SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
Being the general overseer of the popular Benin kingdom, it is not surprising that any one who wants to govern Edo state must seek the blessings of the revered Benin monarch, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa. Although the royal father is not a politician, his blessings and body language go a long way in swaying votes in favour of an anointed candidate. And on several occasions, he directs his chiefs to make pronouncements on his behalf and that pronouncement becomes law.
Therefore, as the July 14, 2012 governorship election in Edo state beckons, politicians particularly the governorship candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Governor Adams Oshiomhole; that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Gen.Charles Arhiavbere; and the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Chief Solomon Edebiri, have been enmeshed in this battle for the royal blessing.
The PDP candidate Gen.Airhiavbere was the first to hit the palace shortly after he emerged as the candidate of the PDP. He stormed the palace with the entire Exco of the PDP in the state led by its chairman, Chief Dan Orbih and former Chief whip of the senate, Senator Rowland Owie March last month.
Orbih introduced their candidate to the Oba informing him that they decided to pick one of his sons with whom they are well pleased. He stressed that their candidate is a “son of the palace”, apparently to remind the Oba that he cannot abandon one of his own, while he went on to explain why their candidate is better than Oshiomhole.
But the Oba quickly interrupted and informed Orbih not to turn his palace to a soapbox. On his part, Airhiavbere recalled how he visited the Oba immediately he disengaged from the army and what the Oba advised him to do since he is now retired. But the Oba interrupted and urged him to tell the people what he advised him when he came to inform him of his disengagement from the Army.
Airhiavbere went on to recall that the Oba advised him to take over from where his father stopped. Airhiavbere’s father was a chief before his death. However, the Oba agreed with what he said and asked him to continue. After explaining his reasons to the palace, the Oba responded by saying “I have been watching you on TV and I will continue to watch you on TV”. That was how the visit with the Oba ended.
Edebiri, the ANPP candidate also visited the palace with his followers and assured the Oba that he will do better than any of the candidates if voted into office. He equally received prayers from the palace chiefs after which the Oba urged them not to play politics of bitterness in order to have a peaceful election.
Then on Thursday April 19,2012, Governor Oshiomhole took his running mate Dr Pius Odubu and other party leaders to the palace. The event was like a carnival. Dressed in a white babariga, it was very obvious that the air was at peace with Oshiomhole’s visit to the Oba. A mild drama ensued when the Oba came out to meet his visitors. The revered monarch was virtually looking for Oshiomhole, “where is he, where is he?, even though the Oshiomhole he was looking for stood before him dressed in a white babariga.
The drama elicited laughter at the palace as Oshiomhole explained that he decided to put on the babariga because of the special occasion. However, Oshiomhole commenced the business of the day by thanking the Oba for his continued support for his administration the past three and half years, just as he used the opportunity to outline his achievements in the past three and half years.
According to him, “ First is to put on record my gratitude and my appreciation to your Royal Majesty for all the support that I have enjoyed since I became governor of Edo state, just like your Majesty supported me while I was President of the NLC. It would have been impossible for me to enjoy the support of the people as much as I have enjoyed without your blessing.
“The second is to recall that in 2007, I had the privilege of coming to this palace to inform your Majesty of my decision to contest the governorship of Edo state. And I asked for your prayers and blessings and you extended same to me. After the election and the legal battle, I was sworn in as Governor November 2008. Upon assumption of office, I paid you a visit to inform you that I have been sworn in and my readiness to get on with the job.
“I recall your Majesty made one request that all you expect from me is to do some thing about Benin roads and the flooding problem of Benin City. Your Majesty, I had promised that those were marching orders and I promised to do that. It is now three years and about four months of being in office and your Majesty, today we have done something and we are doing something about Benin roads and the flooding problem. Just yesterday after a heavy down pour, I decided to go out to see if what we are doing is working.
“I went to five junctions and I found that a matter of minutes, you won’t know that it rained at all. I went around Tomline, through to the traditional ground, again every thing was okay. Your Majesty, we have made some effort and with your encouragement and support, we took some difficult decisions to demolish some buildings so that we can reclaim the moats and today the moats are being reclaimed which is helping the flooding control.
“All of these would not have been possible without the intervention of your Royal Majesty. I do remember that in my first budget, I announced that I will devote 70 per cent of the budget to work on Benin roads and erosion including the Airport Road. Though the PDP led House then manipulated the budget then but we still did what we could to make things happen. Their plot was to frustrate our effort.
“When we regained control of the House we had already started working and the jobs are going on across the state.We have the longest road in Orhionmwon Local Government, about 57 kilometer road covering over 200 communities. We are doing a road in Ovia North East and Ovia South West. We are also doing another one in Uhumnwonde and Igbanke”.
Continuing Oshiomhole reminded the Oba that “the INEC has rolled out a time table of which they have fixed election for July 14, 2012. I have had the support of the leadership and members of my party the ACN. I had the opportunity to be nominated unopposed to run again the office as governor of Edo state.
“I have picked Odubu as my running mate. So we have come this afternoon to ask for your Majesty’s blessing, to ask for your prayer and support so that as we approach the electioneering campaign, God willing Edo people will give us a second chance, not to repeat but to advance the progress that we have already made so that we can take Edo state to the next level. Amongst the projects that we have started in Benin Kingdom , many of them have been completed while others will be completed in the next few months.
“The new canal that we are dredging, the N30billion project has reached advanced stage. Our intensions are clear, we want to assure you that we believe we will do even better a second term, first because we have a House of Assembly that is also committed to development. Just last week, the World Bank offered to give us support of almost 275 million dollars and Edo state is the second to attract that fund after Lagos . I give you my word that with your support Sir, we will take Edo state to the next level”.
After Oshiomhole’s speech, it was the turn of the Iyase (Prime Minister) of Benin Kingdom , Chief Sam Igbe to bless the kola nut on behalf of the Oba. As he was doing that, the Oba interrupted sharply and informed him that the prayers he is about to offer must be a special one for Oshiomhole. And the Iyase in his prayers, described Oshiomhole as God-sent to the people of the state, adding that “the Binis cannot afford to forget what you have done for us. You had a good first term and a good term deserves another.
“Whatever you want, you will get because the Bini people are not ungrateful people, they will return you to complete all the development projects you are doing. You have made Benin beautiful, and the Benin people will show their gratitude.” On his part, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, said : “You want to go into battle, you will return safely. Whatever the Oba has to say, he has said so many times. Some of us have spoken on behalf of the monarch several times.
The Oba speaks through the Iyase and the palace chiefs. I was coming to the palace one day and I met a multitude of people and I asked, what is happening, they said the governorship candidate of the PDP is inside. I quickly told my driver to reverse the car, because I didn’t see the Iyase’s car and if I came to the palace, it would be my lot to pray for him and I didn’t want to pray for a candidate who will not pass.
Adams Oshiomhole is the Benin candidate. He is the one who wants Benin City to join other modern cities in the country, so he is our candidate. Some people said the palace is playing politics. What is politics? The Oba himself is an embodiment of politics.If you have a house and you are old and your children did not come to paint the house and somebody from outside came and painted it and decorate it for you, will you leave that person? Once again, we are voting for Adams Oshiomhole.
As the Odionwere of Bini Kingdom, and I am speaking on behalf of the Oba, you are going to win. The Oracle has spoken. Anyone who disputes it or fights against the oracle, then let him fight on, we will wait and see the result.” The Obasogie of Benin Kingdom, Chief Eduwuiofo Ekhator-Obasogie, said what makes the palace happy is that the Governor has a long-standing relationship with the palace.
According to him, “I will only add a few things to what the Esogban has said. What we are saying is that what the Governor is doing in Benin City and in Edo State , even the blind people are seeing it. We praise you sir. The Omo n’Oba has listened and heard what is happening in Edo State . Bini has 54% of the population and you are doing so much here. We are very appreciative people and we will surely stand by you and stand with you to the end.”
The Oba who crowned the visit up said, “I was very delighted while watching my Television to see the outcome of your party (ACN) primaries. We thank God for everything and may Allah be with you”. The Oba personally escorted Oshiomhole out of the palace reiterating “Allah be with you”.
After the Oba’s blessings, the entire Enigies in the Edo South endorsed Oshiomhole for a second term, just as traditional rulers in Esan and Edo North led by Otaru of Auchi, did the same. However, sensing that Oshiomhole was winning the Royal battle, the PDP and its governorship candidate, Gen.Charles Airhiavbere moved to Edo Central, Anenih’s domain and he received the endorsement of Esan royal fathers.
But that endorsement was punctured few weeks later, after 23 out of 25 of the Royal fathers from that area, led by the Onogie of Opoji, Godfrey Okosun and Enogie of Ekpoma, Anthony Abumere 11, stormed the Edo state Government House and alleged that they were only invited for their normal meeting not knowing that they were lured there to endorse Airhiavbere. Enogie Opoji asserted that “but we still refused to give him endorsement. Some of us were harassed by security agents to come and give our blessing but we refused, some who gave did that forcefully”.
However, after reiterating their support for Oshiomhole, they crowned it up by giving him a title, the Adolor of Esanland,meaning, the repairer of Esanland.