BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
It came as a shock to every one, particularly indigenes of the great Benin Kingdom. That a son of the soil would have the audacity to violate the sanctity of the royal family. It happened weekend at Uwa, Benin City, when the son of the revered Benin monarch and the Caretaker Chairman of Oredo Local Government Council of Edo state, Prince Ekpen Erediauwa, was allegedly beaten up by the Chairman of the Edo State Task Force on Petroleum Monitoring Committee, Comrade Osakpanwa Eriyo, following a disagreement on the sharing of revenue collected from traders in the council. Since the incident happened Saturday, there has been unease in the ancient city.
The abominable act Vanguard Metro learnt, occurred when leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Oredo Local Government Council, met to discuss last Monday’s scheduled rally of the party and also how to strategize ahead of the forthcoming April elections. Trouble was said to have started after the Council boss, Prince Erediauwa stood up to take his leave as the meeting was about coming to an end. Osakpanwa was said to have stood up and urged the party leaders to get the Prince to discuss the issue of revenue in the council. It was said that the leaders of the party at the meeting reminded Osakpanwa that the issue he raised was not the reason why they scheduled the meeting and that he should look for another time to raise the it with the Prince.
As tempers rose, the Prince was said to have warned Eriyo to stop threatening him, saying he would no longer tolerate further insults from the ACN youth leader. Eriyo became incensed and was said to have grabbed the Prince, pushed him against the wall, tearing his cloth in the process. The Prince managed to find his way outside with his two aides but unfortunately, met some boys loyal to Eriyo outside. He was further assaulted before he managed to escape from the scene. As this was going on, leaders of the ACN at the meeting took to their heels. Mr Jim Adun, a close aide to the Council boss, who witnessed the incident, described it as “barbaric“.
Osakpanwa who doubles as the Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Employees (NURTE) and also the State Youth Leader of the ACN in the state, has been the one in charge of collecting revenue from motor parks and traders in the council. Observers of the politics of the state would know that such position is always given to persons who are considered fearless and ready to assist the party in government during elections.
During the reign of Governor Lucky Igbinedion, Chief Osamede Adun (alias Bob Izua) enjoyed that privilege for eight years. He was the untouchable then. He was there till Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor became Governor. But things changed when the ACN government led by Adams Oshiomhole came to power. That position was given to Mr Osakpanwan Eriyo. He dethroned Bob Izua and became the untouchable. Each time these people move around, they move with truck loads of boys and policemen.
They are regarded as untouchables because each time any of their boys commits an offence the person is released immediately and in most cases the complainant becomes the accused. Any body who failed to pay the levies in the markets knows the consequences. Their space will be given to somebody else immediately, in some cases, after receiving the beating of their lives from these boys. While this ugly act thrives, the Local Government Councils which are saddled with the responsibility of collecting such revenues by the constitution are pauperized on the excuse that it was a compensation for those who worked for the party during the election.
Several petty traders have been humiliated by these boys and it was as a result of such treatments that the people of the state, particularly market women, went round the streets rejoicing when Governor Oshiomhole announced the stoppage of the collection of illegal levies. Though these levies are collected but they go to the pockets of one individual rather than that of the Council. But as it seems, Prince Erediauwa, decided to take the bull by the horns and declared that enough was enough.
The revered Benin monarch, Oba Erediauwa, who was obviously angry with the development, sent out his Chiefs Monday to place a curse on Osakpanwa after describing his action as a taboo in Benin Kingdom. There was tension when thousands of youths dressed in red attire, market women and royal family members, protested round Benin City, demanding the banishment of Mr Eriyo from the Kingdom, explaining that assaulting a Prince of the Kingdom was sacrilegious, therefore capital punishment should be meted out to him. In a swift reaction, the state government, in a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Peter Okhiria, announced the suspension of Mr Eriyo as Chairman of the Anti-Pipeline Vandalization Committee, adding also that “all contracts in respect to revenue collection in Oredo Local Government Area are also hereby suspended”. Also, the State Chairman of the ACN, Mr Thomas Okosun, announced the suspension of Eriyo, from the party, asserting that “we are a disciplined party and we cannot tolerate such thuggery against the royal family. I heard what the PDP is saying but if it were the PDP they would not have suspended him but we are doing it as a disciplined party; so they should shut up and wait for us in the elections”.
The Oba’s chiefs, led by the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, Obasogie of Benin Kingdom, Chief Eduwor Ekhator and the entire palace Chiefs, went round the city, with pots of charms to place the curse on Osakpanwa after he was declared an enemy of the Oba. A statement signed by the Chairman, Peace and Conflict Resolution in the Oba’s Palace, Chief Eduwor Ekhator, declared that: “No one can demystify the monarchical value of the Benin Royal Palace of the Oba. Attempt by any person or persons to destroy the long existing peace and unity of the Benin will be checked with rebuked condemnation. The attempt on the Benin Prince was a demonstration of recklessness and lack of respect for a constituted authority. It is highly provocative, sacrilegious and unacceptable and thereby deserves total condemnation by every Edo son and daughter both at home and in the Diaspora. However, the palace of the Oba advises all sympathizers to obey the rule of law”.
Ordeal of a Prince
Narrating his ordeal to newsmen, Prince Erediauwa stated: “We were discussing a party matter, but while we were doing that, Osakpanwa raised the issue of revenue in the council, but he was informed by the leaders that it was not why they called the meeting. He started threatening that he will kill me and two other guys with me. I now got up and told him that he cannot threaten my life and this was what he has been doing for over three months now. He got angry and attacked me, I managed to leave the hall, but not knowing that he has some boys, including his brother outside the hall. They attacked me, collected my wrist watch; his brother hit my head on a rock, packed sand from the gutter and poured it on my head. And before I knew what was happening , six buses loaded with thugs came but I managed to leave there alive”.
However, Mr Eriyo, who spoke to newsmen, denied assaulting the Prince, agreeing that no man in his right sense in Benin Kingdom would have done that. Meanwhile, the Benin Political Coalition led by the former Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Rowland Owie, the Edo State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), led by its chairman, Comrade Agbons Uyigue, condemned the treatment meted to Prince Erediauwa and urged the police to investigate the matter and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book. According to Senator Owie: “What has happened in the Benin Kingdom is an abomination, particularly not only that Erediauwa is a Prince of Palace, the bead on his neck were cut. It is an abomination, it is condemnable and it is against the tradition of the Binis. In the olden days, before the White man came, that very action attracted instant death. This is all we have all been saying; the cabal that held this very kingdom to ransom, feel that all they can do is to rubbish and bring down the monarchy which is the only pride the Benin man has today. These are some of their agents at work. But it is very clear that by the grace of God and our ancestors, those that did not mean well for this Kingdom shall not survive in Jesus name”.
On his part, the Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), in Oredo Local Government, Comrade Agbons Uyigue, narrated thus: “Since the inception of Prince Ekpen Erediauwa as Chairman he has shown without any form of ambiguity that he is willing to rescue this council. We strongly stated to him about paucity of funds in the council, while we are supposed to be making money through our IGR.
“We did advise on the need to review the IGR profile of this council. And during the review it was discovered that the council is being robbed. And it was discovered that the immediate past administration before the coming of Prince Erediauwa did a whole lot of disservice to this council by giving out the contact for the collection of revenue to Osakpanwan Eriyo.
“Statistics has shown that the money being paid by Osakpanwan is a far cry from what is accruable in the revenue book. We believe that he ought to have come to negotiate with the council rather than embarrassing the chairman outside. Since his coming we knew that the council is on the way to redemption. Osakpanwan should apologise to the staff of this council”.
Asked how much Eriyo remits to the council and what he makes, Uyigue said: “Let us take Ring Road for exampl; we have about 18 routes in Ring Road alone. And for that 18 routes, Osakpanwan is paying the Council N800,000 every month. And from statistics available, we believe that the council can get over N20million every month from those motor parks. With out mincing words, the council is being robbed seriously by the operations of Osakpanwa Eriyo. He makes about N18 million monthly just from the park from Ring Road to Ugbowo. And we have about 18 routes; it means he makes about N324 million monthly. And we are saying that for him to be paying the council N2 million for all the public motor parks in this council is daylight robbery. And we are appealing to the Governor to investigate all these shenanigans and the entire workers of this council is very willing to appease the committee in its assignment. Successive administrations before Prince Ekpen came, connived with people of questionable character to defraud the council. Prince Erediauwa has made it a duty to save this council from further slavery and that is why he is being prosecuted today”.
Murder on Tuesday
The tension arising from the attack on the royal family heightened Tuesday after four persons, including a Benin Prince, were shot along Lagos Street, when armed men stormed the residence of the Arala of Benin Kingdom, Chief SD Omalayan Osula.
Two of the victims, Rapheal Oke and Osamuyi Obaze, died on the spot, while Prince Ebo Eweka, grandson of Princess Eweka of Benin Kingdom and one yet-to-be identified person, are in critical condition at the hospital. Chief Arala Osula was to allege that the incident occurred when the suspended Chairman of the Task Force Committee on the Protection of Pipeline Vandalization, Mr Osakpanwan Eriyo stormed his residence with armed men, asking him to urge his children to stay away from the problem he had with the palace.
But another account of the incident has it that the shooting occurred when Mr Eriyo allegedly defied the government’s suspension order on revenue collection and asked his boys to go and collect levy from the market in Lagos Street . But it was said that the attempt by his boys to collect the levy from the traders was resisted by Ogbe boys who are in solidarity with the palace over the assault on the Prince.It was learnt that the two groups engaged in a gun battle which eventually led to loss of lives.
However, Chief Osula in his own account of the incident narrated thus: “The terrorist group decided to carry the fight to my house, Osakpanwa came this morning. He said he came to me to protest that my children went to join Prince Ekpen to fight him. But before we knew what was happening, his boys started shooting and two people were killed at the spot. This is terrorism in practice in Edo . We are waiting for the Governor to come and talk to us before we know what to do. I have just called my sister who is in the Action Congress to tell her what their youth leader is doing. As I am talking to you, another Prince was shot and in the hospital now. This is unacceptable to us he must pay for his sins”.
Reacting swiftly, Governor Oshiomhole, condemned in very strong terms the killing of two persons by suspected thugs in Benin City. In a statement by his Chief press Secretary, Mr Peter Okhiria, the Governor said: “I condemn in very strong termsthe reported killing of two young men and hospitilisation of another by suspected thugs in Benin City . To this effect, I have directed the Commissioner of Police to fish out all those involved in this dastardly act and prosecute them accordingly as a deterrence to others.
“Also, the Police have been directed to commence full scale investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the incident with a view to nipping such in the bud in future. Government will not tolerate the resort to violence by anyone, no matter how highly placed, as government is ready and willing to bring the full weight of the law to bear on anyone caught fomenting trouble in any part of the state”.