His Majesty, Orhue 1, Major Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (retd) is the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom. In this interview with OVIE OKPARE, he speaks about his life as the traditional ruler of Okpe Kingdom
You rolled out the drums last year to mark your 10th anniversary as the traditional ruler of Okpe Kingdom, what motivated such celebration?
I really thank God because it is God that makes kings. I also thank God for having made me a king, He sustains me and that is the major thing about the celebration. The celebration wasn’t just to dance, it was about thanking God.
Having been born into a royal family, did it occur to you that you would become the king eventually?
In our kingship system, you cannot be sure if you are going to be a king. It is only God who knows who is going to become a king because it is not hereditary. It rotates among the ruling houses and when it gets to your ruling house, people in your ruling house would have to present you. It is a general belief that every Okpe son is a prince and can be a king at anytime when it comes to your ruling house. I grew up like every other normal person and not as a prince.
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So, would it be right to say you also felt you could be king one day?
I’d say no and yes because even as a young man, I had great regards for the throne. I remember during the reign of our then king, H.R.M. Esezi II; I was a young man then. My grandfather used to buy big fish and I would ride a bicycle from my village to go and give the king the fish. I used to see their family and I was very impressed. I never had the idea that I would be a king someday.
Years back, there were so many perceptions and beliefs that surround the throne; did you see such beliefs as mere myths?
I agree there were certain things associated with kingship. There were some obsession and some diabolical things but we are modern kings. I am a Christian and the people who selected me know that I am a Christian. So, I didn’t experience any such thing at all and if they were there, I didn’t believe in them.
Was it your decision to contest for the stool or were you encouraged by people close to you?
I was encouraged by people who were close to me. I was encouraged by people like Senator (David) Dafinone, Chief Thompson Okpoko (SAN), Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, late Patrick Gbinije and many others. These people are not from my ruling house but they knew people who could fit into the position. They said that once it was in our ruling house, I should contest for it.
These days, the selection of a king has become very competitive. Was it like that during your time?
It was very competitive. In short, we were about ten who contested for it. One of my very good friends also contested. We are even related. It was miraculous in the sense that 40 high chiefs were supposed to do the selection and we had various ballot boxes with our names attached to them. My friend’s ballot box was brought in first and when they counted it, he had 16 votes. I had already congratulated him because if 10 people are contesting and 40 people are voting and one person has got 16 votes, to me, the person has won. That was why I congratulated him. But when they brought my own ballot box and the votes were counted, I had the same 16 votes. The law says that if there is a tie like that, the senior person (traditional High Chief) will go and cast the vote. So, it was that vote that brought me in as the Orodje.
What kind of feelings did you get when you eventually emerged the king?
I was okay. Although I was elected in 2004, it wasn’t until 2006 that I was crowned.
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It was because there was a court case. In kingship these days, when the throne is not hereditary, there will be litigations. The case was on for a period of two years.
Did you perform your function as a king during this period?
There was no king during that period. We had what we called Otota (spokesman) presiding as the king because I was not yet crowned. I was not crowned until 29th of July 2006. It was just recently that I celebrated my 11th year on the throne. It was a low-key celebration because I did a bigger one last year.
How many of the contestants took you to court?
It was precisely my best friend who took me to court. All the other people didn’t go to court. Both of us were military officers but I was his senior in the military.
How is the kingship rotated among the ruling houses and what are the names of the ruling houses?
We have four ruling houses in Okpe Kingdom. The Orhue ruling house; which I am occupying now. My predecessor was from Orhoro ruling house and then, we also have Evbreke and Esezi ruling houses. So, on my demise, it will go to Evbreke ruling house.
Your position must have deprived you of many things you used to do before you became king, could you share some of those things with us?
There is no easy life. When I was leaving the military, I was happy because I thought I had gained my freedom. I became king and again, my freedom is restricted. There is something we call burden-of-office. When you are in a certain position, there are certain things you can no longer do. I cannot go anywhere I want to go because people must follow me. I have no privacy anymore in my life. For instance, I like playing golf but my people say I can no longer do that. I cannot eat in the public. My people believe that the king is a spirit and doesn’t eat. Those are some of the restrictions.
Do you still practise law?
No. Which time do I still have to practise law? This is my office. I am here (palace) every day, although I have a law firm in Lagos which people run for me. When I left the army, I joined the law firm which I am a partner. It is still there in Lagos. I don’t go there to work and I don’t go to court. I’ll say I am just a shareholder now.
Has your law profession helped you in your duties as a king?
In adjudicating cases, yes, it has helped me because I have to combine my legal knowledge with traditional knowledge and customs to be able to settle cases. In short, here, we don’t believe in taking anybody to the police because anybody who takes you to the police station is your enemy forever. But when we settle them here at the palace, they go back home happy. The legal knowledge has helped me a lot especially combining it with the tradition of our people.
But these days, people rarely consult traditional rulers to resolve conflict unlike how it used to be, do you see that as a threat to the traditional stool?
It depends on the people. It’s better to settle issues through the traditional means than going to court where the matter will drag for years. Like I told you before, if you arrest and take somebody to police station, the enmity will be there for life. It’s also good to tell people to explore settling their issues within the traditional institution. But there are some deviants who will still go to court and will later return after the matter has dragged for years without judgment. We have chiefs who are members of the Kingdom’s arbitration. I selected them especially because of their own personal integrity because they will not murder justice. There are stages before a matter can be brought here. The kingdom is large so we have 13 districts and I appointed district heads. The matter must have gone to the district before coming here. Here is just like the Appeal Court. If the matter starts at the district and if the person is not satisfied, he now appeals here and if he is not satisfied, the person can now meet me personally. That is the last resort for settling dispute in the kingdom. There is also the family level, community level before reaching the other stages I earlier mentioned. But in extreme cases, I take over some cases to save lives and critical situations.
How did your friends, particularly your military friends, adjust to your position as king after you ascended the throne?
I still relate with them till today. For instance, one of the boys who was my military assistant when I was a Grand Officer Commanding, as far as he is concerned, he is a member of my family. He’s from the North but he is so close to us that anything we want to do, he comes here. I thank God he is now the GOC of where I was before. I also keep in touch with my course mates (NDA regular 5). During my 10th year anniversary, they came here and gave me a horse. I am still very close to those who were my seniors and juniors, and we relate very well.
You cut the image of someone who must have had fun in his youthful days, can you tell us a bit about your growing up days.
I was not a ‘bread and butter’ child. Although my father was a court clerk, there was no affluence. I was in the village during holidays to tap rubbers, go to the farm and also go fishing before I went to secondary school. I never watched television until I finished secondary school. The first time I watched television was when I went to Lagos after my secondary school days.
As a court clerk, my father moved from place to place. My father ensured we would always go to the village to work. For instance, if I didn’t tap rubber, my father wouldn’t pay my school fees. It was not that he couldn’t pay but he wanted us to be hard working.
What would you describe as the most striking thing about your kingdom and its people?
We believe in unity and the Okpe people are proud people. When some kingdoms are splitting into pieces, the Okpe people will always want to remain one. The rotational ruling system is helping us because they know it is not for one person. We are keeping intact this ‘Okpeship’ in us. Whether you are in Sapele local government or Okpe local government, you are an Okpe man. Okpe people are proud of their place and origin.
It is often said that every king eats the heart of his predecessor; did you do that?
There is nothing like that in Okpe. Whether it existed in the ancient times, I wouldn’t know. I don’t know if it exists in other kingdoms even in this modern time. I didn’t eat anybody’s heart before I was crowned.
Coronation process is usually shrouded in secrecy; did you have some fears as to what you were going into?
No. They told us over time what we were expected to do, like cutting of palm trees and grasses. They will ask you to do some of those things because that is the last time you will do hard labour. As the Orodje, I am not expected to handle cutlass throughout my life time again. I have done the last labour.
We learnt there is always a cleansing process that takes place in the palace before a new king moves in. Could you tell us what this entails?
The cleansing that was done which I was aware of was the one done by my Rev Father. He came and blessed the palace for me. In fact, we held mass in my bedroom before I moved in.
What was your first night in the palace like?
I think it was like every other normal night for me. I can’t remember anything extraordinary.
In some cases, there are usually strange happenings when a new king is born. Did your parents tell you if any of such things happened when you were born?
Nobody told me anything special except my maternal grandfather who named me Agadagba (a great man). When I go to my maternal side, that is the name they call me. It didn’t mean anything to me that time but at a stage, I wondered why my grandfather gave me such a name.
Kings inherit a number of women in the palace, how many did you inherit and how did your wife take it?
I didn’t inherit any wife. My predecessor had only one wife. She’s no longer in the palace according to our tradition but a provision is made for her so that she can live comfortably. Every month, there is certain amount of money we give to her but she’s not my wife.
How do you manage your relationship with other kings?
I have a cordial relationship with other kings throughout the country. Within the Urhobo Nation, it is very cordial. Most traditional rulers in the North are my friends; from the Sultan of Sokoto to Etsu Nupe, Emir of Kebbi and many others. Many of them were my colleagues in the army. Also, in the South-East, many of the kings are my friends and also in the South-South including King Diete-Spiff. We call ourselves occasionally.
Every town has its taboo. What are your own taboos in Okpe Kingdom?
There are a lot of taboos. For instance, you cannot hold an Okpe woman’s (referring to a married woman) hand or her wrist or touch parts of her body. It is forbidden. The person who did that will be asked to pay compensation. And like I told you, Orodje (King) does not do hard labour. I am forbidden from holding cutlass. The only possible thing I can hold is pen. My chiefs are forbidden from eating in the public. Like I also told you too, the Orodje does not eat. I’m assumed to be a spirit. I can never been seen eating in the public. Nowadays, we no longer circumcise women in Okpe Kingdom but in those days, it was done while preparing the woman for marriage. We still have the ceremony but the girl is not circumcised as was done in the old days. During that period, there is a fattening room as it is known in other parts of the country. The bride-to-be will stay in the room for three lunar months doing nothing but just eating and older and experienced women would come to tell her the rudiments of marriage, how to respect her husband and her husband people and letting her know she is not only getting married to her husband but the entire family. Our people still do that but it is just ceremonial because of the law against circumcision. There are certain things the Okpe woman cannot do. My wife cannot go to the market. There are so many other taboos.
What are you doing to sustain the language and the culture of the Okpe Kingdom?
It is a problem to us because most of our children can’t speak the dialect and it is very painful. There is a bye-law in the palace that indigenes must speak Okpe. I paid a teacher to teach children who cannot speak the language and there is another Okpe school for the teaching of the language. People have also written many books in Okpe and some are in CDs and tapes.
As for the culture, when people are within the Kingdom, they learn so much about it but children who are born outside the kingdom, they seem not to know much.
What do you enjoy most about being the king of Okpe kingdom? Is there any regret for being a king?
First of all, I have no regret being a monarch. I have no regret loving and staying with my people. I enjoy what I am doing here as the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom. I love helping my people especially when I have the means to do so. I also love it when I see my subjects are doing well and making progress. I have a bank of CVs for those searching for jobs; I enjoy it when I am able to place them into job vacancies.
Why did you honour Efe Ejeba, the winner of the 2017 Big Brother Naija reality show?
Efe is our son although he grew up in Jos. I was impressed that the winner of Big Brother is an Okpe son. The Plateau State governor honoured him in Jos and it was also good we honour him too since he is one of our own. He brought honour to us. Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, also honoured him after I hosted him. If I hadn’t done it, I would have regretted not doing it. Just the way I honoured him, so I have also honoured other Okpe sons and daughters who excelled in academics and other areas. People got to know that of Efe because he is a star. I have given recommendation letters to first class graduates for job placements for making us proud. We recognise excellence in Okpe Kingdom.