Ovi-Edo and Villains of Benin Mythology by Osmund Agbo
In ancient Benin folklore was the rather pathetic story of a stubborn warrior who wrestled and defeated all possible rivals there was on earth. Emboldened by his conquests, he ventured to take on the people of the afterworld, against the advise and wisdom of the elders. Expectedly, he never made it back to tell his stories. His name was Joromi and his exploits were the inspiration behind Sir Victor Uwaifo’s 1966 hit that goes by that same name. In hindsight, it seems a tad prophetic that the music legend had earlier sounded an eerie note of caution to those who would play gods many decades after the fact. I will get back on the song part in a bit.
It was battle royal for the soul of Edo state. The Jagaband being the five star general who could not afford to abandon his troop, dived headlong into the bloody battle. Needless to say that the outcome was far from what he had hoped for and that his ego came out heavily bruised. That said, even his most ardent critics have to respect the political sagacity of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The man had built such a formidable political capital to the extent that he is given carte blanche in most of the southwest. Typical of most political Godfathers however, he simply could not tell when to stop. The man was committed in his resolve to conquer and take over more territories. But Edo no be Lagos!
Just few hours into the September 19th governorship elections, a now iconic video surfaced of an eighty something year-old great grandma who in an expletive-ridden tirade, commandeered Adams Oshiomhole to retire from politics and go back to his village. Like most Nigerians, the octogenarian was at her wit’s end. She could no longer standby, wringing her hands while soldiers of fortune hijack the instrument of state to feather their political nests, often to the detriment of the generality of the people. She has become the new defiant face of organized resistance that played out in an election where people took destiny into their own hands instead of resigning to their fate.
In today’s world, people often talk about slavery as though the practice belongs in the past. Well, that maybe true in the context of trans-Atlantic slave trade when ship loads of shackled blacks were delivered to the plantations fields of the Americas. Other than that, the truth is that today, almost the entire continent of Africa is still one big slave market. The pictures may not all be as graphic as the booming slave auctions in Libya’s Tripoli or the sight of a whole generation of Afro Mauritanians (Haratins) working as bonded labourers or child brides for Arab-Berber, but the paraphernalia of slavery is nonetheless everywhere all over. Same few people in power, colliding with foreign special interests to seize the wealth of nations while keeping the whole continent in chains of perpetual poverty.
The problem with Africa has always been that the man in the street expects everyone else but himself to save the situation. He hopes that the plunderers of the commonwealth will one day have a change of heart and save the day. Such a defeatist mindset is what you find in a people unwilling to make any little sacrifice or put in even the smallest amount of work to change their situation. Since when did our salvation come from the same group of people who for generations have been sitting comfortably on our necks and refusing to let go? Oppressors we were reminded by the prolific author, Chuma Nwokolo, are elected by the apathy of the oppressed.
It’s refreshing to observe that by sheer strong will and abiding commitment, the brave warriors of Edo state chose a glorious path this past weekend and by their actions have carved out a niche for themselves in the history of Nigeria. It shall be recorded that at this crucial time, they stood their ground and said it loud and clear to the hearing of all pretenders: Never here, not in the land of the ancient Benin Kingdom.
Back to my favorite music by the legend himself. Going by my wife’s personal belief, nothing heralds the dawn of twilight years more than the desire to wake up every morning to the melodious tunes of the timeless Joromi. Try all she could but such a cheap blackmail could neither threaten the devotion I profess for the cultural icon nor detract from my appreciation of ovi-edo. In a country full of appallingly timid and unbelievably myopic people, ever ready to sell their votes and conscience for a loaf of bread, Edo people offer a glimmer of hope. They are resilient, politically woke and stubbornly faithful to their culture. Not even the Machiavellian politics of the Bullion King of Bourdillon nor the overwhelming firepower of an APC federal government were allowed to stand in the way of their ironclad resolve.
The fact still remains that an average Nigerian has no horse in a race between a group of thieves who not long after the dust settles, would congregate behind closed doors and collectively partake in sharing the loot. But this is no more about Edo State or Governor Godwin Obaseki as it is for preserving the soul of a besieged nation. It’s an existential fight against a culture of impunity and Godfatherism; a toxic practice that perennially scuttles the peoples’ mandate and have converted Nigeria into a mere colonial enclave of a few slave-masters.
Dr. Agbo is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and writes from USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org