WHAT did the Oba of Benin mean on Wednesday when he said: “When Oranmiyan was coming from Ife, he came with two priests, each carrying a basket. Anytime there was any issue, the two reached out to their baskets and resolved it. Nobody else knew what was in the baskets except the two. So, whatever is happening between the incumbent governor, Obaseki and the former governor, Oshiomhole, is known only to the two of them”.
Dateline was Thursday, September 2, 2020. Venue? The palace of the Oba of Benin. The atmosphere was somber. The topic of the day was too serious and germane to the survival of the entire Edo State. Again, being the Palace of the most revered Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, Ogidigan, Oba of Benin, protocol was suspended. The governor of the state, Godwin Obaseki, his deputy, Philip Shaibu, two former governors and former National Chairmen of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; Peoples Democratic Party, Deputy Chairman, South-South, Chief Dan Orbih and a host of other political juggernauts , including those who are fanning the embers of the political upheaval in the state were all seated. They were complemented by a rich retune of palace chiefs. All seated, waiting for the regal monarch.
By 10.45 am, the palace official, responsible for the announcement of the monarch at any public function signaled the entrance of the Oba into the Royal Court. Everyone stood up, including the governor. In the Court of the Omo N’Oba, all mortals defer to him. That is the practice that is the tradition! Such reverence is as old as humanity; no compromise.
The Oba stepped in, in his majesty. The red royal apparel glittered. The trademark dark shade was not missing. Oba Ewuare II took a glance round the hall, checking of course, for any absentee invitee. None! Satisfied with the environmental scanning, he nodded in approval. Cameras clicked off. Camera men of the various electronic media houses adjusted and readjusted their focuses. Every attention was on the Throne. Omo N’Oba was in resplendent in totality!
Led by a palace official, all chorused; “Oba Gha to kperee”. The palace responded: “Isee, Eghua tua”- Amen, the palace greets you”. His Majesty took his seat on the ancient throne of Benin, one of the longest surviving empires in the entire black race. The palace griot took over. In flawless Bini sociolect, he rendered the panegyrics of the Oba, lacing it with emotive lyrics. Even if you don’t speak Bini, the responses from the palace chiefs and other attendees will make your head swell.
Then the monarch took the microphone and began the business of the day. As the custodian of the entire essence of the Bini heritage, Omo N’Oba began with Bini dialect and spoke extensively. From the press gallery, reporters who were not literate in Bini language waited with the hope that the Oba would also remember them and speak in the language they understood.
They did wait too long. Uku Akpolokpolo code switched to the English Language. Before ascending the throne of his forefathers, Oba Ewuare II was an ambassador to many nations.
He began: “ Today is a very historic day, very significant day in history of Edo State and Benin Kingdom. This meeting is the first of its kind. I want to lend my voice to what has been going on. This is our state, this is our land. I appreciate the respective gentlemen for the respect they have shown to the traditional institution and Benin throne. A child that does not show respect to his father has fallen short of expectations.
Then for the business of the day, the Oba volunteered: “Benin politics has been in the news for the wrong reasons. I must admit that I have had sleepless nights that such is happening among people of the same stock. I have been worried since the trouble started between the former governor Oshiomhole and Obaseki. I want to start that I have personal relationship with everybody here”.
On the robust relationship between Oshiomole and his successor, Obaseki, the Oba had this to say:
“ When Oshiomole was near the end of his tenure, people asked me who is going to take over. We used to interact and we had nice evenings together. I brought this to his notice; I was then yet to go to Uselu, and asked him who he had in mind. His response was that ‘Your Highness, I am still thinking about it’. Then weeks later he told me his position. He analysed three potential candidates and he zeroed in on the incumbent governor”.
At that meeting, the Oba said he did not utter a word. For, according to him, “when Oshiomole mentioned the incumbent governor, he gave all the strongest reasons in the world why it must be Obaseki. Did I say anything about it? I was not against his election and his imposition”.
“ While seeing him off, half way, he stopped and asked me why I did not say anything, whereas many other were against it, including many members of the Royal Family. Many talked about how his great grandfather betrayed the throne and all that. Yet I did not say anything “
The Omo N’Oba added that three weeks later, Oshiomole came to ask “for my opinion and I said I did not have an opinion because it was not a proposal. It was an imposition; it was a fait accompli. He assured me that Obaseki was going to be better than him and was going to continue all that he did”.
Not yet satisfied with the loud silence of the Oba, who by that time was into the rites of passage as Edaike N’Uselu to ascending the Bini throne, Oshiomhole sent the billionaire business man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
“For over one hour, Alhaji Dangote was talking to me about Governor Obaseki. Again, I kept quiet. I was not against his choice. Dangote gave himself as a guarantor that Governor Obaseki will be of good behaviour and perform well”, Omo N’Oba narrated.
When event took another turn, the Benin monarch said he was aghast at the bitter bickering between the duo.
Hear the monarch: “ I was very very sad and shocked because the incumbent governor and the former governor have been very close. what I thought will be a smooth ride has turned to an unprecedented conflict. I was sad and worried and I reported the matter to the president”.
The Oba hinted that he went beyond reporting the issue to the president but equally took steps to mediate but all failed.
Again, Uku Akpolokpolo narrated his frustrations reconciling the erstwhile buddies thus:
“I made several attempts to settle the two of them but they both avoided me to be together with me. When the Comrade was available, the governor would not be available and when the governor was available, the former governor would not be available. There was nothing I could do”.
What could have been responsible for the irreconcilable differences between the duo? The Omo N’Oba answered in the way of his forefathers. He found the cause in a Bini proverb and he interpreted it this way:
Regrettably the Oba noted, the matter degenerated to a level that the incumbent Governor Obaseki was disqualified on the ground that he did not possess the requisite qualifications and wondered what happened to the certificates which qualified him for the same position four years ago.
An Oba does not speak with tongue in cheek and Omo N’Oba will not spare those who are perceived to be fanning the embers of discord.
The first was a palace chief and scion of the late George Idah family, Chief Osaro Idah. Turning to the white-robe decked chief, the Oba said: “One of my chiefs here once said that politics is a dirty game. And I asked him, why do you wear white then if politics is dirty because white signifies purity; why not in rags or dirty cloth since politics is dirty. He answered me that when he is on the field, he changes his cloth”.
Then the vintage Omo N’Oba, turning to the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, whom he called “ my son”, he expressed his disappointment at the role the deputy governor was playing. He pointedly told Oshiomhole’s kinsman that information at his (Oba’s) disposal was to the effect that Shaibu was the one equipping the boys!
“Family can quarrel, but there must be resolution and that is what we are here today to achieve. You are all family and I am not happy about the way you are carrying on. You are confusing everybody. Why do you want lives to be lost. Why do we hear you are arming thugs and at the end of the election, the thugs keep the guns? I want to appeal to politicians, pleas don’t arm thugs”, the Oba pleaded.
Alluding to the peaceful transition between former President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari, the monarch urged the political gladiators to emulate the peaceful disposition of President Jonathan, whose call to the then candidate Buhari, put paid to the international permutation that Nigeria would disintegrate after the 2015 general elections.
For Chief Odigie Oyegun, the Omo N’Oba noted that being an elder statesman, he was expected to be neutral in the crisis. This was just as he asked Chief Dan Orbih to be temperate in the use of dictions during campaigns.
“ Enough is enough. Let us surprise everybody that when the election comes, it is peaceful. You are part of this great empire and you should be proud of it. Your activities must be matured. I am very sad about what is happening. This is the worst case scenario”, the Oba submitted.
He told the combatants: “Stop the bitter exchange of words. When you leave here,show that you respect your traditional institution and that you are not paying lip service to the throne. I have sacrificed my franchise so as to remain neutral and any Enogie who says he is endorsing one candidate is speaking for himself and not the palace. All the traditional rulers giving titles are already voting before the election. And all I want here is a statement of assurance that henceforth there will be peace. I did not like the ugly incident outside the gate of the palace when the governor came with others and he was embarrassed. Let it be that after today, there is a change”, the Oba demanded.
Like well scolded children, the gladiators, one after the other, took their turns to pledge peace.
Governor Obaseki, who was the first to speak, vowed that he would maintain peace because “I am as worried as you are”.
One after the other, the other actors also took the microphone and pledged commitment to peace.
The ‘literal stormy petrel’ of the squable, Shaibu, knelt down to pledge peace and tranquility.
Taking his turn, Pastor Ize-Iyamu of the APC genuflected to the governor, whom he called his elder brother and vowed that henceforth, it shall be message of peace.
Dan Orbih posited that it would be in the interest of the entire state if peace reigns.
The second owner of the proverbial mystery basket, Oshiomhole, submitted that his messages had always been peace and he would continue that way.
Then the elder statesman, Oyegun, expressed relief at the intervention of the Omo N’Oba.
The parties left and the palace gate was shut. Whether they will maintain and stand by the promises made before “God and our ancestors”, events of the coming days will tell. One thing that nobody can deny, however, is the fact that the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Square II, Oba of Benin, played the role and elder should play whenever children are one another’s necks.
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