An Article by Richard Maduku
Many Urhobo men and women were in anguish as the rest of Nigerians were celebrating the new democracy day on 12 June, 2019. This was not because they preferred the old democracy day (29 May) to the new one. It was also not because a band of armed Fulani herdsmen had almost wiped out the population of an entire Urhobo village as they did in Mali recently.
It is true Fulani vandals from God-knows-where have been killing, raping women and maiming Urhobo people as well as destroying their farm crops as they do in other places for years now especially in the last five years or so. But it wasn’t this belated 21st century jihad by Fulani men or the denial of several things due to them by the Federal Government that made the Urhobo people to be distraught on the new democracy date. Rather, it was the sight of the man representing them in the Senate, Mr. Ovie Omo Agege, kneeling down before President Muhammadu Buhari as shown on television on the eve of the new democracy day!
Omo Agege has been showing traits of someone who is prepared to die for Buhari ever since he dumped the Labour Party under which he became a senator in 2015 by clinging to the coat tails of Chief Great Ogboru who was then the party’s governorship candidate. There is hardly an interview Omo Agege granted to media men without alluding to his closeness to President Burhari.
It was through him that the President signed the bill establishing the Federal University for Petroleum Resources, Effurun, (FUPRE) into law, he had claimed in one of his interviews. Because he believed the General Election Sequence Bill was against Buhari, he had called a press conference to attack his colleagues on an issue that was totally outside his mandate of seeking the welfare of his constituent. And as if it is not completely undemocratic and unwise to voice it out, just before the National Assembly sat to elect their officers, he bragged that his bid to become deputy senate president was backed by the executive!
One day it is through him the president did this and on another day it is still through his special access to the president that so and so was done. It is as if a president of a democratic country will not lift a finger to do what was necessary without someone being his worshipper. But he has never been heard claiming that it was through him that the mayhem the Fulani herdsmen have been wreaking in his constituency was stopped, for it has not stopped if not increased! For now, the apogee of his unabashed Buhari worship is that of 11 June, 2019, the eve of the new democracy day!
The sight of Omo Agege kneeling down before President Buhari, spoilt the day for most Urhobo no matter how some apologists of the senator might deny it in public. This was because the senator broke an ethos of his people that equates every Urhobo man to a king. Though not in practice, it is the spirit of this tenet that prevents Urhobo persons from cheapening themselves no matter the circumstance. This metaphor is so accepted by every Urhobo person that it is enshrined in the Urhobo anthem, “Land of Kings”.
There is no important gathering of the Urhobo that this anthem is not sung. How come then an Urhobo Senator, attired in the traditional dress, was so carried away that he forgot that he is a king and must not kneel before anybody? Did Omo Agege forget where he comes from and even his names? His nickname “Oba r’ isi” means a king in a foreign land while “Ovie” one of his real names, means a king though it could be pronounced in a way to also mean a slave. Has he chosen the latter? And how come the men who got the two top jobs, Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives did not prostrate (dabole) or kneel but Omo Agege who got what Nigerians regard as a ‘spare tyre’ position that knelt before Buhari?
Apart from the Urhobo national anthem that enjoins every son of the soil never to forget that he is a king, kneeling before a fellow man is anathema to many people all over the world. It is a symbol of servitude and the Urhobo people that see themselves as kings were the first to know this. That is why the Urhobo greeting ‘Miguo’ to elders which means ‘I am on my knees’ had never been practiced to the letter from the beginning. An Urhobo man never kneels down to an elder though that’s what their greeting implies.
An Urhobo man doesn’t also kneel down before their various gods including their ancestors when worshiping them. If a groom mistakenly kneels on both legs before his father-in-law to pray for him during traditional marriage ceremonies, he is quickly chided to kneel on only one leg; that men, (not just Urhobo men!), don’t kneel on both legs before anybody! Genuflecting on one leg is only what is required for a man during such ceremonies. Only women are required to kneel before ancestral shrines or their fathers when being prayed for. In other parts of the civilized world, kneeling down before anybody also connotes bondage and dishonour. Kneeling is so humiliating that adults are rarely subjected to it no matter their lowly status. Only erring children and apprentices are ordered to kneel as a punishment. This is even seen as worse than flogging because of what it connotes – humiliation!
Though Agege is only a king metaphorically as every Urhobo man is, he is literally an Urhobo chief (Olorogun) which is next to a king in Urhobo land. And anybody who has lived in Urhobo land will tell you that nobody, even a commissioned military officer, is as self-conscious of his rank as an Urhobo chief. For instance, a military officer could sweep his room, wash and iron his clothes and do other house chores by himself when at home but an Urhobo chief would not do that openly.
Wrongly or not they are made to believe that menial tasks are below them and are therefore taboos. I once asked my younger brother to climb a ladder to cut down a branch of tree that was growing too close to the roof of my house. “Don’t you know I am an Olorogun?” He retorted whereupon I reminded him that nobody was going to see him since the house was in a secluded place. “Oloroguns don’t climb ladders”, he told me and knowing the tradition, I did not press further. By kneeling down before President Buhari with the whole world watching, Omo Agege has committed a sacrilege against not only the king who bestowed the chieftaincy title on him but also, against all the Urhobo chiefs!
He has also made many Nigerians to suspect the new Senate. It is feared they might be puppets of the executive. The 8th Senate, the predecessor of the 9th which Agege is going to be the deputy senate president had been much vilified in some quarters for being at cross purpose with the executive. But it might turn out to be the best thing that happened to Nigeria’s democracy after all. This is in view of how the presidency sees issues with brazen ethno-centered prisms. People are now afraid that with the new leadership of the National Assembly that has been hand-picked by the President coupled with the nauseating zeal of senators like Omo Agege, a third term, if not a life presidency, is not an inconceivable dream for Mr. Buhari at all!
Richard Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army (Infantry) Captain and novelist, lives in Effurun-Otor, Delta State.