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Agwatashi: Story of king without subjects

The Awuso shrine is located at the foot of Oloko, a large tree believed to have been there since 1213 AD. Overlooking the shrine from…

The Awuso shrine is located at the foot of Oloko, a large tree believed to have been there since 1213 AD. Overlooking the shrine from behind is the palace of the Osoho of Olosoho, the district head of Agwatashi. Standing magnificently on the gateway into the palace is the statue of Odudu, the symbol of unity of the people. The scenery is that of a three arms zone made up of the shrine of Awuso, the celestial tree of Oloko and the traditional palace with Odudu as its insignia. The three arms zone sits on a strategic location along the main street neatly paved. The keeper of all these traditional divinity is the elderly Agyekonye Adeka, who is believed to be in the 80s. Pa Adeka is also, by the tradition, the chairman of the body of five kingmakers who select and enthrone the Osoho of Olosoho of Agwatashi district.

He told Weekly Trust during a visit to Agwatashi that he has sat as a kingmaker in Agwatashi for a long of time, but in the capacity of the chairman of the kingmakers, he said he has presided over the making of three of the chiefs, with the last exercise in a dragging contention. Pa Adeka succeeded Egye Eshaleku in this role. He first presided over the enthronement of Alhaji Abubakar Apeshi who reigned for about 14 years – between 1994 and 2008 and Barrister Musa Aliyu Ogashuwa who succeeded Apeshi after more than a year of government-induced impasse. Ogashuwa’s reign was short-lived as he died on February 17, 2007.

As the man at the centre of the traditional beliefs and practice of the Agwatashi people, Agyekonye Adeka is also the one who presides over the two cultural festivals of Ogiri and Amiri. For Ogiri, Pa Adeka said as the keeper of the tradition, he leads a number of select elderly and young men to the bush – some distant place believed to be the burial ground of all the high chiefs and chiefs of the early days. There, prayers are offered and supplications are made.

Then comes Amiri at the beginning of the year. It is the time of seeing Owuso, the chief god. He is believed to be sitting under the large Oloko, the celestial tree where his shrine is located. No females come near during the ritual which is done in the same manner as Ogiri. Again, the traditional prime minister will select who slaughters the goat, spill the blood and alcohol. Prayers are then offered to the chief deity to bring a bumper harvest in the next cropping season. The people believe Owuso brings bumper harvests, not fertilizer.

At this time, both men and women in Otena-Opah, a rich traditional fabric, are already queued at the north of the town, waiting for the Osoho of Olosoho to declare the fiesta open. This one lasts two days.

But the people spent the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 without their cherished cultural festivals which they jettisoned without looking back. Trouble started with the exercise of the selection of the last Osoho of Olosoho to succeed the last one – Musa Ogashuwa. Selection was done on September 4, 2009, but a suit filed on September 15 at the High Court 5, sitting in Lafia, the state capital by Barrister Boniface Ekeke, counsel to one Peter Oseweya Ashiki says the declaration of the winner of the exercise, one Umar Abubakar, did not correspond with the result of the voting.

The writ of summons has Peter Ashiki who is laying claim to the throne, as first plaintiff with four of the kingmakers namely Agbo Egwa, Osoku Madugu, Agyekonye Adeka and Oga Egye, suing against Umar Abukakar whom the government declared winner of the vote. Abubakar is joined in defence with Danzumi Mohammed (Secretary to Obi Local Government) who according to the plaintiffs’ allegations, unlawfully presided over the selection and changed the result as well as announced Abubakar as winner. Ashiki is claiming he won majority of the votes: 4 against 1, and is therefore, praying the court to declare the announcement of Abubakar as Osoho of Olosoho null and void, to declare the alleged act of the council secretary as illegal and unconstitutional, as he purportedly acted in violation of Obi Local Government Native Laws and Custom. He is also seeking the removal of Abubakar whom the government has already recognized, to pave way for his return as the district head, just as he is seeking the court to restrain Danzumi, Obi Local Government Traditional Council, Nasarawa State Government, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the state Attorney General from recognizing Abubakar as the chief. All of them have been joined in the suit as defendants. In the alternative, Ashiki and the four kingmakers are seeking a fresh selection in accordance with the native laws and customs of Obi. They had already got an injunction from the court restraining Abubakar from parading himself as Osoho of Olosoho, pending the determination of the substantive suit.

But a statement of defence filed by Barrister Hassan Liman, counsel to Abubakar, is denying the allegations, saying among other things that Danzumi did not preside over the selection, nor did he make the announcement. The statement claimed Jaafaru Ango represented the state government over the selection and did the announcement, since Danzumi only acted as observer. The statement is also claiming that Abubakar won the vote with 3 while Ashiki lost with 2, adding that the result form was certified and endorsed by all the five kingmakers who also allegedly congratulated  each other for a successful exercise. The defendant pleaded the result form as a document to rely on at trial. The case is still at the preliminary stage.

Rarely had the district head of Agwatashi had time to settle down with a rethink of the issue that led to the stalemate in the emergence of the Osoho of Olosoho when youths engaged in a violent clash.

One of them, Yowuso Ayaitun was shot dead in the violence, the then state police commissioner, Shehu Babalola, had confirmed. He said another youth named Solomon Dangana was seriously injured in the gunfight which sparked an outrage by youths of the town. Three weeks later, the police arrested nine persons in connection with the incident, sparking fresh crisis as the counsel to Ashiki and the four kingmakers, Barrister Ekeke, opposed it as being made in a manner that suggested the crisis was connected to the chieftaincy tussle in court. The police arrested the elder brother to Abubakar, all the same, but other arrests, according to Ekeke, were arbitrary since he said the suspects are relatives of his clients and that they were nowhere near Agwatashi when the incident occurred. They are Paul Madaki, Okina Osamanyi, Osuza Osamanyi Osude, Daniel Agyeno, Joshua Agyeno, Ayuba Agyeno, Ali Edo and Tanko Abubakar. Ekeke filed a suit at the High Court alleging infringement of the fundamental human rights of the other suspects.

The police sought to prosecute alleged murder while the court said it had no jurisdiction over murder. The police made arrests, released and rearrested to release again. So these happenings turned upside down their cultural heritage of many centuries overnight. They shunned the cultural festivals, as during the months of December and February/March when Ogiri and Amiri are performed, respectively, the people had no district head to lead them. Abubakar has since moved in and he sits in the palace as the Osoho of Olosoho, but only a section of the people go to him. This section does not include the chairman of the kingmakers and keeper of the traditional beliefs of the people, Pa Agyekonye Adeka. So he did not permit Abubakar to go ahead and organize the much cherished festivals.  

Abubakar expressed sadness with the turn of events, showing concern for the people, although he acknowledged that the people have not been coming to him. He hoped that the crisis will be over soon. He even narrated how Obi council visited some days before the visit of this reporter to take a photograph of Odudu, the symbol of unity of the people and how Pa Agyekonye Adeka, the keeper of the tradition, refused to oblige the council the permission. Adeka said on inquiry that the ties that bind the people together have been broken by the events of late last year: the stalemate in the emergence of a chief, the violence in which Abubakar’s elder brother is a suspect, and the burning down of Abubakar’s house.

Abubakar now sits in the palace because government asked him to do so, but he sits alone, or at best with his traditional guards led by the Sarkin Dogeri, Rabiu Agye and some loyalists who stray in occasionally. They include the Sarkin Fada, Isuhu Egwa, the Sarkin Kasua, Daudu Ibrahim and one Ali Adamu. Agwatashi is now like a story of a king without subjects.

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