A common axiom in Esan land says: “It is better to take a little caution than a great regret.”On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, during the rescheduled Governorship election in Edo State, an innocuous incident happened in Ward 4 Atiovhore polling unit in Uromi, Esan North-East Local Government Council in Edo State. As insignificant as this incident was then; it has turned out to become the greatest nightmare for Zaiki Anslem Adonojie II, the Ojuromi of Uromi, since he ascended his ancestral throne twenty-six years ago.
On this particular day, according to Zaiki Adonojie II, the Ojuromi of Uromi, there was nothing at all to indicate or suggest the danger ahead. But as you might know with nature, “misfortune loves a shining mark. Hence, I am not too surprised at the turn of events and where we are now. However, I give thanks and glory to God almighty, my maker and the good people of Uromi for their unrelenting support. What else could I have asked for?”
“On that day, as it has been my habit since I ascended the throne of my fore fathers, whenever there is major event in the life of Uromi and its people, I took it upon myself to go round major areas of the town to see the level of security, preparedness and the enthusiasm of my people. After I had gone round some areas, I arrived in Ward 4, and met a serious commotion.
As expected, I came down from my car and enquired from the people around there what the matter was? It was then; I discovered that it was one of my subjects Mathew Okoebor, who is known to be a staunch supporter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Uromi, who was involved in a heated argument with some members of other political parties. Anyway, I could not have walked away from the scene without making efforts to restore normalcy at the place, so that voting could commenced as expected.
That was what I attempted to do when a lady, Betty Okoebor who happened to be a junior sister to Mathew, rudely interrupted me. I rebuked her there and then in the presence of everybody. That was all. But contrary to the allegations levelled against me later, that during that incident I hit Betty I never lifted up my hands to hit her. It was amazing as to where such allegation is coming from. Never could I have done a thing like that, no matter the provocation. I am not a violent person, all my subjects in Uromi can attest to this. I left the place immediately when peace and order had returned and voting began in the polling unit.
“I was surprised, when I got a query later that day from the Edo State Government over the incident, requesting me to reply within 72 hours. On that same day, September 28, 2016, I forwarded my reply to the Edo State Government in Benin City, without any hesitation whatsoever and I went ahead to comply with all the instructions or orders, contained in that query, thinking that, that would be the end of the matter.
“In a matter of days, I got another letter signed by the Secretary to the Edo State Government, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, suspending me from the throne for a week, a development that brought about anger and protest in Uromi town, I had to do all within my powers to calm my people down.
“As we were still trying to ponder what was going on and what next to do, I got yet another letter dated November 4, 2016 signed again by Professor Ihonvbere, now extending the first seven days suspension to a year. The reasons given for this, is my alleged refusal to apologise within the stipulated period given by the government to Ms. Betty Okoebor.”
The letter entitled “Suspension For One Year By The Edo State Government For Failing To Apologise Within The Stipulated Period To A Woman, Ms. Betty Okoebor” read in part: “The Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, is in receipt of your letter dated October 28, 2016 on the above subject matter. Mr. Governor observed that your activities since you were initially suspended from office as Ojuromi of Uromi have raised issues that required further determination.
“It is important, for record purposes, to recount what has led to the present situation. Discounting your previous conduct, on the 28th of September 2016, you left your Palace during voting and moved from one polling booth which was not where you registered to vote and tried to compel others to vote for your preferred candidate, when one of the voters, Ms. Betty Okoebor, refused to yield to your threats, you assaulted her, causing grievous bodily harm.
“Following from this, the Government, viewing your conduct as utterly embarrassing, disgraceful and unbecoming of a traditional ruler, issued you with a query and directed that you reply within 72 hours. You ignored the query, travelled not just out of your domain, but outside the country without permission. The flagrant arrogance of power and disregard for constituted authority compelled the State Executive Council in Session to suspend you from office as Ojuromi of Uromi for 7 days in exercise of its legal powers. You were directed not to parade yourself as Ojuromi, carry out any activity as Ojuromi, to apologise to Ms. Okoebor and also to the Edo State Government.
“It is instructive to note that in your “Letter of Apology” of 28th October, 2016, you trivialized the gravity of your misconduct by describing what took place in public glare on the 28th of September, where you were the assailant as an “altercation” and “family” affair. Your public assault and disgrace of a citizen of the Federal Republic, in your estimation, was a non-issue.
“To ridicule the Edo State Government and deride the directive that you apologise to Ms. Okoebor, you proceeded to organise a “forgiveness Session” in your Palace, in your capacity as Ojuromi, wearing a crown even when you were still suspended from Office, purporting to be “forgiving” Ms. Okoebor.
“At the said “forgiveness Session,” you compelled the victim of your assault to apologise to you for the assault against her person, while on her knees and made to remain in same position while being interviewed by journalists.
“You had the embarrassing session videoed and aired repeatedly on television, subjecting Ms. Okoebor to double jeopardy and double disgrace by expanding the frontiers of her embarrassment to a global level through the electronic and social media. This represents nothing short of deliberate efforts to further aggravate the pain and humiliation of your victim.
“You claimed in your letter that Ms. Okoebor had “reconciled herself to the Throne” which conveys the impression that you still represented the Throne from which you had been suspended, and further stated that she is your “subject” and you had “forgiven” her. This was in gross violation of the terms of your suspension from office as provided for in extant laws. The Government of Edo State does not accept that there are “subjects” in Nigeria but citizens of the Federal Republic.
“You will recall that the assault on Ms. Okoebor, which was incidented at the Uromi Police Station on September 28, 2016, remains under investigation by the Police as a criminal act. This act, which in itself negates expectations from the exalted office of a traditional ruler, cannot be tolerated by the government in a constitutional democracy.
“Government has also received official security report as to your high handedness in addressing relations with operators of the cattle market in Uromi to wit: unilaterally dissolving their association; appointing your preferred person to head the association, banishing their elected leader from Uromi, illegally taking over the cattle market and stalls that they built themselves, banning about eight butchers from doing business in the Uromi market and assigning the responsibility for collecting revenue for the Local Government Council to ownership of the land, which was legally allocated to the cattle marketers in the year 2000, among other infractions. These are not actions of a law abiding traditional ruler who believes in promoting peace, unity and development in Uromi communities.
“The Government of Edo State has high regards for traditional institutions of our people. However, the Government, shall, under no condition, tolerate indiscipline, reckless abuse of traditional privileges, disrespect for its pronouncements, and flagrant humiliation of law-abiding citizens of the state.
“In view of the facts established above, taking cognizance of your letter of apology that falls short of the public apology expected from you within the stipulated time, and the earlier suspension letter which had specified dethronement after 7 days; in exercise of its powers, the Government of Edo State hereby commutes your dethronement to a one-year suspension from office as Ojuromi of Uromi in accordance with Section 28(1) of the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law (1979) with effect from the 7th of November, 2016.
“During this period of suspension under extant laws, you are hereby stripped of all the privileges and rights of the Ojuromi of Uromi and barred from performing any duties whatsoever in that regard. By virtue of this suspension from office, your remuneration from the 5 percent monthly, FAC allocation to the Local Government shall be appropriated and donated to orphanages during this period.”
IN a reaction to the allegations contained in this letter, the Ojuromi of Uromi told The Palace Watch that: “Without any deliberate attempt to bring down the esteemed office of the Edo State Governor, I must say, that Adams Oshiomhole as a person has this great contempt for the traditional institution. Sometimes in year 2012, someone within his cabinet called to forewarn me about the plans by the ex-governor to punish me. The source said that Oshiomhole was looking for excuses to dethrone me, for refusing to do his bidding with regard to the political interest of the Esan people and thus warned that I should be careful. Some other reasons given were the then Governor’s displeasure with the way and manner I allegedly support anything Esan. His other worries were my popularity and acceptance among the Esan people as the Onojie with the largest kingdom in Esan land. Since then, I decided to be on my guard. It is unfortunate, that he finally achieved his aim after a very long time.
“Now let us take the content of the above letter one after the order. They said I ignored the query issued to me by the Edo State government and in the same breath claimed: “The Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole is in receipt of your letter dated 28th October, 2016 on the above subject matter.
“The second claim in that same letter, was that on the 28th of September 2016, you left your Palace during voting and moved from polling booth, which was not where you registered to vote and tried to compel others to vote for your preferred candidate, when one of the voters, Ms. Betty Okoebor refused to yield to your threats, you assaulted her by causing grievous bodily harm.” This allegation is not correct; the allegation is a calculated attempt to give a dog a bad name in an effort to hang it. The entire Uromi people can attest to the fact, that I usually go round the town during major events to make sure I see things for myself first hand during major events. I never assaulted the young lady as contained in their allegation.
That: “You were directed not to parade yourself as Ojuromi, carry out any activity as Ojuromi, to apologise to Ms. Okoebor and also to the Edo State Government.” I am yet to be told or shown any event, occasion or activity I attended within the period in question where I paraded myself as the Ojuromi of Uromi. If I did not apologise to Ms. Okoebor and the Edo State Government, which letter are they referring to?
“This most shocking of all the allegations, is the one which they wrote as follows: “It is instructive to note that in your “Letter of Apology” of 28th October, 2016, you trivialized the gravity of your misconduct by describing what took place in public glare on the 28th of September, where you were the assailant as an “altercation” and “family” affair. Your public assault and disgrace of a citizen of the Federal Republic, in your estimation, was a non-issue”. You see, as the Ojuromi of Uromi, it is against the Esan custom and tradition for me to leave the palace and go to the house of a subject to apologise to her.
When I indicated the desire to go and apologise to Betty in her house, since that was what government wanted me to do, the immediate family members of Betty and the entire Uromi people said “NO” that the right thing to do is to get the lady and members of her family to come to the palace for an amicable resolution of the matter. They all argued and insisted that, that is the way to go, in line with Esan customs and tradition. The lady, or any other member of her family never objected to this arrangement. They came to the palace where we sat as family members and resolved whatever differences there were to be resolved and they all expressed satisfaction at the end of the day and left the palace for their homes. It is therefore, not out of place, for me to write to say, that what happened was a “family affair” and that the lady in question “reconciled herself to the Throne.” This was not said out of arrogance.
5) They further alleged that while resolving the matter with Ms. Betty Okoebor and her family members in the palace, I wore a crown. Was I expected not to put on my cap while this matter was being settled? If they had said that this was what they wanted I would have complied.
6) The allegation that “Government has also received official security report as to your handedness in addressing issues relating with operators of the cattle market in Uromi to wit: unilaterally dissolving their association; appointing your preferred person to head the association, banishing their elected leader from Uromi, illegally taking over the cattle market and stalls that they built themselves, banning about eight butchers from doing business in the Uromi market and assigning the responsibility for collecting revenue for the Local Government Council to ownership of the land, which was legally allocated to the cattle marketers in the year 2000, among other infractions.”
“These allegations are not correct and are simply embarrassing. I never did the things they are accusing me of. In the cattle market in Uromi, I have a land in the place, and I also gave a personal loan of 5 million Naira, to the people at the market, my interest in the market among other things, is how to recover my loan.”
Asked by The Palace Watch the reaction of other traditional rulers in Esan land over his dethronement? The Ojuromi of Uromi said that, “most of the traditional rulers in Esan land and beyond who know that he could not do the things the government accused him of, called to express their shock and disappointment at the behavior of the immediate past Governor of Edo State, but none of them was ready to speak out, due to self-preservation. They also expressed their worries, that if I could be so treated shabbily, none of them was safe”.
Asked, if invariably this matter is resolved and the Edo State government decides to re-instate him as the Ojuromi of Uromi, was he genuinely ready to forgive the two Okoebors? “The Ojuromi of Uromi stressed, that Mathew and Betty are Uromi son and daughter.” He asked, “If there is a disagreement between children and their father, will the father say, because of this singular incident the children are no longer his?”
When The Palace Watch asked him, whether he has contacted the Oba of Benin Kingdom, Oba Eheneden Ewuare II to seek his intervention in the matter? He said that efforts were on to reach out to the Oba.
When The Palace Watch contacted Ms. Betty Okoebor on phone, she refused to speak. She asked us to contact her elder brother Mathew Okoebor for comments; we got across to Mathew, who said: “there is no need commenting further on our disagreement with the Ojuromi of Uromi. Frantic efforts are presently being made to get the matter resolved once and for all. We are subjects to the Onojie we can’t fight him. I have accompanied some other persons to visit Comrade Governor Oshiomhole to plead with him, that this matter be resolved without any further delay. He has now calmed down. This I can assure you. I have also met with the incoming Governor Godwin Obaseki, he has given me his assurance that he will reinstate the Ojuromi of Uromi, once he takes his oath office as Governor.” This is what I have to say for now. Thank you.”