On March 15, 2015, the Secretary to the Benin Traditional Council, Mr. Frank Irabor, in a signed press statement tried to calm the rising concern by the Binis and others about the health condition of their most revered and esteemed traditional ruler, that Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa, who was not only the royal father of the ancient Benin Kingdom but was the spiritual father of the people in many respects, when he stated thus: ‘‘It is hereby announced for the information of the general public that in the Palace parlance, “Uhunmwun ve Ekpen vb’ Ato”, meaning “the Leopard is ill in the Savannah bush,” adding, ‘‘the explanation is that Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa, CFR, Oba of Benin is indisposed.” Several months after, the palace, yesterday, April 29, formally announced the homeward journey of the monarch to join his ancestors thus putting to rest the disquiet that has pervaded the blue sky of the ancient city since March 2016 when the Oba took ill and went out of the public space.
Late Oba Akenzua 11 was perhaps the happiest monarch on June 22, 1923, when his olori (wife) gave birth to his first son and heir to the throne of his forefathers, thus assuring his place not just in history but among his ancestors when he finally made his homeward journey because he had given birth to an heir apparent that would ensure the perpetuation of his dynasty on the revered throne of Benin Kingdom. Therefore, the palace and Binis all over the world celebrated the birth of the new heir apparent, Prince Solomon Aiseokhuoba, Igbinoghodua Akenzua.
Early education and career path
Growing up under the close watch and monitoring of the Benin palace, Prince Solomon Akenzua attended Government School, Benin (now Edo College), Government College, Ibadan (1939–1945), Yaba College, Lagos (now Yaba College of Technology), before proceeding to King’s College, Cambridge to study Law and Administration. On the completion of his studies he returned home and signed up with the then Eastern Nigeria Civil Service in 1957 as a District Officer and later transferred his services to the Federal Civil Service where he served in different ministries, departments and agencies and in various capacities before finally bowing out of the civil service as a retired Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Health in 1973. He was also noted to have had a short stint as the regional representative of Gulf Oil while in 1975 he was appointed Commissioner for Finance in the then Bendel State under the Military Administration of Major-General George Agbazika Innih. He was to later bid farewell to civil life and existence and take on the role of His Royal Highness when he was crowned the Oba of Benin years later.
Ascendancy of the throne
Following the home call of his father, Oba Akenzua 11, Crown Prince Solomon Akenzua, was on March 23, 1979 crowned the Oba of Benin after a series of rites carried out by the palace. He formally assumed the official title of Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa and thereafter ordered that he should be called or simply referred to as Oba Erediawua. His ascendancy to the throne of his forefathers was marked with a colourful ceremony, which exhibited the rich and enduring culture and tradition of the Binis. A highly elevated, dynamic and cerebral culture, which despite the pillage and punitive expedition of the British colonialists in 1897, still remains one of the most authentic and respected cultures and traditions across Africa and the world in general. The same with the institution of the Obaship, which withstood the aberration visited on it by the British and rather than wane in importance and relevance to the people grew to an unimaginable proportion. Such that after the demise of Oba Ovoranmwen who was banished to Calabar, the Obaship institution bounced back to reckoning with the people according it the most respected accolades and reverence.
According to palace historians, the assumption of the throne by Oba Erediauwa on March 23, 1979 witnessed a natural phenomenon, which has never happened in the history of the kingdom and during the enthronement of any oba. That is a momentary eclipse of the sun as the moon visited the earth not only to herald his ascension to the throne but to acknowledge what would be the greatness of his majesty and royalty. This reporter then was a witness to this phenomenal and historic occurrence as a young secondary school boy was among the millions of people who watched his coronation live on TV right in the courtyard of the house master, Mr. Obanor, in Edokpolor Grammar School, Benin City, when suddenly in a few seconds the TV screen went blank and everywhere plunged into darkness and utter confusion and just when anyone could scamper for hiding the light (sun) came back, beaming and shinning brighter than normal. It was under this natural occurrence that the new Oba was presented to the world under the title of Oba Erediauwa, which is literarily translated to mean ‘I have come to straighten my people.’ His name, historians say clearly showed the kind of leadership that he was to provide for his people, the nation and the world in general. Incidences, which characterised the reign of the 38th Oba who ruled for about 37 years are pointers to the fact that the Oba lived out the full meaning of his name.
That his strides and greatness are not in the realm of conjecture but rather practical and empirical evidence abound in the kingdom and across all spectrums of society to clearly show that Oba Erediauwa was indeed an astute oba, a towering figure with a colossal image and huge following and had rightly claimed his position in history through the dint of hard work and the commitment to the welfare and development of his kingdom, people, state and nation. In his time, he displayed uncanny commitment to the wellbeing of his people through his many developmental strides. He was a man of integrity, a statesman and astute administrator to the core. He carried himself with dignity and was fair to all as he dispensed justice with uncommon touch. He was a beacon of hope, faith and justice to his people and kingdom. Above all, he displayed high level of sanctity and spirit of forgiveness and reconciliatory attitude that many people around him couldn’t comprehend.
The 37 years reign of Oba Erediauwa witnessed a series of milestones, which were all pointers to his greatness and the depth of his wealth of knowledge and experience as a royal father. In many respects the Oba was regarded as a peacemaker extra-ordinary as all through his reign his kingdom witnessed no discord but rather he promoted peaceful co-existence among his people. Harmony and prosperity where the epitome of his reign as he did all within his powers to ensure the prosperity of his people. He was apolitical and held wholesome and healthy views about the socio – cultural, economic and political developments in his kingdom and country and his world view was well articulated and respected by all. Despite his apolitical position, he never once failed to weigh in on happenings in the political space when it was necessary for him to do so and this awesome and fearless stance of his no doubt brought him in collision with the powers that being almost serving as both threats to him and his people but yet he was never cowered or tampered his views. One clear example was during the reign of the former military head of state, late General Sani Abachi and the phanthom coup involving General Oladipo Diya and other military officers, Whilst other royal fathers and traditional fathers across the country were pandering to the head of state and racing to Abuja to watch the infamous coup video and expressly declaring support for the maximum military ruler, Oba Erediauwa was the only oba of his class and status that refused to play to the public gallery by not endorsing the perfidy and macabre dance and theatrics that were being enacted by General Abacha and his goons.
When finally the dust settled down following the demise of Abacha, Oba Erediauwa was vindicated for his stance thus his position and views were further elevated and his person highly rated by every Nigerian for his uprightness and forthrightness. Till his final exit the Oba remained true to his commitment and dedication to fighting the cause of the people no matter the cost. His was also a bridge builder and pathfinder who ensured that the nation never crumbled and was very outspoken against any evil or wrongdoing by the governed and government. He was said to have contributed immensely to brokering peace across board among the various political leaders and rulers of the country. He was also very detribalised and extended hand of fellowship to everyone. Also, very accommodating of other people’s views and stance and never went against the grain of humanity to bring any one down or unjustly invoke his power. He was never the type to thrown his enormous weight and power around rather he conducted himself within the most refined and acceptable norms of society and royalty. Perhaps one of the greatest milestones of his reign was the celebration of the Benin Centenary – that is 100 years of the 1897 punitive expedition – invasion of Benin Kingdom by the British. The celebration spanned several weeks climaxing in a very colourful ceremony.
Developments/growth of Benin
It could be safely said that Benin Kingdom during his time experienced a lot of development and growth with him serving as a catalyst of change. Thanks to his astute administrative skills and global view. This led him to introducing a lot of changes and transformations within the palace and Benin kingdom itself. He brought some level of panache and modernity into the celebration of the culture of the people. He ensured among others that justice was duly administered and liberalised the way and manner the people were treated by the palace and its various presiding authorities as well as ensuring that his vassals were well taken care of by strengthening the administration of all Benin villages under his domain. In a way the Oba demystified the palace and the Benin traditional institution by promoting openness and instilling confidence in the people, thereby, not only entrenching the institution but endearing himself the more to the people and winning their trust in the process to such extent that the oba’s words or commends were never questioned or faulted by the people but rather he compelled a willing obedience from his subjects and others who revered him and elevated him beyond a mere mortal. In fact, in Benin cosmology and belief, the oba is not just only regarded as a royal father or mere mortal but rather he is seen and regarded as a god because he is seen as the intermediary between the people and the ancestors and so he was both the royal father and the religious/spiritual head of the people. So it was with Oba Erediauwa who in every respect played his God given role to the hilt. He took his final bow when the ovation was the most loudest. He departed the world unscathed and without any blemish and for years when the history books are turned, he would forever be remembered and his name written in gold because he had indeed played at the world stage not just the mortal he was born as but rather as a god that he assumed later in his sojourn as oba.
Rumbles in the kingdom
Benin or Edo State during his reign also witnessed some rumbles but not due to fault of his or something confined strictly to the palace or tradition that he was birthed to protect and preserve but on an account of ensuring good governance in the state for which he at every point stuck out his neck and personality, speaking out when the need arose and when he needed to without fear or favour. A clear case was when there was dispute in the election that brought in the short lived administration of former governor John Oyegun. The Oba was listed as one of the witnesses in the court case. And true to his conviction and person, he never shied away from going to the court in person to give evidence even when such court summon was seen as against the custom and tradition of the people, the palace and his status as Oba. In fact, it was sacrilegious summon him but the Oba thought otherwise as he defied all oppositions and heeded the court summon, trekking barefooted from his palace to the Benin High Court on Sapele Road, which is some distance from his palace. The city stood still on this day as many of his subjects abandoned their chores and businesses for the day and accompanied their most revered Oba to the court. The Oba also had a face – off with a former military administrator of the state, late Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem in 1999 and it was well publicised then as the governor accused the oba of partisanship for allegedly supporting the candidate of the All People Party (APP), Lucky Imasuen.
This led to the suspension of the Oba by the military administrator from both the state security council and the chairmanship of the state Traditional Rulers Council for about four months. This action of the governor was seen by his people as an affront on their oba and tradition but the oba took it in his stride and appealed for calm among his people in what would had resulted into breakdown of law and order. Such was the character of the Oba that he showed reconciliatory spirit and deposition and equanimity in his handling of state affairs and matters that would had led to crisis. At every point, he showed enough strength of character and was able to weigh in on his people and restore equilibrium to his cosmo because that was what he pledged to do when he ascended the throne by taking on the title of Erediauwa. Few years after that incident, the Oba again was embroiled in some kind of confrontation with the House of Igbinedion with the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Osawuru Igbinedion and the son, Lucky Igbinedion, who was the governor of the state from 1999 to 2007 said to have acted in manners that were seen by the palace and the people as an affront to the Oba, which eventually led to the suspension of the Esama by the palace. But years later the difference between them were resolved and calmness again returned to the palace and the city. The lesson here is that the Oba was a peace loving man and very accommodating otherwise the infractions by Esama and his son, Lucky, according to palace authorities and Bini historians were enough to cost them their titles or banishment from the domain but the oba never took any of these extreme positions but rather he forgave all their infractions against his person, the palace and the culture of the people. Other than this instance, his reign never witnessed any other rumble or threatening issue of note that he couldn’t handle. His 37 years on the throne have been described by many as perhaps one of the most peaceful era in history and also very enriching and prosperous for the people and the city because there were a lot of transformations made in the growth and development of the city in all spheres of human endeavours.
How the new Oba will emerge
Benin traditional system is a monolithic one, therefore, the crown Prince of Benin, the Ediaken of Uselu, Prince Eheneden Erediauwa, is expected to succeed his father on the throne in a matter of days. In fact, the crown prince, prior to the public announcement of the homeward journey of the Oba, according to the palace sources, has commenced the process of ascending the throne as a number of in – house rites and ceremonies may have been conducted. But to formalise this process, a number of rites would be performed by the crown prince in the days ahead. Some of these include: Being escorted from Egua Edaiken (his palace) by the people of Uselu on his journey back to Benin City. On the way he would stop over at an historical palm tree named “Udin ama-mieson aimiuwa,” which he would climb symbolically. This little ceremony dates its origin to the time of Oba Ewuare the Great whose life as heir apparent to the throne was characterised by long suffering which included periods when he personally had to climb palm trees on this spot to cut the fruits for a living. After this, he continues on his journey to Benin City and make a stopover at the first moat called (lya-akpan) in along the location where you have the defunct Mid- Motors (Nigeria) Limited.
Here his chiefs would take leave of him and return to Uselu while the Edaiken is thereafter escorted into the city by Benin chiefs. The procession continues through Iguisi (now Lagos Street) and proceeds to Eko- Ohae (bachelors’ camp) where Edaiken is expected to spend the next three days. After which the procession proceeds to Usama, the venue of the traditional coronation rites. Usama was the site where Orominyan, the father of Eweka I, built the first palace and all succeeding Obas from Eweka I were crowned and lived there, until Oba Ewedo in the 13th century moved the palace to the present site in the centre of the city. While at Usama, various rites and ceremonies would be engaged in by the Edaiken for about seven days. He is also expected to visit Use village, which is few kilometers away from the city where he performs one of the most important ceremonies that would define his reign as an oba, that is, choosing his official name by which he would be known thus consigning the era of his father to the backwaters of history and commencing his regime as oba. Interestingly, “This tradition started during the period of Oba Eweka I whose maternal grand-father, Ogie-Egor, lived in the next door village of Egor. When Prince Orominyan left Benin, he left behind his Bini wife who was pregnant in the care of her father the Ogie of Egor. The woman delivered a male child who was dumb from birth”.
Furthermore, the, “Maternal grandfather then sent him to Use, the mother’s village, for treatment, but when he grew up and still could not talk, words were sent to his father at Uhe. His father sent 7 magical Akhue with which the dumb Prince participated in the popular village game known as Akhue. With only one seed remaining on the ground and every player having failed to strike it, the young Prince used the magical Akhue from his father and succeeded in striking down the remaining seed”. “Excited by this feat, he spoke for the first time exclaiming in Yoruba, Owomika (my hand has struck it). He later assumed this expression for a title which became corrupted to Eweka”. Later, ‘Having picked a name at Use, the Edaiken returns to Usama where the crowning ceremony is performed by Oliha, the leader of the Uzama and proclaims Edaiken in his newly acquired name as the Oba of Benin.