AS the world awaits the coronation of a new Oba of Benin, in Benin City, there has been a barrage of goodwill messages from distant and near lands. Two of such empathic correspondence unveil the kind of royal diplomacy now being ushered in as a new dawn approaches in the nucleus of the former seat of a great West African empire (Kingdom), the former capital of Midwest region and capital of Bendel now Edo State in modern Nigeria.
From the records of the Benin Traditional Council (BTC), the queen of Great Britain, Her Majesty Elizabeth 11 sent her condolence message to the Crown Prince and Heir Apparent to the Benin throne, Ambassador Eheneden Erediauwa, over the transition of Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa, CFR. Oba of Benin.
Similarly, the Duke of Kent, His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, KG, GCMG, GCVO, ADC (P), a cousin of Her Majesty, the Queen, has since expressed his best wishes for the Benin kingdom in a most brotherly fashion imbued with the grandest of aristocratic solidarity. Among other kind words, Queen Elizabeth said in her terse message conveyed through the British High Commissioner to Nigeria Mr. Paul Arkwright: “…We take solace in the knowledge that his reign was peaceful, and witnessed a strengthening of the relationship and good friendship between the people of Benin Kingdom and the UK”
High profile royal events
Before now, the newer period of the Benin Kingdom had witnessed high profile royal events such as the unprecedented visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 to Benin to meet with His Royal Majesty Oba Akenzua in 1956, following that of the Earl of Plymouth who had also earlier visited Oba Akenzua in 1938.
The children and grandchildren of the District Officer in Benin City then W.B. Rumman who gave a moving outline of the coronation of Prince Aiguabasimwin (Oba Eweka 11) in 1914 would still marvel today at the sustenance of royal court rites which Oba Eweka n’Ologbe revived after the interregnum brought about by the events of 1897.
But even with the many more exchanges of messages and visitation by emissaries from the UK Royal Family and government over the years, this renewed communication in our era, is a testimony to the ascendant relations between the British Royal Family and the Benin Royal Family. It is a march of international cooperation powered by both old and contemporary royal ties.
Correctly interpreted, the royal missives now eclipse the seeming lull (even though benign) in the direct communication between the two royal families until now. Palace sources have confirmed that it is also not unrelated to His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Eheneden Erediauwa’s carefully considered relations with the UK Royal Family in the course of his diplomatic exertions as Nigeria’s ambassador first to the Kingdom of Sweden, then Angola and later Italy. As ambassador to the Kingdom of Sweden, his Mission in Stockholm had concurrent accreditation to the Nordic Kingdoms of Norway and Denmark as well as the Republic of Finland. The queen of Denmark is a cousin to the Queen of England. Crown Prince Eheneden Erediauwa had over the period as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, established a close relationship with the Duke of Kent. Diplomatic relations between Ancient Benin Civilization and the rest of the world is a tradition now being sustained since the first Europeans (Portuguese) set foot on Benin in 1485. Successive Obas such as Ewuare, Ozolua, Esigie, Orhogbua, and Ovoramwen were in contact with kings of continental and coastal Europe in the days when Benin exchanged ambassadors with Lisbon.
Like all peoples, the descendants of this great empire who are survivors of the remainder genepool depleted by the British invading forces of 1897, must continuously regenerate, recreate, be imaginative and be equipped for the challenges and realities of the 21st century within the context of a modern Nigeria. 37 years have passed since the departed Oba Erediauwa ascended the throne.
In 1979, celestial things were witnessed. And the “Big Things” only beheld once in a rare while, are here again. Now the Tiger comes back into his stronghold forest home in place of the illustrious and beloved leopard that at a destined time, had to become ill in the savannah.
Right before the watchful world, Great Benin which was a continental power centuries before the birth of Nigeria, well versed in the arts, adept in military campaigns and astute in socio-political organization, is taking an important socio-cultural step this year- the installation of a new Oba (King).
With national and global focus now on Benin, understandably, the Benin Kingdom in particular and Edo State in general have high hopes that the track record of the Crown Prince during his time in active diplomatic service, will stand in good stead in the attraction of investments, touristic benefits and sustainable growth and development to the Benin Kingdom, Edo state and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The people have waited to see the rain. Just a little more wait and there would be the rainbow. They also have a saying that deifies their king: Anyone may imitate the spirit being but can never be the spirit being. The spirit being is made from the great beyond!
To return to the “Big things” in Benin, W.B Rumman wrote then for the journal of the African Society in October 1914 thus: “…I think it speaks well for the Administration and the loyalty of the Benin chiefs to the Government that not a single untoward incident happened during the whole of the complicated and lengthy ceremonies or any disturbance amongst the people whatsoever…”
What was done then and repeated in 1933 and 1979 would also now see the global audience regaled in 2016
- Oghogho Arthur Obayuwana, is Former Foreign Affairs Editor of the Guardian, now Chief of Party Centre for Ethics & Values and Civic Nigerian blog. He is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja and a member of the publicity sub-committee of the Coronation Planning Committee 2016.