By Allahnana Attah
Brief on the Aren Eggon stool
The Aren Eggon traditional institution which began in 1922 with the appointment of Bashayi, son of a notable Fulani slave raider from the Keffi royal family witnessed so much transformation. This is premised on the non-centralized nature of the Eggon traditional political set up which was based on elders ruling (gerontocracy). The appointment of Bashayi as District Head of South Mada District covering the area later referred to as Eggon Chiefdom was initially resisted by the indigenous people, but they had to eventually give in to the trappings of colonial rule.
Bala Abaine Angbazo, the present occupant of the most revered centralized traditional political stool in Eggon land mounted the saddle of leadership on July 11, 1981 after being elected by the twenty-two kingmakers as the paramount ruler of the people. Bala Angbazo won eight (8) votes to beat his closest rival, Late Alhaji Adamu Musa Galle who scored seven (7). Late Esla Alu scored five (5), Ali Ide two (2) and the remaining getting no votes. Eight candidates initially indicated interest but one was said to have stepped down. Bala Angbazo was elected sequel to the demise of Abdullahi Idde, the preceding paramount ruler who died on May 6, 1981, having been appointed to the throne in October 1953. Late Abdullahi Idde was formally installed as Aren Eggon on 22nd October, 1954.
For the records, the twenty-two Village Heads who were the kingmakers (many who are dead now) are: Akyen Namo (Wana), Yusufu Dauda (Alogani), Anzume Umbugudu (Wakama), Ali Elle (Agunji), Agyo Agbu (Umme), Ostona Kuje(Wangibi), Musa Aliyu (Angbashu), Agu Envulunza (Lizzin-Keffi), Ajagabo (Ekka) and Tabe Angbo(Ginda). Others include Peter Nangba (Alushi), Avre (Alizaga), Ala Kuson (Lambaga), Male Najo (Arikpa), Ambaga Affi (Ogba), Haruna Attah (Ogbagi), Adamu Ekpa (Galle), Muhammadu Gama Ekka (Bakyeno) and Audu Egga (Arugbadu).
It is interesting how time flies. History now can conveniently chronicle that the present occupant of the exalted traditional stool of Aren Eggon is now thirty good years in office. The journey may not seem long for those who were around when the man, Bala Abaine Angbazo ascended the throne, but it is certainly long for the young men in Eggon land who are all have blue blood flowing in their veins and have the right to occupy that royal seat. A young man of thirty will surely understand and even aspire to take over leadership from the “old brigade” believing that it is now his time.
The fanfare which greeted the ceremony heralding his ascension to the throne after a hotly contested election with seven (7) other eminently qualified persons; Messrs J.S Anga, Adamu Musa Galle (of blessed memory), and others is has since gone with rulership taking over. At the time Bala Angbazo mounted the saddle of leadership in the Eggon nation, precisely in July 1981, many people saw it as an era that would bring prosperity to the land. Nassarawa Eggon was agog as it played host to so many Eggon sons and daughters as well as well-wishers from across the country when Bala Abaine Angbazo was installed and presented with First Class staff of office on 12th February, 1983. As a young under graduate studying History in the University, it was fascinating how the Eggon Nation was writing its history for the future generations with such a colourful ceremony.
At the death of Late Alhaji Abdullahi Idde, the immediate past Aren Eggon, a vacuum was created which needed to be filled by no less a competent person. His demise left a great gap which the Eggon Nation could not afford to leave vacant as the implications of doing so were too grave. As it is in Eggon traditions, the vacant stool was to be contested for by every Eggon male who desired to do so. Here you can say democracy takes its proper place in the process. No wonder then that those contestants who sprang up were eminently qualified and had a right to so do. The contest was interesting as it was fierce. In the end, Mr Bala Abaine Angbazo, a successful business man cum politician emerged tops for the position. The struggle for power, that is for the stool of the Aren Eggon thus came to an end when the then Plateau State Government announced the Mr Bala Abaine Angbazo was elected for the post and so declared him on July 7th, 1981. The aspirants all buried their ambitions and unanimously pledged their support to the new Aren Eggon.
Mr Abaine Angbazo brought in new innovations to the traditional set up in Eggon land with the introduction of Chieftaincy titles. These titles were awarded to “deserving” sons and daughters of the land. Well-wishers who are not of Eggon stock could also be identified and so honoured. The yardstick for this award, though determined by the Aren Eggon and his palace officials, is in line with the contributions such awardees have made to the progress of Eggon land. These titles were interestingly given Eggon names until late when the Hausa bug caught up with Eggon civilization and thus became “hausanised”.
While the introduction of these titles was welcomed, it soon came to the fore that the essence of the exercise was just for the show of it or better to place the Eggon nation on the same pedestal with other civilizations in the country. Questions as to the qualifications of awardees for such recognition other than that they had money to “buy” the titles or some other personal relationships with the palace began to be asked. Why the titles and what roles had they in the administration of Eggon traditional institution?
At a point in time, tongues began to wag over the numerous titles issued out. It may surprise one to find today that the palace may not readily give you the number of awardees without consulting records. This becomes more difficult as the title holders have virtually no place in the set up. They are not consulted before decisions affecting the land are taken nor are they even invited to the palace to at least enable them know each other. Many awardees are yet to be turbaned. God help you if, as a title holder or recipient, you have any reason to disagree with the palace, you may remain un-turbaned for as long as the palace wishes without information as to your offence.
The Aren Eggon remains the father of all Eggon people. He is the most senior of all traditional rulers in the land. In Eggon land, there are Village Heads (about 22 in all) who incidentally are the Kingmakers of the occupant of the Aren Eggon stool. Each Village Head represents the clans that make up the Eggon Nation and thus play prominent roles as the electorate for the Aren Eggon. Sadly, since the assumption of office of Bala Abaine Angbazo, most villages remain without substantive Heads as care takers continue to take charge following the deaths of occupants. Some have been doing so for about two decades (20 years) now. Today only three (3) of the king makers who elected Angbazo are surviving and they alone can elect the next Aren Eggon in the event of eventuality. What a democratic Aren Eggon will emerge in such circumstance? This is in addition to the worrisome development whereby Chiefdoms created in the land have remained without Heads following complicity of the leadership in the land. The health challenge facing the Aren Eggon in the last few years has been a serious cause for concern to the people who seem not to feel the impact of that stool. The saving grace has been the installation of the Aren Akun, the Aren Eggon Ero and the Aren Koron Kuje who have been the rallying points for the people whenever the occasion demanded. The sad fact is that of Agidi and Alogani or others created but not installed seem NOT to bother the Eggon people even while other ethnic nationalities have agitated and gotten more graded chiefs within the recent past. Only time shall tell the wisdom behind this action.
This traditional political dislocation has had a tremendous impact on the political direction of the Eggon people in state politics. In the time of Plateau State, Eggon people were reckoned with when politics of the state was recounted. In the days of National Party of Nigeria, NPN and the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), the royal father under focus was an active molder of opinion and leader of the Eggon nation. Then Chief Solomon Daushep Lar, the Governor of Plateau State regarded him as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the area presently known as Nasarawa State. In spite of the fact that Abaine Angbazo was the State Treasurer, it was difficult for the Eggon man to unite and come to terms with politics of the era when it came to appointive positions in government. Bickering among the people did not help matters at all and worst still, the traditional institution was nowhere when it became necessary to call for dialogue. This lack of political leadership and internal bickering is largely responsible for the abysmal role Eggon people have played so far in determining the leadership of Nasarawa State.
The years from 1999 till date (2021) seem to have been the albatross of the Eggon man in the politics of Nasarawa State. Never in the history of the people have they been as polarized and vehement in their stands as witnessed within this period. In the process of exercising their political and constitutional right of contesting and voting for their choice candidates, uncompromising stands took over making them very divided to the level of being regarded as “chickens struggling for grains” thrown at them. The fact that even when they aspire for political positions in the same party did not bring them to the understanding of conceding to each other has been the main reason why they easily loose such positions to their opponents. It was, and is always said that it is easier to cause disunity among them than unite them for any meaningful venture.
Culture/Politics of the Eggon
The Eggon Cultural Development Association (ECDA), a socio- cultural umbrella association for the promotion of Eggon Cultural values began very well within the period of the Bala Abaine Angbazo’s reign. This association served as the rallying point for all Eggon people worldwide. A time was when cultural festivals were staged and well attended at the Eggon Community Secondary School, Nassarawa Eggon. During such festivals, Eggon people nationwide converged on Eggon Community Secondary School ground where they exchanged pleasantries and recalled with pride their cultural values. Those who did not have the opportunity of being born in the village, and by implication lost touch with their cultures, especially the youth, took delight in coming home to witness such festivities. They all went back to their destinations with sweet memories and even souvenirs like cultural attires and music. In this process, the cultural values of the Eggon people were refreshed and preserved.
Nasarawa State government under the leadership of Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu identified with these festivities and the Governor even personally attended on some occasions. The joy of seeing a parade of masquerades of different kinds from diverse communities as well as latest music and dance steps were better witnessed than told. Unhealthy politics however found its way into the association and spilt the ranks of Eggon people and it was not long before ECDA was engulfed in leadership squabbles. The intervention of Aren Eggon in resolving the crisis has not been able to salvage the situation. The paramount ruler was even dragged to court at a point in time. Only recently, the palace came up with another strategy by dissolving the now comatose and moribund leadership to pave way for a new start. Whether this step will meet the desired objective will be evident with time.
The fate of Eggon Youth Movement, EYM is not different. Executives of both bodies have remained in offices more than ten years (more than 2 tenures) and very inefficient for that matter. The Council of Elders is also only in name. As at today only the women wing of ECDA seem to be the rallying point for Eggon people. Even this last hope of the people that ought to be reckoned in the scheme of things in the State is fast waning considering that their vibrancy is fizzling out. What a sad commentary!
While not completely being despondent or losing faith, there seem to be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. The recent action by the Aren Eggon in dissolving the ECDA Executive Council, the longest serving, as well as the erstwhile care-taker committee, which was never allowed to perform the singular task of conducting a credible election, is commendable. Though this action was not overwhelmingly accepted by both parties, it is expected that the credibility of the members will suffice here. The trio of Alhaji D.S Kigbu (Federal Permanent Secretary), Professor Dauda M. Enna (Former Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Jos, now Late) and Professor Mary Ango of the same institution are reputable enough to conduct a credible election if given support by the Eggon nation.
The efforts of these patriotic sons and daughter of the land have not been reciprocated by the succeeding leaderships produced. For instance, there was the Chris Mamman led leadership which was unifying enough especially in the way and manner it handled the Ombatse crisis which pitched the Eggon people against their neighbours. This leadership faced the bitter challenge of uniting the people against their “enemies” as well providing succor to those displaced from their abodes. The sad story is that most of the displaced are yet to return to their erstwhile homes as the wounds inflicted refused to be healed through reconciliation.
This was followed by the Comrade Ali Manza leadership which busied itself with reconciling the Eggon with their neighbours. They criss-crossed the state visiting various communities where they met with traditional institutions as well as cultural groups making peace. There was some semblance of hope in this leadership but the tenure ended making room for the present one led by Wilberforce Alaku who has been ‘battling’ on to step in. The success or otherwise of this leadership which needs the support of all Eggon people will be better appraised, appreciated or condemned when the time comes.
It must be pointed out that the same leadership “elongation” disease that bedeviled the Eggon Youth Movement (EYM) has remained incurable as there has been no change of batons even when tenure period long elapsed. The Eggon people must look beyond the veil to see the disastrous effect such attitude has on them or else continue to wallow and miss the road. The future generations shall be worst if this persists.
There is no denying the “hard” fact that in the midst of leadership ineptitude, no meaningful progress can be made. The cultural void that existed in the lack of organization of the Azhili Festival has been of concern to youth groups who have always yearned knowing more about their people through the cultural festival that showcased those values that long existed before their birth. The shame and despondency they face among peer groups of different ethnic extraction must have been the motivating factor in the emergence of the Eggon Carnival which is organized annually by the Ame-Wo-Ba-Eggon group of youth who have sought to identify with their culture. This group and others have tried to bring the Eggon language to their generation through organized classes for themselves as most of them do not understand not to talk of speaking same. Kudos must be given to these youth groups that have taken the bull by the horn where their parents failed. They need the support of the elderly NOT condemnation or discouragement.
When Mr Angbazo assumed the mantle of leadership, most young men in Eggon land were scared of marrying ladies of their ethnic descent. The reason then was mostly for fear of high bride price, or better put dowry being placed on daughters of the land. Suitors were therefore hard to come by. The dowry was not as scaring as the traditional requirements which Eggon people made a commercial venture of no visible returns. All that the people engaged in was a showcase of traditional food in basins that were eventually not consumed and thus became food for pigs. The result was that Eggon girls, beautiful and humble as they were had no suitors and became old spinsters who continued to flirt around with men. It was common place to find them roam around as “loose” or free ladies.
Bala Angbazo had a solution to this societal menace. How acceptable and effective this policy has been is another story altogether. He soon came up with a policy which pegged dowry in Eggon land at not more than N15,000.00.
Well this policy attracted comments from those who wished to make such. While some hailed it, others wondered how he could enforce the dowry reduction and traditional food “game”. It is instructive to note that not much has been achieved in this policy implementation but suffice it that the message sank into the people. Some tried in their families to reduce this “wasteful” practice even though they did not adopt the sum instituted as dowry. As at today, the Eggon nation is yet to come to terms with the reality of the time with regards to the harmful effects of this practice. The future will be better if another thought is given to this ugly development.
The reign of Late Abdullahi Idde was noted to have witnessed progress and development in Eggon land occasioned by the prevailing peace and unity. It is a fact that the thirty years of Bala Abaine Angbazo as the Aren Eggon is an era of mixed blessings. While Eggon nation will receive thumps up for coming of age and surviving the period under review, skirmishes occurred among the various groups making the entity. The docile era witnessed in the life span of the present leadership of ECDA and the bitter rivalry that followed are sad points in the history of Eggon people under Bala Angbazo.
There is the dire need for Eggon people to re-appraise their role in the evolving leadership in Nasarawa State with a view to making their contributions noticeable. As for the revival of cultural values, a vibrant Elders Forum in collaboration with ECDA should and MUST resuscitate Azhili Eggon festival. The issue of high dowry paid and the expensive traditional food that serve as precondition for marrying Eggon ladies need to be reviewed.
The political lull in the activities geared towards electing Village Heads need urgent attention. When this issue is resolved, Eggon nation will be better for it. In addition, title holders who have remained so only in name need to function so as to justify their positions in the land. They should serve as agents for progressive development by bringing their wealth of experience and connections to bear on the Eggon nation.