The Omu of Anioma, Martha Dunkwu, is a revered traditional ruler of Anioma land, which covers nine local government areas in Delta State. Anioma people are the Igbo located in Delta, who are separated from the Igbo in the South-East by the River Niger. Dunkwu tells OCHEI MATTHEW about the historical background of the Omu, its spirituality and others
What has been the most interesting part of being the monarch?
The most interesting part is the fact that the throne is indigenous to Anioma people. The two titles of Omu: Omu queen mother and Eze Nwayi (queen). Our forefathers’ intention was for the Omu to be a queen in charge of women. So, you find out that when I go all over the country, people look at me as if I’m a TV screen or movie star because they had not seen such before. Our former governor, Chief James Ibori, wrote me a goodwill message when I celebrated my 50th birthday, 14 years ago. He said I brought feasibility to this ancient institution. As a media person, I brought that to this institution. So, it has been interesting going all over the world because they didn’t know there is a part of Africa where their forefathers had decided 700 years ago that a woman must occupy this throne and play her part for the community to move forward. So sometimes at events, I’m the only female at a setting dominated by men.
What were you doing before you became the Omu?
I was a media practitioner. I studied in England, the United States of America and returned 35 years ago. I was a media consultant for the late Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa, of blessed memory and the late Orodje of Okpe. At some point, I consulted for the Asagba of Asaba and about seven traditional rulers. I was in the consultancy business but when I became the Deputy Omu, I decided that the best thing was to start working for traditional rulers. I was Deputy Omu for three years and became substantive Omu for 17 years, so I have done the work of Omu for 20 years now.
How much do you miss your old life?
No, I don’t miss my old life at all. I must confess that what I am doing is the physical manifestation of spiritual conclusion. So, once God has decided on a matter, you cannot miss anything because that’s the intention of God.
How did you feel when you got to know that you would become the traditional ruler?
Well, initially I was apprehensive because in the past, Omus were women in their early 80s and 90s and as you are aware, Omu doesn’t get married. And if you are married, once you become Omu, you must leave your marital home. However, I was not married so I didn’t have any issue with having to leave my husband. I wasn’t quite sure of how I would handle it but when I was convinced that it was the intention of God, I took it upon myself to do the right thing and I will continue to do to the right thing.
How has your life as a female monarch been?
Rosy…(laughs). Well, it’s challenging when you cannot marry, go into a relationship or attend a burial. There are so many things you cannot do as Omu. However, the work of Omu is 70 per cent spiritual, so I have to keep praying. I also have chiefs attached to my palace. There are spiritual and executive chiefs in the palace.
What experience do you think you have had that you think came as a result of your being a queen ?
I am grateful to God and I remain grateful to the late Oba of Benin Kingdom . I learnt a lot from him . The Omu institution is very conservative and ancient . It is a dictatorship in the sense that no woman was consulted when few old wise men instituted the Omu institution . When many people see me and find out about the institution , they marvel . The challenges I have are even from our people.
So what have been your biggest challenges since you became the monarch ?
One , I have tried to fuse the good of the old times with the good of the new period to have something brand new . I don ’ t have any challenge from the people of the North , West, South- East or Deltans. If there are any challenges I am facing , they are from my people and not necessarily from Anioma people. They are from my own home – Okpanam – and of course , it is understandable because even the best among us are despised in their homes . Anioma people own this institution ; it is not a personal institution . So , one would not call what I experience as challenges in that sense . Even in Okpanam , the institution is for our forefathers and not for any individual . That ’ s why it is said that the Omu cannot abdicate the throne and people cannot put all manner of things in place to remove the Omu. So , in 700 years , no Omu has abdicated the throne and no Omu has been removed .