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About Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza
Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza was born around the year 1884 to Adai Aragaraga, the Otaru of Aniku lineage of Ozudu clan in Kuroko and Zainab Ejinovo popularly known as Iyaebe. She was the daughter of Atta Omadibi Agbonika who became the first British Political agent and spokes person in Okene in 1904.
Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza, as a young man learnt the art of statesmanship from his grandfather, Atta Omadibi Agbonika. He was also educated in Quranic Science and Arabic under the famous Alkali from Ilorin, Mallam Abdulsalami.
Through self-education, Atta Ibrahim learnt how to read and write in Hausa, Nupe and English. He also mastered the use of the typewriter at a tender age. The business inspired Atta Ibrahim also learnt business from his industrious business mogul mother, and was widely travelled.
The Ebiraland into which Atta Ibrahim Onoruioza was born was just pulling out of the Jihadist invasion popularly known as the Ireku-Ajinomoh. This period also witnessed the trauma of British occupation and establishment of a post at Lokoja and their ultimate invasion of Ebiraland.
It was an Ebiraland without a central leadership but dominated with clan heads and powerful individuals.
Prior to November 11, 1917 when he was appointed the District Head of Ebira District in the then Kabba Division of Ilorin Province, Atta Ibrahim has served the colonial administration in many capacities. First, as messenger, then as an interpreter and finally as a tax scribe. His choice as District Head was influenced by his loyalty and devoted service to the British occupationists. His sharp wit and high intelligence endeared him also to the British administrators.
In 1923 when Kabba was constituted into a province, Ebira was upgraded from a District to a
Division. With this development, Atta Ibrahim was made a third class chief and allowed to use
the royal trumpet, Kakanchi, a symbol of royal authority. By 1926, he was promoted to a second
His contributions to the development of Ebiraland are enormous in comparism with the rate of development in Northern Nigeria at that time. Atta Ibrahim puts his indelible mark in the areas of Education, law and order, infrastructural development in the forms of roads and pipe borne water, establishment of a public cemetery, religious tolerance and his nationalistic zeal in his aggressive agitation for Nigeria’s independence.
Atta Ibrahim understood the importance of education and that was why he struggled to get the Arabic education that was rarely available in Kabba province at that time. His love for education saw him embarking on educational projects during the early period of his reign. He showed very keen interest in Missionary schools.
He provided the missionaries with land to build their schools even though he was a Muslim. He established the Okene Native Authority School popularly known as the N.A in 1923. He later spread the Native Authority Schools to Eganyi, Kuroko, Obangede, Ihima, Okengwe and Ogaminana to cover all the districts in Ebiraland.
His interest in the educational development of his people continued to grow with greater vigour in the middle period of his reign. He demonstrated this by establishing in 1937, the Okene Central School, later, renamed Government Secondary School and now Abdul Aziz Atta Memorial College (AAMCO).
The Atta’s educational development did not only open up Ebiraland to the outside world but placed her very conspicuously on the map of Nigeria. Little wonder, very many important personalities and statesmen in Nigeria today especially from Northern Nigeria had their secondary education from the ‘Lion of the North’ as AAMCO is called.
The Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza also undertook very useful educational tours to Zaria, Kano, Katsina and Bida so as to enhance the manpower development of his domain.
Also Read: Ambassador Judith Sefi Atta’s Profile (Biography).
Law and Order
The Atta’s desire for law and order in his domain led to several infrastructural developments. In 1937, he established the Native Court System in Okene, and Obangede to ensure that offenders are heard and tried with the rule of law. He also constructed the Native Authority prison as a correctional home for social misfit.
It is worthy to note that the only prison in the Kogi central senatorial district is the one built during Atta Ibrahim’s reign which was inherited by the Nigerian Prisons Service after independence. In the early 1930’s, Ebiraland was faced with serious problems of wild life invasion and kidnappings which has claimed the lives of several Anebiras (Ebira People).
Miscreants cashed on the incessant raid on the land by wild animals to perpetrate slave raiding known as Otumakere. In 1933, Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza organised parties of hunters to comb the hills and rout out the wild animals such as Hyena and Leopards which were the scourge to the people. This exercise was also extended to check the activities of the Otumakere, slave raiders in the wild life disguise.26
Roads and Bridges
A nation and people cannot develop without external contacts and one of the ways to facilitate such contacts is the construction of roads and channels for the movement of people and goods which was the basis of intergroup relations. In this vein, the Atta embarked on the construction of roads and bridges linking Okene to many parts of Nigeria.
These roads in no small measure helped increase the volume of trade and commerce, facilitated the movement of farm produce, opened up new settlements along these roads and facilitated the Ebira youths who desired further education in the western part of the country (Yoruba area) which were more advanced educationally.
Under his influence also, boundaries between Ebiraland and her neighbors were fixed.
Atta’s pilgrimage and Okene water works
The Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza embarked on a religious Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina and used the occasion to visit Britain in 1930. It was in Britain, as the guest of the Queen of England, that the Atta requested for a gift of the ‘miracle water’ he saw in her domain for the use and benefit of the Ebira people. The Queen graciously granted the request of the ‘miracle water’ to Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza and praised him for having the interest of his people at heart.
The ‘miracle water’ requested by the Atta and granted by the Queen of England was pipe borne water. The Atta’s voyage from Mecca in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, London and other transit countries exposes him more and he returned with a greater vigour in his determination to see his people and land advance to greater height.
In furtherance of the royal gift from Britain and with the assistance of the colonial administrators, Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza started work on the Okene waterworks in 1934 and by 1937 the facility which has the capacity of holding fifty millions of gallons of water was officially commissioned.30 It is interesting to put on record that by 1937, the Ebira towns of Okene, Ogaminana and some sections of Kuroko were already enjoying pipe borne water; the first in Northern Nigeria to have that infrastructure.
The Atta in keeping in line with health standards of the new infrastructure, he established the Okene public cemetery (Oganya) in 1937 to house the remains of the dead so that the water should not be contaminated.
Also Read: Biography – Late Alhaji Adamu Atta (The First Executive Governor of Kwara State)
Atta’s Nationalistic Struggle
Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza was very actively involved in national politics. In 1936, he had proposed standard uniform for the police in Northern Nigeria, the restriction of the movement of Beggars in the North and the need for the people’s participation in government.33 By the 1940s when nationalist struggle seemed to have heated up, the Atta took active part in the movement for the Nigerian independence.
He represented Ebira people in the Northern House of Assembly of Chiefs as well as being a member of the first Nigeria legislative council in Lagos.34 In 1950, he was virtually advocating for independence for one united Nigeria and not the individual regions, when he said: ‘There is much to be gained by the East, the west and the North functioning as one.
Atta Ibrahim Onoruioza ensured the establishment of peace and stability in his domain. Though, a Muslim, the Atta provided a level playing ground for all faiths. Atta Ibrahim was quick to realize the role of Islam as an effective unifying force for his people. This factor, couple with his conviction in the teaching of Islam could explain his great patronage of the religion in Ebiraland.
The Atta built in 1952, the Okene Central mosque which was a monumental edifice that has stood the test of time and was commissioned by Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse of Senegal.
Despite the fact that he was a devoted Muslim who helped popularize Islam in Ebiraland, the Atta did not treat lightly other religious groups. The Christians were accommodated and encouraged. The missionaries were assisted in the establishment of churches and were given a free hand to propagate their mission. He ensured religious harmony between the Muslims and the Christians.
As much as he romances with these foreign religions of Islam and Christianity, Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza did not jettison the cultural belief of the Ebira people. Ebira cultural festivals were promoted through his patronage of Ebira poet, philosophers and musicians.39
Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza is a visionary leader who has foresight on development. According to Alhaji Jimoh Onusagba, Atta Ibrahim called the traders who were dealing in raw cotton to advance their technology s soon the ‘white man’ will flood the market with synthesized and refined cotton that will take over their trade, the traders then did not see the wisdom and the vision of Atta Ibrahim then, until the influx of sewing thread in the textile industry in Ebiraland in the mid 1940’s.
The Atta appointed a representative (wokili) at Lokoja where the Ebira suzerainty extended to. He also introduced architectural designs akin to Arab designs into the Ebira Traditional architecture. This fact is well authenticated in his palaces at Okene, Okenegba and Lokoja and in the court and other office buildings some of which were built in 1929.
Opposition to the Atta’s style of governance
The Atta attracted to himself a sizeable crop of detractors both at home and in government circles. The opposition from home front manifests itself in the Oyinbo Aremo crisis of 1924 and the early 1950’s against his rule popularly known as the Okene riots of 1951.
Unfortunately, these led to his abdication in 1954 and exile first to Idah, then to Lokoja. Several remote factors led to the opposition to the reign of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza which includes usurpation of leadership right, high handedness and forced labour, usurpation of people’s wives, arrogance, marginalization and victimization of alleged opponents.
The opposition to Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza’s reign accused him of usurping the leadership right of ezi-ogu clan which his maternal grand-father, Atta omadibi occupied and through which the British recognized him as the leader of Ebira people in 1904.
It should be noted that the Ebiras prior to British occupation, had a republican setting without a paramount chief while every clan holds their allegiance to their clan heads.
Atta Omadibi was the clan head of the ezi-ogu clan and being one of the most powerful clan heads at the time of British occupation of Ebiraland, he was used by the British as a spokesman to reach to the Ebira people.
Traditionally, at the death of Atta Omadibi, only a member of the ezi-ogu clan can fill that position. However, the British in its quest to create a warrant chieftaincy system appointed Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza as the paramount chief in 1917 which did not augur well with some sections of the Ebira society especially other powerful clan heads, thus the stiff opposition against Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza’s rule. Mohammed A.R. as quoted in his work puts it more succinctly, Ibrahim became the chief amidst stiff opposition and protest from traditional religious chiefs, clan group elders and outstanding individuals foremost among who were Ozigizigi of Obehira and Ohindase Arudi of Okengwe.
As earlier stated, the young Atta Ibrahim was raised in the house of his maternal grand-father, Atta Omadibi and has served the British occupationists as messenger, interpreter and tax collector.
The British was just interested in creating a warrant chieftaincy stool for the purpose of indirect rule and Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza came in handy. However, it should be noted that Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza was not appointed paramount chief of Ebira after the death of his maternal grandfather, Atta Omadibi.
Ohindase Adano was appointed chief of Ebira in April 1917 and by November, that same year, he was removed for extortion and other malpractices.
So, the theory of usurpation does not arise as Atta Ibrahim was only appointed chief of Ebira in November 1917 when Ohindase Adano was deposed.
Another angle of opposition to Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza was the accusation of high handedness and forced labour.
During the period under study, community labour was the order of the day in the construction and building of community projects. It was mentioned earlier that the reign of Atta Ibrahim witnessed tremendous infrastructural development such as schools, roads, courts etc.
This perceived forced labour which was highly exaggerated was invariably in the quest for the Atta to develop these structures for the common good of the community. One major point of the opposition to the Atta’s reign was that he forcefully usurps the beautiful wives of his subjects thereby causing a public outcry.
This, some scholars have said to be the tragic flaw of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza. However, this may be true; studies have shown that palace chiefs and guards cashed on this weakness of the Atta to perpetrate the usurpation of people’s wives for themselves in the name of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza.
Nevertheless, it is a common African practice of chiefs having harem of wives which Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza was no exception. It is also a common practice in the traditional African society, though barbaric, that the king who desires the wife of a subject gets her by peace or by force. This is not akin to the African continent alone, the kings of Medieval Europe and Asia also engage in such act of usurpation of the wives of their subjects after sending their husbands to the warfront to be killed.
Another point of accusation of Atta Ibrahim’s rule was his marginalization, repression, and victimization of his perceived opponents which saw to the self-exile of Ozigizigi of Obehira, Apata of Ihima and several others. He also repressed the Igbirra Tribal Union (ITU) which was a socio-cultural and political organization formed to checkmate the rule of Atta Ibrahim in the Native Authority.
Repression and marginalization of perceived opponents by a leader is a function of politics and leadership which the Atta deployed to stamp his authority and drive his critics underground. Most leaders either in a democratic or other types of leadership make use of these repressive tools either openly or covertly in managing state affairs. This however, became the albatross to the reign of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza.
Also Read: Obege and the Revolution of Herbal Medicine in Ebiraland.
Abdication of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza from the throne
Several factors led to the fall of the reign of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza and his eventual abdication. These factors include the effect of the oivo-aremo crisis of 1924 which led to the brief suspension of Atta Ibrahim and reinstatement after a trial in Lokoja.49 Secondly, paramount chieftaincy system is alien to the Ebira people and thus, the stiff resistance.
Thirdly, the harsh British tax system which the Atta had to enforce. Fourthly, the activities of graduates from the Roman Catholic Mission School who later formed the Igbirra Tribal Union (ITU) that opposed the reign and actions of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza and finally, the 1951 elections riot which was mainly between the Igbirra tribal Union (ITU), an anti-Atta party and Igbirra Progressive Union (IPU), a pro Atta party to control the composition of the Ebira Native Authority Central Council.
In 1952, The Igbirra Tribal Union gained majority in the Native Authority Central Council. The possibility of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza retaining his throne became shaky. By March 1954, 23 out of the 25 elected members of the Igbirra Native Authority Central Council petitioned for the removal of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza from office.
Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza could not survive this onslaught and by June 30, 1954, he officially abdicated the throne.
This leader with strong character, wise, influential, courageous, transformational and equally autocratic was sent to Idah and then Lokoja where he died in 1964. The remains of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza was buried at his palace in Okene, the ‘official’ capital of Ebiraland.
Palace of Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza
Leadership is the ability to garner enough courage, strength and vision to influence the behavior of other people in a society so as to achieve a goal or an objective that will be of common good to the society or organization. Leaders deploy leadership skills as the need arises in the quest to achieving the set objectives.
Atta Ibrahim Onoruoiza, the paramount chief of Ebiraland, 1917 – 1954 was a leader who led Ebiraland with the dictates of the time. Whatever the shade of opinion, one may have about Atta Ibrahim and his rule, a basic fact one cannot deny is that, his flaws and shortcomings in his handling of state affairs, Atta Ibrahim Onoruioza was a transformational leader who impacted positively on the image and status of the Ebira person.
He also contributed enormously to the infrastructural development of Ebiraland with relics of such development still visible in the land today. Atta Ibrahim was a product of the social milieu of his time and thus, a leader highly misconstrued based on the exaggeration of his flaws and shortcomings while his modest achievements which were enormous were relegated to the back when Ebira history and his reign are discussed.
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This article was first released by;
ENESI PRINCE HABIB, PHD
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY AND DIPLOMATIC STUDIES
FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF KASHERE, GOMBE STATE, NIGERIA
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