PLACES: Uzairue, Edo North.

Kingsley Momoh - Lagos

Map Of Edo State Showing The Local Government Areas.
The Uzairues are part of the larger family called Afemai people who are the Edo people who live in Edo-North Senatorial District of the state. They occupy six local government areas of the state, namely Etsako East, Etsako West, Etsako Central, Owan West, Owan East and Akoko-Edo. There is no doubt that these hardworking people of Afemai have contributed in no small way to development of not only Edo State but to Nigeria in general.

The Uzairue people are to be found in Afemai land in Etsako, the Northern part of present day Edo. When the Kukuruku Division was established in 1919 as an administrative unit in the former Benin Province, the Uzairues were grouped into Etsako District, which now falls within Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, Nigeria. Uzairue is one of the thirteen recognized clans in Etsako with a cluster of nineteen villages comprising of Afashio, Afowa, Apana, Ayoghena, Ayogwiri, Ayua, Elele, Idato, Ikabigbo, Ikholo, Ikpe (Jattu), Imeke, Irekpai, Iyamo, Iyora, Iyuku, Ogbido, Ugbeno, and Uluoke. Among these 19 villages, Imheke is regarded as the most senior in term of hierarchy status. Close neighbors of Uzairue are, Auchi, Avhianwu, Ibie, Okpella and North Ibie.. The people speak the Uzairue dialect of the Afemai/Etsako or ‘yekhee’ language. They are mainly Christians, Muslims, and traditionalists. According to the 1991 national census, the Uzairue clan had approximately a population of 42,876.

An Artist Impression Of  Old Benin Empire
The origin of Uzairue has been linked with various stories and the common deal in all the stories is that they came from the Benin Kingdom in present day Edo state, Nigeria.

One of the stories has it that the people of Uzairue migrated from Benin in the 15th Century A.D. A move said to have been taken place as a result of the oppressive reign of an Oba of Benin at the time. The Uzairue people and in fact Etsako people angered by the Oba’s conduct first encamped at the Obadan/Okphiaghamen Community, about 30 miles away from Benin City. The People, sensing that the Oba would give them a chase, with a view of bringing them back to Benin, left this first campsite after 13 years and went further into the hinterland and settled at Aviele. It was at this second encampment at Aviele that the Uzairue community moved to their present day locations. Various segments of the people that broke away from the settlement migrated further to different directions to form what we know today as the 19 villages that form the Uzairue clan, the largest clan in Etsako, Edo State. 

The Geography of Uzairue Land:
Geographically, Uzairue’s vegetation falls between the secondary forest and the Savannah. To the north are the mountains rocky crags near Northern Ibie and Okpella. Uzairue land is dotted by a number of rivers and streams with the prominent rivers being the Uphegi at Jattu, Onyomi and Edena -norqwai at Elele, Ugholomi, Ogio between Ikabigbo and Ugbenor, Ilamila and Utsanor streams at Ayogwiri, and some others. The most paramount lakes in Uzauire are the Lake Edaogbakere at Igholo, which is a tourist attraction, and the Ikhehegbe Lake located at Ayogwiri along Apana road. These rivers, streams and lakes all combined to influence the people activities economically and spiritually. Added to these are the abundance of economic trees like the palm, walnut, iroko, mahogany, coconut and bamboo. Also, Uzairue have cocoa, rubber, coffee and large availability of cashew trees. There is abundance of animals like deer, antelopes, squirrels, grass-cutters, rabbits, monkeys, pigs, crocodiles, alligators, birds and snakes of various species. However, animals like elephants, lions, buffalo, hippopotamus, hyenas, bears, leopards, tigers, chimpanzees and some others have long extinct from Uzairue’s land due to arbitrary or indiscriminate hunting, development, expansion and road constructions. Among the domesticated animals are sheep, goats, cattle, ducks, chicken and pigs as well as recreational animals like horses, cats and dogs. Language and Tradition

The people of Uzairue speak a common language called YEKHEE.  This is a dialect of the language block called Edoid language. The Uzairue people are strongly connected by a common tradition of origin, and they speak the same dialect while at the same time exhibiting other numerous related cultural traits. Essentially, the prevalent traditions of origin among the people of Uzairue are that of migration from Benin. While these traditions connect their society to that of Bini, they later developed a society whose features were distinct from the parent one. Such distinctive features could be found in the language, system of government absence of rigid centralization and allegiance to one venerated ruler, traditional religion and the title system. These societal features of the traditional polity underwent partial transformation in the late 19th century as a result of the Nupe incursion into the area. The British influence that succeeded that of the Nupe turned out to be a more lasting one, and its impact also more enduring. Up to 1960, when Nigeria gained independence the Uzairue people were subjected to Britain colonial rule. The colonial experience of Nigeria people exposed them to influences from the British colonizers. The Uzairue weekdays are made up of four days, which are Evhia, Elumhi, Ewo and Ekwe.

Meaning of Uzairue
Does ‘Uzairue’ mean erue li ze (I have chosen erue) or ene ze erue (those who have chosen erue) or uzairue (I am a dwarf. I am guilty) or ana za ze rue (where you go to take erue)? From these, two schools have emerged:  ene ze erue school and that of ana za ze erue.   Albert Imologomhe, the operator of proposeda convergence of these schools.
One oral tradition has it that at the beginning,there was no place called Uzairue market.  Settlements (villages) were named after their founders, for example, Ikpemhi, Imekeye, Omoazekpe and Avhiugwi.  However, it was when the 18 Villages that make up the present Uzairue Kingdom decided that they should have a central market that a place at Ikpe and elumhi days were  chosen.
According to Chief James Oshapi Iluebbey, Uzairue is one of our forefathers and indeed the father of Imeke.  Thus Uzairue is a person. Perhaps the market place was chosen in memory of the forefathers.
The market place was originally called aki avhe, named after Oyanavhe who was a great hunter that killed the beast that usually visit the market on market days to kill human beings. Before the killing of the beast, each time the beast killed someone, the old women in each village in Uzairue sprayed erue on the ground to purify it and exclaimed ‘erue mha zeo ona aki na’ (it is erue that we have – chosen in -, – used to purify -, this market).  The old women also soaked erue in water and gave to the traders to (wear) (mark) on their faces and the traders also exclaimed ‘erue mha zeo ona aki na’. It was believed that it was this exclamation that assisted Oyanavhe in killing the beast.
Thereafter, when traders who frequented the market were asked where they were going to on elumhi market days, they replied that they were going to the aki natsi ene ze erue (the market of those who (have chosen) (purified with) erue) and hence the corruption of the these words by the colonial government to Uzairue and the market as Uzairue Market (Aki Uzairue)
Oral tradition has it that it was when Omogbaiwho was the Head of the Kingdom that the market was established and hence the reference to the market also as Aki Omogbai or Aki Ogbai (Omogbai’s market).

Uzairue people are also referred to as Ene ze erue (those who harvest erue).

The Uzairue people are predominantly farmers. Thus perhaps account for over sixty percent of the adult populace. However, many others are fishermen, blacksmiths, itinerant traders, hunters and herdsmen. The Uzairue people are very hard working; this perhaps derives from the belief that indolent people must not co-habit in the same space as hardworking, honest men. However, due to missionary influences in this area, particularly around the mid19th century, many young men had started abandoning the farms to embrace the new religions, which open them to teaching and other “white collar jobs”. The women of Uzairue land participate actively in the traditional economic life of the society. Many of them contribute in farm work, especially during the planting, weeding and harvesting seasons. The women are those mainly responsible for sale of articles and goods even for their husbands. Although cultivation is geared mainly towards consumption and not commercialization, once in a while excess goods are exchanged. While the indigenous economy of the Uzairue is essentially geared towards subsistence, the inability of one man to produce all his wants serve as basic for the exchange of goods and services.

The Uzairue people were originally practitioners of the African Traditional religion. However, with the advent of Christianity and Islam, many got converted to those religions. Uzairue people are predominantly Muslims and Christians today, perhaps due to largely the arrival of the early missionaries at the Waterside in Agenebode. The names of gods and goddesses such as 'Uloko-ogbe at Avia, Ikhiminigbe at Elele, Umomi at Jattu, Isomeda and Ikhehebge at Ayogwiri as well as Inekheze Shrine at Afashio are some local places of worship.

Social Amenities, Industries & Landmarks:
Azama primary School Along Jattu Road
Uzairue clan is provided with Government Secondary Schools, Health Centers, and a few privately owned industries. The road network between Auchi, the Etsako West local government headquarters and all the 19 Uzairue villages is good and there is electricity generated from the national grid. In the sixties and early seventies, there used to be pipe borne water in some parts of Uzairue, but today, there is no trace of tap water in any form because of neglect and bad governance. Currently, there is inadequate supply of water in Uzairue even though there are private borehole owners that augment supplies across the communities. Limestone and Query Firms, Clay and Pottery industries have begun to spring up. Others are Setraco Quarry at Imeke and Afemai Microfinance Bank Limited. The 'Erue' the white chalk industry at Afowa and the Clay industry at Elele and Avia and some fishing activities along the villages bordering the 'Ogio' river are also some industries in Uzairue. There are also quarries in Uzairue especially at Iyuku and Imeke.

Some of the notable landmarks in Uzairue are the famous stone sculpture of a naked woman similar to 'Mona Lisa' known as 'Upkomoshi' located between Elele farm land, Uluoke and Iyuku, which is a big tourist center. The statue or figurine of the legendary Agbi “ballad” singer, the late Madam Aigbaobesi Ikhenebomhe, located at Ayogwiri is also a tourist attraction in Uzairue. Notable locations in Uzairue include the palace of the Oghieneni, Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Jattu Central Mosque, Jattu Catholic church; Notre Dame Catholic Hospital and Uzairue Market, arguably the largest market in Afemai land. Uzairue is the pacesetter or leader in education in Afemai land. Saint Angela Girl’s Grammar School and Assumption Teacher Training College were the premier institutions of learning in the whole of the then Afemai Division. Among the major Hotels in Uzairue are Polaris Hotel at Afashio, Ambassador Hotel Iyuku, City Garden Hotel at Jattu, Paradise Hotel at Ayogwiri and so on.

Traditional Judicial Order:
The Uzairue people evolved an administrative machinery that is aimed at the maintenance of law and order in the society, just like most other Nigerian tribe had accomplish before the coming of the British. There are rules and regulations, some very well entrenched traditions and customs, which condition the peoples’ conduct and correct or punish infringements. As is the characteristic of most tradition communities in Nigeria in the pre-colonial period, the mode of administration of the various villages of Uzairue lack a clear distinction between political roles and economic, social or religious functions. This is why the roles of the executive, judiciary, legislature and general running of the affairs of the community were more or less vested in one body, although in some place there are spelt out functions for certain groups or individual in the administrative set-up.

A remarkable feature of the political and social development of the Uzairue people after migration from Benin was that they did not generally develop monarchical traditions and in most cases they did not exhibit traits of the practices that obtained in their original Benin home. Thus, whereas the pre-colonial political organization of Benin centered on the Oba and three groups of senior titleholders, the social and administrative structure in the Uzairue area was essentially gerontocracy and not based on monarchical traditions. At the initial stage the judicial order and local Administration was based and vested into two ruling houses. The main administration was based at Jattu (Ikpe) known as the Omogbai ruling family headed by the Oghieneni of Uzairue. All other Uzairue village heads known as the 'Oghie' (Chief), reports directly to the Oghieneni and his council of chiefs at Jattu. Avia was the only village that rebelled against the Oghieneni and set up its own council or empire.

The Avia administration was headed by the ''Ichata' of Avia who was the local chief of Avia village. The 'Ichata' administration was a big threat to the Omogbai administration at Jattu because some Uzairue villages like Imeke and Iyuku chooses to report to the 'Ichata' instead of the 'Omogbai' at Jattu. They later reconciled the 'Ichata' and the Omogbai to form one administrative structure at Jattu, which still stands till date.

The Societal Structures:
The Uzairue traditional geo-political organization is hierarchical in structure with the “Elo‟ (family) as the smallest administrative unit and the clan as the highest one. The main units are the Elo (a family), Afe or Ape (an extended families), Ede (a conglomeration of families (quarters)), Ewo (village) - an amalgam of Ede and the clan, which was formed by a cluster of villages.

In each of the units identified above, the administration is the collective responsibility of all, with individuals being entrusted with specific functions, especially based on age. Basically, councils are formed of the oldest members in each unit for supervising their affairs. The position of the head of the council is reserved in most cases for the oldest man in the assembly. In some villages however, the privilege of appointing the head of the council is accorded certain kindred in the village, with each of them taking turns in a strict rotation to fill vacancy.

Thus at all level of administration in Uzairue, there exist various councils of elders who at all times act as moderators and their orders are directed to the promotion of peace and propriety in the unit. Although, the system of administration is not codified, the people are able to maintain it and its structures following laid down customs and traditions. Failure by some of the citizens to keep to the customs and traditions or disregard orders of the administrative councils would normally give rise to the judicial processes evolved by the people. There is no clear-cut division between political and judicial functions in the traditional setting. The same bodies in most cases are responsible for executive, legislature and judicial functions. The principle of separation of power do not exist, different principles and procedures are followed when dealing with different administrative issues. The Uzairue people therefore, have a judicial system with its own characteristics, which is similar to what operated in many pre-colonial Nigeria societies.

Traditional Dances and Music of Uzairue:

Image result for madam AgbaobesiUzairue people are musically endowed. Some of the names of traditional dances in Uzairue are Abisua, Ishoko, (hunters dance), Agbi, Elue (drum and acrobatic dance) Igielehie (girls colorful dance) Ukele, Izi, Efa, Igholo, Oluku and so on. Among the prominent legendary popular performers of Efa (a narrative or folksongs called ballad), known all over Uzairue and beyond in those days were the late Aikhanemhe and Ikhimiakhu from Ayogwiri. The surviving ones from Ayogwiri are Oyagwa and Okhumoya who are still household names from Uzairue in the field of Efa. Today, Oyagwa is unable to perform due to old age, but Okhumoya, the only known active performer is well known beyond Uzairue land. Similarly, the Uzairue people are gifted in diverse kind of music. They have had celebrated composers and singers like the late Madam Aigbaobesi and Omo Smart Idornigie from Ayogwiri and Jericho Oshorenua from Jattu. Iyabana and Ikwawa (spirit dances) are also to be reckoned with as they provide night securities and social order.
Young Jerry, Son Of  Late Uzairue Music Act, Jerry Oshiorenoya 

Among prominent persons who have contributed to the development of the state and country are Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, governor of Edo state, Honourable Phillip Shaibu the governor elect of Edo state, top Stock broker Hauwa Audu of Amyn Investment, Senator  Victor Oyofoh, Professor Phillip Igbafe, Renowned professor of history, Kingsley Momoh the former Editor of Bisi Olatilo Show Magazine and Castles Magazine, Honourable  Zakawanu Garuba, former speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Augustine Oyarekhua Alegeh SAN, Albert Imologomhe of Peter Albertson Limited, Lagos operator of Afenmai connect, Former Green Eagles player, Sunny Oyarekhua, Chief Anthony Opitoke who is a Kano based business man, Dr. Simeon Imuekheme, a former Head of Service and Secretary to Edo State Government, Chief Lucky James, former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and former chairman of Etsako west LGA, late Jacob Idalu a former local government chairman of the old Etsako local government area and Aret Adams, former Group Managing Director of NNPC.

Mrs. Elizabeth Omiotse Momoh

Rare & engaging interviews and some more by a team of experienced & hungry pen users.