I was a Tailor——–Ovie of Ughelli
The Ovie of Ughelli, HRM Wilson Ojako, Oharisi 111 was born on April 21, 1953. His mother (Obaka) died when he was a teenager and his father died when he was still a very young man leaving behind to his care, over 20 siblings. Wilson Ojakovo had no smooth educational opportunities available to his peers before ascending the throne of his ancestors but 25 years after, he has made significant effort to upgrade bagging an NCE and a degree in Public Administration from the University of Benin. In this interview with Jon Egie, a special treat for the silver jubilee celebration of his enthronement as king and 64th birthday, the monarch spoke on several issues relating to the Ughelli kingdom and people and the excerpts are served below. Enjoy the recipe.
How and which year did you become the king of Ughelli kingdom?
By the grace of God, I became the Ovie of Ughelli on April 20,1992. Before I became the king I was a tailor and the Ughelli kingship is hereditary from the father to the senior son and because I am the senior son, after the passing away of my father, they asked me to leave the tailoring work and go to school and at that time I was in primary six and yet to write the First School Leaving Certificate Examination (FSLCE). So they asked me to enroll for the examination to enable me gain admission into a secondary school which I did, passed the exams and was admitted into the secondary school. I entered secondary school at the age of 28. So I will say I was a tailor before my father died and after that they asked me to go to school, I would even say that I was a student when they called me to be enthroned as king of Ughelli.
How was the celebration of your enthronement as a king?
By the grace of God it was very unique, unique in the sense that the day of the coronation people from all over the state gathered in Oharisi primary school, it was a very happy day for all Ughelli people to see that they have got a new king. At that time Bassey Asuquo was the sole administrator of Delta state he presented the staff of office to me and all the people of Ughelli kingdom were happy, it was a very happy day.
What is the expanse of the kingdom, the villages and towns that make up the Ughelli kingdom?
For now we are having 23 towns and villages in Ughelli kingdom and by the grace of God some of these villages when I ascended the throne 25 years ago have become towns. For now you cannot differentiate between Otovwodo and Ighwreko, you cannot differentiate between Ighwreko and Ekiugbo; the kingdom is expanding rapidly, Ighwremaro now is joining up with Ekiugbo. If you are driving from Otovwodo to Ekiugbo you would not believe that you have run across three towns unless you are told. We have 23 towns and villages in Ughelli and they are growing rapidly.
So how sir, as a king, are you able to rule this kingdom, what is the machinery in place to rule the kingdom?
In the olden days they set up a strategy that they used in ruling the kingdom. In a village the Ovie asked the indigenes to sponsor somebody to take a chieftaincy title from the palace of the kingdom and the first person that took chieftaincy title in that village or town would be the mouthpiece of the king. Such a person handled any matter that arose in that village or town and where he is unable to settle the matter he would bring it to the palace. This order still remains till tomorrow though have formed something called community chairman, they call themselves president general that look at the affairs of each village and town. That is the machinery we are using in ruling the towns and villages.
The tailor is like the journalists who gather pieces of information and present it whole as a story; the tailor gathers pieces of cloth and makes it a whole beautiful dress, how is your tailoring experience helping you today to rule the kingdom?
(Laughter) By the grace of God, these days they call tailoring fashion and design and no knowledge is lost. The tailoring experience help me in my way of dressing and as a designer, the social aspect of it is still there. Tailors really scatter and later gather; sometimes when I am handling a marital issue and I see it as a scattered home I use my experience as a tailor to join them together again. The experience is very helpful to me as a king.
What would you say has been your achievements for the past 25 years of your reign as king of the Ughelli kingdom?
There have been a lot of achievements, when we look at the development that is in Ughelli now; it was not there like that before. The main township road that runs across Otovwodo to Ekiugbgo was one lane and it was not properly tarred. Today the Township Road is dualized with street lights, people from across the neighbouring communities have taken Ughelli as their major township and people are building beautiful houses and the town is expanding rapidly, many companies are coming and as a king I am happy and encourage them to do business here in Ughelli. I preach that Ughelli is peaceful and the kingdom provides enabling environment for business to thrive. The education industry is growing very fast, apart from Government College, there was no other school that could attract non indigenes and sell the name of Ughelli but today we have the School of Health Technology, the NTI and others are coming as well as other companies that have indicated interest to do business in Ughelli.
Talking about religion, since 25 years ago has there been a cultural revival, have you encouraged the fetish traditions of old or there has been a change?
Religion is very wide, we have the traditional religion and the Christian religion and I as a king, and in 1975 I joined the Jehovah Witness. My mother died when I was a teenager, my father too was not handy so I had an independent mind and I became a Christian since 1975 and because of that I have become cautious of my behavior. Normally, I knew what a Christian can do and what he cannot do but when I came in as a king 25 years ago, people even thought I would not accept the throne. They forgot that the Bible tells the stories of many kings who ruled in Israel; David, Solomon and others, they ruled by the fear of God and that is why they were famous. So when I came in I could not maintain my Jehovah witness as I picked up the traditional religion and I began to amend, I began to introduce Christianity into the traditional religion. For instance, during our annual festival there is something we call Ihunvwe or the ivory and sometimes the elephant tusk, during the festival you will bring your own out and your son will carry it and he will be hailed as the son of a big man, those who did not have that could carry the less expensive vegetative stuff. When I came in I found that there were very many ivory and elephant tusks in the palace, as many as the kings that have ruled the kingdom; during the festival when I was due to carry the ivory I would say, ‘Ughelli for Jesus’ as I lifted it up. People began to ask what brought Ughelli and Jesus into the festival. Gradually, the thing came to stay because after sometime, for about 12 years ago, I have to form a chapel in the palace where we worship until about five years ago when I had the vision which I told to the five pastors that officiate here. I told them of the vision that there was need to declare a day or two for Jesus as a day of prayer and thanksgiving, they bought the idea and started it. We have done five editions of Ughelli Day of Prayer. So now, the traditional religion that was there is being gradually modernized. The traditionalists also pray; they have something they call Agbadagbruru, Olokun or in some place Abade; it depends on the dialect. They tie a piece of long rope, it could be a red cloth and hang it on a very tall bamboo but all what they will say is also addressed to God. So I assumed that was their way of serving God at that time. Like the Jehovah Witness said, there will be resurrection and when you resurrect they will not say because you don’t know how to serve God that time, you would be given the opportunity of being preached to again and at the end if you refused to repent then you will die the second death. Therefore I assumed that even the traditionalist and Christians were one and with Jesus, everything is alright and hence any prayer I say I use the name of Jesus.
How has this turn- around affected the kingdom?
Definitely, our kingdom is unlike other kingdoms where the white men when they were looking for who their rulers were would, if they got to a place and saw some people sitting on the floor and another sitting on a stool, assumed that the man sitting on the stool was their ruler not knowing that the man sitting on that small stool is the priest of the deity of that community and, appoint that person as the ruler of the people. Now the people said it is because of the juju that you were serving that they made you king and if you refuse to serve the gods they would cause trouble for you; Ughelli kingdom is not like that. From the beginning Ughelli kingdom is hereditary, the stool is passed from father to the senior son and the transition is smooth because we do not serve any juju. Only kings of kingdoms that serve juju and perhaps the king decides to be a Christian that can throw up such issues, Ughelli kingdom is not like that, the transition of the throne is smooth.
The kingdom has grown tremendously since 25 years that you became a king, what do you see ahead, what is your vision for the kingdom?
By the grace of God, I see good things coming; when Shell came they started in Ughelli, the Oyibo man will not tell you exactly what is pursuing him but we later understood that there was no river here for ships to berth where they could carry their crude oil and do all sort of things in the sea without people knowing what they were doing and so they relocated Shell to Warri. To defame a she-goat the owner would say it is barren and sell it off. They lied against us that they looked for land in Ughelli and we refused to give them land to operate whereas, the location occupied by the Shell facility in Ughelli Township in Isoko Road is still there till tomorrow. At that time there were no houses around the location and they are still occupying, it was just because there was no river and the stress of laying pipes here and there or because they had not gotten reliable logistics they relocated but by the grace of God, they are trying to come back and based on that I am foreseeing that their return will bring more investors and massive socio-economic development of the kingdom even including higher educational institutions and when those things come to be there will be hope for Ughelli.
While we expect that light to shine in Ughelli let us go to your personal life; what are your moments of happiness and sometimes when are you sad or regret?
As a young man of 39 before I was enthroned as king I am very happy because when I look back and look forward it is all satisfying. People come from everywhere and pay homage. I am a Christian, nothing bothers me and there is little that I can use in taking care of my family so I am always happy. The only problem I had was in the area of education, that I had no opportunity for early education but I have made effort to upgrade and so I do not really have anything to regret until the recent time, about some years ago when one of my sons had an accident that took his life, and the issue of those bad boys who terrorize the town; they make me very sad. But well, one cannot just be eating food without cracking the bone one day so I have to manage until the vigilante (Bakasi) were introduced and by the grace of God the town is cool now. One must have a moment of sadness recently I lost my first wife and that was a pain to me and apart from all those I think I do not have anything to regret.
What message would you give to local and foreign investors as well as residents of Ughelli kingdom?
My message to them is that the issue of Shell saying at that time there was no land space for them to operate is a lie, it was because we do not have a river that was why they moved but now, investors, there is abundant land space for you to use, they should come. I know that you cannot just come to establish a business without contributing to the development of your business place. There is a wide expanse of land for investors to use in Ughelli kingdom, we have common boundary with Isiokolo, and we have common boundary with Ogor, Olomu, Ughievwen, Isoko, Orogun, Agbarha and others. In all these places there are undeveloped bushes that investors can use so I urge investors to come. Ughelli is very peaceful, we do not allow the bad boys who call themselves second owners to take over people’s properties and Ughelli is big for local and foreign investors to do business and they will profit from such ventures here so I want them to come and invest here.
What of the residents in town, what message do you have for them?
They know that Ughelli is very peaceful so I advise them to go about their business and encourage others to come and invest in Ughelli, we are very hospitable and accommodating.
I do not know whether I should ask this question, the issue of development fund commonly called ‘deve’ that sometimes the king permits it or he does not permit it for those who want to develop properties?
There is difference between development fund and stool land. We have two types of land in the kingdom. There is a rhyme that says Ughelli has a unique way of life. The Ughelli kingdom has a common pattern with the Benin kingdom. The Benin kingdom has stool land and Ughelli kingdom also has stool land but they have adulterated the one of Ughelli here while that of Benin still remains as it was. When I came in as king I saw the land that was set aside for the stool and the land was only for the Ovie but when the ovieship began, the first Ovie had 30 children, like my father he had over 20 children and they are all my children. Ovie Jesa had almost 80 children and their mothers carried some away; some in Idjerhe, Ugo-Benin, Udu; they are scattered all over the place and they remain Ughelli people. When they left they forgot that the stool land is not a personal land of the Ovie but a land of the Ughelli kingdom kept in the care of the Ovie. So when they sell it the Ovie has to intervene and warn them that the land they are selling is a stool land and not the property of the Ovie just as the palace is, and they turned it to ‘deve’. They query why they sell land and we begin to ask for money and I say that the land you sold is my land. In 1951 it was documented during the reign of Oharis 11 and after him, Oghoghvwen 11 ruled before Oharisi 111 came in and when I saw the document I challenged it and was told that they wanted development and I cannot allow them to sell such land just like that and chew it like chewing gum, so by the time I begin to challenge them that this property they are developing is stool land they would say it is ‘deve’ until some towns and villages around now said if Ovie can do this they would also do so whereas they do not have such rights. All Ughelli people passed a law that there should be no ‘deve’ because ‘deve’ came from some neighbouring kingdoms and that ‘deve’ want to pursue people from the kingdom, they observed that the collection of ‘deve’ has hampered development in other communities and then why are we trying to import it to Ughelli? They rationalized by saying, was it not the Ovie that directed property developers to bring their deeds to the palace for authentication? (Not be Ovie still dey tell people say make them bring paper for signing so?).So, I am not encouraging the ‘deve’ but some people are forcing themselves to do it.
Thank you very much sir.