•‘Former colonialists must pay for stolen artefacts
By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
The ancient city of Benin Kingdom has been agog with the celebration of the centenary of Ovonranwen N’Ogbaisi, who was the Oba of Benin between 1888-1897. The Oba was a resilient fighter who fought the British when they invaded the kingdom. In 1914, he was exiled to Calabar with his two wives where he died.
Ovonranwen’s kingship is adored by Binis. It is not surprising therefore that the people of the kingdom decided to celebrate his centenary. The Solomon Edebiri Foundation with the authority of the Oba of Erediauwa organized a week-long celebration to celebrate the centenary. Royal fathers from Benin Kingdom, Cross River and Delta States were in Benin City to witness the celebration.
The Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe, who kicked off the celebration, harped on the need for the British to pay reparation for stolen artifacts in Benin Kingdom. He reiterated the determination of the people of the kingdom to use all legal means to get the British to atone for the theft. Organizer of the programme, Chief Solomon Edebiri, who also is the Ikuobasenweye of Benin Kingdom, said the celebration was aimed at renewing certain aspects of the historical and cultural heritage of the kingdom, adding that the event would also place “ the Benin Kingdom on the world map again because this is one of the greatest kingdoms and we must always remind the world of our contributions”.
Edebiri went on: “Oba Ovonranwen centenary is all about celebration. Celebrating sacrifice, celebrating patriotism, celebrating a man who gave it all for the kingdom he believed in. Celebrating a man who sacrificed to protect the institution he believed in. Celebrating a man who did everything to protect the institution he believed in. Celebrating a man who did not care about himself but the future of the institution he believed in.I am sure that you know that until Ovonranwen’s exit from the Benin Kingdom, he was the authority in Benin land.
The invasion of the British with the resistance of Oba Ovonranwen led to the British invasion in a volatile manner, over powered Ovonranwe, took him to Calabar and jailed him and later sent him on exile where he lived for 17 years before he joined his ancestors. His patriotic disposition to the Benin nation is touching. I have discovered that the Benis have relationships all over the world. I decided to celebrate his centenary not just as a patriotic Benin son, but because of the love for the tradition and culture of the great Benin Kingdom. I took it upon myself to the admiration of the world and I am glad the programme went on perfectly well”.
He further explained: “We have collaborative arrangement with the Benin Traditional Council with the authority of the Oba of Benin. We don’t have financial support from government. I did what I did in honour of his Majesty and my commitment to the Benin nation. So whatever I spent, whatever I give, I give glory to God for it. We are building a monument which will be turned into a tourist center with the Oba Ovonranwen statue.
We intend to make it a tourist center so that people can go there and read about Oba Ovonranwen”. On how they intend to recover the stolen artifacts, Edebiri said” “We are identifying the agencies and once we identify them we will write to them and start extensive search for the artefacts and that project will be Operation Return Our Looted Artefacts.
One thing that is sure is that we will write the British government, we will demand apology for the inhumanity they meted on the Benin nation. They must apologise to the Benis and, until we get that apology, we will not stop asking for it. They must also pay compensation to the kingdom on what they did to us.
“The Oba is extremely happy that his great grandfather is being recognized. You will remember that Oba Ovonranwen is the father of Aiguobasinmi, Aiguobasinmi gave birth to Oba Akenzua and Akenzua gave birth to Erediauwa. So Ovonranwen is the great grandfather of Oba Erediauwa”.
Also speaking at the occasion, Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin, Prof. Osayuki Oshodin, called on various ethnic groups in Nigeria to use the centenary celebration of Oba Ovonramwen to unite the nation. Oshodin expressed joy that Nigeria’s centenary coincided with that of Oba Ovonramwen, and stressed the need to end bloodshed and actions capable of destabilizing the nation.
The VC, who was represented by Prof. Edosa Omozuwa, noted that there will surely be disagreement among ethnic groups but that Nigerians should reflect on the events that led to the amalgamation and how people like Oba Ovonramwen exhibited bravery while battling the British. Also speaking at the colloquium, Prof. Muhktar Burka, a professor of history in Usman Danfodio University, commended the Binis for sticking to their culture and tradition, expressing regret that most Nigerians have abandoned their cultures and traditions for foreign ones.He advised that the Oba Ovonramwen centenary celebration should not just be seen as a mere celebration, saying “if we look at it as a mere celebration, then we are falling in the pit of history”.