Oba Erediauwa


Oba Erediauwa
{March 23,1979-2016}
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IN the name of God Almighty, and of our Ancestors, we whole-heartedly welcome the Head of the Federal Military Government and all of you distinguished persons to this momentous gathering. Today, the day of our Coronation, marks a turning point in our life. When one at such a point stands up to speak, one is either so heavy at heart that one is short of words or one goes all out to unburden one’s soul to one’s audience. We must, therefore, ask you to bear with us while we reflect on the past, touch on the present, and look at the future.

Our Coronation today makes us the 38th Oba of Benin in Oba Eweka I Dynasty that began at about the l2th Century A.D. and it ends forty-five years of reign of our father, Oba Akenzua II of blessed memory. His was a reign in the services of the people as it should be.

Let us remember a few things about our father that must be told. Shortly after Oba Akenzua II ascended the Throne in 1933 he saw the need for the expansion of the Oredo pipe-borne water system that was commissioned in 1910 and the necessity for financial contribution by his people. Consequently he accepted the introduction by the Native Administration in 1936/37 of the levy of water rate. A move which would have inculcated the spirit of self reliance and social responsibility in the people, however, generated dissention which came to be popularly known as the “water-rate agitation”; agitation he had to contend with for a couple of years.

There followed a long period of peace and quiet during which he served a nominated member in the Nigerian Legislative Council 1945—47. Subsequently he became a member of the Western House of Chiefs; and it is on record, again perhaps seeing farther ahead than most, that he proposed in the course of a Debate that as a source of increasing its Revenue, the Government (in 1952) should introduce the Lottery, on the lines of the then popular Irish Sweep Stake.

Majority members opposed the idea which they derisively termed gambling and immoral means of earning money. Yet barely five or six years later Government Lottery became (and today is) a major source of internal revenue.

He took active part in the politics of the day, but only as a means to an end, that end being the creation of what came to be known as the Mid-Western Region of Nigeria. In the old Western Region he was one of the First Class Obas, a member of the House of Chiefs, and a member of Government. In the fifties he had seen vision of, and sowed the seed for, the creation of a new Region in the country through which to secure the rapid development of the area comprising the Edo-speaking peoples, the Itsekiri, the Urhobo, the Ijaw, and Western Ibo. He began

Prince Solomon Akenzua
Prince Solomon Akenzua
to advocate the amalgamation of what were then the Benin and the Delta Provinces. He christened this union “Bendelites”. He personally led campaign tours to whip up enthusiasm for the creation of the proposed State, and so in 1963, after nearly six years of vigorous campaigns the Midwestern Region was born, and Oba Akenzua II saw his vision come true. Although the new Region was christened “Midwestern”, but today, almost two decades later,the name “Bendel”, which Oba Akenzua II has proposed for the new Region, re-echoed, and happily we now live in “Bendel” State.

The British Government in 1937, in appreciation of his services to his people, saw it fit to return to Oba Akenzua II some of the royal regalia removed during the reign of his grandfather (Oba Ovonramwen) in 1897. Some years later, in 1945, the British Government awarded him the CMG again for his services to his people.
In 1950 he had his first and only holiday in 45 years when he visited Britain at the invitation of the British Council, a holiday that he more than merited.
In 1966 he got introduced to academic circles when he was appointed the Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University; and in 1972 he was awarded honorary Doctor of Laws of the University of Benin.

These honours, no. doubt, were the crowning glory for a man whose interest in promoting education dated back to the 1930s, for in 1934, shortly after his Coronation, he was invited by the then Colonial Government to participate in the formal opening of the first Institution of Higher Learning in the Country the Higher College, Yaba. Three years later, in 1937 as a result of his active encouragement, Edo College was opened in this City; and throughout his reign he never hesitated to give money, and land freely in support of education. All this is not surprising for a man who was himself highly educated by the standards of the time, Oba Akenzua II, as Okoro, attended Government School, Benin City, King’s College, Lagos, and had professional training in Administration in Egba Native Administration, the most advanced in its day.

But the greatest service he rendered to his people was the golden opportunity he gave to everyone of his subjects to become affluent. It is within memory that early in his reign he realised again seeing farther ahead than most the economic changes taking place in the country. He advised his people to find ways to engage in gainful pursuits. So Chiefs, Palace attendants, and all, went to town in search of gainful means. As if that was not enough, he liberalised the ownership of land to such an extent that the generality of the people benefited; many became affluent thereby. He had the satisfaction of seeing the standard of living of his subjects improve.
Such was the period that has just ended. It is sad though to have to cramp into a few sentences a full active reign of forty five years. But enough has been said for one to be able to draw a lesson for the present, and that lesson may be summed up in the words of the great Sir Winston Churchill when addressing his party men, “I am your leader and that is why I must follow you”. Yes, ironically, the good leader must follow his people.

We are entering the beginning of a new era. We are a great believer in tradition and it is our intention to re-establish the tradition of our land. If we may quote Churchill again, (for the benefit of those who have acquired European education) even Churchill, with all his stature saw nothing but good in tradition. For he once admitted; “I must confess myself to be a great admirer of tradition. The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward. This is not a philosophical or political argument —any oculists will tell you this is true. The wider the span, the longer the continuity, the greater is the sense of duty in individual men and women.”

Our custom and tradition shall form the bed-rock on which this era will be built, and will guide our every action. We are aware there may be some who will wonder whether we are not returning to the 15th Century. More about this later.

Our ancestors were very wise men, and it is some of the things they did that still sustain us today, and make the Edo man what he is That shall be our starting point.
We will endeavour to live at peace with our neighbours. We like to recall with gratitude how some other ethnic groups in Bendel State joined our family and the Edo people to give us rousing home coming reception parties when we retired from the Federal Public Service to return home a few years ago.

Among these were the Urhobo, the Itsekiri, the Isoko, the Ishan, the Yoruba who put up elaborate open air displays; and others who did theirs on the quiet. We will do our best to nurture the spirit of oneness that motivated the display of brotherliness on those occasions.

All are agreed, traditional as well as contemporary historians, that the majority of the ethnic groups in what is now Bendel State can and do trace their parent stock to Edo. Unfortunately, however, the realisation of this fact, instead of uniting the Edo people with these other ethnic groups sometimes had the opposite effect of pulling all of us apart. For we have heard it suggested by some, when a new idea at fostering unity emanated from the Edo, that the Edo people are out again to revive their ancient kingdom We assure you today, our non-Edo friends, that while the Diaspora from Edo Kingdom remains an historical fact, it would be impolitic at this time in our history for us Edo to attempt to Lord it over our present day neighbours even though they are descendants of our 15th Century brothers and ambassadors. With this assurance we appeal to our neighbours not to hesitate to accept from us our right hand of fellowship from the parent stock.

Things and times are changing fast and Traditional Rulers cannot afford to be left behind. Gradually by politic evolution and a series of legislations traditional powers have been whittled down; first the legislative, then the judicial and finally the administrative. In more recent times it has become fashionable for some people to preach and advocate the abolition of the institution of the traditional ruler. Some of these people even went to the extent of describing traditional rulers as “a dying race” while some want to follow the example of India  all this in utter disregard of the Federal Military Government’s constant pronouncement of its intention to up-hold the dignity of traditional rulers and enhance their status!

We think that traditional rulers must begin now to read the handwriting on the wall, we pray earnestly to Almighty God and to our ancestors to create a change of heart in these people and show them the light so they can see for themselves that in the countries where traditional institutions have been abolished nothing but anarchy has followed, as we all see today. On the other hand, one can also point to a country that abolished monarchy and passed through a long period of anarchy but is now settling down to peace following the restoration of the monarchy by the people. We would therefore like to plead with the Federal and State Governments to live up to their public pronouncements as regards the status of traditional rulers and give these servants of the people (for truly they are servants of the people) their due place of honour in the scheme of things, and so put to shame those who advocate abolition of the institution.

Partisan politics has now commenced and very soon civilian government will return to the country. In the last civilian regime the traditional ruler was hard put to it in knowing precisely which way to go. There were three options open to him: to support the Government of the day, to be at one with his subjects, or to be the father of his subjects and remain neutral to partisan politics. You are all witnesses to the fact that each of these three options placed the traditional ruler in a dilemma at one time or the other if he chose to support the Government of the day but was unlucky enough for his subjects, through their Local Government Council, to be on the other side, the traditional ruler was in trouble from his own people. If he was one with his subjects but these happened to be in opposition to the Government of the day, again the traditional ruler was in trouble from the Government. Thirdly, if he decided as a father of his people, that he could not be partisan he still found himself in a dilemma for he was accused of indifference. And yet with all this uncertainly in his position the traditional ruler was often a tool in the hands of those who wanted to use him to catch election votes. Will traditional rulers be exposed to this dilemma and uncertainty in the next civilian regime? The answer must come from the traditional rulers themselves.

A lot has been said in recent times about insulating traditional rulers from partisan politics; and various means of doing this have been suggested. For example, that they should not be provided for in the country’s Constitution or that the House of Chiefs, being legislative, should be discontinued or that matters of traditional rulers should be removed from the portfolio of a Ministry to that of Governor.

In our view, none of serve the purpose because in the attempt to insulate they have been subjected these suggested measures will adequately if examined closely it would be seen that Traditional Rulers from partisan politics to some form of disability.
Our advice, therefore, is that Traditional Rulers should at all cost avoid partisan politics and do their best to be father to all of their subjects, a position which the newly established Traditional Councils admirably place them. Government on its part should ensure that the constitution of the Traditional Council adequately protects its members from being subjected to unpleasant reprisals for giving advice which may sometimes be unpalatable to the party in power. If the Traditional Councils must act in advisory capacity to Government they should be placed in a position to give such advice without fear or favour.

This is the only way, in our view; they can be insulated from partisan politics. We pray that the coming generation of politicians and the civilian government will allow the Traditional Rulers to play this non-partisan role.

We must, in the same breath, make a strong appeal to the politicians who have now commenced their campaigns to remember the years prior to 1966 and eschew in the coming electioneering campaigns the unhealthy habits of the past i.e. mud-slinging, attack on personality, victimisation, persecution, character assassination and violence. If you must reply your opponent, attack only his statement or policy, but never his name or person as the latter process does not make your reply more valid; but only leads to personal animosity. If a Traditional Ruler is allowed to play the role we have described, of being a father to all, it is our belief that it would be legitimate for him to call together those of his subjects who are engaged in such ill-practices and endeavour to reconcile them without being partisan himself.

In the coming regime Traditional Rulers must not be seen to be pulling different ways, and enjoying unequal privileges. In this connection we submit that there is a lot to be said for what used to be known in the 1930s in some parts in this country as the Obas’ Conference. This was an annual gathering at which all Traditional (or Natural Rulers as they were then called) exchanged views and discussed matters of national interest for presentation to the Government. We very much like to pass this thought on to ah Traditional Rulers of today. Traditional Rulers ought not to wait for Government to convene their meetings for them, but should take the initiative.
It is appropriate at this juncture, following the appeal we made earlier on to the Government and what we have just said to Traditional Rulers, to address a few words on the same subject to our Edo people. For ages, certainly since the time of Oba Eweka I, the institution of the Oba of Benin has been held with great awe and reverence. In contemporary times non-Edo people throughout the length and breadth of this great country look at our institution with great admiration and respect. The respect and dignity which others accord our institution has been due to the way our own people have held it. We pray that the present and future generation will continue to uphold this ancient and worthy traditional institution. We firmly believe that in any society the monarchy or traditional ruler is the hub that holds up the wheel, the tap root of the system. You may modify the role of the traditional institution but its total abolition cannot but have serious repercussions.

Coming home to our domestic matters we like to say it with some emphasis that we are essentially traditionalist and we shall do everything in our power, including even invoking the assistance of our ancestors, to uphold our custom and tradition. We, therefore, like to make this strong appeal to all on Edo land to co-operate by respecting our custom and tradition. We realize, of course, that we now live in a modern world; many of our people, young and old, have acquired Western Education and have travelled far and wide. This ancient City is now a State Government capital and has thereby become a cosmopolitan City. It is, therefore, obvious that we cannot really always insist on the observance of all our custom and tradition; this would be unwise in our contemporary world. For that reason, if and when circumstances so dictate, due allowance would be made for modernity, and, of course, having due regard always for the laws made by the Government. You all should therefore join us in a short prayer that we cherish very much: it is that God may grant us the Serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the Courage to change the things we can; and the Wisdom to know the difference, Amen.

Let us hasten at this point to draw attention to one matter of custom that is very dear to our heart and has been causing us concern. This is the impunity with which our sacred land areas and ancient shrines have been desecrated by the unscrupulous money hunters. In the course of preparations for the present ceremonies we discovered for the first time how many of such sacred places have been built upon. We have had difficulty in gaining access to some of them that are required for these ceremonies. We intend to take inventory of such parcels of land and request the State Government to assist us to protect them.

There have been some serious cases of land dispute with our neighbours and non-Edo people on our soil and borders. Equally the Edo people have had clashes against themselves for the same reason, we pray there will be no more of these inter and intra community land disputes and we will take measures to arrest the situation. We are well aware of course that the Federal Government has taken over all land in the country; but in so far as, for us, land tenure and our custom are inseparable, we would like to say that land is something still very dear to the heart of our people.
By nature we are peace loving and we will do our utmost to make this land of ours a peaceful place for all. We will, therefore, encourage peaceful settlement of disputes and avoid rancour. This, however, does not mean that our actions will be governed by appeasement. We have had occasions in the past to say openly that our ancestors who founded this Edo land intended it to accommodate the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak.

Our strong plea is that if the rich and powerful man, who happens already to be at the top of the ladder, will not assist the less fortunate at its foot to climb up, the poor man should at least be left alone to strive by his own efforts and should not be pressed down on the head by the man on the top to thwart the poor man’s efforts. If the rich and powerful cannot assist the less fortunate to bear his cross you should not tie rocks on it o make it heavier for him to carry. In short, we shall do our best to build a Kingdom of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just.
A hungry man is an angry man, so the saying goes. Therefore our people must not let us go hungry, and we assure you that if we are not, you too will not be hungry. So along with creating a peaceful atmosphere for all to live in we will also like to see something of the Green Revolution. Therefore we will give our attention to whatever we can do to boost agriculture and bring down prices of food commodities. We are aware of the Government’s program in the field of agriculture, but it is our belief that agriculture, .by which we mean the production in abundance of food commodities, is one area in which we as a people should help ourselves. We will therefore appeal to all our people, especially those in rural areas, to take farming more seriously. In the past six years or so since we have been home our observation and experience have been that owing to extreme lack of interest in farming it now becomes necessary and easier to recruit labour from Oredo for farm work in the villages! This is a deplorable state of affairs and we must do something about it.

We must say a few words to our youths. There is the saying that old men see vision and young men dream dreams. A great many of our old men have left us and we have all around us young men with their dreams. So much has been said and seen about juvenile delinquency, about anti-social activities, and about all forms of vices generally. We belong to that school of thought, however small it may be, who believe that all the antisocial activities we are witnessing today stem from the fact that the so called Western Education has led our society to throw over-board our customs and traditions and the sanctions that go with them. In the name of Western Education children of nowadays no longer have respect for their fathers and elders; they hardly have time or remember to even give the customary morning salutation which in Edo has always been a constant reminder of one’s birth and ancestry; in the good old days young persons kept away from mischief or violation of the customs of the land because they feared that the gods would be angry or that the customary sanction would be imposed by the elders. Young men nowadays believe that these are now things of the past and that they have no effect on the so called educated persons.
Let it be borne in mind, in the interest of all concerned, that customary sanctions are still there and very much alive and active. The Edo adage “Ota Ihen khe Ole”, which is another way of des cribbing the law of retribution, is worth remembering constantly by our young persons. So we appeal to all parents, particularly the educated ones, to acquaint yourselves with Edo custom and then pass the knowledge to your children. This can be done without prejudice to Christian or Muslim teachings and without the fear of exposing oneself as uneducated. In fact, we would venture to say that it is no education at all if all that it does is to make a man forsake or ignore his own culture, which in effect is what custom and tradition amount to,

A few words about unity among the Edo people. For a long time now this land of ours has at one time or the other been subjected to internal and external divisive forces: children have turned against parents; families torn into bitter enemies; village against village; friends have forsaken friends ah this because the pursuit of materialism had thrown people into varying and vying camps. Some thirty years ago when this monster began to rear its ugly head we appealed to the then leaders of the warring factions and we worked out a formula for the formation at the Native Authority of what political analysts will today term a broad-based government. It worked! But since then the quest for unity has continued.

We must warn publicly that we Edo people are in a more disadvantageous position today in the midst of a complex society and the inherent facts of the ever-growing population, economic advancement and political maturity in this society. Up to now other ethnic groups have accepted the fact of having branched off from the parent stock Edo and we Edo have revelled in the position of ascendancy that we inherited from our ancestors and to which our own generation has contributed little or nothing. The Edo people must, therefore, look around them, and emulate the mutual love and unity displayed by other ethnic groups in the State which have helped them to hold their own in a competitive society of today. To be able to encourage the love which should normally flow from the other ethnic groups who unfortunately moved to their present locations from Edo, our own people must show fellowship and demonstrate goodwill towards all. But this you cannot do unless you first demonstrate love among yourselves.

So we appeal to “Edo hia” to heed our previous warnings; learn to subordinate the interest of self to that of the whole community; see yourself first as “Ovbiedo” before a member of this Party or that Society. It is only by so doing that the strength in you will come out and be sustained, and you can win the respect of your neighbours.
We will end as we began by repeating that today is a great day, and a turning point in our life. We would like, therefore, to mark this day, the 23rd day of March, 1979, with something concrete in the form of Prizes. First and foremost we will honour the memory of our illustrious father for his services to the nation by establishing a N10, 000 Fund in the University of Benin to be known as Oba Akenzua II Fund. This amount should be invested and the interest yield should be used by the University to award a Prize to be known as Oba Akenzua II Memorial Prize, to the student in the

Department of History and Creative Arts that produces a published piece of work that is relevant to Edo culture or History. Secondly, in order to promote education, we will donate two trophies, one each to be awarded annually to the Boys’ Secondary School and Girls’ Secondary School in the Benin Local Government Areas that obtain the highest percentage pass in the West African School Certificate Examination. Along with this we will donate audio-visual aid equipment to each Secondary School on Benin land. As a means of encouraging more interest in farming in the Local Government Councils it Edo area we will donate a trophy to be awarded to the village community that produces the widest variety of food stuff determined in a joint Agricultural Show. Lastly but by no means the least, in view of our position in the entire State, we will donate a trophy to be awarded to the Local Government in the State that makes the greatest contribution to rural development.

We wish now to express our deep appreciation to ah who have been involved in these activities in the past months. But first our sincere thanks to all those who by personal calls, letters, telegrams and various other ways expressed condolence to us on the passing away of our father. We greatly appreciate the very generous tributes that the Military Administrator, Bendel State, Brigadier Waziri, and the Head of the Federal Military Government, Lt.-General Obasanjo, paid to him.

Our gratitude goes again to the Head of the Federal Military Government who has done us the honour to be represented at our Coronation today. We pledge our unflinching loyalty to him and his Government. We are ever so grateful to Brigadier Waziri, Military Administrator, and the Bendel State Government for their understanding of our position since all this began, and for the wholehearted moral and very generous financial support they gave towards these ceremonies. We thank our brother Traditional Rulers who have left their Doman to be here. We thank all those who have travelled from far and near to honour our invitation; our Chiefs and Palace attendants who untiringly carried out their respective functions; members of the various Committees that planned the social aspects of the Coronation, the members and staff of the Local Government Councils and the Benin Traditional Council; the Nigeria Police and the Local Government Wardens; the entire general public, unions and dance groups for the mammoth support they have given on this special day, and gave on previous occasions when our procession came out. Our heart is full of affection for all those individual women on the road sides or verandahs who, out of the abundance of their heart, always chanted “iyare” each time we passed by. We must give special thanks to all those who have given material help in both cash and kind which went a long way to lighten the burden of these ceremonies. May God and our ancestors bless you all abundantly?

Finally, may we conclude by inviting all of you present, all those who have the welfare of this our domain (indeed of the country) at heart, to join us who are to bear this heavy responsibility, in a humble prayer to God Almighty that He may bless all of us with great minds, courageous hearts, clean hands; make us men who love good name more than silver and gold; men who cannot cheat and who cannot lie; men whom power cannot corrupt, and spoils of office cannot buy; men with a sense of duty, sense of responsibility, and sense of mission. Amen. This is the prayer we ask of you all daily as we place ourselves at the nation’s service.
Thank you, and God and our Ancestor bless you all.
23rd day of March, 1979.

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