Permit me to temporarily suspend, for this week only, my series on great world leaders that turned their depressed economies around, and how they did it, to pay a deserving tribute to our revered new Oba of Benin kingdom, Omonoba N’ Edo, Uku Akpolopolo, Ewuare N’ Ogidigan II. I am a proud High Chief in Benin Kingdom, with the eminent title of Enobakhare-Ode, which situates me squarely in the hallowed pantheon of the highest cadre of Benin Kingdom Chiefs, called Eghavbonore, led by Chief Sam Igbe, the Iyase (Traditional Prime Minister). To have witnessed the coronation of a new Oba, not just as a mere spectator, but as a full-blooded subject and Chief of the Oba, was for me, a personal humbling experience. The last time an event like that took place was on 23rd of March, 1979 (37 years ago), when our past iconic Oba Erediauwa, CFR, succeeded his foremost father, Oba Akenzua II. I was then a final year Law student at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife. I had followed with awe, how my late mentor, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, to mourn the just departed Oba, had entered the nearest barber’s shop in Benin, to shave his hair clean, “gorimapaishly”.
History was enacted, and the whole world literally stood still, when on 20th of October, 2016, the erstwhile Crown Prince, Edaiken n’ Uselu, Ambassador Eheneden Erediawa, became the 40th Oba of Benin Kingdom, taking on the title of Ewuare N’ Ogidigan II.
For historical contextualisation, Ewuare II is traditionally following the footsteps of Ewuare I, “Ewuare the great”, or “Ewuare N’ Ogidigan (1440 – 1473), who had reigned after Uwafiokun (1434 – 1440), and was succeeded by Ezoti (1473 – 1475).
The Benin kingship is not like any other kingship in the world. It is both allegorical, unique, emblematic and mystical. The kingship serves as the very oxygen that the Benins breathe, inhale, eat, drink, dream, speak, survive and live on. Old Benin Empire paled into epochal insignificance, such revered Empires of Ashanti land, Carthage, Mali, Wolof, Jolof, Oyo, Borno, Kushi, Songhai, Ethiopia, Dahomey, Mossi and Zulu.
Benin Obaship’s evolution saw Oba Eweka, son of Oranmiyan, rule for 66 years, from 1180 – 1246. This animated and inspired unforgettable cultural renaissance and traditional reverence for the kingship, which is by way of primogeniture (father to son). No Benin male, except from this royal line of full blue-blooded scions of the line of kings can ever aspire to the sacred throne. It is a taboo, an anathema.
The new Oba has just commenced his eventful reign by combining the navigational and exploratory wizardry of Columbus, Vasco Dagama, Mungo Park, Clapperton, Lander Brothers, Prince Henry the Navigator, with the wisdom of King Solomon and the courage of Daniel and Noah, by breaking down the steely façade and iron barriers of myths, fantasies and fiction. He did this when he declared that contrary to widely held views, Oranmiyan, son of Oduduwa of Ile-Ife, and father of Eweka I, whom the Benin people of that era knew as Ekaladeran (their self-exiled Prince who also later became ruler in Ile-Ife), was the first Oba of Benin. It was Oranmiyan, he punctured historical revisionists, who established Benin Obaship, after the Ogiso dynasty. This rare insightful bravado, more than anything else will, perhaps, signpost the direction and trajectory of his reign, which will be one of speaking truth to authorities.
In terms of origin, Benin has an abiding and looming presence amongst many peoples of the globe, especially those of Onitsha, Ika, the entire Niger Delta, Lagos (Eko), Ekiti, Ikare, Kukuruku, parts of Ondo State and Republic of Benin. During Ewuare I’s reign, about 201 conquered territories paid tribute to him. Early European adventurists were overawed that he constructed a “network of 31 straight streets of about 120 ft. wide, which intersect themselves at right angles”, a civil engineering feat unknown at that time, to the Europeans themselves.
Whilst all Benin Obas have been great, playing defining epochal roles, one recalls with nostalgia, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1888-1914), who fought and humiliated, with a great army, British meddlesome interlopers, for which he was callously exiled to Calabar, and which led to the mindless and horrific infamous Benin punitive expedition and massacre. One remembers Oba Eweka II (1914 – 1933), who rebuilt the ruined Palace and started the second Ogiso dynasty.
One recollects the political titan, Oba Akenzua II (1933 – 1978), who spearheaded the movement for the creation, by popular plebiscite, of Midwest region from western region on 10th of August, 1963. Then, the just departed colossus, Oba Erediauwa, CFR. (who installed me the Enobakhare of Benin Kingdom three years ago). He literally erected bridges of unity, understanding, amity, development and inclusiveness between, not just the Benin people, but also the entire Edo nation and other ethnic nationalities across Nigeria.
It is from this illustrious pedigree that Oba Ewuare Ogidigan II, has just emerged, like the northern star that illuminates the firmament and makes other lesser stars to take a dive in obscurity.
To say that this direct son of Cambridge-trained lawyer father and former Federal Permanent Secretary, Oba Erediauwa, this grandson of Kings College, Lagos-trained Oba Eweka II, and this great grandson of Oba Ovoranmwen Nogbaisi, is well groomed and fully prepared for his divinely cut out destiny, is an understatement. He drank from the purified fountain of knowledge and wisdom of these historical titans. He was very close to, and interacted freely, with his father, Oba Erediauwa, contrary also to earlier antediluvian and primeval beliefs that the heir apparent to the throne is forbidden from seeing his reigning Oba father.
This Ewuare II, born 63 years ago, sure has a way of charting new courses. He did not just necessarily have his palm kernel cracked for him by a benevolent spirit, notwithstanding his birth into royalty; he actually assiduously worked for it, with resoluteness, tenacity, sweat, pains, pangs and utmost commitment.
Growing up in his grandfather’s harem (Oba Akenzue II), having lost his mother in 1976, at a youthful age, Ewuare got groomed in the art and science of monarchical royalty.
After attending Edo College and Immaculate Conception College, Benin City, young Ewuare II surpassed his ancestors by furthering his education in both the UK and USA.
He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the prestigious University of Cardiff, UK, and Master’s Degree in Public Administration, from the famous 250-year-old Rutgers Graduate University, New Jersey, USA. Fully equipped with the intellect and academic qualifications needed to confront a competitive world, Ewuare first served as a Graduate intern with the United Nations in New York. He later returned home and joined the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos. He was later to become a member, then Director, with the Board of Directors of the Integrated Data Services Ltd. unit of the NNPC. He also served as Adviser on Socio-economic development with the Edo State government.
His world of diplomacy
Fully armed with these glittering credentials of a bagful of academic qualifications and practical experience in corporate environment, Oba Ewuare hit the ground running, in the mould of Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, on being appointed Ambassador in 1997. His friends recall that Ewuare’s early involvement in international business, especially in Oil and Gas, moulded him into an economic and diplomatic Czar, in the mode and character of his renowned forebearer, Oba Esigie (1504 – 1550), and prepared him for his diplomatic odyssey.
We recall that the EU and nearly the whole world had slammed sanctions against Nigeria, and recalled home their envoys during Abacha’s despotic reign, especially after the carefully choreographed “judicial murder” of the Ogoni poet, playwright and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Oba Ewuare was posted to the Kingdom of Sweden, with concurrent accreditation to the Scandinavian countries of Republic of Finland and the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway. His great task involved confidence-building, diplomatic engineering and balming of gaping sores left yawning by Abacha’s absolutism. Suave, urbane, majestic, stoical, charming and resplendent, Oba Ewuare’s fascinating royal dressing code soon illuminated and brightened the dark crevices of locked diplomatic channels, and permitted him unhindered access to the high and mighty in these cold Scandinavian countries, thus returning Nigeria to the enlightened comity of nations.
His nobility and spectacular performance were so visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that Obasanjo, on return of civilian government in 1999, re-appointed him as Ambassador to Angola, opening up new frontiers in the bilateral relations between embattled Angola, and a pariah Nigeria. His exemplary performance, diplomatic wizardry and sheer geniality soon caught the late President Yar’Adua’s eye, who in 2007, quickly reappointed him as Ambassador to Italy, with concurrent accreditation to Albania.
This accomplished cultural ambassador, administrator par excellence, great humanist, irrepressible lover of people, focused achiever, with a quiet mien and magisterial gait and carriage, is fully poised to take Benin kingdom to a new dizzying height of visibility, fame and glory.
Being personally close to Ewuare II, as I was, to his larger-than-life father, Oba Erediawa, has given me a rare insight into this prodigy of a royal avant-garde, who at once, oxymoronically combines reticence and taciturnity with warmth, gregariousness and conviviality; colourful, yet not flamboyant; disciplined, yet not authoritarian; generous yet not spendthrift. A man that is committed to the peace, tranquility and development of the “heartbeat of the nation”, handsome Ewuare II possesses the affability and smiles that can melt the Olumo Rock of Abeokuta or Zuma Rock of Abuja (permit the apparent hyperbole), to paint, most graphically, the plenitude, amplitude, depth and breadth, of this remarkable personality. His presence is at once voluminous, commanding, commodious, incandescent, illuminating, just as it is infectious, filling a space with light, however dark, large or empty.
Oba Ewuare Ogidigan II, as you ascended the throne of your illustrious ancestors, having been decreed so by God, permit me the rare privilege and honour of wishing you an incredibly long reign, excellent health and peace that passeth all understanding, in administering this historical Benin Kingdom. True, it is God indeed, not man, that maketh kings. Oba gha tokpere, Iseeee.