BEING AN INVITED PAPER PRESENTED BY CHIEF OSARO OLLORWI AT A ONE DAY SEMINAR ORGANIZED BY OɁEɁLA ƆBƆ ELEME (ELEME GENERAL ASSEMBLY) ON SATURDAY 23RDAUGUST, 2014 AT ELEME CIVIC CENTER, OGALE
What is title? What purpose does a title serve? Do we have indigenous titles as a people? If yes, who award these titles and on who? What are the criteria for the bestowment of these titles? What are the expectations of the awarding authorities and people of Eleme in conferring these titles on the individual? Have these expectations been realized? These are some of the questions that this paper will attempt to answer.
What Is Title?
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English International Student’s Edition (2010) defines title as “a word in front of a person’s name to show their rank or profession…, a name that describes a job….” The Webster’s Universal Dictionary & Thesaurus by Geddes & Grosset (2005) refers to title as the “name of a book, play, piece of music, work of art, etc.; the heading of a section of a book; a name denoting nobility or rank or office held, or attached to a personal name; (law) that which gives a legal right (to possession). These definitions convey what title is supposed to mean.
But, for simplicity sake, and for our purpose, title could be defined as a prefix or suffix added to someone's name. It also signifies veneration, an official position within a social organization, or traditional attainment, a professional or academic qualification.
What Purpose Does A Title Serve?
Titles are used for various reasons, such as to show aristocratic status or one's role in community, government, a religious organization, or security service. Titles enhance prestige and credibility of the title holder. They command confidence, bestow respect and good titles are known to open doors? Titles are also used to describe a person’s extra ordinary ability and capability to perform certain task. Examples are the titles Ɔnε Edūdūu (a renowned warrior) and Ɔnε Edūdūu ÀkT (a renowned wrestler).
System of Awarding Titles in Eleme
The system for the awarding of titles in Eleme is arduous and based on strict criteria including proven hard-work, mentoring, peer review, etc. In yam titles, for instance, the peer review extends from the local (community, town, or village) to national (clan) and, in the case of Obo Title, to Eleme (international) reputation. The processes of awarding titles are discussed below.
Types of Titles in Eleme
There are several titles in Eleme. Some of these titles are hereditary while others are conferred.
However, we shall limit our discussion to the following titles:
a. Traditional Titles
b. Yam Titles
c. Honorific Titles
d. Historical/Hereditary Titles
These are royal or noble titles. In Eleme, royal and noble titles (except the title of Ɔnε NkīkTε) are not hereditary. They are conferred on an individual that merit it through the rigorous process of nomination, selection, initiation and public coronation in which the aspirant must meet the minimum requirements of every stage or be disqualified at any point in the process. All Eleme towns and villages enjoy one basic social structure as regards traditional office titles. These titles include Ɔnε NkīkTε (which is hereditary and more of a historical title than traditional title), Ɔnε Ԑε Ԑta, Ɔnε Nkpᴐrᴐ (Traditional Spokesman/Publicist), Ɔnε Ebo Ԑgbara Ԑta, Ɔwa Ԑε Ԑta, Ԑmεrε Ɔwa, Ԑmεrε Ngwe, etc. It is pertinent to point out here that each of the communities, towns and villages of Eleme enjoy a confederal relationship with one another.
Title of Ɔnε Ԑε
According to the report of the Chieftaincy Committee appointed by Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme, “all the communities, towns, and villages are to be known as Ԑta and their rulers be addressed as Ɔnε Ԑε Ԑta”. At the clan level, the Clan Head is to be called Ɔnε Ԑε …. Clan. At the Nchia and Odido levels, the rulers are tobe addressed as Ɔnε Ԑε Nchia and Ɔnε Ԑε Odido respectively. At the apex of the hierarchy is the King of Eleme known and addressed as Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme.
Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme
At the apex of the traditional chieftaincy hierarchy of Eleme is the King of Elemeland called Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme. The appellation, Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme is an identifier that specifies the office or position of the King of Eleme. The phrase is used to convey respect to the office holder and to recognize his rulership and lordship over Elemeland. The Stool of Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme is a First Class Stool recognized by the Rivers State Government. The present occupant of the Stool is HRM King Dr. Samuel Oluka Ejire, JP, Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme X.
The assembly of the Ɔnε Ԑε and Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ at any level constitutes ƆmS also called Owe Ebo Ete (lower court) or Owe Nkpᴐrᴐ (higher court) and adjudicates in disputes between two or more persons or between two families or villages concerning land tenure, divorce, custody of children, stealing, boundaries, inheritance, adultery, witchcraft, invocation of juju, defamation of character, rape, elopement, and so on.
Ɔnε Ԑε Nchia and Ɔnε Ԑε Odido
Immediately below the Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme are the two district heads of Nchia and Odido known as Ɔnε Ԑε Nchia and Ɔnε Ԑε Odido respectively. The office of Ɔnε Ԑε Nchia and Ɔnε Ԑε Odido are Second Class Stools recognized by the Rivers State Government. The present occupants of these Stools are HRH Dr. Philip O. Obele and HRH Obariwite Nchimaonwi in that order.
Ɔnε Ԑε Ԑta
This is a title granted to a Traditional Ruler, following his nomination, selection, initiation and public coronation as Paramount Ruler of his village, town, or community. The title also identifies and conveys respect to the Traditional Ruler and recognizes his leadership position in the society.
The nomination, selection, initiation, and installation of a traditional ruler in Eleme are the responsibility of Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ of the community, clan, or kingdom, and the choice is not restricted to the circle of Ɔnε Ԑε Ԑta alone. Commenting on who is qualified for the office and title of Ɔnε Ԑε, Chief O. O. Ngofa (2006) said, “Any member of Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ with proper standing, whose personal merit, ability, background and past performances sufficiently portray him as a good leader, may be selected and installed. His character and training in customary matters are more seriously considered than mere oratory or wealth”.
Standardization of Process of Selecting Ɔnε Ԑε
It is on record that several efforts have been marshaled towards the standardization of the process of selecting Ɔnε Ԑε at different levels of Eleme society. On 27th August, 2001, Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme under the leadership of His Royal Majesty King Ngei A. O. Ngei (JP), Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme (IX) constituted an 11 man committee under the Chairmanship of Chief (Hon) J. D. Osaronu (JP) charged with the responsibility of drawing up modalities for the selection of Ɔnε Ԑε and to define the powers and jurisdictions of the various Councils of Chiefs and Elders in Eleme.
According to the unsigned report of the Chieftaincy Committee submitted on 5th October, 2001, which turned out to create more problems than it was intended to solve, on the death or dethronement of an incumbent, a regent is to be appointed, normally, the Ɔnε NkikTε. After a period of interregnum, the Ɔnε NkikTε will summon a meeting of Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ and request for the selection of a new Ɔnε Ԑε after due consultation with all sections of the community leadership.
The said report also affirmed that while the venue and process of installation of Ɔnε Ԑε differs slightly from clan to clan, the Ɔnε Ԑε can only be disposed on the proven offences of witchcraft, stealing and murder. “These crimes are heinous in nature and can warrant the removal of Ɔnε Ԑε… where he has been found guilty by a court of law or Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ or appeal”, the report emphasized.
Modalities for Selection of Ɔnε Ԑε
The report listed the minimum qualifications to be met by all candidates aspiring to be Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme, which, invariably are also applicable to all other traditional rulers’ titles.
a. The candidate must possess minimum qualification of WASC or its equivalent provided that where the Ɔnε Ԑε has only the minimum qualification, then in the selection of the Chairman, a higher educational qualification shall be a prerequisite.
b. He must be a member of Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme.
c. He must not be somebody who had been convicted of felony.
d. He must not be somebody who had been found guilty of witchcraft.
e. He must not be somebody who had been found guilty by competent court or Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ for stealing, misappropriation of public funds and breach of trust.
f. He must not be somebody who had been found guilty of betrayal of the whole of Eleme or any part thereof by Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ.
g. He must not be a slave, that is, a person whose father is not indigenous to Eleme.
Other conditions worth mentioning include:
1. The candidate must have broad support of his community, town, village or kingdom as the case may be.
2. He must not be under 21 years of age.
3. He must be ordinarily resident within the area of his community, town, or village.
4. He must not have been sentenced by a court of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria or any other part of the Commonwealth to death or imprisonment for term exceeding six months, if he has be so convicted and sentenced, has received a free pardon.
5. He must not be a full-time public servant.
6. He must not be of unsound mind or adjudged to be a lunatic.
7. He must not be an un-discharged bankrupt.
2. Yam Titles
Yam titles are honorific titles. They are phrase used to convey respect to the recipient of a yam title and to recognize him for completing all the aspects of the Obo Title’s ceremonies and is awarded the title of Ԑmεrε Ngwe. These qualifications/titles are Áchu, Obo, Ͻbԑrԑ-Obo, Ͻtaa-Obo, Áchu-Ete and Ewo-Áchu-Ñsi. Each title/qualification involves a number of stakes of 21 yams each as shown below including specified ceremonial processes that are very expensive but honorable.
1. Áchu – 200 Stakes of 21 Yams Each.
2. Obo – 400 Stakes of 21 Yams Each.
3. Ͻbԑrԑ-Obo – 800 Stakes of 21 Yams Each.
4. Ͻtaa-Obo – 1200 Stakes of 21 Yams Each.
5. Áchu -Ete – 1600 Stakes of 21 Yams Each.
6. Ewo-Áchu-Ñsi – 2000 Stakes of 21 Yams Each with the barns arranged in 20 rectangular
Writing on the significance of yam titles among the people of Eleme Chief O. O. Ngofa, Ԑmεrε Ngwe 1 said, “Any person who holds the obo title as a result of having completed all the aspects of the title ceremonies is customarily honored with the title of Ԑmεrε Ngwe”, emphasis is mine.
It very difficult for the present generation of Eleme men to aspire for yam titles because of the stringent requirements attach to it. For instance, only yams cultivated by the aspiring farmer are acceptable requisite for conferment of appropriate yam titles/qualifications in Eleme. In other words, yams purchased from the market are illegitimate and unfit for presentation for the attainment of yam titles. I need not mention names, but recent attempts by few individuals to use yams procured from the market for the Obo title ceremony have met with swift resistance and rejections. Besides, most communities in Eleme have demolished their ancient ekpo (hill) from their Ԑgbεrε OɁe (town square) where the ojīi ekpo (hill climbing) ritual that crowns the ceremonial conferment of yam titles is usually performed. The acquisition of land for industrialization coupled with oil and gas exploration and production activities have joined forces to rob Eleme of arable farmland; and pollution from their activities that are discharged into the air, creeks, and farmlands are also posing greater threats to nutrition and longevity, making farming a senseless venture in Eleme.
Yam Titles of Áchu, Obo, Ͻbԑrԑ-Obo, Ͻtaa-Obo, Áchu-Ete and Ewo-Áchu-Ñsi are ancient-standalone qualifications/titles and they do not derive their names from the number of stakes of yams but a totality of all the requirements which an aspirant must meet before being adjudged qualified both in farming and character for the conferment.
3. Honorific Titles
These are identifiers that specify the office or position held by someone in the community. They include but not limited to: Ɔnε Ebo Ԑgbara Ԑta, Ɔwa Ԑε Ԑta, and Ԑmεrε Ɔwa.
Ɔnε Ebo Ԑgbara Ԑta
This title refer to the leader of the uninitiated adult men below Oku Ekpo but higher than Asama. He assists the elders in implementing their decisions; promote communal work, ensure security, control social decay and direct performance of traditional entertainment such as wrestling, dancing and singing.
Ɔwa Ԑε Ԑta
Ɔwa Ԑε Ԑta is the leader of Mbá Ԑta, organization of women selected on age and representative basis. She regulates activities of women in the community, ensures high morality and discipline among women. She is the conscience of the community’s women.
The Eleme custom does not provide for a woman becoming a traditional ruler in the sense that she is part of the mainstream of community’s administration. It is still an abomination for a woman to join traditional rulers, chiefs and elders during consultation called ᴐla or in any manner while exercising their traditional functions of Ɔnε Ԑε Ԑta or Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ, under any guise.
However, Eleme is gender sensitive when it comes to conferment of titles. Hence there is customary provision for women who considered themselves fit and wealthy enough to aspire to achieve a prestigious title of Ԑmεrε Ɔwa. In the far past, the process of conferment of this very highly regarded title involves the buying of many slaves by the woman, the display of appropriate numbers and quality of yams and ability to feast all the invitees.
Presently, it entails the transfer of wealth to another person with the approval and participation of the entire community. This ceremony is known as Otora Ndele. It is a deliberate action to enrich another person and the custom is to carefully select such a beneficiary who may be a daughter, junior sister or niece to the person wishing to take the title. The Eleme tradition does not regard the acquisition of University degrees, ownership of motor vehicles, or chains of businesses by women as sufficient evidence of wealth to warrant the conferment of the Ԑmεrε Ɔwa title. The aspiring woman must be fit in character, liberal, philanthropic, and generous enough to handover parts of her wealth to another person to be adjudged qualify for the prestigious honour of Ԑmεrε Ɔwa.
It takes a number of years to prepare for this title and during this period, all necessary consultation must be made, crops planted on a large scare and all the relevant materials procured.
Ndele is never carried to a widow, divorcee, spinster or a woman who is not currently married to a man. It is the leading women in the community who inspects all the materials that are usually laid out in a room; and only celebrant’s relations and friends, members of her age-grade and well wishers that carry the materials.
Importantly, the list of materials to be assembled to qualify for Ndele is almost endless as new and very expensive items are being introduced continually in line with changing times. They usually include different varieties of yams, cocoyam, one plantain sucker, sugarcane, beans, pepper, pumpkin, very big dried fish, salt, palm oil, one basin of garri, a she-goat; various sizes of aluminum pots, plates, trays, basins, tripods, mortal and pestle, cups, sieve, cutlery, axe, kettle, matchet, trunk boxes, bicycles or motor cycle, trinkets, mirror, gas cooker and cylinder, sewing machine, etc. Apart from the bicycle or motor cycle that may be rolled along with the entourage, every other item must be carried by a woman while they sang to the recipient’s house.
The title Edūdūu Ɔnε or Ɔnε Edūdūu (ÀkT) is confer on wrestlers who have thrown an opponent from another community, town, village or clan and perform all the necessary ceremonies, especially during the OɁε AɁo Esū festival; or a known warrior who have meritoriously defended the community against external aggressions. It is a symbol of respect and recognition of might and prowess.
These are titles used to show somebody's hereditary position in the community or family. Examples are the titles of Ɔnε NkīkTε (Land Priest), Osaro (first son), Ollor (second son), Osila (first daughter), Onua (second daughter), etc. Worthy of explanation is the title of Ɔnε NkīkTε.
Ɔnε NkīkTε is the traditional Prime Minister/Land Priest and Leader of the Oku Nyᴐa. He exercises both spiritual and administrative powers. He performs the Ɔlᴐ Ajija ritual for cleansing of the land as a result of desecration arising from the following:
a. Unmarried girl pregnancy sin,
b. Suicide, and
c. Sex in the farm.
The Ɔnε NkikTε is also responsible for the Ɔwara Ԑkpaa Osila (first daughter) ritual. He appoints and installs Ɔnε Ԑε on active advice of Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ; receives and performs the duties of Ɔnε Ԑε if the incumbent is found guilty of gross misconduct, is insane, or upon the demise of an incumbent until a successor is appointed and installed according to tradition. He ensures that things are done in accordance with custom and tradition. He commands the respect of the gods. He serves NkīkTε, the deity that directly relates to the foundation of the community, town, village or clan and its protection. The position of Ɔnε NkīkTε is hereditary and it is confined to the lineage or family of the original founder of the community, town, village or clan.
The Office of Ɔnε NkīkTε Eleme and Ɔnε Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme
Although, the title/office of Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme is a recent development (Chief O. O. Ngofa, 2006); it is rather unfortunately that there is no recognized office of Ɔnε NkīkTε Eleme (Traditional Prime Minister/Land Priest of Eleme) and there is no Ɔnε Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme (Traditional Spokesman/Publicist of Eleme). The ad hac arrangements during selection and installation of Ɔnε Ԑε Eleme and Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ consultation tells how we deliberately rape and manipulate tradition and then anger our ancestors. Regrettably, ancestors (Oku Ejī) are spirits and like every other spirits, they don’t forgive.
Although, our culture and tradition permeates the existence of these titles/offices at all levels of Eleme social political hierarchy, the operators of the system deliberately play-down on the offices at the national (Eleme) level. The existence of these offices and their functionality at the local (community, town and village) and state (clan) levels notwithstanding, something need to be done to create and sustain the title/office of Ɔnε NkīkTε Eleme and Ɔnε Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme. The absent of these offices/titles at the Eleme level arises, perhaps, from several factors including the following:
a. Contentions surrounding the original settlement of the founder of Eleme. Is it Ebubu, Ogale, Agbonchia or Alesa as is being postulated by several schools of thought?
b. Fear of crowning a known/popular Prime Minister who will exercise the true powers of Ɔnε NkīkTε Eleme or Ɔnε Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme.
c. Deliberate creation of vacuum for political manipulations and promotion of corruption.
d. Abuse of the system/principles of check and balance which the offices of Ɔnε NkīkTε Eleme and Ɔnε Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme intend to guarantee.
Methods of Acquiring Titles in Eleme
From the foregoing it is clear that there are several ways of acquiring titles in Eleme. Some of these are:
a. When the man is nominated, selected, initiated and installed as Ɔnε Ԑε of his community, town, village, clan, or kingdom and the title of Ɔnε Ԑε is bestowed on him.
b. When a man is admitted and initiated into the membership of Oku Nkpᴐrᴐ and the title of Ԑmεrε is conferred on him.
c. When a man meets all the requirements for the conferment of Obo Yam Title and he is honoured with the title of Ԑmεrε Ngwe.
d. When a woman completes the ceremonial process of Otora Ndele and she is conferred with the prestigious title of Ԑmεrε Ɔwa.
e. When a man is born into the lineage or family of the original founder of the community, town, village or clan and inherits the title of Ɔnε NkīkTε.
f. By privilege of birth. When a man or woman is born as a first or second child and he/she inherits the title of Osaro (first son), Ollor (second son) or, Osila (first daughter), Onua (second daughter) respectively.
Expectations of Titles Awarding Authorities of Eleme
In addition to the above titles Chiefs in Council have devised ways of conferring various titles on individuals and organizations, though political. These titles range from Nsấ Nsebo, Okuma Nnyε, Akaraba, Egeta Ade, to Àkpa Nsā, and Era; all in an attempt to attract attention, elicit support and commitment to the development of Elemeland. But, have will achieve this simple aim over the years? Your answer is as good as mine. A walk around Eleme will trigger up the anger in you as you see the backwardness of Eleme people in spite of the resources God bestowed on the land and the way and manner she is being raped. The poverty in Elemeland is a living one, the misappropriation of her resources have reached an alarming proportion. The lack of basic infrastructure brings to the fore what have been happening to the billions that comes into Eleme from the federal allocations and internally generated revenue (IGR) monthly and annually. What purpose are these titles serving then?
The aim of this section is not to condemn titles’ awarding authorities in Eleme or criticize the recipients but, to review how we have fared so far. My studies have revealed that the more the number of indigenous and foreign title holders increases in Eleme, the more backward Elemeland drifts. These titles serve the selfish and greedy purposes of the bearers only with no recourse to the society. They negatively bestowed on many holders the demonic influence to mobilize our children as thugs and empower them to terrorize, kill and destroy lives and properties. It is unfortunate. Title without commiserate positive developmental impact on the community is valueless, dysfunctional and retrogressive; and therefore calls for a rethink and proper prior examination if future intending recipients of any title in Eleme.
Importantly, it is time for the people of Eleme to sit down to look again at the positive impact of the true title of Ԑmεrε Ɔwa and promote same among men. The wisdom of women is demonstrated in the beauty and progressive nature of their title. Let us keep pride aside and learn from the womenfolk whose title is conferred only on those who are adjudged fit in character, who are philanthropic and generous and who wholeheartedly enrich another. This is what I called Human Capital Development in Action. It is a clear empowerment of the next generation.
Let me also caution here against the abuse of the title “Ԑmεrε Ɔwa”. I have witness some of us referring to the wives of politicians and wealthy individuals as Ԑmεrε Ɔwa. This is an outright abuse of the title; it is an impersonation that tradition frowns at. If you have been doing that ignorantly though, please stop!
The women title of Ԑmεrε Ɔwa over the year has been tight to human capital development in all its ramifications. In the far past, it was the purchase of many slaves which radically increased the populations of Eleme. Presently, it involves the multiplication of riches and propagation of wealth. What are our men doing with all their many titles, both foreign and indigenous? Keep your answer and soberly reflect on it.
The Future of Eleme
The action of this generation will either reduce or increase the chance of future generation to blossom. You are conferred with the title to lift you high, make you acceptable and famous. You are lifted so that others through you can be lifted. You were not elected, appointed or employed into that office for your own sake alone. You are there with a divine mandate of fruitfulness and multiplication. God and the people of Eleme expect you to plant others and nurture them; to harness and manage your position for the benefit of Elemeland and Eleme people; to spread your wealth to others coming after you. Violating this divine injunction is not only tantamount to wickedness, but increases the chance that others will suffer.
Every negative attitude or act of selfishness on your part reduces the chance that those coming behind you will come up outstanding in life. A leader in whatever capacity that is oblivious of the fact that he is just mere custodian of the people’s resources but goes ahead to selfishly mismanage or squander it reduces the chance that his subject will live to their fullest as intended by God except God intervenes.
Do you still marvel why many children are suffering in Eleme and have become destitute today? Do you still wonder why crime rate and level of insecurity are alarming in present day Eleme? Are you still surprised why many people in Eleme are living below standard now? Somebody or a group of people or a leader occupying certain influential position on behalf of Eleme has failed in his statutory and traditional responsibilities. It is rather unfortunate because he is narrowing the chance that others will make it. Consequently, he will neither have rest in his lifetime, nor in his grave. Examples abound around us!
Eleme is at a turning point of her nationhood. The future of Eleme is not fixed to a destination. It is rather a place or something we create by the choices we make and actions we take NOW. We will not be judged by what we say, not by what we think, but by what we do. It is only action that changes an impression; provokes development; creates history and sets a record. Eleme is at a turning point of her 500 years of nationhood. Therefore, action is needed now to change our perception of titles and make things happen. Action is the best device for this change. It is action that informs change and brings about visible development. Taking action or step to correct past wrongs and set new standards is the only way to make our titles functional and productive; keep our thinking fresh, challenged and informed. Leadership must be assessed by actions not by rhetoric. Titles must be made to serve its useful purposes!
I hail you all! Thank you for your audience and rapt attention.
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Chief Obo Osaro Ngofa “Eleme Traditions” Rescue Publications, Ogale Eleme, 2004.
Chief Obo Osaro Ngofa “The Complete History of Eleme” Freedom Press, Ibadan, 2006.
Geddes & Grosset (ed.) “Webster’s Universal Dictionary & Thesaurus”, Geddes & Grosset, David Dale House New Lanark, Scotland, UK, 2005.
Gutkind, P & “A Science of Social Control”, in African Social Studies, London: Waterman(ed.) Heinemann, 1977.
Ollorwi Osaro “Community Policing & Crime Control in Pre-Colonial Eleme: Issues & Perspectives” Nigerian Institute of Security Press, Port Harcourt, 2009.
Osaronu, J. D. “Report of Chieftaincy Committee Appointed by Nkpᴐrᴐ Eleme” Eleme Civic Centre, Ogale, Eleme, 5th October, 2001