Omo N’Oba n’Edo: Portrait of an iconic monarch

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It was one of the biggest and saddest news of the day. The announcement of the death of the paramount ruler of the great Benin Kingdom in Edo State, Omo N’Oba n’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa, was one that jolted many people across and beyond the ancient city on Friday. The news of the monarch’s passage, who had been reportedly down with an unknown illness for some time, was broken by the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe, in company with other traditional chiefs following the traditional breaking of native chalk at the entrance of the palace.

It wasn’t the type of report many had expected to hear even though there had been speculations over his demise for months. The late traditional ruler apart from being the political and spiritual head of the Benin Kingdom, was also a father to not only his subjects but also many people across the country. He was known to be a promoter of peace and quality leadership during his lifetime.

Born in 1923 and formerly known as Prince Solomon Akenzua, the late monarch was the 38th Oba of Benin after succeeding his father, Oba Akenzua II on March 23, 1979.

Erediauwa attended Government College, Ibadan, Oyo State, between 1939 and 1945, before proceeding to the Yaba College, Lagos, and later King’s College, Cambridge, United Kingdom, where he studied Law and Administration.

The iconic monarch would later join the Eastern Nigeria Civil Service in 1957 as a District Officer on graduation from the university before moving to the Federal Civil Service where he retired as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health in 1973.

His robust career also saw him becoming the regional representative of Gulf Oil for a short while after which period he was appointed Commissioner for Finance in the then Bendel State in 1975 as a result of his exceptional qualities.

During the Nigerian civil war, the Oba Erediauwa in his capacity as a high-ranking federal officer was part of a government delegation to the ‘Aburi Conference’ which was initiated to find a lasting solution to the crisis. As a result of this revered position, he knew, worked with, and advised all military heads of state at the time, as well as potential leaders that eventually emerged with democracy.

While on the stool, the late traditional ruler on several occasions mediated in disputes involving politicians across the country. Many presidents and public office holders regularly visited him for counsel and prayers during his reign as a result of his vast knowledge on various issues.

Benin Kingdom under his watch witnessed tremendous growth across all spheres while peace constantly enveloped the area throughout his time. Against odds, he managed to maintain the sanctity and respect associated with the Benin traditional stool. Apart from modernising the palace courtyard, the late Oba also created many chiefs for the easy administration of the kingdom. An author of international repute, he helped promote the rich cultural heritage and history of the Edo people.

In 2009, a week-long colourful celebration was put in place to mark his 30th year on the stool. It was a festival where Benin’s rich culture and were showcased.

Five years later, Oba Erediauwa lost his first wife and friend of many years, Queen Esther. Like him, she died after being struck by illness.

The Edo State Government in a statement on Friday, described the late Benin monarch as, “A distinguished Edo numero uno, an accomplished Nigerian, a seasoned bureaucrat, quintessential unifier, unique personage and exemplary Omo N’Oba, whose reign brought distinction, immense class, finesse and integrity to traditional institution in Edo state and country at large.

“His uncommon courage was symbolic of the can-do spirit of the Edo mind. His unity of purpose was not in doubt even as he used his revered position to promote constructive engagement amongst all shades of opinion and culture.

“As a thorough-bred bureaucrat, he understood the dynamics and intricacies of governance. He was the alternative voice to the many voiceless in our society, calling government attention to issues of development and transparent governance, without minding whose ox is gored. He was brave, fearless, punchy and instructive in his verbal and written messages.”

The title of the Oba of Benin was created by Oba Eweka I, the Kingdom’s first monarch, who is believed to have ascended to power around 1180 and 1300. It is one of the most revered traditional stools in Africa and the world.

 

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