lBy Dele Agekameh (11-07-2006)
For almost a year, the rumours poured in intermittently, albeit, in hushed tones and coded banters that the uninitiated will hardly decipher. Various allusions were also made to describe the eternal transition of the revered Oba of Benin Kingdom and head of the respected Eweka dynasty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa I. But all these speculations remained hollow rumour until the traditional and official announcement of the royal transition of the Oba was made in Benin last Friday.
In July last year when a prominent Southwest monarch joined his ancestors, modernity had a head-on collision with tradition, as the social media came alive with report of the demise of the monarch. His transition was initially vehemently denied by the Traditional Council, but they could not hold on for too long before they buckled in the face of ceaseless media scrutiny. In short, modernity triumphed over tradition, or so it seemed.
Now, in the case of the departed Oba of Benin, though the serial rumours of the imperial monarch’s transition started gaining currency about a year ago, perhaps, for fear of untoward repercussion, nobody, not even the ubiquitous social media, could dare announce the transition until the news was officially broken. In this particular case, the strong and undiluted tradition of Benin Kingdom won.
The possible transition of the revered Benin monarch became manifest during the build-up to the last presidential election when Oba Erediauwa was not on hand to receive one of the presidential candidates who was on a tour of Edo State. Some people made political capital out of the issue until the Benin Royal Palace explained that the Benin Monarch was only “indisposed”. But if the Royal Palace thought that that will lay the matter to rest, they were mistaken. Rather than die, the speculations were soon reinforced by the upsurge of what looks like “traditional rebellion” or “coup” in some restive sections of the Benin Kingdom.
Things came to a boiling point when a certain section of the city was delineated along primordial lines and one Chief Richard Arisco Osemwingie was “coronated” as “His Royal Majesty, Ogiamen of Utantan, Benin Nation. Stung by this calculated affront of the creation of an alternate “Oba of Benin”, on September 9, 2015, the duo of Arisco Osemwingie and his brother, Patrick Osabuohien, were arraigned before a Chief Magistrate court for conspiring to commit an unlawful coronation. The case is still ongoing.
The rumours also became rabid at the same period the Benin Traditional Council became uncomfortable with the growing antics of the Elawure of Usen, who the Benin Palace accused of arrogating to himself certain traditional powers and nomenclature and claiming independence of the Royal Palace in Benin City.
The internal rumbles on the traditional turf were not helped by the gradual eclipse of the oft visible and ascerbic spokesman of the Benin Royal Palace, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, the Isekhure of Benin Kingdom, who many came to know as the “conscience” of the royal governance, as he suddenly took a dive in his visibility and commentaries on traditional or state issues. The low level presence of the Isekhure in recent times is seen as a tactical withdrawal action designed to prepare him for the tenure of the incoming Oba of Benin. But speculations are rife that the new Oba may not be well-disposed to Isekhure’s penchant for publicity and hype, some of which had allegedly either embarrassed or implicated the Palace in the past.
The late Oba Erediauwa was a crucial stabilising factor in the relative peace Edo State has been enjoying since he ascended the throne in 1979. It is imperative, therefore, to note that Oba Erediauwa left indelible footprints in the sands of time. He was at the vanguard of the prevailing peace in Edo State through the various mediatory roles he played in resolving some contentious issues that involved some high-profile politicians. One of such was his role in finding amicable solution to the misunderstanding between Chief Tony Anenih and former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu.
Another was ending the face-off between Chief Anenih and former Edo State Governor, Lucky Igbinedion. His wise counsel, advice and direction have also played a major part in the resolution of contentious state issues whether on the political or traditional turf. He was firm, assertive and always straight to the point. In fact, he was one of the strident but powerful voices that did not support the perpetuation of the dark-goggled late General, Sani Abacha’s military dictatorship.
Now that focus and attention have been placed on electing an Edo Governor of Edo South extraction, from the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, political watchers are wary of a situation where the late monarch’s advice and admonition will be totally absent because of this irreversible transition.
This is more so as it will be the first time since 1979, that an election will be conducted in Edo State without Oba Erediauwa sitting as the Oba of Benin. It is even believed that some highly-visible and politically-connected chiefs in his kitchen cabinet may take advantage of his absence and assert their own relevance in the face of the perceived incoming Oba’s little knowledge of the state’s power matrix and the proximity of the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State.
Another factor that will play a prime role is the alleged political configuration that is being forged by Governor Adams Oshiomhole to anoint a successor who will take over from him on November 12, 2016. The anticipated beneficiary of the alleged faux pas, Godwin Obaseki, is a scion of the Obaseki family of Benin City, whose great-grand father, Agho, was said to have connived with the white colonialists to depose his bosom friend, Oba Ovonranmwen, after the Benin Massacre of 1897. Agho was believed to have some self-interest in taking over the Benin kingship with the assistance of the new colonial masters.
In the run-up to the present hustling towards the September 10, 2016 Edo governorship election, some of the palace chiefs have been allegedly fingered as aiding the election dreams of the governor’s man who is believed to be one that the core Royal Family members will not touch, even with a kilometre-long pole! But observers are of the view that the departed and well-beloved monarch tacitly supported the election and re-election of Oshiomhole and also extended his royal blessings to the governor’s urban renewal programme-especially in the state capital.
Therefore, it is a matter of conjecture for one to specifically project an enduring position of the Royal Palace (especially the Royal Family) with respect to its support or otherwise, for the candidacy of Obaseki, who is a known protégé of Oshiomhole. If invariably the late monarch’s siblings are united against the installation of Godwin Obaseki as the Governor of Edo State, they will be towing a line of action that many pundits would have loved to witness if Oba Erediauwa was still alive.
Born on June 22, 1923 as Solomon Aiseokhuoba Igbinoghodua Akenzua, the late Oba was the 38th Oba of Benin. He attended Government College, Ibadan (1939 to 1945); Yaba College and then proceeded to King’s College, Cambridge, UK, where he studied Law and Administration. In 1957, he joined the Eastern Nigeria Civil Service as a District Officer before moving to the Federal Civil Service where he retired as a Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health in 1973.
He had a stint as the Regional Representative of Gulf Oil before he was appointed as the Bendel State Commissioner for Finance, in 1975. By the time he was crowned the Oba of Benin on March 23, 1979, he was a seasoned administrator, whose experience over the years, eventually contributed immensely to his successful monarchical reign. May his soul rest in peace!