Obi of Issele-Uku (Oligbo) Kingdom in Delta State, His Royal Majesty, Obi Nduka Ezeagwuna, in this interview with OVIE OKPARE speaks about life before and after ascension to the throne of his forefathers and the custom and tradition in his kingdom
Even though you did not know that you would ascend this thrown so early, when the reality dawned on you, what came to your mind?
I had no clue that I would ascend the throne at this young age. I think somewhere along the line while growing up when I had my sense of awareness, I knew that I was the heir apparent to the throne but never knew I would ascend the throne as a young man. This only happened 2014 when my father passed away and at that point, I knew then it was time.
How has it been since you became the ruler of this kingdom?
It has been a very great experience because of my age. I get a lot of attention from my people, the media and the general public at large. A lot of people see it as a burden that is entrusted on my shoulders but I see it as reality waking up every day to live my life. And at this point, I have to be very grateful to the people of Issele-Uku because without them, this would have been a very difficult task. I thank God that I have men and women out there who are willing to work hard for the progress of the community, who are willing to see the development of the community.
Like I said, my age is also an advantage for me as so many people see me and take me as their son. They try as much as possible to give me word of advice. They try as much as possible not to overburden me. You will see that in the town, we have most men and women who are taking responsibility to make sure that I have a very good reign. So, I’m having a great experience. It has been a very good learning curve for me because at this young age, I am exposed to a whole lot of things and I am gaining a lot of knowledge.
Before you ascended the throne, what were your plans after graduation?
It is like every other young man’s dream. I had the intention after graduation to go for the normal youth service. After that, I had plans of furthering my education which I still have plans to do and then have a good job, good family and build upon my life. That was the dream.
Before the demise of your father, did he at any point prepare you for this task?
That was not possible because at the point when we were getting to know each other, when he could open up to me and tell me certain things, we did not have that time. Remember I said in the beginning, that I was taken away at a very tender age from my family because that is what our tradition says.
By tradition, when my father was around, I was not supposed to be in the same room with him. I was not supposed to see the traditional rites that he performed but that does not mean I could not face or talk to him. As a young child, there was nothing really my father could talk to me about at the time when I was coming of age. But we lost him when he could tell me something meaningful.
What would you say are the last memories/conversation that you had with your father?
The last conversation I had with my father was a week before his death. I was still at the University of Ibadan and he was preparing for his grand 60th birthday and I remember him telling me to prepare to come home for his birthday celebration. I think I was supposed to have exam at that period and in his usual self, he laughed and asked me ‘I, your father, am inviting you for my birthday and you are telling me about exams, what is bigger than my birthday?’ With my father, there was no dull moment.
In terms of culture and customs of the Issele-Uku people, would you say you are at home or some people have to guide you through the process?
With all I have said, I have to be guided but I think when I got my sense of awareness, I noticed that I had a flare naturally for history. So while I was around the town, I made sure that I learnt more about our history, culture and customs. My paternal grandmother was helping in that light because when I returned home. I always stayed with her. Then, I could not stay here at the palace and any time I had the opportunity, I always asked questions.
Truly, because I was the heir apparent then, there were certain things she could not open up to tell me. She would just say this is what happened but she would not go into details. So, yes, I am at home when it comes to culture and tradition but I still have to be put through in some particular things. I wouldn’t say I don’t know about our culture and tradition; I know a whole lot but I would say perhaps before my coronation, it was just on the surface but after the coronation, I need the people to put me through in some areas.
What would you say confronted you in terms of challenges on ascending the throne?
Sincerely, Issele-uku is a peace loving town and united. So when I was ascending the throne, I was not thinking of the challenges being the leader of the town. Instead the challenge for me was thinking of how to bring development to the town. There was unity already because by the special grace of God, the former regent and the people of Issele-Uku took it upon themselves to see that there was unity before I came in. It was not necessarily about how to resolve conflict between certain individuals, certain villages or between Issele-Uku and other towns. The town was in order, so my challenge now is to bring about further development to the town.
Can you tell us a little about the Issele–Uku Kingdom?
If you look at our history, we are descendants of the great Benin empire and as the history goes, on or about 1230 AD, Oba Eweka of Benin the first sent his second son, Prince Uwade towards the Eastern part of the Benin Empire first of all to check the influx of the Easterners into the kingdom and secondly to expand the empire. So Prince Uwade came along with his wives and some delegate warriors towards the eastern part, they settled here in the present Issele–Uku. So they settled and practised the same pattern of ascension to the throne like that in Benin. So after him, Prince Uwade became Ogewade and after him, his first son took over. So, that has been our brief history. We are descendants of the great Benin Kingdom.
What are some of the things you will love to achieve during your reign?
In terms of goal, Issele–Uku is very rich in culture and tradition some of which have been eroded. So, my short term goal is to revive a society which we call the “Omu” society, a peaceful united society. My long term goal is to see that our rich culture and traditions are preserved. I want to create an awareness on the need to revive and sustain our rich traditions for the world to see.
As a young man, did it occur to you that by becoming the monarch, you would have to live the rest of your life here?
Yes, I think I knew that and like I said, it’s not something I thought would come earlier. As a young man, I do not see it as punishment as several people would say; it’s just my life as every other person is living his/her life.
Is it not boring for you as a young man to be a monarch and how do you kill boredom because most times you are secluded and cannot mingle the way you would love to?
I entertain this question a lot and the simple answer is that I thank God that I was able to pass through the university. Like I said, while I was away I had the opportunity to go to school, pass through a higher institution, travel far and near and see a whole lot of things. So I think I have seen and done a whole lot of things that every youth out there would have to do, so coming back to town and being the Obi, I am not bored because I have so many responsibilities on my shoulders and so much to attend to. There is never a dull moment for me.
Generally, how is your normal day?
Since my coronation, my normal schedule has been to wake up, pray to God, I have my schedule set up for me by my secretary which involves sixty per cent of the time, meeting with the general public mostly the Isele-uku. It is not all issues that can be handled in a single day. Some are handled for days, weeks and even months so at every point in time, there’s always something to attend to. Being the kind of person I am who is not complacent, I try to make sure that whatever issue we are handling is dealt with as soon as possible and we always follow up.
What were the things you had been doing that you can no longer do?
As you know before the coronation, there are things that I could do as a young man that every other person out there would do but after the coronation, since my status has changed, there are definitely some things I cannot do anymore. It’s not because of my person but because of the position I occupy. Simple chores that I could do as young man before the coronation, I can no longer perform those chores. It is just as a mark of respect, not that the body is not willing but you have to give your people respect. Having occupied a position of authority and a role model that people look up, there are certain things I cannot do anymore because of my position.
Of course as a young man with hot blood still flowing in your veins, don’t you still have this urge to go clubbing?
I am happy and grateful to have passed through the higher institution. So to answer your question, all I can say is that I have been there, I have seen and done that. So there is nothing that my friends or any young person would do presently that I would look at and say I envy because I think I have been able to pass through that stage at a very young age. Naturally, I was raised to be responsible and thoughtful and I think that is working for me because for you to be a good leader, you have to be very responsible. So on one hand, there is nothing that anybody my age will do that I have not done and on the other hand, the training I had as a young man is to be disciplined and responsible. So, that is what is coming into play now.
Are you still looking forward to further your education?
Yes. I still have a determination and a dream that I am already working on to further my education.
Were you in a relationship before you ascended the throne and how did your girlfriend react to the prospect of becoming the queen?
I was not betrothed before the coronation. Yes, I was in a relationship before I was crowned but the woman I was in a relationship with hardly knew about my royal background. So when she got to know, I think it was a little bit too much for her to handle, so we parted ways because she felt she could not live that life. I was not rushed into marriage; it was something that I had to settle for knowing the importance of marriage. I had to take my time and settle down to make my choice.
So how did you meet your wife and how has it been as a newly married couple and being a King?
Like I said, getting married was a choice. I had to settle down for and think through. I knew I had to get married before the coronation.
Is that the tradition?
Yes that is the tradition because the king naturally cannot be without a queen. Imagine if I am a king without a queen, definitely you would always see me out there in search of a wife and probably be to places I shouldn’t be. So this is part of the traditions put in place. I would say my wife came to me on a platter of gold. On a particular Sunday, I went visiting my mum and I was outside discussing with her when my wife walked by, pretty woman. She came to see my mum and at that point, I needed a wife. So, I made enquiries about her; that’s where we got to know each other and we dated and I asked her to marry me.
How were you feeling initially when everyone, young and old had to bow for you in reverence?
Sincerely, it was initially awkward and embarrassing for me; it was not something I was used to; seeing my elders bow before me was something else. Anytime I try to tell them that there is no need for that, they tell me it is my position and the institution that they respect. At a point, I got used to it. If you actually look at it, this throne is about 830years old, so just imagine what people look at, the aura of the throne and all that.
How are you coping with your chiefs and other palace aids?
I am blessed and my age is to my advantage. Like I said, Issele–Uku is blessed, united and there is peace in this kingdom and the chiefs have taken it upon themselves to see that their young king and monarch does not derail. So I would say that I am pampered a little bit. So they are doing their best to see that they take so many responsibilities off my shoulders. So the chiefs and the town are doing their best.
What are some of the taboos in this kingdom?
There are so many and we wouldn’t leave here if we start listing them. It is forbidden for an indigene to place a curse on another here and we take that issue very seriously. Then there are certain places in the town where coffins cannot pass through. The taboos are so many and I can’t start giving instances but when you live here you would get to know them.
As a traditional ruler, what are you forbidden to do?
Not just as a traditional ruler but as a leader. First of all, there are so many things morally wrong for me to do and anything morally wrong for a leader to do is also applicable to me. After the coronation, I cannot actually raise my hand on anyone. Attending funerals is also forbidden for me even if the person is very close or a relative. I cannot go to the house of that person until after some particular number of days.
You have siblings, how do you relate with them given the fact that your status has changed? And how do you relate with your mother?
Family is family. Inasmuch as I have become king, my brothers are still my brothers and we relate the way we want to but everyone is cautious of the fact that I am the king and there are certain things they would not say or do around me. It does not change the relationship that I have with my younger ones and if for anything right now, my younger ones especially my brother look up to me now that our father is no more. I have a good relationship with my brothers, mum and the entire family.
Why was your mother taken out of the palace after you ascended the throne? Is this also part of the traditions of your kingdom?
In line with the tradition, she was taken out of the palace because now that I am king, I am going to be in the palace with my wife. The reign of my mother ended immediately my father passed on. She now lives elsewhere in the quarters designated for her as the king’s mother.
What are some of the things that the present queen is not expected to do?
As the king is bound by traditional rules and regulations, so also is the Queen and like you said rightly, she can no longer go to the market and sort for food stuff. She can attend public functions but there are limits. She cannot be seen in the public in the company of other men and as the saying here (Issele–Uku) goes, “Queen is also the King.” So whatever can be said of the king can also be said of the queen.
Do your brothers and mother bow in reverence to you as the king?
First of all, everybody recognises that I am king before being a brother or a son to my mother. Yes they bow in reverence.
How are you coping with your colleagues – traditional rulers, considering the fact that in Delta State, you are the second youngest monarch? How do you relate with your fellow kings?
I have a good relationship with my colleagues. We talk to each other a lot. We have lots of meetings and interactions with one another. Being the king right now is not a matter of age, but a matter of responsibility. So, when I sit among my colleagues, they all look at me as a man who has responsibilities on my shoulders just the same way they have responsibilities on their shoulders. So, we relate with one another well.
Before you were crowned, you spent some time in Benin. What is the significance of this tradition to the people of Issele-Uku Kingdom?
Like I said, we are descendants of the Benin Kingdom and the relationship that the Benin and Issele–Uku people hold is very strong. It’s just like the popular saying, ‘if you do not know where you are coming from, you do not know where you are going.’ We understand and know that we have an ancestral link with the Benin people; so we try as much as possible to ensure that we have that relationship intact.
How do you combine tradition and religion being a Christian?
I think that is a simple question a whole lot of Nigerians get all wrong. First of all, our tradition has always been before these Christian and Islamic religions. As we know now, the people of old knew of the existence of God Almighty who must have created some of the things we see around us. To show you how noble these people were, they offered sacrifices show their appreciation that this can only be done by someone who is naturally higher and that was how they related to God Almighty.
But now as a Christian, we know better that we can be in our room and pray to God Almighty and He answers us. By observing tradition, we are telling the story of what our forefathers did; how they worshipped God Almighty and lived their life. So religion has nothing to do with tradition; they are distinct. It depends on how well we understand it. So, I can pray to God Almighty from the comfort of my room but when I am outside, I am telling the entire population that this was the way our forefathers prayed to God Almighty.