Date Published: 07/15/09
What Is Olorogun?
By Oghene Omonisa
The Ibru family of Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, is reputed to be one of the most famous in Nigeria, and certainly the most celebrated in Delta State. Legend has it that the family’s patriarch, Olorogun Michael Christopher Onajirevwe Ibru, made his first million pounds at 26. And that was in 1956! Because he started his business career after secondary school, Ibru is said to have ensured his younger siblings had the best education to help grow the burgeoning family business, as he would not have the time to combine the growing business empire and a university education. So, he single-handedly sponsored all of then to study in Europe.
Today, the Ibru clan is one of the most successful in Nigeria. Michael’s Ibru Organization is a multi-billion dollar group with interest in shipping, agro-allied, aviation, banking, oil and gas, among other sectors of the economy; Felix was the first Executive Governor of Delta State, and presently a serving senator; Goodie, former President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ikeja Hotels, owners of Lagos Sheraton, Abuja Sheraton and Federal Palace Hotel; and Alex, former Internal Affairs Minister, is the proud publisher of The Guardian, flagship of the Nigerian print media.
With the family’s stake in the Nigerian print media came more fame and recognition. One of such benefits is to both the Ibru family and to the Urhobo nation – the popularity of olorogun. Olorogun has become nationally celebrated all over the years because that was, and still is, how The Guardian addressed Michael Ibru. And other publications followed. The word became peculiar to Michael Ibru. And when Felix was elected the governor of Delta State in 1991, it became popular the more as he was also addressed as such, and till now. But since then, a few others have started being addressed likewise, both in the local media, within the Urhobo nation, and nationally. But what really is olorogun?
Traditionally, deserving indigenes of a kingdom are honoured with chieftaincy titles by the king. It is part of Nigerian tradition and cultural heritage. In some kingdoms, only indigenes are honoured, while most kingdoms honour indigenes and non-indigenes alike. In Urhoboland, most clans honour both indigenes and non-indigenes, while a few do not, not even to fellow Urhobos from different clans within the Urhobo nation. Olorogun is the Urhobo word for chief. So, any deserving member of the community who has been honoured with a chieftaincy title is an olorogun. In Urhobo language, even a non-Urhobo chieftaincy title-holder from a different tribe is also an olorogun.
This correction becomes necessary in view of the inappropriate use of the word. For example, a reporter covers an event attended by Urhobo chiefs, and in listing those in attendance, writes ‘Chief Omokri’, ‘Chief Etabuno’ and ‘Olorogun Okpubeku’ (imaginary names), while each of them is an olorogun. But reporters and commentators – especially in the national media – consistently ascribe the word to a particular set of chiefs.
And it is not correct to say, let us say, ‘the Olorogun of …’ as olorogun is not a designation. A designation is separate. For example, Olorogun (Chief) Benjamin Okumagba, ‘the Otota (Spokesman) of Okere’. Otota (Spokesman) of Okere is his designation. Or Chief James Edewor, ‘the Obarisi (King of the whole universe) of Abraka’. And in using the definite article, the, it erroneously means that there is only one olorogun (chief) in the clan, which is impossible. So, it is proper to say ‘(an) olorogun of … ([a] chief of …)’ and not ‘the Olorogun of … (the Chief of …)’.
It should be quickly added that the plural for olorogun is not oloroguns, but ilorogun.
An olorogun is highly respected due to his contribution to the welfare of his people and to the growth of his community, which warranted the honour in the first place. Who is an Olorogun out there? I send my traditional cheering:
Olorogun! (From a person cheering an olorogun.)
Kada. (The olorogun’s traditional response, meaning ‘your cheering is acknowledged’. [Alternatively, in response, the olorogun can gently nod his head, instead of a reply, his traditional hand-fan (adjudju, a symbol of his status) arrogantly raised in a fanning gesture.])
Ab o vworo vworo! (Your palms are smooth. [Traditionally, an olorogun does not engage in hard labour.])
Adjudju k’ opia! (Your hand-fan is your cutlass. [Because an olorogun does not physically get engaged in the main occupation of farming, his hand-fan, adjudju, is now regarded as his cutlass.]).
Ad’ ohwara de gb’ udje! (Sit on your reclining chair in your out-door shelter and relax. [In the time of old, a common man and his family returning from farm would naturally see an olorogun who seldom went to farm except to supervise, relaxing in his out-door shelter, as he had his workers working on his farm for him.])
With all due respect to Olorogun Michael Ibru, whose fame, fortune and good name brought the word to prominence, and also maximum respect to Olorogun Felix Ibru, Olorogun Oghenetega Emerhor, Olorogun Moses Taiga, among other well-known ilorogun, this serves to correct the erroneous practice of ascribing the word strictly to a few as every holder of a chieftaincy title, be it from another land or from Urhoboland, be he Urhobo or non-Urhobo, is an olorogun, from the Delta State governor to that deserving but local entrepreneur or administrator in some faraway rural setting.