Amasiri : Change of Baton in the Ancient Historical Town

On the 16th of May, 2024, (which will be an Aho traditional market day), the entire Amasiri clan will be agog with funfair and gaiety as the traditional change of leadership baton will usher in a new era at the various strata of traditional leadership in Amasiri. The new set of leaders will take up the mantle of leadership bearing in mind the modern leadership challenges in Amasiri which are entirely different from the challenges that confronted our forebears during their own time.

Change of guard in traditional leadership in Amasiri occurs only once in every five (5) years, though the current traditional cabinet led by Omezue (Apostle) Godwin Idam Elekwa was given an additional year by the wise elders of Amasiri owing to the ability to deliver laudable and qualitative dividends of governance to the people. Amasiri people have a unique way of responding to the attitude of their leaders, especially if a narrative of weakness, untruthfulness and gullibility is boldly written on the forehead. Such a person will surely expect the visit of lizards, knowing fully well that he has fetched an ant-ridden fargot.

Worthy of note is the fact that leadership change of guard usually takes place on the first day of the rainy season according to the Amasiri traditional calendar. Hence, on the 15th of May, 2024 (which is an Orie traditional market day), Irenkwu Omoha (Palm frond signalling that the Omoha wrestling festival is around the corner) will be hoisted at Ukwu Abosi (a sacred tree located at the centre of Orie Amasiri market) to mark the end of dry season in Amasiri, with the following Aho market day (16th April, 2024) being the first day of rainy season, as well as, the day of the inauguration of a brand new traditional cabinet.

You may wish to observe that the Amasiri clan is one of the leading clans in the Afikpo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State which includes, though not limited to: Ehugbo (Afikpo Urban), Amasiri, Unwana, Akpoha and Ozizza/Ibii (both of which are also perceived as part and parcel of Ehugbo). Other modern clans, communities, villages, hamlets and farm settlements have continued to emerge from all the component units of Afikpo.

Amasiri clan was initially made up of seven major villages (Isiogo Essaa) namely: Ezeke, Ohaechara, Ihie, Poperi, Ndukwe, Ohaukwu and Amalatu. Today, Ohaukwu has been swallowed by Poperi, while Amalatu was dissolved by the wise elders (Nde-ichie Amasiri) and they are now scattered into the rest of Amasiri villages and beyond after it was identified that their hitherto cherished potency and dexterity in traditional medicine had become negative and as such inimical to the progress and development of Amasiri clan in general. Presently, Amasiri has five major villages (Isiogo Ise) most of which have also developed into very large communities and numerous other compound groups, hamlets and farm settlements.

Amasiri traditional leadership is constituted with the instrumentality of the age grade system. Each age grade is made up of three age sets (Uke Eto); with each age set’s membership constituting both male and female adults born within the gap of three years (Eburu). Also, each age grade (Essaa Amasiri for instance) consists of able-bodied and duly recognised members born within the gap of nine years (3 × 3 = 9 is the idea of Uke Eto). That is, three age sets each of whose members were born within three years. A ready example is Isi Oru age grade which is made up of Ikemba/Udodimma, Oha bu Ugwu-eze and Izu bu Udo-mba age sets. All members of the above three (3) age sets were born within nine years, with Ikemba age set as the eldest and Izu bu Udo-mba as the youngest, while Oha bu ugwu-eze is the middle class.

Meanwhile, the various age grades which are symbols of traditional authority in Amasiri are as follows: (1) Eriaga, (2) Horii, (3) Onikara, (4) Essaa, (5) Ekpu, (6) Ukeji Ogo and (7) Isioru. Each of the above age grades wears a specially designed longevity cap which makes them easily identifiable at all times. Female elders (Nde Osumkpa) are also part of traditional leadership in Amasiri as they have been delegated the responsibility of handling issues requiring feminine ingenuity.

Below are the descriptions of the various elders’ longevity caps and other instruments reflecting their office and authority:

(1) Eriaga/Rikweri – long black cap (okpu ndu)
(2) Horii – long yellow cap (okpu odo)
(3) Onikara – long red cap ( okpu uhie)
(4) Essaa – long red upon black and white stripes cap (okpu isiagu)
(5) Ekpu – long black upon white stripes cap (okpu Ekpu uke eto) which they combine with their walking sticks as part of their official dress code
(6) Ukeji Ogo – long green upon yellow and black stripes cap (okpu nde uke ogo)
(7) Isioru – long red upon black stripes cap (okpu nde Isioru)

It will be important to mention at this juncture, that Nde Osumkpa as the name implies are female elders who normally walk around with the aid of walking sticks owing to old age. Therefore, during the leadership change ceremony, they are usually presented with brand new walking sticks as a symbol of their authority. Nde Osumkpa, without sounding hyperbolic, has been very strong and consistent in solving the issue of herdsmen and local farmers clashes (having trouped out on several occasions to stand their ground whenever the occasion warrants), including other family and gender-related issues, making it necessary for them to also be celebrated like their male counterparts.

For the purpose of clarity, serial numbers 1 – 3 above are referred to as Nde-ichie Amasiri. They are living ancestors who not only advise and guide the Essaa Ruling council towards the right path but also intercede with the ancestors and sometimes, the gods on behalf of the entire clan if the need arises. They further perform special rituals in regulation of annual farm cycles, as well as, pouring of libation during special occasions. On the other hand, the Essaa and Ekpu are the main engines of traditional leadership, while Ukeji Ogo and Isioru are more of law enforcement arms of the traditional cabinet.

Traditional change of leadership baton in Amasiri is as old as the age grade system in the Amasiri clan; with the 16th of May, 2024, awaiting the inauguration of the 14th known assembly in Amasiri traditional leadership system. You may wish to note that both over reliance on oral tradition and unavailability of documented records are responsible for the inability of interested researchers to identify the two senior age sets that formed the traditional cabinet with Isi Agu age set (the most senior known age set in Amasiri history). This made the Isiagu age set to stand alone in the list of known age sets. The table of Age grade system in Amasiri on page 161 of Footsteps Into The Future: A Review of the Historical Town Amasiri, by Emeka Onya, culled from Anthony l. Oko’s Who is Who in Amasiri Handbook is recommended for your perusal.

Essentially, out of the above seven (7) age grades that will be involved in the traditional change of guard, the Essaa Ruling Council remain the major custodian of all powers: legislative, executive and judicial, though always working in tandem with the Ekpu Uke Eto, while the Ukeji Ogo and Isioru are charged with the enforcement of the orders and directives of the Essaa Ruling Council, including policing and military duties that may arise from time to time. At the Isiogo level, however, the Ukeji Ogo is usually held accountable in respect of issues pertaining to the various Isiogos.

According to Omezue (Apostle) Godwin Idam Elekwa, who is the chairman and spokesperson (Onyisi) of the current Essaa Amasiri “following historical antecedents, the ceremony of traditional leadership change of guard is a very serious and yet sacred ceremony which usually hold at Ogo Amaekuma Ezeke. All the concerned elders of Amasiri will gather at Amaekuma village square (Ogo Amaekuma) during the morning hours at about 7am – 9am or thereabouts to await the special candidates as they arrive the venue in grand style. Members of the brand new Essaa Ruling Council will first arrive at the holy square where the long yellow cap elders (Nde okpu odo) will bless them by offering a special traditional prayer before they will be decorated with their new cap (Okpu Isiagu) starting from their leadership, which they must have constituted before appearing for the ceremony. The Ekpu Uke Eto will also arrive in a similar manner and will also be blessed and decorated accordingly”.

After the decoration ceremony, the elders (Nde-ichie Amasiri) will be presented with assorted fish in trails (nainai), bush meat, palm wine, beer, soft drinks and other local and foreign gins. All these items will be used by the elders to entertain themselves as they merry along with the celebrants. Let me also state here that modernity and civilization has added colour to the ceremony as sometimes, families, compounds, villages and communities go out of their way to present live goats, rams, cows and other prestigious gifts to their beloved celebrants.

For effective media coverage, the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and other notable TV houses, including the facilitators of electronic, print and social media have been invited to attend the occasion by the Outgoing Essaa leadership who are determined to showcase Amasiri culture to the rest of the world in a ceremony that will be supervised by the elders at Orie Amasiri market playground (Ogbo-orie).

The achievements of the current Essaa Ruling Council cannot be over emphasized. Below are some of the achievements that readily come to mind:

(1) Centralization of Isioru as the seventh stratum of traditional governance instead of each village operating differently as it were before now
(2) Cooperating with Ebonyi State government for the establishment of Amasiri junction flyover despite numerous resistance to the laudable project that emanated from selfish individuals who put self interest first before the community’s interest
(3) Collaboration with Essaa Ehugbo to fight the menace of destruction of farm-lands and farm produce by herder’s cows
(4) Settlement of major land and other disputes among members of Amasiri clan
(5) Peaceful approach to the settlement of land disputes with friendly neighbouring clans
(6) Re-organization and restructuring of Mgbabuu Mgba ceremony and the approval of Amasiri Cultural Carnival. Both feats were achieved with the strong support of Nde-ichie and all other traditional authorities in Amasiri
(7) Recognition of public office holders who bring home desired and qualitative dividends of governance. The case of Rt. Hon. Iduma Igariway (member representing Afikpo and Edda LGAs at the National Assembly) who has proved to be a son indeed was a thing of pride to every right-thinking Amasiri son and daughter (ajayeri onye ike na nke omeworu eme, na omekwokwa ozo).

With the above achievements in mind and the usual great expectation for more positive achievements to come, the choice of the chairmanship and
spokesperson (Onyisi), referred to as Okabue in the neighbouring clan of Ehugbo, for the Essaa Ruling Council and by extension all other age grades is another issue that has to be seriously revisited. Most of the time, it is made the prerogative of the most senior age set. Only on two (2) occasions had any member of the middle or youngest age set been so nominated as Onyisi across all the levels of traditional leadership. I stand to be corrected!

Such occasions were witnessed many years ago in the case of Ukeji Ogo Ezeke, where under special arrangement, Nna Idam Okpo was Onyisi Uke Ezeke as a member of the youngest age set, while Teacher Onya Agha was also Onyisi Uke Ezeke as a member of the middle age set. Apart from these two special cases, the rest always came from the most senior age set, though as a mark of respect. Though on a lighter note, to the good people of Amaegbu village in Ezeke community, having been able to change the narrative on two occasions, it has become their culture as they are seemingly set to replicate such scenarios in this year’s leadership change.

The implication of the above sit-tight arrangement is the likelihood of having an Onyisi without integrity or Onyisi without the requisite charisma to handle an exalted position of authority. Therefore, some quarters are of the opinion that the Onyisi-ship of age grades (Uke Eto) should be liberalized in such a way that any good leader from any of the component age sets should be selected to lead without any barrier, drawing from the fact that every member of the Uke Eto is a member of one body where everyone is equal and therefore, should have equal opportunity to the leadership (chairmanship) of the body.

The above school of thought contend that weak leaders have done Amasiri clan more harm than good as some power brokers normally gather together to deliberately install a weak leader in the name of most senior age set only to stay by the side to turn the person around like the barber’s chair which can be faced wherever the barber wanted. Apart from the above, there is also the danger that no matter how proficient in community leadership a person is, once he is not from the most senior age set, all his impeccable leadership prowess cannot be properly utilized within the age grade. Millions of other noticeable deficiencies of this institutional bottleneck can still be identified. Whereas the type of leaders that Amasiri deserve in this 21th century are leaders that are not hungry and cannot be influenced with material things and also those who are above board and can stand on the truth at all times.

In all, maa eteri ugba, maa eteri azi, Amasiri Cultural Carnival Group wishes all Amasiri sons and daughters a blissful celebration in this year’s epoch-making occasion of traditional change of guard.

From Emeka Onya, Abuja, under the canopy of Amasiri Cultural Carnival Group (ACCG).

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