There is nothing as gratifying as predicting the future and watching it become history, in its rawest form. It sharpens the discourse, deepens the conversation and enriches the content.
When I read recently, that President Buhari has returned the ownership of all stolen and retrieved artefacts from Benin to the Oba of Benin, and even went a step further to gazette the decision, my heart felicitated with fecund and varied mutations. I saw the doctrine of “power pass power” playing out in cerebral reality, and I beckoned on history as the ultimate elixir.
What on earth could have warranted the historical treasures of the great Benin Kingdom to be handed over to one NGO, in the name of trying to recreate the heritage of such a huge kingdom by complete strangers?
The Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki, set up what he called a Edo Museum of West African Art, EMOWA, and populated it with his friends, who are now doing strange things for a Kingdom as revered and respected as the great Benin Kingdom. He threw away the real owners of the Kingdom, and brought home complete strangers to manage artefacts whose historical relevance and ancestral fecundity are unknown to them. I was told that money was involved; so his getting involved was understandable. It was another deliberate brutalisation of a Kingdom that had suffered untold deprivations in the hands of their colonial invaders, who gang-raped the Kingdom and robbed it of its cherished artefacts.
The Edo State Government, under Governor Obaseki, wanted to embark on a second voyage of conquest and arguably disguised theft, to deflower the Kingdom and expose it to barefaced ridicule.
Elementary history students know the sanctity of the ancestral heritage of the average Bini mind. If there is a monarchy that still retains its originality till date, despite western civilisation, The Bini Kingdom is it. If there is a Kingdom that still enjoys the central role of its history, from time immemorial, The Bini Kingdom is it. If there is a monarchy that still accords respect to its Oba, The Bini Kingdom is it. The beauty of the Kingdom is in the veneration of its culture, traditions and values. The Obas of the Kingdom are never flippant or reckless; they carry with aplomb and pageantry, the sanctity of its traditional doctrines and cultures. The people speak to their Oba with respect and veneration. The Chiefs see their roles as custodians of the wishes of the Oba, and regard their Kingdom with the respect it deserves. It is the only Kingdom in Nigeria, where prayers are offered to the revered King in absentia: Oba gha t’opere e, Isee!. To still have such a Kingdom that has survived centuries of treachery, betrayals, exploitations and expropriation in the most bizarre forms it behoves all to accord such a kingdom profound recognition and respect. The successors to the throne are usually put through rites of passage and are properly mentored to retain the originality of its ancestral linkages, blending its tradition with modernisation, whilst ensuring that the king is never ridiculed. Any untoward behaviour against the king is seen as an insult to the entire Benin Kingdom and its people.
So, when Governor Obaseki abandoned his statutory responsibility of providing governance for the state, to face the issue and logistics of stolen artefacts as a pre-occupation, one readily knew he had an agenda; the Lagos boy was at it again. He decided to carry on added responsibilities to his abandoned statutory ones; Busybody. The roads that were done by Adams Oshiomhole are still the only ones helping the people and their mobility. The projects that he ought to have continued, he abandoned: the storm water project that ought to be sustained to reclaim Benin and its flooding has been abandoned, the red roof revolution that Oshiomhole started and worked hard on to revamp the education sector, has been ignored and so many others; the state is gradually descending to the lowest rung of the ladder all in the name of petty politics and technocracy; cheap charlatans and quacks are running the place.
The current Edo State Government is very predictable; waking up in the morning, what one sees are Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in series knocking at one’s door to salute our appetite for good governance. Too many MoUs are walking the streets of Benin with undiluted relish.
The scriptors wear 3-piece suits in Protea Hotel, waiting for their next meal. Then on Fridays, these experts in MoU drafting and scripting jump out of the hotel back to their forwarding addresses in Lagos and elsewhere to be back on Monday. From time to time the Governor wakes up to paint some old structures in the name of turn-key projects and or mere rehabilitation. It is good to retain and sustain old memories, but there should also be development and progress.
To say the least, real governance is on holidays in Edo state. Recently, I saw a report that the World Bank commended the governor for his investment in education across the state. I was bewildered, like the back of my hand I know how badly education is decaying in Edo state. There are dilapidated school buildings, not just in Benin City, but across the entire state and a wide deficiency of teachers in the system; teachers are not attracted to the job because of the misery of the job. Those projects that Oshiomhole was unable to finish, have decayed and are decaying at exponential rates because of abandonment. Obaseki must have decieved the bank somehow.
I am yet to reconcile how a Governor can be that dishonest about the state of affairs under him. Instead of him to focus on governance, he is busy chasing artefacts, perhaps he wants to be both the Oba of Benin and Governor. He travelled to London, Germany, Spain and elsewhere in search of his “missing” artefacts, leaving governance to suffer neglect back home. Once the artefacts were discovered, he started to build a warehouse for them. Haba, Godwin Obasekiiiiiii. Wetin naa? Education in Edo State is wearing a torn garment. The projects that are being promoted from time to time, exist in the imagination of the Governor. The connecting doors of governance in the state are replete with decayed infrastructure: schools are suffering dilapidation and insufficient teachers, the state’s EdoBest educational selling point is at best a rehash of inanities dressed in elegant fabric. It is EdoTrash in all its ramifications!! In Edo State we have a been-to as education commissioner, who doubles as a comedian; telling us tales by the moonlight. (The photograph on this page, was taken yesterday, yet EdoBest artistes would stop at nothing displaying follies and foibles).
Promise and performance have their own therapies. When a leader is able to face reality and interrogate issues with an open mind, he wins the hearts and minds of his people; but when lies are told and decorated in borrowed robes just to hoodwink the populace, it leads to total distrust.
Governor Obaseki, I forewarned, wasn’t going to be productive. I saw this in 2016 when Comrade Oshiomhole was presenting him to us across all platforms, thinking he was trying to help a friend to succeed him. I saw through his dubiety and duplicity. My sixth sense is never wrong in helping me take a stand on issues and scenarios. Once Obaseki grabbed power, the first thing he did to his predecessor was to direct the Accountant General of the state to stop paying legitimate approvals from his friend’s table, even while they both travelled on holidays. Obaseki would laugh and laugh, when Comrade Oshiomhole would be making some jokes, but at his back, he would give instructions that tended to undermine Oshiomhole’s office as the then incumbent Governor. He was in a hurry to take over and the rest as we all see today, is the script of my initial reservations. When he joined the PDP, desperate to seek a second term, I cautioned the party never to toe that path. They rained abuses on me and called me unprintable names. Today, history has proved me right. Those who cursed, abused and attacked my person, have swallowed their vomit. They are the greatest victims of Obaseki’s dismal performance. They now know him better. They can see through his scam. Lamentations have become their new song.
So, when I saw a governor, a mere subject, fighting over artefacts with a monarchy that has endured centuries of uncommon behaviour, I knew something was utterly wrong.
With a presidential gazette rightly handed to the Great Oba of Benin, conveying the ownership and custody of the artefacts to the Palace, Obaseki has been beaten at his own game. “Cunny man die, cunny man bury am”. In this case, the Oba of Benin used his uncommon wisdom to handle an uncommon situation. The result is what can now be found in the gazette.
I want to believe that the president added that whatever monies that have been collected in the name of artefacts from the German Government, should be given to the monarchy. Governor Obaseki has no business dwelling on artefacts or touching the compensation thereof; the compensation was meant for the monarchy from the colonialists. He has no business setting up an NGO to superintend over the museum or to warehouse the artefacts. He does not even know the spiritual implications and cultural relevance of the artefacts or the historical purity of those pieces of memorabilia. Taking custody of them ab initio was a sacrilege that wasn’t going to last forever. It is all part of the conspiracies that the Benin Monarchy has suffered for centuries by those who pretend to be allies but end up being predators of the most heinous hue. Like all conspiracies, they never last forever.
Next week, I will dwell on why the World Bank shouldn’t have awarded Obaseki with such a recognition in education, as many of the schools in Edo state are indeed decaying. They need to know the man, Obaseki. When they know him, they wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.
*Prince Kassim Afegbua is a former Commissioner for information, Edo State, and a regular contributor to The Frontier.