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BENIN KINGDOM: How a new Oba will emerge

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South & Simon Ebegbulem 

 According to Benin tradition, the Oba never dies, he only joins his ancestors or he transits.

Nobody announces his burial because he did not die in the first instance. What is announced after an interlude is coronation, which usually lasts  3-4 months.

Breaking of white chalks

During this period, the custom prohibits social engagements like burial ceremonies while markets are shut. The Esogban of Benin Kingdom breaks white chalks in front of markets  to signal the closure of markets for a period, but no open announcement.

All male Bini sons are required to shave their heads in respect of the Oba. The burial arrangements are not public, so many, except a privileged class, do not know his resting place.

Pilgrimage to Uselu

Immediately the Isekhure of Benin Kingdom announces the coronation programme, the crown prince proceeds to Uselu where he is the Edaiken, and where he will spend 90 days and make all necessary rituals.

After that, he will climb the traditional tree (Udianamasunamieuwa tree) and proceed to a wrestling contest at Ogiamien’s palace on Sakpoba Road. The history is that Ogiamien had never pledged allegiance to the Oba, he has always been at loggerheads with the monarch and would always want to prevent every incoming Oba from gaining access to the kingdom.

A palace source, who corroborated the narration, said, “They will begin from Egua-Edaiken, the traditional residence of the heir-apparent to the Benin throne. On a day fixed by the Edaiken, his people at Uselu will escort him on his journey back to Benin-City. On the way, he stops at an historical  palm tree named `Udin ama-mieson aimiuwa’ (translated `work before pleasure’), which the Edaiken climbs emblematically.

“This little ceremony dates back to the time of Oba Ewuare the Great whose life, as heir apparent to the throne, was characterized by long suffering which included periods when he personally had to climb palm trees on this spot to cut the fruits for a living.

Oba of Benin, HRM Omo N'oba Erediuawa
Oba of Benin, HRM Omo N’oba Erediuawa

“This act of torment by the father of the first Edaiken has ever since been re-enacted in a representational way by every Edaiken. From the palm tree, the Edaiken continues his journey to Benin-City. But at the first moat called lya-akpan, in the area where the firm of defunct Mid-Motors (Nigeria) Limited now stands, the Uselu chief in the procession, takes leave of the Edaiken and returns to Uselu,    while the Edaiken is  escorted into the city by Benin chiefs”.

The source went on: “Thereafter, the Edaiken enters the city via Iguisi (now Lagos Street) and proceeds to Eko-Ohae (bachelors’ camp) where he stays for three days. After three days at Eko-Ohae, the Edaiken continues his journey to Usama, the venue of the traditional coronation rites. Usama was the site where Orominyan, the father of Eweka I, built the first palace and all succeeding Obas from Eweka I were crowned and lived there, until Oba Ewedo in the 13th century moved the palace to the present site in the centre of the town.

“The Edaiken remains in Usama for seven days performing all the rituals and ceremonies of the Oba. Before the expiration of seven days, he visits  Use, a village  few kilometers outside Benin, where he performs the ceremony for choosing the name he will answer as the Oba of Benin”.

Interestingly, he added, “This tradition started during the period of Oba Eweka I whose maternal grand-father, Ogie-Egor, lived in the next door village of Egor. When Prince Oromiyan left Benin, he left behind his Bini wife who was pregnant in the care of her father, the Ogie of Egor. The woman delivered a male child who was dumb from birth.

“The maternal grand-father then sent him to Use, the mother’s village, for treatment, but when he grew up and still could not talk, words were sent to his father at Uhe. His father sent seven magical Akhue with which the dumb prince participated in the popular village game known as Akhue. With only one seed remaining on the ground and every player having failed to strike it, the young prince used the magical Akhue from his father and succeeded in striking down the remaining seed.

“Excited by this feat, he spoke for the first time exclaiming in Yoruba, Owomika (my hand has struck it). He later assumed this expression for a title which became corrupted to Eweka.

“Later, having picked a name at Use, the Edaiken returns to Usama where the crowning ceremony is performed by Oliha, the leader of the Uzama, and proclaims Edaiken in his newly acquired name as the Oba of Benin. It is significant to note that until the ceremony at Use, the Edaiken never knows beforehand what name he is going to be crowned with”.

Reinforcement by Oliha

Another source puts it this way, “Ogiamien poses a problem to every Edaiken. However, he is usually defeated. After that, the Edaiken advances to Uzama-Nihiron at Siluko road, where the Oliha of Benin prepares him spiritually, physically and traditionally for final ascension to the throne. That is where he gets a name. His name is changed and the new name is what he answers throughout his reign.”

Coronation

Following the fortification, he saunters to the famous Urhokpota Hall in the heart of Benin at the King Square where the formal coronation of Oba of Benin takes place.

The governor is most likely to present Crown Prince Ehenede Erediuwa with his staff of office same day. From that day, he becomes the 39thOba of Benin.

Installation rites in progress

Before the palace announced the passage of the monarch, on Friday, the crown prince , was formally installed in March as the Edaiken of Uselu after the successful completion of  traditional rites.

Erediauwa’s political sagacity and controversies

OMON N’OBA  Erediauwa, the immediate past Oba of Benin whose passage was announced on Friday, was not a politician but his words were law in Benin Kingdom, which has five local government areas. He also enjoyed tremendous respect and exercised power within and outside the state.

In March 2004, when crisis erupted between the then Governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Ozor Kalu, and a former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, it looked so intractable as powers-that-be within the party mediated to no avail.    However, the rift came to a dramatic end with many not understanding what really happened.

Kalu’s confession

It was later  Kalu explained to journalists that, when he paid a courtesy visit to the revered monarch in company of his counterpart in Edo State at the time, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, the monarch simply told him to sheathe his sword and he had no option than to obey.

According to him, “The Oba is our father. He told me to stop the war of words and resolve the matter. Who I am when our royal father has spoken? I had to stop my war with Chief Anenih, who is a respected party leader.”

Esama’s troubles with the monarch

In whispering tone, people say that a message from the palace gave victory to the defunct SDP governorship candidate, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, now the national chair of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who contested the governorship election  against Lucky Igbinedion, son of the Esama of Benin, then of the defunct NRC, in 1992.

Following the controversy that trailed that election and the assumed support the monarch gave to  Oyegun, the Oba got a subpoena to appear at the Edo State Election Petition Tribunal to the chagrin of the Binis. The royal father trekked to the tribunal to give evidence and that incensed the Binis, who stormed the streets in protest.

Years later, precisely in 2008, the palace declared the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, later accused of parading himself as a monarch, as Oghionba (enemy of the Oba). The palace suspended Igbinedion from attending palace functions. Five other palace chiefs came under the hammer for their alleged insubordination to the Oba of Benin. They were accused  of giving royal beads to King Zulu and performing the Igue festival about the same time the Oba was performing the festival.

It took the intervention of prominent Edo sons like Rev. Father Theophilus Uwaifo and  Sir Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), to quench the fire. They took the Esama to the palace on his 70th  birthday to beg the Oba.

Onyearugbulem’s interruption

The then military administrator of the state, the late Navy CaptianAnthony Onyearugbulem, suspended the monarch as chair of the Edo State Traditional Rulers Council, in 1998, for alleged partisanship in endorsing an APP governorship candidate. At a stage, some traditional priests in the Benin Kingdom threatened to launch spiritual warfare against Onyearugbulem’s administration if he failed to apologize to the Oba of Benin.

The administration tried to make the chair of the Council of Obas  rotational.  Erediauwa resisted. Onyearugbulem later apologized before the military authorities eventually removed him as Edo administrator.

Prayer for Oshimohole

In 2007, the Oba of Benin, who heard the cries of his people for change in the governance of the state, threw his weight behind the entry of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole into the politics of the state. In fact, his tacit support enabled Oshiomhole to carry out his urban renewal programme in Benin-City.

For instance, before the construction of the Airport Road into six lanes, the design required the demolition of part of the palace walls. When the Oba knew, he told the governor: “I will not be a hindrance to your urban renewal programme in Benin City, if it means destroying part of my palace to construct the road, go on and destroy it; we want development in Benin Kingdom”.

Unknown to the Oba, Oshiomhole betrayed his emotions when he left the palace that same day. He was overwhelmed with the humility and the progressive nature of the Oba, particularly when the opposition PDP created the impression that the governor, from Edo North, wanted to destroy the Benin cultural heritage. He wept and echoed, “God bless the Oba”.

Furthermore, in 2012, during the campaigns for the re-election of Oshiomhole, the Oba did not hide his preference for the former labour leader and, in Benin Kingdom, the Enigies watch his body movement and flow with it.

*Oba of Benin
*Oba of Benin

Indeed, when  Oshiomhole visited the Oba in 2012 to inform him of his plans to run for a second term in office, the Oba directed the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe, to pray for him. From the prayers, said in native Benin language, the Iyase was not hitting the point, as the Oba had wanted; the monarch interjected and urged him to pray the kind of prayer a father will pray for his son, adding that he should pray special prayers for Oshiomhole.

After Iyase’s prayers, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, took over and prayed to the admiration of the Oba. Esogban declared that the oracle had spoken and

whoever wanted to doubt the oracle should wait for the consequence. The tactical support of the palace and the people of Edo gave Oshiomhole victory in the entire 18 local government areas of the state in the election.

Apparently because of the love the Oba had for Oshiomhole, he openly shunned the PDP delegation, led by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2011, when Jonathan visited Edo for his presidential campaign. On that occasion, after waiting for half an hour, only Jonathan was ushered into the inner chambers of the Oba where he met with the royal father for about 10 minutes.

Anenih, Ogiemnwonyi’s ‘baptism of fire’

Many Nigerians may be enjoying the manageable state of the Benin – Lagos Road today but do not know the pressure the late Oba of Benin piled on the Federal Government to fix the road. If there was one reason for the Oba not to stick out his neck for the PDP- led Federal Government since 1999, it was the state of that road. The Oba monitored reports and he never failed to express his disgust at the number of lives lost on that road on  daily basis.

He had cause to summon Ministers of Works such as Anenih and Engr. Chris Ogiemnwonyi, who are indigenes of the state, over the state of the road.

A happy day

Sunday, June 22, 2014 was a very remarkable day in Benin Kingdom. That day the agitation by Oba Erediauwa for the return of the stolen Benin artifacts by the British in 1897 paid off. Oba Erediauwa received two precious bronze artifacts looted by the British during the invasion of Benin Kingdom from Dr Andre Walker.

Walker is the great grandson of Captain Philip Walker, one of the soldiers, who invaded Benin Kingdom in 1897 and carted away their precious artifacts. The Briton said he decided to return the artifacts because he felt the British unfairly treated the Binis.

Air of mystery

The Esogban, also known as the Odionwere of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, in this interview, first published in the Niger Delta Voice, a Vanguard pullout , sheds light on the mystic surrounding the Oba of Benin.

Commander-in-chief

Nothing much has changed as in the olden days, the Oba rules through the chiefs and he puts the chiefs in compartments. What the man in compartment A is doing, the man in compartment B will not know.

Yes, the Oba was the generalissimo of the Benin army before now, but rarely does he go to war, not as people think, he had his own generals. There was no standing army as we now have that must be camped. No, what we use to do was that if there is any reason to execute any war, the Oba calls on the generals, send people to them that a particular area has falling out of favour, and that he would want them to go to war and bring the head of the rebel to him.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the generals to execute the war. However, before that, they will send message to those rebelling, as Binis never go to war by ambushing the people. They would send a message telling the people concerned that the Oba is not happy with the ruler of that area because they are rebelling. If those people want peace, they will send message back with white cloth and when you see them, you will know that they want peace.

When war becomes unavoidable

There was high level of diplomacy then. This diplomacy helped to avert many wars. Therefore, when that fails and it had to be a conventional war, the general the Oba has appointed for that particular war leads  under the Iyase of Benin.

Iyase was the equivalent of what we now call the Chief of Army Staff. Then the Iyase will direct the operation, Iyase himself does not go to war, but he directs the operation. If it becomes necessary that the Iyase will go to war, then you will know that the Binis want to get rid of him because if he goes to war, win or lose, he will not come back to the city.

God on earth

If it is a wrong notion,  I am one of those who will be guilty of it because apart from God Almighty who one does not see, the next person we regard as God is the Oba of Benin, who is the representative of God here on earth.

That is what every Benin man believes. We say that because something that has existed more than 1,000 years in a single dynasty, what else do you think that people will say about such an institution? I can speak on behalf of the Benin people being the Odionwere of the kingdom, so we the Benin people believe that God specially sent the Oba to represent him here on earth and that is what makes him out of the ordinary.

They refer to him in all the titles like Obayangbon, Obaotuagbon and others. In all our daily activities, we always bring the Oba into it. For example, if a boy grows up to manhood, we say he is Okpi Oba (Oba’s man). If she is a woman, we say Okwo Oba. To tell you how we revere the monarch, in our general salutation, if I am going to greet you in the morning, I will say Obaowie, Obavan and Obaota.    I am only just saying good morning, good afternoon, good evening, it is just to tell you that all these greetings are tied to the Oba,    that is why I say Obaowie, Obavan and Obato. So nothing has really changed despite the incursion of modern civilization”.

Why we worship our monarch

Jesus Christ belongs to the Jewish race, he was born a Jew and they have a way of paying respect to their kings. When Jesus Christ was doing what he was doing in the Middle East, there was a complete different civilization down here, where the only figure we recognize is the Oba. So if it is the belief of Christians that only Jesus is Lord, I agree because I am a Christian, but that is not to say that our own ethnic Lord is not.

You know that this is the era of Christianity, nevertheless in the next 1000 years; nobody knows what will be in place, but our own tradition has been there. Even when the Roman Empire was the only empire in the whole world, the Benin Empire was already thriving here. So we do not dispute what the Christians are saying, we do not dispute what the Muslims are saying regarding Mohammed as their spiritual father. We are saying that the Oba of Benin is the spiritual leader of the Benin race.

Erediauwa groomed a powerful successor Dein of Agbor

THE Dein of Agbor Kingdom in Delta State, Benjamin Ikenchukwu Keagborekuzi, believes the departed Benin monarch, Oba Erediauwa, prepared a worthy successor before joining his ancestors.

Keagborekuzi stated this in an interview with Sunday Vanguard.

His words:  “The crown prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ehenede Erediauwa, is somebody I have known when I was quite young. He is going through his traditional ceremonial initiation, of course, just like the Agbor Kingdom.”

“You know Benin kingdom and Agbor kingdom have a lot in common, we are direct blood brothers, the ceremonies and initiations are very private and secret to the people of Benin. When the people of Benin have finished with that, when the palace has finished, they will come out to let the world know this is our king.

“He (Crown Prince) is very capable man, very intelligent man, he is a two or three-time international diplomat, very well traveled and he is somebody that I know personally and the former Oba of Benin, his father was very fond of him. His father did everything that he could to prepare him for this position.

Like father, like son

“He is not a walkover; nobody will be able to push him around just as nobody pushed his father around. Benin people have a very strong coming king. I can only ask the people once again, just like anybody who has just entered a new situation to be patient and give him encouragement.

“He will make his mistakes, he is not God, and none of us that are monarchs is God.    In people’s eyes, we are certainly next to God because God has chosen us to take on this responsibility of leading our people, but none of us is infallible, only God is infallible.

Oba Erediauwa, a majestic elemental spirit –  Hon Patrick Obahiagbon, aka Igododmigodo

Chief of Staff  to the Edo State Government and a grandson of Igodomigido, who emblematized the Benin Kingdom when he was in the House of Representatives, Hon Patrick Obahiagbon, aka Igodomigodo, spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the passage of Oba Erediauwa. 

How do you describe his exit?

You cannot gloss over the fact that Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa,Oba of Benin, was a man of impeccable and unimpeachable integrity with the resilience of a royal salamander.

In him, you find a coruscating display of that apothegm which holds that noblesse oblige. The sui generis quintessential quality of his came under bold relief, especially during the locust and Philistine years of the military militocracy.

He was practically the only triton among the minnows of royal hierarchs that resisted and stood up to the military rascality and apacheism that characterized the Abacha era. He stood at all times with the people eyeballing political and military demagogues and damning their treacherous hooey and blarneys. It will not be erroneous and superfluous, therefore, to pontificate that his integrity was altruistically integrious if you permit me that neologism.

A man steeped in tradition

Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa, Oba of Benin was a cornucopious emblematization of the rich heritage of the Benin culture, both in his modus vivendi and modus operandi. He left no one in doubt that he was the spiritual and traditional agglutinating anodyne that offers a centripetal canopy for the Benin ethnic nationality into one harmonious and synchronized armada.

Of particular interest to me was how he was able to bring this about, especially against the backdrop of modernism and attenuating cum corrosive forces of religious petulancy and perfervidism. It is in his cosmopolitan and cerebral mien that is situated the Aladdin’s lamp that gave him the enablement in striking a delicate equipoise and hence at a meeting of the ‘Benin Anglican Dioscesan Synod on June 3, 1980, the revered monarch posited thus …. “The conflict between traditional religion and Christian religion is not supported by scriptural teaching, but must Christian religion condemn and push out the traditional? Must traditional worship and Christian worship not be seen as complimentary”?

Such was his philosophical zest, intellectual cosmopolitanism, sangfroid predilection and well-honed skills in high-wired diplomacy, which placed him in good stead, especially at feisty moments.

Cerebral alertness and universal personality

One of the qualities even a casual visitor that came before the royal presence of Omo N’Oba, Oba of Benin cannot fail to recognize was his lavish avuncular affection towards all his visitors. He was always ready to make you feel at home, irrespective of real or imagined social stratification.

He was at his best crystallizing a rare display of Solomonic wisdom and regal mannerisms in regaling his numerous visitors with anecdotes interspersed with didactic witticisms   and it was at such privileged moments you also had the opportunity to admire his intellectual alertness and global persona.

 


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