By Chief Festus Oguche.
Igalaland suffered untold hardships and decimation between the periods spanning the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries which scars remain till this day.
During the early years of expeditions and voyages by European powers, Igalaland was at the peak of it’s existence and prowess as a strong virile sovereign power under international law. The traditional boundary of the AttahIgala cut across almost about 16 of the current states of the federation through several tribes in Nigeria in both the southern and northern frontiers, across tribes, tongues and people’s. Igalaland was a colonising pre-colonial force. Idah was a frequent mention in ancient records in Timbuktu and the memoirs of Ibn Batuta, Leo Africanus and Sundiata. The Attah’s reign resounded across the length and breath of distant territories such that Captain Trotter the leader of the 1841 expedition to Idah in his official memo to the British Queen Victoria described the venture as an opportunity to meet with the King of Africa.
It was upon the unraveling of the ‘mystic’ River Niger by Mungo Park in terms of its source, flow and direction, that Attah’s palace turned to become the focus of Europe. This also ignited all the troubles Igala land ever suffered. This was particularly so at the point of the stoppage of slave trade when abolitionism became the sing song of the British. The territory surrounding the point of convergence between the two rivers -R. Ohimmini and Kworra (Niger and Benue) became hot cake. All the European powers wanted a piece of the territory by all means and the British were more exertive. The British had tinkered and hatched a long term plan at colonisation of the continent and needed immediate proof of possession.
Series of fact finding expeditions were made to Idah in the 1820s culminating to that of the Lander brothers in 1831 and later the Trotter expedition of 1841. The initial proposal was that the queen wanted some property around the confluence for purposes of commerce which story was changed in the later expedition that the territory was for the establishment of a modern farm. The no nonsense AttahEkeleagaOm’ogalaoutrightly turned down the offer and literally threw the Queen’s agents out of the palace on the 4th day of August 1831. He considered the proposal as bizarre. They stood at the ElakwuAttah for several hours hoping that His Majesty would change his mind to no avail and they quietly went away totally frustrated. They were later to plan for the brutal murder the Attah using the Achadu and the palace eunuchs as fronts.
The Trotter team heavily equipped with three ship’s arrived Idah ten years later almost at thesame time of the earlier visit and were at the palace on the 2nd day of August 1841 after departing Aboh an Igala territory headed by Obi Ossai who was OchaiAttah then. They met with the more amenable but intelligent AttahAmehOcheje Om’ Itodo who very reluctantly acceded to the request. He was only disposed to a lease rather than an outright sale. This time they said it was for a modern farm. It was agreed for the sum of 700 thousand bags of cowries and an initial payment of 150 thousand bags was made as consideration. A Deed of Cession was executed which was endorsed by the Chief judge of Idah on the ground that the Attah does not sign agreements with mortals. Another agreement was entered into on the Attah’s instructions with the AnajaGbobe who Gaabaidu appointed as Governor of the demised territory including the choice EgaAnaja which the British wanted for other reasons towards the actualisation of the ultimate goal.
The British had gotten what they wanted and the idea of the modern farm was all a ruse to get hold of the territory and procure evidence of possession. Those two documents were to show up later at the Berlin Conference organised by Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck 50 years later. At the pre-conference hearing all the European powers tabled their claims for the entire territory – France was in the west, Portugal was in control of the entire Bini empire and the South South, Germany was in the north extending to parts of Northern Cameroon, and the British had an insignificant presence in Ibo territory through the activities of Dr. Baikie ( nwabekee). The British did not hesitate in tendering the documents as evidence of administrative control over the territory having taken charge at the central point of the joinder of the two rivers. All other claims from the other powers were withdrawn and that was how Britain got the land that is today’s Nigeria.
Trouble started for Igala people
when the British came to take over the land. AttahAmeaga, Om’ Ekeleaga questioned the rationale for the British claims on the territory and reminding the colonial officers of the subsistence of the earlier treaty entered. years ago. The British officer Briscove told him that they have the royal mandate of the Queen to take over all the territories of hundreds of miles beyond where they were including all the territories of the Attah. Gaabaidu resisted and challenged the Queen’s authority to do so while the agreement was still subsisting and of which she was in breach.
What the Attahrecieved was untold hardship and humiliation. He was almost stripped naked and birched. The British bombarded Idah for three days and three nights from a Canon placed on a small ship stationed on the Niger. The palace was specifically targeted. Idah was completely devastated and deserted as the population escaped to distant lands for safety. Three days later, the British people came ashore to inspect the extent of the damage and were satisfied. They went to the palace and expected to see rubbles and dead bodies, but met His Majesty sitting comfortably alone in the courtyard unhurt. The whole place was intact and they confirmed that it must be a mystery. What they did next was next to madness. They moved into the palace and carted away every ancient royal artefacts and ornamentals they could lay their hands on – from musical instruments including the two wooden royal wooden equipment, and a bigger one of such make used to announce wars and emergency situations, the two royal gongs, the royal robes, a tall headgear a full length wooden carving that was somewhat a sentry kept permanently at the entrance to palace, royal bangles, ornamentals and so many others. All these royal artefacts today adorn several museums across England, Scotland and Wales. Our Professor Gabriel Oyibo bumped into the sculptured royal bust of AttahAmeaga in London some years ago and demanded a return. Meanwhile, the Binis are getting all of theirs stolen by the British back.
AttahOchejeOnokpa, (Om’AmeOcheje) posed a formidable blockade to the actualisation of British rule and foiled several attempts to take over the territories along the rivers using his Agaidoko royal naval force and power that attacked British interests all the way to the sea. He was accused of armed robbery, disgraced and banished to exile in Asaba where he remained until he passed on in 1903. AttahOboniAkwu (Om’ Odoba) took over and openly confronted the British on the deceits and misrepresentations surrounding the Treaty. He he was better avoided because of his mystical ways that amazed the British. He could simply disappear into thin air and could multiply himself into several self identities. Just like Ekeleaga, he was suspected to have poisoned some British officials and was too dangerous to be tampered with.
The reserved but fearless AttahOgucheAkpa, Om’ Okoliko came on board in 1911 and was the Attah when Lugard did the amalgamation of the protectorates into what we have now as Nigeria. He told Lugard straightforwardly that it was sheer roguery to contemplate such move! The British moved against him. They tore his kingdom into shreds. Idah was later to be placed under Onitsha province, the Attah was reduced to a mere district head, while other parts were lumped into the Kabba and Munshi provinces. It did not take long before the king went on a hunting spree in 1919.
Then came the very intelligent, sophisticated and calculative AttahAtaboIjomi. (Om’aga). The fragmentation of the kingdom by the British continued under his reign and he never minced words in expressing his displeasure. Colonial officials did not know what to do with him particularly at a time when complaints from foreign territories were rife and the colonial office in London had demanded for a more civil approach from officials. Atabo was strong in his demands for the restoration of the kingdom. The kingdom was restored from the provinces but great chunky parts were deliberately yanked off – Nsukka, Idoma land,, Onitsha north,, Egbira land,… All along the southern protectorate border, from Ojigono towards Ilushi, parts of Ibaji, Ogurugu,, Iga, Abi,, Ojoo, Ukpabi – core Igala communities with royal heritage were all taken away and the situation remains so till today. A mischievous forestry guard one Obaseki was unilaterally determining the boundary and demanded monies from locals threatening to carve their lands out of the kingdom unless they pay up.. AttahAmehObonl had him captured and almost emasculated him if not for the intervention of the colonial officer at Kabba. But GaabaiduIjomi paid very dearly for it as the stool itself was further fragmented and the Igala Tara kindred were removed from the structure. Some of these incidents subsumed into AttahObaje’s reign and the dynamics somewhat changed when AttahAmehOboni emerged as monarch. Great man with immense human and spiritual endowments. He was ahead of the British and he got them confused and mesmerised. He took the battle for the injustice meted to Igala land to the hieghts. We all know his story in the pains and humiliation he suffered in the hands of the British and it’s no point recounting the sordid details here. He paid the supreme price on what the British termed as ‘gross indiscretions’.
AttahAliyuObaje travelled thrice to London to meet the Queen. (or was it twice? I’m not sure. Please somebody confirm from his son Adejo on this please). The British monarch bluntly refused to see him each time. He was rather referred to the British High Commission who again would refer him to the Nigerian government. This ding dong affair continued until Abacha took one look at a stongly worded letter he wrote and invited him. He attended the meeting with Abacha alongside his son Adejo. He did not hesitate to articulate his demands to the military ruler for a reinstatement of his original sovereignty over all his territories in accordance with his legal status under international law prior to the British deceit. Short, straightforward and blunt. The military ruler was to seek expert advice on the matter and told His Majesty that he would reach him. Discussions were ongoing on the matter when Abacha died few weeks later.
Now, back to the Treaty between Attah and the Queen and it’s implications. It is a live Treaty that carries with it, all the ingredients of legal validity. What the British did was akin to an individual taking tenancy of a one room apartment in a boy’s quarters upon payment of a small fraction of rent, keeps his servants in the room, with a firm promise of his return, only for him to go discussing with his brothers On his return he comes taking over the entire 4 room boy’s quarters including the main house and all the lands adjoining the buildings on the ground that his brothers dashed him the property. Yes, that’s as bizarre as it sounds, but that’s the reality!
What the British did to Igala people is the classic definition of fraud! It also attaches to it the criminal ingredients of deceit, falsehood misrepresentation and obtaining by false pretence. I stand here to state unequivocally that the entirety of the transaction entered into by the British with the Attah are all grounded in fraud on the part of the British. Indeed, it is the biggest unprecedented fraud ever in the history of mankind. The implication is that all the incidents that flow from it from colonisation, amalgamation, independence and the Constitution of Nigeria are all a nullity. This may sound fantastic, but it’s correct, as fraud vitiates everything that attaches to it and remains a fraud even it survives a millenia. The territory called Nigeria therefore does not have its boundaries cast in iron and nobody will be said to have committed treasonable felony if he declares himself not disposed to remaining in the union.
So, when you see the Ibos and Yorubas jumping up and down demanding for Biafra and Oduduwa, tell them you have a higher and better claim to their individual claims put together. No entity in this country has a superior claim to sovereignty than the Igalas. No! But ironically, the Yorubas subsumed Igala land into their proposed Oduduwa, and the Ibos did same with their Biafra territory and Igalas remain the bride to be courted rather than the groom that should navigate the course! But then,the reality stares you on the face as you discover, much to your dismay that the Igalas are yet to have a blueprint or agenda for their own future!!!