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Lightening, thunder strike as police detain chief priest of shrine

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•It’s sacrilege – Benin elders
•3 dogs killed to appease gods before his release
•14 native cows, tortoise, sheep, goats, cocks demanded from Police

By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu

Palpable fear has gripped the residents of Benin city following the arrest last Wednesday of the Chief Priest of Okhuaihe shrine, Osarodion Usuanlele, the Ohen N’ Ukoni Neyedo by the police who detained him at the Edo State Police headquarters in Benin city. This was against the tradition and customs of Benin Kingdom that forbid the Priest from setting his foot on the city during the reign of an Oba. The action of the police, according to Benin elders was a taboo and it was responsible for the unusual rain accompanied by serious lightning and thunder in Benin on the day of his arrest. They argued that the gods must be appeased in order to avert danger in the kingdom following the clash of the People’s tradition and the law.

It was gathered that there has been a tradition since 1440 that forbids the Ohen N’ Ukoni from entering Benin, the abode of the Oba or seeing the Oba face to face and that when the Oba visits the abode of Ohen N’Ukoni, he would have to leave the domain until the Oba departs the area.

The Chief Priest’s shrine is located at Evbiekoi, in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area, and as part of coronation rites of a new Oba, he would have a symbolic wrestling match with the Crown Prince. Both of them would thereafter go in opposite directions never to see each other again once the Crown Prince becomes the Oba.

Trouble started last Wednesday when operatives of the anti-cultism unit, Edo State Command of the Nigeria Police reportedly stormed Evbiekoi community following a petition by one man said to be an ex-official of the banned Community Development Association (CDA) and arrested the Chief Priest.

The arrest has stoked controversy in the community as it was gathered that the intention of the petitioners by writing the petition which was declared as frivolous was to reduce the influence of the Chief Priest in the community.

Though the petitioners were said to have been arrested, fear has gripped members of the community that unpleasant occurrence may befall the community if the necessary appeasement of the gods were not made.

According to some elders in the kingdom, the unusual arrest of the priest was responsible for the unusual rain that fell on that day accompanied by serious lightning and thunder. They claimed that the way lightning and thunder struck on that fateful day was unusual in this early period of the rainy season and that was the first indication that something was wrong in the kingdom.

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The arrested priest was said to have informed the police that he was not allowed to enter Benin City by tradition or there would be dire consequences to the kingdom but the officers were said to be adamant and were even said to have boasted that they could arrest anybody including the President. They were said to have forcefully brought him to the Command.

He was said to have insisted that he should be taken to any other police station outside Benin City but the policemen refused and chose to take him round the by-pass apparently to cut-off any link with the city centre where the Oba resides. This decoy has fuelled speculations that the policemen some of who were said to be from Benin were aware of the implications of their actions.

Before he was released, three dogs were reportedly slaughtered as sacrifices near the police headquarters. However, to completely cleanse the kingdom, a list of other items has been given to the police which include 14 native cows, tortoise, sheep, goats, cocks, among others.

Briefing reporters on the incident, Secretary of Evbiekoi community, Chief Paul Ajayi said: “The policemen shot sporadically and insisted on taking Chief Priest Usunalele to Benin City, despite pleas that the man does not enter Benin or he would die. A strange and mysterious downpour, accompanied by violent wind, thunder and lightning, were part of the signs of desecration. The Oba got the signs of desecration and presence of Ohen N’ UKoni, and sent emissaries to the Police Commissioner, Danmallam Abubakar, after confirming that the Chief Priest was in Benin.”

Meanwhile, it was gathered that the Police hierarchy has ordered the arrest and detention of the policemen involved in the arrest of Ohen N’ Ukoni to calm rising tensions in Benin as various youth groups were reportedly preparing to cause mayhem over the alleged desecration of the Benin culture.

But sources at the police command said the leadership was concerned about the veracity or otherwise of the contents of the petition before the arrest was made and whether necessary directives were given by the expected officers before the action. A senior officer simply described the action of the policemen as ‘foolish’.

Police spokesman, Chidi Nwabuzor, declined speaking on the matter, stating that he was waiting for the Commissioner of Police to address a news conference before making comments. Attempts to also reach the commissioner of police, Mr. DanMallam Abubakar to speak on the case have not yielded any result. A Source close to the command confirmed the incident but said that “everybody is being careful about the matter because of its sensitive nature”. As at the time of this report, the palace is yet to make any official comment on the matter.

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