His Royal Highness, Azutorome Unaikhazor, is the Oba of Sasaro, a sleepy community in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State. Recently, tension heightened in the community when one of the natives of the town working in a quarry in the area died mysteriously. The death of the youth caused fracas between some youths and the employer which resulted in a police rifle missing. The rifle was eventually found and kept in custody by the monarch. Some section of the media, however, reported that the missing gun was recovered by the police from his palace. He spoke to some journalists in his palace to set the records straight. WESTERN POST’s AGENE AKHERE was there…
Apart from the Oba of Benin, how come you also bear the title Oba?
Our ancestors migrated from Benin many centuries ago, immediately after the death of Eweka, The 1st, many, many centuries ago and came to settle on a hill here called Une. Till tomorrow that is that is the name we call our primary school here; Une Primary School. So since then, Sasaro has been existing here. History has it that Sasaro is one of the oldest communities in Akoko-Edo, although you can also say one of the smallest, small but big in history. That is how we came to stay here and we have been here. From the hills we came down here. When we were in the hills, it was this level ground that we were farming. So after the colonial masters came, they encouraged us to come down and constructed this road so every community was linked by the colonialists and since then, this my throne has been existing. The first Oba was Oholta, who was a son of Eweka I, and brought Sasaro here and since then they are my ancestors and it has been from father to son before it got to me. So I’m as old as Sasaro Community because this institution has been existing for centuries ago.
Which festivals do you have in Sasaro?
We have many festivals; some are every three years, some are after seven years and there is another one which is Imu Festival. They do it when you have the resources; you do it and become a recognised personality in the community. You can even do for your child and he is upgraded to the age group in that category. But there is big one we call Ika Festival that has a Chief Priest Uka, which is performed every three years and when we do the festival, it will make everywhere in Sasaro progressive. There is another one we call Izozo, that Izozo is held every seven years. It is a masquerade festival and we call the masquerade Odudu. It is done age group by age group, so we can also call the age group festival because it starts from the beginning Ekuijiji till it gets to the final stage where you now wear a special cap, which is the highest cap in Sasaro. We also have the New Yam Festival, which is done every year.
Your Highness, there is a report connecting you to a police missing riffle. How did it happen?
Is it not the press that is spreading the rumour to destroy me? Such thing never happened in Sasaro clan, except there is another Sasaro clan elsewhere.
Can you tell us what actually happened?
On 21st of April, I was informed by the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Tony Rock Quarry Company, a Lebanese company sited here in Sasaro, that a native who was also an employee of the company, died in the artificial lake of the company. He told me that when they rushed the body to a private hospital in Igarra, the doctor confirmed him dead. He told me that he had taken the corpse to the boy’s family before coming to inform me of the incident. He asked me what the compensation and burial would look like.
I told him to go and settle with the deceased’s family. While we were still discussing, I saw a good number of our Sasaro youths coming towards my palace, so I came out to meet them and inquired from them what the problem was. They told me that the Lebanese company killed their fellow and went to dump the remains with his family. I pleaded that they be calm and allow the elders handle the issue. Before I could know what was happening, they started destroying the company’s vehicle that the PRO used to take the deceased to the family.
The car was parked at my palace. They threw stones and woods to the vehicle and during the process, a stone hit my own car on the windscreen, and destroyed it. I was shouting, begging them to let peace reign, so they left my palace. I thought they went to their various homes. Not quite long, another report reached me that the group that just left me had gone to the premises of the company.
I then quickly tried to call DPO of Igarra Division, but due to bad network, I couldn’t get him. It was the PRO who later called the manager and through that means, I was able to connect the DPO who quickly sent his men to the site. On going there, as I was told, problem broke out between the youths and the policemen. In the course of the problem, a policeman was said to have accidentally shot a youth. The action of the police led one of the angry youths to collect the gun from the policemen and made away with it. I was informed that the police riffle was missing, so I came out of my palace and started shouting that these youths should not invite trouble to Sasaro clan. I was shouting that whoever was with the gun should return it to me. Later, I saw a young man coming with the gun. It was my wife who led him to the kitchen where the gun was kept safely. I know the implication of illegal possession of fire arms. That was why I went about calling for the gun. That same evening, at about 7 pm, the DPO and his team came to my palace to report the missing gun. I told them that it has been found. I personally led him to the kitchen where we kept it and gave it to them. The DPO appreciated me and left with him men.
The following day, I was told that the Edo State Police Commissioner had heard about the incident and that he was inviting me to come to Benin. I went to Benin to meet him, after discussing with him, a discussion that was not up to an hour, I left for Sasaro. In the evening of that day, people started calling me. My sons outside Sasaro saw the story in the papers and internet that the Oba of Sasaro was detained in Benin. I looked at myself and asked if I can be in Sasaro clan and at same time be in Benin. I was surprised to hear from them that they read that the police entered my palace, searched my bedroom and found their missing riffle. My own bedroom? The PRO said nothing of such happened, the CP said he was not aware of such, the DCP Crime and ACP Crime said they did n’t know anything about it. I said this was a deliberate attempt by the press to destroy my person. Let me state it clearly here that no police has ever searched anywhere in my palace, not to talk of my bedroom. If any search must be carried out, a search-warrant must be issued, which will be signed by me too. So the whole story of a police gun being found in my bedroom is false. How did the police get to my bedroom? The bedroom of the Oba? How? Since the incident of the death of the young man happened, no pressman visited Sasaro clan to know what actually happened. I hold the press in high esteem, but they failed in their duty and responsibility.
What has been the relationship between the community and their Lebanese tenant?
It has been very cordial. There has been a smooth relationship between us and our tenant. We have a good number of our children working with them there. Some are full time, while others are on contract.
But why did the company’s PRO not take the deceased to the police?
That was an error on his part. But on a second look, he did that based on the relationship that exists between them and us.
So, what is the situation now?
If the youths had listened to me by now, they would have been the winners, getting compensation from the company, the company will bury the young man and also make peace reign. Instead, some have been arrested, some are on the run. This is a man who ascended this throne when he was young, even before I ascended this throne, I have never been involved in any problem and after 40 years I ascended this throne, I have never been arrested for any offence either criminal or otherwise. I said this is a planned work just to damage my reputation. Actually I am not happy the way my children acted, they over-reacted although we are talking of a life lost but even when a life is lost, we have to take it calmly and allow the law to take its course and as I have earlier said, that is where we are now. Those who are supposed to be the complainants are now the accused.
What is the community’s relationship with these quarry people?
That is what I am saying that those children disorganised what could have happened because if they had taken it calmly, such a death, either he died naturally or not, they had to compensate, they are not even saying they are not compensating and that is why they were asking questions but the youths didn’t allow that to happen. But the relationship has been so friendly and that is why they employ our boys. Some of our bys are working there. Even the boy that died was one of their employees.
What did they tell you led to the boy’s death?
They said the boy wanted to swim and he died in the river, it is like a pond or artificial lake. But the reason they even brought the corpse was because of the cordial relationship, they didn’t think anything of such that happened would happen.