COMMUNICATION in idioms and parables are part and parcel of African societies and traditional institutional systems. It is perhaps, in line with this that the Benin Traditional Council, Oba Palace, Benin on March 16, 2015 issued a statement that Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa, Oba of Benin was indisposed.
“It is hereby announced for the information of the general public that in the Palace parlance, “Uhunmwum ve Ekpen vb’ Ato”, meaning “the Leopard is ill in the Savannah bush”.
The statement, signed by Secretary to the Benin Traditional Council, Frank Irabor, read “Public engagements including courtesy visits, hearing of complaints from individuals, families and communities, and in particular, complaints over inheritance and land disputes, are therefore, suspended until further notice. All palace chiefs and functionaries are to note that their routine traditional duties continue as usual.”
Obviously, the above statement was issued following persistent media speculation that the revered Benin monarch may have joined his ancestors.
Now, with the coronation of his first son and heir apparent (Edaiken N’Uselu), Prince Eheneden Erediauwa as the new Oba of Benin, the speculation about the Oba’s health or otherwise, has been put to rest.
Born in 1923 as the first son of Oba Akenzua II, then Prince Solomon Aiseokhuoba Igbinoghodua Akenzua attended Government School, Benin from where he proceeded to Government College, Ibadan in 1939, where he obtained with flying colours, his London Matriculations which qualified him to gain admission into Yaba College, Lagos in 1945.
At the end of his course at Yaba, he gained admission 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 later transferred his service to the Federal Civil Service and rose to the position of Permanent Secretary.
Prince Solomon Akenzua retired from the service as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health in 1973 and became the regional representative of Gulf Oil Company, now known as Chevron.
He was appointed Commissioner for Finance in the defunct Bendel State during the Military Administration of Major-General Agbazika Innih in 1975.
His early retirement from public service was to prepare him to handle the intricacies of the administrative challenges that would confront him in the performance of his duties as Oba of Benin, as his father, Oba Akenzua II under-studied his father, Eweka II whom he served as Private Secretary before his enthronement as Oba of Benin.
On Saturday, 23rd March, 1979, Prince Solomon AKenzua was crowned the 38th Oba of Benin with the title Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa, CFR, Oba of Benin.
On the eve of his coronation, the sun and the moon reportedly appeared and created a partial eclipse, an occurrence that was interpreted to mean the Cosmic consent and endorsement of the coronation of the Oba to rule and reign over his people.
As a young prince and heir apparent, Oba Erediauwa was named Solomon-wise as King Solomon; Igbinoghodua- the Lord will be your strength and Aiseokhuoba-nobody should dare cause or invite your wrath by his grandfather, Oba Eweka II. These names and his title Erediauwa which means “one who has come to put the house and society in order”, have proved to be significant and instructive during his reign as the Oba of Benin.
Highly cerebral, one of the most revered traditional rulers in the country and always current with events, Oba Erediauwa’s reign witnessed peace and tranquillity and brought monumental transformation to Benin, the Edo State capital. famous for its old mud houses with rustic zinc from ancient times to a modern city.
He demonstrated his love for development of the State and in particular, Benin City, when the dualization of the Airport Road, Benin, was to commence.
At the time, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which had just lost power to then Action Congress (AC), was opposed to the project, claiming it was unnecessary and a waste of resources. A campaign was then mounted that the planned dualization would require the demolition of part of the Oba’s Palace. The essence of the campaign was to make Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his administration unpopular.
The Oba, obvioulsy interested in the development of Benin, reasoned differently and encouraged the project by personally adjusting the Palace fence to pave way for the road dualization project, even when the State Government decided to shift the road to avoid impacting on the palace.
The road project, apart from being a reality today, has changed the face of Benin.
Oba as custodian of culture
During his reign, the rich tradition and culture of the people witnessed remarkable renaissance. In particular, the annual Igue Festival celebrated every December, assumed international dimension, with visitors coming from abroad to participate in the festival.
Several individuals and corporate organisations identified with the festival with generous support to showcase the cultural heritage of the Benins.
During his 30th anniversary coronation on 23rd March, 2009, the splendour of a living Kingdom was displayed with cultural extravangaza which featured dances, chorals and music by theatre artists, schools, communities and the Isekhure Music Foundation. The event was to pay homage to the Omo N’ Oba and demonstrate the resilience of the Edo culture.
Erediauwa and politics
Unlike many traditional rulers who dabbled into the murky waters of partisan politics, the Omo N’ Oba maintained a dignified neutral position by staying off politics and refraining from partisan statements. Like a father to all, he prayed for all political actors who visited him in his palace, irrespective of their platforms.
Attempt to taint him with partisanship by the National Republican Convention (NRC) and its Edo State Governorship candidate, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, in 1992, almost led to a revolt by the Oba’s subjects who considered the Oba’s summon to testify at the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal as sacrilege.
The NRC and its candidate had summoned the Oba over an allegation that he made a broadcast on the eve of the election canvassing votes for the rival Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its candidate, Chief John Odigie Oyegun who won the election. The tribunal verdict however vindicated the revered monarch.
That incident, notwithstanding, Omo N’ Oba had played the role of peacemaker from time in the Nigerian polity, resolving disputes between politicians.
For example, he intervened in a dispute between former Abia State Governor, Orji Kalu and Tony Anenih, former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Board of Trustees, and resolved another face-off between Anenih and former Governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion.
Besides, the Oba also intervened in the dispute between lawmakers of the PDP and those of the APC in the Edo State House of Assembly. The legislators however refused to shift their grounds before the last general elections swept most of them away.
Oba Erediauwa and the media
Prior to his ascension to the throne of his forefathers, the Oba Palace was held with awe and trepidation by members of the general public and journalists. But Omo N’ Oba changed that perception when he threw the gates of the palace open and instituted a quarterly press parley between the palace and journalists in Edo State, thus creating unfettered access to the palace for media practitioners.
At such interactions, journalists would ask questions on any issue in Benin Kingdom and the Oba would either provide the answers or direct any of his chiefs to do so.
Where a particular issue was being brought to his notice, he would call those in charge of the area to provide relevant information or direct an investigation where the issue was not clarified.
The model of quarterly press interaction portrayed the Oba as a King who ran an open administration in his dealings with his subjects. He also emerged, perhaps, as the most media-friendly Oba in the history of Benin Kingdom and Nigeria at large. He will be sorely missed by journalists who enjoyed his rib-cracking jokes, gestures and mental alertness.