A month before Comrade Adams Oshiomhole stepped aside as Governor of Edo State, the Ishan section of the state otherwise known as Esan Land, exploded into turmoil following the deposition of the Onojie of Uromi, His Royal Highness Anselm Aidenojie 11, traditional ruler of the Uromi Kingdom.
This came after the then Governor Oshiomhole had issued a month suspension to the Onojie, which was later reversed to one year prior to the deposition.
The decision to depose the Ojuromi of Uromi was, according to a government statement, in pursuant to Section 28 (i & ii) of the Traditional Rulers & Chiefs Law, 1979 and not the subject of an earlier letter dated November 4, 2016 titled: “Re: Letter of Apology to Edo State Government.”
The state government had earlier suspended the Onojie for seven days with a condition to apologise to a woman, Mrs Betty Okoebor, who had accused the traditional ruler of physical abuse. The letter took effect from October 26 and lasted till November 1.
The suspension from office was said to be based on the following reasons, among others:
*“Your unprovoked attack, inflicting grievous bodily harm on one Mrs Betty Okoebor on September 28, 2016 in full public glare to the embarrassment of those present and causing disgrace to your otherwise esteemed office.
*“Your refusal, even after two weeks, to respond to a query issued by the appropriate authority within the stipulated 72 hours, demonstrating total disregard and disrespect for constituted authority.
*“Travelling outside the country without appropriate permission in further demonstration of your disregard for extant regulations and laws.”
The genesis of the crisis
The crisis was traced to a misunderstanding which erupted a couple of month ago, when His Royal Highness refuted, through a statement, claims attributed to him in the media that he had expressed distrust in the Edo State governorship aspirant of Peoples Democratic Party, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, due to the party’s track record of under-development in Esan community.
According to the statement: “Let it be noted that the Onojie of Uromi had never said during the visit of Governor Adams Oshiomole and his entourage to the Palace that he does not trust Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu to be the Governor of Edo State, but rather Ize Iyamu was welcome to his palace 30 times a day if he wanted because they are personal friends.”
It added that the 29 Enijies, including the Onojie of Opoji, unanimously endorsed the candidacy of Ize Iyamu, and they still stand by that decision.
An eyewitness account
According to Mr. Festus Okoebor, who said he was present at the scene which led to the crisis said:
“We voted in Units 8 and 9 of Ward 4, Esan North East Local Government Area of Edo State on that fateful day. Both booths are at the same location.
As someone with strong political background, I was there not just to vote but to ensure that my vote counted.
“So, while we were there casting our votes, we observed that one of the APC members being arrested with tickets alleged to have been used in making fraudulent payment; there was a lot of tension.
It was at this point that His Highness came in and said he received a call from somebody who said there were issues going on in that polling unit. Customarily, when the Onojie steps into a crisis, the people ‘sheathe their swords’ as a mark of respect.
“As an Onojie he is concerned about the safety and security of lives. However, at that polling unit, both my brother and sister were the APC agents collating their data. The Onojie went straight to my brother and placed his hand on his shoulders.
All of a sudden my sister was video- taping the conversation between His Highness and my brother Matthew Okoebor. The Onojie was infuriated by the act of insolence and knocked the phone which was being thrust at him away.
“My sister responded by insulting the Onojie. We begged His Highness to forgive her and he left the area. I was at the scene and there was no time the Onojie slapped my sister as alleged by former Governor Oshiomhole.
“After the incident, she went to plead with the Onojie for forgiveness and the royal father promptly forgave her and prayed for her right in the palace; we were all present.
“But later on, we heard that the governor suspended the Onojie because of that incident and then went ahead to depose His Highness which, to us, is a sacrilege, disrespect to traditional leadership, because the Onojie by virtue of position is not appointed but hereditary and cannot be dethroned unless by death.
“Well, we don’t know what the former governor had in mind, but the issue is not quite clear to us because we had settled this crisis like a family and don’t understand the interest of the former governor in this issue”.
But eminent sons and daughters of Esan land in Edo State were quick to describe the deposing of the Onojie of Uromi, His Royal Highness Anselm Aidenojie 11, traditional ruler of the Uromi Kingdom, as an act of “rascality taken too far.”
They have therefore called on the newly inaugurated Governor Godwin Obaseki, to toe the path of peace and re-install the king to his throne in order for peace to reign in the state.
Speaking during a solidarity visit to the palace of the Onojie, after series of solidarity protests by neighbouring communities, Senator Clifford Odia, representing Edo Central Senatorial District, said the suspension of the king is uncalled for and was taken in bad faith.
“For me, the purported removal of His Highness is very callous and was taken in bad faith. That is why we have come to appeal to Uromi people to be calm until the resolution is made,” he said.
According to him, the former governor’s action was not only an insult on the people of Esan but an attempt to desecrate the exalted throne of the Onojie as well as an attempt to cause disunity among the Esan people, wondering if the former governor will do same to his traditional ruler.
Speaking on their mission to the palace, he said: “All is not well with our people. And the time has come in the country where the people speak out their feelings and mind on the happenings.
What the former Governor has done is completely at variance to the norms. That is why we have come out in clear terms to condemn this action, because they are all politically motivated.”
On what steps he and his compatriots intend to take to resolve on the on-going crisis, Senator Odia said: “The matter is currently at the court and the decision would be taken as due, but we have not ruled out the possibility of engaging with Governor Obaseki to bring normalcy to the current crisis.
Also speaking, Elder Giwa Agbionmeireli, PDP caucus Chairman Edo Central Senatorial District, said:
“We want to show solidarity with the people of Uromi. What is happening here is a challenge to the entire people of Esan.
We cannot just stand still and watch our traditional values and institution watered down to the ground. The ulterior motive of the former Governor is to desecrate the throne and we as a people who do not only love our traditional ruler but have respect for our traditional institutions and are saying no to such show of rascality.”
On how to resolve the issues, he noted that: “The way forward is for the government to listen to the people. Since government is a continued institution, we are calling on the Governor of Edo State to sheathe its sword. We are telling them that we reject and refuse the decision taken to dethrone the Onojie. We are very angry.”
Other eminent personalities that participated in the solidarity visit were Sergius Oseasochie Ogun, representing Esan North East and South East Federal Constituency; Patrick Iluobe, Representing Esan North East Constituency 1; Ezehi M D Igbas, Representing Esan North East Constituency 11, Edo State House of Assemble as well as Friday Itulah former House of Representatives member, Senator Odion Ugbesia.
An act of God
Commending the visitors for the timely visit, Chief Okosadoh Okoh, the Eni of Uromi Kingdom, noted thus: “What has happened may be an act of God, this will help us to be more united as a people and forge ahead.”
He assured the visitors that the ancestors of Uromi Kingdom will not allow their kingdom to be desecrated, but will help to fight to restore the king back to his throne in no distant time, adding that the throne is not for sale, as the king is born and not appointed.
Benin traditional rulers are born, not appointed
Speaking, Sergius Ogun, argued thus: “In many parts of Nigeria, traditional rulers are chosen from Ruling Houses and crowned with such rulers deriving their legitimacy and powers from the Traditional Council or King Makers.
This is clearly not the case in this instance since the Ojuromi derives his legitimacy and powers from God; as our people say, the Onojie of Uromi is born and not made.
“The procedure of coronation and presentation of staff of office by the state government is more procedural than substantial because from the moment the crown prince is born his destiny has been decided since it is universally accepted that he and only he can succeed the reigning Onojie to the throne.
“The Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law of 1979 was an offshoot of the Colonial mentality which did not recognise the power of the people to choose their own rulers and encourage the attempts by the colonialists to use the Traditional Rulers as tools for indirect rule.
Any traditional ruler who refused to play ball was deposed or exiled and replaced by someone more amenable to the colonial interests.
“This worked in a lot of instances because of the succession process but it was resisted by the people then and any attempt to enforce a law hinged on the same principles will most likely suffer the same universal condemnation”.
The Edo State Gubernatorial election which took place on Wednesday 28, September 2016 may have produced a winner in the person of Mr Godwin Obeseki but it may not have come without a royal casualty.