Home news Mystery Surrounding Birth Of Incumbent Oba Of Benin (QUITE INTERESTING)

Mystery Surrounding Birth Of Incumbent Oba Of Benin (QUITE INTERESTING)

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It is not just the silver
jubilee of the reign of Oba Erediauwa the Edos celebrate. They celebrate
survival. They celebrate continuity, they celebrate stability amongst
other events. March 23, 1979 merely marked the day the reigning Oba
ascended the throne of his forebears soon after the immediate past Oba
Akenzua II joined his ancestors. On this day, both the burial and
succession rites were completed.

The transformation of a
heir apparent (Edaiken) to that of a king (Oba) was concretised and
solemnised. The whole city and environs in an ecstasy, resonated with
the sound of ‘Oba ghato’ okpere’. The heavens, the ancestors and the
gods re-echoed with the sound of ‘Ise’. A peep at the sky exposed the
sun and the moon in an eclipse as a mark of heavenly acknowledgement.
Prince
Solomon Akenzua now known by the title of Uku Akpolokpolo, Omo n’Oba
N’Edo Erediauwa became the 38th Oba of Benin in Oba Eweka 1 dynasty that
began at about the 12th c AD. This ancient kingdom as a result of its
resilience, power and sophistication grew to becme an empire during the
reigns of the warrior kings – Ewuare, Ozolua, Esigie and Orhogbua. Its
influence covered the whole of the Niger Delta and as far as Lagos and
beyond the present day Republic of Benin.
Erediauwa
ascended the throne of his ancestors which for over 1000 years,
ascendance had been by a system of primogeniture where only the eldest
surviving son of the king succeeds his father. And it has remained so
ever since. The Edos (Binis) are quite emotional about their Oba. The
monarchy could be a sore and soothing spot for them anytime, but it
remains a reference point cherished by all at all times. The Oba is in
their parables, in their dos and don’ts in their folklores inheritance,
marriage, customs funeral rites indeed in their everyday life, including
ancestral worship which like the umbilical cord, ties the Oba and his
subjects into one spiritual, inseparable complex whole. In the Catholic
church for example, the Eucharistic priest raises the chalice and prays
for the Pope, the Bishop and the priests. And this is done every day all
over the world whenever mass is said.
In Benin also
wherever prayer is said with Kolanut in all ancestral shrines in public
or private homes, prayers are always concluded with ‘Oba’ khato Okpere –
meaning may the Oba live long or as the British would say in their
National Anthem, ‘God save the Queen’. All these, combined with the
operational nature of the guilds fortified their tradition as functional
instrument of administration. Without the Oba, there is a big vacuum.
This was what baffled the British when in 1897, Benin was under a
military junta, the Oba exiled and a period of interregnum imposed:
while in other places they were able to get an alternative but in Benin
kingdom, it posed a dilemma for them.
In 1897, the
British army in a punitive mission succeeded in a battle to dislodge the
military might of the Binis and thereby truncated the reign of
Ovonranmwen Nogbasi,. They tried him and exiled him to Calabar where he
died in 1914. This incidence of course opened the way for the British to
embark on the last phase of her colonisation of Nigeria by amalgamating
the Northern and Southern Nigeria into one administrative country
called Nigeria. Before the punitive expedition of 1897 the British had
tried various political, economic, commercial and merchantile tactics to
get at an empire that had flourished for about a thousand years dating
back to the era of the Ogisos. Before the coming of the British, the
Benin Empire had diplomatic and trade contacts with the Portuguese in
the 15th century during the reign of Ozolua, Esigie and Orhogbua. After
the Portuguese, came the Dutch in the 17th century.
The
British were about the last of the adventurers and traders to visit
Benin to transact business treaties, trading agreements with the kingdom
towards the end of 19th century. The British tested the waters under
the cover of the Royal Niger Company, Oil River Protectorate, the Niger
Delta Protectorate and the Southern Nigeria Protectorate. She continued
to expand her influence at the expense of the coastal kingdoms. She
deceived the Oba of Benin into a series of trading, diplomatic and peace
treaties, beneficial only to the imperial government of Great Britain.
The
period of interregnum (1897-1914) was long enough to alter, adulterate,
deface, substitute and destroy any existing political arrangement that
stood between the British colonial agenda and the conquered people. Like
they have done in East Africa and in other parts of the British Empire,
raising a powerful individual as a tool in her divide and rule scheme
was the British standard stock-in-trade. Agho Obaseki’s industry and
resourcefulness were harnessed and cultivated by the British beyond the
call of duty. Agho became powerful and influential and he virtually
presided over the affairs of the state and the prospect of
Aguobasimwin’s restoration was in disarray.
Nevertheless,
the resilient cultural values of the Edos baffled the British. They
couldn’t believe that with all their power, patronage and intimidation
and imposed values coupled with the wealth, power and influence of Agho
Obaseki they could not have their way when confronted with the choice of
who became an Oba in Benin. The people upheld their tradition: ‘Only
the son of an Oba becomes Oba’. The British had no alternative but to
invite Aiguobasimwin to be crowned as Eweka II. In similar circumstances
Eweka I, the founder of the dynasty was restored to the throne about
900 years earlier after Ogiamien’s opposing forces were vanquished at
the battle of Ekiokpagha.
As soon as Aiguobasimwin was
crowned in 1914, he had to contend with Agho Obaseki’s residual powers
acquired during the era of the interregnum coupled with the
contradictions, abuses, irregularities and shortcomings which
characterised the new Native Council. Although the aim was that the Oba
as the sole paramount native authority ought to be the ultimate
authority but his powers were compromised due to the innovations that
became evident in the British indirect rule in Benin at this period. The
Council, the District Headship, the Native Treasury, the Native Courts
which were supposed to be under the new Oba were in fact hijacked by the
District Office and Agho Obaseki who functioned as the Iyase and a
favourite agent of the British. Aiguobasimwin’s problems were yet not
over until Agho Obaseki died in 1920.
Three years later
in 1923, the present Oba Erediuawa was born. His father Oba Akenzua II
presented the new baby to his father Eweka II, who lifted the baby up
and smiled. “You Agho! You again, you have passed through this route.
You have reincarnated to become an Oba. An Oba indeed”. Eweka proclaimed
him an Oba: you will be Solomon – wise as King Solomon. The Lord will
be your pillar and strength – (Igbinoghodua) but nobody should dare
cause or invite your wrath – (Aiseokhuoba).
As a young
Prince and heir apparent Oba Erediauwa was known as Prince Solomon,
Aiseokhuoba, Igbinoghodua Akenzua until he was crowned Oba on March 23,
1979. Never by the use of those names be identified except by the title,
Omo N’Oba Erediauwa, Oba of Benin. Those circumstantial names are now
archival materials. Reincarnation is in the beliefs of the Binis. This
can happen in any circumstance depending on the life aspiration of the
deceased whose prayers might be answered if he so desired to become a
King in his next world. Although this is beyond human comprehension,
nevertheless, the traditional belief is that a man may have an
opportunity to reincarnate for as much as seven times after which he
fizzles out. By this belief, Prince Solomon is a reincarnation of the
desperate Agho Obaseki! How… I don’t know. 
Erediauwa
had the throne as his cradle. Apart from the usual traditional palace
tutorials which begin at birth, he went to Government School, Benin
after which he proceeded to Government College, Ibadan in 1939 and
obtained with flying colours – his London Matriculations which qualified
him to gain admission into Yaba College in 1945. After the completion
of his course at Yaba, he was admitted into King’s College, Cambridge to
study Law and Administration. He returned to Nigeria to join the
Eastern Nigeria Civil Service as a District Officer (D.O.) in 1957. He
transferred his services to the Federal Civil Service and rose to the
position of Permanent Secretary. 
He retired from the
service as a Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health in 1973 and became
the regional representative of Gulf Oil Company. He was appointed
Commissioner for Finance in the Military Administration of Major-General
Innih in 1975. His early retirement from the service was to have time
to expose him fully to the intricacies of the administrative challenges
that would confront him in the performance of his duties as Oba of
Benin. His father, Akenzua II was Secretary to Eweka II, his father.
This made him to have a first hand knowledge of traditional issues that
arose from the Native Administration. The political turbulence that
confronted Akenzua II due to the exposure of the new elites to
participatory Native Administration in the 40s and introduction of party
politics in the 50s could only have been surmounted by a ruler of
Akenzua’s experience, patience, courage and subtle diplomacy. 
In
his time, traditional rulers could be members of political parties;
even form parties. Akenzua II was in the forefront of the creation of
the Midwest State. He formed a political party for this purpose –
Benin-Delta Peoples’ Party in 1953. Otu-Edo was formed to defend his
person against the political onslaught of the Ogboni/Action Group under
the leadership of Eguobase Gaius Obaseki, the ninth child of Agho
Obaseki. Inspite of the unconfirmed relationship as a result of
circumstances of reincarnation, Akenzua and Gaius Obaseki were never the
best of friends.

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The present Oba Erediauwa witnessed
the rule of the army, formation of political parties several times over
since he ascended the throne in 1979. Although, it would seem he is
insulated from partisan politics not many would accept this as a
solution to the numerous political and party problems that confront the
people today. He welcomes and blesses all aspirants that call on him.
Even then the tone and length of his prayers are misinterpreted in
varied partisan ways. But the Oba usually put his foot down never to be
intimidated.

Erediauwa N’Oba had used his kingly office
to influence the welfare and the fortunes of his people. He is an
unmoving pivot around which the life of his subjects revolve. Over the
years, he had discharged his responsibilities with much worldly wisdom
and with dauntless courage. Men and kings must be judged in the testing
moments of their lives. His refusal to succumb to the administrative
tantrums to change his stance on the vague urges of the military proved
that he rated the welfare of his people far above his personal
sentiments or pride even more above his interest. How best, can one
describe the odious ordeal of the immediate past if not governed by love
and respect for his tradition and culture. Since his ascension to the
ancient throne he had given effective leadership to his subjects. On his
coronation day, he pledged to unite all Edo-speaking people including
those in diaspora. His main focus was to re-establish the great Edo
culture and tradition in line with acceptable norms of a modern society.

Soon after his ascension to the throne, he appointed
Late Justice S.O. Ighodaro as the Iyase of Benin. Justice Ighodaro was
the first Benin graduate and lawyer who became Minister of Justice and
Attorney-General in Awolowo’s Action Group government of Western Region
in the First Republic. After his demise, West Erhabor though also late
succeeded him as Iyase. Chief Samuel Igbe a retired Police Commissioner
is the present Iyase of Benin. The Iyase according to Benin custom is
the head of Eghaevho N’Ore (town chiefs). The position of an Iyase is
that of the Prime Minister who is the spokesman of the Binis before the
Oba. The Oba usually honours a worthy subject or citizen with the title
of Iyase whenever the need arises.

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Apart from the
Iyase, a position that is open to all indigenes of worth, the Oba had
created titles to honour some of his prominent subjects drawn from
various backgrounds. Some of the titles are hereditary, some are
achieved and some are pronounced to commemorate specific events in
accordance with the Oba’s political, or social perspectives. Only the
Oba possesses the rights and privileges to create and confer titles on
his subjects. The titles are certainly not for sale to non-indigenes
mainly because of the traditional and cultural roles of the titles.
Chiefs are selectively distributed into the palace societies of Iwebo,
Ibiwe, Ihogbe, Egaevbo N’ore, Eghaevbo N’ogbe. The seven king makers –
Uzamas, include the Edaiken – the heir apparent. Their titles are also
hereditary. There are also the dukes-direct blood relations of the Oba
who preside over their dukedoms. These titles are hereditary too. Some
of the traditional deity priests who take care of state shrines across
the kingdom also enjoy hereditary roles. The Oba definitely sits over a
complex machinery of state that makes him political, spiritual and
social leader of his people. Without the Oba, the machinery of state
grinds to a halt. You can never banish, exile or dethrone an Oba of
Benin. When an Oba joins his ancestors who are also presumed to be a
part of the machinery of state, his oldest son – Edaiken (heir apparent)
steps in and continues from where his father stopped.

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When
he was crowned as the 38th Oba of Benin, Erediauwa was just about 56
years old. Today he is 80, still waxing strong, alert and sensitive to
issues that affect his kingdom. His mind is sound, never entangled in
the briars of detail. All through his reign, he had demonstrated
inflexible integrity, regal mannerisms that tie him to the souls of the
ordinary folks. Oba gha to Okepre Ise!

culled from GUARDIAN, March 29, 2004

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