Urhobo Historical Society

 

Book Cover of History of Okpe by Prince Joseph Asagba

 

THE UNTOLD STORY OF A NIGERIAN ROYAL FAMILY:

The Urhobo Ruling Clan of Okpe Kingdom

by H.R.H. Prince Joseph O. Asagba, Ph.D.

(Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2005)

 

This book presents the story of the Urhobo ruling family of Okpe Kingdom and its political power in Nigeria. It traces the origins and history of the Okpe people and discusses their social and political organization. Topics include:

 

 

It also examines the political role played by the traditional chiefs, the role of feminists who campaigned for women’s rights to participate in the all-male council of elders, and the effort by H.R.M. Esezi II to promote the democratic system of government within the Okpe council. It concludes with the story of the uncrowned king of Okpe Kingdom, including a brief history of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70, the reign of H.R.M. Orohoro I, and the story of the author’s candidacy for Okpe King after the death of Orhoro I. Postscripts include Nigeria oil policy, the Muslim-Christian strife, and human rights abuses.

 

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About the Author

 

Joseph Obukowho Asagba

 

Joseph Obukowho Asagba


Prince (Dr.) Joseph Obukowho Asagba is a descendant of Chief Asagba, the great-grandson of Prince Eyeyan Asagba, grandson of Prince Joseph Etietsola Asagba, and the eldest son of Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba of the Orhoro ruling house of Okpe Kingdom. His grandmother, Princess Alberta Aduviere Omarin, was the daughter of Chief Omarin Etajeme of the Ogoni and Evwreke ruling houses, making him a descendant of both the Orhoro and Evwreke ruling houses and a member of the royal family of Okpe Kingdom.

He received his B.S. from Tarleton State University, a part of the Texas A&M University system, and his M.Ed. and Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. His articles have appeared in college student journals and other scholarly publications. He is also author of the book The Untold Story of a Nigerian Royal Family: The Urhobo Ruling Clan of Okpe Kingdom (2005). His forthcoming books include From Slavery to Freedom: A History of the Delta People of Nigeria and Colonial Power: The British and the Nigerian Rulers of Western Delta.

He was born in Lagos and grew up around traditional relatives and elders in the Delta State of Nigeria. Dr. Asagba has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) as a human services specialist, as Director of Student Academic Support Services at Neosho County Community College (1997-98), as Residential Community Coordinator at Cornell University (1995-96), as Assistant to the Dean of Students and also as Assistant Director of Project Eagle Quest, a retention and outreach program in the Office of Student Affairs at the University of North Texas (1994). He also taught in the Denton (Texas) Independent School District (1992-1994, 1999-2001) and Lewisville (Texas) Independent School District (1996-1997), and as a Resident Service Assistant at Denton (Texas) State School (1984-1992).

When Orhoro I, King of Okpe Kingdom, died in February 2004, a descendant of the Evwreke descent group was eligible for the throne. Joseph, who is also a descendant of the Evwreke lineage through his fathers mother, became a candidate for the position of King. His candidacy was based on his education and experience in leadership. He is a modern prince, highly educated and in touch with the fast-changing world. Prince Joseph is regarded as a moderate among the Okpes and a progressive within the Okpe royal family. He is chiefly known as a member of the Okpe royal distinguished families of Asagba and Omarin.

 In his application for the Okpe kingship, Joseph outlined some of his vision for the Okpe people, which includes:

 

1.      To provide economic development, better education, and better health care, and

2.      To work with oil companies on environmental issues, working for clean air and clean water standards, so all Okpes can enjoy clean and healthy communities.

Joseph was selected by his ruling house as their best candidate. However, members of the Orhue ruling house of Okpe Kingdom stated that their ruling house was eligible for the throne, not the Evwreke group. After much tension between the members of the two ruling houses, the Orhue descent group were allowed to contest for the throne.

 


♣  ♣  ♣  ♣

 

 

THE ORIGIN AND A BRIEF HISTORY

OF THE URHOBO OKPE

 

By Prince Joseph O. Asagba, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

The Okpe people are part of the Urhobo ethnic group in the Delta State of Nigeria. Okpe Kingdom encompasses about 200 square miles and has a population of over 240,000. It is the largest kingdom in the Urhobo states. The River Ethiope separates Okpe territory from that of Oghara and Idjerhe. Okpe also shares common boundaries with the Urhobo states of Agbarho, Agbon, Ughienvwe, and Uvwie. Sapele is the second largest city in the Delta State, which belongs to the Okpe people (Asagba, 2005, p. 4).


The power and authority in Okpe Kingdom is derived from the following sources:

                        1. The Orodje (King)

                        2. The Otota (Speaker)

                        3. The Ekakuros (Chiefs)


The Orodje is the head of the kingdom and head of the Udogun Council, which is the supreme council of Okpe. The king is also the head and president of the Okpe Traditional Council.


The Otota is the spokesman in Okpe. In the event of the death of the Orodje, the most important spokesman in Okpe Kingdom is the Speaker. In fact, his position is similar to that of a Prime Minister (Asagba, 2005, p. 70).


The Chiefs are the representatives of the people and are members of the four ruling houses in Council (Asagba, 2005, p. 79).

 

 

A Sketch Map of Okpe Urhobo

Migrations


 

Igboze (b. ca. late sixteenth century)

Igboze (b. ca. late sixteenth century)


Prince Igboze is the founding father of the royal family of the Urhobo Okpe people. He was the son of an Oba (king) of Benin Empire. In the middle of the seventeenth century, he noticed the decline of the power of the Empire and, fearing for its future, determined to found his own kingdom. For this purpose he obtained his title of Ovie (king) from his second cousin, Oba Ahenzae of Benin, who was then on the throne (1640-1661). He left Benin Empire in the middle of the seventeenth century with his wives, family, and a number of followers (slaves) and set out southwards from Benin. He arrived at his new territory of Orere-Olomu. After a decade or so, when Igboze’s new kingdom was well established, he was later visited by an Ibo named Olomu. Olomu lived with Igboze for a long time and succeeded in winning the confidence of Igboze to such an extent that Igboze declared him his heir. Igboze, who had obtained the royal title of Ovie (king) to rule his new territory, was at the height of his power when he died. Upon Igboze’s death, Olomu took the title of Ovie. This caused a rift, because Igboze’s son, Okpe, quarreled with Olomu about who should succeed as king (Bradbury, 1957, p. 131; Hubbard, 1948, pp. 237-8; Asagba, 2005, p. 7). Okpe and his followers later left the territory and settled in the Agbarho quarters of the Isoko Okpe. Okpe lived and died in Isoko Okpe. Before his death, Okpe had four sons: Orhue, Orhoro, Evwreke, and Esezi. The descendants of those four sons are the royal members of the Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe (Otite, 1973 and Asagba, 2005).

 

Okpe, Prince (b. 1664 – d. 1740)

 

Okpe, Prince (b. 1664 – d. 1740)

 

Prince Okpe was the son of Prince Igboze, who was the son of an Oba (king) of the Benin Empire.

 

 

Orhue, Prince (b. 1694 – d. 1772)

Orhue, Prince (b. 1694 – d. 1772)

The First Son of Prince Okpe

 

Prince Orhue was a political leader and a hunter who searched for food and a fertile region for settlement. Orhue lived in Agbarho, and later crossed the nearby stream and founded Orerokpe, the present capital of Okpe Kingdom. His three brothers, Orhoro, Evwreke, and Esezi, came and settled with him at Orerokpe, where they started the royal monarchy of Okpe.

 

 

Orhoro, Prince (b. 1709 – d. 1781)

Orhoro, Prince (b. 1709 – d. 1781)

The Second Son of Prince Okpe

 

 

 

Evwreke, Prince(b. 1712 – d. 1780)

Evwreke, Prince(b. 1712 – d. 1780)

The Third Son of Prince Okpe

 

Both Orhoro and Evwreke became senior political leaders under the regime of their brother, H.R.M. Esezi I.

 


Kingship

H.R.M. Esezi I, King of Okpe  Kingdom

H.R.M. Esezi I, King of Okpe

 

The Fourth Son of Prince Okpe

Reigned 1770-1779 (18th century)


According to the 1947 Okpe Chiefs statement on the traditional history of the kingship of Okpe, the Okpe people wanted to have a king to rule their domain so as to maintain peace, equity, and order in their traditional land, so Esezi, the son of Prince Okpe, was appointed as the Orodje of Okpe. He was installed by his senior brother, Orhue (Okpe State Document, 1947). He installed Esezi because he was too old to rule and because there was a quarrel between the two other brothers Orhoro and Evwreke. Esezi ascended the throne as Esezi I, the Orodje of Okpe.

Esezi I’s installation caused controversy within the Okpes who felt he was not the right royal family member to be crowned. During his regime, Esezi I ordered his people to cut down large palm trees in order to see them crushed by the weight of the trees. He also ordered members of the ruling houses to break a huge bar of iron, and when they failed, ordered them killed. He was a ruler who violated his people’s human rights and did only as he wished.

In 1779, the Okpe people, tired of his brutal treatment of them, vowed to kill him. The people of Okpe secretly dug a pit, covered the pit with sticks and mats, and placed the king’s chair over the pit. They also prepared a pot of boiling palm oil. When they were ready, they called a meeting. When Esezi I sat on the chair, he fell into the pit. The people poured the boiling oil and water over him, and he died in agony, cursing the Okpes that they “will never be reunited under an Orodje” (Mebitaghan, 2001, p.6; Asagba, 2005). Esezi I was killed for undermining the Okpe constitution and failing to work within its framework (Ikoyo-Eweto, 2005). He also failed to embody the hopes and symbols of unity and happiness which formed the basis of the monarchial government of the Okpe people (Asagba, 2005).


After his death, the Esezi family were unhappy over the assassination of their leader, and there was great unrest in the state capital city of Orerokpe. The capital was set on fire, and a consuming blaze swept through the city of Orerokpe. There was bloodshed and disunity between his descent group and supporters and the rest of the Okpes. The King’s relatives and supporters fled the capital city. Those who could not escape were either killed or driven from the city (Kerr, 1929).

According to Otite (1973), “the death of Esezi I occurred 150 years before 1929, that is, in about 1779” (p. 61). Fellows (1928) confirmed that Esezi I was killed in the year 1779 (p. 6). After the assassination of Esezi I, four chiefs—Odorume of Orhue ruling house, Owhere of Orhoro ruling house, and Eruohwo and Ogoni, both of Evwreke ruling house—dominated Okpe government and politics, and redivided the whole kingdom, leaving no portion for the Esezi ruling house (Otite, 1973, p. 67; Asagba, 2005, chapter 2). This period was known as the Okpe Revolution (Asagba, 2005, chapter 2).


The assassination of Esezi I in 1779 and the revolution that followed prompted a split in the family and the migration of its branches to different towns and villages throughout Okpe Kingdom (Asagba, 2005, chapter 2). Okpe Kingdom remained without a king for 166 years after the assassination of Esezi I. The kingdom was under the leadership of political representatives from the four ruling houses until the selection of H.R.M. Esezi II in 1945.

 

Chief Odorume (b. 1729 – d. 1796)

Chief Odorume (b. 1729 – d. 1796)

Son of Prince Orhue

He was a political leader from Orhue ruling house and a revolutionary.

 


 

Chief Owhere (b. 1742 – d. 1805)

Chief Owhere (b. 1742 - d. 1805)

Son of Prince Orhoro

He was a political leader from the Orhoro ruling house and a revolutionary.

 


 Chief Eruohwo (b. 1740 – d. 1802)

Chief Eruohwo (b. 1740 – d. 1802)

Son of Prince Evwreke

He was a political leader from the Evwreke ruling house and a revolutionary.

 


 Chief Ogoni  (b. 1745 – d. 1810)

Chief Ogoni  (b. 1745 – d. 1810)

Son of Prince Evwreke

He was a political leader from the Evwreke ruling house and a revolutionary.

 

 

 


 

H.R.M. Esezi II, King of Okpe Kingdom

H.R.M. Esezi II, King of Okpe

  (b. 1902 – d. 1966)

Reigned 1945-1966 (20th century)



Esezi II was born John Deveno to the royal family of Mebitaghan of the Esezi family of Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe. In 1940, with the British indirect rule of the kingdom, the Okpe Union saw the urgent need to fill the vacancy created by the death of Esezi I. But the installation of Esezi II to the throne had to wait because the British Colonial government opposed his selection and refused to recognize him as the Okpe king. However, the Okpe people installed Esezi II as their king in January 1945, but it was not until June 1948 that the Colonial government declared that they would recognize him as the Okpe king and that the Okpe people were free to regard and treat the king as their leader.

British rule marked the reign (1945-1966) of Esezi II. He was the first Okpe king to rule under the British indirect government. During his reign, Esezi II worked to make the Okpe kingship a democratic and constitutional monarchy. On March 16, 1957, Esezi II approved and signed into law the Okpe Tradition and Constitution, which enabled the democratic processes to begin functioning within the Okpe Traditional Council headed by the king.

When Nigerians began seeking their independence from Great Britain, Esezi II was among the Nigerian delegates of traditional kings who participated in the 1957 Lyttelton Conference that was held in London to help seek Nigerian independence.

During his reign, Esezi II and his council of chiefs became members of the House of Chiefs under the Western region of Nigeria. In 1956, Esezi II was chosen to represent the Urhobo division in the regional House of Chiefs and retained his position until 1960.

Esezi II is remembered by the Okpes as a ruler who brought his ideology of social equality to the Okpe monarchy by introducing a democratic system of government and as the first Okpe ruler to work with the British Colonial officers. Esezi II died in 1966 at the age of sixty-four (Otite, 1973; Asagba, 2005).

Following the death of Esezi II, and in accordance with the rotational system to the throne among the four ruling houses, the Orhoro ruling house was asked to present the successor to Esezi II. Prince Koyima Asagba of the Orhoro ruling house was selected to be the next king, but the Udogun Okpe Council rejected his nomination because his mother was an Itsekiri native. Following his rejection, Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba, a cousin to Koyima who was also from the Orhoro ruling house (and his mother’s father, Chief Omarin, was a member of the Evwreke ruling house) was nominated by the Asagba family. He had to turn down the nomination because of a split vote in the Asagba family. This action allowed Prince Domingo Amujaine Ejinyere to be appointed King of Okpe in 1972 after a six-year interregnum (Asagba, 2005).

 


 Asagba, Koyima G.

Asagba, Koyima G. (b. 1920 – d. 1974)

 

Prince Koyima G. Asagba was the son of Prince Gbabune Asagba and the grandson of Chief Asagba of the royal family of Asagba of the Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe.

 


 

Asagba, Vann Etietsola

 Asagba, Vann Etietsola (b. 1923 – d. 1997)


Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba was the son of Prince Joseph Etietsola Asagba, grandson of Prince Eyeyan Asagba, and the great-grandson of Chief Asagba, born to the royal family of Asagba of the Orhoro ruling house of Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe. His mother was Princess Alberta Aduviere Omarin (b. 1900 – d. 1968), daughter of Chief Omarin Etajeme of the royal family of the Evwreke ruling house and of the Ogoni family of Okpe Kingdom. He was a member of both the Orhoro and Evwreke ruling houses of Okpe Kingdom.

 

 


 

H.R.M. Orhoro I, Orodje (King) of Okpe Kingdom

 H.R.M. Orhoro I, Orodje (King) of Okpe  (b. 1921 – d. 2004)

Reigned 1972-2004 (20th-21st centuries)


His Royal Majesty Orhoro I was born in Orerokpe in 1921. His Majesty’s father, the late Chief Ejinyere Edjere, was of the Ibobo family on the paternal side and of the Owhere family on the maternal side. His Majesty’s mother, the late Princess Btadievu Erhobor, was from the Owhere family. It is instructive to note that both the Ibobo family and the Owhere family are sub-branches of the Orhoro ruling house.


HRM Orhoro I received his early education at the Holy Cross Catholic School in Lagos. Upon completing high school, he then joined the Nigeria Police Force from 1940 through 1952. He later proceeded to the United Kingdom in 1956, where he studied business administration and received a diploma. Upon his return from the United Kingdom, His Royal Majesty took a chieftaincy title and established a business. He was appointed president of the Customary Court in 1963.


In 1964, His Royal Majesty, along with his brother, Chief J. E. Odiete, jointly established an industrial company known as The New Africa Industries Limited. He held the positions of Director and General Manager of the company until his appointment as Orodje of Okpe in 1972.


Since the installation of His Royal Majesty Orhoro I, the Orodje had brought tremendous peace and stability to his people and also in the relationship between the Okpe people and their neighbors. He had reigned successfully and instilled relative peace, discipline and dignity in Okpe Kingdom. Under the leadership of Orhoro I, the kingdom acquired the notable life-image as a first class ethnic nationality in Nigeria. The monarchy had truly achieved success in the modern life of the Okpe people. When Orhoro I was crowned in 1972, the Nigerian government was under military rule and most traditional governments had only limited constitutional power. However, the Okpe monarchy remained a constitutional institution because of the Okpe Tradition and Constitution that was passed into law on March 16, 1957 by the late Esezi II.


During his reign, he was the First Vice Chairman of the (then) Midwest Council of Traditional Rulers (1973-1977); Deputy Chairman of the (then) Bendel State Traditional Rulers Forum (1977-1991); member of the National Council of States (1992); first and pioneer Chairman of the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers (1993); Chairman, Southern Delta Traditional Rulers Forum and Chairman of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities in the Delta State. He was also the life president of the Okpe Traditional Council. During his lifetime, His Royal Majesty won a Medal of Honor during the war of 1939-1945; he received a commendation from the Police Command in 1950; and in 1978, he became a Justice of the Peace. He received the Merit Award for the Development and Upliftment of Okpe Culture by the National Association of Okpe Students at the University of Benin/University of Benin Teaching Hospital in 1998. His Royal Majesty was also a Grand Patron to the National Union of Urhobo Students and received a Merit Award from the Union. In 1998, he was awarded the Distinguished Community Leadership Award by the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria; and, in 2003, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, honored him with the Officer of the Order of the Niger.


His Royal Majesty Orhoro I passed away in February 2004 at the age of 82. During the Orodje’s burial, several kings and chiefs who are members of the Nigeria Traditional Council came to pay their last respects. Among the prominent Nigerians who attended his burial ceremony were the former Nigeria Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, and the current governor of the Delta State, James Ibori (Eghagha, 2004).

 

 

Bibliography:
 

Asagba, Joseph O. The Untold Story of a Nigerian Royal Family: The Urhobo Ruling Clan of Okpe Kingdom. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2005.

Bradbury, R. E. The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking People of Southwestern Nigeria (London: International African Institute, 1957).

Eghagha, Hope. “Celebrating the life and time of HRM Orhoro I, JP, the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom” in Vanguard, Lagos. Friday, April 9, 2004.

Fellows, L. E. H. “Report on the Ukpe Sobo Clan” in file C.S.O. 22/6/3/2/1943. National Archives, Ibadan, 1928.

Ikoyo-Eweto, Isaac P. “Cultural Development in Okpe Kingdom.” Lecture presented at the Okpe National Conference held at the Orodje’s Palace, Orerokpe, January 2-3, 2005, p. 6.

Kerr, R. B. Ukpe Sobo Assessment Report in file C.S.O. 22/6/3/2/1943. National Archives, Ibadan, 1928, p. 6.

Mebitaghan, Isaac S. A Brief History of Okpe Kingdom. Ughelli: New Era Publications, 2001.

Okpe State Document: Traditional History of the Orodje of Okpe Clan. Western Urhobo District Council Office, Orereokpe. September 23, 1947.

Otite, O. Autonomy and Dependence: The Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe in Modern Nigeria. London: C. Hurst and Company, 1973.

 

Picture Credits.

Portraits of Princes Igboze, Okpe, Orhue, Orhoro, and Evwreke; Chiefs Odorume, Owhere, Eruohwo and Ogoni; and H.R.M. Esezi I are artist’s conceptions by James J. Johnson, Jr., Ed.D., professor emeritus, The University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.

Photos of H.R.M. Esezi II and H.R.M. Orhoro I courtesy of the collection of the Okpe Traditional Council.

Photo of Prince Koyima G. Asagba and courtesy of Dr. Austin O. Asagba; photo of Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba courtesy of the private collection of the Asagba family.



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