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Who is Osaro Omoruyi?

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By Sam Omatseye

The Edo poll is igniting again why this essayist has never failed to campaign for the study of history. A pivotal year, or morning, in Benin history has snapped our attention like the crack of palm kernel in a homestead fire.

History is haunting the vote in Edo. The 1897 barbarism of the Englishman has come back in 2020. It was the Englishman who razed the palace, stole its precious art, and uprooted its sovereign to Calabar. It took the recent peace meeting of its debonair king, Oba Ewuare II, for the old wound to emit a septic stench.

But it is not 1897 alone that is walking the night like a ghost in Benin. It is also the 13th century, or as recently as 2016. So, two epochs of royal peacocks conjoin to rake up a republican rage. In 1897 was the raid on Benin, when a certain Captain James Phillips wanted the Oba of Benin Ovonramwen to yield the royal pride. He would not. A certain Agho Obaseki, who was supposed to be a loyal, betrayed his king and gave him away to the British, who chained him and took him away as exile. Obaseki, who already had wedded the deposed king’s daughter, wanted to be king. It took the civic uproar of the Bini people to thwart the coup of a man who was already made Iyase of Benin, an influential position. But Obaseki was like what the Igbos knew as warrant chiefs, except that in Igboland there were no kings. For close to two decades he ruled without reigning because he had sold his soul to the white colonialists.

In the end, he lost out and Eweka became king. But that has not stopped the animosity between the descendants of Agho Obaseki and the royal family. Godwin Obaseki, the present governor is the grandson of the subversive in-law of Ovonramwen.

The other story belongs to another prominent family in Bini known as the Ogiamien. They had in 2016 mounted a rebellion against the throne before the present Oba prevailed and became king. This is traced to a treaty signed with the forbears of the present king in a battle royale involving the humiliation of the Ogiemien. The ogiemien family, or some of them, feel a romantic longing for their past glory, and wanted to paint the lineage of the present king as tainted by the Oranmiyan blood.

The Ogiemein family recently endorsed Governor Obaseki, and this is seen in the palace as a defiance of the throne. More potently, it shows that Obaseki is finding common cause with the opponents of the Benin monarch.

In the past week, a certain article went viral attacking Oba Ewuare II for coming down on Philip Shuaibu over the deputy governor’s celebration of violence ahead of the polls. The article written in a pseudonym, Osaro Omoruyi, a generic Edo name, undermined the king and insinuated that the Governor had the power under the constitution to overthrow the oba and replace him. The writer invoked the recent fall of the emir of Kano and how the governor could not stop the tragedy. It was a royal threat and some Binis see it as impunity against the man on the throne.

This led to many in Edo State to ask who wrote the article. Since the piece shed its sympathy for the Edo State Governor, the APC campaign has charged the governor and his men as having masterminded the subversive and incendiary piece. The writer, conveniently writing from Canada, has not popped up with a face at the time of writing. He was a writer on the side of the governor without the courage to own up to his work. The Edo Governor’s men have said they have nothing to do with that poisonous pen. But it is now difficult for Governor Obaseki to dissociate himself from the piece, or even the sentiment expressed in it because of his association with another key enemy of the throne, the Ogiemien family, who have shown an open distaste for the present king.

Such an alliance of history betokens a sense of revenge. That is the fear of some watchers of the election trend. The speculation is that if Governor Obaseki wins on Sept 19, he will go into alliance with the Ogiemein and bring maelstrom to the Edo throne. The reference to his grandfather in the public discourse has unsettled Governor Obaseki. His grandfather is called “the traitor” by Benin historians.  The Omoruyi glamorises him as a patriot. Agho Obaseki was also brushed as a quisling by playwrights and other chroniclers of the period. They are tying that trait to the Obaseki clan, including one of his uncles who reportedly undermined the stool. What Agho did to the throne, Godwin Obaseki is now doing to the governor’s seat. His opponents are echoing the Biblical refrain that providence is visiting the iniquity of the father upon the children. In this case, they say the malediction did not wait for the third and fourth generations. Whether republican or monarchical, they see the Obaseki soul as a Judas.

He became governor and has looked the other way from the man who helped him get there. That is the psychology portrait of the man and his grandfather, according to chroniclers of the Edo narrative. What he is doing to democracy, the story goes, Obaseki’s grandfather had done to monarchy.

How this will play in the election is not exactly clear. But many factors play into an election, and they mix. Political theorists have identified the three C’s of election: Candidate, culture and condition. Culture is at play here. At what percentage? But it shows how history can blindside an era. When the British invaded over a century ago, they made away with thousands of the people’s treasures now blooming in Museums in Britain, Germany, France and the United States. They stole them. There are campaigns to repatriate them. In Oxford University it generated a crisis. Some British citizens say they should loan them to Edo. What insult? You want to lend what you stole? And Governor Obaseki is quoted as working with them on that. He even accepts the idea of not returning them, asserting that they are ambassadors. It is what I call cultural surrender and neo-colonial servitude.

The issue of the Benin bronze and the play of atavistic malice recalls Nietzsche’s concept of eternal return, that the past will always come back.

In his treatise on politics, French philosopher Montesquieu noted the qualities associated with monarchy and republic. He said the main driver of the monarchy is honour. For the republic, it is virtue. But in a society like Edo where monarchy and republic cohabit, the republican should act with virtue to the monarch in order to earn honour. That is the burden on Governor Obaseki as he faces Edo people on Saturday.

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