Judex Okoro, Calabar
The ancient city of Calabar, the Cross River State capital, was once again agog recently. As characteristic of the Efik and their king, noted for their hospitality, they hosted the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolkpolo, Ewuare II, between January 10 and 13, 2020. The royal visit of the Benin monarch to the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, rekindled centuries of historical ties between the two kingdoms.
No doubt, the Benin and Efik kingdoms shared some historical ties dating back centuries. First, both kingdoms are monarchical; the two kings are natural rulers, they are treaty kings, have rich traditions and cultural heritage. They are first class kings. Above all, their forebears had very early contact with the European merchants, especially the Portuguese, through maritime ventures, and signed various treaties with them.
Prior to the visit of Ewuare II, one of his forefathers, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1888-1897), ruled the Benin Kingdom, until the punitive expedition of 1897, which led to his exile to the ancient city of Calabar. Oba Ovonramwen, also called Overami, was exiled by the British with his two wives, Queens Egbe and Aighobahi.
On arrival in Calabar, he was received and hosted in a small town called Essien Town by Etinyin Essien Etim Offiong, the progenitor of Essien Town. He died in Calabar around the turn of the New Year in 1914 and he was eventually buried in the grounds of the royal palace in Benin.
Therefore, the visit of Oba Ewuare II was a further demonstration of his readiness to not only follow in the footsteps of his forefathers, who maintained strong links with the Efik of Calabar, beginning from the 19th Century, but also to showcase the royal splendour the two ancient kingdoms are made of.
From the Margaret Ekpo Internaional Airport, Calabar, where the Oba landed in his private jet, to the Obong’s palace on Effanga Ansa Street, off Egerton, in Calabar South, it was a display of class and royalty. The palace chiefs from both kingdoms were dressed in their regalia to befit their status as kingmakers.
While the Etuboms, Efik kingmakers and other royal chiefs wore long wrapper with long shirts decked with “okpon-kpo” (traditional tie) and caps to match. The royal chiefs from Benin Kingdom wore free-flowing gowns with red-coloured traditional long necklaces. The royal guards were not left out as they were seen blowing flutes to either herald the arrival of the two kings or make way for the passage of spirit.
The reception of the Oba and his entourage began from the Bassey Duke Effigy at the famous Watt Market Roundabout, Calabar, with displays by numerous troupes, including the Ekpe masquerades, Ntimi royal dance, displayed on when there is a royal visit such as the Oba, and the Ekombi, a notable Efik dance at all Efik ceremonies.
Shortly after, the Benin monarch and his convoy drove in his white Rolls Royce car to the palace of the Obong where the Oba was spiritually and majestically welcomed.
Welcoming the Oba, the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, enjoined the Benin monarch, Ewuare II, to feel at home, being the city of which one of his forefathers was peacefully resting. He said the coming of the Oba was a demonstration of a show of solidarity and love to the traditional institution:
“History has been made for the Oba to come and pay a thank you visit after his coronation. You are not a visitor in anyway and this is very unique in our culture. I can tell you that the Efik Kingdom would be very happy that this history and re-enactment would continue. Your coming would definitely restore the traditional glory and the old relationship between the Benin and Efik kingdoms.”
Indigenes of Edo State resident in Cross River State led by Chief Sunday Eboigbe, said they were elated to have their Oba visit Calabar, a land they have lived peacefully in while engaging in meaningful livelihood that has contributed to the economic growth of the state:
“Your Royal Majesty, we wish to draw your attention to the residence of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ovunramwun Ngbaisi, who reigned between 1888 and 1914 AD, who live in Calabar. We wish to appeal to you that during this your historic visit to Calabar, you encourage the Cross River State Government to give us a piece of land to help us build a secretariat.”
Oba Ewuare II said he was appreciative of the people of Calabar for extending the hospitality of the people to his forefather and cement the ties existing between both kingdoms. He said the destination of Calabar in 1897 was not a coincidence, stressing that to further cement the historical ties between the Benin people and the people of Calabar, a memorial in honour of Ovonramwen is planned for the city:
“The people of Benin and Calabar have a rich history and affinity that have been defined by trade and shared co-existence. It is our belief that the choice of destination in 1897 being Calabar was no mere coincidence.
“We are aware of the reception and hospitality accorded to our father in those days which we shall never forget. In this regard, we like to propose for the establishment of a befitting memorial site in honour of our father, Omo N’Oba Ovonramwen.
“This memorial site can also highlight the impact and significance the colonial authority had on our indigent cultures and traditions and become a guide and educational resource for Nigerians as well as all people of the world, including the generations unborn to be educated and enlightened on the impact of our contact with the western world.”
He said the productive relationship between Benin and Calabar should be sustained and even strengthened in the years ahead for the benefit of both people and cultures: “It is high time royal fathers came together to advance the Nigerian unity and prosperity.
“Besides, it is time to encourage community development association, tackle human trafficking and then share my thought in traditional development of Nigeria traditional institution which, is a sin qua non to good governance.”
A member of the Etubom Traditional Rulers Council and former Minister of Health, Chief Emmanuel Nsan, said the Etubom Traditional Council would ensure their request of setting up a structure for the memorial of their fore-father who was on exile in Calabar:
“We are very mindful of the wish of your people to set up something in memorial of your forefathers. It is too soon for us to forget and we may never forget about what happened to the British colonialists in their exercise of unmerited authority over royalty.
“I will leave that to the Etubom Traditional Rulers council and I think they will give due consideration to that project. Personally, I support the agenda and sincerely speaking, we look forward to its fulfilment.”
One of the Efik chiefs, Chief Inyang Ekpo Ekpo, said: “The visit by the Oba has once more brought to the fore the negative impact of colonialism on the indigenous cultures of Africa and also underscored the need for the people to cherish their culture and values for the sake of posterity.
“The imposition of the white culture on the continent through coercion and force left a sour taste on the indigenous people of the continent but the example shown by the Benin Kingdom and the resilience of the people has left an enduring legacy which needs to be fostered.”
The three-day visit to the Canaan City of Calabar was rounded off with a royal banquet at the residence of Obong of Calabar at Adiabo on Sunday and then courtesy call on Governor Benedict Ayade, who granted the request of the Oba to establish and situate a memorial centre and a Benin house within the state.