25 Years Of An Oba

culled from GUARDIAN, March 29, 2004

It is not just the silver jubilee of the reign of Oba Erediauwa the Edos celebrate. They celebrate survival. They celebrate continuity, they celebrate stability amongst other events. March 23, 1979 merely marked the day the reigning Oba ascended the throne of his forebears soon after the immediate past Oba Akenzua II joined his ancestors. On this day, both the burial and succession rites were completed.

The transformation of a heir apparent (Edaiken) to that of a king (Oba) was concretised and solemnised. The whole city and environs in an ecstasy, resonated with the sound of 'Oba ghato' okpere'. The heavens, the ancestors and the gods re-echoed with the sound of 'Ise'. A peep at the sky exposed the sun and the moon in an eclipse as a mark of heavenly acknowledgement.

Prince Solomon Akenzua now known by the title of Uku Akpolokpolo, Omo n'Oba N'Edo Erediauwa became the 38th Oba of Benin in Oba Eweka 1 dynasty that began at about the 12th c AD. This ancient kingdom as a result of its resilience, power and sophistication grew to becme an empire during the reigns of the warrior kings - Ewuare, Ozolua, Esigie and Orhogbua. Its influence covered the whole of the Niger Delta and as far as Lagos and beyond the present day Republic of Benin.

Erediauwa ascended the throne of his ancestors which for over 1000 years, ascendance had been by a system of primogeniture where only the eldest surviving son of the king succeeds his father. And it has remained so ever since. The Edos (Binis) are quite emotional about their Oba. The monarchy could be a sore and soothing spot for them anytime, but it remains a reference point cherished by all at all times. The Oba is in their parables, in their dos and don'ts in their folklores inheritance, marriage, customs funeral rites indeed in their everyday life, including ancestral worship which like the umbilical cord, ties the Oba and his subjects into one spiritual, inseparable complex whole. In the Catholic church for example, the Eucharistic priest raises the chalice and prays for the Pope, the Bishop and the priests. And this is done every day all over the world whenever mass is said.

In Benin also wherever prayer is said with Kolanut in all ancestral shrines in public or private homes, prayers are always concluded with 'Oba' khato Okpere - meaning may the Oba live long or as the British would say in their National Anthem, 'God save the Queen'. All these, combined with the operational nature of the guilds fortified their tradition as functional instrument of administration. Without the Oba, there is a big vacuum. This was what baffled the British when in 1897, Benin was under a military junta, the Oba exiled and a period of interregnum imposed: while in other places they were able to get an alternative but in Benin kingdom, it posed a dilemma for them.

In 1897, the British army in a punitive mission succeeded in a battle to dislodge the military might of the Binis and thereby truncated the reign of Ovonranmwen Nogbasi,. They tried him and exiled him to Calabar where he died in 1914. This incidence of course opened the way for the British to embark on the last phase of her colonisation of Nigeria by amalgamating the Northern and Southern Nigeria into one administrative country called Nigeria. Before the punitive expedition of 1897 the British had tried various political, economic, commercial and merchantile tactics to get at an empire that had flourished for about a thousand years dating back to the era of the Ogisos. Before the coming of the British, the Benin Empire had diplomatic and trade contacts with the Portuguese in the 15th century during the reign of Ozolua, Esigie and Orhogbua. After the Portuguese, came the Dutch in the 17th century.

The British were about the last of the adventurers and traders to visit Benin to transact business treaties, trading agreements with the kingdom towards the end of 19th century. The British tested the waters under the cover of the Royal Niger Company, Oil River Protectorate, the Niger Delta Protectorate and the Southern Nigeria Protectorate. She continued to expand her influence at the expense of the coastal kingdoms. She deceived the Oba of Benin into a series of trading, diplomatic and peace treaties, beneficial only to the imperial government of Great Britain.

The period of interregnum (1897-1914) was long enough to alter, adulterate, deface, substitute and destroy any existing political arrangement that stood between the British colonial agenda and the conquered people. Like they have done in East Africa and in other parts of the British Empire, raising a powerful individual as a tool in her divide and rule scheme was the British standard stock-in-trade. Agho Obaseki's industry and resourcefulness were harnessed and cultivated by the British beyond the call of duty. Agho became powerful and influential and he virtually presided over the affairs of the state and the prospect of Aguobasimwin's restoration was in disarray.

Nevertheless, the resilient cultural values of the Edos baffled the British. They couldn't believe that with all their power, patronage and intimidation and imposed values coupled with the wealth, power and influence of Agho Obaseki they could not have their way when confronted with the choice of who became an Oba in Benin. The people upheld their tradition: 'Only the son of an Oba becomes Oba'. The British had no alternative but to invite Aiguobasimwin to be crowned as Eweka II. In similar circumstances Eweka I, the founder of the dynasty was restored to the throne about 900 years earlier after Ogiamien's opposing forces were vanquished at the battle of Ekiokpagha.

As soon as Aiguobasimwin was crowned in 1914, he had to contend with Agho Obaseki's residual powers acquired during the era of the interregnum coupled with the contradictions, abuses, irregularities and shortcomings which characterised the new Native Council. Although the aim was that the Oba as the sole paramount native authority ought to be the ultimate authority but his powers were compromised due to the innovations that became evident in the British indirect rule in Benin at this period. The Council, the District Headship, the Native Treasury, the Native Courts which were supposed to be under the new Oba were in fact hijacked by the District Office and Agho Obaseki who functioned as the Iyase and a favourite agent of the British. Aiguobasimwin's problems were yet not over until Agho Obaseki died in 1920.

Three years later in 1923, the present Oba Erediuawa was born. His father Oba Akenzua II presented the new baby to his father Eweka II, who lifted the baby up and smiled. "You Agho! You again, you have passed through this route. You have reincarnated to become an Oba. An Oba indeed". Eweka proclaimed him an Oba: you will be Solomon - wise as King Solomon. The Lord will be your pillar and strength - (Igbinoghodua) but nobody should dare cause or invite your wrath - (Aiseokhuoba).

As a young Prince and heir apparent Oba Erediauwa was known as Prince Solomon, Aiseokhuoba, Igbinoghodua Akenzua until he was crowned Oba on March 23, 1979. Never by the use of those names be identified except by the title, Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, Oba of Benin. Those circumstantial names are now archival materials. Reincarnation is in the beliefs of the Binis. This can happen in any circumstance depending on the life aspiration of the deceased whose prayers might be answered if he so desired to become a King in his next world. Although this is beyond human comprehension, nevertheless, the traditional belief is that a man may have an opportunity to reincarnate for as much as seven times after which he fizzles out. By this belief, Prince Solomon is a reincarnation of the desperate Agho Obaseki! How

I don't know.

Erediauwa had the throne as his cradle. Apart from the usual traditional palace tutorials which begin at birth, he went to Government School, Benin after which he proceeded to Government College, Ibadan in 1939 and obtained with flying colours - his London Matriculations which qualified him to gain admission into Yaba College in 1945. After the completion of his course at Yaba, he was admitted into King's College, Cambridge to study Law and Administration. He returned to Nigeria to join the Eastern Nigeria Civil Service as a District Officer (D.O.) in 1957. He transferred his services to the Federal Civil Service and rose to the position of Permanent Secretary.

He retired from the service as a Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health in 1973 and became the regional representative of Gulf Oil Company. He was appointed Commissioner for Finance in the Military Administration of Major-General Innih in 1975. His early retirement from the service was to have time to expose him fully to the intricacies of the administrative challenges that would confront him in the performance of his duties as Oba of Benin. His father, Akenzua II was Secretary to Eweka II, his father. This made him to have a first hand knowledge of traditional issues that arose from the Native Administration. The political turbulence that confronted Akenzua II due to the exposure of the new elites to participatory Native Administration in the 40s and introduction of party politics in the 50s could only have been surmounted by a ruler of Akenzua's experience, patience, courage and subtle diplomacy.

In his time, traditional rulers could be members of political parties; even form parties. Akenzua II was in the forefront of the creation of the Midwest State. He formed a political party for this purpose - Benin-Delta Peoples' Party in 1953. Otu-Edo was formed to defend his person against the political onslaught of the Ogboni/Action Group under the leadership of Eguobase Gaius Obaseki, the ninth child of Agho Obaseki. Inspite of the unconfirmed relationship as a result of circumstances of reincarnation, Akenzua and Gaius Obaseki were never the best of friends.

The present Oba Erediauwa witnessed the rule of the army, formation of political parties several times over since he ascended the throne in 1979. Although, it would seem he is insulated from partisan politics not many would accept this as a solution to the numerous political and party problems that confront the people today. He welcomes and blesses all aspirants that call on him. Even then the tone and length of his prayers are misinterpreted in varied partisan ways. But the Oba usually put his foot down never to be intimidated.

Erediauwa N'Oba had used his kingly office to influence the welfare and the fortunes of his people. He is an unmoving pivot around which the life of his subjects revolve. Over the years, he had discharged his responsibilities with much worldly wisdom and with dauntless courage. Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives. His refusal to succumb to the administrative tantrums to change his stance on the vague urges of the military proved that he rated the welfare of his people far above his personal sentiments or pride even more above his interest. How best, can one describe the odious ordeal of the immediate past if not governed by love and respect for his tradition and culture. Since his ascension to the ancient throne he had given effective leadership to his subjects. On his coronation day, he pledged to unite all Edo-speaking people including those in diaspora. His main focus was to re-establish the great Edo culture and tradition in line with acceptable norms of a modern society.

Soon after his ascension to the throne, he appointed Late Justice S.O. Ighodaro as the Iyase of Benin. Justice Ighodaro was the first Benin graduate and lawyer who became Minister of Justice and Attorney-General in Awolowo's Action Group government of Western Region in the First Republic. After his demise, West Erhabor though also late succeeded him as Iyase. Chief Samuel Igbe a retired Police Commissioner is the present Iyase of Benin. The Iyase according to Benin custom is the head of Eghaevho N'Ore (town chiefs). The position of an Iyase is that of the Prime Minister who is the spokesman of the Binis before the Oba. The Oba usually honours a worthy subject or citizen with the title of Iyase whenever the need arises.

Apart from the Iyase, a position that is open to all indigenes of worth, the Oba had created titles to honour some of his prominent subjects drawn from various backgrounds. Some of the titles are hereditary, some are achieved and some are pronounced to commemorate specific events in accordance with the Oba's political, or social perspectives. Only the Oba possesses the rights and privileges to create and confer titles on his subjects. The titles are certainly not for sale to non-indigenes mainly because of the traditional and cultural roles of the titles. Chiefs are selectively distributed into the palace societies of Iwebo, Ibiwe, Ihogbe, Egaevbo N'ore, Eghaevbo N'ogbe. The seven king makers - Uzamas, include the Edaiken - the heir apparent. Their titles are also hereditary. There are also the dukes-direct blood relations of the Oba who preside over their dukedoms. These titles are hereditary too. Some of the traditional deity priests who take care of state shrines across the kingdom also enjoy hereditary roles. The Oba definitely sits over a complex machinery of state that makes him political, spiritual and social leader of his people. Without the Oba, the machinery of state grinds to a halt. You can never banish, exile or dethrone an Oba of Benin. When an Oba joins his ancestors who are also presumed to be a part of the machinery of state, his oldest son - Edaiken (heir apparent) steps in and continues from where his father stopped.

When he was crowned as the 38th Oba of Benin, Erediauwa was just about 56 years old. Today he is 80, still waxing strong, alert and sensitive to issues that affect his kingdom. His mind is sound, never entangled in the briars of detail. All through his reign, he had demonstrated inflexible integrity, regal mannerisms that tie him to the souls of the ordinary folks. Oba gha to Okepre Ise!

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