West and North Africa
How Jonathan’s re-election bid turned Bini palace chiefs against each other
Jonathan’s campaigners are desecrating our traditional institution — Royal family
By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
The past two weeks in Benin Kingdom has been tensed following the disagreement between top Benin palace chiefs over the re-election ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan. The tension was expected following the resolve by Governor Adams Oshiomhole that the people of Edo will State not support the re-election of Jonathan after he accused the President of abandoning the people of the state notwithstanding that they voted massively for him in 2011.
Oshiomhole has matched his words with action by campaigning vigorously in all the nooks and crannies of the state for the presidential candidate of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen.Muhammadu Buhari.
However, what is causing the unease in the kingdom is the declaration by the Esogban of Benin and Chairman of the Benin Forum, Chief David Edebiri, that the Binis will not vote for Jonathan. His declaration was a big blow against pro-Jonathan campaigners in the state, led by the state Coordinator, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. Edebiri is the Odionwere (traditional head) of Benin Kingdom and second most powerful chief in the kingdom after the Iyase, Chief Sam Igbe. The Benin Forum, which he chairs, is the most powerful umbrella body of all Binis.
Like Ohanaeze Ndigbo covers the Igbo, the forum is the mouth piece of the Binis and directly under the supervision of the Oba of Benin. Therefore, when the Esogban speaks, his words are respected. Therefore, it was not surprising that his comment that the Binis will not vote for Jonathan elicited the reactions it generated.
The Binis control seven Local Governments in Edo State. As the group with the largest in population in the state, any one that takes them for granted may have his or her fingers burnt. Knowing the implication of the Esogban’s statement, Jonathan’s men, led by Ize-Iyamu, rose to challenge him.
They paid a visit to the Isekhure of Benin Kingdom, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, where the chief, who is the chief Priest of the Kingdom, flayed the Esogban’s comment and backed the re-election of Jonathan. The Eson of Benin Kingdom, Chief Amos Osunbor, who himself is a chieftain of the PDP, also criticised the Esogban’s comments declaring that the Binis will vote for Jonathan. They accused the Esogban of using the BF to support the APC and urged him to resign.
But, the Forum, through its Public Relations Officer, Michael Ogbeide-Ihama, explained that Esogban’s comments were his personal opinion and not that of the Forum, recalling that the Forum had earlier stated that it would not endorse any presidential candidate and wondered why the attack on the Esogban. While insisting that the Esogban’s comment was in exercise of his fundamental human rights as an elder statesman, the Forum emphasized that “those peddling this false rumour that there is crisis in the Forum should desist from it in their own interest”. He added: “For the avoidance of doubt, let me emphasize that Chief D.U.Edebiri enjoys the implicit confidence of members of the Benin Forum”.
As PDP sympathizers continued to attack the Esogban, palace chiefs and Enigies, under the aegis of Otu Odolevbo-Osioba, led by Osagiobariase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Jackson Igbinovia, came up with a statement threatening to invoke the powers of the gods against those launching personal attack on the person of the Esogban. Their statement said, “The Binis would not want to be fooled for many times after we massively voted for President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 as advised by Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomhole. Hence, Chief Edebiri’s statement is geared towards creating awareness for his people not to be fooled again.
President Jonathan has been in office for six years now and has not been able to affect our lives positively, particularly the Binis. For six years of his administration, the only Bini man that worked under him as a Minister of State for Works, Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyi was removed. Since he was dropped, no Bini man has come on board to serve in his government. So the Enigies and we palace chiefs are backing the comment, made by the Esogban, the Odionwere of Benin Kingdom because he is agitating well for the Binis, therefore he owes no body any apology. The statement credited to him is supported by our group. The people castigating Esogban are doing so for their own selfish reasons as they go to Abuja to get money for themselves and nothing else, undermining the interest of the Binis”.
But what appears to be a crack in the Forum came on Monday, when the Secretary of the Benin Forum, Mr Henry Ogbodu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, came up with a statement which members of the Forum, including the Chairman, Edebiri, described as an unauthorized statement. Ogbodu, who stressed that the comment made by the Esogban was his personal opinion and not that of the Forum, went on to declare that even if the Forum will endorse any presidential candidate, it will be Jonathan, since the Oba, through the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, had, last year, endorsed the President in Abuja during a visit.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that Ogbodu’s statement came as a shock to members of the Forum. Worried by the situation in the Forum, the royal family reacted to the statements of some of the chiefs describing them as abominable. Younger brother of the Oba and the Enogie of Obazuwa, Prince Edun Akenzua, who addressed journalists, on Tuesday, disclosed that the royal family was worried over what he described as a deliberate attempt to desecrate the traditional institution in the name of politics.
The Royal family specifically described as disrespectful the alleged open castigation of the Esogban by the Eson of Benin Kingdom, Osunbor, saying that the Eson’s action was against the rules of the palace since Esogban is senior to him in the hierarchy of the palace chiefs. While noting that Esogban’s declaration that the Binis will not vote for Jonathan was in order, he said, “ I have even said it myself that after the Binis voted the President in 2011,when Oshiomhole said we should support him, the man has not done anything for our people. And when the Esogban spoke, he did not say he was speaking on behalf of the Benin Forum which I am a member, he said he was speaking his mind. And let us not forget that as chairman of the forum, he protects the interest of the Binis and not that of a few. So if he says Binis will not vote for Jonathan because he has not done anything for the Binis, what is wrong with that comment? Personally, I have not seen anything that Jonathan has done for us as a people and if there is anything let them come and show me”.
Hinting that Osunbor may be sanctioned according to palace rules over his comment, he explained that “the disturbing aspect of the whole episode is the indiscipline and disloyalty to the Benin cause and our revered institution”. Akenzua went on: “In order to comprehend the gravity and implication of Eson’s act, it is important to explain briefly the organogram of Benin chieftaincy. Palace or royal chiefs belong mainly to three groups, namely: Eghaevbo n’ore, Eghaevbo n’Ogbe and Ibiwe.Iyase is the head of Eghaevbo n’orhe. Esogban, Eson and Osuma belong to the same group and are in that order of seniority. That means Eson is next to Esogban in the hierarchy of that group. Esogban, Eson and Isekhure can exercise their freedom of speech, but that freedom of speech does not extend to a chief or member of the royal court to publicly and derisively criticize his colleague, more so a senior one. In the military or the uniformed forces, the erring person would be court marshalled”.
On the comment by Isekhure that the Binis will back Jonathan since the Oba, through the Crown Prince, had, last year, endorsed the President in Abuja. Akenzua asserted that “Chief Isekhure gave the impression that he was the Oba’s spokesman”, adding: “It must be said that the Oba does not, I repeat, does not endorse any politician. They all visit him to seek his support and blessings. The Oba mandates the senior chief at court during the visit to say prayer. That prayer is stereotyped that God may give to Benin and to Nigeria the person who will develop our land and make it possible for citizens to put three square meals on their tables. And this issue that the Oba endorsed Jonathan through the Crown Prince, how are you sure that the Crown Prince was not misquoted in that report? At that time the report was published, Jonathan had not told anybody that he was running for President; so how could the Oba endorse someone who has not indicated interest then?”
Adding that there was a grand design to rubbish the Benin royal family which he however declared that will be resisted, Akenzua narrated: “After what the Jonathan’s campaigners did at the palace last time, trying to create confusion, only last Friday, the Coordinators of the presidential campaign team carried their rally into the Holy Aruosa Cathedral. That was desecration of a holy place of worship. They can seek the Ohensa’s prayer, support and blessing but to take over his place of worship is outrageous. It is even more so when the leader or the coordinator is a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church. I wonder if he will do that in his church?
The Aruosa Cathedral re-established by my father in 1949 or so is a heritage of Benin, just as the monarchy and Rolls Royce are to the British. Benin will not allow it to be desecrated. Invading the Holy Aruosa Cathedral as Pastor Ize-Iyamu and his team did on Friday and the palace earlier shows how desperate they are to capture the royal institution. Whatever they do, the Benin at home and in the Diaspora will resist any agent, the enemies of the Benin may employ to demystify Great Benin”.
Sunday Vanguard was informed however that the Benin Forum will meet soon to deliberate on the burning issues.
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