By Dele Awogbeoba
Most Nigerians were either bemused or celebrated with the people of Benin on the coronation of their most recent Oba of Benin. Benin was one of Nigeria’s most iconic and prestigious empires especially from the 1400 AD. It is fitting that the new Oba chose Ewuare as his royal name as Ewuare the first was responsible for transforming Benin from a small village state to the massive empire it would be known for across much of West Africa and Europe.
For some reason, a change of the guard seems to have occurred over the last two years in the leadership of many hereditary dynasties in Nigeria. From Kano, Ife, Warri and now Benin, the cycle of life burns bright for the living to experience. Many traditional rulers from all parts of Nigeria congregated to witness the coronation of the new Oba. The Oba in his coronation speech was reported, by the Punch newspaper (in an article titled “Oba of Benin gets staff of office, unfolds development agenda”), to have stated:
“I therefore stand before you as the 40th Oba of Benin, a direct descendant of Oranmiyan, the son of Oduduwa, whom the Benin people of that era knew as Ekaladeran, their self-exiled prince who later became ruler in Ile-Ife. The Benin people recognise Oduduwa and his origin but it is not our place to force this recognition on others outside our boundaries.“The history of the world is a shared one and there will certainly be unexpected connections in the future. This is, thus, a time for unity and not divisiveness, a time for mutual respect, recognising that our wholeness as people is so much more than the sum of our parts.”
Such a statement seems ill-advised and in extremely poor taste when viewed against the prism of the invitation to the Ooni of Ife and other Yoruba Kings and their presence at that event. I say it was ill-advised because his assertion is clearly at variance with the position of the Ooni of Ife on that matter. Secondly, it is extreme bad manners to invite a guest and then to call into question his ancestry to his very face when it would be impolite for the guest to dispute and correct such an erroneous statement at that occasion.
One also needs to make clear a number of factors here. Both highly controversial accounts (the Bini and Yoruba accounts that is) come from word of mouth accounts handed down from generation to generation. Apart from the fact that Oba Ewuare’s account is disputed within Benin by the Ogiemien family (who point to the Ekiokpagha Treaty that requires every new aspiring Oba of Benin to pay a once in a life time rent to the Ogiamien (as the true aboriginal monarch) before being able to ascend to the throne of Benin), one doubts that the Oba of Benin is in a better position than his cousins in the South West to give an account of the ancestry of their common ancestor. I say this for the following reason. Eweka the 1st had minimal contact with (a) Oduduwa (b) Oduduwa’s son Akanbi and (c) Oduduwa’s grandson (and Eweka’s father) Oranmiyan.
By Benin’s own account, Oranmiyan spent less than a year as Oba in Benin and had a child with a Bini native and mother of Eweka I. Eweka’s mother was not the wife of Oranmiyan nor was she a long time concubine of Oranmiyan. Their time together was less than a year.
Oranmiyan left her in Benin and she raised the young minor and new King Eweka I in Ile Ibinu (now called Benin) after Oranmiyan’s departure to his newly founded Oyo Kingdom. Thereafter, Eweka had minimal contact with Oranmiyan or his paternal line. As his view of his origin emanates from his Bini mother (who in turn had very limited knowledge of Oranmiyan or his ancestry), the history as espoused by the current Oba of Benin (the descendent of Eweka I) can be nothing other than one premised on lack of knowledge.
The Oba’s of the South West have no such impediments. Oduduwa was king In Ife and his descendants in the South West grew up with him, his children and grandchildren. They had the benefit of direct communication and constant interaction with the Oduduwa side of the family (a luxury Eweka I never had).
Additionally, the Ogiamien family averred that the new narrative espoused by the Oba of Benin was a story that only started to rear its head in the 1970’s and has described it as false. The Ogiamien family has stated that the Oba of Benin has no connection whatsoever with the Ogiso family line.
What is clear is that neither Oduduwa nor Oranmiyan coveted the Benin throne. Oduduwa delegated the throne to Oranmiyan. Oranmiyan, interestingly enough, abdicated Kingship thrones twice in favour of his sons. He abdicated the Benin throne in favour of an infant offspring in order to set up a new Empire at Oyo Ile. He thereafter abdicated his throne at Oyo ile in favour of an adult son in order to take up the Ife throne when it became vacant. Clearly, Oranmiyan’s home and heart were in Ife.
Whatever may be the case, the issue highlights the destructive effects of the long term dangers to children and their descendants caused by the long term absence of a father from the life and upbringing of a child. The mother is left to fill in the gaps of one’s knowledge of one’s heritage. This becomes an even more daunting task where the mother herself had minimal knowledge of the paternal history of the father of such child. In Eweka’s case, it appears (if one where to assume that the Benin version was passed down through word of mouth as opposed to the Ogiamien view that it was a case of latter day revisionism to hide the Ile ife roots of the current monarch) that Oba Ewuare II’s rudimentary knowledge of his ancestry (including all its errors) has been passed down through many generations and over many centuries.
Dele can be reached at Dele.Awogbeoba@gmail.com
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