Sacrilege in Benin Kingdom

May 17, 2019

By Benin tradition, the Ohen Nu Koni of Evbuekoi does not enter Benin City when an Oba of Benin is on the throne. He does not see the Oba after the initial rights of initiation of the Monarch. But last week, the Police in Edo State broke the tradition, arrested the Ohen and took him to Benin City. CAJETAN MMUTA, reports on the fallout of the bizzare arrest from Benin

It is a commonplace that those who do not know should ask and in doing so, one is bound to ascertain the depth and veracity or otherwise of any subject matter. In Benin, the capital City of Edo State and ancient kingdom of the Bini speaking people of the what is known as the Heart Beat nodal area in the oil rich Niger Delta region in the South-South geo political zone of Nigeria, there strong evidence of the rich culture and tradition of the people. Available records have shown that the people’s unwavering unity, peace and existence as well as progress is made possible by powerful position and influence of the Oba around whom everything revolves.

There is no doubt that people hold the Oba in high esteem and see him as next after God Almighty. That is more reason every Bini speaking man can go to any length to protect the sanctity of the king and throne of the kingdom because the people see the revered traditional institution as their deity. Also, it is generally held among them that the Oba is next to God.

This further goes to explain why each government in power and people rally round the monarch in all sensitive situations. As powerful as the Oba is, his words is law and no one challenges him to that and those who did so in the past know the consequence of such action.

The reasons are not far- fetched; one aspect of that is that the monarch is seen as the true representative of God and the ancestors. And anyone who dares the Oba in whatever manner does so at his or her own peril and there is obvious punishment for that. It is incontrovertible that the sanctity of the traditional stool is divine and the tradition and custom are richly and religiously followed to the letter and embedded in the daily lives of the people even to the admiration and envy of neighbouring states and the world at large and it is difficult to dismiss any part with a wave of hand. This goes to further explain the fear expressed among the citizens when the Oba frowns or sneezes, especially, when there is an awry situation.

Touching the tiger by the tail

This was the situation last week Wednesday when operatives of the Anti-Cultism team attached to the State Criminal Investigative Department of the Edo State Command, acted in a manner that although within the law but seemed to have exceeded their bounds in what suggests now as the hunter being the hunted.

The anti- cultism operatives, acting on a petition from a subject of Evbuekoi community in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of the state, Mr. John Elvis, an ex-member of the banned Community Development Association (CDA) against His Royal Highness Osarodion Robert Adesuwa, Usunalele Osaghae, the Ohen Nu Koni of Evbuekoi, had arrested the latter in the usual condemnable fashion that elicited wild reactions.

The Ohen is an outstanding High Priest and a community leader of repute. However, the arrest was not the issue in contention but the drama and intrigues that followed such action is what has now stirred an irreconcilable traditional and customary ripple within the agrarian and peaceful community and the entire state.

At the moment, fear has gripped residents of Benin Kingdom and capital town of the state following the forceful arrest and detention of the High Priest of the god of sea in the Benin kingdom. By ranking and position within the realm of Benin tradition, he is both a spiritual and administrative leader of his domain and the tradition and custom of the land forbids him to see face to face with the Oba of the Benin kingdom nor enter Benin at any point in time. Findings revealed that the Oba rarely goes to where the high priest resides and should he wish to visit there, the high priest is not expected to be in his domain until the Oba visits and leaves.

This precedence of the tradition and custom has been followed since it came to be in 1440 AD. Sadly, operatives of the anti-Cultism team of the police command on the fateful day in a commando style, stormed the palace of the Ohen Nu Koni, forcefully arrested and detained him in the process over a petition by John Elvis (a k.a Atekha) and others now at large. South-South report learnt that on arrival in two buses at the community, they shot sporadically into the air to scare the residents before they whisked away the High Priest.

It was further gathered that the operatives took the priest to Benin City in defiance of his persistent pleas and entreaties that he does not enter the kingdom and that if does, he would die in the process, even as he insisted that they should rather take him to a nearby police station.

But the policemen paid deaf ears to his pleas and took him through the Benin Bypass to the command headquarters, not knowing that the animal caught by their trap is not one to be eaten by the living. There was pandemonium in the community following the melee even as people scampered for safety following several volleys of gunshots by the policemen.

The action, which now sparked serious row by implication has led to desecration and violation of the long standing tradition of people of the ancient kingdom which was instituted by the Benin traditional council and during the reign of then His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare the great in 1440 AD. Coincidentally, a strange and mysterious occurrence had followed the fate of the priest within the ancient kingdom leading to a violent wind and a downpour accompanied by thunder and lighting.

SAVED BY CULTURE

The tensed situation, however, was saved immediately the secretary to the Ohen Nu Koni of Evbuekoi, Chief Paul Ajayi, alerted the palace of Oba of Benin about the strange happening, which signaled a dangerous omen. A high powered delegation of Bini chiefs was said to have been sent to the command headquarters which led to immediate release of the High Priest.

However, three hefty dogs were slaughtered and deep ritual sacrifice carried out near the police command before the priest left the area to return back to his domain. Not done, the top hierarchy of the command was subsequently summoned to the palace over the forbidden act and for daring the sanctity of the throne of the kingdom as well as desecration of the tradition of the ancestors of the land. Consequently, following the tradition and custom as well as taking steps to appease the gods, the police reportedly have been asked to produce 14 native cows, tortoise, sheep, goats, cocks each and one thousand kolanuts and other items of sacrifice to enable relevant priests and native doctors to offer sacrifices to the gods and ancestors of the kingdom.

These are said to be necessary to avert the wrath of the gods and strange happenings in the kingdom. On its part, the command is reported to have ordered the arrest of about 12 policemen involved in the arrest of the Ohen Nu koni. Also, the prime suspect in the entire saga, Mr. John Elvis, has since been detained by the police for questioning while others including the Odiowere of the area, Pa Benjamin Aghaku Igbinoke have gone underground over their role in the matter. According to the Secretary to the Ohen Nu Koni, Chief Paul Ajayi, at the centre of the crisis in the community was attempt by Pa Benjamin Igbinoke and John Elvis to split the community into two in negation of the status of High Priest as the traditional and administrative head of the area.

The suspects were said to have severally questioned the authority of the High Priest, insisting that his position is solely to carry out spiritual role and not administrative duty to the community. Further investigations revealed that the high priest is vested with both spiritual and administrative roles within his domain for peace and welfare of people of the area. Chief Ajayi told newsmen that Elvis on the fateful day of the incident had confronted the Ohen Nu Koni for stopping him from carrying out work near the community’s shrine and in the process tore off the traditional bead of the priest which is forbidden by tradition.

Meanwhile, the men of the anticultism outfit and top shots of the command are said to be jittery over the attendant mystery that may follow the sacrilege. It is feared that the command may not be the same again over the ugly development and the likely effect of the despicable act involving their men. Already, the high and low of the command have kept mum over the entire matter and are treating the matter with discreet attention. All attempts by this paper to get the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. DanMallam Abubakar, to speak on the case have not yielded any result as he refused to pick repeated calls to his mobile phone or reply to an SMS sent to his cell phone.

In addition, the command’s Public Relations Officer, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor, said he was not feeling fine for some time and cannot give details of the incident. Source close to the command confirmed the incident but said that “everybody is being careful about the matter because of its sensitive nature”. Again, Chief Press Secretary to the Oba of Benin Mr. Desmond Agbam, could not answer calls by our reporter.

Another protest to split the kingdom

On Tuesday, anger was nearly let loose on perceived enemies opposed to the sanctity of the throne of the Oba as thousands of protesters took to major streets of the town against one Chief Arisco Osemwengie. Arisco had recently in a letter to the Presidency allegedly requested that a separate kingdom be carved out of Benin and to be presided over by him as the Ogiamen of Utantan kingdom in same Benin, the state capital. But thousands of youths under the umbrella of the Benin National Congress (BNC) protested against the move, insisting that there is only one Benin kingdom with the Oba as the traditional ruler of the area and therefore the kingdom can never be split.

They described the action as sacrilegous, prodigal and attempt to dare the power and sanctity of the throne, the monarch and its people. The protesters with several placards and a mock coffin, which signifies death for the enemies of the Oba of Benin, stated that the real Ogiamen of Benin kingdom has never been declared dead. According to them, even though he is supposed to be a palace chief, he cannot be replaced by one who is not the rightful person due for that position. However, Chief Osemwengie when contacted on the telephone said he cannot comment on the matter because the matter is in court. He said: “That is a matter that is before the Supreme Court and I don’t like commenting on an issue that is before the Supreme Court so I cannot comment on it.” President of the BNC, Ayamenkhue Edokpolor, who led the protesters to the Government House Benin where they were received by the state Deputy Governor Comrade Philip Shaibu said; “The Ogiamien family led by Pa. Samuel Ogiamien had duly and publicly disowned the said Arisco Osemwegie since the year 2015 as an impostor trying to impersonate or criminally take the place of the chieftaincy title of Ogiamien, whose current holder is Chief Osarobo Okunoghae and who has been absent from Benin for several years but has not been declared missing or dead by relevant authorities”. He noted that, “this begs the question that if the holder of the Ogiamien title has not been declared missing or dead, then Arisco Osemwengie and his illusionary adventurers trying to claim a title of Ogiamien must be held accountable for his whereabouts because a title is only vacant by death or by other established proviso.

The general public must be informed that by the Benin Traditional palace structure – the Ogiamien title is one of the titles belonging to a group called Uzama ni bie which is a junior title in the Palace hierarchy of functionaries.” Responding to the protesters, Comrade Shaibu said “There are two kingdoms in the world; Benin Kingdom and United Kingdom and anybody that wants to try to reduce the image and ancestral history that we have in this kingdom, that person is just daring what a human being cannot dare.” He pointed out that, “as a government, we are with you; by the grace of God we will not only protect our Benin kingdom but we will support every means to make a revered kingdom that it has always been.” He said, “The Oba of Benin is revered all over the world and nobody can reduce that image that we have got in the kingdom.

Edo State government will use everything possible to protect our cultural heritage which is represented by the Oba of Benin.” The Deputy Governor added that, “Mr Governor and the good people of Edo State will join you to preserve the kingdom and those bad people, we will put them where they belong. Benin Kingdom has come to stay. Oba has come to stay and nothing can change it.”