Why the Oba of Benin is Number One
By Odia Ofeimun
First published 16th February 2016
I am a Republican, not a Royalist. But, in a country in which we have all conceded the coexistence of Republican and Royalist values, it should be considered quite unseemly to watch one set of the interacting values being rough-handled, muddied or treated with improper decorum without feeling a need to intervene on behalf of rectitude. I have been so challenged since the eruption of the controversy ignited by the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, who allowed himself to do a ranking of Yoruba Obas that placed the Oba of Benin as third in the hierarchy. In one sense, as Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin, immediately retorted, it is wrong to rank the Oba of Benin among Yoruba Obas because the Oba of Benin is not a Yoruba and therefore cannot be placed on a list of Yoruba Obas. I call it ‘in a sense’ because the Esogban’s position may be disputed on the grounds, as will soon be clear, that there is too much siblinghood between Yoruba and Benin traditional rulers for the ethnic difference between them to be rendered in cast-iron terms.
The special relationship between Yoruba and Benin obas, not unlike the relationship between Benin and Onitsha kings, or between Lagos and Edo kings, makes it all the more impolitic to do a ranking of the Benin monarchy in Yoruba royal affairs without abiding by certain inter-subjective and shared norms. And let me note, very quickly, that it is the presence of such norms that makes it quite normal for Chief Edebiri to put the Oba of Benin as Number One without appearing to contradict himself. In his response to the Alake, Chief Edebiri has argued, quite simply, that the term oba was not used to describe Yoruba kings until the Oba of Benin got there. This may well be disputed. Except that it has the merit of being close to verisimilitude when he argues that the king of Ibadan was called Olu, the king of Abeokuta was called Alake, the king of Oyo was called Alafin; only the Benin monarch was Oba. With the backing of glotto-cultural studies, however, we should be able to impute that the term, oba, is a root word shared by both the Yoruba and the Edo languages and that among the sixteen kings that reigned in Ile-Ife before the arrival of Oduduwa’s party, many had oba as prefix to their names. To say this amounts to jumping ahead of the argument a little. But let me add, for those who are not familiar with this piece of anthropology, that Oduduwa, the acknowledged founder-ancestor, the progenitor of the Yoruba nationality, was a stranger who met a historical line of obas in Ile Ife, the last of whom was Obatala, the leader of the Igbo, the autochthons , later deified as god of creativity or creation, sometimes synced with Orunmila, for wisdom. Make your pick.
Let me also add that, from the studies of the Ifa divination system made by several scholars, as imbibed from traditional Ifa devotees, it is those sixteen elders whom Oduduwa met in Ife that provided the sub-structure of Ifa as a formal system of wisdom into which people could be initiated in the way that we all go to tertiary institutions to learn philosophy, jurisprudence and mathematics. Or mathemagics, if you like. It is of very grave significance in this narrative that we should acknowledge that the Ifa Divination system, before the intervention of Islam, Christianity, and Lord Frederick Lugard’s balkanization and regionalization of traditional gnosis, was based on the existential patterns or prowess of the sixteen elders, or kings, who formed the planks upon which the wisdom of the people, by ritual accretions, was organized. Every good student of Ifa should know that in the Edo Divination system of Igwega, two of the sixteen elders have been displaced by Edo personages who are not to be found in the Ife version as designed by Agbonmiregun, the Master, who went from Ekiti to Ile Ife and established the rounded system of Ifa Divination as passed by other masters between the Edo, Nupe, Igala and Yoruba devotees. It can be imagined that, as a matter of ritual, they gathered at Ife, which was quite the centre of their world, for a divination that transcended ethnicities but was based on a common worship of the earth mother, Efa. All the forest peoples, from Dahomey to the Cameroon mountains, across the Nri of Igboland and past Ogoja, were devotees of one form or other of Ifa Divination. The historian, Ade Obayemi, has imputed that so many concepts in Yoruba Ifa, which some devotees may regard as mumbo jumbo, are actually Nupe terms that proper glotto-cultural analysis and translation could redeem. This partly explains why Benin Kings could induct or abduct and adopt Igbo medicinemen who became part of the common national culture, as Egharevba, the Benin historian vouchsafes. What a linguistic, glotto-cultural analysis tells us is that, in Ile-ife, before the dispersal occasioned by Oduduwa’s emergence, the Yoruba language, as one among many in the Kwa language complex, was once the same language with others including Igbo and that they still share common root words beyond the simple ones like Omi and miri.
So if Chief Edebiri’s resort to linguistic analysis wont help a resolution of the ranking of the Yoruba obas, what will? I suppose it is the discomfort of trying to answer such a question, and the fear of being wrong-footed in a bid to dabble into what appears to be quite esoteric, that has warded off many of the dignitaries who have been asked by journalists to respond to the controversy. Some of them think it a needless controversy that could detract from more worthwhile issues of the moment. True, there are crying problems that our society needs to face and resolve. Some political entrepreneurs who require a united front in order not to disperse collective energies have been quick to advise against worsening of the already existing inter-ethnic divisions in our midst. Somehow, they do not consider that to ignore the controversy or down play its driven logic, could harden the ranking that has been attempted and, to that extent, make it quite affirmable with the accretion of time. Of course, those who are already convinced of its veracity and have lived in the shadow of its ritualized affirmation, all their lives, would want the ranking to remain as they know it. Hence, they act bored by the controversy and would therefore wish that we move on quickly to other matters. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you see it) the controversy won’t go away.
At any rate, this is not the first time it has visited or reared its head. The ranking, as it happens, is so deeply rooted in the ethnic unconscious of some people that there is good reason for the palace in Benin City to wish, with each eruption of the controversy, to put the records, or lack of records, straight. It happens to be the case that the ranking of the obas takes on a life of its own within every effort to build a sense of common nationality among Yoruba people. Every bid by the Yoruba to unite under a common leader or in conformity with a presumption of common ancestry, has always yielded one form of such ranking or the other. It has become part of a modernist or modernizing project which nation-builders escape only when they are able to put the knowledge industry at the centre of their quest. Especially, with the establishment of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa on home ground in 1948, the business of building up such a knowledge industry, creating a formal historiography to get it right, has been part of every bid at nation-building. With bounding successes in research and publications, everything seemed to be going fine before the regression that came with political crisis in the sixties and the virtual abandonment of the enlightenment project that Obafemi Awolowo is still rightly praised for.
Frankly, it has since boiled down to the old saw about putting things in books if you want to hide them from Africans. Otherwise, too many scholars, Yoruba and non-Yoruba, in our midst, unrecognized by a thoroughly philistine, anti-enlightenment elite, have sweated their lives out researching and correcting the whimsical, myth-suffused folklore and the ultra-parochial rendering of the past, that many of our leaders regard as history, with a capital H. The result is that, with so much cultural illiteracy abounding, we all go mucking around with woolly and crooked thoughts about ourselves and our neighbours to the detriment of social and political projects that could save our part of the world from backwardness and decay. Specific to the ranking of the Yoruba obas: So deeply ingrained is the ranking among not only the Obas, but many Yoruba big wigs! The palace in Benin City has had to be effusively vigilant, on perpetual watch, as it were, rebutting every indication of a resurgence of the claim. It happens to be a claim that many, including Professors of History, lacking the requisite cultural literacy have humoured with shrugs and incipient concordance in order not to be wrong-footed by popular opinionating. Surely, being only too willing to wish the sleeping dog of history back to sleep whenever it is roused by controversy, they wittingly or unwittingly, contribute to allowing the already stated position to remain the unspoken but reigning truth of the matter. The implication, even if unintended, is that they withdraw enthusiasm from the need to clear the mushy debris of insupportable folklore that masquerades as history. They contribute to the death of historical consciousness in our part of the world.
What must be borne in mind in the case of the Alake’s recent pronouncement on the ranking of Yoruba obas, is that it happened during a visit by the newly crowned Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, who has been making commendable representations on behalf of Yoruba unity since his elevation to the throne. His definitive un-jinxing of the hiatus between the Ife and Oyo monarchies, by a visit that dammed several decades of distancing, has raised enormous and quite salutary vibes across the country. Much beyond Yorubaland. One wishes that it was actually always the case that we had obas, like him, who would stop distracting their people with arguments about the past that divide rather than bring people together. As such, it was to be expected that visits between kings of different communities swearing descent from a common ancestor would yield some brag, and even some luxuriating in sheer grandiloquence, for the sake of ethnic pride and national self-glorification. Quite understandable. In such situations, all traditional cultures in the world, seeking to have their day in the sun, have tended always to confer even other-worldly features on their monarchs as a form of self promotion for the tribe, nation or race. In particular, new Obas have tended to attract a hyper inflation of oriki and other panegyrics in order to match the character sketch of an igbakejiorisa, a virtual divinity. Such moments in history inspire what, in his essay on The Monarchical Tendency in African Political Culture, Ali Mazrui describes in the context of the quest for aristocratic effect, the personalization of authority, the sacralization of authority and the quest for a royal historical identity. In the case of the Ooni Ogunwusi, until the Alake’s ‘goof’ which the Benin Palace has rebutted, something ethereally all-accommodating, sanguine, and salutary seemed to be attending to his forthright bid for unity wherever he went. Now, clearly, what has been pulled out of the bag by the Alake, even if returned to the bag, can no longer spell in a way that will make all comfortable.
It calls to be taken in hand and dealt with in a manner that will not continue to put the Nigerian Project at the mercy of poorly designed ethnic projects. Indeed, now that the Alake, through his media spokesman, has insisted that his ranking of the obas is bam on the mark, and not retractable, it calls for a serious engagement of the issues beyond reliance on work-a-day folklore. To be sure, his insistence may be quite benign in the context of intra-ethnic muscle-flexing which may cause only mild grating, such as when the Alafin of Oyo haggles with the Ooni over decades, as to who is superior. But when the matter goes inter-cultural, applied in a multi-ethnic situation, it can get truly pernicious, with grave repercussions; enough to unsettle the balance of respect between neighbours. This is especially so when all the verifiable propositions to the contrary are dismissed without a second thought; such that the cooping of ethnic self-assurance, on the one hand, is turned into a means of thumbing noses at or down-grading neighbours who, on the other hand, have been no less illustrious from antiquity to the present.
The core issue is that, whether intended or not, the ranking of the obas across ethnic boundaries implies an attempt at a form of suzerainty of one ethnic group or nationality over another. By imputing a vertical ordering of sorts, it puts a dubious historical stamp on sheer fictions that could be truly disorienting. In an age when, as we know, aspiring internal colonialists begin the quest for assimilation or overcoming of others by, first, having to invent whimsy as a verity of times and tides, it can get quite far reaching. Who needs to be told that such tides must be stemmed before they harden into inscrutable canon! Or, let me put it this way: that as someone with an instinctive intellectual empathy with all ethnic groups craving for self governance, seeking unity in their ranks or working to disperse the succubus of a unitarized federalism that rampages across and assaults our God-given and highly creative diversity, I would seriously invite all Nigerians to abhor the over-parochial presumption that seeks to put others down in the process of crafting a new sense of self for any ethnic nationality. Who can tell what could be made of a cunningly designed myth of ethnic super-ordinance as a means of turning the freeborn into a non-citizen in his father’s house? This is not just a matter of rhetoric. It raises questions, not to be taken lightly, in the face of a new Ooni, preaching unity of the Yoruba people, at a time when dithering Yoruba elites, annoyingly self-deprecatory in normal times, have been finally goaded by hard times, to reach the point of agreeing to join in forging a united economic front around the Odua Investments; with Lagos joining the fold. It begins to serve as a warning or a threat, however, when a paramount Oba, such as the Alake, claiming fourth position in the hierarchy of Yoruba Obas, chooses to flaunt one myth that has been permanently disputed by a neighbor for as long as it has surfaced. Even for people who do not normally care about such things, it begins to grate, when it is realized that such ranking is based on myths that cannot even bear forensic scrutiny.
Let’s face it: between the Edo and the Yoruba, those who wish that all of us should live by myths can be seen as strategically roughening up the insuperable distinctiveness of the Edo people within a notion of the siblinghood of their palaces. What they may not realize, and therefore need to be told, is that it gets truly atavistic, when others claim you as sibling only in order to degrade or down-grade what you are. It has the same kind of feel as the myth which makes a distinction between Hausa Bakwai and Hausa Banza with a peculiar cunning of history built into it. It could be worse when it comes from a very unnecessary wish to assimilate others while negating their interests through a cold indifference to facts, thus turning whimsical mythology into history.
The good part is that, in an age when History is being displaced by so much cant, ignored and muddied by those who prefer to re-invent the past as a means of achieving modern ambitions at other people’s expense, there are criteria of ascertainment of knowledge which can be deployed to test the veracity of narratives. No matter how cleverly or high-mindedly such narratives try to overcome what is already known or knowable, the point is that they can be defeated by invoking the awesome wealth of information at the behest of contemporary knowledge industries. I dare say that on this matter of the ranking of the obas, the saving grace is that all the information needed to decide one way or the other can be found in debates that have been going on, for decades, among historians and anthropologists, disquisitions between cultural philosophers and the search for balance between literary critics.
In my book, In Search of Ogun: Soyinka In Spite of Nietzsche, (published in 2014) I have pooled together a number of the strands in order to indicate the necessity for movement away from metaphysical dead ends and the parochial dredge of many of the arguments which over privilege inward-looking ethnic issues rather than their universalistic implications. The point is that ethnic solidarity may be quite a good workshop for developing values that are relevant for wider activism in the promotion of shared human values, but the latter must always be properly minded to obviate the tendency for self-apprehension to be turned into the case of a snake eating its own tail unto death. I see it as a case for unveiling supposedly esoteric or secret knowledge, making public property of arcane issues of cults and conclaves, such that, for instance, we can appreciate the reality of Yoruba people who may worship a deified Edo personage; Edo people who are devotees of a Yoruba god; and the treason of history which can confront people of different ethnic groups, even enemy nationalities, with the reality of a common ancestor. In Soyinka In Spite of Nietzsche, I contend with principles and values that promise astute approaches to management science and management of society by looking through and beyond positions that are derivable from the gods our ancestors worshipped. I am concerned that it is because we do not always keep the right perspectives on such matters that, adding the ranking of obas, we run into major altercations. For the purpose of this write-up, my intention is to dwell less on metaphysics and issues of cultural philosophies. I wish to engage current issues by recalling and engaging one of the many altercations that came to a head in 2004, yielding a big blow-out between Ooni Olubuse and Oba Erediauwa, after the latter’s publication of his autobiography, I REMAIN, SIR, YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT in which he devoted a chapter to ‘The Benin-Ife Connection’.
In that particular chapter of the book, Oba Erediauwa questions the veracity of the two versions of the origins of the Benin monarchy that came from Egharevba’s authoritative and highly regarded A SHORT HISTORY OF BENIN. In the first edition, Egharevba wrote: “Many many years ago, Odua (Oduduwa) of Uhe (Ile-Ife), the father and progenitor of the Yoruba kings sent his eldest son Obagodo – who took the title of Ogiso – with a large retinue all the way from Uhe to found a Kingdom in this part of the world”.
…”And in the fourth (and now current) edition of the book, the late author wrote: “Many, many years ago, the Binis came all the way from Egypt to found a more secure shelter in this part of the world after a short stay in the Sudan and at Ile-Ife, which the Benin people called Uhe…The rulers or kings were commonly known as “Ogiso” before the arrival of Oduduwa and his party at Ife in Yorubaland, about the 12th century of the Christian era”.
Anyone reading the two versions in the first and fourth editions will be tempted to agree with Erediauwa that there were interpolations that amounted to a bias in the narrative. One may not agree with Erediauwa’s claim that Egharevba’s “Edo ne’kue (Edo-Akure – partly Benin partly Yoruba….) blood in the man manifested itself” or that the editors, “the experts in the Ibadan University contributed to the contradictions”. But it is too obvious that something happened to the narrative that is quite out of sync with the authority on display. Erediauwa simply avers that “the earliest rulers or kings in what is today Edo or Benin were known as “Ogiso”. The first was known as Ogiso Igodo and the last (of the thirty one or so of them) was Ogiso Owodo, the father of Ekaladeran who became known as Oduduwa in Ife. In essence, Oduduwa came after the Ogisos. Not before. According to Erediauwa, the idea of a Benin Prince choosing a title in order to be king did not even begin in Benin History until after Oduduwa’s youngest son, Oramiyan, fathered a child, the dumb one, in Benin, who literally gave himself a name when on winning a game of akhue he gave a shout of victory, OWOMIKA,”my hand has struck it”, his first intelligible speech. The Benin people corrupted the name and it became Eweka. Also, it became tradition, thereafter, for every king-to-be to go to Use, the site of the game of akhue, to choose a name before climbing the throne. So to say, Egharevba, whom we all owe so much, got it all mixed up. As Edo traditions have it, Ogiso Owodo was advised by the oracle to have his son Ekaladeran executed for being the source of the unhappiness in the land during his reign. Unaware that he was being deceived, he sent the public executioner, Oka Odionmwan, to do the job. But the executioner decided to have pity on Ekaladeran and “on reaching the outskirts of the city” let him off. From there the prince wandered into the world, settling alone, first in Ughoton, where the elders gave him hospitality, before he moved to a village on the outskirts of Ile-Ife. When his Igodo people first learnt of his being alive and went searching for him, they found him living as leader in one of the stranger settlements outside the main bowl of Ife. ‘Oke Ora (Ora Hill) between Ile Ife and Ilesha’, insists Ade Obayemi. Although Adebanji Akintoye in his A HISTORY OF THE YORUBA PEOPLE, does not attend to the claim that Oduduwa came from Benin, he posits that it was from the settlement outside the Bowl of Ife that Oduduwa moved down into the city with his party to occupy one of the key stranger quarters, pooling them together until he became leader of all the stranger elements. He moved against the autochthons, and seized power. The seizure of power is acknowledged by all the authorities on Ife history. It led to the exile of Obatala and his party of autochthons; it led to famine as can be imagined if the earth tillers go on awwol. Even after the crisis appeared resolved and Obatala returned, he had to function under Oduduwa’s authority. Many of his followers, like Obameri, moved to Oduduwa’s side. Diehard supporters of Obatala like Obawinrin who could not take it and continued to fight, were beaten out of the Ife Bowl into Igbo Igbo of the rain forest. As Erediauwa puts it: “It is a historical fact, known I believe to present-day Ife people, that the original settlers whom Ekaladeran (Oduduwa) met moved away from Ife to a place called Ugbo, a very ancient Ilaje town in Okitipupa area. Ife elders, especially the traditional title holders, must know the rest of the Ugbo episode as it affects Ife and Oduduwa because Ife people today perform a ritual festival that re-enacts the events that caused the original settlers including their village head to flee from Ife and Ekaladeran (or Oduduwa) to become the head of the community”.
For that matter, it is claimed by some contemporary Nigerian historians that many of the areas which answer Igbo in their names across Yoruba land were redoubts of resistant groups belonging to the Igbo, led by Obatala. Adiele Afigbo, not by any chance a frivolous historian, has argued that the expulsion of the Igbo from Ife was not just myth but history as the movement of Igbo people from the western side of the Niger to the eastern side of the river was a consequence of that fracturing, terrorism, a virtual mfecane, that took place with Oduduwa’s overcoming of the indigenes. In the end, both Obatala and Oduduwa were deified and some kind of patching up of the narratives have been attempted by successive generations to hide the fact that there was a grand fissure. But that is where myth comes into its own. Such that on page 57 of his book, Adebanji Akintoye, without dwelling on how it was possible, comes to the conclusion that “It is on the soil of Yorubaland that Oduduwa was born and raised; it is only in that soil that his roots can be found”. We may well shrug. Such an understanding obviously led Ade Ajayi in a Vanguard inteview on May 16, 2004, to insist that although more researches still need to be done, “people cant just wake up one day and say that Oduduwa must have been a Benin Prince that they wanted to execute, ran and ran to a village and you call Ife a village?” Ade Ajayi adds: “Who is the Oba of Benin to come and tell the Yorubas what they should believe about themselves? I think it is very very wrong and impertinent to assume that you know more about the Yoruba people than the Yoruba know about themselves. On what basis? What information could he have? When he says from his studies, what did he study? What books? Is it in the colonial days or before then or its the books written by educated Yoruba people of the 19th century?”
What cannot bear scrutiny, because it must crumble, is Egharevba’s Obagodo hypothesis which attempts to impose a theory of Yoruba origins on the kings of Igodomigodo in a period that shares parallel sorties with the era of the first sixteen kings of Ife before the arrival of Oduduwa. That era, of which Obatala was the last of sixteen kings in Ife and Owodo, the father of Oduduwa, was the last of thirty one kings in Igodomigodo, ought to be properly matched, not confused, if only because it puts in proper perspective the arrival of Oduduwa’s son, Oramiyan, and his three lunar months as ruler, that changed the name of the city from Igodomigodo to Benin, before the city was renamed as Edo by the great great grand child, Ogun Ewuare, in the 15th century. At any rate, talking serious history, rather than mythologies, no self-respecting historian, in our century, buys the hoary stuff about the Yoruba progenitor coming from Egypt, Mecca, the Sudan or which ever zone is supposed to provide aristocractic effect or ancient, sacralized, historical identity that affirms greatness of a people. Whether in Johnson’s History of the Yoruba, Biobaku’s valiant efforts or F. Ade Ajayi’s embarrassingly un-researched put-down of Erediauwa’s narrative as uninformed, they amount to the purveyance of a Hamitic thesis, a local variant of which I have called the Obagodo hypothesis, which have been smashed by dedicated Yoruba historians since I. A. Akinjogbin and his co-revolutionary historians.(See CRADLE OF A RACE) They have long moved beyond all the romantic historicism of the earlier foragers in oral traditions. Ade Obayemi, in particular, was among the first radical dissenters from the received myths who realized that Oduduwa could not have come from outside the world of the Niger Benue confluence. Keen dredgers of the history of Ile Ife like Isola Olomola, reached the same conclusion: Ife was a centre that attracted people from far and wide before Oduduwa came amongst them and literally scattered the system of cooperative governance under the chairmanship of Obatala who would later be deified as god of creation or creativity, a lover of wine whose devotees are advised against alcohol.
The question no one has answered is how it was possible for Oduduwa to have been born in Yorubaland and still be described as a stranger by all Ife traditions, by Ifa, and those who like Olubushe II, accept the romance that Oduduwa came from Mecca, Egypt, Sudan or from the sky, with a chain. What cannot be escaped is that not knowing where Oduduwa came from is at the heart of the matter. Rejecting, instead of researching, what must now be called the Erediauwa thesis which argues that Oduduwa was a Prince of Igodomigodo, does not help matters. Once the ranking of the obas in Yorubaland comes into the picture, the issue gets over-loaded. The Erediauwa/Benin story just happens to be the only one available that tells Oduduwa’s story with some certitude. Reject it or not, it still does not affect the critical aspect of the narrative which indicates that Oduduwa actually sent his youngest son, Oramiyan, to Igodo whether in response to a distress call or because he saw a vacuum and decided to fill it. Oramiyan’s three months in Benin was too full of troubles that he could not resolve. He left in annoyance, damning the people as a people of intrigues and quarrels, Ile-ibinu, which only a child born amongst them could tackle or accommodate. But he left a pregnant woman behind whom Oduduwa had to send procurers and minders for until she delivered. The child turned out dumb and could not speak until that famous game of akhue when he gave a shout of victory that earned him the name, Eweka, which started a dynasty.
What all the traditions, and therefore History, vouchsafes is that Oramiyan, on his return journey made stop overs at various stations but pooled his forces together at Kaltunga/Oyo where he begat the Alafin, and started another dynasty. He eventually returned to Ife and and became the king after the death of Oduduwa. Shall we say, he rounded the circle. From Ife back to Ife. What is not denied by any authority is that all the Kings of Benin, Oyo and Ife, thereafter had the same ancestor. Unless, ethnic pride, sheer narrative mischief and ugly cult disorders enter the picture, how is it possible in the narration of the folklore, myth, or history, to rank the three dynasties and not follow the order in which they were established and acknowledged at Ile Ife! Which odu of Ifa tells us a different story other than the one that accepts the chronology just adumbrated! So, there is no denying it: whether you believe the Ekaladeran story or not, you have to accept that Oduduwa sent his youngest son who thereafter displaced all the older sons, overtook them, and made them invisible to the claims of history. Those who are not Oramiyan’s children may well kick and seek another ranking that puts them in the picture. But they have no locus because it is actually Oramiyan’s children who built the empires that survived the ravages of history. Among those children, as has always been accepted by ALL AUTHORITIES, the Benin Monarch came first. To do a somersault about it and seek to make Eweka appear like the third in the hierarchy is simply jiggery pokery, rigging, and sheer distortion of History. When Ade Ajayi says that Oba Erediauwa’s “own father used to attend and meet at the conference of Yoruba obas regularly during colonial rule”, he is quite right. Ajayi adds, truculently however that Oba Akenzua, Erediauwa’s “own father did not object to this but he (Erediauwa) from his own point of view of politics thinks it is a departure from his own status …..” and ” that Ife monarchy is derived from Benin monarchy”.
The truth of the matter is that even if anyone rejects the fact “that Ife Monarchy is derived from Igodo monarchy”, it changes nothing about the reality that the Monarchy in Benin City is still Number One among Oduduwa’s children. I mean: let it be assumed that Oduduwa came from Egypt, Mecca, Sudan, Ethiopia (where the Oromo Region has a nationality fraction called Oromiyas) or from Orun, as heaven or a place we do not know, with a chain made of iron if not some other metal, it does not change the fact that the dumb one who learnt to talk by naming himself OWOMIKA, ‘my hand has stuck it’, the first Benin monarch after the Ogisos, was the first child of Oramiyan whose children built the empires that our part of the world remembers.
No question about it: there is the other significant issue that whoever becomes the Ooni of Ife is closest to the Opa Oranyan, and therefore must be deemed the preserver of the family grain, the shrine of nativity. A special place may therefore be reserved for him in the celebration of the family business which monarchy always is, in every culture where it exists. It does not however remove from the eldest child the imprimatur that age provides. At any rate, Edo culture has been, for centuries, a strict upholder of the principle of primogeniture and therefore some remove from parleying with those who have no respect for the firstborn adult male in the matter of monarchical rule. The reality is that whenever the Oba of Benin sat among Yoruba obas, he knew he was the eldest. He did not have to say it for it to be true. Those who deny him his place may stand on ethnic arrogance, which is hollow. The rest of the world knows that if there are other forms of prowess that can grant suzerainty, superiority or primacy to a king, the Edo king had and has it. In a century when governance is based on democracy by numbers, it may well be argued that the Edo people do not have as much population as the Yoruba to decide the matter. But matters pertaining to monarchies are not resolved by a democracy of numbers. A king is a king because he is the child of who he is. Or if he can impose his will, by rod and staff. If the latter is the tack of those who continue to engage in the ranking of Yoruba obas, the average Edo can then invoke the Edebiri principle which advises that the Oba of Benin is not a Yoruba and therefore cannot be placed on a list of Yoruba Obas.
it has actually enhanced the insistence of those, on the other side of the Benin Monarch who wish to normalize the ranking. And I might as well add that this is not my first response to the mythical and historical context, the use and misuse of myths to spoil history for younger generations, such as has produced the ranking of the obas.
In my book In Search of Ogun: Soyinka In spite of Nietzsche, I have sought
That, as between the Edo and the Yoruba, the Nupe and Ekiti, a common divination system had made them denizens of a common philosophical system before the rise of modern projects of nation building that seek to put one people over another.
That Ogun Ewuare, King of Benin (1440 – 1480) is the one syncretized as the god of iron whom the Yoruba worship just as Sango, the god of thunder, is the one whom the Edo worship.
. The truth of the matter is **** of all that Ifa already tells us that Oduduwadid not come from Ife, that is ****. He was also not the first king of Ife. It insults historical consciousness to presume that Oduduwa arrived after the iron age. How then was the concept ofomo-igi applied to those used wood and who were not part of the iron age?
The argument that Oramiyan founded the dynasty is not disputed by the Benin monarchy. They merely claim that it was the son of Oduduwa who had escaped from rival siblings seeking to murder him, who returned when his father was too old to leave Ife for Benin city. It puts the Benin story as one myth it is clearly the case thatEweka the Prince whom Oramiyan left behind to be king in Benin was much older than the Prince who Oranmiyan**** after he arrived in Oyo. The ungainly struggle between Oyo and Ife as to who had the pre-eminent scion of Oduduwa to be treated as **** simply shows that all the other siblings who were older than Oranmiyan had been discounted by time, if not tradition. Who else but the Ooni could ever claim to be higher than Oyo in the claims of a royal historical identity. And if the Edo insist that it was their Prince who ousted Obatala, let whoever cares argue with the myth or history. The bottom line is that Oduduwa, Ifa insists, was not from Ife. He was not Yoruba. And, Ifa does not lie.
Those who wish to write patriotic rather than objective history may think that they are encouraging Nigeria’s dense political class to put enough money into historical research. But they are living in self-deceit and denial. Historians who bend the facts to suit their patriotic declensions will merely disrupt proper assessment of a people’s place in the world. It yields fantasy reportage that more often than not leads people to perdition. They choose tragedy with glee. And they look for who to blame when the tragedy they opted for overwhelms everything in sight. May we, who wish to build a republic in which all ethnic groups and all citizens are equal under the law learn to live above the self-immolating subjectivity that undue patriotism vouchsafes.
Odia Ofeimu, is a Journalist, Poet, Historian and Teacher.