Ninety-day seclusion prepared me for the throne – Otaru of Igarra

Published by Punch newspaper on September 28, 2019
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Oba Emmanuel Adache Saiki II is the Otaru of Igarra and the crown head of Igarra/Akoko clan. In this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE and SOLA SHITTU, the Otaru talks about how Igarra has no link with the Benin Kingdom unlike many other towns and communities in Edo

Igarra is a community surrounded by rocks, what is the significance of these rocks to your history?
The rocks surround Igarra. When our forefathers got here, it was during the era of the slave trade when people were being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Our forefathers then used the rock as their hiding place, a form of security and protection against attacks, and used the surrounding lands for farming activities. So they would come down during the day to farm and then retire inside the cave in the rock in the evening to hide from marauders.

Do you have any link with Benin like some towns and communities in Edo State?
Not at all.

Our forefathers migrated from the North. The founder of Igarra, Ariwo Ovejijo, came from Idah to Igarra around the 14th century. The original name of Igarra is Etuno because when our forefathers got here, they met the original inhabitants who were dwarfs. Their king was Uno, who became friends with our forefather (Ovejijo) and they lived together. But after some time, Uno decided to give way for our forefathers. There are reasons for that but I cannot go into the details now. Etuno is named after the king that we met here; that was the name of the aborigines that we met here. His name was Uno. Ete in Igarra means land, so we call it Eteuno which means the land of Uno. However, when the Europeans came and they asked us where we came from, we told them we were from Igala. So they called us Igala which was pronounced as Igarra; that is the name we have been bearing since then. But the original name of where we are now is Etuno.

What relationship do you have with Kogi and Ondo states?
We are very close to Kogi because Ebiraland – Okene – shares a common dialect with us and as a matter of fact, history tells us that the founders of Okene and Igarra migrated from the same place – Idah. We speak the same dialect and across the country, it is the only community that we can identify with, unlike Benin. We don’t share anything in common with Benin at all in Edo State.

What of Ondo?
Our relationship with Ondo is just because we were part of the old Western Region then under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. We were then known as Akoko Oke. And because of free education, all that we were doing then were in the Yoruba language. That was how we became conversant with Yoruba and started communicating in the language. But we have a relationship with Idah in Kogi State; one of our idols here, Idah-Koriko, is still found in Igala, around River Niger, up till now. It was when Ariwo Ovejijo, the founder of Igarra, was coming from Idah that he took some soil from that rock and put it down here. We also call it Idah-Koriko. That is one of the idols that we worship here. You can also find the same idol in Idah. Ariwo Ovejijo was a prince of Idah and his father was the king. It was when he was not allowed to ascend the throne of his father that he decided to come this way and establish Igarra.

Is Igarra kingship hereditary like it is in some other communities?
In Igarra, we have five ruling houses. Ariwo Ovejijo had six children; five boys and a girl. The Otaru stool is rotated among the five male children of Ariwo Ovejijo. The children then were Andede , Eshinagaga, Eshinogu, Eshinavaka and Andiba. These are the five male children that form the five ruling houses in Igarra. However, the female one has a role to play in the enthronement of Otaru and the role is that whenever an Otaru is nominated, she will be the one to crown him. Awovi was the only female child of Ariwo Ovejijo; her children crown the Otaru anytime a new Otaru is installed.

Were you born in Igarra?
Yes, I was born in Igarra on June 5, 1942.

How was your childhood?
I lost my mother early in life in 1949 when I was about seven years old. Then I had not started schooling. It was after I lost my mother that my father decided to put me in school. I was later withdrawn from school by my father because of his inability to pay the school fees and that was how I started following him to farm. But in 1955 when Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced free education, I returned to school. However, my father had died by then so I sponsored myself to school. Education was free from Standard one to three or four then. But from Standard five above, you had to buy whatever you needed. The government provided a minimum level of support like the supply of exercise books and writing materials but you had to buy your textbooks. So I worked on the farm to get money to buy books so I sponsored myself.

Were you raised in the palace?
As I explained earlier, we have five ruling houses, my own side was not on the throne then although my father was a prince and I was also a prince. All male children are potential Otaru, but it is only when it is the turn of your own side of the family and you are selected that you can ascend the throne.

Did you continue your education beyond Standard Six?
After my Standard Six, I moved to Lagos in 1960 and while I was in Lagos, I tried so many things to survive there. First, I wanted to be a commercial driver but it did not work out. I also tried my hands on tailoring but that also did not work out. Later I got a job in a hotel on Lagos Island; I worked there as a steward. It was from there that I started taking evening classes in secretarial studies, typing and shorthand. After some time, I got a job in the University of Lagos.

Did you always know that one day you would become a king?
No, but I know that all princes from any of the ruling houses are potential kings. When my predecessor died, it happened that it was the turn of my side of the family to produce the king.

How were you chosen?
I was still working at the university when they said it was the turn of my family, Andiba family, to produce the king. Then I was asked to come home as the position was vacant. They felt that I was qualified to be the next king. But there were other members of the family who were also interested. The family of Andiba had a meeting and decided to select a person out of the three or four of us that were eligible. I was the one chosen. My name was then submitted to the five ruling houses that were to take the final decision. They fixed a date for a meeting with the senior Okumayin regent. The Okumayin title is next to Otaru title in Igarra. Whenever Otaru is not around, Okumayin takes over the position as the next in command. The meeting was held and I was finally chosen by the five ruling houses. That was in 1997; I have spent 22 years now on the throne.

Was any ritual performed during your coronation?
No, we don’t have traditions that involve spilling of blood here. There is a particular song that is sung immediately the name of the next king is confirmed at the regent’s place and from there; he is put in seclusion for 90 days. While in seclusion, you will not have any form of communication with other people except members of your family – your wife and children – during the period.

What is done in that room?
You would just be there; a lot of things would be coming into your head like what the ancestors would be passing on to you. After the three months, you would come out and there would be a big celebration. There would be a pronouncement from the king to the entire town about what you would do and what you would not do. But on the day that you return home from the regent’s place, before you go into seclusion, a sheep will be buried alive at the entrance of the house. That is on the first day you are pronounced as the new Otaru in the house of the regent. So you will step on it into the house and then remain in seclusion for 90 days.

What are the things considered as taboo in Igarra?
Whenever we are celebrating Enuh, the new yam festival, it is forbidden for anyone to use farm instruments like cutlass and hoe or even see them during the period.

What will happen to those who disobey?
It is believed that if you violate the taboo, you will not have a good harvest the following year because we are predominantly an agrarian community. Our dominant crops are yam and cash crops like cocoa and cashew.

Were you married before you became Otaru?
Yes, before I became king, I had two wives.

Did you marry another wife after you became Otaru?
No! (Laughs)

What are the things you have missed since you became king?
Initially, I missed going out for social outings when I ascended the throne. Even now, I still miss it because I can’t even pay an ordinary visit to friends.

How do you socialise then?
Occasionally, if I have an invitation (to attend an event), I can attend, stay for a while and then leave.

Did you attend parties before you became Otaru?
(Laughs) Of course, yes I did but that was when I was a young Lagosian.

That means you enjoyed Lagos’ ‘owambe’ (parties)?
That is true.

Are you missing it now?
Of course yes, but I’m used to this place now. I cannot go back to Lagos; I’m already used to this place but I do miss Lagos parties with ‘owambe’ music.

How do you relax as a king?
There is no room for that because I’m always in my office attending to people. If you decide to go and sleep, some people may come with an emergency or a serious issue and they will have to wake you up, which is not good for the health. So in order to avoid that, I attend to public issues from 11 am till 6 pm and then I rest for the day.

Are satisfied with the state of things in the country now?
I must tell you the truth, I am not happy and I believe nobody is happy because the security situation worries everybody. For instance, I’ve wanted to travel to Lagos for the past one month but because of the news coming to me about how unsafe our roads are now, how kidnappers and armed robbers are operating on the road, I’ve decided not to go yet. Even if I want to say that nothing will happen to me, what about those that will be with me? For instance, just last week, a professor who was on his way to Igarra from Ado-Ekiti, was kidnapped and killed. His body was found somewhere around where he was kidnapped. So we don’t even know whether it was kidnapping, armed robbery or a case of assassination. That on its own scares people; many of our people who are outside the country are afraid to come home because of the insecurity in the country.

What do you think is the way out of this situation?
There is no unity in this country because of politics. With unity, all of us, including the government, will decide on what to do because the situation is getting out of hand. Almost everywhere in the country is not safe. The politicians are to blame for what is happening now and except all of us are united, we will continue to have these problems.

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