THE UZEA WAR (1502—1503)

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Written by Christopher .G. Okojie {Last Update January 18, 2022}

AGBA N’OJIE (1488—1504) was the second Onojie of Uromi. He came to the throne as a sagacious and fearless young man with an obsession: To redeem the unfettered position every leader of his people had before Ewuare’s trick brought his father, Ichesan and the other Enijie under the suzerainty of Benin once more. He swore to himself that he would redeem himself and his people from the annoying servitude to the Oba of Benin. Thus as soon as he succeeded his father he began a methodical preparation for a show down with Ewuare’s son, the fighting Ozolua. Falling to enlist the sympathy of the rest of the Enijie in Ishan, he decided Uromi was strong enough under his own personal and dauntless leadership, for the battle that would culminate in the reversal of authority. First Agba stopped all the yearly tributes from Uromi to Benin and secondly, laughed to scorn the jelly-like attitude of his brother Enijie who went to pay homage to the son of a Ruler their father had beaten and won freedom from. Had it been another Oba, things could have been bad enough—but this open revolt against an Oba like OZOLUA who developed paralysing cramps when he had no war to fight, bothered on suicide on Agba’s part.
Oba Ozolua

In 1502 Ozolua could not bear the insult any longer and marched on Uromi by way of Uzea. As usual when he marched with his equally blood thirsty soldiers, the inhabitants along the road, fled into the jungle but at Uzea, the Onojie there who knew Agba’s stand offered a resistance. In the battle that followed, the Uzea Ruler was slain and Ozolua made a decree there and then that that was to be the last Onojie in Uzea. The Onojie’s head was taken to Benin and cast in brass as a trophy. Agba did not wait for Ozolua to reach Uromi. He called on all his Ekakulo to defend their fatherland.

The indomitable IKHIRIMO of Ebhoyi rushed and asked his wife to cook Ema quickly before he went to obey his overlord’s summons. He got back to the house to find the yams where he had left them, in desperation ate them, and as he left for battle, he cursed his wife and said that if he returned from that battle it would be goodbye to that obdurate wife but if he did not, any of his children who worshipped him with food cooked by a woman could be sure of getting one part of his body— his back! Ikhirimo never returned but he was deified and till this day, is worshipped with uncooked food, since all cooking is done by women!

From Ekhue came the thick-necked warrior, IDEDEKPANELE, who thought he alone could face Ozolua’s tested men. He was slain where he stood, but was rewarded with deification by his people.

Agba with his valiant fighters armed with poisoned arrows, matchets, cudgels etc., as guns had not been known then, went to meet Ozolua - but his attacks were so ferocious and persistent that Agba thought discretion was better part of valour: the Great War lord fled to the edge of the Niger at a spot near the present Amalu Ugboha. The leader of the nomadic fishermen there gave him sanctuary but as he sat brooding over his wounded pride, he saw a grasshopper being chased by Driver Ants. Struggling for dear life the insect hopped but landed on the laps of Agba, who irrelatively seized the cheeky thing and flung it right into the columns of the ants. The man who had given Agba refuge, seeing this, shouted in utter amazement: here was a man pursued by his enemies; he gave him refuge and he was happy; but a terrified insect fleeing from equally ferocious enemies, running to him for protection was flung back to a certain death at the hands of the ants “Agba” he said, “Pack and leave my house-you deserve no mercy.”.

Dejectedly Agba found his way to Uromi and Ozolua immediately attacked him with his usual gusto when he had a battle to fight. Whenever Agba made himself scarce, Ozolua unhurriedly and determinedly camped at Uzea, which had become an occupied territory. To him time was nothing as long as it was spent in fighting! Thus for a whole year no farming was possible in Uromi. Men had deserted their homes and were living in the jungle. Packed in hovels and starving, epidemic diseases took heavier toll of the men than were actually lost at the battles. Ozolua, of course, could not maintain his supply line from Benin and his men depended upon the food pillaged from Uromi deserted homes and farms. When these were exhausted they too began to die like files, not from acts of battles but from inanition and infections.

On both sides everybody except the leaders whose prides were hurt, were tired and sick of the fluid battle. On both sides the followers began to think alike: but for Ozolua and Agba they could have been home then with their families instead of facing hunger and racking diseases in huts and hide-outs. The warriors on both sides finally got to the comic stage where they could meet on the road or bush and instead of the usual hateful exchange of poisoned arrows, they shook hands and asked if their respective leaders were not yet tired of the stupid situation. Finally the amazing fraternization got to a stage when the more audacious ones summoned a highly secret meeting of the men in immediate command of the warriors on both sides. They met in the jungle and came to the following conclusions:

1. They were tired of war.

2. Their enemies then were the War-mongers Ozolua and Agba.

3. To end the war and get back to their families, these war-mongers must be eliminated.

4. Each side to select four top-ranking and trusted men who would make a sure and hasty despatch of their respective leader and

5. Assembling all the known articles of war and all the jujus known to Benin and Ishan they took a solemn oath to ensure each side carried outs own assigned duties.

The Binis, who had not known stretch of six months peace since Ozolua ascended the Benin Throne about 1480, were the first to act. They did not want to carry the guilt of killing their King and leader on their conscience, so they informed trusted Uzea soldiers that Ozolua always wore a coat of iron so that all arrows and cutlass blows fell harmless on his body. This used to frighten attackers so much that the legend spread far and wide that Ozolua vas invulnerable and that by means of powerful medicines, arrows and cutlasses were meaningless as articles of war against him. Thus the sight of Ozolua at- the head of his Warriors used to make would-be attackers bolt into the bush without a fight.

At sunset Ozolua relieved himself of this heavy burden and took a refreshing bath. That was his weakest hour. Truly on the evening of the day this vital information was conveyed, the warrior undressed and as he was taking his bath, his chief steward, ELAISOLOBI threw a stone over the fence as an agreed signal to his enemies, A man climbed up the fence and as Ozolua looked up, a poisoned arrow landed on his hairy chest. The great warrior writhed in pain and within a few hours he was a dead man.

As his followers could not carry Ozolua’s body to Benin, they cut his head which was sent to Benin City while his body was buried at a spot removed from Uzea for fear of desecration. Some soldiers were stationed to guard the spot and these soldiers were the founders of OTOKHINMIN in Ugboha, which marked the grave of Ozolua’s body.

This done the Benin leaders sent to Uromi that they had fulfilled their own part of the secret agreement. The fearless Agba not knowing that those around him had become worse than open enemies planned his impending attack on Ozolua at Uzea. A few disguised men stepped into his room and took him prisoner. The great leader was led into the bush behind the present Uromi Rest House. They recounted for his information the ills that his lust for war had brought on Uromi; men, for over a year had not been able to farm; they were separated from their homes and families; people were dying like files from want of food and care, and now, they were sick of war. “Guilty or not guilty ” Agba looked at his most faithful and bravest brothers in arms in a disdainful bewilderment and finally asked, “Are you men mad or have I gone crazy? We couldn’t all be sane?”“There you are wrong bloodthirsty Agba,” they echoed, “We, like you, are all sane; we are tired of war and you should prepare to die like a man.” Their words were as good as their deeds for they then tied up his hands and feet. Then came a hitch, they never foresaw. WHO WAS TO DELIVER THE FATAL BLOW? Oath or no oath, here was their sovereign in fetters, “It won’t be me to take the life of a man who had led us all these years” each man protested. With this racing through each man’s mind, they lost their nerves and were prepared to spare Agba’s life.

There was a one-handed man amongst them, called AGOBO; he in a quiet tone told the rest to remember the perfidy their weakness was driving them to commit. The great Ozolua was already dead in fulfilment of the solemn oath they took with the Binis. Now for them to cheat them after they had lost their leader would bring everlasting shame on Uromi, not to speak of the fury of the Binis who would be driven to fight to a finish to punish this treachery. He would never be a party to such a chameleonic treachery. “Well said” the warriors commented — “But we maintain history shall not record that we loyal subjects took the life of our dear King!” So saying they disappeared into the jungle one by one leaving their beloved king still agonizingly immobilized, with that single man of integrity. Agobo’ saw to it at great pain that Uromi’s side of the grave agreement was carried out. He returned to his colleagues and told them that he had saved the name of Uromi. This information was received with mixed feelings and sensing that the, rest might report him to the uninformed people with a sure torture and death, he fled out of Uromi, to Ugboha, via Uzea, to inform the Binis that Uromi that day, had carried out the terms of the Armistice. Agobo was the originator of IDASUN of Idinegbon, Ugboha.

Many of the top-ranking warriors of Uromi knew that Agba was taken to the particular bush now called AHOJIE but they were not present to know how he died or what Agobo, who was himself a native of IDUMAGBALA, Egbele, did with him, but all they-knew- was that this strong hearted individual saved the name of Uromi. Had they succeeded in that terrible treachery, the Binis could have fallen upon Uromi with a redoubled strength and immeasurable fury. A few of the immediate and trusted relatives of Agobo in his quarter knew what he had done, and for long answered the question,. “Where is Agba?” with “OVADE” (He’s coming), hence that quarter got the nickname of IDUMU-OVADE.

With the disappearance of the two great leaders, Ozolua and Agba, from the theatre of war, the two sides wandered about without leaders. The Binis finally went home and Uromi people returned from the bush to rehabilitate and resettle their towns.

A year after the disappearance of Agba, people started talking of him in a nostalgic way. All his faults were forgotten. They said that any ambition he had had was on the long run, to establish the supremacy of Uromi, since the other Enijie were too cowardly to attempt to change the old order of things. So at a big remembrance ceremony, Agba was given a fitting burial by all Uromi and he was deified.

Agba is now a venerable Shrine attended by women and men from ah corners of Uromi. The priest is from Ubierumu and the worship, done on Uromi Market Day.
It will be interesting to mention here that Agba’s strong feelings against the Oba of his lifetime had been handed down the line. Uromi Enijie have never had real love for any of the Obas of Benin. What little love there was, had not been nurtured by the bestowing of the Okaijesan Title on the Ojirrua by Oba Akenzua I about 1723.

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