The proud and ancient Kingdom of Benin and the people of Edo State will be making history thursday, with the crowning of the 39th Oba of the Kingdom and the 70th ruler in the Ogiso dynasty.
Little wonder the mood across the state and among Binis in particular was one of great excitement yesterday, as the city centre and its environs had been burnished for the visitors from around the world who will be trooping into the city for the coronation of Crown Prince Eheneden Erediauwa.
Erediauwa will be ascending the 836-year-old throne of his forefathers, the oldest and most revered in the country.
The death of his father, the 38th Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa I, was announced by the Benin Traditional Council on April 29, 2016.
Erediauwa I will be buried in another flamboyant ceremony several months after his son’s coronation, as during coronation rituals, all burials in Benin are prohibited.
Traders and commercial vehicle drivers who carry out their business activities around Urhokpota Hall, where the coronation will take place, have also been relocated to other areas of the city.
Expectedly, traffic had built up wednesday on major streets within the city as a result of the closure of some roads, especially those within the proximity of the Oba’s Palace and Urhokpota.
A visit to the area by THISDAY wednesday, showed a huge tent, the temporary abode of the crown prince erected at Urhokpota Hall called Eko-Ohae (bachelor’s camp) where Prince Eheneden is expected to stay for three days, but will climax during the coronation.
The King’s Square and other adjourning streets linking the square such as Sokponba Road, Akpakpava Road, Mission Road, Oba Market Road, Isekhere and Ibiwe Streets, as well as Adesogbe (Plymouth) Road were festooned with decorations.
The decoration and painting of houses within and around the area, THISDAY gathered, was carried out in compliance with the directives issued by the Benin Traditional Council to landlords who own houses within the area.
In addition, security had been beefed up in the state capital for the coronation. By yesterday, security presence on major streets and around strategic locations was evident in the city.
Security vehicles were seen on patrol blaring their sirens to ward off would-be troublemakers.
Also, personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) as well as palace security guards had been stationed at the entrance of the Urhokpota at the King’s Square.
The Edo State Police Commissioner, Haliru Abubakar Gwandu, said the police deployed no fewer than 5,000 personnel in the state for the coronation.
He said the deployment was to ensure a hitch-free coronation, adding that the police personnel comprised the Special Protection Unit (SPU), Anti-Bomb Squad, riot policemen and conventional policemen and women.
Gwandu further disclosed that personnel of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and those of other sister agencies would also be available to maintain law and order, before, during and after the coronation.
The deployment, according to him, is to ensure maximum security for residents and dignitaries that would be coming from within and outside the state.
“The coronation will attract dignitaries from in and outside the country who are coming to grace the coronation. And we have to ensure that we do everything humanly possible to make the place safe and will checkmate misguided elements,” he said.
Major dignitaries expected to attend the coronation tomorrow include President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, former heads of state and presidents, governors, traditional rulers from all sections of the country, members of the diplomatic community, members of federal and state legislatures, and thousands of Nigerians from various walks of life.
Ahead of the coronation, the British Government has felicitated with the incoming Oba of Benin, and the government and people of Edo.
British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, delivered the message when he visited Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo in Benin yesterday.
Arkwright said he was in the state with his wife Tricia to witness the coronation of Prince Eheneden as the new Oba of Benin as well as convey the greetings of the Queen of England to the crown prince.
He said he had been in the country for one year as the British High Commissioner but was in the state for the first time.
He expressed the interest of the British Government to foster bilateral relations with Edo, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
He said his country was interested in what business British companies could venture into to curtail unemployment in the state and commended the achievements of the outgoing Oshiomhole’s administration in the last eight years.
Oshiomhole said the coronation was extremely important to the people hence, the declaration of today as public holiday in the state.
He also said the coronation would be the first time in the history of the state that an elected governor would be presenting a staff of office to an Oba.
He said Edo was one of the few states in the country where the traditional stool has never been in dispute, adding that every indigene has a positive disposition to the event.
He further said that the state was keen on strengthening relations with foreign governments and the need to be less dependent on revenue from oil by creating an enabling environment for investors.
Oshiomhole said it would be the pleasure of the state government to see how more investors could be attracted from the UK to the state.
Britain has had a chequered history with the ancient Benin Kingdom that its people have never forgotten.
In 1897, the British launched a punitive or imperialist expedition, deposed and exiled the then Oba Ovonramwen, taking control of the area in order to establish the British colony of Nigeria.
The expedition was mounted to avenge the defeat by the Binis of a British invasion force that had violated Benin territory earlier in 1896. It consisted of both indigenous soldiers and British officers, and is still remembered by the Edos with fear and loathing today.
Under the pretext of covering for the cost of the expedition, the Benin royal art was stolen and auctioned off by the British.
Ovonramwen died in 1914, his throne never having been restored to him. His son, grandson, great-grandson and now his great, great grandson, however, all preserved their titles and statuses as traditional rulers in modern-day Nigeria.
Meanwhile, contrary to the misplaced perception that the crown prince, who is very well educated and travelled, may have shelved some of the rituals for his ascension to the throne, THISDAY learnt that he fulfilled all the rituals in the tradition of his forefathers.
Indeed, as he went through the rituals, the ceremonies attracted thousands of Bini sons and daughters from home and abroad, to witness the epoch-making events.
As the crown prince moved from one place to the other, the uniqueness, pomp and ceremony of the Benin Kingdom was in full display, as thousands of people, including Benin chiefs, cultural groups, foreigners, youths, residents of the kingdom followed him with unconcealed excitement.