We’ll do our best to move Owan forward
Prof. Emeritus Joshua Unuigboje ‘Oje’ Aisiku, King-Elect Of Ora Kingdom
On April 6, 2018, the people of Evbiobe Sabogida-Ora selected 72-year-old Professor Emeritus Joshua Unuigboje ‘Oje’ Aisiku, not only as the “Arah”, the most senior Chief, but also as the next “Oje” king-elect of Sabogida-Ora.
Palace Watch had an interview with him.
What importance does the title hold for you?
As far as I am concerned, being the Onojie of Sabogida-Ora is far more important to me than being a university professor. Although I am a professor emeritus of a well-known university in the U.S. and I presently have so much doing as an academic, after retirement in 2009, I returned to Nigeria. That year, the Awosika family, owners of Chrisland schools and proprietors of Chrisland Millennium University, invited me to come and help them establish the university. So, I returned home to help set up the university from the drawing board to its final establishment.
My coming home was motivated by my strong belief in the welfare and well-being of the people of my place of birth, Sabogida-Ora. Even when I was permanently resident in the U.S., I ensured I visited home twice a year, especially during December period, when we perform different traditional ceremonies and festivals. For the over 20 years I stayed in America, I was home every December.
I got my first degree at the then University of Ife, before proceeding to Cornel, an Ivory League University, where I did my Masters and PhD degrees in the United States. I returned to University of Ife to work immediately after finishing my PhD. It was from Ife I moved to the University of Lagos, and from there I was appointed one of the 10 Professors, who established the then Bendel State University, Ekpoma. When the university was being established, the then governor of Bendel State, the late Prof. Ali sent feelers around to encourage all Bendel State indigenes in the academics to return home to help build the University. I was there from 1982 to 1984.
When the college was relocated to Abraka, now in present-day Delta State, I was not happy, which led to my resignation. I returned to the U.S to study. But though I returned to America, the interest of my community was still paramount to me. In 2011, I again returned to the University at Ekpoma on contract appointment. I was there for six years. My contract expired in January this year. I did not want any renewal and as such, I did not ask for one. I returned to my place of birth to sit down and see how and what I can do to help improve the area. It was during this period that I was made the Arah, the most senior chief in Evbiobe, and I felt very much at home with my people. I knew I was going to do a great job in my position as the Arah.
What did you meet on ground and what are you going to do to change the fortunes of the six towns that make up Sabogida-Ora kingdom and its people?
As the Oje of Ora designate, I am waiting for Edo State government’s confirmation, after which we will have the coronation. Afterwards, I will unfold my comprehensive plans for the development of Sabogida-Ora. Anyhow, I am very convinced that my exposure and my education will propel me to raise the standard of Sabogida-Ora to an enviable position among other kingdoms in Edo State. I will do everything within my powers to convince all the people that I know, and met in the course of my life journey, to come and help us in various sectors, especially in the areas of industry and other various sectors of the economy to develop Ora. The truth must be told – nothing has happened in these communities for years. It is quite disappointing. We will, however, not allow this ugly situation to continue. We must do something about it, and I am determined to change the situation for good. I am not going to fold my hands and continue to watch things deteriorate.
I am very depressed about the situation on ground here. People like Rev. Edenki – I revered that name, not only because of what he did for Otuo, but for all that he did for the entire Owan people. He did a lot within his powers to make all the contributions he could in the areas of education in the whole of Owan East and West. All the efforts of people like this great man have almost fizzled out because they were not built upon. These people were my mentors that I would want to emulate. I must ensure all the essential sectors in our communities, especially in the area of education, are fully developed. I am ready to work and appeal to Edo State government to help us develop infrastructure. We are not just going to fold our hands waiting for government alone to give us all we require. We are going to do all within our powers to work with people with the capacity to help us actualise these dreams. We have so much to offer.
People will come and help us develop this place, once they see we are stable, united and peaceful. I bring to my throne the ability to attract quality investors to help us develop Ora. The culture of my people will have to be re-established. How to unite Ora is another big appeal of mine. We must deliberately begin to work towards the unity of Ora people. Presently, there are some fragments of frictions, which must first be settled. I am never going to allow segregation. We are all brothers. The six towns that make up Ora have the same ancestral father, who was Okpamen, the son of Oba Ewuare I, who returned to Benin at that time to become Oba Ozolua with the appellation the “Cancerous.”
I would want to see Ora at the heart of Edo Kingdom working with His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare II. Whatsoever we need to do as a royal relation of the Oba of Benin to move Ora forward must be done. I will be available at the beck and call of Oba Ewuare II to help develop Edo State and ensure our culture and glory as Edo people is established.
When I was in the U.S. under the leadership of Chief Anthony Enahoro, who was the then leader of a body known as “Edo Pa Ma khin” (We are one United Edo), I wrote papers to that effect. We had committees to develop a common Edo language for Edo State
What happened to all that efforts? Oba Ewuare II and the Otaru of Auchi recently spoke about this initiative and said plans were still on-going to make it a reality…
Language was one of the areas we were working on. In terms of language, Chief Enahoro made us to know that at a time in Nigerian history, the Yoruba didn’t have a common dialect as they do now. The people from Ekiti never spoke the same language with those from Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta or Ibadan, as they had their different dialects. Somehow along the line, especially in the mid or late 50s, when Awolowo, Akintola, Ajasin and Adeniwun came together in politics to campaign across Yoruba land, the Yoruba people were able to evolve a common Yoruba language that is now spoken all across Yoruba land. The ripple effects of this particular achievement in the area of politics and commerce can never be quantified with regards to money.
Within this same period, the Igbo also had no common language or dialect. The Igbo people were able to have one common language that is today spoken across Igbo land, when Zik, Okpara, Mbadiwe and R.B. K Okafor started to campaign. You can better imagine the benefit of this achievement to the entire Igbo people today.
So, we were worried that Edo, a very permanent Kingdom, did not have a common language. Having realised that language is a uniting factor in any society, we wanted to do all within our powers to fashion out one for Edo-speaking people. If we had been able to evolve a common dialect for Edo people, it would have been a symbol of unity for Edo people as a whole.
What possible dialect were you considering?
We were not at the point of suggesting any one language for adoption. The committee was working on how to fashion out a language that might have pieces of Bini, Esan, Etsako and Owan dialects. We were very much aware that Edo language is multi-dialectical. We strongly believed that, in spite of these obvious difficulties, we could find a way to come up with a language that could still be taught in schools as a common Edo language. We did not even mind if one dialect out of all these that is more popularly spoken was adopted. That would have thrown up such a dialect for debate.
At the end of the day, no matter the odds or difficulties, we would have been able to come up with one dialect that would have been adopted as one common Edo language, and our purpose would have been achieved. Evolving a new language in its entirety would have been cumbersome. We were ready to get language specialists to suggest modalities to achieve that aim.
Do you think with the fragmentation in present- day Edo State, a common language would have united the people?
No, it might not help to bring about that kind of unity, but it would have been a strong factor. It is so sad that we have been so fragmented in Edo State. I wished I could still lay my hands on the keynote address I read in New Jersey, where this meeting took place then. Edo kingdom extended beyond the confines of present-day Benin to Dahomey in present Benin Republic and some other areas in the far North, South and East of Nigeria. At that particular time, we had a very powerful central leader in the then Oba of Benin kingdom. Although I did not know the common dialect that was spoken then, the fact still remains that we were all united as Edo people. That can no longer be said of present-day Edo State. Hence, my worry.
All these vassal states and appendages to central Edo Kingdom, as it were, were still able to recognise that most present-day Edo State people were products of migration. And once we sink our present differences and genuinely try to identify and explore those aspects that will unite us and not divide us as Edo people, we shall try to pay homage to a central Edo Kingdom. We shall identify and exploit this to our strength, and not be celebrating our differences, but oneness. It is a difficult task and will take committed people if we rally round. For instance, we don’t see ourselves as rivals to the Oba of Benin. This is one step we can embrace, to have a central figure. This is my thinking. It is something that a committee of like-minded people will do. I believe very strongly in the oneness of Edo people.
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