Nige­ria’s new Oba of Benin: The coro­na­tion of a life­time

One of the old­est and most pres­ti­gious African realms

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BENIN CITY: The rainy sea­son is sup­posed to be over in Nige­ria, but on Thurs­day just be­fore mid­night, tor­ren­tial rain and crack­ling light­ning let loose over Benin City.

For those in the crowd, the mes­sage was clear: with the rain the gods had blessed the new monarch of the king­dom of Benin in the coun­try’s south.

The divine coro­na­tion was the cli­max of a day of royal pageantry, when some 100,000 peo­ple flooded the streets to catch a glimpse of the new “Oba”-king in the Yoruba lan­guage-Ewuare II. The king­dom of Benin, now lo­cated in­side Nige­ria, is one of the old­est and most pres­ti­gious African realms which flour­ished from around the 13th cen­tury un­til the Bri­tish in­va­sion hun­dreds of years later. It was fa­mous for its vast wealth, so­phis­ti­cated ur­ban de­sign and in­tri­cate bronzes.

The Oba does not wield any of­fi­cial pow­ers in Nige­ria, but has a great deal of in­flu­ence. Politi­cians, busi­ness­men and tra­di­tional lead­ers from all across the coun­try hon­ored the new king un­der the gi­ant white tent with some 4,000 in at­ten­dance. North­ern sul­tans bun­dled in tur­bans walked along­side south­ern princes, shirt­less and draped in loops of chunky coral neck­laces, while the Yoruba king of Ife wore a leop­ard skin. Wear­ing round John Len­non-style glasses and a string of pearls, Prince Burns Ef­fiom was in the au­di­ence and ex­plained the sig­nif­i­cance of the coro­na­tion. “Politi­cians use tra­di­tional lead­ers to main­tain peace,” he told AFP. The Oba ti­tle is passed down from fa­ther to first-born son. So the new king, whose birth name is Ehene­den Ere­di­auwa, takes over from his fa­ther, Solomon Aken­zua, who died ear­lier this year.

‘Like God’

Hud­dled be­hind a wall of peo­ple armed with their cell phones, Chris­tian Iyekekpolor jos­tled to snap pic­tures of VIPs. “From here I can see my king,” said the young grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Benin. “He’s like God for us.” Be­side him stood Rick­son Ogwu, who made the trip from Delta State, once a part of the an­cient king­dom. Ogwu missed the coro­na­tion of the last Oba in 1979 be­cause he was too young at age 12. He wasn’t go­ing to pass this op­por­tu­nity up. “We can only see this once in a life­time,” the trader said. “I’m proud to con­tinue the tra­di­tion of my peo­ple.” More than six hours late on the pro­gram, the guests were fi­nally as­sem­bled un­der­neath the air-con­di­tioned tent lit with mul­ti­col­ored chan­de­liers and the king ar­rived. Nige­rian Vice Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo and Africa’s rich­est man, Aliko Dan­gote, sat along­side other tra­di­tional lead­ers, for­eign am­bas­sadors and Euro­pean del­e­ga­tions.

‘Long live the king’

Nige­ria, which has 170 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, is deeply di­vided be­tween a Mus­lim north and a Chris­tian south; be­tween sup­port­ers of the rul­ing All Pro­gres­sives Congress party and the op­po­si­tion Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party. Yet on Thurs­day, those divi­sions were put aside, with the four ma­jor tra­di­tional rulers-the Oba of Benin, Emir of Kano, Sul­tan of Sokoto and Ooni of Ife-stand­ing above the po­lit­i­cal fray.

“Please wel­come, hon­ored guests, the king of the cen­tury,” said the mas­ter of cer­e­monies when Ewuare II ap­peared in an in­tri­cate ar­mor of red coral and sur­rounded by dozens of chiefs and princes.

A grad­u­ate of the best Bri­tish and Amer­i­can schools, and a for­mer Nige­rian am­bas­sador to Swe­den and An­gola, the new king is de­ter­mined to re­vive the for­mer glory of his king­dom and kick­start the econ­omy.

“With in­ter­na­tional aid and pri­vate sec­tor part­ners, we will save our her­itage,” he said, promis­ing in par­tic­u­lar to in­vest in the bronze in­dus­try, the king­dom’s pride. “I hope to at­tract tourists, help de­velop the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try,” he said. “Long live the king!” ex­claimed Eric Ojo, a 35-year-old en­tre­pre­neur. “I am happy. He was sent by God, but it is a king who has feet on the ground.” — AFP

BENIN CITY: Newly crowned 40th Oba, or king, of the Benin king­dom, Oba Ewuare II (C), walks on a wooden bridge as­sisted by palace aides to per­form the rite dur­ing his coro­na­tion. — AFP

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