Thursday, 2 February 2017

[NG]The fall of Isekhure of Benin

The Isekhure of Bini kingdom was described as Isekhure n’ osi’ Oba, which means Isekhure, the friend of the king. Things have since fallen apart between the traditional chief and the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, writes Osagie Otabor, Benin

Until some months ago, the Isekhure of Bini kingdom was seen as Isekhure n’ osi’ Oba , which means Isekhure, the friend of the king. This description played out between Chief Nosakhare Isekhure and the immediate past Benin monarch, Oba Erediauwa. It was said among Palace Chiefs that the late Benin monarch loved the now suspended Isekhure. He was always sent to represent the late monarch at many functions outside the state as well as enjoyed many other privileges.

The close relationship between the Oba and the Isekhure is due to his important functions. It is only the Isekhure that could anoint the Oba and during Ugie Ewere, it is the Isekhure that receives Ewere leaves on behalf of the Oba. There are other functions of the Isekhure that are known only to the Isekhure and the initiated.

However, the love and cordial relationship that existed between Isekhure and Oba Erediauwa did not extend to Oba Erediauwa’ successor, Oba Ewuare II. It is said that Isekhure fell out of favour with the new Oba long before he was crowned the 40th Oba of Benin. It is not clear what made Isekhure to run into trouble waters with Oba Ewuare II. Several reasons have been adduced for the friction between the monarchy and Isekhure.

Some said Isekhure troubles started when he refused to pay homage to Oba Ewuare II during a visit to the Holy Aruosa Cathedral when he was still a Crown Prince. Another source said problems started when the then Crown Prince insisted that the Ihama N’ Ogbe should now perform the functions of Isekhure while some claimed that statements credited to Isekhure during the reelection campaigns of former President Goodluck Jonathan pitched him against some palace chiefs who allegedly had sympathy for the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Isekhure was quoted to have told a delegation of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwarts who were on a courtesy visit to his residence that the Benin people would vote PDP and former President Jonathan. His views did not go down well with the Benin Royal Family, which went public to dismiss Isekhure’s stand. The younger brother to Oba Erediauwa, Prince Edun Akenzua, said the Isekhure was not the spokesman of the Benin monarch, and that the Oba did not endorse any politician.

Another sources told our reporter that before the commencement of Emwinekhua (funeral rites of Oba Erediauwa) Isekhure was told to appease to the Crown Prince by holding a news conference to disown certain issues. The source said rather than adhere to the advice, he held a news conference where he displayed pictures of his visit to Rome where he shook hands with the Pope.

The source said Isekhure felt that because of certain spiritual matters supposedly known to him, his presence would be sought out for during the funeral rites and subsequent coronation of Oba Ewaure II. Chief Eduwu Ekhator alluded to this when he told reporters that it was the wisdom of some Palace Chiefs that made the coronation successful after Isekhure refused to participate.

Isekhure was supposed to have been ostracised since December 2015. It was gathered that it was Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin, who prevailed on the then Crown Prince not to stir crisis in the kingdom by announcing the Isekhure’s suspension. On the day Isekhure was to be ostracised, several groups, including the Ewaise, Ihogbe and native doctors, were invited to the palace where they placed curses on the enemies of the Oba. They wore red attires known as ‘Ododo’ and visited several shrines in Benin City to place the curse.

The Isekhure title was created by Oba Ewedo in about 1280 and the holder of the title is one of the priests who perform spiritual functions for the Oba. Forebears of the present Chief Isekhure was a son of Chief Ihama, head of the Ihama N’ Ogbe. Old age made Chief incapable of going to the palace to perform the usual rites and the Oba requested Chief Ihama to send one of his sons that could perform the rites to live close to the palace. Chief Ihama sent his younger son while the eldest son retains the Ihama title. The younger son was given a land on Sokponba Road. After many centuries, future generation of the younger son opted to be called Isekhure and they became known as the Ihama N’ Ore headed by the Isekhure.

Isekhure of Benin is the custodian of the ancestral spirit staff of the royal family of Benin. He is the priest responsible only for Erinmwin-Idu, which is the family household deity of the royal family. The Oba, on behalf of the royal family, owns the shrine of the royal ancestry and that the Ukhure (ancestral spirits staff), which symbolises that ancestry, is kept under the care of the Isekhure.

Holder of the Isekhure is supposed to hold fort for the Oba on spiritual matters. He performs all royal rites on behalf of the Oba. His staff of office is known as Urhototo. All newly installed Benin Chief are mandated to visit the shrines at Isekhure residence for prayers and traditional anointing. Any anointing to be performed on the Oba is done by the Isekhure.
The now embattled Isekhure was made Isekhure of Benin Kingdom in 1982 when he was just 32 years. He is the 32nd Isekhure of Bénin since the title was created. From all indications, it appears he may be the last holder of the Isekhure title in his family lineage. He has been chased out of his ancestral residence on Sokponba Road, housing the Erimwi-Idu shrine. The part housing the Erimwi residence has been fenced off and turned to a traditional ground. Palace chiefs said the Oba only took possession of his property (shrines).

Last week, the Benin Traditional Council announced the suspension of the Isekhure, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, from performing the duties of the “Isekhure title” with effect from January 17. The functions of the holder of the Isekhure title were reverted to the Ihama of Benin Kingdom who originally performed the functions.

Chief Sam Igbe, who spoke in behalf of BTC, said: “He (Chief Isekhure) designated his house as a palace where he held court which sometimes reviewed cases already dealt with in the Oba’s Palace. Of course, gratifications were offered and collected. He used his position to influence new chiefs celebrating their investiture to perform certain rites in his residence, during which money, kolanuts and drinks were collected.

“Some senior chiefs were at times openly bad mouthed and vilified by him, during those times. He declared that the chiefs were not senior to him and he would not pay respect to them again as palace culture demands. He turned himself into a be all and end all, and a seeming authority in the Benin culture and tradition, especially palace procedures. He even pronounced himself the head of the Royal Family.

“The profanities and denigrations that issued from Isekhure and his followers during the mourning period of the late Oba Erediauwa were better forgotten. During that period, he told all those who cared to listen that neither the Emwinekhua, nor the consequent coronation could hold without him.”

“The BTC and the Iyase sent for Isekhure for issues to be discussed but to no avail. He neglected and deliberately refused to perform his traditional duties before, during and after the event and had since remained infinitely unrepentant.

“We cannot believe that anyone, any Benin individual who knows what the motivating Benin cultures and tradition are and have worn the toga of a Benin chief could do what Isekhure did these past two years. We find it difficult to accept even the idea that he was a chief. The disconnect has become actual and natural. We recommend in the circumstances, therefore, that he be suspended; and with the authority of Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Ewuare II, Oba of Benin,  he is with effect from  January 17, 2017, suspended indefinitely from performing the duties of the Isekhure title which he now bears.”

What many said was the last stroke that led to the forceful take over of the Erinmwin-Idu by the Oba was the response of the Ihogbe N’ Ore (Isekhure Family) to the reasons for the suspension of Isekhure.

The Ihogbe N’ Ore, in a statement  by its spokesman, Mr. Osagbakhoe Ogbemudia, gave the BTC 14 days ultimatum to prove that the Isekhure used his residence to review cases already decided by the palace of the Oba of Benin. This action was viewed as a direct confrontation to the monarch who is the head of the BTC.

Ogbemudia said the Isekhure never boasted that the Enwinekhua (funeral rites of Oba Erediauwa) and subsequent coronation of Oba Ewuare II could not hold without him and that the Isekhure would have performed his expected roles during the Emwinekhua and subsequent coronation if he were invited to play the role expected of him.

According to the statement,  “Chief Isekhure is a lover of Benin tradition and custom. How on earth will somebody after getting judgment in the palace where such a person did not pay a dime would turn to Chief Isekhure for another round of justices where such a person would be forced to pay gratification?

“This is a case of giving bad name to a dog so that one can have reason to hang such dog. To this end, we demand to see and verify the people that Chief Isekhure demanded money from so that members of the public will be convinced.

“New chiefs are expected to perform some rites as part of their investitures at some designated houses and shrines. The rites started as far back as 1255AD during the reign of Oba Ewedo and such visits were accompanied with eigth kolanuts, a bottle of hot drink and 13 Shillings and 6 pence now about N2,000.”

The way things stand it will take a miracle for the Ishekhure to regain his place in the kingdom.

source:The Nation

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