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Encounters with Omo N’Oba! – A tribute – Part 1

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Cross seciton of traditional chiefs on a procession to pay homage to the Oba

Cross seciton of traditional chiefs on a procession to pay homage to the Oba

It’s after midnight. And I am standing on the roadside, in front of a petrol station, somewhere between Zaria and Benin City, learning a profound lesson about royal protocol and decorum. Two young men dance around me, in a circle, chanting and stomping. I watch nervously, as the ritual becomes more fervid. The station is closed, and the surroundings desolate and dark. A lone policeman, in transit, is silhouetted in moonlight, several meters away. But he casts only a cursory glance in our direction.

If stars are visible overhead, I don’t notice. My attention is focused on the dancing and chanting youths. One is the driver of a vehicle, from which I’ve just disembarked. The other sits in the front seat. The dancing stops.

“I’m telling you for the last time, oga,” the driver demands, menacingly. “Pay me my money!”

x

“When the police put me in your vehicle,” I remind him, again, still trying to conceal my fear, “they told you I was seeking a lift. If you didn’t agree, you should have left me”.

“Na the police get this vehicle?” his companion retorts.

I had no notion about where we were. After 33 years, I still cannot say, for sure. But I may have made it to the fringes of Okene or possibly as far south as northern Bendel (now Edo State).

In any event, I had started begging lifts in Zaria that afternoon, at the end of a graduation ceremony during which Ahmadu Bellow University (ABU) conferred an honorary degree on the Oba of Benin.

Akenzua Television (AKTV), a video company (one of the first in Nigeria), had sent me to Zaria as its senior writer to cover the occasion. The company’s Managing Director was Prince Edun Akenzua, a brother to the Oba (and currently the Enogie of Obazuwa and Chairman of the Benin Leaders of Thought).

Hence I had travelled to Zaria, not as a hitchhiker, but, quite literally, in royal comfort: As part of Omo N’Oba’s entourage. How then did my fortunes shift so dramatically from palatial luxury to roadside beggar -from the privileged emissary of a Prince to a hounded and harried prey, with predators dancing around me?

The Prince’s decision to send me to Zaria was obviously the inciting incident, the occurrence which disturbed the natural order of things. Foreshadowing episodes, in my personal evolution, abound. Yet it would be difficult to pinpoint an omnipotent trope or metaphor. So, I will kill two symbolic birds with one kenning stone—and begin with a mundane, yet precipitous and fortuitous happenstance. Aptly enough, it occurred on a roadside in Benin City!

The sequence opens at a kiosk on Airport Road, when an attractive and refined woman, in her late 20s or early 30s, pulls up in a Peugeot 504 and finds me sitting on a bench nursing a bottle of beer. I would become a teetotaler two years later. But at that stage in life, I needed the alcohol (or thought I did) to cope with loneness and insecurity: mental effects of my long exile in a distant and hostile land.

She seemed to have sensed this, and made inquiries about my background and line of work. “I manage Vasco Okogie’s sawmill during the day,” I explained, “and teach at I.C.E in the evenings”.

With that, she ordered me into the vehicle and the driver sped off. We halted at the gate of a modern, split-level mansion: one of the famous ‘Eweka Houses’ in the Government Reservation Area…

• To be continued.


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