“How Nigeria Derailed”, Edebiri, Esongba of Benin

Nonagenarian elder statesman, astute politician, veteran journalist, and Esogban of Benin Kingdom, David Uyunmwun Edebiri, has bemoaned the contradictions in the Nigerian system of government, noting that what we practice today is neither British, American, or Russian. Speaking in Benin City, Edo State, on Friday on the occasion of his 93rd birthday celebration, and the unveiling of three books he authored, Edebiri asserted that Nigeria derailed long ago, when she suddenly threw away the parliamentary system of government and embraced the American presidential system, albeit haphazardly .

The books, which were unveiled by the Iyase of Benin, Sam Igbe, are: “Tripod of Life: Essence of Benin Tradition and Culture”; “The life and Times of Iyase N’Ohenmwen”, and “Immortalizing our Heroes Past: Nigerian Nationalists in Focus”.

Going down memory lane to recall how late Anthony Enahoro, whom he described as his mentor, had invited him many times to ask: “Is this the Nigeria we fought for?” Edebiri, Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON, regretted that those who fought for Nigeria’s independence did not do so for what they will gain from the system, but rather for the love of the country.

According to him, “My mentor, late Chief Anthony Enahoro would invite me to his house and will ask, “is this what we fought for?” This is part of the questions he will ask before we start any discussion. This is not the concept of the nationalist who fought for the independence of this country. We derailed long ago, when we suddenly threw away the parliamentary system of government and embraced the American presidential system.

“But it was embraced haphazardly because what we are doing today is neither American system, British system, nor Russian system.

“Some of us have been agitating for a return of the parliamentary system of government. If you want to adopt a country’s system of government, you adopt it wholesomely and not haphazardly. Today, our judiciary is British and we are operating an American (political) system. What we have are people going into politics for what you are to gain; that is not how it used to be. We fought for this country so that we can be free, not because we want to be senators.”

Presenting one of the books, “Immortalizing our Heroes Past: Nigerian Nationalists in Focus”, Eddy Erhagbe, professor of History and International Studies, and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Benin, disclosed that the book was “conceptualized, put together and first delivered at the maiden lecture of the Castle of Legends Lecture Series instituted by the Castle of Legends Initiative”.

Underscoring the significance of the Castle of Legends Initiative, Prof. Erhagbe said “it has the fundamental aim of giving honour to men and women who have impacted positively on our country, and indeed, the world” adding that “Our great author, in the introductory part of this work, aptly captures the importance of this initiative for according to him, the initiative ‘is coming at the dimming point of the memories of our legendary heroic past, which has been compounded by the frightening fact that our sense of history has almost virtually been obliterated, even by official assent; with the ill-advised removal of the teaching of history from our secondary school curriculum’.

“He stoutly avers that, ‘a country that seeks not to know its past, invariably mortgages its future; it is bound to repeat its past mistakes and wallow in an unending circle of error’.

While stating that the book “succinctly, but very ably, captures the development of nationalist movement in Nigeria”, Erhagbe submitted that “Without doubt, this is a very commendable, well thought-out and presented work on the commendable roles of the Nigerian personalities, ably dubbed heroes, who from the early times and through the period of nationalism, fought for Nigeria’s independence”. He was delighted that “A number of Nigerians, whose activities and contributions to the nationalist struggle are not found in the traditional history books, are highlighted here”, concluding that “This is most commendable and a very laudable contribution to the repository of Nigerian history”.

Prof. Osarhieme Benson Osadolor, also of UNIBEN’s department of history and international studies, and former Vice Chancellor of the Ambrose Ali University, AAU, Ekpoma, presented the two other books. Recommending the two books “to all those interested in the biography of great men, as well as those interested in Benin history, tradition, and culture”, Osadolor suggested that “If the descendants of Iyase N’Ohenmwen of Benin are interested in the commissioning of an encyclopaedic history of this great legend, Chief Edebiri has published a documentary source-book”.

Earlier in his welcome address, the Chairman of the Planning Committee, Christopher Ugolo, professor of African Dance and Choreography, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Benin, stated that the launching of the three books made it eleven titles from the celebrant. Ugolo marveled that he was still strong at 93 years.

Describing Edebiri in superlative terms as “a distinguished Nigerian, an elder statesman, great politician, successful businessman, cultural activist, and prolific writer, Prof. Ugolo noted that “Even at his 93rd birthday, his creativity is still very fresh, fruitful, and bustling. He has even outclassed some of us who are in the academic world”.

He said the birthday ceremony was special in the sense that Edebiri was marking it with “his primary constituency – the Press – having lunch with them, giving them the opportunity to interact with him on current political issues, and presenting his latest book titles.”

One of the Esongba’s sons, Tony Edebiri, in his vote of thanks, said, his father is a man that every member of the family looks up to, even at the age of 93 years. According to him, “My father is a man that every one of us is looking up to, even at the of 93 years. You can imagine that at 93, he is launching three books; I mean at 93. You will think he is old and cannot see properly, and cannot even write; but here he is, presenting three books which is a rare thing.

“I see him as a rare gem; people like him are not common. He didn’t go to any higher institution. He only attended Western Boys High School, but he has done more than those that went to the University.”

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