This is a ‘true’ story of a prince turned king in Igala, Attah Ameh Oboni, who was betrayed by his people despite giving his all.
Note that like many ancient stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, there could be variations to this story, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. This story is quite popular among the Igala people.
Attah Ameh Oboni [Agaba Idu] was born in 1911 [died June 26, 1956] in a village near Ugwolawo. He was about three months old when his father, Attah Oboni Akwu Odiba died, and with the death of his father, he left the palace to stay with his mother’s relatives at Adumu Village in Itobe District. Oboni’s mother, Alami Inedu was a native of Itobe. She had been married to three Atas who had ruled in succession. Ameh oboni was her only child. When his elder brother, Acho was appointed district head of Ajobi, he took Prince Ameh Oboni to stay with him and treated him like his own child.
In 1935, Prince Ameh Oboni left Idah for Lokoja and later to Okene, where he eventually found employment under the then British waterworks. While in Okene, Prince Ameh Oboni enrolled himself in to elementary primary school where he studied up to class two (2). He was very fluent in Hausa language, the Official language of the defunct Northern religion. Prince Ameh Oboni at this time resided at Ugwunoba and Okene seeking for knowledge in traditional ways as a free thinker.
In 1938, Onu Acho died and Mr. Goble, the district officer of Idah, sent for Prince Ameh Oboni, thus ending the Prince’s sojourn at Okene. With this unfortunate incident, Prince Ameh Oboni, a young man of (27) then became the heir apparent to Ata throne.
On 12th July 1938, Prince Ameh Oboni married his first wife called Aluda who hailed from the Achi section of the district.
On may 1st 1945, Attah Ameh Oboni was installed as the Attah of Igala land. He came to the throne at the end of the Second World War and the resultant economic boom affected the Igala Kingdom.
He continued the work of his predecessor in mobilizing his district and village heads for road construction. Although Attah Ameh had only little formal education, he expanded the Igala Native Authority schools. He encouraged them to establish primary schools in his kingdom.
He also expanded the Igala Native Authority dispensaries to all districts headquarters.
When Attah Ameh Oboni became Attah Igala, he made some pronouncements that that all came to pass. For instance, “He commanded that everyone should have money from any business he or she was doing, and that they should start to build modern houses (mud and Zink roofed) instead of the common thatched houses, and it began to happen immediately.
There was a particular sickness called jigger or chigger (ikpelikpe) which eats up toes and making people unable to work and walk, he commanded that every infected person be healed and that the sickness be out of Igala land. It happened as stated.
There was an animal, wolf (Otinya) which used to come home and carry children including sleeping adults sometimes from the room which was made of grass wall. He cursed the animals never to come to Igala land again and that was the last time wolf was seen in Igala land.
There was a time Attah Ameh Oboni was invited for a meeting at Nsukka and on reaching Egabada river where they were to cross from Odolu, he was told that the ferry that would take his car across the river had gone. He asked his driver to drive on top of the water with his eyes closed for them not to be late for the meeting, and they crossed as stated.
For instance, if someone misbehaved he had the power to say what would happen to such a person for either disrespecting him as Attah, or flouting the laws of the land.
What he said always came to pass. So people knew that he had such powers. He was quite powerful, and was a real African traditional ruler. He was powerful because he would say things, and such will happen immediately.
Attah Ameh Oboni ruled for ten years and these were explosive and unforgettable years in the history of Igala Nation. People say he ruled like Ayegba Om’Idoko, a powerful Attah Igala of long ago.
Some viewed him as a supernatural human being who speak powerfully, and whatever he said would come to pass.
In the olden days, it is not common for anyone to tell a flying bird or a kite that had picked a chick from the ground, to bring back the chick and it brought it back to the spot.
It is not possible that a tree would dry up between today and tomorrow. But he cursed so many trees which was being inhabited by witches and they all dried up immediately. As states earlier, there was no Aerodrome in Idah before Ameh-Oboni became Attah Igala.
In the 50s and 60s it was not common for most towns to have an Aerodrome, and in some cases, to actually have an airport built.
During his reign, Idah had an Aerodrome for the first time in its history. Idah was slowly becoming as modern as any other Nigerian town. Attah-Igala actually joined his people in communal labour to cut down trees and clear the land for the proposed aerodrome. Everybody including the Attah himself came to the site with his machete and hoe.
In the presence of everybody, His Royal Highness Attah Ameh Oboni pulled off his flowing gown and started work. His Royal Highness worked till late afternoon and from that day till the construction was completed, he participated fully and his presence acted as a tonic to the people, as the architecture and skyline of Idah were rapidly changing. Boarding primary schools were also initiated during his tenure as Attah-Igala.
One afternoon he left the palace and asked to be driven to the church, where he discussed with the missionaries in Idah, about extending western education to his people. Ameh The Great describes this in the following words “He wanted all the nineteen district headquarters in Igala land to have at least one primary school of their own which would be financed by the Igala Native Authority and free so that the children of the poor in the society could benefit”
He gave a lot of attention to the Riverside at Idah where “an all season paved road harbor complete with ship anchorage and well laid steps from the river banks to the ware houses” was commissioned by Attah Ameh-Oboni.
Attah’s stool has many dos and don’ts, and these traditions can never be comprised no matter the situation as every defaulting has its own consequence.
For instance, Attah Igala does not see a dead body, he does not see a baby that is less than three months old, he does not shake hand with women, he does not remove his cap in the public or in the presence of people, etc.
Unfortunately, some of these laws would cause Attah Ameh Oboni some problems later.
In a particular meeting held in Kaduna which consisted of all paramount traditional rulers in Nigeria and which had the queen of England in attendance, Attah Ameh was forced to remove his cap to greet the Queen of England as others had done. [some say he was told to shake the Queen, which was also a taboo]
Though he refused until they said he should leave the meeting if he would not remove his cap. But Attah was not like others, or was he? It was taboo for Attah to remove his cap in the public.
The entire hall where they were staying was occupied by a swan of bees which emanates from the cap of Attah Ameh Oboni which he removed in order to greet the Queen.The Queen of England as well as other rulers in the meeting ran helter-skelter except the friendly Oba of Benin who was asked by Attah Ameh to go out before he removed his cap.
The hall became empty as some were stung by the bees and the meeting ended.According to history, Attah Ameh Oboni was asked to be arrested and handcuffed by the security people, which they did, but the handcuffs fell off his hands. He was later locked up in a room on the instruction of the Northern rulers and guarded by the security personnel but only to find out later by the personnel that he had left the room.
Yes, when the security was taking him to be locked up, he told his driver, Amanabo of blessed memory, to take the car and be going to Idah while the security locked him in the room.
He then warned Amanabo not to look back until he felt a cool breeze in the car. Though Amanabo argued a little that he cannot leave the Attah there but later obeyed and started driving back to Idah from Kaduna.
After some time, he felt the cool breeze in the car, and Attah Ameh was sitting inside the car. The incident in the meeting made many traditional rulers which were mostly northerners to be angry, especially making kings run in such a manner because of bees.
This became one important sin, and it was like “one sin too many”. The queen of England was also not happy and they (the Queen and northern leaders) started looking for a way to remove Attah Ameh from the throne since he was getting tougher and uncontrollable like others, as well as searching for an obedient replacement.
Igala has various cultural festivals, one of which is Ocho. Ocho is celebrated before farming starts, and it is the time that Attah Igala prays to God for sufficient rainfall, a bountiful harvest, and success in hunting. It is celebrated in the bush and the venue is called Ere-ocho, where the Attah will hunt until he kills a Buffalo or a strong animal. The community in Idah where Ocho takes place is called Ogo-Efa. He performs a little sacrifice to the ancestors using a fowl in the process, and this was to find out if there will blessings or problems in the land after the Ocho.
Before this time, the enemies at home (among the Igala people), especially those having connections with the leaders of the northern region, were working hard to get any evidence either true or false which can be used to remove him from the throne. The blood of the animal used as a sacrifice at Ocho ground now became what the enemies would use against him.
Petition was written by these two Igala people to the Queen and some other Northern leaders that Attah Ameh was sacrificing humans during the Ocho festivals. Since they were looking for any means to displace him, judgment was quickly passed that he must be dethroned, even when investigations were not yet concluded. In addition, all the Igala cultural festivals including the Ocho were immediately banned and this remained for almost 63 years until Governor Yahaya Bello unbanned them based on the appeal of the present Attah Igala.
Already, before this time, the Oba of Benin who had such friction with the British had already been dethroned and banished from Benin. So, Attah Ameh Oboni knew that at that point, no matter what spiritual approach applied, it can only postpone the evil day as his enemies will never relent until he was removed by them.
The result of the blood sample which was taken from the Ocho venue and taken to the University of Ibadan for analysis had arrived and it was proved that it was the blood of an animal and not a human. Sadly, the revered King, Attah Ameh had passed on before the result was brought.
But Attah Ameh, being very sure that he was wrongly accused and framed up by his enemies, especially those from Igala who wrote the petition against him marking the beginning of his planned dethronement, made some pronouncements before his death.
He was allegedly quoted to have said that ” the person who wrote the petition against him would have that hand dried up, and that the leader of the gang or petitioners would be buried three times”. And they all came to pass.
While the hand dried as said, the other was buried as stated, the first was the leg, the second was his hand and the third was himself, all buried at various times at different locations. In addition, as this information about his dethronement was given to him in a meeting from where he was supposed to go back to Idah and prepare to leave the throne, he stopped on the way to another Igala land called Dekina.
That was where he committed suicide.
Before taking his life, he was allegedly quoted to have said that the town, Dekina will be popular but its development will not be as much as its popularity. He was also quoted to have said that because Igala was the genesis of his ordeal, there will be disunity among the Igala people until the reign of his own blood (son) as Attah, and all Igalas irrespective of their locations will be reunited again.
From the reconnection and reunification of Igala people across Nigeria and beyond which has been going on and still going on under the reign of his son, Agabaidu Idakwo Ameh Oboni II, the present Attah Igala, that pronouncement of the reunification of Igala people is also coming through.