“No Culture should be destroyed, they can however be modified…but, I will rather suggest they undergo evolutionary changes and not revolutionary changes” – HRM. OBI IKENCHUKWU I of AGBOR KINGDOM, 1978;
QUEEN GRACE FOUNDATION APRIL 2019 NEWSLETTER
HRM. OBI IKENCHUKWU I OF AGBOR KINGDOM AND HRH.QUEEN GRACE IKENCHUKWU:
THE RELEVANCE OF THE WORDS OF A KING, 40 YEARS AFTER HIS DEMISE and REMEMBERING
HRH. QUEEN GRACE IKENCHUKWU ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE 67th ANNIVERSARY OF
HER BIRTH – 02 June 2019
“Your mother was a great Queen…the last dutiful Queen of Agbor Kingdom. She respected and upheld the tradition stringently in spite of the challenges and she weathered the storm beautifully – Dr. Cairo Ojougbo, 2015, speaking of QUEEN GRACE IKENCHUKWU;
“She was a very brilliant young lady…very soft spoken and quite amiable – HRH .Obi Efiezomor of Owa kingdom, 2015, speaking of QUEEN GRACE IKENCHUKWU;
“Behind every successful man is a WOMAN” –(anonymous) but a popular saying, whilst somewhat debatable today, remains universally acceptable and true in ALL CULTURE.
I will however paraphrase it to be “Behind every successful man is a strong and dedicated WOMAN” – Genevieve. N. Ikenchukwu.
“It’s about time that Princess Nwabiani realises that Agbor Monarch is predicated on the law/custom of primogenitor (incorrect spelling, it should be primogenitor). To that extent therefore she and her female siblings are only to be seen as princesses (married or not married) but not to directly, tangentially or indirectly initiate or act on any ceremony bordering on remembrance of or celebration of a departed monarch…it will be an abomination…” – a very popular Agbor leader, resident in Agbor, May, 2019.
ROYALTY – a blessing or a curse? This is a question I have pondered upon in the last few years and recently on the anniversaries of my parents’ death (dad) and birth (mum), I consider it an opportunity to attempt to address this issue taking all above six quotes into consideration. I will however expatiate on the last quote in the latter part of this article.
“Royalty” to me, is neither a blessing nor a curse. It is simply a RESPONSIBILITY and a life of SERVITUDE to the relevant people/community. It is NOT a choice. It is a life one is born into. The only time choice comes to play is in how we choose to live that life. You can either see it as a platform to DO GOOD and TO SERVE or as one to be IDLE and point a finger at everyone else forgetting that your remaining four fingers are pointing back at you. Once you understand and accept this, even if you feel inadequate or incapable of living such a life and you are criticised on every side (as I have experienced since establishing QUEEN GRACE FOUNDATION (QGF), aka the OBI IKENCHUKWU FOUNDATION (OIF), as long as you are willing and have an open mind to the life you have been called into, you will receive a special grace to enable you carry out such huge task and propel you to heights unknown.
In attempting to answer the above question, I may take us down memory lane on the birth and eventual crowning of HRM. Obi Ikenchukwu I of Agbor Kingdom. Just before I delve into this, permit me to share some of my recent thoughts on my father. I try to imagine what my father would do if he found himself in certain situations today were he to be with us and I ask myself the following questions:
- Would he be proud of me or would he be disappointed in me?
- Would he be happy that I changed the name of the foundation I had established to honour him and my mother, HRH Queen Grace Ikenchukwu but most importantly?
- Would he be happy with the state of the kingdom he left behind 40 years ago;
- How would he view the mind set of his people today, would he see them as having evolved over the years or would he find a stagnant mind set?
- How would he feel about his CULTURE today, would he still be proud of it or would he consider it necessary for there to be growth and development for his PEOPLE and their CULTURE/CUSTOM?
- Finally, how would he see the role of WOMEN in the society today, would he want them to be seen and NOT heard and/or would he want them to remain in the “other room” just serving their men as the culture perhaps dictates?
When Prince James Ikenchukwu Obika was born on 04 December 1938, it was not intended for him to be king. In fact, he never wanted to be king many years later when he was told he had been chosen and was to be crowned the next king of the ancient Kingdom of Agbor. Herein lies the mystery of the life of Royalty. Do you make a king out of a person or is a king born? Was Prince James Ikenchukwu made a king by some oracle in fulfillment of the tradition of a people or was he born a king having been predestined by the maker of the universe Himself, abinitio mundi? Following the death of the then heir apparent to the throne, his older brother, Prince Oshielele Obika in 1952, it became apparent that the kingdom would require a new king upon the departure of the reigning king, HRM. Obi Obika in July of 1967. Why did Oshielele have to die and did his death automatically pave the way for James Ikenchukwu to be king? I think he was predestined to be king, albeit for just a period in the history of the people of Agbor especially when one considers his deep reluctance to be crowned.
The story was that two Princes were born around the same time but the birth of Prince James Ikenchukwu Obika was first announced to the king and so, the lot fell on him. It was further said that upon his failing health and shortly before his demise, HRM, Obi Obika, in order to avoid impending conflict between his two sons, wrote on a piece of paper his preferred son and choice of the oracle, Prince James Ikenchukwu Obika to succeed him upon his own demise. This in a nutshell was the history of the crowning of Prince James Ikenchukwu Obika who was bundled from Lagos to be crowned the 17th Obi of Agbor Kingdom in 1967 against his will. In fact, the young Prince loved his Lagos life so much that being a king in Agbor was far from appealing to him. Before he left Lagos, he made sure that some of his friends went with him to Agbor and they remained loyal to him until the very end including his bosom friend, Chief Vincent Egbarin whom he subsequently conferred with the title, the Orikeze of Agbor Kingdom, a chieftaincy title, so controversial that it caused rift within the palace and community as it did not exist in the history of the Agbor monarchy prior to then and cannot be passed on to anyone else. It was a creation of the newly crowned king as an expression of gratitude to his friend who left Lagos to be with him in Agbor and means “he eats, enjoys and lives like the king”. This was deemed too much to be conferred on anybody as who else can eat and live like the king save for the king himself – alone? These two friends were a powerful duo, strange in their ways and in fact died just days apart. Another similarity between them was the fact that they were both strikingly good looking and loved only pretty women – evidently.
In December 1968, Prince James Ikenchukwu was officially crowned the Obi of Agbor and beside him at coronation was his high school sweetheart and wife, HRH. Queen Grace Ikenchukwu. Grace Agholor Isedeh was a young teenage girl at the Baptist Girls High School in Agbor when the young Prince set eyes on her during a visit to her uncle’s, Mr. Festus Agholor. As soon as he saw her, he knew she was going to be his wife and the feeling was mutual as Grace herself experienced the first taste of love upon setting eyes on the young prince. They became inseparable and their love was genuine and infectious. They were a gorgeous couple and not afraid to publicly display their affection for each other to the admiration of the people. Sadly this love was not to last or perhaps simply could not compete with the demands and rigors of the CULTURE. The young Queen could not give them an heir. With the birth of every child came a little bit more crack to their marriage and love story until it eventually crumbled under the pressure of what I now term CULTURAL VIOLENCE. Her experience in the palace can only be described as sad and unfortunate but it also pushed her to pursue her education which had been halted temporarily by her marriage to the king.
Then, she completed her school leaving certificate examination with the best results ever seen in that region. Going against her uncle, Festus Agholor’s advice, she went to the palace to show her result to her husband. His Majesty, in his usual flamboyant and spontaneous manner, threw her a big party to express his love for and pride in her. I suppose the fact that she was able to rise above all the challenges and proved them all wrong that a woman’s place is in the other room and she is only to be seen and not heard was a quality worth admiring and celebrating. Most importantly, the king knew that Grace was the only woman who truly and genuinely loved him and his heart belonged to her. She knew him like no other woman did and he got her. They were what we call soul mates today so that when she died in the car crash after leaving the palace following the party he had thrown for her, his life was never the same until his own death. Grace would have been the first educated and indeed legally trained queen in the history of Agbor Kingdom.
How would he describe her if he was here and she was not? I think he would say she was his “nkem” or “obim”, the love of his life, his soul mate and his dedicated wife. She was dedicated not only to him as her husband but to his Culture and his People even unto death. He was unable to love any other woman and refused to marry another.That was something the CULTURE was unable to influence – every attempt at getting him to marry another woman fell on deaf ears. He refused to marry any other woman – officially. Ironically, whilst the Queen was born on the 2nd of June, later that month, on the 29th of June 1977, a new and special addition was made to the royal family – the birth of the long awaited heir to the throne, Prince Benjamin Keagborekuzi Ikenchukwu but not by the queen. A few months after his birth, the Queen died in a car crash that remains a mystery to date.
Thereafter, ALL the attention shifted to the new heir and all other children of the Obi’s meant nothing. Once again, CULTURE rears its ugly head and the girl child is relegated to the background and she is not recognized as vital in community development or building. Sadly, the situation has barely changed decades later. At this point I will state that Obi Ikenchukwu had a UNIQUE style in dealing with his siblings and people generally. He had an air around him that encouraged mixing and co-existence. As a child, I recall him coming to see us almost every weekend and sometimes at school. He loved his siblings, particularly the WOMEN. He had a special love and respect towards his older sister, Princess Onyinwa Bridget Shobayo (nee Obika) and his younger sister, Princess Ebele Obika. They were very free and comfortable around him and he provided for them. It was important to the Monarch that his siblings were catered for and to him, a Home and an Education were vital. So, for most of his siblings, he provided them a home, land to develop and encouraged them to get education. Education was so important to him that he spread this beyond his immediate family to extended relatives such as nieces, nephews and other people who showed genuine interest in being educated.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for his children today. Once the Monarch died, EVERYTHING appeared to die with him. The love and care for family gradually declined and his daughters? Well, I rest my case at this point but suffice to say, the Culture ensured that little attention is paid to them even to date but I am proud to say that Queen Grace’s children, ALL GIRLS are fully educated. So, talking about this CULTURE, what do I think my father would make of it today? The answer should be obvious from his story and the first above quote being one of my favorite quotes. In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that the Monarch would support a Culture that relegates women to the background. It is more likely that he would MODIFY that Culture in words or in deed. He would encourage the education of everyone especially the girl child. I say this not only because I am an offspring of this enigma of a man. The little I remember of him, he was very protective of us Grace’s Girls. That I remember vividly. Even though we were not at Agbor, not only did he come to see us regularly, we took photos with him and he made sure that we were placed in the best schools in the state so that when he died, my aunty had little choice but to continue in that line and to fulfill his wish of giving us the best education.
What do I think he would have made of the above last quote? I think he would have been disappointed not so much because they were said about his daughter but because of whom they emanated from. Those were the words of a supposed reputable Agbor man being his explanation for failing to attend an event in honour of the Monarch in December 2018 in Agbor and on what would have been his 80th birthday. Being the subject matter and victim of vicious words from certain people of Agbor in recent times, I now have a better understanding of my own people and why we are the way we are. Apparently even in the 21st C, a woman particularly a Princess is only to be “seen” and NOT “heard”. Who knew?! My only crime is that I am a WOMAN and even though I am a lawyer, I am not supposed to have a VOICE! Who knew that there are people who still think like this in 2019? Oh, I forgot to mention that having the guts to establish a Foundation in honour of my own parents and attempting to celebrate them is in itself a taboo to my people – apparently. Who do I think I am as a woman to come up with such an initiative as the QUEEN GRACE FOUNDATION, (aka, THE OBI IKENCHUKWU FOUNDATION) and to attempt to execute the same? Heavens forbid that as a WOMAN and an Agbor Princess at that, I could even conceive such an idea. I find this laughable to say the least.
I will like to state very clearly that I am NOT interested in initiating any form of ceremony neither am I remotely interested in interfering with any primogenitor law/custom of Agbor. I also speak for my sisters when I say this. We are not and have never been interested in such things. Why should we in any event? The Culture does not even recognise us. Setting up a Charity I will humble submit, is NOT the same as initiating a ceremony or interfering in tradition or custom of any kind. If anything, it elevates our Culture and propels the younger generation to do more for their immediate society. Our young girls are supposed to be able to look up to the women as examples of courage, confidence and strength. We cannot be any of this if all we do is sit pretty, fold our arms and remain silent. No. Change comes not by sitting pretty and doing nothing but by speaking out so that even the blind that do not see can at least hear you and act upon what they have heard. The establishment of the OBI IKENCHUKWU FOUNDATION (OIF) is the first of its kind by any Royal Family in that entire region and arguably in Nigeria (at least first active charity by any royal family). One would expect it to be celebrated and supported by its people not to be unduly criticised and torn apart.
My question to those who knew my father the late Monarch is whether he would have endorsed such mentality/tradition or if he would have moved on from it. I dare say he would lean towards the latter and this is why I believe a king or leader is born and not made because Obi Ikenchukwu possessed a wisdom way beyond his years. He would have noted the need for growth and if that meant the modification of a repugnant or stagnant Custom or Tradition, then, that is exactly what he would do. He would have been devastated by a regressive approach to life and would not want this for his people/community. In fact, the little I know of him, he would have found a way to ensure that successful Agbor indigenes in cities such as Lagos, Abuja and even in the Diaspora, return home for purpose of developing the place. Of what use is remaining in and helping to develop an already developed city, state and country when your own place of origin is termed under-developed? It is time for a serious mind check and reshuffling of cabinets in Agbor and if it means getting our WOMEN to do it, then, that is what we should do – pride and ego aside. Begin to INVEST in your GIRLS and WOMEN today. In fact, research shows that the most successful communities, states and nations of the world all have WOMEN placed in strategic positions and are ACTIVE in their positions. I am certain that it was not (and still cannot be) the intention of the custodians of our Culture that Agbor Women and their Princesses should not be heard.
RETROGRESSION is a state of mind, an unhealthy and under developed mind set whilst PROGRESSION is also a state of mind but the converse. The last of the above quotes, which seems to reflect the state of mind of our men in 2019 is pathetic and retrogressive. It is contrary to what the late Monarch would have wanted or intended for his community and it seriously undermines and discriminates against WOMEN and their role or importance in the society. I reiterate – there is no successful nation in the world without the input of WOMEN. Our COMMON GOAL must be the development of our community and if that requires taking Cinderella out of the kitchen, dusting her up and taking her to the ball where she can be seen and heard, then, so be it. Let’s do it for the common goal. The most important thing is to identify our Cinderella wherever she may be hiding, encourage her to use her VOICE which may have been silenced by the CULTURE for the betterment and development of her people. I understand that this was a unique characteristic of HRM. Obi Ikenchukwu. He had the ability to identify talents in people, irrespective of their gender and he encouraged such talents and often used them for personal and social development. What stops us from continuing in that light today? I know the current Monarch, HRM Keagborekuzi I, Dein, believes in the common goal and the strength of a woman in building the society but can he do it only on his own? The answer is a resounding NO. He needs the support of his people to achieve this and if he does not have this support and also hindered by the CULTURE, what can he do?
HRM. Obi Ikenchukwu and his Queen Grace lived very brief lives but they made significant impact even within that short period. Grace in her little but very gracious way showed our women how to be humble, submissive, yet, strong and dedicated to their men. She was also an epitome of beauty and brain but a strong supporter of her husband’s Culture even when that Culture turned its back on her. She was by his side during his Oseizi festivals ushering the ceremony in with the beating of the traditional drums. She danced happily during the days of the ceremony as she was required to in support of her husband’s culture and in furtherance of her office. The Obi also was such a strong force during his short reign that even now, 40 years after his demise, his impact is still felt. His contributions to the development of Agbor Kingdom remain unrivalled to date and his popularity went beyond the shores of his Kingdom having spent most of his life in Lagos before and after his coronation.
Although he did not live long enough to reap the fruits of his labour, his people continued in his footstep and his legacy lives on in QUEEN GRACE FOUNDATION (QGF), aka, the OBI IKENCHUKWU FOUNDATION, a Charity established to honour him and his wife’s memory. The QGF continues with works that benefit the Orphan/Girl Child and Female Victims of Violence. Being established in honour of a First Class African Monarch, we naturally also promote the African Arts and Culture. We are confident that our aims and objectives are what the Monarch and Queen would have expected of us and it is what we intend to continue to do to keep their memory fresh at HOME and ABROAD.
Below are some of the words of HRM. Obi Ikenchukwu I of Agbor Kingdom who was crowned King in December 1968 at the young age of 29 making him one of the youngest Monarchs of that era:
“No Custom should be destroyed, they can however be modified…but, I will rather suggest they undergo EVOLUTIONARY changes and not REVOLUTIONARY changes…”.
Those words are EVERGREEN and remain RELEVANT today. The Monarch spoke those words because he was himself a young man when he was crowned king. Little did he know that he would someday become the father to the youngest ever crowned Monarch in the world. The Monarch no doubt loved his Culture and served his people with all he had. He believed in the power of TOGETHERNESS, CULTURE AND COMMUNITY. The question is – “does the CULTURE of today agrees with the intent of the Monarch and what would he make of it if he were here with us”? I spent four years in Nigeria and ensured I was in Agbor as much as I could. Whilst my experience was not exactly encouraging, like my father, I love my CULTURE and believe that we lack IDENTITY without one. However, a CULTURE that precludes me from celebrating my own parents is not one to be encouraged or even modified but in my own opinion, deserves nothing but an ABOLISHMENT. So, following in the footsteps of my father, I will do all I can within the premise of the QGF, to continue to promote my Culture specifically and the African Arts and Culture in general. I encourage everyone, especially the youths, to do the same.
I will end this article with the wise words of one of Africa’s most renowned writers, authors and poets – CHINUA ACHEBE:
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to redeem them from starving. They all have food in their own houses. When we gather together in the moonlight village ground, it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so…”.
Therefore, to the people of Agbor Kingdom and indeed everyone, everywhere, I urge you all, let us continue in the team spirit and enjoy the power of togetherness. Let us smile not because we do not have problems but because we are stronger than the problems.Let us imbibe the CULTURE of togetherness and inclusion instead of division, the culture of unity instead of disunity, the culture of upholding and building one another instead of tearing down. I think that is the kind of CULTURE that our late Monarch, HRM. Obi Ikenchukwu I would like to see amongst his people.
Finally, let us respect the institution known as ROYALTY and remember that uneasy indeed lies the head that wears the crown. After all, it is said that “the rich/wealthy cannot be richer/wealthier than the king and if he/she is indeed richer/wealthier than the king, the king still possesses him/her (Odanfin aka Eze. Oka Eze, Ezenwen).
I will encourage my family and HRM, the DEIN, to continue the GOOD WORK and know that it may not be seen or appreciated today, but it would surely smell or be talked about tomorrow. ROYALTY is a huge RESPONSIBILTY that cannot be ignored. It is a two way street. It carries with it, BENEFITS and BURDEN. Let us ALL rise up to our responsibility and make AGBOR GREAT AGAIN. Nobody will do it for us.
GOD BLESS THE SOULS OF MY PARENTS – HRM. OBI IKENCHUKWU I and HRH. QUEEN GRACE IKENCHUKWU. GOD BLESS AGBOR. GOD BLESS NIGERIA and GOD BLESS YOU ALL.
To my brother, HRM DEIN KEAGBOREKUZI I, I greet you – DoohDein, Dooh, Dein, DoohDein! God bless you and grant you the favour, wisdom and direction you need to rule effectively as the king you were born to be.
Genevieve N. Ikenchukwu
(Solicitor &Founder, QGF)