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Thursday, 18 August 2016

                     THE BENIN KINGDOM



                                                        ANUMUDU UCHE GODSPOWER


The ancient Kingdom of Benin was one of the most prosperous, powerful and prominent states in pre-colonial Africa. Its artistic triumphs, elaborate pantheon of gods, its sophisticated system of government and the intimidating aura of its monarchy make the Benin experience a fascinating subject of historical scrutiny. This paper, therefore, examines the structure, nature and character of governance and civil administration in pre-colonial Benin up to the advent of colonial rule. It analyses the processes of change in Benin from the era of the Ogisos through the period of the republican administration to the establishment of a monarchical system of government. The study reveals that Benin’s history from the earliest times to the beginning of colonial rule was dynamic and witnessed monumental changes in the structure and character of the State. Though the monarchy had its fair share of the turbulence, yet it remained the most resilient of all traditional institutions since it provided the pivot around which the forces of change gravitated during the period under review.

The word ‘Benin’ was used broadly to cover the capital city, to describe the kingdom, the Empire, the language and the people. The Empire was a vast one, and was located in the forest belt in southern Nigeria. The Empire embraced both the Edo-speaking people or the Benin proper and a large non-Edo-speaking population. Edo was applied to both the language and the people. The Empire thus incorporated the Benin (or Bini), Esan, Kukuruku, Orra, Akoko, Isoko and Urhobo peoples. At the height of its power the Empire included peripheral vassal states such as Ekiti, Ilaje, Ijebu, Awori, Itshekiri, Ijo, Oru, Eka and Igbon. 

Legends of Origin
As with other ancient states of West Africa, very little is known for certain about the early history of the Edo-speaking people who founded the Benin Kingdom. But the Bini legends and traditions firmly assert that they were the first people to emerge as an organized people in Southern Nigeria. The legends concerning their origin, are clothed in mythical stories. The following are some of these legends:
The heavenly prince
(a) One popular legend says that the original founder of Benin was the youngest son of Osanobua, the supreme god. Descending from heaven and helped by a mythical bird, the heavenly prince was able to dry up the flood which covered the whole country. The land became fertile and the founder and his people were able to engage in crop cultivation, and to expand their kingdom. One sees in this legend a similarity to the Yoruba mythical story of Olorun, the supreme god who sent down his son Oduduwa from heaven, to found Ile-Ife.
(b) The Bini traditions maintain that about fifteen rulers of the Ogiso dynasty followed the legendary founder. There then arose a dispute over the succession. This crisis resulted in a period of interregnum, during which Benin became virtually a republic, with two successive administrators, Evian and Ogiamwe.

The legend of Oranmiyan or Orayan
According to another legend, the founders of Benin emigrated from the “East” (possibly Egypt). After wandering through central Africa, they, with the Yoruba, their kinsmen, settled in Ile-Ife for many years. A section of Ile-Ife settlers moved southwards towards the coast and halted in Igodomingodo, original name of Edoland. One of the leaders, Igodo, became first ruler of the Ogiso dynasty which lasted for about a thousand years. Under the rulers of the Ogiso dynasty, the Edo people developed their country both politically and economically. They also developed advanced forms of arts and crafts.

(a) When there was a dispute over the succession, after the people had banished Awodo, the last Ogiso ruler, they suspended kingship and introduced a form of republican system of government. The first administrator elected to preside over the affairs of the state was Evian. He was banished because of his misrule. The next was Ogiamwe who wanted to restore hereditary kingship.
(b) Vehemently opposing this move, the people approached Oduduwa at Ile-Ife who sent his son, Prince Oranmiyan with a number of courtiers to Benin. On getting to Benin, Oranmiyan married Erinwinde, a Benin princess, through whom he had a son named Eweka. Traditions further state that the struggle in Benin continued and Oranmiyan withdrew from the place with frustration and anger. He called the place Ile-Ibinu – the land of vexation – which was converted to Ubini by Oba Ewedo. Ubini later became corrupted into Bini or Benin.
(c) The son of Oranmiyan was Eweka 1 who started a new dynasty in Benin.

The legend of Idu
Another tradition tries to reconcile the origin of the people and that of the dynasty and to provide a comprehensive account. This tradition explains that the Edo were descendants of Idu. Idu is said to have been the grandson of Iso (sky). Iso himself is said to be the grandson of Oghene (God). Idu is said to have lived at Uhe (Ife) with his brother, Olukumi, but had been expelled. Idu thereafter proceeded to a ‘land of peace and plenty’ which in Idu language us Ubini. Thus Ubini is described as a ‘fertile and open land between or amidst flowing waters.
We cannot unfortunately, reach a firm conclusion on where the Edo came from, whether from Egypt, Ife, the sky or the ground. Controversy and confusion continue to surround the traditions. But from all the available evidence, it seems clear that there were people who lived in Benin before an invitation was sent to Ife for advice on administration and the establishment of good government.

The Ogiso Era of Benin History (c.900 – c.1170)
The nucleus of the great Benin Civilisation was the monarchy, which the Binis perfected around the 18th century when, after a series of experimentation with the Ogiso, and some of the past Ogiso rulers, they introduced a monarchical system that is based on the principle of primogeniture, beginning with Oba Ewuakpe about 1712 AD (Egharevba, 1968:39). However, it is significant that the Ogisos laid the foundation for the structure of civil administration in Benin, which the Obas of the second dynasty later built upon, as from about 1200 AD, when the republican experience failed. Indeed, the history of Benin monarchy dates back to the Ogiso era, which has been traced to about the 10th century. Although it is not possible in a paper of this nature to give a full account of all the Ogisos, it is believed that there were thirty-one of them before the arrival of Prince Oranmiyan from Ife (called Uhe by the Binis) (Eweka, 1992:4). This figure was also corroborated by the great Benin historian, Jacob Uwadiae Egharevba. The Ogiso rulers are believed to have laid the foundations for most of the subsequent developments in Benin. Indeed, the Ogiso period represented just a part of a compressed mythology wherein presumably remarkable quasi-historical figures achieved incredible feats (Igbafe, 2007:43). The first Ogiso was Igodo (Obagodo) who first established the machinery for an effective system of administration. For example, his unification of the numerous clusters of independent communities gave rise to Benin City and a centralised administrative system. The last Ogiso, Owodo, was said to have been banished from the kingdom for maladministration. However, the most prominent and greatest Ogiso ruler was a man named Ere. He was credited with many achievements and innovations including the creation of four chieftainct titles. These are, Oliha, Edohen, Eholor n’Ire and Ero. The holders of these important titles became the kingmakers. These individuals survived into the period of the present dynasty. (Egharevba, 1968:4). Ogiso Ere is credited with the transfer of the Ogiso palace to Uhunmwidunmwun, a local village, but now a central part of Benin City. (Egharevba, 1968:3). This is said to have been a more favourable location than Ugbekun, the original site, but both were in fact local villages.
Above all, he was reputed to have organised the Bini into various art and craft industries and established guild systems to facilitate specialisation (Edo, 1990:20). These art and craft industries date from antiquity, for tradition holds that Ere of the Ogiso dynasty (first Benin dynasty) founded the guilds (Dark, 1971:8). Unfortunately, the best of these products, collected and sent to the Oba’s court; were either destroyed or carried away during the British conquest of Benin in 1897.
In the guilds, the various craftsmen in Benin were encouraged to form associations with monopoly rights to produce, standardize, market and attend to their products. Ere gave the guilds patronage. In this way, there emerged the guild of wood workers (Owinna), the carvers (Igbesanman), leather workers (Esohian), the hunters (Ohue), the weavers (Owinnanido) and the pot makers (Emakhe). They gave fillip to the social and economic life of the kingdom. Ere was also reputed to have founded the Ogiso market (Ekiogiso), now known as Agbado market to promote commercial activities in his kingdom (Edo, 1990:10). Under Ere, peace reigned throughout the kingdom because of his practice of dispatching town criers to pronounce the injunction of peace once there was a dispute in any part of his kingdom. Significantly too, Ere introduced the royal throne (ekete); the round leather box (ekpokin); the swords of authority of the Benin monarch (ada and eben); the beaded anklets (eyen); and the collars (odigba) as well as the simple, undecorated crown for the Oba. The introduction of domestic articles like wooden plates, bowls, mortars, and pestles carved by the Owina is also credited to Ogiso Ere (Igbafe, 2007:43).
It is significant that the political centralisation of Ogiso rule enabled the settlement of disputes by the common political authority; this gave the kingdom a sense of unity and through the sharing of a common goal, purpose or destiny. The Ogiso are believed to have planted monarchical traditions into the Benin political system. Thus, they succeeded in reducing the powers and authorities of autonomous villages or village groups given the influence of the various Obas over the years.

 As noted above, the last Ogiso was Owodo, whose reign Egharevba (1968:2) describes as “a long course of misrule, failure and anxiety”. He was supposedly banished from the kingdom.  The end of Ogiso rule was followed by an interregnum during which a man known as Evian became an administrator of Benin. This leads us to the next phase of Benin history, the republican era, the interface between the Ogiso era and the Eweka dynasty.
The Republican Era of Benin History (c.1170 – c.1200)
Between the end of the reign of Owodo, the last Ogiso and the inception of the Oranmiyan/Eweka dynasty, Benin experimented with a republican form of government in the absence of any heir to Owodo; Ekaladerhan having been banished. According to Egharevba’s historical account, during Owodo’s reign, a man called Evian came to prominence and he was then selected to administer the Government of Benin after the banishment of Owodo for ordering the execution of a pregnant woman (Eweka, 1992:8). We were told that the aging administrator (Evian) nominated his son, Ogiamien, to succeed him. Such nomination was not acceptable to the Edo people noting that he was not an Ogiso. This gave rise to the political factionalism, instability, disputes and intercine wars, which formed the background of the new Eweka dynasty. Indeed, the era of republican administration was not a particularly fruitful one in the history of civil administration in Benin. The period witnessed political strife and anarchy. Hence, the Benin elders (edion) resorted to divination and constituted a search party, which was then sent to look for the long banished prince. The train, led by Chief Oliha, eventually ended at Uhe, where Ekaladerhan was now fully settled as king. It is significant that over the years, as a result of the struggle between the edion (elders) and the king for supremacy, the group name ‘edion’ came to be known as Uzama. As it were, the republican experiment failed. Thus, the Binis desired a monarchical form of government. (Eweka, 1992:22).

The Obaship Era of Benin History (c.1200 – c.1897)
The people’s rejection of Ogiamien as successor to Evian marked the beginning of the present Obaship dynasty in Benin. Whatever the current polemics on the origin of the Benin dynasty dating from the 13th century, from all available evidence, it seems clear that there were a people who lived in Benin before an invitation was sent to Ife for advice on good governance. Thus, the 13th century marked a significant landmark in the changing phase of power and civil administration in Benin, which lasted up to 1897, when Oba Ovonramwen the last independent Oba of Benin lost his suzerainty to the British colonial administration in the face of superior weapons. (Edo, 2001:40). Nevertheless, this phase of Benin history witnessed momentous developments and initiatives by the successive Obas of Benin, particularly Oba Eweka I (1200-1235), Oba Ewedo (1255-1280) and Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473). These Obas, among others, carried out reforms that re-shaped the nature and character of administration in the Benin kingdom and empire. For instance, the manipulative skill of Oba Eweka I led to the formal institutionalisation of the Uzama chiefs – the oldest among the Benin title holders. Before his reign, this class of chiefs was not called Uzama; it was referred to as edion, meaning elders. It was Eweka I who changed it to Uzama and gave it more powers. It is significant that the Uzama title, particularly the first four-Oliha, Edohen, Ero and Eholo n’ Ire – antedated the Oranmiyan dynasty (Edo, 2001:3). The four elders as the Uzama were then known, jointly ruled Benin with the Oba. The Oba was only regarded as first among equals. (Edo, 2001:4). Bradbury opined that tradition identified the Uzama with the elders whose request resulted inOranmiyan being sent from Ile-Ife to found a dynasty at Benin (Bradbury, 1967:13). It is worthy of mention too that following the steps already taken by Oba Eweka I, traditions tell us that the Edaiken (the title of the heir apparent to the Benin throne) was
created and added by Oba Ewuare the Great to the Uzama group. Besides the Edaiken, Oba Ewuare the Great created many other titles as a counterpoise to the power of the Uzama chiefs. The inclusion of the heir-apparent in the order of Uzama by the monarch could be seen more as a political strategy to check the rising power of these chiefs and also to ensure that his interest was more directly represented in that order. Thus, in order to assert their superiority over these elders, the successors of Eweka I, notably Ewedo and Ewuare the Great, had to create new title orders – the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe (Palace Chiefs) and Egharevbo n’Ore (Town Chiefs) to assist in the administration of the expanding state. This policy, perhaps, accounted for the less important role, which the Uzama chiefs played in the administration of Benin from the eighteenth century. Thus, with the creation of more titles by the Oba, the monarchy was able, by playing one class of chiefs against another, to assert itself over the different grades of chiefs and particularly the Uzama chiefs who progressively sank into relative obscurity over the years. For, with the institutionalisation of the principle of primogeniture and the creation of the Edaiken title, the Uzama who were traditionally regarded, as kingmakers no longer had roles to play as kingswere born and not made. Hence, what we have in Benin given the strategic displacement of the Uzama who had dictated the pace in the earlier periods of Benin history are now chiefs who officiated at the coronation of the Oba and not kingmakers (Edo, 2001:1)
However, as it turned out, the new offices created by the Obas of Benin in the precolonial period did not only change the fortunes of the Uzama group of chiefs, but enhanced in particular the newly created title of the Iyase (Prime-Minister), which was super-imposed on the Uzama. The Iyase, the head of the Eghaevbo n’Ore, became dominant in Benin politics over the years and even up to and throughout the colonial period. The Iyase came to be portrayed as the focus of opposition to the Oba’s power. The Iyase was the commander of the Benin army before the eighteenth century when the position was devolved on the Ezomoan Uzama chief - (Eweka, 1992:27-33). It was Oba Akeuzua I in 1713 that transferred this role to the Ezomo. Although the Oba had the exclusive right to confer titles on people, the Iyase wielded much power in this process because he was the one who publicly pronounced the title the Oba had granted in private. Indeed, the Iyase was and is still seen as the chief protagonist of the people against the power of the palace. This was true because the best interest of the people lay in the maintenance of the balance between the Oba and his ‘servile’ palace chiefs (Eghaevbo n’Ogbe) on the one hand and the town chiefs on the other. In the latter part of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, the different Iyases had acquired much power, which almost lured one of them (Agho Obaseki) into the ambition of violating the principle of primogeniture by aspiring to the throne of Benin. (Edo, 2001:25).
It is worth mentioning that the Eghaevbo n’Ore (Town Chiefs) formed an opposition in the state council. Unlike the Palace Chiefs, the Eghaevbo n’Ore chiefs included a proportion of men who had achieved wealth and influence independent of the palace. Led by the Iyase, this group always opposed any unpopular measures taken by the Council. Thus, the Eghaevbo n’Ore under the leadership of the Iyase provided a powerful check on the implementation of unpopular measures and decisions. Indeed, even though falling outside the scope of this discourse, the Iyase – Okoro-Otun – was the rallying force during the water rate agitation between 1937 and 1939, when the people kicked against Oba Akenzua II. Also, the Iyase was the leader of the Edo in the dispute over the building rules in the early 1940s, when threats to depose Oba Akenzua II were made. (Edo, 2001:9-10). It is worthy of note that the Iyase became the mouth piece of the people, and with the coming of colonial rule became elevated to the position of Prime-Minister, the second highest office in the kingdom, next only to the Oba. However, one significant lesson that can be drawn out from the development so far is that the men and women who lived through various segments of at least a millennium and a half of Benin royal history took active part in the design and construction of Benin monarchy as it later emerged in the last phase of power and civil administration in Benin.

Before the advent of white colonial masters, there was maintenance of law and order in Benin land through the help of indigenous institutions. Apart from playing vital role as checks and balances to the general administration and governance of the people, these indigenous institutions also addressed the problem of enculturation to ensure the stability and continuity of the Benin communities in an intergenerational cycle of life. These indigenous institutions include the family, marriage, religion, secret societies, and guilds and so on.
Malinowski asserted that an institution could not be said to be functional except it fulfils some basic needs of its members and that social solidarity is the end product of such social institutions that can be regarded as functional. Malinowski, B. (1948) in his book, "The Magic, Science and Religion and other Essays" made it clear that indigenous institutions serve some peculiar functions in the society.
The functions served are social integration, cohesion, social solidarity and unity among the people in a society.
Before colonization, the people were administered under the umbrella of large political organizations such as the Fulani Emirate in the North, the kingdoms or empires in the Yoruba land and Benin, village system in Igbo land and the extended family system in the East of the Niger. Indigenous institutions in all these places mentioned governed and administered through the operation of customary laws.
Fortes and Evan Pritchard who did extensive scholarly work on contemporary African political institutions classified these institutions into two main groups: chiefly and chief less society. Chiefly societies are those with centralized authority, well-defined administrative machinery and established judicial institution while chief less societies are those in which authority is dispersed through a number of counter-balancing segments instead of being concentrated in a single central authority.
The Benin society belongs to the chiefly societies. Its headquarters was Benin City or Edo as the Edos affectionately love to call it and it is also the capital of modern Edo state of Nigeria. Today the Kingdom is confined to the present Edo state, partly because of states creation, and is bounded in the north by Kogi state, east by Delta, west by Ondo state and in the south by Atlantic Ocean. The administrative organization of the kingdom has remained intact despite the British crude and unjust so called punitive expedition that brought the empire to an abrupt end in 1897. At the head of administration is the paramount King, therefore the paramount ruler of the Benin Kingdom (Omo N’ Oba Ne ‘doUkuAkpolokpolo) Oba of Benin, whose ascension to the throne is by principle of primogeniture and is also hereditary. He was and still is the focus point of the Benin Kingdom and his powers are spiritual, social, religious and political. The King or Omo N’ Oba rules from the palace in Benin City and his authority is unequivocally accepted by all the Edos. The King is affable, assiduous, magnanimous, sedulous, delectable, blissful and pious in all human ramifications. He leads by example and consequently the flag bearer of the Edos. His personal qualities are unequivocally unparalleled to any other person in the society. The administration and leadership structure could be viewed from two folds: Central and Provincial.

The central administration and leadership structure comprises of three different sets of functional chiefs of importance each with different functions and responsibilities to perform. At the helm of the central administration and leadership structure is the Uzamanihiron (7 Uzama) and the Uzama comprises of Eghaevbo (chiefs): the Eghaevbo no re and Eghaevho no gbe. The palace also has its own chiefs (Egua- Enigie) that are assigned different responsibilities and functions of importance. The palace chiefs comprise of the Iwebo, Iwague and the Ibiwe. The Iwebo, looks after the King’s (Oba) regalia, Iwague looks after the king’s apartment and are his private attendants and confidants, Ibiwe looks after the King’s wives. To be an Uzama or Eghaevbo, one must be some one of high repute, resolute, tested, and credible and has proven himself beyond all reasonable doubt in society. In fact, anybody elected to the office of chieftaincy whether to work with the king or within the palace or outside the palace, and the village provinces must pass the acid test of credibility.
The Uzamas are the king makers and together (Eghaevhonore and Eghaevhonogbe) constitute the administryative council of the palace. The central administrative council is headed by the Iyase of Benin who effectively is the prime minister and therefore occupies number two positions in Benin Kingdom. In a way they act as the cabinet ministers in which the Omo N’ Oba presides over to discharge his duties to society. Consequently, the council assists the Oba in the administration and discharge of justice at the Oba’s palace. The Institutions of the Benin Kingdom were and are still guided by its democratic principles which were and are never compromised in any circumstances. It is based on a system of checks and balances but when a decision cannot be reached the King’s decision is paramount and therefore final. 
In the judicial realm, the Oba, assisted by the Council of Chiefs, administered justice. The Oba could impose judgement on all types of cases including banishment and outright execution. The head of each subordinate town, village or hamlet was responsible to the Oba at the centre. Administration in these places was often headed by 'Enogie'. In the judiciary sphere, the Enogie could tackle certain matters, which could still be subject to the final approval of the central government (the Oba). The Enogie paid annual homage to the Oba and also supplied the Oba with a definite number of warriors for the Oba's army.

The provinces are semi-autonomous. Every village has its own Odionwere (Head) and to be an Odoinwere one does not necessary has to be the most senior person but the choice has its own characteristics which are governed by the custom of the land: for example, when such a person was first initiated to the village staff order by the elders in council in the village’s hall (Oguedion). Some villages are assigned with Enogie (Chief), by the Oba (King) and when this happened the Enogie would become the head of that community, and also some villages have priest/ess (Ohen), who is chosen by divine means, all of them play their role for the smooth running of the provinces. The organ of policy makers in the village consists of Enogie (Chief) or where there is no Enogie, the Odionwere (Head Man) would be joined by his council of ministers comprising of four of the most important senior elder men of the village, town or community in case of a City.
The women are also very important and constitute an integral part of the community. Every village has its Women’s forum that is headed by the most senior woman of the village. They hold meetings when it is necessary and when it is called for by the women’s head or ordered by the Odionwere (Head-man) or Enogie (Chief) to discuss issues affecting their Communities, take decisions and consequently report their decision to the Men’s Council of Elders for action. However most decisions are handled by the village general assembly which consists of all the adults both young and old in the village (Igbamas and Edions) Any dispute that is not satisfactorily settled could be referred to the Enogie of the area for settlement and any serious dispute unsettled by the village assembly headed by the Odionwere that could not be settled by the Enogie would be taken to the Omo N’ Oba’s palace, which act as the last Court of Arbitration, and the King ( Omo N’ Oba) decision in the dispute is final (Gievbonbase).

The Judicial System
Before the advent of colonial administration, the judiciary in Benin was amazingly functional. Minor cases were brought before the chiefs for judgement while the more serious cases such as arson, treason, murder etc were referred to the Oba and his high chiefs for judgement. Sentences on offences were graded. For instance, while offences such as stealing and fighting attracted rebuke and light fines, serious offences such as murder, arson and treason attracted judgement that ranged from imprisonment, huge fines, death sentences and banishment from town. In addition, offenders were made to confess to their sins because it was generally believed that non-confession would bring evil not only to the culprits but also to all members of their families. The Oba's court was the final Court of Appeal and it was the special prerogative of the Oba to grant pardon.
Just as it was believed that it was the duty of every member of a community to ensure a society where peace, justice and equity reigned, indigenous institutions such as women groups, religious organizations, trade guilds and other professional bodies (Owina) were also working hand-in-hand with the Oba and his Council of Chiefs to ensure socio-economic and political development of their society.
Method of Choosing Leaders
Traditionally, the founder of a village was usually appointed as the leader or the head of the village, "with a member of the family, either the son or the brother or a cousin succeeding in perpetuity" (Johnson 1976). However, where a group of people decided to settle in a particular place, the selection of the village leader (Enogie) was usually through those who emanated from the Royal Family. Each Royal family in Benin traces its descent to the line of Oranmiyan the father of Eweka1.Because of this, it is discovered that not anyone can become an Oba except those from the ruling houses; hence the office of Obaship is not rotational but hereditary. A council of seven kingmakers (Uzama N ‘Ihinron) was responsible for grooming the heir apparent (Edaiken). The installation of an Oba was always marked by traditional ceremonies and rituals and the Oba was said to be sacred. In Benin, the Oba is the next person to the "Osanobua", that is, the Supreme Being-God. In the past, the Oba was rarely seen in the public. After installation, all the property (Aro- Enikao) of the former Oba would be inherited by the newly-installed Oba because such property belongs to the 'throne' and not an individual.

How Corruption was checked
Perhaps the way corruption was checked to enhance democracy, rule of law and transparency is the most affable characteristics of the Benin rulership. These were heavily guided against by the use of religious spiritualism. At a time of serious discord, the Chief Priest/Priestess (Ohen) would be used to seal the faith of the dispute by way of special divine intervention. The Priest’s/priestess’s duty was to ensure that peace and tranquillity prevailed in the land and in time of discord, turmoil or trouble the priest/ess would be called upon to discharge his/her spiritual know-how either to cleanse, appease, or discharge a curse depending on the event at hand at that time. The Benin Kingdom was backed up by strong religion and spiritual belief.
Every city, town and village had its deity which they all passionately worshipped, and the villages had an Oguedion (Village Hall) that housed a special ancestral shrine, where the consent and conscience of someone could be judged and proven. It was also a place where the village was cleansed of evil and ancestral spirits were appeased when the gods were not happy with them. Most importantly as I said earlier, both decisions were made and disputes were settled there. The people adhered to it and believed in it very strongly, therefore to indulge in corruption, lie, theft, incredulous act, or anything unethical to the community was alien to the people, for example there were revered and feared deities such as: Awuanuho, Ovia, Ova ‘du nigieduma, Olokun nu rhonigbe, Okhuahe, Osun, Arho ‘sun oba, Ododonikan, Azelu, Ikoko, Ayelala.
These deities helped to strengthen the Oba’s power with fears, reverence, respect, honour, and also helped to harness compliance, allegiance and loyalty of his people. Most importantly it helped to check corruption of all proportions and vices and vile acts such as robbery, theft, graft, adultery, and prostitution. These were seldom heard of. The Ohens (Priests/Priesses) were very important in the administration of law and order. In time of crime, crisis, turmoil, trouble, the Oracle would be consulted and the Ohen’s (Chief Priest) findings and decisions were taking seriously and were final. His/her judgement was never in dispute or in any doubt whatsoever, and obiter dicta.
Therefore, religion was a very powerful force in checking corruption and other vices of the society. Consequently, the fear and influence of gods and the Priests/priestesses helped to influence and moderate behaviour and this immensely assisted the Oba in the maintenance of law and order that resulted in good governance that helped build a corrupt- free society of great honour and respect throughout the kingdom. It was also the driving force behind political behaviour, social mindedness, economic and religious piousness.
The Oba (King) was the mirror that the people look at themselves, therefore he leads by example. In Bini parable; “Oba men Edo” (The King is the Edos role models).
Besides religion, the Benin Kingdom also had high regards and respect for elders and seniority.
They also believe very strongly in their tradition, custom, ethics, value, belief systems, norm and most especially in freedom of expression, transparency, liberty and collectivism as against individualism, consequently ours and not mine was the order of the day.
The Igue Festival was also a powerful force in harnessing the unity amongst the people of the Benin Kingdom. The festival period was a time whereby all the sons and daughters residing far and near would get together with their parents and families to share their best flocks in harmony and it was also a time when the land was properly and thoroughly appeased and cleansed of evils by the Ohens (Priests and Priestesses) and the people concerned with the land.
This is similar in value and significant to the Jews’ feast of Passover in the Bible. (There was more on this in my previous article (Nigerian observer 17.12.12.). Before the so called punitive conquest by the imperial British of 1897 the villages in the provinces were asked to raise the Army by which the land was defended and the capital city, Edo (Benin City) was heavily fortified and impregnable to enemies. There were Moats dug around Edo and the entire periphery. As I have said before the Oba never ruled alone. He had advisors and had cabinet ministers, together they made and took decisions for the land and as such earned his due respect and loyalty and allegiance from his people. Anyone found to be wicked, unscrupulous, or bringing the land into disrepute could be ostracized from society. It was practically impossible to honour anyone without proven moral or social standing.

In spite of its strength, Benin began to face a decline from the first half of the nineteenth century. Again there were a number of factors that explain this development. The first would seem to be the loss of revenue and resources. This loss was brought about mainly by the abolition of slave trade thereby making the port of Ughoton redundant. The few ships that still exported slaves ran great risk as the British anti-slave squadron kept an eye on their movements. With the decline of Ughoton, the Benin had to use the ports on Benin river and thus pay dues to the Olu of Warri in whose territory the port was located. The empire was also not helped by the Yoruba civil wars which made it impossible for Benin traders to transport their products by land to Lagos. In the meantime, the Ijebu had also captured the cloth market over which Benin had had such control. Benin also faced problems as the Sokoto Jihad led to the conquest of Nupe, their traditional suppliers of materials.
The situation of the Empire was worsened by the political problems which broke out during the period of economic decline. For example, the dependent states began to resent their position and to threaten to break away from the Empire. River states such as Ibadan also began to compete with Benin for the control of Ekiti, and indeed attacked Akure in 1872. In Lagos, the establishment of British authority in the new colony led to the end of Benin control of Lagos. In Benin itself, new problems arose after the death of Oba Osenwede. Succession disputes began to surface and the new Oba had to contend with the problem of the rival who fled to Ishan from where he continued to attack the Empire. Another Oba had to execute many of his chiefs who had opposed his succession. The result of the massacres were intrigues, conspiracies and plots against the Oba. In addition to the disruptions caused by succession disputes, the Oba of Benin confronted a more severe problem, that of growing British interest in the affairs of the Empire. This was the period of aggressive imperialism by the British, who were resolved to bring the trade of Benin under their effective supervision and control.
The Oba of Benin, Ovonramwen, was determined to resist the British, who decided in turn to embark on a punitive expedition after which they deported the Oba and declared the Empire as a protectorate.

The Benin or Bini Kingdom system of governance was based on a system of effective checks and balances of the sort that made effective governance to flourish. It is similar to the so called three arms of government adopted by the Federal Republic of Nigeria: Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, but it is different in meaning, value, integrity and form. It is a reflection of true democracy and expedient governance and no wonder the Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo UkuAkpolokpolo was and is still so revered all the world over. Let it be known that this kingdom had an empire that probably surpasses any in Africa and was never defeated in any battle and war until the British in their nefarious crude way to dominate and control the trade in Benin Kingdom, and Nigeria as a whole, and under the pretense of the so called punitive expedition descended on the Kingdom with their world’s best machine guns of that millennium to end the empire in 1897. With the Kingdom defeated, it was never the same again, the king, Oba
Idugbowa Ovonramwen Ogbaisi (1888-1897) was exiled to Calabar where he passed to glory in 1914.
There was a vacuum of leadership created in the kingdom until Oba Eweka 11 was installed in 1914. It is a fact and on record that when the Portuguese visited Benin in the 16th century, they had enthused, that Benin City was comparable in size, beauty and status or better than Amsterdam, the capital city of Holland. However, from 1897 and up to 1960 when Nigeria became independent, the People of Benin Kingdom were in mourning, development and progress stopped. They refused to send their children to school to gain the so called “western education” in rebellion to the misdeeds and anarchy into which the greediness of the British had plunged them.

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