Urhobo Historical Society

Memorial Tribute to Orhoro I, Orodje of Okpe

By Dr.  Hope  Eghagha

The Tree has entered the River:
Celebrating the life and times of His Royal Majesty Orhoro 1, J.P., OON, Orodje of Okpe, Delta State. 

THE Okpe Traditional Council recently announced the transition of His Royal Majesty Orhoro 1, J.P; OON, the Orodje of Okpe in Delta State of Nigeria. HRM Orhoro, was the first and pioneer Chairman of Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers when it was created in 1993. With about a third of the population of the state as subjects in his domain, he was indeed one of the most influential traditional rulers in Delta State. He was host to many Itsekiri and Urhobo communities. But alas, in our socio-political environment, a man who carries himself quietly and in dignity hardly ever gets into headline news.

He served his term as Chairman of Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers peacefully until it was the turn of his successor with whom he co-operated in a most charitable and royal manner. Some have described the late king as 'being peace-loving even to a fault'. In my view, this is an eloquent testimony to the grand, simple and peaceful personality that was His Royal Majesty.

Throughout his reign Okpe Kingdom witnessed massive growth, particularly in terms of social amenities, road construction, and unity of purpose. He was a man who made no enemies, but who at the same time stood for the truth. But alas, that which is good but mortal must come to an end. Thus came an end to the thirty-two year glorious, peaceful and eventful reign of the traditional ruler of the most populous sub-ethnic group in Delta State, the Okpe people.

For most people familiar with his long reign, the word that summarises his era is 'peace'. It's not all leaders who manage to ensure peace. For as Thomas Kempis has observed: "All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace." Under the Orodje, the kingdom was spared the ethnic clashes that have rocked the state in the last 10 odd years. The Bible says, "God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God."

It is true that minor skirmishes were reported in Sapele between the Okpe and Itsekiri. But the firm and gentle hands of the great man of peace helped to douse the tension. He was genial, kind and patient. He also had an immense capacity to listen to all parties that presented matters to him.

Who was the Orodje of Okpe ?

Who are the Okpe people over whom he presided?

By some irony, this icon of our times did not hit the headlines during his reign because the kingdom was not enmeshed in crisis. He had no clashes with his chiefs nor did he do anything to cause disaffection between the Okpe and her neighbours. If anything, he ensured that conflicts were amicably resolved. Okpe land stretches from the River Ethiope on the northern side to Uvwie clan in the south and from Agbon and Agbarho clans westwards to the sea. The Okpe people are the descendants of the four princely brothers namely Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke and Esezi, whose ancestor migrated from Benin about 1170 AD. The Okpe share boundaries with Agbarho clan, Agbon clan, Idjerhe clan, Uvwie clan, the Itsekiri people of Warri Division, the people of Oghara Division, and Uvwie and Ughelli clans of Delta State.

Domingo Amujaine Ejinyere as HRM was then called, was born at Orerokpe, the ancestral home of the Okpe and the headquarters of Western Urhobo Divisin in 1921. His father, late Chief Ejinyere Edjere, was a principal member of the Ibobo family on the paternal side and of the Ohwere family on his maternal side. His mother, the late Madam Etadievu Erhabor was of the Ohwere family.

It is instructive to note that both the Ibobo family and the Ohwere family are sub-branches of the Orhoro ruling House. His Highness therefore was a full-fledged member of the Orhoro Ruling House. The ruling houses, four in number, are Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke, and Esezi, named for the brothers who founded the kingdom.

HRM received his early education at the Holy Cross Catholic School, Lagos. He then joined the Nigeria Police Force in 1940, retiring on pension in 1952. In search of the Golden Fleece, HRM proceeded to the United Kingdom in 1956 where he studied Business Administration, obtaining a Diploma. Upon his return from the UK, His Royal Majesty took a Chieftancy title and established a business. He was appointed President of the Customary Court in 1963. In 1964, HRM along with his brother, Chief J.E. Odiete, jointly established an industrial company, known as The New African Industries limited. He held the positions of Director and General Manager of the company until his appointment as Orodje of Okpe in 1972.

HRM Orhoro 1 ascended the Okpe Kingdom throne after the demise of His Highness Esezi 11 on March 26, 1966. Thus HRM Orhoro was the second monarch after the long period of interregnum in Okpe land. He was crowned king in colourful ceremony on the 30th day of December 1972.

He carried himself with immense dignity both during and after the coronation ceremonies. His appointment was sealed by gazette No. 58 volume 9 of 7th December 1972 issued by the then government of Midwest, headed by Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia. His area of authority covered two local government areas, Okpe and Sapele, presiding over the single largest ethnic nationality in Delta State, both in terms of population and landmass.

During his reign, he was first vice Chairman, Midwest Council of Traditional Rulers (1973-1977); Deputy Chairman, Bendel State Traditional Rulers Forum (1977-1991); Member National Council of States (MNCS) 1992; First and pioneer Chairman of Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers (1993); Chairman, Southern Delta Traditional Rulers Forum; Chairman, Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities (TROMPCON), Delta State Chapter. HRM was also the Life President of the Okpe Traditional Council. During his reign, he was able to handle and resolve many intra- and inter-communal conflicts in Delta State. For example, he intervened and succeeded in the settlement of the conflict between Igbide and Emede (both in Isoko); he also intervened in the conflict between Aladja and Ogbe-Ijaw, Oboro and Olota, Dabri and Aladja, and Alagbabiri and Gbaregolo, Izon and Itsekiri warring groups in Sapele etc.

In his colourful career, he won a medal of honour during the war of 1939-45. He got a commendation from the Police High Command in 1950, and in 1978, he became a Justice of the Peace. He also got the Merit Award for Development and Upliftment of Okpe Culture by National Association of Okpe Students (UNIBEN/UBTH chapter) in 1998.

HRM was also Grand patron to the National Union of Urhobo Students for which he got a merit award from the Union. In 1998, he got the Distinguished Community Leadership Award by the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria.

Last year, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, honoured him with Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). During his reign, the palace at the traditional home of the Okpe was re-built. The new architectural masterpiece that is the palace at Orerokpe is a manifestation of how he quietly and obtrusively brought different forces and persons together to pool resources for the development of Okpe land.

Some of his professional colleagues in the Police Force include the Oba of Akure, Adesida IV and the late A.I.G., F. Hausa Brisbe.

In his long reign, he had occasions to play host to some important traditional rulers in Nigeria. These include the Emir of Ringim, Alhaji (Dr). Sayyadi A. Mahmoud (31st September 1997); the Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero (28th March 1998); the Ooni of Ife, Oba O.A Sijuwade (1st November 2001) and the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II (1st November 2001).

Others are the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oba Adeyemo A. Aladesanmi III (1st November 2001); the Dein of Agbor, HRM Kegboekuzi I, JP (1st November 2001) and the Olubaka of Aka-Akoko, Oba Y.A Adeleye (1st November).

Some notable persons who are his subjects are Chief J.E. Odiete, the Otota of Okpe Kingdom; Chief D.O. Dafinone, (CON) the Owhere of Okpe Kingdom, Chief P.A. Gbinije and Professor Sam Oyovbaire, former Minister of Information and Culture. Others are retired Generals H.O.D Eghagha, former Military Administrator of Ogun State and High Commissioner to Ghana (the Ogbvivie Okpe); Generals Patrick Aziza, Felix Mujakperuo, Air Vice Marshall Frank Ajobena (rtd), (former Military Administrator of Abia State); Mr. Macauley Ofurhie, (DPR); Chief Charles Obule, (Director, NNPC Abuja); Barrister J.Y Odebala, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) former NBA President; Professor William Odiete, etc.

Already, grand plans are under way to give the grand old king befitting rites of passage for a man of his stature. His challenge to the Okpe people in general would be to produce a worthy successor as soon as practicable and ensure peace and stability in their homeland.

May 2004