For many schools of thought, Edo at 30 is no doubt a celebration of three decades and a record of a milestone. However, for the erudite historian, scholar and cultural icon, who is the brother of the Oba of Benin and the Enogie of Obazuwa-Iko, HRH. Prince Edun Akenzua underscored the need for a reflection of events that culminated in the state creation. In this Interview with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, he relishes the memories of the struggle for the creation of Edo State by notable Edo sons, particularly the contributions and efforts of the Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion and others.
Having seen it all, what was the journey like following the agitation for creation of states including Edo?
“IF the others go…” that was the heading of the address presented by Omo N’Oba Erediauwa when he inaugurated the Edo State movement about 35 years ago. Few weeks before the inaugural meeting, the Oba invited Barrister Alfred Eghobamien and this writer to the palace for a meeting. Only the two of us were with the Oba at the meeting. The Oba expressed concern about the spate of agitation for creation of states by ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
In Bendel State, Aniocha, Anioma and Delta each demanded for their respective states; each supplied a map of their proposed states and their maps included parts of Edo land. That was what the Oba was concerned about; he did not mind that people demanded a state of their own, but the new states didn’t have to annex any part of Edo land. At that time, Edo State had not formally requested for the creation of a state. The meeting with the Oba lasted about two hours; he directed us to go home and sleep over the matter.
Four weeks after the palace meeting, the Oba invited 11 traditional rulers namely: Onojie of Uromi, Onojie of Ekpoma, Ima of Somorika, Onibillo of Ibillo, Ogiotua of Imua, Otaru of Igarra, Onojie of Ekpon, Onojie of Ewohimi, Okumagbe of luleha, the clan head of Warrake, the Okuokpillagbe of Okpilla and 35 prominent Edos, namely: Prince Yemi Eweka, Prince Edun Akenzua, Chief R.O. Ize-lyamu, Joshua Aiwerioghene, Edoba Aikpitanyi, D.E. Enomayo, Dr. Nosa Otnoregie, E.E. Osifo, G.A. Aghahowa, C.I. Idehen, Courage Ogbebor, Aihaji lkponmwosa B. Ohonbamu, Hon. A.I. Iyen and Hon. R. Owie. Others are; Odion Ugbesia, A.O. Eghobamien, J.A. Aiyeki, C.O. Eboigbe, Chief G.U. Ibhaze, L.E. Egbemokhaye, Rev. Canon F.A. Eborieme, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Deacon S.E.O. Osime, B.O.E. Osagie, J.B. Momoh, L.L. Borha, Barr. Andy M. Ayemoba, Prince Albert .I. Okojie, I. Olowu, E.O. Enoboifo, Prince Vincent Omo-Oribhabor, Mr. S.S. Obaro, Mr. F.O. Idiamo and Mr. F.A. Okoyomo.
The 11 traditional rulers and the 35 prominent Edo citizens constituted the Steering committee, which met every two weeks in the palace; the Oba himself chaired every meeting. Chief Anthony Enahoro acted as chairman any time traditional matters prevented the Oba from attending. After some meetings, the need to draft the request to the National Assembly became obvious. The secretary, Odion Ugbesia dashed indefatigably to all the members of the committee, putting the papers together. There was also the need to pay a visit to the National Assembly to formally present the request for the creation of Edo state.
The Oba told members that if any of them had any means of reaching the National Assembly, that they could table it at the next meeting. Before the next meeting, the Oba got information from someone who said the Senate President at the time, Dr. Joseph Wayas, was his personal friend and that Dr. Wayas had formerly worked in one of his companies. That person was the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. Although the Esama was not a member of the committee, the Oba directed him to make the appointment. Members of the committee were happy when the Oba announced to the meeting that an appointment had been made with the National Assembly and that the Senate President was expecting our delegation. On the appointed day, the Oba personally led the delegation to the National Assembly in Lagos.
What was the role of the then senate president, Joseph Wayas?
The Senate President gave the Oba’s delegation a very warm, cordial reception; he pushed aside protocol and personally walked the Oba to his car.
Back home in Benin, Chief Enahoro, who was also the Vice- Chairman, was very elated. He expressed his wish that when Edo State is created, it would probably be the only State in Nigeria that will use its indigenous language, Edo, in official transactions and deliberations.
The next event after the presentation of the request was the launching of the movement. The steering committee decided that the chief launcher would be expected to launch with a minimum of Fifty Thousand Naira (N50,000). Myself being the chairman of publicity and information sub-committee was saddled with making the arrangements for the launching. The old Ogbe Stadium had been chosen as the venue for the launching. After several meetings, the Steering Committee had not been able to get a chief launcher; the Oba was not happy about that. He implored all members to use their connections to get a chief launcher.
But weeks passed into months, yet nobody had been identified. At the end of one meeting, the Oba instructed Alfred Eghabamien and myself to wait behind. When everybody had gone, the Oba said to us, ‘can’t you gentlemen get ten Benin members who will be able to donate five thousand (5,000) naira each for one person to present as the chief launcher?’ We left the Palace at about 8:00pm to go and think about how to carry out the assignment. Two weeks after the meeting at the palace, news filtered to the Oba that a prominent Edo citizen had offered to be the Chief Launcher. That prominent Edo man was Dr. Charles Abede; he was the chairman of U.A.C. He did not write personally to the Steering Committee or to the Omo N’Oba, but some members of the committee ensured that the news reached every member of the committee. The Oba was quite impressed by the news.
Two weeks later, my cousin, and friend Mr. Eddy Uwaifo paid me a visit at my residence, No. 4. Plymonth Road, Opposite the Palace. When he was leaving, I saw him off to his car; we stood by the car for a while chatting. Then, a man drove down the road from the New Nigeria Bank axis. When he got to where we were, he stopped and came out of the car; it was the Esama of Benin. After exchanging pleasantries, I told them the latest about the Edo State Movement. Although, they were not members of the Steering Committee, they were particularly interested in the affairs of the movement and communicated with me frequently.
I told them that the committee had difficulties getting a chief launcher and that I was looking for 10 Benin persons who would be able to donate five thousand naira (N5,000) each, so that we put the money together to make N50,000 and give the money to one Benin person to present as a chief launcher. Esama asked, ‘Do you say you are looking for ten people to contribute N50,000? You don’t have to look any further, I will do it alone.’ Then I said Chief I am not joking. If you say you will do it, lets go to the palace and you personally tell the Oba so. Are you ready to go with me to the palace? The chief said why not? He said he was going to Oliha. I told him to stop by later and that I will make the appointment with the Oba.
On his way back from Oliha, he stopped to see me. I had already spoken with the Oba and told him that the Esama had offered to be a chief launcher and that he will pay the N50,000 alone. The Oba was quite happy about the information and he asked me to come with the Esama any time he was available. I put a call to the palace and told the Oba that the Esama was with me and the Oba told me to bring him along immediately; we both walked to the palace.
We were announced on our arrival and the Oba granted us audience immediately. The Esama confirmed to the Oba that he was ready to be the chief launcher. At this juncture, may I draw attention to two notable points: (1) as far as I know, no one had ever done such launching in Nigeria (2) fifty thousand naira (N50,000) at that time would be equivalent to millions of naira now. The Oba announced to the Steering Committee that he had a second chief launcher and that Esama had also offered to be a chief launcher. Some members did not believe that Esama would fulfill his promise; they said he only wanted the publicity. They derided him and some of them immodestly said this to everybody’s hearing.
I had invited the veteran broadcaster, Tony Iredia, to be master of ceremony. On the day of the ceremony, Ogbe Stadium was filled up. Mrs Ehioma had organised women from Esan, Owan, Ora and Etsako who all turned up in aso ebi specially designed for the occasion, they filled two sides of the Stadium.
Are there other personalities who played key roles in the creation of Edo State that you can recall?
Madam Aidegue and her friend popularly called lye Welfare (the mother of welfare chemist) were also there. I asked them about the Benin market women, many of them were not present. I told Madam Aidegue and her friend to send for the market women who trickled to the venue. The launching was to begin at noon. In the programme, the Esama being a chief was to be called first and Dr. Abebe second.
A very prominent member of the committee called me aside and whispered, ‘Prince, Dr. Abebe is not coming, go and tell the Oba.’ I walked up to the gallery where the Oba and other traditional rulers sat. I whispered to the Oba the information I just got, that Dr. Abebe was not coming. I did not tell him my source of information, but requested him to give me permission to alter the programme slightly. Luckily, the Oba asked me to go ahead, but drew my attention to the fact that we were already running late.
I went down to the master of ceremony and told him that the programme had to be altered slightly. I confided in him that I heard that Dr. Abebe was not coming. Therefore, instead of calling the Esama first, he should call Dr. Abebe first. The master of ceremony apologised to the crowd for beginning late, he said it was probably caused by logistics and a few unavoidable circumstances. He said I have the pleasure to now invite the chief launcher, Dr. Abebe, a prominent Edo son to the podium to launch the Movement. He waited about five minutes and he repeated his call skillfully, telling the audience that maybe Dr. Abebe is driving down from Ekpoma or Lagos, ‘so please, we should all wish him journey mercies and be patient. Our son, Dr. Abebe is worth waiting for.’
After about 30 minutes, he called again that if there was anybody with a message from Dr. Abebe, he should please step forward and give the message; no one came forward. Meanwhile, even the Esama was not at the stadium. The whisper that the Esama will also not show up became loud. Then, the scouts I had assigned to be on the lookout for Esama brought me information that he had arrived at the entrance of the stadium.
Few minutes later, I told the M.C. to call on the Esama to step to the podium to make his own launching. There was silence after the announcement, all heads turned towards the entrance, and they saw a chariot being pulled in by horses with the Esama and his wife Lady Cherry. The sight of the chariot excited the people who spontaneously broke into a singsong; that was the beginning of the melodrama. I walked towards the Esama and escorted him down to the podium; two of his aides dramatically carried two central bank boxes. The M.C welcomed the Esarna and urged the stadium to be silent to hear the Esama speak.
How did the Esama contribute to the movement that culminated in the creation of Edo State?
The Esama of Benin didn’t make a long speech, he praised the Omo N’Oba for taking the initiative to request for State Movement, he also thanked the other traditional rulers and all those who had supported the Oba in establishing the movement. He apologised that his frequent travels didn’t give him the opportunity to participate in the affairs of the movement as he would have liked and now it was his pleasure to launch the movement with N50,000.
The whole stadium broke out in ovation shouting ‘Esama Esama, Esama!!!’ All the women who were dressed in aso ebi and filled two sides of the stadium broke their ranks and came down storming towards the podium where the Esama was. It is noteworthy that there was no message from Dr. Abebe and that no other person donated after Esama. The aide put one of the boxes on the podium and the Esama called the association accountant to open the box and count the money. The accountant opened the box and found the content of the box was all red; it was piles and piles of crisp pieces of N1 notes amounting to N50,000. It took more than an hour to count the first N1,000, Considering how much time they would need to count the rest, people began to shout it’s enough. But the Esama himself urged the accountant to continue counting everything in the box so that people do not say the money was not up to N50,000. Everybody was happy and everybody was smiling and laughing. The Oba also called on the accountant to lockup what was left and in solidarity with Esama, the Oba said, ‘if anyone doubts what you have done, cite me as your witness.’
Esama paid homage to the Oba and said that he would have to leave now before it got too dark for his horses; I walked him up to the chariot. Before he got in, he confided in me that the second box in the chariot also contained N50,000. He said he had brought it along in case anyone had also offered N50,000 and that he would have doubled the N50,000 he had earlier announced.
From that time on, the Esama metamorphosed into Edo State Movement. He went on to produce T-Shirts, Caps and several other momentoes for Edo State. It is necessary to tell this story in full because most Edo people and Nigerians do not know the Genesis of the formation of Edo State.
How did ex-senate president Dr. Joseph Wayas become a reference point and one of the founding fathers of Edo State?
Those in authority now may wish to honour the founding fathers of the State. If that is to be so, it is hoped that Dr. Joseph Wayas who was the Senate President at that time and who played a significant role in the creation of the State will also be recognized as a founding father of the State.