What are the consequences of the purported deposition  the Ojuromi of Uromi by the Former Governor of Edo State Adams Oshiomhole?

 

By Josephine Akioyamen

Before I talk about the consequences of former Governor of Edo State Oshiomhole abominable act first let me digress into history to provide the context for my perspective.

It is a well-known fact that the Dynasty of the Ojuromi of Uromi was never established by the law of the Edo State; the chief’s law simply recognises it. It traces it root back to the foundation of Uromi itself during the upheaval that attended the rise of Oba Ewuare Ogidigan to the throne of Benin. It is about 576 years old. It predated the establishment of Nigeria by 474 years. It is descended from the lineage of the Oba of Benin. It succession mode is in accordance to the reform, enacted by the Ogidigan himself, of succession by primogeniture to prevent the never ceasing civil wars occasioned by competition between the heirs to the throne that wracked Benin whenever an Oba ascended to join his ancestors. Thus the rule became ‘an Oba or Onojie or Enijie (in Benin Parlance) is not made but born’. ‘He is a gift from God such that even a reigning King can’t prevent that Gift from being made King when his time comes’ He rose up from the collective spirit of the people to become their king. He derives his legitimacy from the people and not from the secular government of the state. Like the British Monarch though subject to the parliament, he is etched into the imagination of the people. It is anchored on the colour of love given him by his subjects. The Monarchy is organically a part of Uromi. You can’t think of one without the other.

The first time the supremacy of the Monarchy was tested in the Benin Kingdom of which Uromi is one was when the British carried out their battle of conquest against the Benin Empire in its desperation to prevent the French from gaining a trade treaty with Benin . To do  this, it needed a trumped up casus belli. The death of its envoy and  his 250 Ascari (Hausa turncoat soldiers working for the British) with which he was planning to invade the Benin Kingdom under the colour of diplomacy provided the catalyst for an invasion . This in spite of  the fact that it was communicated to the envoy that under Benin Law, it was forbidden on the pain of death for any foreigner to make ingress into Benin territory and most significantly it was taboo for any ‘stranger’ to come into the presence of the Oba during the Igwe festival which was then coming to its feverish climax. And especially  so that the Oba had received good intelligence that the said envoy had earlier made series of formal requests to his superiors in London to be allowed to invade Benin. Well, the hero and great General Ologbosere on orders from the Oba on 4 January 1897 had to do what needed to be done to repel what would have been a flagrant breach of the territorial sovereignty and laws of the Benin Empire.

On 9 February 1897, Benin was attacked savagely by the British. Towns were burned down. Wealth looted. Prisoners of war killed. In what came to be known as a punitive mission to avenge the ‘Benin Massacre’, the British made an example of the Benin. They were on orders to hang the Oba whenever or wherever he may be found without the benefit of even a Kangaroo trial. After a stiff resistance, Benin fell on the 19th of February 1897 when the main column of the British forces reached Benin City. It was then that the invading foreign power (the British) decided to do away with the dynasty of the Oba and every Onojie whose domains were hotbeds of holdouts against the conquest of the Benin Empire or who is failing to recognise the legitimacy of the British claim to Benin. At first, it wanted to hang the Oba to achieve this. But when it saw the groundswell of the love and reverence with which the Benin people hold the Oba and noted to its chagrin that it was going to stoke a rebellion against itself by hanging the Oba, it quietly deposes him and sent him on exile to Calabar.

Then the British turned its attention to the hinterland of the Benin Kingdom where his Royal Majesty, Ogbidi Okojie the great of Uromi became the rallying point for the resistance against the incursion of the British into the Benin Empire. He and his men valiantly resisted the British for 3 years. In 1900, Uromi was invaded by massive British troops and Ogbidinojie, like Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi the great was exiled first to Calabar and later to Ibadan because of the fear of the British of what these two great minds may conspire to do to win back their lost glory.

In Benin, an attempt was made to make Chief Agho Obaseki, a friend of Oba Ovonramwen and a collaborator of the British, the putative head of the Kingdom, which was rejected by the Chiefs and the People of Benin with the explanation to the British that an Oba is never made but born. Not done, they moved to crown Prince Aiguobasinwin Ovonramwen (who later became Oba Eweka II) the Oba while his father was still alive. He refused. He preferred to die than to take the throne of his father while his father was still alive.

In Uromi, attempts made by the British to rule through a council of Chiefs resulted in a comedy of errors. The Chiefs disappeared from sight. They did not want any part of the British attempt to desecrate the divine throne of Uromi. It was said that the British combed every bush, forests, homes, and every receptacle in search of any chief that could don the mantle of leadership and maintains a semblance of legitimacy to the people of Uromi in the absence of the King, but they could find none.

When this failed, they turned their sights to Prince Iyahanebi, the King’s ambitious younger brother, who betrayed him to the British during the attack, but he was staunchly rejected by the people of Uromi. It was said that when this attempt was made to crown Prince Iyahanebi Okolo, King, Uromi wore a funereal look. Every man and woman were adorned in dark dresses. Ekiolele, the main market of Uromi, was closed. Everyone forwent food. It became a taboo for anyone to speak. A cloud of ethereal silence hung over the town. There was no one to serve the British. Sensing a rebellion brewing and lacking an appetite to fight a battle of attrition, the British recanted and instead turn to the Crown Prince Uwagbale Okojie to act as regent during the absence of his father. He refused. Like Prince Aiguobasinwin Ovonramwen, he was said to have told the British that death was preferable to usurping his father throne when the father had not yet joined his ancestors. They had no choice but to bring back Ogbidinojie to the throne in 1931 until he was succeeded by Uwagbalenojie in 1944 when he joined his ancestors.

It was against this background that the British parliament passed the Chieftaincy laws applicable to the colony and protectorates of Nigeria. It did this by virtue of Section 1 of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, for the Colony of Lagos which provides as follows:

“An Act of Parliament, or any provision thereof, shall… be said to extend to any colony when it is made applicable to such colony by the express words or necessary intendment of any Act of Parliament.”

And Section 5 of the Foreign Jurisdictions Act 1890 made laws passed by the British parliament directly applicable to the protectorate. It provides as follows:

“(1) It shall be lawful for her Majesty the Queen in Council, if She thinks fit, by Order to direct that all or any of the enactments described in the First Schedule to this Act, or any enactments for the time being in force amending or substituted for the same, shall extend, with or without any exceptions, adaptations, or modifications in the Order mentioned, to any foreign country in which for the time being Her Majesty has jurisdiction

(2) Thereupon those enactments shall, to the extent of that jurisdiction, operate as if that country were a British possession and as if Her Majesty in Council were the Legislature of that possession”

The British by this Chieftaincy law arrogated to themselves, the power to designate King into ‘Chiefdoms’ (a clear attempt to humiliate the conquered Royal Majesties), to appoint, and to depose ‘Chiefs’. It was left in our law books after independence and it was used to devastating effect by the Government of the Northern Region of Nigeria to depose Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, late Emir of Kano, the Grandfather of the present Emir because he was a political opponent of the then premier Sir Ahmadu Bello. Chief Awolowo the Premier of Western Region did the same thing with Alaafin Of Oyo, Alaafin Adeyemi II because he belonged to the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon (N.C.N.C., then the opposition party in Western Region). He was deposed and sent into exile, where he later died. Our governments took the place of our conquerors. They were now using the power of the state to impressed  themselves on the traditional authority of the monarchs but it never worked with the Benin or Esan.

In the lead up to Independence and immediately thereafter, Chief Awolowo was wise enough to leave the Oba Akenzua alone even when he dabbled in the politics of the first republic by belonging to the Midwest Democratic Front, which in conjunction with the NCNC successfully orchestrated the creation of the Midwestern Region of Nigeria out the Western Region even though the colonialist invented Chieftaincy law could have allowed him on paper to do exactly what he did with the Alaafin of Oyo. He had the foresight to know that to the Benin, the Oba is a gift from God, who could neither be removed nor replaced. He is a corporeal divinity. He knew also that he only succeeded with the Alaafin because of succession system of Oyo is not primogeniture nor is it hereditary. The Alaafin is selected by a body known as the Oyomesi from a number of ruling houses. He could be deposed and replaced with any member from any of the ruling houses without igniting a conflict of the legitimacy of his powers to do so or causing disaffection against his government. The Oba of Benin couldn’t be and neither is the Ojuromi of Uromi.

In 1998 the then Edo State Military Administrator, the late Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem using this Chieftaincy Laws suspended HRM Oba Erediauwa as Chairman of the Edo State Traditional Rulers Council for alleged partisanship in endorsing an APP governorship candidate. The Administrator tried to make the Chairmanship of the Council of Obas rotational but Erediauwa resisted it. The man later apologised. He was never forgiven by the Benin People. He lost his wife and child and died miserably in a hotel in Kaduna.

Under this present dispensation, there was a complete erosion of powers of the traditional rulers under the 1999 constitution as amended. They were not given any role at all unlike what was obtainable under the 1979 Constitution. They were simply ignored and pushed into oblivion on the Residual powers list over which the state has exclusive powers to legislate. Thus the state government retains total power under this constitution over traditional rulers. It creates, assigns duties, recognises, fails to recognise, imposes, deposes, and regulates traditional rulers in accordance with the dictates set down under its Chieftaincy law. However, the exercise of this power is limited by the stricture of constitutionalism as it affects the fundamental rights of the individual Traditional ruler and due process.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria in the cause of Chief J.A.Y Imonikhe Vs. The Attorney General of Bendel State and 3 others (1992) 6 NWLR (Pt 248) 402 pried into the nature of Chieftaincy laws in Nigeria. It came to the conclusion in this case, that the nature of a Chief law is such that when a declaration as regards a chieftaincy is duly made and registered under the relevant Chieftaincy laws (in this case the Chiefs Law of Bendel State (Now Edo and Delta states) Cap 37 Laws of Bendel State 1976) it becomes the embodiment of the entire custom of the town with respect to chieftaincy matters to the exclusion of any custom, usage or rule. In another word, a Chief Law only embodies the custom and tradition of a town in respect to the ascension, discipline, deposition, or removal of a traditional ruler. It does not operate in-vacuo.

The implication of this ruling for Uromi, for example, is that the Chieftaincy Law recognises the customs of Uromi as the rules to be followed in the ascension, duty, and if need be sanction for the king. It gives a formalistic power to the state government to present the staff of office to the Onojie and to treat the Onojie as an employee with statutory flavour for appropriation purpose. It also gives a power to the appointing authority to depose the King if he does something so morally egregious as to bring his community into opprobrium so long that deposition is done in accordance with the parameter of rights given to the King as a citizen of Nigeria and due process is followed. Thus, under this law, the Adam Oshiomhole administration had the legal power to initiate procedure to depose the Onojie of Uromi in accordance with the traditions of Uromi where he is found to have done something so morally bankrupt as to bring the town of Uromi into public ridicule or soil the dignity, respect, and prestige of the monarchy, however, it has to be done in accordance with the custom, usage, or rule, of the town of Uromi unless such custom has been declared repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience or being declared to be in conflict with a statute by a court of law? It must not be done on the diktat of the state governor alone.

Oshiomhole simply does not have the power to act as the judge and jury and set aside Custom of Uromi of which the Chieftaincy Law is the embodiment of. He should have allowed Uromi custom to decide what would happen to the Onojie in the case he is found wanting after following due process.

But what are the immediate consequences of the de facto, albeit illegal, act of deposition by the government of Edo state of the Onojie of Uromi?

A. He still remains the Onojie of Uromi. His legitimacy as the Onojie comes from the people of Uromi and not the government of Edo state. Onojie still retains his power to do his traditional functions in Uromi.

B. He still has the use of his palace especially since the palace was never constructed through state funds and does not belong to the state government.

C. He can’t be replaced.

D. He, no longer, is entitled to the 5% of the allocation due to the Esan North East Local Government Council every month

E. He is no longer entitled to attend the meetings of the State Traditional Council of Edo State

F. He is no longer recognised by the Edo State government as a Traditional Ruler under the Chieftaincy Law of Edo State but then again,  he doesn’t need the recognition of the Edo government to be an Onojie in the first place.

What we can do as the Uromi people is to rally around his Royal Majesty to blunt the sharp edge of this attempt to ridicule him and bring our monarchy into disrepute. We could set up a foundation to raise a revolving fund to maintain the Onojie to cut the umbilical cord between him and the state governor. We could do what our ancestors did by resisting the state government attempt to bring what we hold dear into ridicule on the ground of political differences. We have played this music before, against a force infinitely more powerful than the Edo state government, that is the British Colonialists and we won. Our ancestors told the British it was taboo to depose an Onojie and it worked spectacularly. We could do so today especially if we decide to take our partisan politics out of this.

We need to fight this with every arsenal at our disposal, for today, it is the Onojie of Uromi. Tomorrow it could be the greatest one of them all, the Oba of Benin.

One Response to What are the consequences of the purported deposition  the Ojuromi of Uromi by the Former Governor of Edo State Adams Oshiomhole?

  1. As of today, the laws of the State supersedes every other corpus of laws in the state. The constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria sets the entire nation under a republican status with powers clearly shared among the three tiers of government and so granting the State to have absolute dominance over the traditional institutions is only a fallout of our moving out of traditional cum monarchical system of government into a modern cum republican system.

    By and large we are all subject to the laws of the State including the traditional ruler himself. There is no where in the constitution where the traditional institutions are empowered to run government. They are mere custodians of customs and chiefly respected at that level only by benevolent concession of the State. In summary that have same status before the law just as father’s or mother’s of families have.

    Tell the Ojuromi to set an example by obeying the laws otherwise he will on the other hand be setting himself up for a let down by his subordinates.

    All of this grand standing are a by product of ignorance of our laws. I am beginning to see a sort of primordial sentiments here. The throne of the onojie is primogeniture by custom. Remember before that it was transferrable. Necessity made it untransferable. It could also be made transferrable by same necessity especially given the sort of ignorance of privilege being exercised by the Ojuromi at this material present.

    If I may ask, does the Ojuromi have any material contribution to Uromi other than just occupying a throne?

    Let us realise that we have long gone past the usefulness of trado-matic system of governance so we can embrace progress in real term. I don’t expect any right thinking Esan man or woman to be giving off energy supporting an institution that has outlived its useful era other than lazy locals who feed from the benevolence of the Onogie. I have traverse the entire space of Esanland and so can rightly put forward my position. When we need road, water, job, electricity, schools, housing etc we never call on the Enogies because we know they are not useful anymore than just traditional positions. So let us embrace our age and move forward.

    Thanks.

    Thanks

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