Few days to the formal change of baton from former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole to then Governor elect Godwin Obaseki, the news broke that His Royal Higness, Anslem Eidonjie 11 -the Onojie of Uromi, who was hitherto on suspension, had been dethroned by the government of Edo State for reasons connected to the last governorship elections in the state.
Apart from the apparent haste with which the decision was made- there are many electoral issues yet unresolved so far – the dethronement raises a number of issues not the least being the precarious position of traditional rulership today in the country. It brings to mind sad memories of colonialism in Africa with its negative impact on the fortunes of traditional rulers in Nigeria.
The purpose of this essay is to appeal to the government of Edo state to forgive and restore the king to his throne. My plea is informed by a number of factors including the significance of traditional institutions in African society especially its salutary effect on the grassroots, respect for the new Oba of Benin, need for peace and harmony in Edo state, the essence of protecting the traditional stool as important symbol of our civilization, consideration of claims to one common ancestry by most Edolites and the dictates of reason and culture.
As the wise man would say:’to err is human, to forgive is divine’. Uromi people like their traditional stool. It is central to their social, cultural life.There are laid down rules for making and unmaking a king. There are many ways a king appeases his people and atone for sins.But when kings are forced to kneel and beg a member of his community in the public, then kingship is no more.It is untraditional to do so. It breeds shocks and disharmony in the community.
Kingship is a communal affair. What affects the king equally affects members of his community. Uromi should be spared of further agony in the interest of harmony and development .
The announcement of the dethronement of the king of Uromi brings back to mind sad memories of colonialism especially its destructive effect on African culture, values and institutions. In particular, it reminds us of the unfortunate encounter between traditional rulers and British colonial authority in which the latter triumphed .The former was humbled and left with sour taste and weak position from which it is yet to recover till date.
At the end traditional rulers became mere shadow of themselves in their domains stripped of powers, authorities and influences and made responsible to a mere Local Government Chairman whose permission he must seek and obtain to travel among other forms of subjugation. In a word, the encounter displaced traditional rulership and sent it on long recess off power.
The story is long but the summary is that traditional rulers lost sovereign powers and authority as a result of conquest by the British. And when independence was won in 1960, the political elites ensured their relegation to the background. They became mere ceremonial figures in their domain. In theory and traditional beliefs, the kings are the absolute rulers of their domain.
However, in reality he is not because power and authority reside on the elected government of the day. This creates a precarious situation for the Kings. The political elite could easily plot his downfall using the apparatus of the modern state.
There is thus a climate of mutual rivalry and suspicion – even if subdued between the political elite and traditional rulers in different parts of the country. In his domain, the traditional ruler thinks and believes he is supreme over his people and original owner of power. He sees political office holders as usurpers of power and mere upstart in the arena of power. He counts on the divine right and cultural values to lead and govern his people – beg your pardon- his “subjects”. To the political holder of power it is sheer illusion and uppity for the traditional ruler to lay claims to powers over his kingdom because in the final analysis, he is an appointee of state government .
While we see these varying perceptions of power and attendant value/conflict in the events leading to dethronement of the Uromi monarch, there is the need to make some clarification here.
The effort here is not to support the king against the subject but to say that it is not in the interest of society to ridicule the institution of traditional rulership.
The use of the word ‘subject’ in parts of this essay instead of ‘citizen’ is deliberate. It is only to emphasise a point on the scale of power in order to be able to create a picture of what was in the past and what it is now culturally. The king was supreme in his domain and those within the defined boundaries of that domain were his subjects undisputedly.
This is the sense the Onojie of Uromi used the word “subject”in referring to Betty Irabor in his letter to the government over which it was displeased. It depicts a conflict of values and different perception of society. Both were correct: the king was correct culturally because citizen Betty is an Uromi lady. And government was correct politically because by virtue of independence from Britain and constitution of Nigeria we ceased to be subjects but citizens of Nigeria.
However, within the independent country, the kingdoms and their kings survive. The institution of kingship and idea of king as the leader of his community had remained strong and warm in people’s heart. It is a delicate situation which calls for careful navigation and skillful handling .
Though the government made reference to some previous ‘high- handedness of the king, this article is however focused on the action of the king of Uromi during the last gubernatorial election in Edo state. For the avoidance of doubt, the plea for forgiveness is a personal effort aimed at drumming support for traditional rulership in Nigeria in the interest of harmony and development of society. For sure, I am neither holding brief for the king nor writing on behalf of Uromi. They may have their own approach to the issue.
The wisdom of promoting traditional institution for its positive role in society cannot be over-emphasised. The institution of traditional rulership is one of the respected contributions of Africans to world civilization. Whatever it’s worth, Uromi should be allowed to enjoy its blessings.
The established method of succession from father to first son as in the case of Benin and Uromi makes it unique, attractive and succession- crisis free in some quarters. We have just witnessed a most colorful coronation ever in Benin of Oba Ewuare 11 depicting our glorious past and determination to forge ahead with great deeds. The dethronement touches on the culture of the people in a negative way.
Culture has been been defined as an embodiment of the totality of shared values of given society and is known to be vital to harmonious development and well being of citizens. Traditional rulers symbolize these values and their actions are bound by cultural checks and balances – no matter how tough they may look on the surface. They are like totem’ that makes great meaning to their members. Take away a people’s king and they feel a high sense of loss or destruction. Traditional rulership is one of the cherished values of Edo people. This includes Uromi.
Thus the great worry about the dethronement of their king because what touches the Royal father automatically affects his children.
Generally, Royal fathers are awesome in many respects. Their presence has been awe- inspiring to many members of their kingdom. In spite of the efforts by political elite to cage them over time, their influence on most members of their has remained enormous and impressive. Their aura is astounding and the love and respect for traditional stool by the ordinary citizens had remained strong without waning sign of diminishing. It is a good measure of the high regard for the Royal stool that most successful citizens in all walks of life go to one palace or the other for chieftaincy titles.
One thought that struck me deeply throughout the coronation ceremony of Oba Ewuare 11 was the magnetic attraction of people to their traditional stool and rulers, the effortlessness of winning loyalty, respect etc.
The traditional rulers campaign not, have no army and police, no much money etc yet they are able to weld and command so much power, influence, authority, mass follower-ship and down-up support into positive force for the progress and development of their society. They impact positively on their communities.
Dr Abhuere, FNIM, is the Director of Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.