now that we are in the mainstream, we are not enjoying anything. Some of the amenities we enjoy here were provided through the influence of our people in top positions in the private and public sectors.
From Origina Story: PUNCH