Democracy & its enemies: Tribute to Erediauwa – By Louis Odion, FNGE

Late Oba of Benin
An epic
display of cultural sovereignty, it was. On a certain day in July 2012, the
ancient city of Benin literally quaked under the crushing weight of a
presidential presence. Muscular presidential bodyguards had displaced the
palace sentinels as Goodluck Jonathan led PDP supremos to the royal chamber.
The Edo
2012 governorship poll was few days away. Then President Jonathan was in town
to attend the grand rally convoked to sell PDP’s standard-bearer. As is
customary, a courtesy visit to the Oba topped the agenda of the day.
With the
entire GRA and the adjourning neighbourhoods completely locked down, Jonathan
and crew took their seats in the oak-paneled lounge to await the great
Leopard’s entry.

Then, a
twist entered the plot. The secluded Oba Erediauwa, apparently tracking outside
proceeding by some native “close-circuit monitor”, changed his mind.
Suddenly, words came that the king would no longer sit on the throne to receive
the mammoth crowd seated. Rather, he now wished to receive only President
Jonathan in the inner sanctum.
pin-drop silence descended on the hall over this dramatic turn of events.
Louis Odion

soon went in and came out few minutes later. The hordes of local PDP gladiators
and name-droppers who had gate-crashed into Jonathan’s entourage hoping to get
some photo ops with the Oba and thereafter appropriate some political mileage
were left high and dry.

For all
the elaborate carnival they had put up on the way to the Benin palace, all they
got was a brief, perfunctory prayer led by a palace chief. They more or less
left the palace empty-handed.
Though no
official reason was given for the Oba’s last-minute decision to receive only
President Jonathan that day, the import was hardly lost on keen followers of
His Majesty’s enigmatic style. As the July 2012 polls approached, the king, by
his body language, left no one in doubt that Governor Adams Oshiomhole deserved
a second term in office on account of his sterling performance in the first
term. The oracle had spoken. So, it was pointless baiting the gods through
cultural invocations for a gambler predestined to lose.
In all,
even more
 significant was the demonstration of Oba
Erediauwa’s fierce disdain for clan sentiments. PDP’s candidate, Charles
Airhiavbere (a retired general), is a Bini man. But an uncommon advocate of
merit, the Benin monarch chose instead to back Oshiomhole from minority Afemai
stock in Edo North.
Late Bashorun MKO Abiola

pundits have in the last four years been divided on the propriety or otherwise
of the cold royal shoulders the PDP had sensationally received in Benin in
2012, what no one is able to assail yet is the Oba’s personal integrity. If
nothing at all, that the Oba could put his feet on the ground, insisting on
what he thought was in the best interest of his people, was also because he was
beyond federal inducement. He certainly did not belong in the dingy club of
political contractors. He had no IOU to redeem to the Abuja overlords. Quite
unlike most other five-star monarchs across the country who see nothing
unwholesome in bartering their honour away for material things, the Benin Oba
did not have any account to render for any failed federal project.

exceptionality partly defined the mystique of Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolor
Erediauwa I for the 37 years reigned. Born June 22, 1923 as Solomon Aiseokhuoba
Igbinoghodua Akenzua, he was the 38th Oba of Benin.
the news of his passing last week, only the shallow would then fail to notice
his transcendence in the continuing torrents of tributes. Indeed, whereas the
Bini nation and indeed all Edo people have since been roiling in sackcloth and
ashes mourning a death, the nation at large is actually celebrating the transition
of Oba Erediauwa to immortality. As his extra-ordinary life story vividly
tells, he was not just a giant of history who embodied the finest of Bini gene
and the noblest of Edo character, he, with the force of personal example, set a
durable template for dignified royal behavior in a political environment.
wonder then that, on account of the aforementioned formidable moral capital,
his voice for the most part of the last four decades packed so much weight on
the national airwaves. At a time when many a royal father began to shed age-old
cultural inhibitions to become public disco freaks and were no longer even shy
to be photographed in the company of women of easy virtue, Omo N’Oba remained
an exemplar in introversion and grace. With him, the portrait of beaded poise
accentuated by a snow-white handkerchief elegantly held close to the mouth
became emblematic of the Edo identity.
Even when
royalty dictated taciturnity, Oba Erediauwa never failed to raise his voice for
the people. For instance, while many monarchs traded honour away for fat brown
envelopes and sweetheart contracts from dictator Ibrahim Babangida following
the June 12 annulment in 1993, High Majesty was one of the principled few who
stood unmistakably and spoke unambiguously that the wishes and aspirations of
the Nigerian people – as reflected in the electoral outcome – be respected.
He was
not part of the obscene royal contingent that later trooped to Aso Rock and,
plied with briefcases of cash, began to reason with the fumbling despot that
there was sense in foisting interim national government on the people in place
of June 12, summing it with the pathetically dubious refrain, “so that
Nigeria can move forward”.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan

Nor did
the voice of Omo N’Oba lose its resonance later in calling for the
unconditional release of MKO Abiola and other political prisoners after the
deranged Sani Abacha took over and worsened the national trauma by simply
sending snipers and bombers after dissents.

His voice
was also dominant in the public clamour that the Benin-Ore road that had turned
a death-trap be fixed. In fact, brushing royal protocols aside at some point,
he openly told off visiting Minister of State for Works, Mrs. Deziani
Allison-Madueke (yes, the future multi-billionaire oil empress), on the
deplorable condition of the expressway. That he could not understand why it was
so difficult for the the Federal Government to fix the highway obviously the
busiest in the country, being the getaway from the South-west to South-south
and South-east.
He did
not relent in the crusade even when a Bini man, Chris Ogiewonyi, was appointed
Works minister. What perhaps made the royal activism on the Benin-Ore road
quite instructive was that the monarch hardly stood to personally enjoy a
smooth ride as he rarely left the palace. Nor was it a blackmail to make Abuja
invite him to nominate the contractor. That summed up the essential Omo N’Oba:
forever acting in public interest.
So, after
37 eventful years on the throne, there can be no controversy about the position
of Oba Erediauwa on the success ladder.
or deficit of a monarch’s reign is customarily evaluated by how widespread was
prosperity or abundant was peace during the epoch under review. In terms of
peace, commerce and political influence, there is no dispute that His Highness
left Bini kingdom and indeed the Edo nation far, far better than he met it.
conservative in philosophy, he was actually progressive in practice. For more
efficient and effective administration of the kingdom, he created seven
dukedoms to cater for the seven councils in Edo South senatorial districts.
Thanks to his cultural reforms, there has been a drastic reduction, if not
total eradication, of ritual killings across the kingdom.
No less
memorable was the recovery in June 2014 of two precious bronze artifacts from
the vast trove looted from the Benin palace during the 1897 invasion by British
colonial predators. Presenting the “loot” in Benin, Andre Walker,
grandson of one of the marauding British generals, confessed it was a form of
restitution decided by his family back in UK to make peace with their
But for
the royal company that received him that day, the two cultural totems no doubt
offered yet some balm to soothe the enduring pain from the scar of 1897. Of
course, the Walkers’ historic gesture was a consequence of decades of
relentless advocacy and quiet international diplomacy orchestrated by Oba
Erediauwa. A crusade further energized by the Crown Prince, Eheneden, deploying
his vast contacts in western diplomatic circuits. Little wonder then that many
now see the Edaiken N’Uselu as a worthy successor. As Oseni Elamah, the
Okaviore of Benin kingdom recently put it, “With the Edaiken N’Uselu, the
Bini kingdom and indeed the Edo nation will only move to more glory.”
Much more
remarkable is the legacy of tolerance and conciliation Omo N’Oba bequeathed. By
according communal neighbours respect, he clearly demonstrated that even though
artificial boundaries now put political wedge between them, such can never
untie the historic bond nor freeze the ancestral kinship all Edo people share.
In deeds
more than words, he bore the crown with panache, carried himself with uncommon
dignity and exercised traditional authority with Solomonic wisdom. Historians
would attest that rapid urbanization and the attendant rise of republicanism in
the twilight of the 20th century have significantly eroded the power and
prestige of the traditional institution in post-colonial Nigeria. But it is to
Oba Erediuwa’s sagacity and high integrity that the colour of the Benin crown
has still not faded. Neither has the stool been diminished under the
relentlessly corrosive influence of state authority, nor has any clan under the
Benin suzerainty failed to pledge allegiance.
As he
related with the high with accustomed panache, so did he show humanity and
solidarity to the lowly as well. Until he became too enfeebled by age, His
Majesty made it a point of duty to host quarterly local journalists under the
auspices of the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) during which he ventilated
his mind on matters of public interests. That way, news-hounds were able to
distill clarity on burning issues of the moment – whether local or national –
and draw from his deep well of native wisdom.
A bag of
humour, the lion forever sought to make everyone feel at ease in his otherwise
awesome den. Such interactions, often rounded off with a feast of pounded yam
and bush meat, were always punctuated with his rib-cracking jokes. Reflecting
the agility of his mind even at old age, he would effortlessly recall the
headlines cast for past reports by some of the journalists. He was quick to
tease that, “Even if I don’t go out, I monitor all of you through the
newspapers, radio and television.”
At a
personal level, my recent political sojourn in Benin brought me even closer to
feel the intensity of his charisma and the energy of his generous spirit. No
sooner had I assumed duty in July 2011 as Commissioner than the palace
secretary sent me a letter conveying the king’s felicitations. He went further
to announce the king had graciously fixed a date to receive me at the palace
and offer royal blessings and prayers.
On the
appointed day, my entourage consisted of no more than my dad, uncle and few
directors from the Information ministry. Once I was introduced as “the
courageous journalist who with his pen has been doing us proud at the national
level”, Baba nodded with patriarchal pride, his all-white ensemble making
him look even more mercurial, if not angelic, under the golden ceiling lights
against the backdrop of a life-size bronze sculpture.
Then, his
legendary humor tap turned the moment the name of my native community,
Odiguetue (in Ovia North East), was mentioned.
my people from Ovia,” he said under his breath, muffling royal chuckle
with his trademark white handkerchief, drawing mild laughter from the hall
filled with ranking chiefs.
course, there are two Ovias: Ovia South-West and Ovia North-East. Long
marginalized by successive administrations in Edo State, the common joke is to
deride the Ovia zones as provincial. Traducers so unkind, they proceed to corrupt
Ovia North-East to mean “Ovia Not-Eat” (or “not-eating”).
So, the probable joke beneath Baba’s chuckle: with their scion now made a
Commissioner, maybe “Ovia can now Eat”.
highlight of the reception was His Majesty’s brief speech, enjoining me to use
“your special skills” in information management to add value to the
state during my tour of duty. Thereafter, he directed a palace chief to lead a
special prayer for my success.
I left
the palace that day completely overwhelmed by the king’s fatherly disposition.
For the “little Benin boy” who had spent most of his time outside, I
found that really, really humbling.
It is for
this reason one today feels political actors whose activities lately tend to
heat up the Edo polity should be restrained from polluting the climate of
unity, peace, tolerance and justice Baba bequeathed. The deluded slaves and
other misbegotten heirs of Tuketuke politics being induced with blood money and
armed to go and kill their kith and kin will, by their iniquities, only end up poisoning
the communal stream. Let these political urchins and rats be told in plain
language that the ember of clan hatred is what inadvertently gets fanned when
the impression is created that a Bini man is no longer free to go to Auchi to
campaign or that an Afemai man will no longer be welcomed in Abudu or an Esan
can no longer access the historic Urokpota Hall in the heart of Oredo to speak.
Let politics be deployed to unite, not divide Edo people. The time has come for
all Edo patriots to rise and stand against politics of violence, thuggery,
hate, intimidation, injustice and primitive stealing. All his life, Baba
treated and related with all Edo people as one. These political philistines
should not be allowed to loot or vandalize the great castle Baba toiled hard to
build in the last four decades.
as the great Leopard retreats into the proverbial savannah forest to join the
pantheon of giants, what we owe his memory is not shopping for sugar-coated,
grandiloquent epitaphs; but upholding his value of service and living the high
ethical standard he set.


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