Encounters with Omo N’oba!—A tribute
During moments of mental escape, I often replay my royal experiences—reeling back a montage of memorable episodes and encounters. Invariably, the images swirl and coalesce into a white Jeep. On weekends, I’d sit by the window, watching for the vehicle: Dejected when the Jeep failed to appear, and delighted when it did.
Kosoko Adeyosoye, is a retired Army Captain. He was, at that time, Eweka’s broter-in-law. And she had handed me over to him, shortly after our chance meeting.
“Captain Kosoko” would collect me on weekend, for an evening of pepper soup, men’s talk and generally painting the town. I’d usually return, with enough cash to last me for the next few days. At the end of one night out, as Kosoko was carrying me home, he said: “I’ve got some good news. My sister-in-law has arranged a job for you, as a writer.”
In earlier days, Prince Edun Akenzua had been one of Nigeria’s premier journalists. He was a war correspondent for the Morning Post and, I think, The Nigerian Observer’s first editor. But his aspirations now ran in a different direction. He had hopes that Akenzua Television would evolve into the nation’s first private station—which conditions then, did not permit.
Nevertheless, the AKTV staff was working arduously on a children’s educational programme called “Intelscope,” under the direction of Prince Humphrey Akenzua, a younger brother to the M.D.
The M.D. and I, quickly became friends. I lived in his compound for a while. And when his daughters made their maiden voyage abroad, I arranged their tickets and chaperoned them to Lagos, for visas.
Our friendship would hold, despite the taxing turbulence, roiling in our future. Through the portal of Akenzua’s embrace and trust, I ventured deeper into the vibrating depth of Omo N’Oba’s universe. Just as I had chaperoned Akenzua’s daughters to Lagos, for visas to travel out, I would eventually do the same for the sisters of Valentine Eweka, son of the late Inspector General of Police.
Valentine’s mother took me into confidence. We occasionally discussed family matters, especially those pertaining to her senior son—who would become a close friend. So too would Kenneth, the next junior sibling to Valentine. When Ken married, I was privileged to drive the vehicle that carried the newly joined couple.
Omo N’Oba’s radiance also illuminated my path, into the personal space of powerful Edo personages, most notably that of Chief Gabriel Igbinedion.
The M.D. sent me to him often. The Chief would, years later, feed my new wife chicken from his plate (his famous cordiality gesture), at a social function and, afterwards, lodge us in his Presidential Suite.
Most readers may be surprised to learn, that the Monarch had a keen sense of humour. Oral Roberts, the white American evangelist, found this out the hard way—when the Oba rounded on him!
I followed Roberts to the Palace, as a feature writer for The Nigerian Observer. Inside, Benson Idahosa, late Bishop of the Church of God Mission, bowed (an historic gesture) and introduced Roberts.
Omo N’Oba shifted on his throne, then let go with a good-natured barb. “What’s so special about ‘Oral’?” he quipped. “Why couldn’t your name be ‘verbal’!?”
I got to know, and admire, the heir apparent, Prince Eheneden Erediauwa. The doors of his home, along Airport Road, were always open.
Occasionally we talked. Other times, I’d take food and drink, relax a bit and leave. But even when he couldn’t give me personal attention, my needs were met.
Yet the heir apparent could also be firm, when the need arose—as I would learn, during one seminal encounter with him, after I had separated from Akenzua Television.
My philosophy, from youth through adulthood, has been: “When times are tough, the tough get going!” And times had become very tough again.
I moved out daily, often with no clearly defined destination. Usually devoid of funds for transport, I’d stroll from my place of abode, at Dr. Godwin Ovuworie’s house, on Oni Street, into Benin Township.
During one of these perambulations, along Airport Road, Prince Eheneden’s vehicle pulled up beside me and stopped.
“You’re always walking the roads,” he complained, in a baritone voice whose familiar resonance evoked images of the encircling hooligans. “You are an embarrassment to the family”.
Eheneden was eyeing me disdainfully, from the driver’s seat. “Go back to my uncle,” he ordered, through the passenger’s window. “If I see you plying the roads again, we will disown you”.
This was my second encounter with royal authority. The vivid imagery it conjured up…the shadowy policeman…the night predators, stomping and chanting…served to remind me of the first.
My first seminal encounter had begun auspiciously enough, with a perfunctory briefing. I was going to Zaria. ABU would award the Oba an honorary degree; and I was to record the ceremony.
“It’ll just be you and the cameraman,” he advised. “There is no need to carry a lot of extra load. My Brother will provide you with film and any other thing you might need for the assignment”.
I was hard pressed, to hide my excitement. While earning my Masters, in Africa Area Studies, I had read about the Benin Kingdom. Now I would travel with the Oba, dwell in the aura of ancient history.
An added stimulus, was the piquant realization that I was going north for the first time—venturing into an alluring cultural domain as well as a cornucopia of sugarcane and suya!
“Protocol” was not part of my briefing; and I had no prior experience in dealing with the Oba. My encounters had been confined to chiefs, Princes and the Secretary of the Benin Traditional Council.
Prince Edun Akenzua had been tolerant of my indiscretions. A case in point, is a discussion we had when I was living with him, about the distinctive, crescent-shaped hairstyle of Benin chiefs.
The insignia, he said, was probably Egyptian in origin. But I demurred, contending that the hairstyle was contrived to establish a distinctive identity for Edo chiefs.
But I was not scolded. Instead, Akenzua led me into the house, to a hundred-year-old photograph of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, which hangs on the sitting room wall: He is wearing the same hair style!
I would not be for lucky in Zaria. On our arrival there, I went into the Oba’s hotel room, convinced that getting what we needed would be a cut and dried affair.
He was walking around in jeans trousers, with a clipboard in his hands—issuing instructions to various members of his contingent.
Finally, the casually dressed figure turned to me. “What can I do for you?” asked the Oba, in an eloquent baritone voice and flashing fine front teeth—a genetic insignia of close Akenzua clansmen.
“We’re here to film the ceremony,” I replied, much too smugly. “But Prince Edun didn’t give us money to buy video cassettes and other items. He said we should take it from you”.
The Oba stared, then shifted in his seat. “Look,” he roared, after a second or two, “if you people didn’t come prepared to do your job, then it is best you return to Benin.”
Then came a stupendous blunder: I turned and walked away. The Oba translator, standing at the doorway, said I should go back.
“But he said we should leave,” I responded.
“No. He wants you to show humility.”
When I went back though, the Oba had hardened. He would hear no appeal. The chiefs met with him later that day, and pleaded on my behalf.
The deliberation was largely in the Edo language. But there was one English passage, which the appellants kept repeating—more for my benefit, than for the Oba’s hearing.
“Forgive him Omo N’Oba. He’s lost. He don’t know where he’s at!”
I attended the graduation ceremony, at which Sam Nujoma, then leader of the Southwest African People Organization, fighting for the liberation of Namibia, was the Guest Speaker.
In his acceptance remarks, the Oba described himself as a “freedom fighter,” waging a struggle “for the liberation of tradition, from the clutches of modernity”.
He might also have added “Master Teacher” to his plaudits: Because his refusal to relent, is one reason I’m still around to write this tribute.
The policeman eventually intervened and freed me from the dancing and chanting hooligans. But Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa I, saved me from myself!