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Edo North: Anxiety in Okpella over who succeeds late Okuokpellagbe

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His son, Prince Abdulmumuni Dirisu

His Royal Majesty Alhaji (Dr.) A.Y.E. Dirisu, the Okuokpellagbe of Okpella Kingdom died on February 19, 2019, and in accordance with Islamic rites, his remains was buried in his hometown, Okpella in Edo North. The late Okuokpellagbe reigned for 49 years, and was 84 when he joined his ancestors. He had 33 children, with the last born being 24 years old. He had five wives and 58 grandchildren.

The Chief Imam of Okpella town, Mallam Aliyu Usman, led the funeral prayers for the late king. Traditional rulers present at the burial included the Otaru of Auchi, Alhaji Highbred Aliru Momoh, His Royal Highness Deke Kanoba, the Egiegba of Ekperi, His Royal Highness Kadiri Imonikhe Omogbai, Ogieneni of Uzairue, as well as several top ranking politicians from Etsako.

Another special prayer is slated for Saturday, March 23, 2019 in honour of the departed king at the Palace ground.

But while all these arrangements are going on, there is palpable tension regarding which of the six clans that make up Okpella Kingdom should produce the next Okuokpellagbe. And though the issue of succession to the throne is very sensitive, nobody is willing to talk openly about it.
Palace Watch discussed the matter with the late Okuokpellagbe’s eldest son, Prince Abdulmumuni Dirisu.

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What memories did your late father leave behind?
One thing I can’t easily forget about my father is that he was a very patient man. Aside this, he had lots of respect for his people. Just try and sample the people’s opinion in and around Okpella town, and they will tell you that they loved him. This is because while he reigned, he treated his people, young and old with lots of respect. He was never dictatorial or autocratic in any of his actions. He was also never known to make hasty decisions. He took his time to consider the pros and cons of any issue brought to him before arriving on any decision. That was his hallmark.

It is on record that for the 49 years he was on the throne, he never took any of his subject to court, no matter their crime. Even when some of his subjects had reasons to disagree, before you know what is happening, my father would ensure the matter is resolved amicably. He never went out of his way to hurt any of his subjects, and that was why he was loved so much in Okpella kingdom. He was a very peaceful and God fearing man.

With his passage, what type of Okpella should we look forward to?
Let me draw from what my late father told us three days before he took ill. On January 28, 2019, he called the community together alongside his chiefs in his new palace. That was the very first time he would hold such a meeting in the new Palace. On that day, it was like he had a premonition of his death, and seized the opportunity to invite them to dine with him. He said he was using the opportunity to thank them all for finding the time to join him in the meeting. He thanked them for helping him steer the ship successfully through the 49 years he was on the throne.

Then he said: “Many people always asked, ‘Okuokpellagbe of Okpella, you are a very nice man. You have been able to pilot Okpella to this height and have led Okpella well. When you eventually leave, there is the likelihood there won’t be another Okuokpellagbe to do all of this.’

He went on to say that when one has done well as a leader or a king, he should pray to Allah to bring another king that will even surpass what he did. He told them that his wish was for a king who would build on the legacy he would leave behind after joining his ancestors.

As his son, it is also my wish and prayers that Okpella remains peaceful and continues to march forward in all areas of life. We are fervently praying for peace, which fosters unity and guarantees growth. So long there is peace in Okpella land, God will give Okpella people that person that will pilot Okpella to a greater height. It is God that destined leadership and rulership.

Interestingly after that gathering, as he was leaving the new palace for the to old palace, he did an unusual thing. He asked his convoy to turn and follow him, and the procession went round all the junctions in Okpella town. We did not know that he was bidding his people farewell.

After his passage, people would say to me, ‘you are so calm.’ I usually reply that I’m calm because God has done so well for my father, so much so that it was shown him his time was up. He even told me as the eldest son how and where he wanted to be buried.

When he took ill three days after that meeting, the entire family urged him to go to the hospital as the doctor advised, but he said there was no need. As the eldest son, I had the singular opportunity of speaking with him, before his passage. He told me all he needed to let me know as a son.

The Okuokpellagbe is not hereditary and there are six clans that make up Okpella Kingdom. Which of the ruling houses is producing the next king? Why is there so much tension on the issue?
Honestly, I don’t see why there should be tension over who succeeds my father and which part of Okpella such a person comes from. The truth is that where things are regulated, there should not be any crisis. Everywhere, there are laws governing institutions like this. Once the tenets of these laws are followed and applied to the letter, I do not expect any trouble whatsoever.

The issue of successor to the throne is not done on the whims and caprices of any man. They are done according to laid down rules and regulations, and it is documented. So, if the documentation is used, the process of where and how and who is already there. With this, there should not be crisis or tension.

What were the major achievements in Okpella during your father’s reign?
During my father’s reign, so many things happened in Okpella land, because of his quality of leadership and policy of accepting people, especially strangers into the community. It was this approach that helped to fast track and make Okpella the industrial hub of Edo State. Okpella town is the only place where Dangote and BUA companies have cement companies, in addition to other series of companies domiciled in Okpella town.

My father’s policy was business friendly. He used to tell people, if you give terms that are not friendly to companies, they wouldn’t invest in your community. There are other communities with similar natural resources investors want, and they can easily relocate to these places. Once a company is coming to invest in Okpella, the first thing my father did was to welcome the company through helping it to settle down. He relaxed all the terms and ensured the company or companies become operational. It is after this that the community would meet with such a company, and after which what such a company can give to the community was discussed in details.

The terms of engagement between the community and companies is such that investors were allowed to do their business, settle down before discussing what goes to the communities where they are located. That is why Okpella has lots of companies domiciled in the town.

The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, recently stated that Okpella is key to the state industrialisation policy, not because of the natural resources in the place, but because of the friendly nature of Okpella people.

My late father also did very well in the area of education, when he became king. Prior to his reign, we could hardly point to a school or two. But now, we have several schools in Okpella, both private and public.

Whichever way you look at it, Okpella has grown in leaps and bounds since my father ascended the throne. For example, it was the former Bendel Cement Company that metamorphosed into present day BUA Group of companies now operating in Okpella. That same cement company passed through different hands before BUA bought it. After acquiring the then Bendel Cement Company, BUA Group now added and built an extension to the old structure. That is why the company has the first and the second phase that have just been completed. The Bendel Cement Company was once owned by government, but with time, investors were brought to run the place profitably. Presently, a Nigerian investor is running the company in place of former Bendel State government.

Presently, Aliko Dangote is building a new cement factory in Okpella. The skills Okpella people have acquired through these companies can’t be quantified. The first phase of the former Bendel Cement Company was built by Julius Berger Company, while this construction was going on, the agreement is that we have 60 to 40 per cent. Sixty percent of the workforce is drawn from within Okpella and environ, because we are mindful of other communities around Okpella town.

These companies equally recruit from all these areas. These companies have successfully trained our people in industrial welding and other technical skills. Our people can now export these skills to other parts of the country, where these services might be required now and in the future. The good will of things like this is not restricted to Okpella alone, but to the entire Edo North and beyond.


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