• Tony Igele

Oba Ewuare II: Towards a Benin Renaissance

ON October 20, it will exactly be one year that Omo n’ Oba n’ Edo, UKU AKPOLOKPOLO, Ewuare the Second, Oba of Benin, ascended the majestic throne of his forefathers. October 20, 2016 was a day the stars stood still for yet another great oba of Benin as he assumed his responsibilities as the monarch of the Great Benin Kingdom. It was a day a new peace, a new Benin nationalism and a new Benin ancestry was born.

I have watched the Oba, listened to him and admired his majestic finesse which he exuded in the last one year, and I am basking in the euphoria that the Benin nation is once again flourishing with a 21st century Monarch who is equipped with the intellectual depth, moral highgrounds and spiritual dexterity to lead the modern Benin people to greater heights. Oba Ewaure II, on assuming powers on that fateful day, gave a roadmap of where he is leading the modern Benin person to. His maiden speech brilliantly articulated the prospects and challenges of the Benin people in particular, and Nigeria in general. He talked about his plans to restore the glory of the old Great Benin, touching on the economy, administration, cultural revival and restoration of the Edo language, promotion of the ethics, values and morals of the Benin people which great historians of the Benin civilization gladly recorded in their various works.

Oba Ewaure II comes to the throne with a great sense of the history of Benin. His grasp of the historical trajectory of the Benin people seemingly guided his sense of mission which was articulated in his coronation speech as he called for the development of the Gele Gele port, an ancient port with which Great Benin reached out to the world for trade and advanced international economic relations way back in the 15th century.

Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisien, a retired consultant surgeon and an eminent authority on the Benin history in his recent work, entitled; Ughoton described the GeleGele port, which is adjacent to the Ughoton Beach on the banks of the Ovia River as the “window on the world” for old Benin for four hundred years.

The Benin scholar-doctor-historian sheds light on the pre-eminence of the Gele Gele port in Ughoton further: “And much of what old benin was known for was propagated through Ughoton and her Beach. Then one hundred and twenty years ago, this port, through which Benin interacted with the wider world, was destroyed, along with Benin City itself, during the Benin-British war. After the war the new victorious rulers of the land turned their backs on Ughoton and her Beach, and inadvertently converted Benin artificially into a landlocked kingdom, a kingdom without any access to the sea”

Oba Ewaure II knows very well that Benin is not a landlocked kingdom. The artificial landlocked status imposed on the Benins by the British was sustained in post-colonial Nigeria as one of the consequences of the forced integration of old Benin Kingdom into the modern Nigerian state by the British imperialists.

Also, the majoritarian politics which drives the contested Nigerian Federalism and its neocolonial political economy is yet another reason for the abandonment of the Gele Gele port which is the oldest port in the West African sub region. It operated since the middle of the15th century. The politics of majoritariaism and its short-sighted leadership ensured the subjugation of other ports in the country while sustaining the Lagos port and ensuring its boom economy in international trade to the detriment of the Benin Gele Gele port and other ports in the Niger Delta region.

Today, only the ports in Lagos flourishes. This is at the expense of the Gele Gele port in Ughoton. It is time for ports in Warri, Koko, Port Harcourt, Benin and other parts in the Niger Delta to flourish.The Monarch’s call’s as many well-meaning Nigerians have noted is not political. It is purely economic. Commerce and economic prosperity from international and domestic trades are the imperatives here.

It sits at the apex of the logic to rebuild the economy of the Benins and Nigerians on a larger scale. The Gele Gele port will flourish afresh, open up the agro-based economy of Ughoton and environs and create the new industrial hub in Benin and Nigeria. Again, let us return to Ekhaguosa Aisien’s 2017 book, Ughoton, where he observed interalia: ”The call by the Omo n’ oba Ewuare II for the actualization of the long-touted Export processing zone in Gele Gele is a call for the kingdom to return to its old habits, to re-open its well-worn, four hundred years old passage-way for trade, for wealth, and for enlightenment, a route which was closed to Benin one hundred and twenty years ago by the British Colonial Administration because of what happened along that road, in Ugbine village to the Head of the British Colonial Administration , Acting Consul-General James Phillips, and his companions.

This British squeamishness about the Benin –Ughoton road should no longer deter the Benin Kingdom from reopening the road, and the Ughoton Beach for Benin’s trade with the outside world. For this is exactly what old Benin did through that same road and through that same Beach for four hundred years before the British conquest a little more than a century ago. The British left Nigeria more than half a century ago. The Benin Kingdom should now retrace its steps along that ancient road, a road which had underpinned its pre-colonial prosperity and ascendancy, because the road exposed Benin to world trade and world recognition.”

Niger Delta. This is crystal clear in the light of the centrality of trade in contemporary world economy. Trade, the engine of growth of the developed countries, looms large as the engine of growth for the developing economies. The prosperity of the European, American, Japanese, and recently the Chinese economies with other Asian tigers is a testimony to the fact that Benin, and indeed, Nigeria can reconnect to the world, and the mystery that made the Gele Gele port in Ughoton to flourish for over four centuries is very much alive. The Benins are on the threshold of history. And so, Oba Ewaure II has set the pace. He has made a clarion call. We must all respond to his call.

An accomplished diplomat, administrator, humanist and lover of his people, Oba Ewaure II has in the last one year given us a roadmap on how Great Benin can recreate itself and reenact the mystique surrounding Benin civilization which knowledgeable historians claimed is as old as the creation of the world by Osanobua (Almighty God). The monarch has opened new vistas on a cultural renaissance as he mobilizes the Edo man and woman to return to the promotion of the Edo language and the beautiful culture of the Benin people. Edo n’ Imose!

I listened to the Monarch respond to welcome addresses of his subjects from the various Benin communities since he embarked on his appreciation tour of his kingdom; I have seen the Oba prayed fervently for the progress, peace and development of his people in the communities he visited so far. I have watched the Oba passionately begging Osanobua and his ancestors to have mercy on his subjects. I came to the conclusion that there is a renaissance in Great Benin. The circle of Benin greatness is anew in the digital age with a digital-compliant Oba.

The Monarch’s zeal for good governance, development, justice, fair play, rule of law, maintainace of law and order is remarkable. No doubt, his background as a diplomat, indeed, as Ambassador Plenipotentiary to several countries including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Angola, Italy and Albania, and his academic training in the United States and the United kingdom foreground his enviable prowess for decorum, equity, protocol, and of course, orderliness in line with the Kingdom’s cosmology and the heritage of inimitable and self-respecting Benin people. Edo n’ ozomo! Edo n’ imose! Edo n’ oba ye!

These values which separate the Benins from other tribes and ethnic groups are being eroded by the younger generation, perhaps, due to urbanization and migration leading to the mix-up in Benin land. But these values, as our GreatOba Ewuare II has demonstrated and instructed, must be restored. I salute you my king! Our land must be save from the downside of globalization. And so, all Benin elites and mass of the people must join the ship of progress which the Great Oba Ewuare II has commissioned. We must reconceptualize globalization, and fashion it to meet our local needs and common destiny. So, it is glocalization that can rescue from the “elephantine” fangs of globazation.

There is a renaissance in Great Benin. Omo n’ Oba n’ Edo, UKU AKPOLOKPOLO, Ewuare the Second, Oba of Benin has kick-started the Benin renaissance of the 21st century. No doubt, challenges abound. There will always be challenges, but the Oba has a concourse of well-heeled Benin indigenes all over Nigeria and in the diaspora who should support the Oba to pull back Great Benin from the brinks. We can also bask in the victory and achievement of the contemporary Benin instead of always relishing in the victory and success of the past. This is the time to do it. By the grace of Osanobua (God Almighty) and the transformative and visionary leadership of Oba Ewure the Second, Benin will be great again.

It is a mark of the king’s flair for excellence in development and the upliftment of the lives of the people that he recently honoured the former governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshomhole, for his great works as governor of Edo State from 2008 to 2016. The reception of Comrade Adams oshomhole should send the message to all and sundry especially members of the political class that our Oba and the great people of Nigeria are in search of persons on the political space who can bring about socio-economic development and uplift the lives of the people.

The Oba’s reception for the Comrade Adams Oshomhole is a wake-up call to the political class in Edo State to return to the drawing board, put on their thinking caps and commit to the socio-economic transformation of Edo State. Omo n’ Oba n’ Edo, UKU AKPOLOKPOLO, Ewuare the Second, Oba of Benin has unveiled a new wave for good governance. We must answer this clarion call. Oba ghator, kpere, ise!

*Honorable Patrick Obahiagbon is former chief of staff, Edo State Government, Government House, Benin City.

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