The Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in the South West Nigeria, Amb. Ode Ochi Emmanuel, the Ojikpururu 1 of Ibilla, Oju, Benue State, is a prominent Igede man. From his base in Lagos, he oversees the affairs of people of Middle Belt in the South West states. An Igede High Chief, he holds the people’s customs and tradition in high esteem, as he shows in this encounter with Ejikeme Omenazu and James Ibechi.
On Igede core values
Ochi Ode said: “Igede as a people, their core value is integrity. Igede is the third ethnic nationality in Benue State. We also have the Tivs, Idoma and Etulo. Among the tribes that constitute Benue State, ask what they consider the core value of an Igede person, they will not waste time to mention integrity. That is why in Igede today, if you misplace your handset and a typical Igede man finds it, he will not take it for use. He will announce to all that he found a misplaced handset, or even money, for the owner to claim it.
“In Igede we don’t celebrate success that has no roots. That is why we don’t honour riches that do not have a clear bearing. People celebrate your success when the source is clearly ascertained. No matter how infuential you are, you are not recongised if people do not know your source of success.”
On celebration of death
Ochi Ode stated: “Death is celebrated in Igede with a lot honour, especially if you lived clean and your life is based on integrity. That cannot be said of a pewrson whose wealth has question mark.
“Such a person’s death is treated with ignominy. There is no gun shots, no singing, no dancing, no celebration. Such a person is buried in a forest designated for such people. Such a death and burial is not announced.”
On the notion that Igede youths serve as house helps
The High Chief said it is true. But he said that the practice has something to do with what he said about integrity.
“Like in the western world, as a teenager, you hardly have money. You are regarded as a man under the tutelage of parents. But, with civilisation, people go out to make money any how.
“But a typical Igede man does not easily go out to work under people to make a living. So, people go out to make a living. An Igede man cannot sacrifice a child or relation for money ritual. So, a typical Igede man is a peasant farmer and depends on his sweat and does not live on easy money.
“Holding to this core value of integrity seems to be a disadvantage to an Igede man. But, it is a disadvantage with honour. That is why you see many of them as house helps.
“But now, things are changing. People are now helping others to succeed. For instance, I have a Foundation which assists Igede sons and daughters, sponsoring people up to tertiary institutions. Some other people too are helping indigent students. When they come up, they will help others.
“My advice to some well-to-do Igede sons and daughters, who have not been helping others, should wake up and take it upon themselves to help others. Those who are helping are not doing it for personal gains or even for rewards from God, but to ensure that our people develop and improve.”
The Ibilla Town Hall Meeting
As a High Chief of Ibilla in Igede, Chief Ode hosts a periodic Ibilla Town Hall meeting during which socio-political issues affecting the people and communities are resolved. What is the state of the Forum?
His response: “This is an issue of leadership. Issues of leadership are involving ones that are seen to be done on daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. If a leadership is stagnant, there will not be growth. A leader must have dreams of how to improve.
“Leadership is a continuous process of doing things, rebranding and reinvigorating. Today, you call a town hall meeting. If the method used attracts continues followership, you continue to apply that system. But, if not, you change to another method.
“When we started the town hall meeting some years ago, the repose was encouraging. But at a time, we observed that attendance started to decrease and we started to ask questions. A leader must always ask questions like: ‘What?’ ‘Why?’ ‘How?’
“When you find answers to these important questions, you have arrived at a solution. If you can’t find answers to these questions, you are no longer a leader. That is how to keep the followers in constant zeal and hope in believing in what you are doing.
“A leader must explain the goals and objectives of what he is doing. Once this done, the people will stand by you. That is what we are doing as far as the Ibilla Town Hall Meeting is concerned. We are restructuring and rebranding. Very soon, it will bounce back.”