The Omu institution in Anioma has been in existence since 15th century. It is one of the institutions that distinguish Anioma from other Igbo speaking regions of Nigeria. And it is rarely found anywhere else but in Benin, the place of its origin. The Omu institution is an important institution within the governance system of many Anioma communities and most importantly a traditional position reserved for women in anioma society .The Omu plays different roles in Anioma communities from serving as the mother of the community, performing spiritual rites to presiding over market affairs.
An Omu is held as the spiritual mother of Anioma . In Ibuza , she is the traditional head of the markets thus her usual praise of ‘’Omu Eze –ashia’’ . Traditionally, the Omu enjoys a powerful position as she is always a member of Obi-In –Council. An Omu is often relied on by the Obis to effectively govern the kingdom. The Omu is mostly selected through divination and her coronation required a ceremony usually held on Orie Day.
Omu in Ubulu-Uku maintains her cabinet of chiefs like the Obi of the town known to people as ‘’Ilogo’’. The Ilogos are required to take spiritual oats before becoming members of the Omu cabinet. Some of her chiefs are Inene, Akpata Eshie, Okwelegwe, Ojunwa and Onishe.
ORIGIN OF THE OMU PRACTICE IN ANIOMA
HRM Dr Martha Dunkwu
Omu of Anioma
Omu institution in Anioma has been traced to Queen Idia, the mother of Esigie , the Oba of Benin who reigned from 1504- 1550. Queen Idia , a warrior, helped her son , Esiege to defeat Igala during the Benin-Igala war. It was actually Queen Idia who fought relentlessly on the side of his son to stop rampaging Igala from defeating the great Benin Empire. Before this time, she had helped her son ascend the throne after the death of Oba Ozolua as the 16th Oba of Benin by raising a strong army that defeated Arharuaran, Esigie’s other brother who controlled Benin northern area which was nearly half of the entire empire including the city of udo.
Owing to her military prowess, she became the first to be conferred with ‘’Iyoba of Benin’’ (Queen mother) title to which she enjoyed until her death. She had ‘’ Eguae Iyoba’’ (Queen mother’s palace) established for her from where she ruled over mostly women. The Anioma are believed to have borrowed this Omu idea from Queen Idia. Historians were of the opinion that Umuezechime left Benin, importing with them the Queen mother idea of Omu.
OMU SELECTION PATTERN
The eligibility of Omu varies from community to community but it is mainly based on divination or rotation. An Omu is often determined through consultation of the ‘’Afa’’ (oracle) which ever method, native doctors are usually consulted in distant communities to determine who should rightly fill in the vacant position. Once a particular candidate is favored she passes through the rites of coronation that makes her the Omu of the town .
An Omu must fulfill the following conditions before assuming office in any community in Anioma.
1 Traces her root biologically to the community to be chaired
2 Be of sound mind and body
3 will not be married as an Omu , have children or bear any more children. if previously married she cannot be a widow either and must not be associated with sexual intercourse.
4 Must choose to live a life of chastity
5 She must worship certain deities mainly of fertility inclined and celebrates New yam and other festivals depending on the community.
Once an Omu is selected , she does not live under a man again.
Omus have a few laws that buyers and sellers inside the market need to adhere to. The Omu law at the market is that no one holds items with two hands separately or ties the mouth of a bag being carried. No one is expected to fight inside the market. Omus have shrine( traditional courts) inside the market where offenders are persecuted. Penalties for minor crimes are usually fines.
FUNCTIONS OF THE OMU
1 The Omu is the mother of the community
2 The omu structure is in most cases similar to the kingship structure and helps to balance royalty in the community.
3 Omu is the leader of the women in the communities they exist.
4 Omu coordinates the market.
5 Omu settles disputes mostly among the women folks.
6 She settles all sorts of disputes in the market such as stealing, shop ownership, fighting e.t.c.
7 Omu speaks for the women.
8 Omu performs spiritual cleansing of the community
9 She functions as the custodians of the people culture
Death of omu, An omu is never said to have died traditionally rather it is rumored to have gone to the market to purchase items or even travelled. The more likely expression is ‘’wa sina omu anyi jebe ifeo’’ (they said our omu travelled)
PRESENT OMU OF ANIOMA
One community in Anioma land where the Omu practice is deeply entrenched and respected is the Okpanam in Oshimili North local Government of the state. The Omu of Okpanam is presently the Omu of Anioma .The Anioma community felt the need to preserve the Omu institution which was dying a gradual death in many of Anioma communities , hence, in 2006 the idea of the Omu Anioma cropped on. One of the ways thought to achieve this was through combining the institution roles in the entire region thus the nomination of Dr Martha Dunkwu, as the Omu of Anioma. Before her coronation as the Omu of Anioma. She has been the Omu of Okpanam since January 26,2006.