The Dein of Agbor, Benjamin Ikenchukwu Keagborekuzi 1 , is the 18 th king of the kingdom, who ascended the throne at age two. He tells MATTHEW OCHEIof Ika Mirror, about his 40 years’ experience on the throne.
How would you describe your experience on the throne ?
It has been extreme ly frustrating. This is an amazing country that has abundant mineral resources God has blessed us with, but we are not making use of what we have. I find that very unfortunate, I ’m not one of those people who feel very comfortable when there are people around that are not doing fine . So, it has always been a problem for me over the last 19 years, seeing that the country is actually going backwards . We are not actually where we should be.
For me as a monarch, it is extremely frustrating . I have electricity because I can afford to buy diesel for my generator . There is electricity here now but I can tell you that the whole neighbourhood is in darkness, so definitely, I cannot be comfortable with that.
I don’t know how any leader can be comfortable living in luxury while his/her people are suffering, I can ’t understand it at all; it has not been the best experience for me because as long as Nigerians are suffering, I am suffering as well.
You were crowned when you were just two years and few months old, can you recall some of the things that happened at that stage of your life?
I cannot recall because in some of the pictures I saw, I didn ’t look too happy. So, only God knows what was going on in my mind at the time, like what are these people doing, what are you putting on my head ? It must have been a very interesting period. It was God ’s decision and we followed it.
So you don’ t remember anything you did or any decision you took on the throne at that time?
No, I don’t. I can’t remember anything.
Why were you the one to take on the mantle at such a young age at the time and not one of your siblings ?
We have three dynasties . For Ogene dynasty, one of them, it wasn’t necessary that a son should succeed his father. Anybody from the royal bloodline can become the king. But towards the end of Ogiso dynasty, it was around 1270 when the first king of my lineage, the Dein in 1270 AD, became the king.
From 1270 onwards , it became hereditary from father to son . Unfortunately , my father passed on when he was very young . I was a little child at the time . There were lots of problems and the Agbor people put me on the throne. In Agbor here, whoever is the king is no longer a child and should be treated as a king. Therefore, I thank the late Oba of Benin for the role he played at the time because he played a very big role. Likewise, the late Oni of Ife and a former Governor of Bendel State, Samuel Ogbemudia, played important roles . Eventually , it was agreed that it must follow our custom – from father to son .
It was even reported that there were assassination attempts on your life at that young age and that was why they had to take you abroad; is that true ?
Like I said earlier, I was a child and cannot remember anything that happened at the time .
How difficult was it to return to Agbor and continue to rule after studying abroad? Was it a tough decision to make?
It was not difficult because I knew my time abroad wasn’t my destiny. The mistake they made was not bringing me back early enough.
Agbor is an ancient kingdom, which according to some records, has never been defeated even by the neighbouring Benin Kingdom.
What can you say about the conquests of your kingdom and some of its feats in previous battles?
First and foremost, I am very glad and proud to state that we have never been conquered. Agbor people still have that spirit till today, and we are a very welcoming people. We do not take for ourselves what does not belong to us but if you try to take what belongs to us, we will give you ‘pepper ’ ( trouble ). Though, Benin people don’t like to mention it but it is a fact that the only time Benin Empire was ever defeated, it was defeated by Agbor Kingdom. And Agbor Kingdom never oppressed any kingdom and I will not force people to do anything in my time; I try to live by example .
Your people have had reasons to ask you to return to your kingdom in recent times, saying you were staying away for too long and that it was affecting the development of the kingdom, how did that put a strain on your relationship with your people?
Really, my stay abroad affected the development of the kingdom 100 per cent. We are talking about 25 years of not having their king around. Of course, it would affect any kingdom. Had my father not died, the capital of Delta State would have been Agbor; that ’s a fact. Certainly, my long stay abroad caused huge problems and we are still dealing with them because the majority of Agbor people grew up without knowing their king, so they don’t know what it takes to serve a king anymore. Now we are learning almost from the scratch . We lost a lot of our elderly people and there is no written vital information to pass to the younger ones.
So what has been the most interesting part of being a monarch?
The most interesting part for me is the opportunity to be able to make a change. As a normal Nigerian, nobody would listen to you if you talk but because of my position, I have the opportunity to talk to people and they listen. Sometimes I just wonder if those of us who have the ability to be listened to are just comfortable in our own small corner of the world watching as the horrible situation gets worse.God forbid that it should ever happen but if this country should experience another civil war , we wouldn ’t be able to sit here . I am very grateful to Almighty God that I did not witness the civil war . I know those who witnessed it and went through hell it is something they will never forget .
As a nation , why do we even want to return to those tragic days? How difficult can it be to agree with your neighbours ? At the end of the day, you want something, your neighbour wants something, agree to disagree, that ’s what life is about . The opportunity I have enjoyed over the years by virtue of my position is to be able to talk to those in power.
What were you doing abroad before you were asked to come home 2001?
I was living my life as a normal person. I knew who I was but I enjoyed a quiet life because nobody knew who I was . I was able to integrate myself into the society, but I think the mistake they made was not bringing me back home early enough when I was younger . It would have been helpful for me to have been home earlier or been coming home on vacation because Nigeria is a hell of a country and is a very tough country . If you didn’t grow up here , you would find it hard in this country. I ‘m very lucky because I ’m a king, so it makes it easier for me.
Do you know that if you have never been on Okada ( commercial motorcycle ) or use the bus before, you don’ t know Nigeria?
For me , it is important as a leader, whether you are a president, governor, king or whoever, to go somewhere nobody knows you once every year. I enjoy traveling overseas because I don’t tell people who I am. I don’ t take people along when I ’m travelling unless it is an official trip.
How much do you miss your old life ?
I don’t miss my old life because I always knew that my old life was not my real life . Even then, I knew who I am and that I had a responsibility. I knew I was going back to meet that responsibility. What I had there was on a temporary basis, this is my life. So, I have been a very quiet person. If you meet my friends, they will tell you I ’m older than my age. I never got along with people of my age. I was very young but I was friends with men who were between 40 and 50 years old then. I learnt a lot from them. I was never a party guy, so I can say, I have never missed my old life .
What have been your biggest challenge(s) since you became the Dein of Agbor?
My biggest challenge has been preventing the elite from fighting me. Let me tell you the truth, if the elite in Agbor cooperated with me, I would have made Agbor like Dubai. Twenty years is too long to achieve that. If they would work with me in Agbor; in five years, I would make Agbor so beautiful and functional that the government of the day would be forced to know it is so possible. The mentality of the white man is that if one person is rich, he should make others also comfortable so that all of them can make the village to become a town and the town can grow to become a city . But here, people want to be the only rich man in town, so that everybody will be coming to beg them money. Why do they continue to give people fish rather than show them how to catch the fish? That lifestyle is bad.
What is the history of your kingdom?
Agbor Kingdom is basically made up of three distinct dynasties: we have the Ogiso dynasty; the Dein dynasty is the current one and I am the 18th king; the Ogene dynasty, occupied the throne in the 17th century BC . So, Benin and Agbor are sister kingdoms. Some say Benin is older , while some say it is Agbor that is older. Right now, nobody cares. It is old history, so let us just respect each other.
How big is your domain?
It is very big. Agbor Kingdom is very large such that some kingdoms have broken away.
In terms of culture and tradition , what are some of the unique things about your kingdom and your people?
Well, first, there are not many kingdoms that you can trace their lineage back to 1721 BC. We have very old festivals here. The Osezi Festival is very significant because it actually brings us together. We have different dialects that are spoken in Agbor Kingdom. If you travel to the other side, you will see it is still part of Agbor Kingdom.
Can you talk about the traditional rites or special sacrifices that are performed in your kingdom for the king?
The answer is no . I can ’t talk about it. There are things for public consumption and there are things that are not for public consumption; ours is not for public consumption.
What other festivals are celebrated in your kingdom?
Osezi Festival is one the oldest festivals in our kingdom. We also celebrate New Yam Festival. Igue Festival is also important to mark the beginning of a new farming season.
What are the things considered as taboo in your place?
Anything that the Bible says is wrong or that we should not do is considered as taboo in my kingdom.
How has been the Dein of Agbor affected your style of dressing?
As you can see, this is ‘Agbada ’ (traditional flowing gown). I dress the way I feel like dressing. We have traditional attire for chiefs, but I wear ‘ ‘Agbada’. Sometimes, I wear traditional attire I made for myself and during ceremonies, I wear my coral beads . Also, the tradition forbids me from exposing my hair. It says I must cover my hair all time; that’s why I made this ( crown ) to cover my hair all the time.
Some of your people were eager to see you married …
I’m married already to a strong beautiful woman .
How did you meet your wife?
I met her at an event I attended. Only God knows how the United States, as big as it is, was able to find an Agbor woman for me. Honestly, it was very strange. I thank God because I wasn’t expecting to have met an Agbor woman there.
What attracted you to her?
First , she is very beautiful. And I like strong women . My wife is a warrior; that attracted me to her because I also want my children to be warriors . What your wife is, is what she will pass to your children. A good wife will make you, while a bad wife, will break you.
What kind of food do you enjoy the most?
My favourite food is air because Dein does not eat or drink; that is the custom and that is our tradition. For 20 years, no single person in my kingdom, has seen me eating .