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Inside Oba Ewuare’s reforms: The rules that must be obeyed

…BENIN MONARCH ONE YEAR AFTER

SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY

When Oba Ewuare 11 ascended the throne on October 20, 2016, the people of Benin Kingdom, particularly those familiar with the history of Oba Ewuare 1, knew that great things were coming the way of the kingdom.

Oba Ewuare

One year after, his achievements are better appreciated when you recall the activities of Oba Ewuare 1, one of the greatest kings of the kingdom. History has it that Ewuare N’Ogidigan (1440-1473) planted the first Emotan tree and conquered 201 towns and villages and expanded Benin Kingdom. He was said to have restructured Edo governance.

Reforms

Like his forebear, on the day Oba Ewuare 11 ascended the throne, his first public statement hammered on reforms, abolition of Community Development Associations (CDAs), setting up a Foundation that will help deepen Benin language and culture, establishment of an Export Processing Zone in Gelegele and setting up a special market for the poor. He had said, “We shall strive to ensure that conflicts are resolved between individuals, families and communities along the principles of social justice.

We shall use cultural diplomacy as a veritable tool for the promotion of harmonious relationship with our neighbours far and near. I also strongly advise my Benin people, we should strive to maintain our culture, especially our language by insisting on its use in communicating with our children and each other.

You will agree with me that the Benin empire, which encompass part of Lagos, across to Asaba, even then Darhome, has now reduced to one state. To survive, it is imperative that we should maintain our culture which is now the only unifying force for our people. Our culture and tradition remains the grand main factor that the entire country and the international community respect us for. I appeal to our Benin people to uphold and respect our traditional institution at all times. I implore government to also include Edo language and Benin history in our schools curriculum.

We shall forge links with other traditional institutions here in Nigeria, Africa and beyond. We shall also support efforts to build partnership and seek international assistance for the restoration of Benin monuments including revival of the creative and artistic talents of the Benins, which are already globally acknowledged through our rich artefacts”.

Oba Ewuare 11 has not failed his people in ensuring the implementation of the promises he made in his inaugural speech. The moment he resumed duties, the Oba placed a ban on CDAs in the seven Local Government Areas of Edo South. The CDAs had been a deadly squad in their various communities prior to the coming of the monarch.

In some of the communities then, members had chased away some of their elders to pave the way for the sale of community lands. Sometimes the CDA members engaged in war over boundary dispute which led to deaths and bloodshed. Meanwhile, Governor Godwin Obaseki bought the idea of outlawing the CDAs and sent a bill legalizing their ban to the state House of Assembly and that became law. Since then, the elders and Enigies in Benin communities have taken their rightful places and there has been sanity and peace in the communities.

Market for the poor

As a monarch that wants peace in his domain, Oba Ewuare 11 has been in the fore front of the establishment of the Gelegele Export Processing Zone to create jobs for youths. Obaseki backed the vision of the Oba and a committee was set by the state government to commence work on the project. Governor Obaseki took a trip abroad to identify suitable investors and work has since commenced in the area despite the disagreement between the Benin people in the area and the Ijaw community.

And to further achieve his vision, the monarch inaugurated the Oba Ewuare 11 Foundation to, among others, give scholarship to students who excel in Benin language and history. About twelve students were said to have benefited from the scheme so far. And in order to cater for the welfare of the poor in his kingdom, the Omo N’Oba set up a discount market, popularly known as ‘Sunday Sunday Market’.

The idea is to ensure that the poor can afford food stuff in order not to go into crime. Market women get farm produce from villages at discounted prices to sell in this market to their customers. Another achievement of the monarch is the establishment of a foundry under the Benin Royal Academy for Performing Arts to train youths in bronze casting and other arts. Apart from the fact that this will create job for the youths, it will help in strengthening the Benin bronze industry. In order to also ensure peaceful resolution of crisis in communities, the Oba set up the Benin Customary Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee.

Consequences of daring the Oba

One unique thing about Oba Ewuare 11 is that despite the fact that he was a diplomat before ascending the throne, he has deepened the customs and traditions of Benin Kingdom to the admiration of many, particularly his chiefs. Any of the chiefs who is not well dressed and tries to turn tradition upside down does not escape the wrath of the Oba. Before now, they were some top Benin chiefs described as untouchables and would not attend palace meetings.

They have all sat up. A particular powerful chief of the kingdom who has incurred the wrath of Oba Ewuare 11 is Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, the Isekhure. He was accused by the palace of abandoning his duties as the Chief Priest of the Oba. His palace was brought down while the Oba’s shrine was secured. Some persons who tried to flout the law banning CDAs were equally not spared. Some were made to sweep the palace for months as punishment while some were prosecuted.

Rules that must be obeyed

In order to sensitive the people against falling foul of the laws of the palace, the Benin Traditional Council issued the following statement: “The Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba of Benin, is the paramount traditional ruler in Edo State. The Oba of Benin remains the permanent Chairman of the Edo State Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs. This position was vested on the Oba permanently, in recognition of the fact that the Oba of Benin is both Spiritual and Administrative Head of Traditional Institutions in Benin Kingdom in particular and Edo State in general.

“In Benin Kingdom, there is only one Monarch that is, the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, the Oba of Benin. There are Enigie, Igie-Ohen, Edionwere and Ikao who are either dukes or heads of the various villages in Benin Kingdom. All of them are under the authority of the Oba of Benin Kingdom.   The Enigie, Igie-Ohen, Ikao, Chiefs and Edionwere in Benin Kingdom pay obeisance to the Oba of Benin, and they revered the Monarch to the highest level. All sons and daughters of Benin extraction irrespective of social, economic and political status in the society are under obligation to respect, dignify and pay unalloyed homage to the Oba.

The reason why this is so is not far-fetched. Historically, the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, is God’s representative on earth, which means that the Oba is both a traditional ruler and spiritual leader of the people. That of course explains why anyone coming into the presence of the Oba, especially when the Oba is on the throne, must greet the Oba in the most acceptable manner as prescribed by Benin custom and tradition.

For instance, it is the tradition that everyone must kneel down to greet and address the Oba of Benin by chanting, ‘Oba ghato kpere ise’ meaning, ‘Long may you reign; our king, amen’. There is no exception to this rule, except with some other royal majesties across the world. Even members of the royal family greet and respect the Oba in the same manner.

“Furthermore, culture and tradition are the ways and beliefs of the people, and it is the way a particular tribe, race or ethnic group is known, it represents their identity, and symbol of unity. The Oba of Benin is the custodian of the rich culture and tradition of Benin people. In other words, the Oba of Benin helps to promote, propagate, and preserve the culture and tradition of the people of the Kingdom.

On the other hand, the people in turn protect the image of the Oba of Benin and preserve the sanctity of the Palace and the revered throne of the Monarch at all times. Any attempt for anyone or group of persons to disrespect the Oba is viewed as sacrilegious and abomination which is forbidden and highly detestable by the people, while such a person or persons will be regarded as “Okhion-Oba” that is, an enemy of the Oba.

Such an individual usually incur the wrath of the ancestors.   Since the coronation of the 40th Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II, Ogidigan, a lot of transformation have taken place in the traditional administration of Benin Kingdom, which has brought sanity to many villages and towns in the Kingdom.

For instance, the abolition of the Community Development Association (CDA), which hitherto prevented people from acquiring and developing their landed property, the introduction of the open mediation at Ugha-Ozolua in the Oba’s Palace, which is first of its kind in the history of the Palace, aimed at providing opportunity for people, especially women to personally present their complaints to Oba of Benin who graciously and painstakingly seat on the throne to resolve problems presented before the Palace in an unprecedented manner.

Since the commencement of the open mediation, many men and women have got justice, many have had reason to rejoice due to the open and fair nature of the resolutions by Oba of Benin. This is being done out of the fatherly love and mercy Oba Ewuare II have for his people”.

It added that, therefore, “The people must reciprocate this gesture by approaching the Palace and the revered throne of the Oba in the most appreciative, respectful and dignifying manner. This will gladden the heart of all Palace functionaries and also encourage His Royal Majesty to continue to do more better things for his people.

Oba Ewuare II no doubt meant well for the people. The vision and mission of Oba Ewuare II is for the Kingdom to witness high level of development and for his people to be healthy and prosperous. That explains why the Oba of Benin has been working closely with the state, and federal governments as well as other well-meaning Nigerians and members of the international community to attract development to Edo State. In due course, the Oba of Benin would be unveiling his boxes of Royal gifts for his people, especially the less privileged members of the society.   With the first coronation anniversary of the Oba few weeks away, it should be placed on record that His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II has changed things for the better in Benin Kingdom.

His Royal Majesty deserves commendation, appreciation and respect from the people. The magnanimity and benevolence of the Oba must not be taken for granted; rather the Oba should be revered by all in accordance with the custom and tradition of Benin. Moreover, as the Oba is a legendary hero of Benin Kingdom”.

Benin Kingdom has been agog since the commencement of the first anniversary of the coronation of the Oba as traditional rulers across the country troop to the palace to pay their homage. Last Tuesday, an inter-religious service held at the palace as part of the activities to mark the ceremony. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar 111, and the Etsu Nupe, organized a special Durbar at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium Benin City to honour the Benin monarch. The week long ceremony will be rounded of today at the Holy Aruosa Church, where the Oba will attend a thanksgiving service.


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