The dethronement of His Royal Highness, Zaiki Anslem Eidonjie, as the Onojie of Uromi, Edo State by the Adams Oshiomhole administration toward the end of his tenure should be of great concern to all culturally sensitive citizens of Edo state in particular and the country in general.
Politically motivated and capable of creating disharmony and inter groups’ tension and suspicion in the state, it represents a clash between African traditional values and modern values as defined and implanted by colonial masters and sustained by indigenous ruling elite. The developments are not recipe for meaningful growth and development.
As I have observed elsewhere, today there is subdued rivalry for power between traditional rulers and political leadership. The traditional rulers truly believe he is in charge of his domain but the political leadership thinks otherwise. While the former have the support of their local people, the latter has the backing of the law- the constitution .
Of course, the traditional ruler has been the perpetual loser. In the earlier encounter with colonial masters he lost his powers and authority and failed to regain them after independence. The educated elite who assumed power after the departure of the colonial masters simply assigned them inferior role in the constitution
There are compelling reasons to review, forgive and restore the king of Uromi to the throne. One of them is the need for peace and harmony for the unity and development of the state.The deposition of the king is disharmonious in effect especially on the culture of Uromi Kingdom . Cultural values constitute the basis of all human actions including the methods adopted for productive and social activities. In Esanland kingship is highly cherished and revered. It is hereditary – the undisputed right of a king’s first son.
The hereditary culture is so deep, entrenched, so highly valued and respected that it has a name- Eidonjie which means ‘a king is not changed midway’, It is significant to note that is the name by which the embattled king of Uromi is known addressed, rules and reigns.
But for modernity, the king in the imagination of the ordinary Uromi person cannot be deposed outside the laid down tradition. The palace is owned and maintained by the community. The reigning king is thus the symbol of the collective value of both the physical and spiritual aspects of life. He is their totem. In pre-colonial times, a perceived insult on the king from outside the kingdom could lead to inter- kingdom war. Take away the king and life becomes meaningless to majority of the people.
There is thus the negative effect of the dethronement on the people to consider. It creates disharmonious effect on the community. On the surface it is the king that is being punished. But in reality it is the entire community that is under assault or punishment. This is so because kingship is more a community affair than individual glory or misfortune. The community makes their king and builds his palace and arranges its maintenance including method of coronation, succession, and removal.
As hinted earlier, the first son of a king succeeds his father. No dispute and the king is expected to lead, rule, carry out physical and spiritual functions on behalf of the community. The dethronement is thus beyond the punishment, misfortune and pains of one man .It is the loss and pains of the entire community. It is the embarrassment and humiliation of the entire Uromi community. What hurts the king equally hurts his people.For the respect for our shared culture which Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki has aptly described as’ world class (Vanguard 11-12-2016p3), the decision to dethrone the king of Uromi so soon after the governorship election and the coronation of Oba Ewuare11 was ill- advised and wrong headed.
As elaborated on below, after that bitterly contested governorship election, Edo State needed cultural harmony and unity of purpose to move forward. Besides, the newly coronated Oba of Benin -Oba Ewuare11- needs some time to settle to his throne and associated role especially as the Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers in Edo state. But he had hardly settled to work when the dethronement of one of his council members was announced.
While it is doubtful if the Oba and members of his council were briefed on whatever shortcomings of the Onojie of Uromi before the obviously out -of -proportion punishment was meted, the action raises a number of questions .
Was it meant to cow or intimidate all traditional rulers in the state to submit to the political ruler no matter the inconvenience? Was it to remind the public that the elaborate celebration of our culture during the coronation of the current Oba of Benin was a mere mockery of reality or a mere show of political power over traditional rulers and a reminder that their stool stands on sandy, shaky and shifting foundation?
Or was the action meant to show that the position of traditional ruler in Edo state is cheap, ordinary, highly tenuous and dependent on the whims and caprices of some person in high political office or on the stroke of the pen of a civil servant in the way of the colonial authority? Or is it an attempt to send a message of warning across to cajole the traditional rulers to political submission? Are we about witnessing the reenactment of the era of the warrant chiefs as established by colonial office to do their bidding?
While the purpose of the dethronement remains unclear, it represents a sad chapter in the history of traditional rulership in the state.
The season of the dethronement was most untimely and the reason stated for the unpopular and culturally shocking action remains weak and unconvincing. For instance, a new Oba of Benin was just ascending the throne and a new government was about to be inaugurated. Both needed a harmonious cultural atmosphere to take off. The abrupt sack of the king of Uromi would not facilitate this. It is indicative of deliberate attempt to humiliate a king and his people for political reasons. But this is not healthy for the state! Infact it is dangerous development. It might be convenient to humiliate the traditional rulers in times of peace, but we may need them in dire moment of crisis.
The worry is that the strength to do the needful at the hour of dire need – say checking communal crisis – may then not be available due to its previous erosion and demystification .
The peoples of Edo State often pride themselves as belonging to a common ancestor. If this is true, then why are we creating a pariah status for some communities in a state where majority citizens pride themselves as belonging to a common ancestry?
Are we saying that all the claims to common brotherhood by Edolites are fake, that the people of the state cannot work together as one? Or is the action a statement that modernity and culture cannot see eye to eye? Or is it that the Uromi members of the APC had sold their king to ridicule and deposition?
These are questions that should prick our collective conscience.
As they say ‘to err is human and to forgive is divine’. Technically, the king erred by not replying the query issued by the government within the stipulated period. However, this can be culturally excused because it is abnormal for a king to be on his kneels begging his ‘subject’ in the public.
Officially, the king ought to know better that a new leviathan was in town. The political leaders call the shots and not the the traditional rulers no matter how majestic they look . This has been so since colonial times. Given the frosty relationship between the Oshomhole administration and Uromi as a result of some misperceptions, the king should not have provided opportunity for any hostile attack. In other words he should have made a timely response to the query especially given the obvious mutual distrust between the then governor and Uromi people over cultural and political differences .
For me it is both politics and rule of the game at work. Had I the opportunity to see the king earlier, I would have urged him to make prompt and appropriate response to the query from the ‘constituted authority’ in keeping with the rule of the game. As a retired civil servant , I know the adverse implication of non response to a query within the stipulated time. It is an offence itself. But it was politics at work more than anything else. Thus it is debatable if any response from the king would have been considered good given the politics of bitterness and vengeance that had engulfed the state over time.
The foul and determined mood of the government to belittle the Royal Stool of Uromi, its occupant and people has been obvious even before the governorship election in Edo State. While it is extremely hypocritical to talk of Royal fathers’ neutrality in politics, it is a well known fact that political intolerance of opposition has been the name of the game even in a plural society such as ours. This could be gleaned from the haste with which the decision to depose the king of Uromi was taken.
It is well known fact that some kings campaigned openly for their favoured party but without query from the top. As the decision to depose the king of Uromi was more political than cultural, we must plead for political solution with the government of Edo state to change its mind. After the rain comes sunshine. There is life after elections.
Thus as earlier observed, an important reason for plea is the need for post election harmony for accelerated development. Edo state has just concluded a most bitter and divisive gubernatorial election ever which has left her divided on many fronts- cultural, political, social and religious.
Generally, political struggle and attendant elections are very divisive in effect. But after the elections are won and lost, deliberate efforts must be made to bring society together to live in harmony, peace and unity. This is a primary duty of the political elite. Uromi is important part of the state and cultural crisis associated with the dethronement of its monarch would be counter- productive to harmonious coexistence.
Paradoxically, the sad news of the suspension of the king of Uromi by the government of Edo State got to many homes in the morning of the day (6-11-2016 ) ‘a thank you colloquium’ was planned for the comrade Governor Oshomhole .
But before one could figure out things came the harsher punishment-the dethronement of the king.This was on the eve of the inaugural ceremony of a new government in the state. These were joyful moments that called for celebration by all Edolites. How would the people of Uromi participate in these important state functions? Is it with love, warm heart or injured feeling of a broken heart? Some may say that it did not matter whether Uromi participated or not . To such people what is most important is the participation of majority elites.
In plural society such as ours with multiplicity of ethnic groups, such approach is tantamount to an endorsement of the tyranny of the majority and the perpetual emasculation and exclusion of the minority groups in the community from participation.Unless tamed, democracy of that variety always tends to exclude minority groups from power and so serve as source of internal friction.
The moment in Edo State after election demands cooperation, unity of purpose and concerted efforts to build and move the state forward. In particular, there is the need to build trust, love and friendship across the local governments in the state.
Dr. Abhuere is the Chairman/Founder, Centre for Childcare and Youth Development, Abuja.