Concentrated in the central Senatorial district of Kogi state in the heart of the country, the Ebira people, with variegated dialects, sub groups and names, are also established in parts of Nasarawa, Edo, Plateau and Niger states. They as well, form are also found as the dominant indigenous ethnic groups in Abaji and a number of other towns and communities in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Their settlement largely along the banks of the rivers Niger and Benue, is a fallout of the dynamics of history and migration triggered by historical events which generally altered and reshaped the social, cultural and linguistical demography of most peoples in present day North East and Central regions of the country. First, were the upheavals and ruination associated with the series of wars and raids due to the four hundred years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade that contributed to the gradual but steady weakening and collapse of the once powerful Jukum Kwararafa Empiere.
Kwararafa Kingdom was also weakened and ultimately ruined by the internal rumblings of internecine wars between its many confederating states as well as wars of independence by vassal peoples. By the turn of the early 18th century, the Kingdom was all but a shadow of its glorious days. From trickles of migration over time, it became a massive deluge of dispersals.
The bulk of the Ebira people went westward of the crumbling empire in a match that could have spanned a century. While swathes and pockets of their subgroups and kindred settled along the path of migration, the Ebira Tao or, Ebira Okene (as they are fondly called), went furthest until they crossed the Niger- Benue River and thence on to their present day locations of Okene, Lokoja, Egany/Ajaokuta, Ihima and, Etuno(Igarra) among others.
His Royal Highness, Alhaji Muhammed Sani Omolori (1919 -1996), reigned as the King, Ohinoyi of Ebira people between 1956 and 1996. He came after the reigns Omadivi of Abonika whose birth date is not known, but who reigned between 1904 and 1917, Ohinoyi Arudi Odano with a short-lived reign in 1917 and, Ibrahim Onoruoiza (1884-1964) who reigned from 1917 to 1954.
Unlike his predecessors who were installed because of their servility, service and obsequious loyalty to the colonialists, Ohinoyi Muhammed Omolori came to the throne on the spur of a popular uprising and protest by the people across the kingdom. It was an uprising against excruciating reign of the colonialists and the traditional ruling class: the instrument of exploitation, coercion and repression by the British officials.
Ohinoyi Sani Omolori is cherished and loved by Ebira people, twenty three years after his time, due to the remarkable and enduring footprints he left in the sands of their history. His reign of four decades, firstly, ushered in an unprecedented tranquility and stability with attendant harmony and peaceful coexistence amongst the divergent clans, social and economic development in all facets. Before his time, in spite of the atomistic nature of their culture and language, Ebira people were in a constant state of conflicts along the flimsiest of fault lines. That was in addition to the reign that saw several people going into jail and many others scampering for safety by running into voluntary exile.
Omolori’s approach to leadership was a deft tapestry of the classical policy of carrots and stick. Even with all the awesome powers conferred on traditional rulers as embodiment of chief executive, judiciary officers and policing authorities by the colonial government, he was not dazed by the elixir of power. He chose to be genial and accessible, while yet radiating the regal aura of grandeur, even as he was firm in his grip on the levers of power and authority. While the Native Authority Police, (Dan Doka, Onupa) and the judiciary continued to perform their statutory responsibilities under his reign, he however curbed their use as agents of abrasive repression and coercion. The many other ubiquitous agents of terror that hitherto sprawled the land similarly fizzled out.
By 1956/57, when he became the Ohinoyi, Nigeria was at the threshold of the politics of post independence. As a zone of convergence between the Northern and Western regions, Ebira land was almost inevitably, a theatre of fierce clashes between the Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, and Awolowo’s Action Group, AG. Most other traditional rulers openly pitched camps with either of the two political parties but, Ohinoyi Omolori, however opted to play the fatherly role by keeping the throne away from the turbulent waters of partisan politics.
That solomonic wisdom of neutrality shown by him greatly curbed the emerging catastrophic tide of violence in his domain. It also ensured that the throne retained its reverence across partisan divides. Thus, in spite of partisan differences and acrimonious relations between them, the Ohinoyi was yet able to individually, command respect and loyalty of the likes of Joe Ohiare, Joe Ohiani, George Ohikere, Abdul Kokori, Raji Abdallah and the other warring political gladiators of the time.
Consequent on the general atmosphere of peace and tranquility that prevailed, the long reign of Ohinoyi Omolori naturally, brought about unprecedented social and economic development across the length and breadth of his kingdom. His time, aptly, has been described by most chroniclers as the golden age in the anal of Ebira land.
Omolori’s reign witnessed for example, the emergence in 1962, of a modern hospital, the then Combined Hospital, (now Okene General Hospital.) His reigns also witnessed the coming of the Specialist Hospital as well as the School of Nursing of Obangede. Before 1962, the entire Ebira land had just one dispensary, (Asibiti Gomna) and a cottage hospital ran by the ECWA Missionaries at Kuroko. Similarly, educational institutions witnessed phenomenal expansion with the establishments of public primary and secondary schools as well as those owned by Christian and Muslim missionaries. There were hitherto, only three primary schools with one owned by the Native Authority and two others owned by the Christian Missionaries. Within the four decades of his reign hundreds of primary schools and tens of post primary schools, public and private, sprang up in various communities and towns in Ebira land.
Under him, the restoration of harmony and unity amongst them back home, made it possible for a large number of sons and daughters of Ebira gained prominence in the police, the Armed Forces and as Politicians, Ministers, Diplomats and Administrators, in the First Republic and subsequent military administrations of post independent Nigeria between 1960 and 1996 when Ohinoyi Omolori departed the world. He was a great leader, such that for generations to come his name will continue to be cherished and hailed. May the soul of late Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Muhammed Sani Omolori continue to rest in peace.
,Ahmad is a Kaduna-based veteran journalist.