King of peace – In Touch, By Sam Omatseye

King of peace - In Touch, By Sam Omatseye 2
Oba of Benin

PERHAPS only in Edo State can a monarch bring political titans under the royal roof in the way the Oba of Benin did recently. It is a testimony of the magnificence of the throne and the majesty of the Oba in spite of the ravages of the ages. No king, either in the north or south, carries the awe, dignity and savoir faire that Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo holds even today.

Those who watched his video appreciate the renaissance of a king, and what it meant in the epoch of monarchy. With his red cap, trademark dark glasses and concentric beads over his bosom, Oba Ewuare II is a sort of pictorial recast of Ewuare The Great.

It is a testament to the habitués of the throne over the decades, and the Edo people as well. The kings have not only been royals by blood but also in spirit. The king makes the throne and the throne makes the king. It is an unusual symmetry, especially in an age of carpet baggers, scoundrels, impostors and money peddlers. In Edo, they comport themselves for the comfort of all. They have been great apprentices to the throne, guiding their poise, utterances, carriage and conduct. It will be a great project for a writer to document how Edo Obas are made, how they are born and bred, how they transmute from babies to royals, a psychological track of their moments of regal epiphany and how they weigh and carry it from prince to heir-apparent to king. They have not diluted their throne. They have risen above the corrupt mania of the day. The partisan furies and temptations have failed to derail them. They have managed to marry personage with royalty.

In spite of the so-called subversion and accretion of western knowledge and the insidious refinement of the democratic ethos, the Edo people have been able to shield the monarchy from the onslaughts of the republican spirit. It is like the British society that has separated Queen from vote, leader from ruler, and encased that riot of contradiction in their souls. Somehow, like the British monarch, the Oba sometimes acts more democratic than the politician, gauging and articulating the people’s pulse instead of acting on impulse. Sometimes rather than look to the evidence before their eyes, or the personas of the candidates, the people look to the palace to pilot their thumbs on election day. That hardly happens anywhere else. It is because of such royals that the phrase, “Long Live the King,” was born.

Once in a class at the University of Toronto, a fellow student had told me with fawning self-assurance, “The king of Nigeria is in town.” He was referring to the predecessor of the present king, who was paying a visit. He was on television in his traditional apparel, every inch a regal, every word a dignity. I had to educate the fellow, but the sentiment did not fail to register in all its warmth about the poise and rectitude of the visiting royal.

That explains why I have always balked at historians who describe the encounter between the Benin Empire and Captain Philips and his collaborating locals as “The Benin Massacre.” The historiography is sterile and servile. It was not a massacre because the spirit of the people was not broken. The story downplays the fiery will, the suicidal heroism and martyrdom as well as the martial valour of the Edo People.

In other stories about the same age, historians class all other defeated kingdoms and empires under the heading of West African Resistance, from Samori Toure to the Asantes to the Yoruba wars. Dore Numa did not prevail but the Itsekiri monarch gave a stout fodder to the chroniclers of the era of his courage and cunning. That level of narrative has not yet come the way Oba Ovonramwen, who bore the mystic and grandeur of his people, a thing two playwrights on that epoch have failed to capture, including Ola Rotimi and Ahmed Yerima. Historians should call it, at least, the Benin Resistance.

Oba Ewuare II was in his regal position, if younger than Governor Godwin Obaseki and Pastor Osagie Ize-iyamu, or even former Governor Adams Oshiomhole. What called his attention was the narrative of violence that has overtaken the fight for the Edo governorship throne. It has been a fraught journey so far. In some parts, it has been a ceremony of violence. And the violence did not start with carnage on the streets. It started with the overthrow of decency and the rule of law. It started when the peace moves that the Oba referred to in his address were rebuffed.

The Oba said the governor did not make himself available for overtures, and when he was not available, Adams was and vice versa. Even attempts to bring the President, Muhammadu Buhari, as arbiter did not materialise. We also witnessed violence as gubernatorial show of power. Obaseki asked Adams not to come to town without his permission. He had, by that diktat, become a dictator. He had become like the military era when the governors of military regimes issued orders on the restrictions of democratic activists like Beko, Fawehinmi, Soyinka, et al. He did not make any obfuscation on the matter. He wanted to be lord over Adams in the state.

But what the Oba said confirms the reporting on this page a few months back when I documented efforts by the former governor and now spurned godfather Adams to make peace in overtures that included a well-known Nigerian business man, a governor in the north and Dr. Kayode Fayemi as the chairman of governors. Obaseki rejected every move. The Oba’s words, though in a different context, shows that there were actually failed attempts at peace.

It was when peace in shadows failed that blood began to spill on the streets. It is not for nothing that the person that came out for excoriation was Obaseki’s deputy, Philip Shaibu. The royal highness berated him for being patron of violence and ring leader. He asked him not to turn Benin into a city of thugs. Never before in history has a deputy governor been so publicly disgraced and reprimanded. The Oba asked him to “call your boys to order… You must behave.”

This is the sort of words that elders say to street ruffians and area boys. But for a revered Oba to say this to an elected officer, especially a number two citizen, shows Shaibu is not worthy of the Edo people or the King’s time, who said he has had sleepless nights over the episodes of mayhem. Another video has shown Shaibu saying to his men that he called the police commissioner and threatened consequences if he – The CP – does not arrest certain people. “Failure to arrest them,” he said in his labour gear, “I shall not guarantee peace.” That, again, is not worthy of any good citizen, no less a man representing the people. The seven men already involved in the turmoil at the State House of Assembly are in Abuja and they are what I call Obaseki’s Seven. They are awaiting trial.

The election should not be about violence, but about good men for a good society. A person who is a ring leader of thugs has no place in a democracy. And for him to be working with the chief security officer overthrows commonsense. If the monarch is suing for peace, the people ought to vote for peace, not violence. It is because of people like Shaibu that the king of Israel warned, “Tell him, “let not the warrior who puts on his armour boast like one who takes it off.” The armour belongs to the people. It is the ballot, not the bullet.

If Ewuare The Great saved Benin Kingdom for peace after a ruin in the 15th century, the present Oba, Ewuare II, wants to save it before a ruin. Obaseki and his deputy should help his cause.

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