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Nigeria’s new Oba of Benin: the coronation of a lifetime

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The rainy season is supposed to be over in Nigeria, but on Thursday just before midnight, torrential rain and crackling lightning let loose over Benin City. For those in the crowd, the message was clear: with the rain the gods had blessed the new monarch of the kingdom of Benin in the country’s south. The divine coronation was the climax of a day of royal pageantry, when some 100,000 people flooded the streets to catch a glimpse of the new “Oba” — king in the Yoruba language — Ewuare II. The kingdom of Benin, now located inside Nigeria, is one of the oldest and most prestigious African realms which flourished from around the 13th century until the British invasion hundreds of years later.

It was famous for its vast wealth, sophisticated urban design and intricate bronzes. The Oba does not wield any official powers in Nigeria, but has a great deal of influence. Politicians, businessmen and traditional leaders from all across the country honoured the new king under the giant white tent with some 4,000 in attendance. Northern sultans bundled in turbans walked alongside southern princes, shirtless and draped in loops of chunky coral necklaces, while the Yoruba king of Ife wore a leopard skin. Wearing round John Lennon-style glasses and a string of pearls, Prince Burns Effiom was in the audience and explained the significance of the coronation.

“Politicians use traditional leaders to maintain peace,” he told AFP. The Oba title is passed down from father to first-born son. So the new king, whose birth name is Eheneden Erediauwa, takes over from his father, Solomon Akenzua, who died earlier this year. Huddled behind a wall of people armed with their cell phones, Christian Iyekekpolor jostled to snap pictures of VIPs. “From here I can see my king,” said the young graduate of the University of Benin. “He’s like God for us.” Beside him stood Rickson Ogwu, who made the trip from Delta State, once a part of the ancient kingdom.

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