The desire of each of the senatorial district to produce the governor for Edo State after erstwhile Governor Adam Oshiomhole is the root cause of the crisis leading to the dethronement of the Onojie of Uromi, His Royal highness Anslem Eidonjie 11.
There has been a feeling of distrust, alienation, persecution, hatred and disappointment in in the air among many people in Edo Central over some unfulfilled hope and expectation.
As it is well known, the average person in Edo Central Senatorial District-Esanland- expected a person from the zone to succeed Oshiomhole as Governor.
However, the two leading political parties failed to meet such expectation. The argument was that democratic politics was a game of number. Edo Central Senatorial District was the smallest in terms of number.
The zone also expected the slot for Deputy Governor. While the ruling party spurned the idea, the opposition party- the PDP offered hope by placing a man from Uromi to run as Deputy Governorship candidate. As for the APC it went for a person from the same local government as Oshiomhole.
This was the setting which presented a knotty dilemma to the king of Uromi. As far as memory goes, an Uromi person has not been nominated to run as Governor or Deputy Governor in the state.The 2016 election was the first time ever- a welcome development even if a tall order. And it motivated the king into action. It was tricky if not suicidal situation. If he went the way of the government’s party, the people of his community would cast aspersions, reject and abandon him. And where he supported the cause of his son, he would incur the wrath of the political authorities in Benin.
Wisely but unfortunately, he chose to go the traditional way of protecting one’s child. Here he was on the side of the people but against the government which had both the yam and knife which it wasted no time in using to its favour to depose the king for having the audacity to pursue a political cause different from its own.
Thus, many people see the king’s punishment as a political punitive measure to humiliate a group and their king. This is especially more so when the complainant has since dropped the case.
I expected the government to appreciate the difficult situation the king found himself and to demonstrate deeper understanding and greater wisdom in consideration of the delicate issues involved. Like in colonial times, when African kings were unjustly deposed for political and imperial reasons, the king of Uromi today did not violate the cultural norms of his people. He is a victim of hostile party politics that is intolerable of dissenting voices. He was working to advance his people’s collective interest in having a son in Government House as Deputy Governor on the day in question.
The feeling of exclusion by Esan people can be gleaned for instance from a letter written by a group of Ishan professionals to Mr President on alleged marginalisation of their senatorial zone from the current scheme of things in Edo state. Writing under the name Esan Progressives Unity Forum, the group observed that based on principle of equity and fair-play, ‘Edo Central ought to produce the next Governor after Adams Oshiomhole from Edo North’.
Consequently, the group which urged Mr President ‘not to believe and subscribe to the selfish and the conquest desire of divisive elements’ requested him ‘to appoint an Honorable Minister from Edo Central Senatorial District.’ It advised against a situation in which the success of a political party was made to be ‘dependent on the ambition of one or few individuals’ (The Nation 1-11-2016 p38- President Buhari and the Challenge of Equity in Edo State).
In all, the king of Uromi did not violate the cultural norms of his society. Thus, in a way the decision to depose him may be seen in some quarters as attempt to send message across to cajole the traditional rulers to political submission: Toe our line or get the sack letter. This is neither healthy for democracy itself nor society at large. The need to build trust and allay fear of perpetual exclusion from the apex of governance in the state becomes urgent. Part of the trouble though is the politics of bitterness in vogue in the state.
The announcement of the dethronement of the king of Uromi thus reminds us of our unfortunate aspect of our history- a sad history of conquest and fall of great empires and kingdoms in the 19th century. British colonial administration drove a sharp sword of colonialism to pierce through the soul of African culture including traditional rulership which was displaced and sent on a long recess off political power.
It was not an easy ride for the British imperial power. There was a fight. The Kings of that period showed courage, leadership and resistance to external interference. And the tougher and more troublesome ones such as Oba Ovonrame of Benin, King Jaja of Opobo, His Royal highness Ogbidi Okojie1 Onojie of Uromi – the great grand father of the present embattled king of Uromi were sent on exile for their resistance to colonial presence in their domains. The king comes from a solid background of resistance to foreign interference and domination.
There is evidence to show that traditional rulers aided the nationalists struggle for independence in Nigeria. However, when independence was won the traditional rulers were outsmarted by the educated political elite who designed a constitution that assigned them only a ceremonial role. It was a continuation of the paralysis of traditional institutions by the colonial authorities. While community had laid down procedure for appointing and removing a king, the government arrogated to itself the final power of appointment and by implication dismissal.
By comparison today’s traditional rulers are therefore mere shadows of their historical forefathers. When Kings were supreme commanders of their domains, the king would not have left the palace to effect his own message, persuade others to his side, etc.
There is is a designated person for such assignment. He would rather send such a person or an appropriate messenger. But things are no longer at ease with our kings due to the influence of modernity. Otherwise, a woman would not have had the opportunity of altercations with the Royal Father. But times have changed and the king can now be seen dancing in the open.
Most of our traditional rulers are young, educated, and accomplished professional even before their ascension to the throne. But many of them are faced with conflicting problem of illusion and reality and frustration. On the one hand, there is the illusion of power and on the other the reality of powerlessness and attendant frustration made so by the laws laid by the modern political elite. The situation was created many years ago by colonial authorities and sustained by their successor- political elite in Nigeria.
From the foregoing it is clear that there are many reasons to review, forgive and reinstall the king of Uromi to the throne. The purpose of the dethronement is unclear, season of action most untimely and stated reason for action is not culturally strong enough.
For instance, a new Oba is on the throne and a new government was about to be inaugurated. Both need harmonious cultural atmosphere to take off.
The Oba of Benin is the Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers in the state and it is doubtful if the Oba and members of his council were briefed on whatever shortcomings of the Onojie of Uromi.
Was the elaborate celebration of our culture during the coronation of the Oba a mockery? Why are we creating a pariah status for some communities in a state where majority citizens pride themselves as as belonging to a common ancestry? Are we saying that all the claims to common ancestry by Edo people are lies and they cannot work together as one? Or modernity and culture cannot see eye to eye? Or that the Uromi members of the APC had sold their king to ridicule and deposition ?
The action can be misconstrued. Are we by the abrupt sack of the Onojie of Uromi sending a message to the new Oba and others in similar position that all that happened recently during the last coronation was mere cosmetic? Is it meant to serve as a reminder that the position of traditional ruler 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?
The signals are not clear but they are indicative of humiliation of a king and his people for political reasons. 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 say checking communal crisis may then not be available due to its erosion and demystification of the past.
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. Administratively, a query is issued to enable the concerned person opportunity to provide information on certain allegations made against him. Normally it is the issuer of the query that can accept or reject an explanation offered by the queried person. In this connection, the body that can now forgive the king in the interest of collective peace, harmony and development of the state is the government of Edo state.
Officially the king ought to know better by making a timely response to the query especially against the obvious mutual distrust between the then Governor and Uromi over cultural and political differences .
In any case, 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 and the obvious foul and determined mood of the government to belittle the Royal Stool of Uromi and its occupant.
Political intolerance is 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. As the decision was more political than cultural , we must plead for political solution with the government of Edo state. After the rain comes sunshine. There is life after elections.
A related 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.
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.
There is 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. In Uromi 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 thus creates much cultural gap in Uromi today. While the fear is that such cultural gap could erode or retard development efforts, the action against the Uromi Monarch would not enrich the texture of development of the state or strengthen its firmament.
In the final analysis, Edo state needs harmonious coexistence, all hands on deck and every part of the state to work together in unity for purpose of collective meaningful development. The dethronement is beyond the punishment, misfortune and pains of one man to the entire community. It is the embarrassment and humiliation of the entire community. What hurts the king equally hurts his people.
There is no doubt that the era of absolute monarch is past gone and any king who feels and behaves that way is living in grandiose illusion. But the kingship institution is not dead or as anachronistic as some would have us believe. It is alive and still has a respectable place in people’s hearts .It makes great meaning to their social reality.
For its intrinsic or symbolic value we have chosen to retain it in our society. We therefore have a duty to protect the institution especially from public ridicule, bearing in mind that there are cultural ways of dealing with some issues at the grassroots.