Dele EdoborMonday, April 12, 2004
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London, UK



hough there are many reasons for His Royal Highness Omo Noba Nedo Uku Akpolopolo, Solomon Igbinoghodua Aisiokuoba Akenzua, Erediauwa - the 38th Oba of Benin to celebrate his twenty-five years on the throne of his forefathers. But one that may unarguably stands out markedly and which all and sundry will readily extol is his steadfastness in upholding the dignity of his highly respected throne in this epoch, where such quality and uprightness have become a rarity. His resoluteness in this regard is one that has spanned the years right from when he was crowned king of the ancient Benin Kingdom in 1979. In the Omo Noba, is the quintessential King, desirous by any lover or stickler of the traditional institutions. To any Bini indigene, there is every cause to proudly identify with the great Oba.

Any treatise on the Benin Monarch on this occasion of his silver jubilee can only be sufficiently explored by a fully homegrown indigene, considering his naturally quiet nature. Alternatively, an ardent historian or follower of the Bini monarchy may go a long way in doing justice to such discourse. The need for this is quite important in order to have the facts well presented. A correct presentation besides serving as a well-deserved tribute to one of the greatest royal fathers of our time also will provide a good reference point in the future. In as much as I have resisted the temptations of doing this treatise, bearing in mind the fact that I am not really equipped enough but I could not but cave in to the urge of joining in the euphoria of the moments, if only as a mark of respect to the Benin monarch.

Looking critically at the composition of Edo state, it might not be out of sense to posit that it falls into the category of one of the most complex states in the federation. As a matter of fact, it could be succinctly referred to as a miniature "United Tribes of Nigeria". This is simply because of the diverse ethnic nationalities that constitute the state. Prior to the creation of Delta state by the Babangida administration, the then Bendel state comprised of virtually every ethnic group in the country. It was commonplace then to hear people of the state identify themselves as Bendel Ibo, Bendel Yoruba, Bendel Hausa and so on and so forth.

The situation is not all that different today, as different dialects are still spoken in the state. That the complexities of the state occasionally bring about bickering among the varied tribes is a statement of fact that cannot be in doubt. However, it is somewhat to the credit of the Benin Monarch that this compound attribute has not produced any grand damage to the oneness of the people. The foregoing readily showcases nothing but the administrative expertise and fatherly capabilities of the Oba, as the traditional head in fostering unity amongst these numerous tribes.

There are instances where Omo Noba went extra mile to demonstrate his neutrality in matters concerning the state. One major one here was during the politics of the National Republican Convention and Social Democratic Party midwife by the Babangida administration in the early nineties. In this case, there was a major breach of the electoral commission rules, which forbids any form of campaigns on the day of elections. A top Bini chief called the Isekhure, capitalizing on the then presumed strained relationship between the Benin Monarch and Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, whose son Lucky Igbinedion, the incumbent governor of the state, was the governorship hopeful under the flagship of National Republican Convention, went on air to announce that the monarch has instructed that no Bini indigene should vote for "Oghioba" (enemy of the King), as anyone who did would incur the wrath of the ancestors.

The aftermath victory of that election that went Chief Odigie Oyegun of the then Social Democratic Party way was ascribed to that unlawful and spiteful announcement. However, all these are nothing compared to the melodrama that followed, which culminated in the highly revered Oba walking all the way to court to testify in one of the most celebrated cases in the annals of Bini monarchy. The Omo Noba demonstrated his neutrality here by agreeing to give evidence in the case, as reports had it then that he had the option not to have appeared. Events that followed that untoward episode coupled with the palpable father and son relationship between the Benin monarch and Chief Lucky Igbinedion today have proven that he is truly a father of all, which is true to his words that his palace is open to any indigene seeking political relevance in the state.

His Royal Highness had been target or worse still in the middle of some discontentment-motivated internal wrangling in the past as well. During the time of the late Anthony Onyearugbulem then a Navy Captain, as the Military administrator of Edo state, the tolerance level of the Benin Monarch was put to test when the then number one citizen of the state attempted to make the chairmanship of the council of Obas in the state a rotational one. Considering the monumental disregard that the thought of such an idea alone could have for the highly esteemed Oba, it is difficult to recollect if there was any statement made by him that betrayed his feelings on the issue then. His usual stoical approach was all everyone following the drama then witnessed. It is to his credit today that a dislocation of that magnitude, which could have torn the state apart, later did not withstand the test of time and thereby became an ordinary storm in a teacup.

On the national scene, there is no gainsaying that the Benin Monarch is still one of the few royals around who can still hold his head high, as most have sold the dignity of their extolled thrones for a pot of porridge. This probably explains the rather reckless boldness of some sate governors to splatter disgrace on the hitherto revered royal fathers, as well evident in the disrespectful manner with which some are stripped of their staff of office. In most instances, these constitute vengeful acts perhaps because such traditional ruler refused to pitch tent with the camp of the Governor on the way to the top. To reaffirm here that situations like this one only batter the image of the traditional institution the more is tantamount to listening to a cracked record being played on an old gramophone system. This not-too-fanciful image further denigrates the important roles that they supposedly play in the society.

Suffice it to say here that prior to the introduction of an organized system of government, the administrative responsibilities of their area of domain falls within their primary jurisdiction. Even with the advent of the different system of government, the traditional rulers still take precedence over any other form of government representations in their areas, as well evident from the readiness of the government in power to consult with them on matters pertaining to the development of their Kingdoms. This also explains the eagerness of some political office seekers to enlist their support in the build up to elections or selection as it may apply at any point in time.

It is however, disheartening to note that this privilege accrue to the traditional institution has in a way become one of its major undoing, as it has invariably encouraged most to become partisan in their activities. Today most Obas, Obis, Emirs, Sultans etc have abandoned their traditional duties of being custodians of the traditions and cultures of their people for the enticing lure of material gains. What they seem to have perfected most nowadays is the improvisations and sales of traditional titles to political office holders in order to be in their good books. Without mincing words, majority have become pawns used to accomplish political ambitions. It becomes more worrisome when one notes that their partisanship spans all forms of government, be it civilian or military.

Take for example the incessant visits to seats of government by well-known and hitherto respected royal fathers during the military misrule of Generals Babangida and Abacha. Some even went as far as becoming apostles of the self-succession bids mooted by these despots. Apart the fundamental incorrectness of such act considering that military is an aberration in any normal polity there is also the issue of jeopardizing the supposedly father-for-all nature of their positions. Conversely, this is not to say that there are no respected royals left in the country.

To the Omo Noba and the handful of royal fathers who have demonstrated a religious devotion to the dignity of the traditional institution, we can only say long may you live. Or in other words as they say in the land of Emotan, Esigie, Ewakpe, Idia, to mention but a few: Oba gha to kpere - Ise.