Ewu: Chieftaincy tussle that will not go away

Yusuf Ojeifo Isesele

EWU town is situated in Esan Central Local Government Area of Edo State. The Esan tribe covers 200 feet in the plateau region of Edo State and is 100 kilometres north of Benin City, the capital of Edo State. Ewu town is made up of nine villages comprising Eguare-Ewu, Ehanlen-Ewu, Ihenwen-Ewu, Uzogholo-Ewu, Ukhiodo-Ewu, Idunwele-Ewu, Eko-Ojemi, Oghodogbor and Ukpeko-Ori.

Ewu is bordered in the north by Agbede, in the southeast by Irrua and in the southwest by Ekpoma. Pronounced Elu by the natives, Ewu is believed to be the Anglicised rendering of the original name, Elu.

Ewu is one of the major agricultural bases of Edo State. Unfortunately, the ancient town has been embroiled in a chieftaincy tussle, since the passage of the immediate past Onojie of Ewu, His Royal Highness, Isesele Ojeifo I, in 1997. The ripple effect has resulted in poor infrastructural and economic development of the place. The most intriguing aspect of it all is that two brothers are at war with each other.

Jafaru Ojeifo Isesele is uncle to the sitting Onojie of Ewu, Rasak Ojeifo Isesele II. The protracted chieftaincy tussle has become a source of worry to every patriotic son and daughter of Ewu. August 6 2017, will make it exactly 20 years since the two contenders to the Ewu throne have been in court. Both parties have moved from the High Court to the Appellate Court, and now they are at the Supreme Court, where judgment is being awaited.

Father of the incumbent Onojie, Rasak Ojeifo Isesele II, was Prince Yusuf Ojeifo Isesele, who died four months before the passage of the immediate Onojie of Ewu, His Royal Highness Isesele Ojeifo the first.

I’m Ready To Make Peace With My Uncle, Jafaru, Once He Is Ready— Rasak Ojeifo Isesele II, The Onojie Of Ewu

On February 17, 2017, Zaki Rasak Ojeifo, Isesele II marked his 43rd birthday, and The Palace Watch used the opportunity to find out from the two parties, what exactly is making the disagreement not to be resolved at community level.
First to speak was the sitting Onojie of Ewu Kingdom, Zaki Rasak Ojeifo Isesele II.

Why has it become so difficult for the chieftaincy tussle to be resolved between you and your uncle, Jafaru? It’s nearly 20 years since you have been in court. Does this not worry you?
Well, I am not at all averse to a peaceful resolution of this matter. Time and money spent on matters like this, especially between two blood relations, are no doubt wasted. If you must know, we have, in the past, made quite some efforts to resolve this matter peacefully, but my uncle wouldn’t cooperate. That is why we are in court. I did not impose myself on the Ewu people. It is the abiding duty of the Ewu people to decide whom they want as their king, which exactly is what the good people of Ewu have done. Among my people, it is a common axiom “that no other person or persons make(s) the King except the people.”

So, if my uncle is ready today to make peace with me, I am all for it. What have we benefitted from the protracted crisis of many years? Absolutely nothing! Waste of resources that could have been channeled into more productive areas.

What exactly led to the crisis? And what efforts have been made so far to settle it?
My father, Prince Yusufu Ojeifo Isesele was the rightful heir apparent to the Ewu throne, after my grandfather, His Royal Highness, Isesele Ojeifo. He was also the immediate elder brother to Jafaru, who is my uncle. Sadly, my father died in April 1997. At that time, I was a very young man, barely 23 years old. I was a law student at the university. My uncle tried to perform my late father’s burial rites. The elders, who foresaw his motives, prevented him from doing so, arguing that my father had a male child, who should be the rightful person by our custom and tradition to perform his burial rites.

Not quite long after, my grandfather, who was the reigning Onojie of Ewu also joined his ancestors. Again, my uncle made frantic efforts to perform his burial rites, which the elders also objected, saying that I was the rightful person to perform those rites. Still, he went ahead and performed his late father’s burial rites, in spite of the objection of our elders, who made it very clear that it was the duty and right of Rasak to perform those rites. It was in the process that our people, who wanted the right thing to be done, went to court in 1998, to challenge his efforts to usurp the throne of Ewu Kingdom. This, I would say, is the genesis of the crisis.

Secondly, the Onojie of Irrua, alongside other chiefs, made very bold efforts to resolve the matter, but my uncle would not cooperate with them. When Chief Tony Anenih was made the Iyasele of Esan land, he also made frantic effort to get the matter resolved. He invited my uncle and I at different times to his house in Uromi, to see how he could resolve the problem. Again, my uncle rebuffed him. The third effort was the one made by Ojeifo’s immediate family members, which also failed, because my uncle would not cooperate.

Don’t you see this crisis as a distraction affecting the development of Ewu as a whole?
I agree with you to some extent, that the crisis is a distraction of a sort, but it is certainly not affecting the development of Ewu. We are moving forward as a people and as a group to develop Ewu town. For example, the Ewu Flour Mill that was moribund for years is now being revived. An illustrious son of Ewu has just bought over the company. This is progress.

The problem of gully erosion that has been giving our people a major concern is now also being addressed. World Bank Experts are in town, assessing the situation and finding ways to tackle the problem once and for all. Presently, they are assessing all buildings affected by the erosion, to see how compensations can be paid to the people, whose homes were affected. We are all determined to move Ewu to the next desired level of development.

Are you ready to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court, even if it does not favour you?
I would say it is premature for me to say this is what I would do, if the Supreme Court’s decision does not favour me. A fact you must not ignore is that it will then be up to the Ewu people to decide what they want to do. It is the people that choose the king they want. So, I would leave that decision to Ewu people to make, when the time comes.

There Can Be No Peaceful Settlement Without Justice —

Thereafter, The Palace Watch put a call across to Prince Jafaru Ojeifo Isesele.
It’s been 20 years, since you and your nephew Rasak have been in court over the Ewu chieftaincy crown. As an elder, what efforts are you making to get the matter resolved permanently?
IF you must know, I was not the one that dragged them to court. It was the Rasak group that first went to court immediately after my installation as the Onojie of Ewu kingdom in 1998, and since then, we have moved from one court to another. And now, we are in the apex court of the land, the Supreme Court. In all the courts they have taken me to, I have won all the cases, while they have been the losers.

In view of the foregoing, don’t you think it would be better for us to wait patiently and see what the judgment of the Supreme Court is going to look like before you begin to ask for my opinion on this matter? They have been the people appealing in all these cases, and not me. Let us, therefore, wait and see the outcome of the case before the Supreme Court. It is then we will know whether or not there would be the need for any reconciliation.

Doesn’t it bother you that the general interest and well-being of the Ewu people you want to rule over as an Onojie suffers daily with the protracted crisis? So far, you have refused to shift grounds and your nephew is also holding on to his position. Is this is in the best interest of Ewu people?

Hmmm! I have never been the aggressor in this matter. After my father’s death, as the eldest surviving son, and in accordance with our custom and tradition in Ewu, I performed his burial rites. But after these events, some people began to complain that I was not the person that was supposed to have performed those rites, which were legitimately mine. They said it was my father’s grandson, Rasak that was the right and proper person to perform my father’s burial rites, which was not true.

This was how they ignited the present crisis between Rasak and I. Their reason was that they wanted Rasak, a grandson, to take over the throne. This, we all know, is not the correct thing to do. I must confess that I am disappointed at the conduct of some of our elite in Ewu. Very many of them know the truth and what is right under the present circumstances. Sadly, however, they are all sitting on the fence to see to what extent this matter will go. Do we in all honesty expect to have peace, when there is no justice?

But according to history, your grandfather, Ijebo, never ascended the throne of Ewu as an Onojie. Is that true?
Gabriel, I am surprised you are asking me this type of question. I expect you to know the history of Ewu very well. People can’t just because of selfish reasons or motives decide to turn our history upside down. That won’t work. To cut a long story short, what made the Oba of Benin to give judgment in my father’s favour against the Omosu in 1935? In that judgment, the Oba said if Omosu, who was a regent, had vacated the throne, Ijebo, my grandfather would have ascended the throne, after performing his father’s burial rites.

In that judgment, the then Oba of Benin said that “a regent is never recognised as an Onojie, and that my grandfather, Ijebo, would have had direct access to Ewu throne, if Omosu had agreed to vacate that throne.” This is what they are now trying to twist to suit their selfish aim. That will not work.

Is it right for you to insist that the Rasak group take you to the Supreme Court and wait for the apex court’s pronouncement on the matter before reconciliatory moves are made, when there are evidences that this same group has made three attempts in the past to get the matter resolved out of court and you refused to cooperate with them?

You see, there is a lot of misinformation going round. What happened, with regards to the Onojie of Irrua on this matter is very straightforward. After my installation as the Onojie of Ewu, I wrote a letter to the Esan Central Traditional Council to inform my brother Onojies about my installation, as the Onojie of Ewu. As expected, they wrote back, acknowledging my status as the Onojie of Ewu.

Rasak and his group first went to court in 1998. When they discovered in 1999 that the court’s ruling was not in their favour, they now went to the Esan Central Traditional Council to lobby or seek its intervention. I was shocked to see that in the letter the council wrote to me inviting me for the reconciliatory meeting with the Rasak group, I was now addressed as Mr. Jafaru Isesele. I said, “No, I will not take this insult”, that unless and only when the council decides to address me properly, I will not attend any meeting called by them.

They went ahead and held that meeting, but I did not attend. In the process, members of the Esan Central Traditional Council reported me to security personnel in this zone, saying they invited me for a reconciliatory meeting and I refused to attend. Those people came to me here and sought my opinion. When I told them what transpired, they simply walked away. And that was it.

Yes, it is true that when Chief Tony Anenih was made the Iyasele, the Traditional Prime Minister of Esan land, he made an attempt to wade into the matter. He invited me to his house in Uromi and I went to see him. I took a copy of the first court judgment, which I had in my favour in 1999 along with me to show him. He was very forthright, and he said he couldn’t be the Iyasele of Esan land and this kind of disagreement would linger, that he wanted to see how the matter could be settled. I only had to ask him some questions, which up till today he never provided me with the answers.

I told him that as the Iyasele of Esan land, he was now in a position to tell the world about our custom and tradition. I then proceeded to ask him the following questions: First, is it right or customary for a grandson to bury a man in Esan land, when he has a son or children? Chief Anenih kept quiet and never answered. Secondly, is there any way in our Esan custom and tradition for a grandson to inherit the properties or throne of a man who has a son? Again, Chief Anenih kept quiet and was looking at me.

I told him that these were the fundamental questions begging for answers. At that point, Chief Anenih simply said, “you will hear from me.” But since then, he never got back to me on this matter. And since he now knew the facts of the matter, the Rasak group could not go back to him. He realised that it was a matter he could not handle.

Was there any attempt by the Ojeifo’s family to get this matter resolved? If yes, why did you decide not to cooperate with members of your immediate family?

(He burst into a prolonged laughter). These were the same characters that caused the crisis in the first instance. They sent about four delegates here to meet with me in my house. The guy that led the delegation said they wanted the matter resolved. I told them it was okay by me, that I like what they were trying to do, but that I would want to know if there could be peace without justice. They all said No. Can there be peace without truth? They said No. I then told them to first go after truth, justice and fair play before they can come to me for peace talk. They all got up and left.

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