On 8th August, 1977, at the peak of the crisis arising from insubordination to Atta of Igala by Ankpa elites, the government of Benue State invited Aliyu Obaje to Makurdi for a meeting. Upon arrival, Atta was immediately arrested and detained in an undisclosed facility.
Later that evening, news broke of the possible arrest of Atta in faraway Makurdi. Idah was tensed, but the actors from Ankpa were not taken unaware as it was apparently a script being played out by them.
By 7:00pm on that day, the fears were confirmed even beyond expectation. The NBC News at 7 did not just report that Atta had been arrested, it was also revealed that he had been deposed and confined to an undisclosed location in Makurdi for constituting a threat to peaceful coexistence. Because of slim access to television at the time, this unbelievable story was confirmed by only few who had access to television.
On 9th August, 1977, the news of the arrest and deposition was all over the mainstream newspapers. Precisely, the Nigerian Herald Newspaper reported it on its front page.
Igala sons and daughters, young and old swung into action—protesting the action of the state government headed by Colonel Abdullahi Shelleng to be unjust.
Of course, some persons; even within the Atta dynasty were happy with the development. A son of a previous Atta Atabo Ijomi was one of those who welcomed the development. He quickly; but tacitly declared himself as next Atta. That evening, he moved from Ogbogbo to Idah in full royal regalia amidst cheers of supporters. Eyewitnesses say he wore a brown robe and white turban with several well wishes trooping to his Opata home to “congratulate” him. Royal Odechi drummers were also present at his home, chanting praises of the “new king”.
However, the firework to reinstate Ali Obaje geared up with several protest letters sent from different relevant institutions.
The most inspiring of the protest was that from the Igala Students Association, penned from Ahmadu Bello University, Samaru Zaria. In their swift letter dated 9th August, 1977, signed by Paul S. Emeje as president, Victor N. Enape, Abdul Okai, Paul I. Idachaba and Momoh Okpanachi as members, addressed to the Head of State, Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo, at Dodan Barracks in Lagos. They did not mince words in demanding for the immediate release and reinstatement of Ali Obaje in that letter. Parts of it read
“…it is no gain-saying that the Attah of Igala has attained a long clean reputation in this country which he would never like to tarnish, or run away for anything any time. That is why it would have been more honourable, if he were restricted or confined to the royal palace at Idah rather than the unknown destination in Makurdi. We regard the action of the Benue state government as a dirty slap in the face of Igalas and as a people and law abiding citizens, we demand an apology from Benue state government”
The letter reads further
“We therefore call on the Head of State to use his good offices to intervene before the situation goes out of hand”
“We also call on the Sultan of Sokoto and all traditional rulers in this country to intervene in this issue, which we regard not only an insult to the Igalas but to the African traditional stools.”
In few days, the federal government intervened, Sultan of Sokoto was also at the forefront and in the end, Ali Obaje was not just released, he was reinstated and several accords were reached.
After the whole crisis, Atta and Abdullahi Shelleng visited each other without further rancour. But, Paul Odi, the legendary Igala musician will not leave them in peace. He went to studio to wax a song titled “Ule mi Makurudi” meaning, my (ill fated) Makurdi trip. In the song, Odi reechoed that “when you see your old enemy, you remember your old fight” and this was to warn Ali Obaje against feeling relaxed with the government of Shelleng.
This was not the first time Ali Obaje will suffer similar fate in the hands of state executives. You will recall that in the build up to the 2003 general election, Abubakar Audu as governor of Kogi State detained Ali Obaje in Lokoja for 2 days, while the latter was on his way to Abuja to attend the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria.
Photo shows Col Abdullahi Shelleng in military uniform and Ali Obaje in black robe and white turban, walk hand in hand.
Credit to Igala Teacher