The attention of the people of Aguleri has been drawn to the story on the settlement of the Igbos in Nigeria, published in the Daily Sun of Wednesday 26th February, 2014, under the caption: “How Igbo first settled in Nri”. Consequent upon this, the undersigned persons have been mandated to make the following statement on the issue, on behalf of Aguleri:
To say the least, the story under reference is grossly misleading. It is a historical distortion and a travesty of Igbo history. We find it difficult to believe that a prominent member of the family of Eri, the progenitor of the Igbos, and of all personages, His Royal Majesty Obidiegwu Onyeso of Nri, is credited with such a grievous falsification of facts on the history of the Igbos. This is why we have waited this long to react to the story, expecting that he would disown it or disassociate himself from the misrepresentations therein. But since he has not done so, we are now convinced that the views and assertions in the story were correctly attributed to him.
Igwe Onyeso’s present stance, as reflected in the story, is a shocking contradiction to what he knows and believes to be the correct situation, as he practically and faithfully demonstrated during his visit to Aguleri in 1988, as part of the necessary traditional rites for the traditional ruler of Agukwu-Nri. For him to be singing a different tune now, even to the point of contesting the headship of Eri clan, and by extension of Ndi Igbo, with Aguleri is, indeed, unfortunate. We do not wish to engage in a public controversy with our brother, the Eze Nri, over a matter all of us know the truth. That explains why Aguleri has never bothered to make an issue over the wrong impression held by some people that Agukwu-Nri is the head of the Igbos, believing that our brothers, the Nris, are aware of the truth, and that there is no need publicly debunking the misconception. However, the erroneous assertions by Igwe Onyeso in the said publication have now made it necessary to correct that impression and set the records of Igbo history straight, particularly their settlement in Nigeria.
From historical findings, Eri from Israel was the fifth son of Gad, the seventh son of Jacob (Genesis 46:15-18 and Numbers 26:16:18). He migrated from Egypt with a group of companions just before the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt many centuries ago. They travelled by water and finally arrived at the confluence of Ezu and Omabala (Anambra) Rivers, located in present-day Aguleri, where, according to oral tradition, it was spiritually or divinely revealed to Eri that the point was to be their final destination and settlement. They moved into the hinterland and settled in the present-day Aguleri. Eri lived and died at Aguleri.
Agulu was the eldest son of Eri, and not Menri, as claimed by Igwe Onyeso. This is supported by oral tradition in Aguleri and in other communities of Eri clan. It is also confirmed by historical accounts by many writers of Igbo history. For instance, Alaezi J.G.C, in his book: “IBOS: Hebrew Exiles from Israel,” stated that “Aguleri was the oldest of the Eri descendants in Nigeria. Eri himself was the fifth son of Gad and Gad the seventh son of Jacob or Israel (See Genesis 46:15-18; Numbers 26:16-18; Exodus 1:1-5). Nri was the most prominent, but the last-born.” Menri (Nri) was prominent because, just as Levi was the Priest in the House of Jacob, Menri was the Priest in the House of Eri, and he performed priestly and spiritual functions throughout the Igbo settlement.
As the population at the settlement of Eri at Aguleri increased, and in combination with other factors, the children of Eri and/or their descendants left the settlement and founded various other settlements outside Aguleri, while Agulu, the first son, remained in their father’s home at Aguleri with his descendants. Agulu, fondly called Agulu-Nwa-Eri, appended the name of their father, Eri, to his name and founded Agulu-Eri (Aguleri).
Menri left Aguleri and settled at a big forest, where he engaged in hunting and farming, while also performing his spiritual work. He called the settlement Agu-Ukwu. When he was getting very old, he told his children to take him back to his ancestral home, as he would not want to die outside his father’s home. Menri was brought back to Aguleri, where he died and was buried. His grave is still marked at Okpu, in Ivite Aguleri, till this day. There is no other grave site of Menri, the founder of Nri, anywhere else in Igbo land, even in Nri itself, except in Aguleri.
It is pertinent to mention also that one of the foremost researchers on Igbo history, Isichei Elizabeth (1976), stated in her book, “A History of the Igbo People”, that the point of Igbo dispersal in Nigeria was around the Anambra valley/basin. No doubt, that point was at Aguleri. This fact was corroborated by Ujah (2006) when he stated in his book, “The Origin of Ibos,” that Arodi, the younger sibling of Eri, was one of the people that migrated with Eri and settled at Aguleri, from where he later left and gave birth to Arochukwu and Arondizuogu, as well as other Aro communities in Igboland.
Also, in 1995, a group of five Israeli anthropologists came to Nigeria, looking for evidence that the Eri of the House of Jacob was the same Eri in Nigeria. They went to several Igbo communities without much success in their mission, until they finally came to Aguleri. They were led on the visit to Aguleri by Senator Ben Obi (Ojeligbo) from Awka, accompanied by Chief Okoye Ojibeka from Nri and Chief George Odum from Mbaukwu. At Aguleri, the Israelis found several evidence that Eri of the House of Jacob was the same Eri in Aguleri. Among other things, they saw one of the sacred places in Aguleri, known as Obuga, at Enugwu Aguleri, established since ancient time and dedicated to the memory of the father of Eri, Gad. The name “Obuga” is really “Obu-Gad” (the House/Sanctum of Gad). They also saw a strange writing with cowries on the floor of Obuga, which they recognized as an ancient Hebrew writing. They later decoded the writing and the impression conveyed by its meaning was in accord with Aguleri traditional belief of Obuga as a sacred place of purity, peace and justice. The Isaelis were also shown the grave sites of Eri and Menri in Aguleri.
It is also a known fact that, by tradition, no Nri man would break the kolanut where an Aguleri man is present, except with his permission. This is in deference to the fact that Agulu (Aguleri) was the elder brother of Menri (Nri). Furthermore, in recognition of the fact that Aguleri is the first son of Eri and the ancestral home of Ndi-Igbo, as well as the custodian of all the spiritual sites and places of Eri kingdom, traditional rulers of Agukwu-Nri, from time past, till date, including the famous late Igwe Tabansi Udene, visited Aguleri for certain traditional rites, without which they would not have become traditional rulers of Nri. All the above facts amply confirm that Aguleri was the first settlement and the ancestral home of the Igbos, and not Nri, as erroneously claimed by Igwe Onyeso.
IGWE ONYESO AT AGULERI
In fulfillment of the age-long traditional rites for kingship in Nri, Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso, as Igwe-elect, visited Aguleri in 1988, accompanied by a delegation from Nri, which included the late prominent lawyer, Chief Ezebilo Umeadi (SAN). Igwe-elect Onyeso and his delegation spent seven days in Aguleri, from 9th February to 15th February, 1988, visiting sacred places, paying homage and making sacrifices to certain deities/shrines.
On arrival at Aguleri on 9th February, 1988, and after a brief reception at Obuga, at Umuezora, Enugwu Aguleri, Igwe-elect Onyeso and his people, the same day, went to Igboezunu Aguleri, where they visited the Okpanime shrine and Ama-Ovo (Ofo). At Okpanime, at Eziama, Igboezunu, they told the elders of Igboezunu that they had come to the shrine to ask for its blessings, to ensure a successful coronation of the Igwe-elect, Obidiegwu Onyeso. They presented kolanuts and thirty Naira in support of the kolanuts (i.e. ‘ego-oji’), some bottles of hot drink and tubers of yam, as well as a ram and a rooster, as items of homage and sacrifice to Okpanime. Thereafter, Igwe-elect Obidiegwu Onyeso told the Chief Priest of Okpanime shrine that he had come with his people to perform the traditional rites required of him as Igwe-elect of Nri, as his predecessors had done, and pleaded with Okpanime to forgive whatever might be their shortcomings and bless him. Responding, the Chief Priest recalled that two Igwes-elect of Nri had come in the past to the Okpanime shrine in his life-time for their coronation rites. He took a kolanut, presented it to ‘Chukwu Abiame’ (the God of Abraham), and called on Okpanime and two prominent deities of Aguleri, the Otutunzu Aguleri and the Ajana-Ukwu Aguleri, and also on ‘Anyanwu and Agballa’ to grant the Igwe-elect a successful coronation and reign as the traditional ruler of Nri.
From Okpanime, the delegation went to Ama-Ovo (Ofo) at Umumba, Igboezunu. The Chief Priest of the Ofo deity at Ama-Ofo mildly rebuked Igwe-elect Onyeso and his delegation for going to Okpanime shrine first, before visiting Ama-Ofo. He explained that by tradition the Igwe-elect and his delegation must have the Ofo before visiting Okpanime and other deities/shrines in Aguleri, hence the need to visit Ama-Ofo first, so as to receive the Ofo. The Nri people apologized for the error. Again, they presented kolanuts, with ‘ego oji’, some bottles of hot drink and tubers of yam, as well as a ram and a rooster, as items of homage and sacrifice at Ama-Ofo. The Chief Priest pointed at the Ofo tree in the place and remarked that the tree was as old as Aguleri. He prayed for a long and successful reign of the Igwe-elect as the Eze Nri. Speaking at the occasion, Igwe-elect Onyeso reiterated that he was following the footsteps of his predecessors by coming to Aguleri for certain traditional rites for Eze Nri. He affirmed that according to their oral tradition, Menri, the founder of Nri, left his father’s home at Aguleri on a hunting expedition and finally settled at the present-day Agukwu-Nri. The Nri delegation later danced for the Ofo deity, as directed by the Chief Priest, and in compliance with tradition. In conclusion of the ceremonies at Ama-Ofo, the Chief Priest handed over three Ofo sticks tied together, representing the three quarters of Aguleri, to a member of the Igwe-elect’s delegation, on his behalf. He explained that he did not give the Igwe-elect the Ofo because the Ofo did not belong to the Eze Nri alone, but to the entire Nri people. From Ama-Ofo, they left for Ama-Okpu, at Ivite Aguleri.
On arrival at Ama-Okpu, Igwe-elect Onyeso and his people immediately performed the ritual of praying at the Oye shrine, with their hands raised, in total submission to the god of their father. The Chief Priest prayed for the support and blessing of Oye towards the success of the coronation of Igwe-elect Onyeso, as well as for his long reign as Eze Nri, since he and his people had complied with tradition by coming to the home of their father and before the Oye shrine. As was the case at Okpanime and Ama-Ofo, again, Igwe-elect Onyeso presented kolanuts, with ‘ego oji’, some bottles of hot drink and tubers of yam, as well as a ram and a rooster, as items of homage and sacrifice at Ama-Okpu. The Chief Priest of Oye Shrine told the Nri delegation that Okpu was their ancestral home, from where Menri, the founder of Nri, and his descendants left for their present settlement at Agu-Ukwu. He said that any Igwe-elect of Nri who failed to come to Aguleri to perform the necessary traditional rites would not be Eze Nri, and recalled that one or two of such people in the past did not end well. After the ceremonies at Ama-Okpu, the delegation left for Obuga, at Enugwu Aguleri, at about 7.30pm, marking the end of their activities on their first day in Aguleri.
The following day, 10th February, 1988, at Ama-Obuga (Obuga Public Square), Igwe-elect Onyeso and his delegation, again, and for the fourth time, made a presentation of some items as homage and sacrifice to the gods. This time, instead of a ram, they presented a cow, as well as kolanuts, with ‘ego oji’, some bottles of hot drink and tubers of yam, and also a rooster. One of the elders of Enugwu Aguleri, Ogbuanyinya Chinwuba Nweke, prayed for a hitch-free coronation for Igwe-elect Onyeso and pleaded with the gods to reveal to the oraculists, diviners and seers assembled at Obuga from Aguleri and beyond the identity of the person they (the gods) had chosen to collect ‘Ududu-Eze’ from the bottom of the confluence of Ezu and Anambra rivers (‘Agbanabo-Ezu-na-Omabala’) for the Igwe-elect of Nri, according to tradition. The next day, 11th February, 1988, one Igbanugo Ajana, a young boy from Umuezeora family of Enugwu Aguleri, was identified as the person to undertake the assignment. Igbanugo Ajana, who was then at Okombi camp, at Aguleri-Otu, was sent for by the head of his family. On arrival, Igbanugo Ajana was made to undergo three days of spiritual purification at Obuga. Meanwhile, Igwe-elect Onyeso sojourned at Obuga, waiting for the completion of the traditional rites.
Very early in the morning of the seventh day of the visit of Igwe-elect Onyeso and his people to Aguleri (i.e. on 15th February, 1988), an elder from Enugwu Aguleri, Ogbuevi Ekwuo Agbasionwe, led a young virgin boy and Igbanugo Ajana, accompanied by Igwe-elect Onyeso and his delegation, as well as other Enugwu Aguleri elders and youths, on foot, from Obuga to the Anambra river, a distance of about three kilometers. Igbanugo Ajana, together with Ekwuo Agbasionwe and a few young men were then taken in a canoe to Agbanabo, while Igwe-elect Onyeso and others waited at the river bank. At Agbanabo, Igbanugo Ajana jumped into the river, while those who had accompanied him moved away and waited around for him to surface. After About two hours at the bottom of the river, Igbanugo Ajana emerged with some white clay in his palms. Those who had been hanging around for him, picked him up and took him back to the river bank, where others, including Igwe-elect Onyeso, had been waiting for him.
With the white clay in his palms, Igbanugo Ajana went to where the Igwe-elect and the virgin boy, who was now carrying a traditional wooden saucer covered with white cloth, were standing, and dropped the white clay in the wooden saucer. Ekwuo Agbasionwe wrapped the clay with the white cloth in the wooden saucer, which was then presented to Igwe-elect Onyeso, and he took the white clay, representing the Ududu-Eze. According to the elders of Aguleri, any object in the palms of the person that went to the bottom of the river at Agbanabo, be it clay, stone, stick, or whatever, is the Ududu-Eze, also known as ‘Ikekelu-Eze Nri’ (the power that creates Eze Nri). So, immediately Igwe-elect Obidiegwu Onyeso removed the Ududu-Eze from the wooden saucer, there was great jubilation, with praise singers and drummers from Nri singing his praise and thanking Aguleri and the gods for making their visit successful by giving their Igwe-elect the Idudu-Eze. By this time, everybody was hurrying back to Obuga, because, according to tradition, the Ududu-Eze should not spend the night at Aguleri, since it is the power/authority for rulership over Nri, and not Aguleri.
Back at Obuga, Igwe-elect Obidiegwu Onyeso now had the Ofo, which was given to him at Ama-Ofo, in one hand and the Ududu-Eze in the other hand. At this stage, His Royal Majesty, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri of Enugwu Aguleri, sat Igwe-elect Onyeso down on the replica of the throne of Agulu, which is at Obuga. From that moment, Igwe-elect Obidiegwu Onyeso became traditionally confirmed as the Igwe of Nri or Eze Nri. As soon as he got up from the throne at Obuga, Igwe Onyeso went back to the deities/shrines in the various quarters of Aguleri on a ‘thank you’ visit, for helping him to become the traditional ruler of Nri. Thereafter, he and his delegation left for Nri. After three native weeks (i.e twelve days) of Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso leaving Aguleri, Ogbuevi Ekwuo Agbasionwe, acting on behalf of Aguleri elders, and in keeping with tradition, went to Nri to recite to Igwe Onyeso the do’s and don’ts (‘Igu Nso’) of being in possession of the Ofo and Ududu-Eze from Aguleri, as the traditional ruler of Agukwu-Nri.
It is, indeed, unbelievable that after going through all these coronation rites, Igwe Onyeso could refer to his visit to Aguleri in 1988 in a very casual and less-than-honest manner, by saying that “any coronated Eze Nri must obtain clay from the bottom where two rivers meet; the nearest place that meets the requirement was the confluence of Ezu and Omabala. I therefore went to Agbanabo to collect the clay for Udu Eze meant for Eze Nri. That I slept in Obuga was to shorten the distance to where I obtained the clay soil for the moulding of Udu-Eze. Aguleri and Nri do not have much in common”. Igwe Onyeso knows, from the bottom of his heart, that he was being very economical with the truth. From the details given above, his visit to Aguleri to collect the Ududu-Eze or clay from Agbanabo is not a casual affair. It goes with a lot of ceremonies and tradition. Besides, Agbanabo, in the oral tradition of Eri clan, including Nri, is not just any place “where two rivers meet”. It has great spiritual significance, because it was at this point that Eri had a divine revelation that they had reached their ordained place of settlement. Members of Eri clan, including Nri, therefore, have a strong spiritual attachment to Agbanabo. And this has made it an important and mandatory feature in the coronation rites of the people of Nri. That was why Igwe Onyeso had to go to Agbanabo, at Aguleri, as a matter of traditional obligation, and not merely as any place “where two rivers meet”.
As for Igwe Onyeso’s reason for spending the night at Obuga, one may ask: is Obuga a guest house, or a hotel? The fact is that Obuga is a place for spiritual re-dedication and the evocation of the proud ancestry of Eri descendants and Ndi Igbo in general. It is a sacred place for royal empowerment and self-purification. Igwe Onyeso knows all this. And that was the real reason he went to Obuga. Also, it is quite misleading for Igwe Onyeso to give the covert impression that he spent only one night at Obuga, when he said: “that I slept in Obuga was to shorten the distance to where I obtained the clay soil for the moulding of Udu-Eze”. This is very untrue. He spent seven clear days at Obuga, in the performance of certain traditional rites at Aguleri for the Eze Nri, and was sleeping on the floor with a mat, as demanded by tradition.
Perhaps, it should be mentioned here that the visit of Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso, as Igwe-elect, with his people to Aguleri in 1988, including the places he went to, making sacrifices and paying homage to certain deities/shrines, was well captured in a video coverage. The video is available in Aguleri archives for anyone who cares to see and is interested in knowing the truth.
KINGSHIP INSTITUTION IN AGULERI
We find it difficult to believe that Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso of Agukwu-Nri is genuinely ignorant when he claimed that “Aguleri people have never produced Eze Aguleri since the beginning of time”. If that is so, then it is a terrible exhibition of an unpardonable ignorance. According to Aguleri oral tradition, kingship started in Aguleri ‘ube eri’ or ‘mgbe eri’, meaning since the time of Eri, hence, one of the coronation rites Igwe-elect Onyeso performed at Aguleri was to sit on the replica of the throne of Agulu-Nwa-Eri at Obuga. But, specifically, there is the Umuezeora family of Enugwu Aguleri, which produced over thirty kings of Aguleri, up to the 18th century, and has continued, in recent times, up to now, to produce the Eze of Enugwu Aguleri. We also have the Idigo dynasty of Iruokechi family of Eziagulu Aguleri, which has produced Eze Aguleri from 1900 till date. Both dynasties are from Ugwunadegbe Aguleri.
We have gone into all the above details, in order to effectively debunk the false claims of Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso. In the process, we believe we have also proved that Aguleri, and not Nri, is the first son of Eri and the ancestral home of Ndi-Igbo. We do not know what propelled our brother, Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso, to engage in virtual apostasy by repudiating the traditional rites he went through at Aguleri, as well as the unwarranted denigration of Aguleri and the sacred and spiritual facts about Eri and his descendants, even to the extent of saying that “Aguleri and Nri do not have much in common”. This was after he had stated that Aguleri and Nri were among the direct children of Eri. We are, indeed, at a loss to understand our brother any more. We hope it is not a case of “he who the gods want to destroy, they first make mad”. Be that as it may, the spiritual and traditional bond between Aguleri and Nri cannot easily be wished away, just as we are reminded of the fate of some Igwes of Nri in the past, who failed to visit Aguleri to consummate the traditional rites for kingship in Nri. Perhaps, what happened to them is instructive and should be a guide to all it may concern!
Our attention has also been drawn to another story on the same subject matter of Igbo history, captioned: “How Igbo migrated from Israel”, published in the Daily Sun of Wednesday, May 28, 2014, by Elder Edozieuno Ndive Aniegboke of Umueri. The write-up appears to be driven by a strong desire to re-write the history of Umuleri, recently changed to Umueri, rather than an effort to enlighten the public. Of course, in doing this, Aniegboke distorted a lot of historical facts and manufactured stories to fit his design. He also engaged in his usual pastime of insulting Aguleri. Be it in spurious petitions written by him or his ilk against Aguleri, or in articles, such as the instant one, the “mercenaries from Aguleri” must be an issue. For instance, in the story in question, he concluded that “it is these mercenaries from Aguleri and co that are forcing (these) names of different known and unknown communities on Eri which the Aguleris don’t belong to”. He also falsified history when he insinuated that the name “Aguleri” was originally “Agu-Eri”, but because “the whiteman could not pronounce Agu-Eri hence he added the alphabet (L) to become Aguleri”. This is absolute fiction. The name Aguleri is supported by empirical evidence, for Agulu was the first son of Eri and the founder of ‘Agulu-Eri’ (Aguleri). It has also remained constant since the dawn of the history of Aguleri.
Indeed, Aniegboke’s article is more of nuisance value than any serious contribution to Igbo history. It is as confusing as it is full of historical inaccuracies and contradictions. At best, it is a comic relief. However, in the maze of confusion in the story, Aniegboke labored hard to assign a new founder to Umuleri, in the person of either Dabaw or Eri, as he appears not to have made up his mind yet on which one to stick to. In one instance, he claimed that Umuleri “are direct descendants of Dabaw”, and in another place he referred to Umuleri as “the original Eri descendants.” But the truth of the matter is that Igbo history is short or silent on the historical paternity of Umuleri. Rather, there is historical knowledge that Adamgbo, the daughter of Eri, was the founder of Umuleri, hence Umuleri and Aguleri are generally regarded as related communities, since Adamgbo was the sister of Agulu, the founder of Aguleri. Another school of thought has it that Umuelri was founded by Iguedo, an itinerant woman, hence Umuleri is a prominent member of the ‘Umu-Iguedo’ communities, till date. These are easily verifiable facts. And they are confirmed by the oral traditions of Umuleri and Aguleri, as well as of the ‘Umu-Iguedo’ clan. As a matter of fact, the original name of Umuleri bore evidence of the above circumstances of its founding. The name then was ‘Umu-Ulu-Eri’ (children of profit to Eri), since they are the children/descendants of Adamgbo, the daughter of Eri, who was not known in history to be married. It was later shortened to ‘Umuleri’, and just recently changed to ‘Umueri’. A more detailed comment on Aniegboke’s concoction of history will be made later, if need be.
Long live Aguleri! Long live Ndi-Igbo!! Long live Nigeria!!!
Chief Ralph Igwah
Chief Eddy Okoye
Chief Osita Chinwuba
Chief (Hon) Jerome Nnechi (JP)
Chief Paul Nnamah
Prince Raph Chikwenze
Chief Emma Ikem
Chief George Ejimofor (JP)
Chief Charles Chieze