By Gabriel Omonhinmin
The battle for who ascends the throne in Agbede royal stool has brought an unusual calm and anxiety all over the town in Edo North Senatorial District of Edo State and other adjoining villages.
Agbede in Etsako West Local Government Area is one of the major towns sited along the Benin – Lokoja axis. This road is the link between Southern and Northern Nigeria through Lokoja and Abuja. The town is known by its indigenes as “Iegbedeh” which means ‘nobody ever destroys his ancestral lineage’. This was the name, the British colonial masters anglicised to be Agbede.
The town, which is one of the major agricultural hubs of Edo State, is presently in a silent turmoil, as its Princes are uncontrollably bickering over who takes over the throne of the Oba of Agbede in the Ayuele Kingdom.
Some of the Princes in the three ruling houses made up of Afe-Omoaka, Afe-Momodu, and Afe Emokpare, all members of the larger Afe-Atebheda lineage, are on each other’s throats. This desperation is all about whom among these ruling houses will produce a successor to the late Oba of Agbede, His Royal Highness, Momoh Sani Amedu, Momodu II, who reigned from 1959 to March 25th, 2018 when he passed on.
The fight among these Princes if not carefully handled might invariably erode and destroy the slogan of the Agbede people, which says “no one ever destroys his ancestral lineage”. The town is presently the headquarters of Ayuele Community in Edo North.
An investigation has revealed that chief among other reasons, for the renewed aggression and heightened tension in Agbede town, could be traced to the regrettable act of indiscretion of some chiefs in the town, who are fuelling the crisis, due to their actions and utterances. Also, the intrigues and desperate maneuvering by some of the contending princes for the throne are not helping matters either.
The 171-year-old stool of Agbede immediately became vacant on March 25, 2018, when Oba Momoh Sani Amedu, Momodu II, died.
It is, therefore, not a surprise that there is a high-level maneuver by some princes from the three ruling houses to produce the next occupant of the throne.
Immediately after the death of Oba Momodu II, the initial high-level intrigues, tension, and struggle that occurred, which almost resulted in the breach of peace and breakdown of law and order in Agbede town and its environ, was temporarily halted, when one of the Princes from the Afe-Omoaka ruling house, Brig-Gen. Momoh Lawani Yesufu (retd.) approached the Auchi High Court for an interlocutory injunction.
On Monday, June 5, 2018, at exactly 12.45 pm, an Auchi High Court presided over by Justice A.N. Omonuwa, granted an interlocutory injunction, restraining the Edo State Government and all its agents alongside all members of the three ruling houses in Agbede from recognizing, presenting and parading any candidate as the Oba of Agbede until the matter before the court is heard and determined.
With the court decision, one had thought, that this matter has been rested until the Edo State Government comes up with its findings on the matter and subsequently announced who to be enthroned as the new Oba of Agbede.
Surprisingly, while the court order is still in force, and exactly three years and some months after this particular court order was granted, a renewed struggle has again resurfaced with more vigour among the Princes.
Desperate efforts are now being made by all the groups to take over the Oba of Agbede palace and take charge of the affairs of the town from the Chiefs, who are presently in charge of the day-to-day running of the town.
Palace Watch after receiving several conflicting reports and text messages from members of these warring families decided once again to delve into this matter, to unearth the possible reason or reasons for the renewed aggression among the Princes of Afe-Atebheda Royal family in Ayuele Kingdom, which is presently threatening the peace, law, and order of Agbede town.
One of the Princes at the center of this crisis, Alhaji Haaruna Mai Yaasiin, who is a Prince from the Afe-Momodu ruling house, explains the reasons for the present tension in the town.
He said, “Some of us are aggrieved for so many reasons. Before the enthronement of the immediate past Oba of Agbede, Momoh Sani Amedu, who later changed his name and title to be Oba Momodu II, there was a known process of enthroning an Oba in Agbede.
“In 1959, the process of selecting an Oba to the Agbede throne was open, clear, and simple to all the male children from the Afe-Omoaka, Afe-Momodu, and Afe-Emokpare ruling houses, who are physically and mentally fit to occupy the throne of our ancestors.
“The contest and processes as it were then, will eventually lead each of the ruling houses into selecting one credible Prince among them, who they will now present to the Agbede Kingmakers and people as their representative.
“After the three ruling houses have presented their representative to the Kingmakers of the town, the Kingmakers in the final analysis in their wisdom will end up selecting one Prince among these three princes presented to them, who they consider to be the most suitable person to occupy the throne as Oba of Agbede.
“You know what? Prince Mai Yasiiin continued, surprisingly, Oba M.S. Amedu, while on the throne, secretly connived with the then Edo state government to make a law that now made the Agbede throne the exclusive preserve of his children and lineage alone and to the exclusion of other ruling houses and princes. This, we consider being an act of perfidy. We are now told that the Agbede throne is ‘Primogeniture’ it is now from father to son just like the Benin people’s process.
“Although our great grandparents were immigrants from Benin City, we have a different culture and orientation from the Benin people. The behavior of the late Oba of Agbede, who tried to corner the throne exclusively for his immediate family, is most unacceptable to the Agbede people in general and us as Princes of this great Kingdom in particular.
“Oba M.S. Amedu, although from my lineage the Afe-Momodu Ruling House, when he was crowned after my late father, Oba Momodu I, was politically dethroned by the Action Group Government of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1958; he was crowned as Oba Momoh Sani Amodu then at the age of 18 years. He was never known as Oba Momoh Sani Momodu II, as he later made people believe. He effected this change in his name while already on the throne of Agbede. This particular act we the direct sons of Oba Momodu I, are not happy with.
“Again, the interlocutory injunction issued by the Auchi High Court on Monday 5th June 2018, which restrained the Edo State Government and all its agents alongside all members of the three ruling houses in Agbede from recognizing, presenting and parading any candidate as the Oba of Agbede until this particular matter is determined or resolved by the court, has long been violated by Prince Nurudeen Momodu, one of the twin sons of the immediate past Oba of Agbede, Oba Momoh Sani Amedu.”
Prince Mai Yaasiiin further made clarifications, “contrary to the Auchi High Court order, which asked all the Princes from the ruling houses to vacate the Oba of Agbede Palace, and lock up the place temporary and hands-off the day to day running of the affairs of the town until a new Oba is appointed by the Edo State Government, Prince Nurudeen Momodu unlike his twin brother, Abdul-Lateef, who immediately complied with the court order and moved out of the Oba of Agbede Palace.
“He, Abudu-Lateef has continued to respect the court order. Nurudeen on his part is still living in the Oba of Agbede Palace unchallenged up till now. So many efforts have been made to persuade him into vacating the Palace, but has refused to leave the place, even though he has his house in Agbede to relocate to,” he added.
Mai Yasiiin further stressed, “On July 25, 2019, a letter entitled “Conduct Likely to breach the peace in Aviele community by Prince Nurudeem Momodu was written by the Aviele Council of Chiefs, and signed by Alhaji Sule Abdulahi, who is the representative of all the Daudus of Agbede land, and was sent to Nurudeen in the Oba of Agbede’s palace, where he lives up till now.
“The allegations contained in that particular letter were as follows, that Nurudeen and Abudu-Lateef, his twin brother, were parading themselves as the Oba of Agbede, and that behavior should stop forthwith.
“That the two of them were ignoring the Auchi High Court order that stated expressly that the status quo ante should be maintained. That Nurudeen has engaged in action and pronouncement capable of frustrating the Auchi Court order. The letter further alleged, that on several occasions, Nurudeen locked out the Daudus of Agbede and Chiefs from the palace where they were supposed to hold their meetings.
“The climax of these illegal acts of Nurudeen, happened on the 6th of July 2019, when Nurudeen allegedly locked out Alhaji Sule Abdulahi, other Daudus and Chiefs of Agbede land from the Palace, thus preventing them from gaining access into the Palace where they were supposed to perform their legitimate duties as Palace Chiefs.
“As if this is not enough infraction or violation of the court order, Prince Nurudeen has continued to carry himself and behave as the de-facto crown Prince of Agbede, Ayuele Kingdom. He is known to still interfere with the daily meetings of Chiefs in the Oba of Agbede palace. Thus indirectly dictating to the Chiefs, how he wants the town to be run daily. This behaviour is no longer acceptable to some of us, as we are all Princes, some of us are even better Prince than him.
“We are no longer ready to fold our hands, while Nurudeen continues to violate the court order. To add salt to injury, Nurudeen recently connived with some palace chief and appointed one Prince Alhaji Abdulahi Mohammed aka Jamuna as the Chairman of Royalty Committee of Agbede town. Before this illegal appointment, I was the person legally appointed on the 13th October 2020 by the Agbede people to head this committee.
The current bad blood among some of the Princes of the Afe-Atebheda ruling house was further heightened when some chiefs allegedly unilaterally removed Prince Alhaji Haaruna Mai Yasiiin from office as the Chairman of the Royalty Committee when the bad blood that already existed over who among the princes and ruling houses is to provide a successor to the late Oba of Agbede is yet to settle.
As to be expected, some of the Princes alongside chiefs who opposed the action of the two most senior chiefs in Ayuele kingdom, on the 24th of August 2021, wrote a two-page petition to the Officer-In-Charge of the State Security Service in Etsako West Local Government Area Council, in Auchi.
The petition entitled “Our Statement on the Purported Removal of Prince Alhaji Haaruna Mai Yaasiiin as the Chairman Ayuele Royalty Committee,” was signed by Barrister Mahmud Faruk, who is the Chief Azare of Ayuele land, and Secretary to the Ayuele Council of Chiefs, Mallam Mustapha Momodu, Chief Guruza of Ayuele land, Alhaji Ishaq Abdulraham, Chief Imam of Ayuele land, and Alhaji Audu Momodu, the President, Atebheda Royal Family, Agbede.
The petitioner expressed their displeasure over the removal of Prince Alhaji Haaruna Mai Yaasiiin as the Chairman of the Royalty Committee. They further alleged that the two chiefs in the Ayuele Kingdom have no powers to unilaterally remove Alhaji Mai Yaasiiin as the Chairman of the Royalty Committee and appoint in his place, Alhaji Prince Muhammed Abdulahi aka Jamuna.
“They further alleged that Prince Muhammed Abdulahi, who was appointed by the two chiefs, was indicted by another committee set up by the Agbede people, for allegedly diverting, misappropriating, and embezzling the funds he has already collected which is running into millions of Naira. According to the petitioners, Chief Alhaji Sule Abdulahi, one of the Chiefs in the Agbede palace, who made the appointment, is a junior chief in the Oba of Agbede palace. As there are so many other Chiefs in the palace, who are senior to him in rank and were not consulted.
The petitioner then concluded, “that Chief Alhaji Barrister Mahumd Faruk, who is the current Secretary to the Agbede Council of Chiefs and head of the Council of Chiefs, in the absence of Alhaji Chief, A.R.Z. Momodu, the Dania of Ayuele land, who was indisposed at the time of the petition, was not aware of the letter purportedly appointing Jamuna as the new chairman of Agbede Royalty Committee. The petitioner, therefore, alleged that the purported letter appointing Jamuna as the new Royalty Committee Chairman was forged and should be disregarded.
Palace Watch immediately reached out to Prince Alhaji Nurudeem Momodu and asked his comments over the allegations made against him.
Hear him “I was born and brought up in the Oba of Agbede’s Palace. It was in this same palace my late father, His Royal Highness, Oba Momoh Sani Momodu II, lived until he joined his ancestors. This place is the only home that I have ever known as my home all my life. It is extremely difficult for me to leave the place, just because some people are not too happy with me living here.
“I have never violated any law or court order. The main palace of the Oba of Agbede is there for them to access and do whatever pleases them there. I have never attempted to have anything to do with the place, since my late father’s passage.
“What most people do not know or are ignorant of, is the fact, that my late father singlehandedly built most of the houses in the present palace of Agbede. The area I am presently residing in was the same area my late father stayed in while alive as his residence. I honestly do not intend to relinquish this personal house to anyone, except my elder brother, Momoh Lawal Momodu, who currently lives in the U.S.
“I do not interfere with whatever the chiefs and Daudus are doing in the main palace, and let it be known today, I have never attended any meeting with the chiefs in the Palace. While they are meeting in the palace, I go about my business. It is therefore wrong, for anyone to say that I am violating the court order given by an Auchi High Court in June 2018. It is sad and disgusting, that in an attempt to take over the throne, there is nothing absurd which some of my people have not done to humiliate me. I am very happy the Agbede people are cleverer than most of them. So they see through all their antics. They do or say all manner of things just to present me as a bad person before the larger Agbede people. I will continue to leave all of them to Allah, who knows and sees everything.
“It is not correct that my father’s eldest son, Prince Momoh Lawal Momodu, is no longer interested in the throne of Agbede as they are currently alleging. He is also not a Christian as it is now being rumored all over the place. He is a Moslem and will for the rest of his life remain a committed Moslem. He has also not relocated from Washington DC where he has lived, since he got to America several years ago. My late father trained us to be quiet, peaceful, and responsible children. At the appropriate time, my elder brother will show up in Agbede town.
“Concerning the Edo State Government Edict or Gazette of 1986, which made the Agbede throne Primogeniture in nature, it was not my late father who enacted this particular law. It was done by the then Edo State Government in its wisdom.
“As we speak today, this law is the only law in existence. And as we all know, the law will always remain the law, no matter how anyone feels like an individual. Before now, the system of selecting a king in Agbede was based on gerontocracy, when that system was changed, nobody died. We all fall in line. This matter is still in court, it is subjudice. I will, therefore, not want to make any further comments on this matter.
“Since they lied and said that I was the person who appointed Prince Alhaji Abdulahi Muhammed, aka Jamuna, as the Chairman of the Agbede Royalty Committee, let me take you to him so that you hear from the horse’s mouth.
Alhaji Abdulahi Muhammed states: “I was on my own in my house when I was invited to the Agbede Palace by the Daudus and Chiefs in the palace and presented with an appointment letter on the 7th September 2019, as the Chairman, Royalty Committee. The first question I asked then, was which bank account, as I expected to pay into the proceeds from this exercise?
“This money or levy is usually collected every session. It is not a daily affair. It is only collected during the farming season when the farmer goes to their farms and the Fulani herders bring their cattle to Agbede to graze. I have barely begun work, when all manner of allegations were made against me, I was subsequently, removed as Chairman of this particular committee in April 2020.
“The chiefs in the Palace then began their investigations when they completed their findings and discovered that I did not do anything wrong, ten Palace Chiefs on August 7, 2021, again signed the letter reinstating me to the position.
“In the allegations made against me, I was accused of embezzling two million Naira plus at one point, six million Naira at another time. My question is, where did I get such money from in a place like Agbede? I have, however, asked them to show me the evidence of where I got the money that I allegedly embezzled. Up till now, they have not been able to do so. I am here in my house waiting for them to come up with their evidence.
“You will not believe it, since my re-appointment as the Royalty Committee Chairman all manner of frivolous petitions have been written against me to security agencies across Edo State. And in answering all these allegations, I have to part with money. We all know you can’t answer police calls without dropping some money. The little money we have been able to generate has been consumed through this process. Moreover, it is in November/December that we will commence our work properly.”
Prince Dr. Bala Yesufu, was then contacted by Palace Watch and asked why was his family showing interest in the Oba of Agbede throne since his late father was alleged to have been a Daudu of Agbede, not a king?
Dr. Bala Yesufu dismissed the allegation as irresponsible, saying “yes! My late father was one of the Daudus in Agbede, while alive, but my grandfather was an Oba of Agbede, and as such, I and other of my siblings in the larger Yesufu lineage are eligible to ascend the Agbede throne once it is vacant.
He, therefore, referred me to the book entitled “Battle of Relocation, our experiences, their experiences.” Written by one of his cousins, Prince Momoh Lawani Yesufu. The book shows that Omogiafo, who was known as (Oba Yesufu ruled Agbede from 1920 to 1925) and he was from the Oba Omoaka arm of the Afe-Atebheda Royal family of Agbede.
Palace Watch then reached out to the Edo State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Monday Osaigbovo, for his comments on the ranging crisis in Agbede. He said, “I have just assumed office barely a month ago, I will therefore refer you to the Permanent Secretary, Mr. S.O. Obakpolo, for his comments.”
Obakpolo told Palace Watch “that as a matter of policy, the Edo State Government ceases every action on any matter before it, once such a case is in court. The matter will only be looked into or attended to after it has been decided by the court. This is exactly the situation with the Chieftaincy crisis in Agbede.”