President Muhammadu Buhari is still battling with his election mandate. I will, therefore, not comment on it, being one of the lead counsel in the Atiku Abubakar legal team. However, before the much awaited Election Petition Tribunal judgment, Buhari must quickly take Nigeria out of the social, economic and political doldrums he and his APC government have plunged it into. He should be more nationalistic in his outlook and approach to governance; less sectional, functional, partial, nepotistic, cronystic and prependalistic.
He should drop his stiff garb of suffocating military Louis XIV imperiousness and jackbootism and know that he is supposed to be a democrat, subject to due process of law, with the attendant democratic safeguards. Buhari should allow rule of law to flourish uninhibited, learn to obey court orders and respect citizens’ cherished and inalienable fundamental human rights. Buhari must, as President of a whole nation, drop his 97%-5% bellyaching mantra of those who did not vote for him and endeavour to be less divisive and vindictive. He should treat all Nigerians equally and as one, whether they presumably voted for him or not. He must stop promoting the superiority, suzerainty and sovereignty complex of his ethnic group over and above the other more than 350 ethnic groups in Nigeria.
He must give democracy dividends to the Nigerian people through the provision of adequate security (section 14 of the 1999 Constitution), robust economy and infrastructural development. He should think outside the box of how to fight corruption, as his performance in this regard has been woeful, selective, exclusionary and favouritism-based. Nigeria is more corrupt today than ever before (according to latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index). Where corruption could be said to have been “democratized” by previous governments before him, corruption under Buhari has been greatly “privatized” by a few high-heeled cabalistic elements. Thus, corruption money, unlike before now, no longest circulates, or sips down to the common people. It has been hijacked, privatized and held down by the jugular by these few elements in the precincts and corridors of temporary power. More importantly, Buhari should dust up the over 600 ground- breaking recommendations of the 2014 National Conference scripted by 492 delegates drawn from across Nigeria (wherein I was a Federal Government delegate, and voted “Cicero of the 2014 National Conference”) and implement them. Some of the most important among them is the overdue issue of devolution of powers and restructuring of the unworking Nigerian contraption, to become a truly fiscal and federal system of government.
All hail Queen Emotan of Benin in combat for Nigeria’s elusive unity in Accord Concordia (27)
The fight to relegate women to the background in nation-building has been on for centuries. Women are, most times, erroneously regarded as chattels to be inherited like mere furniture. Some customs are so barbaric that a woman is compelled to drink the contaminated bath water oozing from her deceased husband’s body. All to prove her innocence that she did not have a hand in her husband’s death. Some hapless women are made to lie alongside the corpse of their dead husband on the same bed or mat. Women’s pleasure treasures are savagely decapitated through crude circumcision of their private parts, yanking off their clitoris. Many women are driven out with their children into the wilderness by the dead husband’s greedy relatives. An innocent woman would suddenly become a witch who killed her husband, just because he died in an accident or in his sleep. Many women are dehumanized either as sex objects, or as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Many are trafficked to foreign lands as common prostitutes. The girl child is subjected to gruesome labour, hawking atarodo, tatashe, tomatoes, groundnuts, pekele, vegetable and pure water, along dangerous streets and alleys.
In the midst of this societal vilification of our mothers, daughters and sisters, some women have, from time immemorial, bluntly refused to succumb to such chauvinistic shenanigans. Such is the case of revered Queen Emotan of Benin, the steely woman of uncommon courage and daring bravado. There is the need to adequately highlight such women of sterling qualities who have navigated the nation’s history and stood out, rather than their confinement only to home affairs (the “other room”). Such heroines as Hajia Gambo Sawaba in the North, Queens Idia and Emotan of Benin, Madam Tinubu of Lagos, Margeret Ekpo of Calabar, Dora Akunyili of Isuofia, Anambra State, Funmilayo Kuti of Abeokuta and Dr. Adadevoh, etc, had all played vital roles in shaping the Nigerian nation since pre-colonial times till date, especially in politics, administration, the professions, military and business spheres. They have all, at different times, played major roles in the historical, social, cultural, commercial and political evolution and development of Nigeria. Permit me today, therefore, to pay homage to an unusual heroine and icon in Edoland, Queen Emotan of Benin. Some African women have been held in very high esteem, recognized and in some cases even deified. Cultural heritage and traditional renaissance are the uncommon virtures and unique signature of the Benin people. Queen Emotan of Benin epitomised them.
Early life of Queen Emotan of Benin
Emitan, means “lazy bones” in Benin language. The name was subsequently corrupted to be “Emotan”. She was originally named Uwaraye by her parents. Emotan was born in a village called Eyaen, between 1380 and 1400, close to the present-day Aduwawa cattle market area, along the Benin-Auchi Road. Emotan has been variously described as a woman among women whose unassailable exploits in Benin Kingdom revibrate till date. Her love and care towards children endeared her to her people. A young vibrant woman. She later got married to Chief Aragua, the man who was in charge of measuring the volume of annual rainfall in the kingdom. That was why she was nick-named, ‘Aragua N’ Dame’ (Aragua who measures the rainfall). She was Aragua’s second wife. Uwaraye was considered sluggish by her husband because she could neither cook nor even get pregnant. Chief Aragua’s first wife, Arabe, handled the domestic chores and gave birth to all the children of the household. Emotan was, however, known for helping to cater for the offspring of the household. But when Aragua died, Emotan could not return to her parents because by that time she was already an orphan. Rather, she set up a little hut to live in at a place opposite the Oba marketplace.
Emotan’s legendary exploits and emergence on the national scene
Emotan was an ordinary petty trader who sold foodstuff at Oba market during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great. Historians have placed this period at about 1440. Ewuare (1440 – 1473) was a great king, a magician, reputable leader and warrior. He made many enemies and one of those was his brother, Uwaifiokun, whom he overthrew in a violent coup, a coup that destroyed much of Benin City. Ewuare was expansive in territorial conquests. He fostered art, culture, festivals, customs and reformed the political structures of Benin Kingdom. It was against this backdrop that Emotan became helpful. Ewuare’s brother, Uwaifiokun, who was still reigning, had conspired with his chiefs to have Ewuare murdered. Emotan got wind of their plan, took the risk to unveil it to Ewuare. She not only intimated Ewuare about their plan to murder him, but joined to protect and hide Ewuare from being killed. Emotan had actually been trading since the reign of Oba Uwaifiokun, who reigned before Ewuare. Emotan was credited to have founded the first informal daycare centre in Benin, as her hut was a popular make-shift nursery for the children of families patronizing the market. Being childless herself, she requested other women who came for trading to keep their children with her, while they went about their business. This she did happily and without any cost attached.
At that time, Emotan showed immense kindness to the prince when he was fighting to regain power from his usurper brother, Oba Uwaifiokun, who reigned about 1432 AD. Oba Uwaifiokun had usurped the throne of Benin in place of his elder brother, Prince Ogun (Oba Ewuare I), who was the heir apparent to the throne. Ogun, in those trying times of extreme travails, secretly paid night-time visits to Benin from exile. On many occasions, this marketwoman called Emotan warned Prince Ogun of impending danger and advised him against interacting with some deceitful chiefs who might reveal his presence. On one occasion, Emotan actually hid Ogun from his murderous adversaries.
In one of Ogun’s such visits to Benin, Ogiefa N’ Muekpo (Ogiefa the bag carrier) tricked Ogun into a well in pretense that he was hiding him from his antagonist, Uwafiokun, who had usurped the throne. But Ogiefa’s slave boy by name Edo had sympathy for Prince Ogun, because he very well knew the throne rightfully belonged to him and decided to aid his escape before the arrival of his enemies. When Uwafiokun’s forces came, Prince Ogun was nowhere to be found. But Edo boldly owned up that he had aided him to escape. Edo was immediately executed as a fallout.
Emotan’s glittering honours and her painful exit
Emotan died shortly after Oba Ewuare’s ascension to the throne of his forefathers. Apparently, the two persons that helped Prince Ogun (now Oba Ewuare I) in his travails lost their lives before (Edo) and shortly after (Emotan) he ascended the throne. Upon becoming king, Oba Ewuare I, made the proclamation that the name of the kingdom then known as ‘Ibinu’ or ‘Ibini’ be altered to ‘Edo’, in honour of the courageous slave boy who had helped him escape death in the hands of his enemies. Oba Ewuare appointed Emotan as the Iyeki (English: leader of the authorised Ekpate Guild), a high position given to a person who had the task of enforcing market rules and checkmating in security matters.
Oba Ewuare also made the second proclamation that Emotan should be immortalised. Thus, as part of traditional burial ceremonies in Benin, a procession must be made to pay homage to Emotan at her shrine. Same with any person picking a chieftaincy title, as a mark of respect and honour to her heroic deeds, which had helped to restore the monarchy of Benin Kingdom.
To further compensate her loving kindness, Oba Ewuare ordered that her body be buried at the Oba market, in the same area where she carried out her trading activities. A tree was planted on the grave site. She was also to be worshipped as the “mother of love and kindness”. The history of the great Benin Kingdom is incomplete without paying glowing tributes to this iconic woman of unforgettable historical exploits.
Thought for the week
“Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen. We don’t always have to agree, but we must empower each other, we must find the common ground, we must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good”. (Cory Booker)