Journeys to Owo and Benin City…
Life is a journey. And all of the men and women who traverse its length and breadth are merely sojourners. This is the second time I would say this on the pages of this paper: the first was reminiscence after my odyssey in Unilag. The hallmark of that Unilag essay was that what should ordinarily have been a difficult journey through that school was made more comfortable by two, three, four persons. They were Sam Kargbo, Mr. Dianam Dakolo of Daily Independent‘s Editorial Board, my lecturers and of course the Kings of kings himself.
While this first journey that I described above was an academic journey that wore metaphorical shirt and trousers, this other one was a literal one along the Owo and Benin routes. The Olowu of Owo, his majesty, Oba D.V. Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi III graciously gave three chieftaincy titles to three members of my Alumni Association, the University of Benin Alumni Association, (UBAA) recently. One of them was also the recipient of that distinguished Alumni Award that I talked about a fortnight ago in Ahonaruogho, Fashola andKargbo: Icons of an Ivory Tower. For reasons bordering on social expediency and etiquette, I will not mention the recipient but focus on what it is that made a strong impression on me on this journey. I will talk about this strong impression after I say that a lot of our life is only meaningful from the day we put ourselves genuinely at the disposal of the other person or of the other man. I say this because those of us who witnessed that simple but grand ceremony shared in the joy and elevation of the recipient as if it was our own. And indeed it was. I was enthralled beyond words at the way history opened up its arms and welcomed us back into the past. The King was at court, just the way yesterday’s Owo kings did with their subjects savouring the sweet aroma of the homage they paid him and listening to griots sing his praises. That Palace where that ceremony took place is as old as the Owo town itself and the vehicles used by the predecessors of the present Olowo are still parked in front of the Palace. For me now, it is a little difficult to express to you what transpired but I will rely on the summary supplied by the recipient himself in a text message he sent to the Secretary-General of the Lagos Branch of our Association. He said: ‘By the special grace of God, we returned from Owo Kingdom as High Chief Ogwatumise & Chief Yeye Ogwatumise of Owo Kingdom in a simple, unique, significant and most memorable ceremony at the Olowo’s Palace. May glory be to God as we thank you so immensely for your prayers and support. Long may you live, the Olowo of Owo. Baba O!’
But if the journey to Owo was this unique, that to the ancient City of Benin for the dinner marking the Biennial General Assembly of the UBAA on Saturday 18th November 2006 was equally exciting and memorable. Those of us who were able to make the trip would not forget in a hurry the ebullient manner in which arguments concerning the High or medium or low rank of our recently made Ogwatumise of Owo. Some in that entourage displayed a level of ignorance to my mind that was unbecoming of graduates of our Greatest Uniben. We posit thus because even when it was so clearly put to them that the recipient was a ‘High-Chief’ on account of his personal achievements in the practice of law and positive contributions to the rest of humanity, they argued back and forth, insisting that one can only be ‘High-Chief’ if only you were an indigene of a place. But apart from this, every member of that entourage had a jolly good time, relatively.
Both the Vice-president (West) of our Association and Mr. Austin Emovon were returned unopposed as President and Public Relations Officer of the University of Benin, Alumni Association (UBAA) Worldwide respectively. The surprise of the day was the new national Auditor, Abdul Rahman Izuagie, head, Audit Unit of Central Insurance Company here in Lagos. At the seemingly shoddy presentation of our Annual Financial Statement and Auditors Report for the period ended August 31st 2006, Izuagie stood up and represented us all from Lagos very well. He gave a mini-lecture to the delegates on the fine art of prudence and financial propriety. At the end of it all, he got more than a standing ovation and was rewarded with a well-deserved position as National Auditor for our esteemed Association, the UBAA.
What it is that I wanted to say that made some impression on me has to do with the character and disposition of both towns, Benin City in Ondo and Owo in Ondo States. While we were in Owo albeit very briefly, I took the liberty to walk around the town, at least, as though I was on a sightseeing tour. The first thing that struck me is that the differences in the historical antecedents of both towns were not too apparent. Both of them have a comparative history and tradition that dates back to the days of the early 19th Century. What it is that gives you an idea that these towns, Owo and Benin City, are ancient towns is in the roofs of most of the buildings in the towns: they wear a dark-brown texture that almost blends with the chocolate-brown of the earth. But that is where the similarities end. While the road from Lagos down to Owo is one smooth ride until you get to a certain point where all of the vehicles have to be on a certain lane, the Lagos-Benin Road is death trap, that is, from Ore. What we went through to get to Benin City is better imagined than experienced. But that is not all about the road problem in Benin City. In the heart of the city itself, you get this certain eerie feeling that there are powerful forces at work to ensure that the city retains its ancient disposition. And when one among us not familiar with Benin City’s problems wanted to know why the roads were not tarred and there was no power supply, another one person responded on behalf of the governor: whenever the monthly allocation showed up, it was shared among stakeholders – the governor, his father, members of the Edo legislature, and the governor’s dogfathers in Edo North. So why should I be the one to use my share of the allocation to tar roads and provide electricity, the governor has argued. But this should not be a problem if the Bini people were still in their elements as those who successfully sacked the British during Oba Ovonramwen, held down the Owo kingdom as subjects awhile and extended their hegemony as far as the Niger-Delta. What seems to be on ground now is that while the people of Owo are now known as fearless, bold, arrogant, and recognize others with similar traits with chieftaincy titles and do not take shit from anyone, the Binis just sit there as though they are under a spell and allow a gang of carpetbaggers plunder and rape the richness of the heritage that their revered kings left them. It is so sad a thing.