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I remain, Sir, Your obedient Servant

I recently read the Oba Of Benin's Autobiography. His Royal Highness Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa the Oba has written a very lucid and interesting Autobiography.I highly recommend the book.It was a priviledge to read it.

There has been a lot of controvery about the Ife-Benin connection or Benin-Ife connection. Though this is very important historically it is only 8 pages of an over 300 page book.This review will be about the other 290 pages. Yours truly has also waded into the controversy and have written 2 articles entitled Oduduwa Father of a Nation.

The Oba was born in 1923 to the royal household of Oba Akenzua who was then the crown prine as his own father and the Oba's Grandfather Oba Eweka was still alive. Oba Eweka reigned from 1916 to 1933. While Oba Akenzua the Oba's father reigned from 1933 to 1978. There are excellent photographs of Oba Eweka and Oba Akenzua.

The Oba tells a very captivating story telling of his early life in the royal Household. On his first day of school his Uncle had to half drag and half carry him to school. He also tells an interesting tale of one day going to school with Akara( Bean Cake balls) in his pocket and Garri in another Pocket.Of Course this stained his clothes and his teacher Miss Grace now Mrs Grace Osagie who is still alive helped him wrap it in drawing book paper.His elementary education was in Benin and he also went to Edo College for one year but transferred in 1939 to Government College Ibadan.He was the first set of the illustruos Edo College. He initially wondered why his father did not send him to King's College where he went. He however thoroughly enjoyed his stay in G.C.I.

After graduating from GCI he went to the then highest post secondary school in Nigeria the Famous Yaba college. For a history of the Yaba college the reader should see Professor Taiwo's book about early Education in Nigeria. He left Yaba college for England in 1948 when the University of Ibadan was established. He studied in Cambridge graduating in Law. There is a nice picture of Former Prince Solomon Akenzua now the Oba in a team photograph of the Cambridge University Soccer team in the 50's.

The Oba returned to Nigeria in 1952 and joined the Colonial Civil service after an initial posting at the headquarter's in Lagos he moved to Ahoada in the Eastern region as Assistant District Officer. The title of the book is got from the first official letter he wrote as a civil servant. He was in the Eastern region from 1952 to 1965. He talks eloquently about the politics of that time. He mention Prof Eyo Ita, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr Michael Okpara. He moved all over the then Eastern region and also writes about the gradual animosity against the Igbos by other parts of the Country and the Southern Minorities. He was a multitalented District officer serving as Judge in Land cases and also administaration of the district. However by 1965 he decided to tranfer to the federal Civil service in Lagos where he rose to the post of Permanent Secretary. His years in the civil service should be required reading for all Civil servants in Nigeria as he eloquently talks about loss of merit in promotions, favouritism and Corruption.

In Lagos he was actually a neighbour of the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Chief Festus Okotie Eboh. He tells in harrowing detaing the events of January 15 1966 when he was actually at home. He was later appointed by General Ironsi to serve as the Secretary of the board of Enquiry after the Northern Reprisal riots of 1966. The first day of sitting was to be August 1 1966 however the long awaited Counter Coup took place on July 29 1966. He was stuck in his hotel in Kaduna for 10 days. The Oba of Benin as Prince Solomon Akenzua was also the Permanent Secretary that followed Gowon to Aburi at the outbreak of hostilities. Most of the top Civil servants were against the idea and rightly predicted that Gowon would be outsmarted by Ojukwu. Also they were not sure if General Ankrah of Ghana was an impartial arbiter. The rest is history.

He talks about the invasion of the MidWest and the fact that a lot of senior Civil Servants and Military personell did not trust the Officers from The Igbo speaking parts of Delta state. He also did not Believe Ejoor who was the governor of the MidWest was playing straight with General Gowon.He spoke of unreported contacts between Ejoor and Ojukwu. He also feels tha Banjo probably delayed invading Lagos because he would have had to pass through Ijebu Ode his hometown. Also he spoke of the life in Benin under the occupation of the ''Governor'' chosen by General Ojukwu Colonel Okonkwo. The mid West was occupied for 6 weeks before Colonel later General Murtal Mohammed was able to get the federal troops back in charge.

After the civil war he moved to Ministry of health again as Permanent Secretary eventually retiring in 1973. There is a picture of his farewell visit with General Gowon who incidentally wrote a very interesting forward to the book. In the 3rd part i will talk aboutlife after retirement and Coronation.
The conclusion of this review will talk about events from The Oba's retirement in 1973 to his coronation in 1979 and Nation wide tour of the then 19 states in 1982 where the book ends..

I will however first like to mention some events prior to retirement. During the early days of the Civil war after the demise of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu who led the first coup was killed fighting for the biafran side there was a meeting of the supreme military council where it was discussed what to do with the body. Gowon insisted on a military burial and not just dumping the body in a mass grave.This was because he put his foot down stating that even in international warfare you give a gallant opponent that falls a military burial talk less of someone they all knew. He actually banged the table for emphasis.

Also before the Oba then Prince Solomon Akenzua retired he visited Papua ,New Guinea to present a series of tutorials to their civil servants. New Guinea was about to gain independence from Australia in the early 70's but requested for a seasoned Nigerian administrator whose career flanked the Colonial pre-independence era, transition period and post independent period.

Now after retirement in 1973 he worked in an administrative capacity for Gulf oil till 1975. In 1975 he became a commissioner under then Colonel and later General George Innih's administration in the MidWest. He also tells of a harrowing experience during the Dimka coup of 1976 when all the commissioners were arrested by the soldiers and how Colonel Innih narrowly escaped an early death. The Brigade commander in Benin Colonel Isa Bukar who was a casual acquaintance of the Oba was part of the Coup plot and arrested. The Brigade Commander occasionally chatted with the Oba when exercising his horse and they occasionally discussed Polo. The Oba wisely never became closer and never went with him to the Polo matches in Portharcourt and Kaduna hence he escaped being investigated. Also Military intelligence had been watching Colonel Isa Bukar for some time and George Innih was in the loop.

He resigned as commissioner in 1977 and in 1978 after his father His Royal Highness Oba Akenzua became sick he moved to the Crown Princes Palace in Uselu. There he started selecting his own Chiefs and started preparation for his eventual ascension to the throne. He was finally crowned on March 23 1979 after the usual rituals public and private in a well attended ceremony. The Oba's speech and the Governor's speech on the memorable occasion are in the appendix of the book.

In 1982 he embarked on a Nationwide thank you tour visiting Governors and traditional rulers in the then 19 states including Bendel. He started in Sokoto where he met His Royal Highness Alhaji Abubakar Siddiq the Sultan, saw the Etsu Nupe, Emir of Zaria, Emir of Kano, Ooni of Ife, Iku baba yeye Igbakeji Orisha Oba Lamidi Adeyemi the Alaafin of Oyo. The Alaafin named the road to his palce after the Oba of Benin and recounted an earlier visit by both their fathers in 1937. That was when Oba Akenzua visited the Alaafin Oba Adeyemi. Other traditional rulers were the Emir of Ilorin , Alake of Egbaland and Deji of Akure. Also he saw the Obi of Onitsha and Obong of Calabar on the Eastern wing of his tour.

Of particular interest was his visit to Calabar area where he met the Offiong family who on the request of the British after his Great Grand fathers dethronement in 1896 looked after him to the rest of his days while in forced exile. They assisted in building a House for the deposed Oba. The storming of Benin has been dramatised by the late Playwright par excellence Prof Ola Rotimi.

I hope i have given the reader a flavor of the book. The story ends in 1982 that is 22 years ago. Will there be a sequelae. I would like the reader to Join me in saying Long Live the Oba of Benin.
Oduduwa a gbe wa o

Dr Olumide Ogunremi is an attending physician in internal medicine in St Louis, MO and the host of The Village Doctor Forum

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