Orodje Okpe: Ten years on an ancestral throne
Let us commence this celebratory essay with a general statement about the character, dynamic and nature of kingship as a propelling force in the development of peoples. Throughout profane and sacred history, particularly in the era of Divine Rights of Kings, the personality of a reigning monarch, king or queen, often dictated the trajectory of the empire or kingdom. When nations rose to great heights, the disposition, character, capacity to efficiently deploy economic, political and human resources, and personal strengths of the king served as a crucial factor in the process.
It is true that monarchs all over the world, with the ascendancy of democratic principles particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries no longer solely determine the fate of peoples. However, monarchs, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa, have learnt how to discharge their functions within the provisions of modern norms and cultural dynamics, within the overwhelming presence of democratic practice. Reigning monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth 11 of England, the Oba of Benin, and the Sultan of Sokoto are clear examples of this new spirit. It is against this background that the 10-year reign of the incumbent Orodje Okpe will be eulogised.
In late November 2016, the Okpe people trooped out in their number to mark the first decade of the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, HRM Orhue 1 Major General Felix Mujakperuo (CFR, mni; rtd) on the ancestral throne of Okpe land in Delta State. It was a week-long celebration which brought worthy Okpe sons and daughters to their ancestral homelands of Sapele, Amuokpe, Mereje, Ughoton and Orerokpe. It was a colourful ceremony with chiefs, bedecked in their beautiful regalia and non-chiefs dressed in the typical Okpe traditional dress style, depicted with pride and panache, the rich culture of the Okpe people. All the sections of the Okpe world paid homage to the king. Chieftaincy titles were awarded to deserving citizens. Indeed it was more than a celebration. It was an affirmation of cultural and political identity. It was an affirmation of presence in Orerokpe, of an overwhelming and emphatic declaration of ownership and control of Sapele town. Delta State Governor Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, his deputy, Kingsley Otuaro, and the Speaker of the House, Monday Igbuya (a worthy Okpe son), Professor (Chief) Sam Oyovbaire (Father of Government and a distinguished Okpe son) were all in attendance in Orerokpe.
Orhue the 1st became Orodje of Okpe on July 8, 2004 after Udogun Okpe (the highest body of Chiefs in Okpe kingdom) ratified his election in a highly contested race. His election followed the demise of Orhoro the 1st. The staff of office was presented by the Delta State government in 2006. This accounts for the tenth anniversary being celebrated in 2016.
The Okpe migration from Benin is said to have taken place around the 17th Century. From Benin, the Okpe progenitor settled in Okpe-Olomu and Okpe-Isoko at different times. His four sons – Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke, and Esezi – then migrated to Orerokpe from where the Okpe people founded and currently occupy about 200 towns and villages in two local governments in Delta State. The four ruling houses cover all Okpe people and communities. Orhue, the eldest of the four sons refused to take the throne as the first occupant on account of advanced age. He therefore asked the youngest, Esezi 1st to start the kingship. Unfortunately, the first king fell out with his subjects because he was dictatorial, and was brutally assassinated around the middle of the 17th century. For about a century or more there was no king in Okpe land until January 1st 1945 when John Deveno Mebitaghan was crowned as Esezi 11 in order to calm the frayed nerves of Esezi’s descendants. After his reign, Domingo Amujaine Edjinyere was crowned on December 30, 1972 as Orhoro 1. Orhoro 1 joined his ancestors on 10th of January 2004 after 32 years of a peaceful reign. When the succession process for a new king started after the passage rites for the late king, the Okpe people amicably resolved a long-standing misunderstanding that the Orhue lineage though could crown kings could not sit on the royal throne. Major General Felix Mujakperuo (rtd.) became the first king from the Orhue ruling House to occupy the exalted seat.
The new Orodje set upon establishing his presence and stamp his royal authority on the land with relative ease. Not one to fight for and corner material things for himself, Orhue 1 was and is more interested in attracting development to Okpe land. He believes in building up the human capital of his people through scholarships and educational programmes. A befitting majestic palace was built in Orerokpe through a collective effort heavily financed by Chief David. O. D. Dafinone, another distinguished Okpe son. As a well-travelled man, he has brought efficient administrative machinery into governing the Okpe kingdom, the largest of all the clans in Urhobo land.
Orodje would call subjects in high places to ask for help for a less-privileged person. He would ask whether some graduate somewhere could be assisted with a job. Can there be a scholarship for this bright Okpe man or lady? Orodje would call and ask why roads in Orerokpe have not received the attention of government; he would ask government about roads in the hinter parts of the land. When Sapele market was left comatose for a many years, he always asked questions and put pressure on government to complete the market. He has appointed Dukes to help him run the affairs of the kingdom. He has also streamlined the chieftaincy title process. It is not for all comers. A man or woman must distinguish themselves before being considered for a title.
Orodje Okpe is the Chancellor of Anambra State University where he has made enormous contributions to the development of that university. When the new government policy of giving missionary schools to their owners led to a situation in which there was no public school in Orerokpe, Orodje took it up with the then governor, and the Commissioner for Basic and Secondary education. He has set up an Education Committee which meets monthly to review the state of education in the kingdom. During his reign Okpe Union which had maintained its headquarters in Lagos from the early 20th century has been relocated to Orerokpe with the grassroots yet urbane Chief Robert Onome elected as President General.
It is fitting therefore to pay tributes to the General who became a modern king; the General who conquered the throne of his fathers, not with bullets but with the will and consent of the Okpe people; the General who led ECOMOG to restore peace in a faraway land and returned home to bear the burden of his people; a General whose grand role is to maintain and sustain the culture of the Okpe people. So, it is 10 years of kingship during which the Orodje has carried the Okpe world on his head with the support of the great men in and around the palace. The wise counselors who give wise counsel to a wise king will make the people wise and prosperous.
• Eghagha is a professor in the Department of English, University of Lagos