Attah Ameh Oboni, the Nigerian ruler who refused to shake the hand of the Queen of England because of his throne

The revered traditional ruler, Attah Ameh Oboni, ascended to the throne of Igala land on May 1, 1945. Compared only to Ayegba Om’Idoko, the great ancient ruler of Igala land who fought to secure the independence of his Kingdom, Attah Oboni’s reign was outstanding and more historic than any of his other predecessors.

He was the only son of his mother, Alami Inedu, a native of Itobe, who was married off to three successive rulers; however, Attah Oboni was the only child that emerged from her matrimony. His father died shortly after he was born in 1911.

Though he had limited access to formal education, Attah Oboni championed the developmental agenda that improved the quality of education, infrastructure, basic amenities, and social intervention programs for vulnerable people in Igala.

To his people, His Royal Highness was a powerful ruler who carried an aura of mystery. It is believed that whatever he said prophetically came to pass; however, historians and subsequent generations are not only intrigued by the folklore that characterized his reign, but also how he defied the Queen of England when asked by the council of rulers to go contrary to the taboos of his throne.

It was an abomination in Igala culture for any ruler to look at a corpse or a baby less than three months old. It was also taboo for him to shake the hand of a woman or take off his cap in public. Contrary to these customs, Attah Oboni was asked to violate the latter forbidden ethos when he met the Queen of England at a meeting held in Kaduna.  

Paramount rulers compelled him to remove his cap before greeting the Queen, as had been done earlier by others. To make matters worse for the Igala ruler, he was told he would have to shake the hands of the Queen after taking off his cap. When he refused to compromise, he was threatened to be thrown out of the meeting.  Signaling the council of rulers that calamity could befall them for the stance they had taken, Attah Oboni, in an attempt to lift his cap, caused a swarm of bees to flood the meeting hall. This caused pandemonium, prompting the handlers of the Queen to whisk her away immediately.

The only ruler who was able to stay in the hall was the Oba of Benin. Feeling insulted, the authorities caused the Igala ruler to be arrested; but interestingly, oral tradition tells that the handcuffs fell off his hands moments after he was placed in custody. Despite his supernatural display, his fellow traditional rulers resorted to keeping him hostage; infuriating the Igala ruler and driving him to escape custody without anyone explaining how he got out of the guarded room. This embarrassment presented the Queen and the rulers of the Northern kingdom of Nigeria with a motive to immediately conspire to have him overthrown.

Consequently, he was eventually dethroned, but not without repercussions. The individuals who implemented the plot to have him removed from power were buried thrice after their body parts were decomposed in phases. Before he took his own life, he cursed Igala land and pronounced that the community will only be reunified after a son from his lineage ascends the throne. Igala festivals were banned for over 60 years until the Governor, Yahaya Bello, lifted the embargo on the pleas of the Attah Igala.

Stephen Nartey

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