End of an Era


R-L,Oba Erediauwa as a young Prince, his wife and Father,   Oba Akenzua II (1)

Following the announcement of the transition to glory of the Oba of Benin, Oba Erediauwa, Adibe Emenyonu, in Benin City, looks at the reign of the Edo paramount ruler

Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa CFR, Oba of Benin, had a fulfilled and vibrant reign. His death, which was announced on Friday, ended a three and a half-decade rule marked by peace and principled engagement with the state and society. It was the end of an era.
The passing of the traditional ruler was announced on Friday afternoon by the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe. Symbolically, a native chalk was broken in the palace grounds to indicate that the paramount ruler of Edo State had joined his ancestors.

Oba Erediauwa was born in June 1923 and was crowned the 38th Oba of Benin on March 23, 1979. Prior to his ascension to the throne, he was Prince Solomon Igbinoghodua Aisiokuoba Akenzua. As tradition requires, he relinquished his name, Solomon, immediately he became Oba.

Oba Erediauwa attended Government College, Ibadan (1939–1945), and Yaba College before he proceeded to King’s College, Cambridge.
He had the throne as his cradle. Apart from the usual traditional palace tutorials, which begin at birth, he went to Government School, Benin, after which he proceeded to Government College, Ibadan in 1939 and graduated with flying colours. He had his London Matriculations, which qualified him to gain admission into Yaba College in 1945. After the completion of his course at Yaba, he was admitted into King’s College, Cambridge to study Law and Administration.

The Oba returned to Nigeria to join the Eastern Nigeria Civil Service as a District Officer in 1957. He later transferred his services to the Federal Civil Service and rose to the position of Permanent Secretary.
He retired from the service as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, in 1973, and became the regional representative of Gulf Oil Company. He was appointed Commissioner for Finance in the military administration of Major-General George Innih in 1975.
Oba Erediauwa’s early retirement from the service was to enable him gain adequate exposure to the intricacies of the administrative challenges that would confront him in the performance of his duties as Oba of Benin.

During his reign, Oba Erediauwa created dukedoms to ensure effectiveness in the administration of the kingdom. The dukedoms were spread in the seven local government councils of Edo South senatorial district, which is inhabited by the Bini. He installed his younger brothers as Enogie of each dukedom to help administer the kingdom effectively. It was the first of its kind, and it helped him achieve peace in the kingdom through the revival of most Benin cultures and traditions, which were fast eroding before his ascension to the throne.

Cultural Revival
One of the traditional festivals revived by the Oba is the Ugie-Ewere festival, which is celebrated annually to herald the beginning of every New Year in the kingdom. The Benin traditional worship centre, known as the Holy Aruosa, was strengthened during his reign. Also, traditional courts were set up in the kingdom to settle rifts, such as chieftaincy and land disputes in communities, in such a way that once judgement is pronounced by the palace, it becomes final. Anyone who decides to head to the civil courts would be termed as not only an enemy of the kingdom, but also a challenger of the Oba’s authority.

Even as he reinvented certain traditional festivals, Oba Erediauwa’s reign witnessed drastic reduction and eradication of ritual killings in the kingdom. He was able to achieve this through spiritual curses invoked upon such perpetrators. These curses were administered by Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin, who is the Odionwere of Benin Kingdom, in collaboration with some other powerful palace chiefs in the kingdom.

Erediauwa N’Oba used his kingly office to improve the welfare and the fortunes of his people. He was an unwavering pivot around which the lives of his subjects revolved. Over the years, he discharged his responsibilities with wisdom and courage.
It is said that men and kings must be judged by the testing moments of their lives. Oba Erediauwa’s refusal to succumb to the administrative tantrums to change his stance against military dictatorship is seen as a proof that he rated the welfare of his people far above his personal sentiments or pride, even above his interest.

Oba Erediauwa gave effective leadership to his subjects. On his coronation day, he pledged to unite all Edo-speaking people, including those in the diaspora. His main focus was to re-establish the great Edo culture and tradition in line with acceptable norms of a modern society.
Soon after his ascension to the throne, Oba Erediauwa appointed the late Justice S.O. Ighodaro as the Iyase of Benin. Justice Ighodaro was the first Benin graduate and lawyer who became Minister of Justice and Attorney-General in Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group government of Western Region in the First Republic. After his demise, West Erhabor, also late, succeeded him as Iyase. Chief Samuel Igbe, a retired Commissioner of Police Commissioner, is the present Iyase of Benin.

The Iyase, according to Benin custom, is the head of Eghaevho N’Ore (town chiefs). The position of Iyase is like that of Prime Minister, who is the spokesman of the Bini before the Oba. The Oba usually honours a worthy subject or citizen with the title of Iyase whenever the need arises.

Apart from the Iyase, a position that is open to all indigenes of repute, the Oba created titles to honour some of his prominent subjects drawn from various backgrounds. Some of the titles are hereditary, some are achieved and some are pronounced to commemorate specific events in accordance with the Oba’s political or social perspectives.

Only the Oba possesses the rights and privileges to create and confer titles on his subjects. The titles are certainly not for sale to non-indigenes mainly because of the traditional and cultural roles of the titles. Chiefs are selectively distributed into the palace societies of Iwebo, Ibiwe, Ihogbe, Egaevbo N’ore, Eghaevbo N’ogbe. The seven king makers – Uzamas – include the Edaiken, the heir apparent. Their titles are also hereditary.

There are also the dukes – direct blood relations of the Oba – who preside over their dukedoms. These titles are hereditary, too. Some of the traditional deity priests who take care of state shrines across the kingdom also enjoy hereditary roles. The Oba definitely sits over a complex machinery of state that makes him a political, spiritual and social leader of his people.
Without the Oba, the machinery of state grinds to a halt. You cannot banish, exile or dethrone an Oba of Benin. When an Oba joins his ancestors, who are also presumed to be a part of the machinery of state, his oldest son – Edaiken (heir apparent) – steps in and continues from where his father stopped.

Oba Erediauwa was a known peacemaker and a great diplomat who rarely spoke. He was dogged and uncompromising when it comes to issues that affect the lives of Nigerians. For instance, during the regime of late General Sanni Abacha, when many first class traditional rulers in the country were coerced into backing Abacha’s attempted self-transition to a civilian president, Oba Erediauwa was one of the few traditional rulers who remained resolute in their belief that the military should go so that the nation could enthrone democracy. Even with the threats from Aso Rock, the monarch remained resolute in his stance. When he spoke, his words were few. Based on this and other qualities, he earned the respect of most political leaders in the country.

Oba Erediauwa’s attributes as a man of peace was further demonstrated in March 2004 when a serious crisis brewed between the then governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Ozor Kalu, and former chairman, Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Tony Anenih. The crisis, which drew the attention of many Nigerians, was settled when Oba Erediauwa decided to wade in.

In the words of the former governor, “When I visited my counterpart in Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, I decided to sheath the sword when His Royal Majesty told me to stop. When he asked me to stop the war of words and resolve the matter, who am I when our Royal Father has spoken? I had to stop my war with Chief Anenih, who is a respected party leader.”

When he was crowned as the 38th Oba of Benin, Erediauwa was just about 56 years old. He passed on at the age of 93. He will be remembered for his flexibility, integrity and regal mannerism that endeared him to the ordinary people in the kingdom. He was one of the most respected Africa monarchs, an author, writer, and advocate of peace. His high educational background helped bring to light the correct history of Edo people and the ancient Benin Kingdom, one of Africa’s oldest kingdoms.