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Published On: Thu, Oct 31st, 2019

Historical Development Of Ukoro Society And Ascendency Of Uwheru Monarch

Odion R’Ode of Uwheru Kingdom HRM Agbaovwe Afugbeya

By Young Erhiurhoro
LAGOS OCTOBER 31ST (URHOBOTODAY)-Uwheru Kingdom is one of the ancient kingdoms in Urhoboland that has a well established traditional institution that is regulated by well laid down traditional ethics and cultural norms for its indigenes since its existence centuries ago.
The traditional stool of the Uwheru people is known as “Odion’Rode” of Uwheru kingdom. It is the same way as we have the “Ohworode of Olomu kingdom, the Osuivie of Agbarho kingdom, the Orodje of Okpe kingdom, the Okpara-Uku of Orogun kingdom, Orovworere of Effurun-Otor kingdom” and many other ones across Urhoboland.
In Urhobo nation, each of the legally recognized 24 kingdoms have their respective and various ways of ascending their thrones. All of them are not the same. Some are rotational among ruling houses (royal families), e.g Uvwie, Evwreni kingdoms. Some are rotational among elders, e.g Orogun kingdom. Some are rotational among chiefs and titled men, e.g Uwheru and Agbarho kingdoms. Some others are hereditary, e.g Ughelli, Ogor, Agbarha kingdoms.
It has been observed that those whose thrones are hereditary are very much peaceful during times of succession or ascedancy, while all the other ones are always very violent and fraudulent during succession or ascedancy periods. There are situations in many kingdoms across Urhoboland where succession or ascendancy to thrones have led to legal battles, killing and maiming the lives of innocent indigenes and other residents of such kingdoms.
However, we want to look at the Ukoro Society as an ascedancy process to the Odion’Rode stool of the Uwheru people in this short discourse. Naturally speaking, Uwheru as a kingdom has four recognized quarters, with the addition of one in later years to make it five. The quarters are Egbo, Erovie, Ehere, Urede and finally, Ohoror. From available records and historical facts, the Odion’Rode stool was perpetually stationed in Erovie Quarters in ancient times as the senior quarter amongst the five. In fact, Erovie literally means, the quarter or abode of a king in Urhobo language. But as time progresses, the Odion’Rode stool was politically maneuvered by some political big wigs in the kingdom and the ascendancy or succession process became rotational among the five quarters. This led to the first internal crisis in Uwheru kingdom in 1986 as a result of who should wear the crown. Since this time, it has been one crisis to another on who ascends the throne. It was one legal battle to another between two or more quarters on whose turn to produce the Odion’Rode.
Before now, the Ukoro Society was the only traditional process acceptable to the Uwheru people to ascend the Odion’Rode stool. The Ukoro Society is like the Ozo Age Grade Society in Igbo traditional society. Like the Ozo Age Grade, the Ukoro Society was a noble association for only noble and highly respected people in the society. Some of the prerequisites for becoming a member of this royal and noble society in Uwheru kingdom in those days as I was told by my late father, late Olorogun (Prince) Young Udufovwe were, firstly, you must be a male child and paternally related to Erovie Quarters, secondly, you must be healthy in both body and mind without any deformity, thirdly, you must be from a notable family without any record of criminality, fourthly, you must be free from evil and wicked practices, fifthly, you must be a responsible member of your family and community, sixthly, you must be a married man with children and many other ones.
More importantly, out of all the prerequisites enumerated above, the first one was considered most important and necessary. That is, the would-be member of the Ukoro Society must genetically trace his paternal family to Erovie Quarters and must also be a male child. Those that were maternally related to the quarters or by marriage (sons-in-law) were never accepted for membership at that time. However, meeting up those demands was not an easy task and this was one of the reasons while the Ukoro Society had few members in those days. Another reason why only few people were able to join the Ukoro Society was that, the initiation processes of membership was capital intensive and very cumbersome. So, it was only the well to do in the quarter that had the economic power to join. It was a society that was meant for the rich and not the poor in the quarter. Another fact in the Ukoro Society was that, rich and notable people in the quarter were permitted by traditional practices to also intitiate their young children into the society. This was done as a kind of inheritance to such children so that when they come of age they could ascend the throne as well.
Initially, the members of the Ukoro Society were not traditional chiefs as such. They were different from chiefs in the kingdom. Chieftaincy titles were conferred on people by the traditional ruler but to be a member of the Ukoro Society was not the primary responsibility of the monarch. The initiation processes of the Ukoro Society was vested on some elders in the quarter and the old members of the association, though the traditional ruler could be present during this period. On the other hand, the members of the Ukoro Society were not accorded respect like the traditional chiefs. This was because the members of the Ukoro Society do not dress with their full regalia in every occasion as the traditional chiefs do. Their dressings were exceptional to some special occasions that deserved such. This was why many of the people that were members of the group were not too known to other members of the quarter or community. But this was not to rule off the fact that members do not know themselves. They know themselves and their seniority status in the society.
Without doubt, the members of the Ukoro Society were the recognized heir apparents to the Odion’Rode throne of the Uwheru kingdom. It was rotational among members according to seniority of entry. It was never rotated according to age. This was the ascedancy or succession practice in Uwheru kingdom before now. And the system ushered in peace and tranquility to every part of the kingdom at that time. History even had it that the first gazetted Odion’Rode of Uwheru kingdom by the then British Colonial Government, HRM, Udufovwe Ogbi, Oyise 1 ascended the throne through this Ukoro system. He peacefully ruled the kingdom for so many years until he was gruesomely murdered by his own younger brother, Ikine Ogbi.
Unfortunately, like what I said earlier on, the Ukoro system peacefully ran for a very long time in the history of Uwheru kingdom until it was short-changed and the system hijacked by power-drunk politicians and titled men (chiefs) from the other quarters. That was when the Uwheru traditional throne became unstable and surrounded by huge load of problems; ranging from litigations, fighting and to full blown crises. Another reason why this Ukoro system was tumbled was because, some of the members that supposed to ascend the throne were later found out to be irresponsible and irrelevant in the society. Some were drunkards and others were notorious criminals especially those initiated at young age by their parents. To the thinking and reasoning of those hijackers, instead of such persons to mount the throne as traditional rulers of a kingdom, then let any person who was capable and responsible take over the throne especially traditional chiefs. However, to those rightful members that were being denied their rights, they always took it as a kind of oppression and injustice which they must fight to a victorious end with acts of omission or commission. In so doing, they had succeeded in perpetuating much evil in the land. It created enmity and avarice in all the quarters of the kingdom; quarter fighting against quarter, brothers fighting against brothers.
In other words, the Ukoro system is today abolished and it’s no longer in use in Uwheru kingdom. However, through a recent court judgement, though it can still be contestable in appeal process, the stool is now restored to the Erovie Quarters as was the practice in those days. This is truly a victory for our judiciary and our legal system. But the point I want to make here is that, even though the throne now rightly belong to the Erovie Quarters as before, the Ukoro system of ascedancy or succession to the exalted throne is not in practice as usual. To ascend the throne now is based on mere selection and political influence among traditional but influential chiefs. Without being told, this process will again cause chaos and crisis in the kingdom if it’s not handle carefully and wisely. Even though traditional institutions cannot be totally independent or free of political institutions or the government of the day, but I want to urge the Uwheru traditional leadership to look keenly into the Ukoro Society and how to restructure and revitalize it to meet the modern style of traditional leadership and the needs of the people. In this case, the Ukoro Society should be documented and legalized with the approval of the Delta state government as a way or process to ascend the Odion’Rode stool in order to avoid the incessant court cases that always gulp away our financial resources which could be used for productive ventures in the entire kingdom at every time when a new monarch is to be installed. It would also help to avert possible crises that could sometime lead to uncontrollable and unbearable circumstances and situations in Uwheru kingdom. My Uwheru people, it is better to live in peace than in pieces!

Young Erhiurhoro; Kjc is a reporter and a member of the Urhobo Historical Society.

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