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


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Ogwu missed the coronation of the last Oba in 1979 because he was too young at age 12. He wasn’t going to pass this opportunity up. “We can only see this once in a lifetime,” the trader said. “I’m proud to continue the tradition of my people.” More than six hours late on the programme, the guests were finally assembled underneath the air-conditioned tent lit with multicoloured chandeliers and the king arrived. Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, sat alongside other traditional leaders, foreign ambassadors and European delegations.

Nigeria, which has 170 million inhabitants, is deeply divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south; between supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress party and the opposition People’s Democratic Party. Yet on Thursday, those divisions were put aside, with the four major traditional rulers — the Oba of Benin, Emir of Kano, Sultan of Sokoto and Ooni of Ife — standing above the political fray. “Please welcome, honoured guests, the king of the century,” said the master of ceremonies when Ewuare II appeared in an intricate armour of red coral and surrounded by dozens of chiefs and princes.

A graduate of the best British and American schools, and a former Nigerian ambassador to Sweden and Angola, the new king is determined to revive the former glory of his kingdom and kickstart the economy. “With international aid and private sector partners, we will save our heritage,” he said, promising in particular to invest in the bronze industry, the kingdom’s pride. “I hope to attract tourists, help develop the agricultural industry,” he said. “Long live the king!” exclaimed Eric Ojo, a 35-year-old entrepreneur. “I am happy. He was sent by God, but it is a king who has feet on the ground.”


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