We have all heard and read about the conflicts between the Oba of Benin and the Ogiamien family through the decades, especially around the coronation of the current Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, and we saw in the news members of the Ogiamien family marching on the streets of Benin while showing signs that they support the Oba’s coronation. As a Bini man, who was raised in Benin-City, I am totally sick of this conflict that has stood for almost a millennia (1,000 years). This conflict has not only divided the Binis politically, economically, socially, and culturally, but it has also weakened the position of Edos and Edo State nationally compared to other regions.
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It is because of this almost millennia conflict that the Obas through the centuries made oath taking and curses against the authority of the Oba; human sacrifices to eliminate opponents; taking all the lands for himself & his family; and making only his family members and sycophants heads of reputable parastatals (federal, state, and corporate) a culture and tradition of Benin, which has changed how other ethnic groups perceive us and interact with us. Today, Binis are stereotyped as wicked, unprogressive, unproductive, and undependable. The average Bini cannot make a decision or act on any thing that is substantial without first getting Oba’s opinion, which is very bad for politics, respectability, and business. It is because of this that many do not recommend Benin-City or Binis for extremely productive ventures in business and politics, as well as social investments and advancement.
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As an Edo and Bini man who is interested in the welfare of the Binis and Edo State at large, I have responded to six basic points that caused the conflict and gave my historical and scientific resolution to this conflict. Below are the facts:
How did the Oba of Benin become the King of the Binis?
Around 1200, the grandson of the King of Ile-Ife conquered Ogiamien, who was the leader of Igodomigodo (later called Benin), and took the throne of the Ogisos. He became the Oba of Benin, Eweka I, and his father cursed Igodomigodo and called it, Ile Ibinu (land of troublesome people), which got corrupted to Benin. This was because Ogiamien and the people of Igodomigodo put up a great and formidable resistance to their kingship.
Why does Ogiamien have a conflict with the Oba of Benin till today?
The Ogisos of Igodomigodo from 40 BC to 685 (about 700 years) had a system of gerontocracy, where the oldest and most capable among the Edionweres (district heads) was chosen by the Edioweres to be their Ogiso (monarchy by democracy), but from 685 to 1100 (about 400 years) used the system of primogeniture (eldest son takes the place of his father) because they wanted younger and lasting kings instead of old men. There were cases of the Ogiso’s son taking the place of their father under gerontocracy, but they first had to be Edionwere of their district and the Edionweres chose them to be Ogiso after their father. The last Ogiso by primogeniture was Owodo and he left a power vacuum for 100 years (1100 – 1200) because both his only son and himself were banished by the people for misdeeds. During that period and around 1100, Evian, who was also a blood relative of Owodo, was chosen by the people and he nominated his son, Irebor (also known as Ogiamien), to take his place after his death. Since Owodo left no heir, it seems the people chose Ogiamien through gerontocracy (democracy), despite being the son of Evian, but Chiefs had sworn to primogeniture for over 400 years and both Evian as well as Ogiamien are not sons of Ogiso Owodo. The Chiefs went to Ile-Ife to bring a son they claimed was the son of Owodo, after Owodo had died about 100 years earlier. The supposed son of the banished Ogiso Owodo, who himself was also banished by Igodomigodo, sent his son to be Ogiso. Irebor (Ogiamien) opposed this move and said only a son of Igodomigodo would be Ogiso and not from anywhere else, so his nickname became Ogiamien (We only have Ogisos…from Igodomigodo). By 1200, with the help of superior weapons from the Trans-Sahara Trade, the grandson of Ile-Ife defeated Ogiamien and took the throne of Ogiso to become Oba of Benin (Eweka I).
Did the Ogisos by primogeniture rule longer than Ogisos by gerontocracy?
Yes! There were 31 Ogisos from Igodo to Owodo, but 33 Ogisos, if you considered Evian and Ogiamien as Ogisos. So 22 of the Ogisos out of 31 (71%) or 24 out of 33 Ogisos, if you add Evian and Ogiamien, (73% of Ogisos) ruled under the monarchy of democracy or gerontocracy (chosen by the district heads, who were chosen by their districts). Of the 24 Ogiso under gerontocracy, only 6 (25%) ruled up to 20 years, but the 9 Ogisos that ruled under primogeniture ruled from 41-55 years. The irony of it all is that Evian, who was chosen to rule because he had killed a snake that was a serious threat to the people and was related to Owodo, ruled for about 70 years (1100-1170) and was the longest ruling Ogiso. Evian was most likely quite young when he was chosen by the Chiefs to lead during the power vacuum. Evian was probably younger than the banished son of Owodo and the likelihood of Ogiso Owodo’s son being alive after the death of Evian is slim – 70 years after the death of Owodo.
Why did the Oba of Benin not continue as the Ogiso?
Ogiamien and the Igodomigodo people did not accept the grandson of Ile-Ife as their king initially. They saw him as an impostor claiming to be the descendant of Ogiso Owodo, who died about 100 years ago (Ogiamien was already the leader of Igodomigodo for 30 years; 1170-1200). Even though Oba of Benin (Eweka I) may have had superior weapons to take the throne, but he did not have the majority of the Igodomigodo people on his side. Rumor has it that Ogiamien told him that he can take the throne by force, but he cannot have the land and the people. It seems Ogiamien to this day reminds the Igodomigodo (Benin) people that the Oba of Benin is an imposter from Ile-Ife that has no authority over them or their land despite the consequences his family may face. This is why the Oba had to change the name of Igodomigodo to Benin and Ogiso to Oba. The Oba of Benin then made the newly conquered subjects or loyalists use the word “Oba” in their daily greetings and their last names in order to strategically weaken the voice of Ogiamien through time. 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). In the Ogiso era, the people were equal because any man old enough and was capable could be elected as Ogiso from any district, but under the Oba of Benin, the people are a conquered subjects that must obey by force. It was because of this conflict that Benin became the “City of Blood” because all the conquered subjects had to take oaths or be cursed if they were not loyal to the Oba and human sacrifice became law as a threat to opposing families or communities. This is why many ethnic groups migrated away from Benin and the Oba, even as far as Ghana.
Were Evian and Ogiamien Ogisos or Administrators?
Considering the fact that Evian may have been a very young man, probably younger that the banished son of Owodo, when he entered office, the Chiefs may have made him an administrator or caretaker of Ogiso Owodo until they could figure out how to proceed with the system of primogeniture (oldest son succeeds) since Owodo left no son. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Evian outlived all previous Ogisos by ruling for about 70 years (1100-1170) and may have resisted the old system of gerontocracy (oldest elected by district heads). He probably decided to use the new system of primogeniture by electing his son, Irebor (Ogiamien), which the Chiefs opposed. Since the Chiefs could not manufacture an heir for Owodo after about 100 years of his death, it seems the people sided with Evian to have Ogiamien continue as Ogiso, but the Chiefs had already taken an oath to primogeniture for over 400 years. To the Chiefs, Evian was not the son of Ogiso Owodo, but a blood relative. Evian may have being an administrator initially, but after a long time on the throne turned Ogiso and the people loved him. The Chiefs had to manufacture an heir for Owodo, or accept Ogiamien as Ogiso, so a son appeared from Ile-Ife according to the Chiefs, 100 years after the death of Ogiso Owodo. By 1200, Ogiamien had ruled Igodomigodo for about 30 years, probably as Ogiso (1170-1200), until the army of Ile-Ife invaded Igodomigodo.
Has the Oba of Benin – Ogiamien Conflict Affected the Binis and Edo State Negatively?
Yes and more than you think or even imagine!!! Binis are the majority and political power block of Edo State, but I do not think we are the economical power. The domination of the Oba of Benin on his conquered subjects in order to retain the throne from any opposition is so much that the people are basically slaves on their own land. The Binis have been conditioned the past 821 years to praise the Oba no matter what, but they have few jobs that pay well, difficulty in growing their businesses without extortion from various illegal authorities, and little opportunities for both social and political growth. You cannot get any political appointment or descent parastatal job as a Bini or Edo without the consent of the Oba and those opportunities are reserved for his royal family or some of his sycophants. You will hear that Binis no longer have land because it is being sold to foreigners. In fact, land sold to Binis are sold to multiple buyers so that they can fight each other (more division). Binis are know all over Europe for prostitution and Benin-City is one of the top cities that Western Union send money to from relatives because of lack of adequate employment, despite our depleted population. Binis are also known by other ethnicity to be wicked even towards themselves because of oppression and lack of resources to prosper. Crime, cults, and old mud houses that are inherited are the order of the day. Benin used to be one of the top cities in Africa and the world according to scholars, explorers, merchants, history, and academia, but today, we do not even have a voice in southern Nigeria. Other Nigerians even talk about Port Harcourt and Warri, before they remember Benin or Edo.
In many of our Christian songs or contemporary Nigerian music today, they would mention Urhobo or Esan, and not Benin or Edo. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Dahomey (currently Benin Republic) wanted Nigeria, Togo, and Dahomey to be named Benin after the Benin Kingdom of Nigeria around 1975 (first time three nations wanted to become one peacefully while other nations are dividing), but when last was a Bini made a Nigerian President, Head of State, or a deputy? It will have to be a member of the Benin royal family or the position will be given to another ethnicity, so that the Bini family will not become a threat to the Oba. In fact, many give our historical credit to Republic of Benin because there is nothing spectacular or progressive to say about Benin-City or Edo State. This is why other Edos and Deltas of defunct Bendel State want to separate from the Binis in order to guarantee themselves more access to economic, political, and social relevance. I also heard that in 1997, when the British came to commemorate the invasion of Benin of 1897, some Bini people were saying that the British could not believe that we were the same people who resisted their invasion 100 years ago because we have not prospered in 100 years. This conflict must end!!! Brazil’s economy is now bigger than that of Portugal (their colonial master); China and India’s economy individually is now bigger than that of the United Kingdom. Benin Kingdom of West Africa can do the same. We need to organize ourselves, open the land, and invest in the growth of the Bini individual. Every and any male, old and successful enough, could be elected an Ogiso in Igodomigodo, and in Benin today, any person (male or female) should have access to his or her land to become an entrepreneur – Binis need to own chains of restaurants, farms, hospitals, schools, groceries stores, transport services, factories, mining services, lumber services, computer services, and be exporters of finished goods made in Benin. Open the land for strategic individual Bini entrepreneurship and have graduates working in Benin for Bini businesses instead of being prostitutes and robbers. Each Bini or Edo individual owning and having something is mightier than one man or his family controlling everything. A people are stronger when we all can benefit from 1% of everyone’s efforts or contributions than to rely on 100% of one person.
How do we resolve the Oba of Benin – Ogiamien conflict scientifically?
Simple!!! The Oba of Benin (Ewuare II) should take a DNA test to show he is actually a descendant of Igodomigodo through Ogiso Owodo. If his blood does not match that of an Ogiamien (known blood relatives of Ogiso Owodo) that is not a descendant of the Oba’s family by marriage, then he can return with his family to Ile-Ife where his father came from, which will stop the division and oppression in Benin. If the blood matches, then Ogiamien should declare the Oba of Benin as the rightful king publicly, which will bring unity and healing to the Binis after almost 1,000 years (821 years: 1200-2021). Over 1,500 years ago, Igodomigodo was a place of democratically elected leadership and any male from any family or district could lead as an Ogiso. The closest leadership to this today is the democratically elected Edo State Governor and the Local Government Chairpersons. Everyone else was a private citizen with the right to be an entrepreneur or be employed and everyone (male or female) today, can run for office democratically. Like the Iyase, both the Oba and Ogiamien can have the right to challenge elected officers that are not making the right decisions for the Edos to prosper politically and economically, if they choose, but without pay. Non-democratic or primogeniture leadership is not good for the Edos and it got us into this mess in the first place (Ogiso Owodo). Just like the democratic Ogisos, Binis and Edos should and must prosper based on equal access to power, mentorship, advocates, entrepreneurship, employment, and ownership of land and homes. Thank you!!! Get 15% – 40% off Edo Language CDs & Books