Benin Artifacts: Germany has decided to return about 1,130 artifacts, which were stolen by the British during the 1897 defeat of the Benin Kingdom and deposition of the Oba of Benin (Ovonramwen), to Nigeria. The capital of the old Benin Kingdom was Benin-City, which is also the current capital of Edo State in Nigeria. The British stole all or most of the artifacts from the palace of the Oba of Benin; since they had told investors to sponsor the Punitive Expedition against the Benin Kingdom because the amount of bronze and ivory artifacts in the Oba’s palace was enough to pay for and profit from the invasion. The Benin people (Binis) have long demanded the return of their artifacts from both the British Queen and museums around the world. Some Europeans have returned in the past to apologize and return artifacts that their ancestors kept, but now Germany has decided to return about 1,130 of them within Germany, but there is a conflict. The current Oba of Benin (Ewuare II) has told both Nigerian government and the Edo State government that all stolen artifacts from Benin were stolen from the palace, must be returned to the palace, and be placed under his care. The Edo State Governor (Obaseki) wants to build a new museum for the artifacts in the city, but the Oba wants to build his own museum for the artifacts on palace grounds.
British Colonialism & Democracy: Like most colonized people today that still have their kings, the people are confused about who has the real authority between their king and their democratically elected governor. The British conquered Benin in 1897, joined the conquered peoples together to form Nigeria in 1914, and gave Nigeria independence in 1960. Since 1960, the Binis, who are also the majority in Edo state, tend to favor their Obas over their elected governors. This is based on the pride that their kingdom still exists and that the governor is a colonial and foreign created office. This pride prevented them from embracing western education early and understanding global economics, which then led to the over-dependence on the Oba for political, economic, and social conflicts, but in reality, the Oba has no constitutional, political, or economic power. This pride has severely diminished the influence of the Binis and Edo State in Nigerian politics and economics in the last 40 years because those who have no king or have no regards for theirs tend to be more organized, innovative, and progressive in riding the vehicles of democracy to better themselves and communities without first reporting to or depending on any palace. The Igbos (Eastern Nigeria) and the Yorubas (Western Nigeria) are the most progressive and industrious in terms of economics, education, and innovation, even oversees, compared to the Hausas (Northern Nigeria – who are dominated by the fewer Fulanis and their Emirs) and Edos (Southern Nigeria – who are dominated by Oba of Benin). The Igbos say that every man is a king in his own house and the Yorubas even go into their palaces to steal from their kings (Oba of Lagos – during SARS riot against police).
The Ogisos & Democracy: The Greeks may have started democracy around 500 BC, but according to Naiwu Osahon, ancient Benin, formerly called Igodomigodo, also had democratic leadership under the Ogisos (King of the sky), who ruled from 40 BC to 1100 (1,140 years), until the Oba of Benin was installed around 1200 to today (821 years). The Ogisos, according to Osahon, seemed to be a democratic system of monarchy where one of the oldest (Gerontocracy), wisest, and the most accomplished male in his district, which made him the district head (Edionwere), and all the district heads (Edionweres) agreed that he should be the Ogiso. The Ogiso’s son only became the next Ogiso if he too was one of the oldest as well as the most achieved in his personal trade among the people to be their Edionwere, and was then chosen by all the Edionweres to be the Ogiso. Some of the Ogisos were: Ogbeide from Ugbague Quarters; Emehe from Emehe Quarters; Efeseke from Urubi Quarters; Irudia from Oregbeni Quarters; Imarhan from Oka Quarters; and Ogbomo from Ugbowo Quarters, where the University of Benin is currently located. This meant that any Edo male from any family or quarters or district in Igodomigodo could become the Ogiso as long as he was wise and healthy enough to get to old age, was one of the oldest, and one of the most achieved in his trade or service to be chosen as the Edionwere in his community. This form of democratic leadership continued until 685 (after over 700 years) until Ogiso Orriagba, who wanted a primogeniture system of younger eldest sons taking the place of their fathers instead of very old men as Ogisos, which lasted till 1100 (over 400 years). I just wonder how many people died over this greedy and selfish move that benefited only the most powerful – colonization. This new system would change Igodomigodo and the Ogisos forever.
Monarchy & the People: The last Ogiso, Owodo, did not have a son because his only son was unjustly banished. He was considered a weak king, was not respected by the people, and was later banished by the people. Despite many fighting to become the new Ogiso, Evian, who was a blood relative of the Ogisos, was loved by the people and chosen by the Chiefs to lead the people from 1100 – 1170 as an administrator; not as an Ogiso (but some believe he was an Ogiso, but he was not even a son of Ogiso Owodo). Before Evian died at old age, he had nominated his son, Irebor, to succeed him. Instead of returning to the initial democratic system of the Ogisos based on gerontocracy (one of the oldest) since Owodo had no heir, the Chiefs wanted to support the failed system of primogeniture or feudal rule of passing power to the eldest son, but from where will the Chiefs manufacture an eldest son for the last Ogiso (Owodo) after about 70 years of his death? This misguided decision by the jealous or fearful Chiefs brought the Ogisos to an abrupt end with a weak king that had his only son unjustly banished and he too was banished to leave a power vacuum.
Irebor, also called Ogiamien and son of Evian, was denied the position of Ogiso by the Chiefs because they had sworn to the primogeniture system for over 400 years and only the eldest son of the last Ogiso can be Ogiso (not a relative or by democracy). Then, why was Evian, a blood relative of Ogiso Owodo (who left no male heir), allowed to administer the people for 70 years while the accepted Ogisos were in office from just 12 to 55 years? Based on fear of the oath to primogeniture or jealousy, the Chiefs accepted the fact that the banished son of Ogiso Owodo (the weak & banished king) was found in Ile-Ife and he sent his son back to be the new Ogiso, but the son could not stay because Ogiamien resisted his presence. Ogiamien believed that Igodomigodo should only be ruled by Ogisos from Igodomigodo, and not from Ile-Ife. The supposed Owodo’s grandson (son of Ile-Ife’s king) then impregnated a Bini princess and he said that her baby should be their king. He left in annoyance and cursed Igodomigodo by calling it Ile Ibinu (Land of quarrelsome or troublesome people), which was later corrupted to Benin.
Right to Determine Leadership: Around 1170 – 1200, a war broke out in Igodomigodo between the forces of Ile-Ife, who came with more sophisticated weapons from the Trans-Sahara Trade to install the grandson of the King of Ile-Ife as the new Oba, and the forces of Igodomigodo, which was led by Ogiamien (son of administrator or Ogiso Evian), who did not want an imposter from Ile-Ife claiming to be the eldest descendant of Ogiso Owodo. The army from Ile-Ife and the jealous Chiefs who swore to primogeniture (of Ogiso Owodo) won against those that wanted a democratic system of Ogiso (of administrator or Ogiso Evian). This is how Igodomigodo was changed to Benin (a curse upon the troublesome people who resisted the grandson of Ile-Ife’s ascension to the throne) and the Ogisos gave way to Oba of Benin as the king. The grandson of the King of Ile-Ife became Oba Eweka I around 1200 after so many deaths on both sides (so Ogiamien was the Ogiso for 30 years and about half of the Ogisos did not even rule up to 20 years), but rumor has it that Ogiamien agreed to a stalemate that Oba Eweka I can have the throne, but Ogiamien will not give him the land and the Ogiso people. It is said that the descendants of Ogiamien to this day do not respect the Oba of Benin because they still see him as an impostor who stole the throne by force and not by acceptance of the Binis or Ogiso people.
To solidify his power among the Bini people, Oba of Benin and the supporting Chiefs through the centuries ensured that the people used the word “Oba” in their daily greetings and names, which was a form of colonization. Till today, Binis have greetings like Obaokhian (Welcome); Obaowie (Good Morning); Obavan (Good Afternoon); Obaota (Good Evening) and names like Obayanto (Oba owns all the land); Obasuyi (Oba is bigger than respect – Oba should be honored); Obasogie (Oba is bigger than the Chiefs – Oba is supreme); and Obaseki (Oba is superior to the market – Oba is wealth or prosperity). Many of the names for honoring God (Osa) during the Ogiso era were changed to Oba, so many families changed their names to show loyalty to the Obas and avoid any persecution or get economic and political favors from the sitting Oba. In fact, oath taking and curses against challenging the authority of the Oba as well as human sacrifices became the tradition of the day against families and communities who did not support the Oba.
Many ethnic groups (former Ogiso citizens of Igodomigodo) escaped the Oba towards Edo North and the Delta regions or moved to Igbo and Yoruba lands, and even as far as Ghana, because the Oba made Benin become the “City of Blood” in order to retain the throne against those that refused his authority over them. This is why the Binis and Edo State have lost economic and political relevance in the last 40 years since Nigerian independence in favor of other regions because these peoples who ran away have some ill feelings towards Benin economically or politically and obviously shared their feelings with other peoples in the nation through many generations. Who is the modern Edo leader that can help to set things right? Is it the person regardless of gender or ethnicity that is elected by all Edo people and can be challenged to represent our interests for a better and brighter future or only male descendants of the Oba that can never be challenged? Should we continue to follow the democracy of the Ogisos through democratically elected governors or accept the voice of the dead ancestors through the Oba?
Economic Modernization or Historic Relevance: Many civilized and industrious countries moved away from monarchy to democracy so that one man or one family cannot dictate their destiny and future. Countries like the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, and Russia turned against monarchy in order for their citizens to take risk and excel without the yoke of monarchy around their necks. Even God spoke against a people having a king in 1 Samuel 8:10-18 and stated that any king would take their land and send their children to wars that benefits only him and his family; king will enslave them and take a portion of their labors to give to his sycophants; and God also warned that the people will cry out, but God will not listen. Binis love to say that they have the oldest monarchy in the world that has lasted over 2,000 years, but a DNA test would be needed today to prove that the Ogiamiens, who are known blood relatives of the Ogiso Owodo, and Oba Ewuare II, are related by blood. If not, the Ogisos lasted about 1140 years, Evian (Ogiamien’s father) and Ogiamien both lasted for about 100 years (which extends the Ogisos’ reign to 1,240 years), and the Obas have lasted for about 821 years; and not 2,061 years as the oldest kingship in the world within one family.
My fear is that a DNA test today may show that Oba Ewaure II is no blood relative to the Ogiamiens (Ogiso Owodo). If Ogiso Owodo died 100 years ago, what is the likelihood that his banished son is still alive? The jealous Chiefs probably made up the Ile-Ife story against Evian (longest ruling Ogiso for 70 years) and his son, Ogiamien, who was already an Ogiso for 30 years because the Chiefs had no witness even in Ile-Ife (no record of King of Ile-Ife agreeing with Benin Chiefs). This is why the Chiefs may have defined Evian as a mere administrator to discredit Ogiamien from any rights of being the legitimate Ogiso. If so, then the jealous Chiefs did not only deceive the Binis for 821 years after a very bloody war, but would also be the genesis of the curse over Benin that has put bloodshed over progress and unity among the Binis.
My Igbo friends have teased me of Binis being irrelevant in Nigerian political and economic affairs and some Yoruba friends wonder what the city in Benin-City is all about because it is not progressive economically. It is all over the news about Bini girls are doing prostitution all over Europe, Binis are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to enter Europe illegally, or Bini youths are moving illegally to other West African countries to slave in cocoa plantations. Whenever you ask the Bini adults about what the Oba is doing about job creation, crime, or investments, they are very quick to remind everyone that it is not the Oba’s responsibility. Then, what is the Oba’s responsibility and why does he get allocation from the government, except for the fact of pacifying the people in the name of peace against demanding performance and productivity from their elected officials? A luxury car with a dead engine that can NEVER take you to work to bring income or take your children to school to plan for their future for over a decade (ten years), is nothing but a symbol of your misfortune. The Binis need to stop celebrating and praising their misfortune and elect democratic leaders that they can challenge to be productive or be remove from office in the next election or by court trial if there is any evidence of fraud, or economically and politically damaging decisions against the Edo people.
A democratic Germany should see it fit to interact with a democratically elected Governor of Edo State or with Nigerian officials to hand over the Benin artifacts that were stolen by the British Empire. The Edo governor is to deal with the artifacts in such a way that benefits all Edo people towards economic, political, and social prosperity as well as relevance. It was the second Ogiso, Ere (16-66 CE), that gave us the cowry crown; wood carvers and bronze casting; Ogiso market (Agbado market); the royal swords (Ada and Eben); and the royal stool (Ekete). These are all Ogiso inventions and symbols that still give respect to the Oba of Benin globally to this day. Binis need to rise up and embrace a singular democratic leadership for the future of the Ogiso people. What say you? Get 15% – 40% off Edo Language CDs & Books