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Nation of people who are mostly located in the Midwestern part of Nigeria, Western  Africa.




Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisien

With a few months to go to the end of the Twentieth Century it is
right to look back at the last one hundred years and attempt to
identity the one Edo person who lived during this period, and whose
life brought the greatest good to the Edo people. Aiguobasinmwin,
Prince of Benin, and later EWEKA II, Oba of Benin is, in my opinion,
that person.

EDO State, amongst the thirty six States of Nigeria is referred to as
the "Heart-Beat of the Nation". It has earned this flattering
appellation because of the world-wide exposure which Benin's
sophisticated art culture has enjoyed this century, supported by the
suprisingly great span of the remembered history of Edoland. These
have made Benin to loom large in the tapestry of cultural Nigeria, and
the life of Prince Aiguobasinmwin played a pivotal role in bringing
about this prominence enjoyed by Edoland.

Prince Aiguobasinmwin, son of Oba Ovonramwen succeeded in succeeding
to the throne of his fathers, the Obas of Benin when Ovonramwen died
in Calabar on his seventeenth year of exile from his throne and his
kingdom. On this achievement is founded the significance of
Aiguobasinmwin's life. His attainment of the throne was against great
odds, and the benefits which have accrued to Edoland from this
personal triumph of his have been incalculable. These benefits are
sufficiently important to make Aiguobasinmwin the "Edo Man of the
Twentieth Century."

Hampate Ba, the Malian Writer said:

"Every old person who dies in Africa
Is like a library set ablaze."

With equal veracity it could be said that every long-lasting Dynasty
which died in Africa was like a whole country losing its history.

Prince Aiguobasinmwin was crowned the Oba of Benin on 24 July, 1914.
Two events, each of enormous significance, took place conjointly in
that single act. The first event was that Benin land had once again
become a kingdom, with the restoration of the monarchy. There was
again a Palace in Benin seventeen years after the City had lost the
services of that institution, and the belief was already widespread
that the ruling British would see no need to restore the institution
after having been able to cope without it for nearly two decades. In
point of fact two thirds of the Palace grounds had already been taken
over by permanent fixtures of the colonial authorities. The remaining
one third was not built upon because it had been pressed into service
as a Government farm where the in-mates of the Benin Prisons did the
"Hard Labour" aspect of their sentence, raising food crops to augment
the supplies to the Prison Kitchens by the Prison Contractors.

The second significant event inherent in the crowning of
Aiguobasinmwin in 1914 was that the monarchy was restored to the same
dynasty, the same family which had possessed it for seven hundred
years when their patriach ORONMIYAN, the Ile Ife Prince, arrived in
Benin, and which had lost it in the British conquest of 1897,

We have it on the written testimony of Dr. J. U. Egharevba, the
Obakhavbaye of Benin and the father of Benin historiography, that it
was the ceremonies which accompanied the crowning of Oba Eweka II in
1914 which brought to his attention the richness of the history of old
Benin. Grateful at discovering what would have been hidden from him
but for the Restoration Egharevba frenziedly put pen to paper, and
recorded for posterity as much as he could of the lore of old Benin,
as narrated to him by the old men of the Nineteenth Century who had
survived into the Twentieth. In a long life of labour he published at
least thirty-two works on this single subject.

J. U. Egharevba saved Edoland from the fate spelt out in the truth of
Hampate Ba's profound observation. The crowning of Prince
Aiguobasinmwin as the Oba of Benin determined the great writing career
of Egharevba.

Had the 1914 Restoration resulted in a change of dynasty, as would
have happened if Aiguobasinmwin had lost out in the struggle for the
restored throne to Chief Agho, the Obaseki of Benin, there would have
taken place a determined if subtle suppression of the seven
century-long history of the Obas of Benin. With the discouragement of
the dissemination of the history of the defunct dynasty by the
succeeding rulership much of the now remembered history of the Edo
people would also have been suppressed, since the history of
pre-literate peoples was always tied up with that of their Kings.

This type of situation occurred in Benin eight hundred years ago
during the period of the dynastic change from the Ogiso period to the
Oba period. At the time the Obas were struggling to entrench
themselves in Benin the word "OGISO" became taboo in the land. The
mere mention of it attracted sanctions. A euphemism:

Ogie gui:

"the King is angry"

was adopted for the word "Ogiso", and used whenever the word had to be

This tendency is natural and is to be found in all of history. It
happened in Hausaland two hundred years ago. Uthman dan Fodio, the
Fulani Moslem cleric, had conquered much of Hausaland and beyond
during the course of his Jihad. Before dan Fodio's time the courts
of the kings of many of the Hausa kingdoms were already literate in
Arabic. The histories of the kingdoms and their interaction with
their neighbours had been written down by their learned clerics. But
the successor sons of Uthman dan Fodio, highly literate and keenly
aware of the power of the written word, ordered the written records
of the pre-Jihad histories of the conquered kingdoms to be consigned
to the flames. This was to ensure that the centuries-old native ways,
the indigenously developed habits and thought - processes of Hausaland
were wiped off the memory of the conquered peoples. In their place
the ways of the new Caliphate were to constitute the only remembered
and accepted truth of the land.

The age-old wrong-headed belief in racial superiority had always
underpinned the sustenance of all empires, and the British Empire was
no exception to this rule. This belief was the moral foundation for,
and thereafter the justification of, colonialism. Fervently believed
in by the colonial Field officers the idea upheld and reinforced their
personal authority in their day to day dealings with their colonial
subjects. Any appearances which tended to question this faith were
denied, discouraged or actively suppressed, to ensure for colonialism
the unchallenged tenure which it enjoyed.

The story of the publication of the book the "History of the Yorubas",
written by the Rev. Samuel Johnson, the Yoruba Pastor of Oyo town
illustrates this point rather well. The book was completed in 1897,
the year Britain conquered Benin, after twenty years of labour by the
author. The manuscript was sent for publication to a Publishing House
in London. The voluminous manuscript got "lost" in the offices of the
Publisher, who then turned round and offered to pay for it! The
author died broken-hearted in 1901. But luck was with Africa. The
Rev. Johnson had an equally eruditely - educated brother, in the
person of Dr. O. Johnson. From the copious notes and scripts which
the author left behind Dr. Johnson re-wrote the "History of the
Yorubas". It is assumed that the British colonialist of one hundred
years ago, whether he was a field officer in the colonial
administration in Nigeria or a Publisher in London, must have seen
very clearly that the publication of such a sophisticated history of a
colonised people would tend to strike hard at the battlements of
colonialism, and question seriously the reason for its continued

The saving, and therefore the preservation for posterity, of the more
than one thousand year history of Benin land was achieved, and more
importantly encouraged, by the successful accesion to the throne of
his father by Aiguobasinmwin in 1914. His struggle to attain the
throne was successful because of his sterling personal qualities. He
seemed to have been specially structured by fate to wage this
struggle, so that victory in the fight would not elude the land. And
Aiguobasinmwin was himself the first person to acknowledge, and to
mark, the fortuitous roles which fate played in his becoming the first
Oba of the Restoration. He took the title:

Eweka :

" Got it !!! "

Later in his reign he formalised this sense of quiet triumph by
creating a new title, an egie ozema, to celebrate and commemorate the
happy circumstance. The title was:

Eweka - guosa - d'Oba :

"Eweka II purchased the Obaship of Benin
At the hands of the Lord God Almighty".

Chief M. I. Agbontaen is the current holder of this title which is
heavy with the weight of the improbable history that gave rise to it.

A sequence of happenstances coalesced into the full fruiting of the
dynastic Restoration in Prince Aiguobasinmwin: Aiguobasinmwin was a
love-child, born by a woman who, during the period of her pregnancy,
was nominally the wife of another man. The name:


"No subject-citizen disputes ownership-rights with the Oba of

was given to the new-born baby by the cuckolded husband, in acceptance
of, and acquiescence in, the wrong done to him. This was in
recognition of the lofty societal status of the philandering youngman
who had cuckolded him. The youngman was the Edaiken, the Crown Prince
of the Benin kingdom and Empire, Idugbowa, later Ovonramwen, Oba of

Largely because of the above-mentioned circumstance of his birth
Aiguobasinmwin, as an adolescent, was side-lined for the throne, in
favour of his junior half-brother Prince Usuanlele. He left Benin
City with his mother Dame Eghaghe to his mother's ancestral village of
EKHOR in the ISI district of the kingdom. In common with the other
youngmen of his age he learned to be a subsistence farmer and an
oil-palm fruit harvester. These activities helped to augment his and
his mother's living expenses. Later some untoward incidents occurred
in the Palace of Oba Ovonramwen in Benin City. To bring about a
resolution of the problems the Oracle decreed the recall of
Aiguobasinmwin from Ekhor village, and his re-instatement to his
rightful position as the Edaiken, the Crown Prince of the kingdom.
Prince Usuanlele was, by that same token, demoted to the second
position in the line of succession. Royal messengers were despatched
to Ekhor. When Aiguobasinmwin arrived in state at the Palace of his
father, bathed in the white chalk of sanctification and rejoicing
Ovonramwen, in a great public ceremony sat the Prince on his laps, and
holding him to his breast pronounced him the heir to the throne of
Benin. Not that Aiguobasinmwin was in truth the first male child
fathered by Ovonramwen. He was not. Ovonramwen's first-born son was
Prince EHIGIE, later the Enogie of Uwaan village in the Ozoguor group
of villages. But the circumstances under which the adolescent Prince
Idugbowa fathered Ehigie were so casual that Ehigie was never at any
time in any serious contention for succession to the throne. Ehigie's
mother accepted this quite early and did not object to her son
acquiring the Ikharo facial markings which Benin Princes did not wear.
When Prince Aiguobasinmwin was confirmed in 1914 by the colonial
authorities as the next Oba of Benin he went to Prince Ehigie and
ritually "purchased" Ehigie's seniority from him. Ehigie formally
surrendered it to him in a short ceremony. He then prayed for
Aiguobasinmwin, wishing that the restored office would be a blessing
to the Oba-elect, and to the kingdom.

During the seventeen years which elapsed between the British conquest
and the Restoration Prince Aiguobasinmwin led the hardy life of just
another Benin City citizen of those difficult days. The experience in
self-reliance which he had acquired during his adolescent years in
Ekhor village stood him in good stead during this second period of
privation which was to last for nearly two decades. The Prince, on his
return to the City in 1899 from his two years of fugitive existence
which he had spent dodging the British occupation soldiery of the
Benin territories, built himself a house in Ogbe Quarters. Once again
he sustained himself and his household largely by subsistence farming.
He farmed in the suburbs of Benin City, in the area now known as
Evbareke Quarters, through which passes the Edo Textile Mill Road.
Oba Akenzua II, Aiguobasinmwin's son, named the area "Evbareke"
because the territory was an inheritance, a piece of real estate
retrieved from the forbidding equatorial forests by a struggling,
labouring father of, at that time, an indeterminate future.

The local colonial administration made efforts to accommodate
Aiguobasinmwin in the changed circumstances of the Benin City of the
first decade of the Twentieth Century. He was offered the District
Headship of the Agbor territories in 1900. This gift led nearly to
his losing his life when the Agbor people rose against him. Their
grouse was that his father Ovonramwen had been on the verge of moving
militarily against Agbor town when the Benin/British War aborted the
expedition. The cause of the quarrel between Ovonramwen and Agbor had
to do with the activities of the Royal Niger Company of Sir Taubman
Goldie. The Company regarded all the lands of the Niger river basin,
including much of the present-day Northern Nigeria as its territory of
operations. From the Company's base in Asaba its officials subverted
the influence of Benin in the western Ibo territories in the hope of
physically occupying the territories by Treaty-making with the local
kings. It then hoped ultimately to move on Benin City itself and
seize the Benin territories from the Niger Coast Protectorate
Government in Calabar which had as yet not been able to make good, by
physical occupation, its claims to the Benin territories. Had
Ovonramwen had the time to move against Agbor he would have, in
effect, inadvertently been at war with the Royal Niger Company.
Aiguobasinmwin undertook a Meet - the - people tour as the District
Head of Agbor. An argument arose in the Council Hall over some matter
of protocol which had to do with the seating arrangement between the
Benin Prince and the Obi of Agbor, the traditional ruler of the town.
Tempers flared and the people moved against Aiguobasinmwin and his
entourage with cudgels and matchettes. As the Prince retreated from
his attackers, dodging their blows as best as he could he stepped
backwards - into the gaping mouth of an uncovered well. He made a
great somersaulting leap backwards, successfully clearing the chasm of
the well. His attackers stopped in their pursuit. He arrived Benin
safely, and the British authorities sent Chief Osula to take his place
in Agbor. It was said that the ankle which initiated the great
backward spring which saved the day grumbled periodically thereafter
throughout the life --time of the monarch.

Thereafter Prince Aiguobasinmwin became a well-known Government
Contractor. He was one amongst those involved in the construction of
the first roads in the Benin territories. Some civil works in the
City were also awarded to him, like the filling up and obliteration of
the AGBODO pond, the six hundred - year old body of muddy water near
the walls of the old Palace. The pond was the scene of one of the
struggles between the Princes Esigie and Arhuanran, sons of Oba
Ozolua, four hundred years earlier.

At least once, but probably twice did the British authorities in Benin
scramble their occupation forces when alarums went out that Prince
Aiguobasinmwin was on the verge of launching an attack on the British.
He was said to have planned to drive the colonialists out of Benin to
avenge his father's deportation. In the episode of 1906 troops were
moved again into Benin City, and army units in other places put on the
alert. Investigations revealed the alarms to be false. The rumour of
1906 must have arisen because on the First day of January of that year
Sir Ralph MOOR, the conqueror of Benin and the jailer of Ovonramwen in
Calabar, lost power. He lost it to the Governor of Lagos when the
Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was amalgamated with the Lagos Colony
and Protectorate. Calabar became just a provincial headquarters
instead of the capital of a country she had been for fifteen years.
Moor returned home. To the conquered Edos the movement of the
Government to Lagos and the exit of Sir Ralph must have seemed like a
form of liberation, with the jailer walking away and leaving the
prison doors wide open.

On January 1 1914 the two Nigerias, North and South, were amalgamated
under the Governor - Generalship of Sir Frederick LUGARD. Oba
OVONRAMWEN died thirteen days later, on 13 January, 1914, in hospital
in Calabar. Had the two Nigerias not been amalgamated it was likely
that Benin would have permanently lost her monarchy, and therefore the
memory of much of her past history. The Government of Southern
Nigeria was prosecuting the policy of the Direct Rule of the dependent
peoples. This policy was in direct competition with the pre-colonial
traditional institutions for the loyalty of the colonised peoples. It
would naturally therefore seek to further weaken, rather than
strengthening those institutions. As it happened the headship of the
newly created conjoined country of Nigeria was vested in Sir Lugard,
the apostle of Indirect Rule. Lugard had put this policy through its
paces in his beloved Northern Nigeria which he had, like Uthman dan
Fodio a hundred years before him, conquered. He saw that the policy
worked, and moreover that it was cheap to run. Now that he was
additionally in charge of Southern Nigeria he ordered the application
of the policy across the board. His action was reminiscent of what
the Obasanjo/Yar'Adua Government did to Nigeria in 1978 with the Land
Use Decree. The local officials in Benin, led by Resident James WATT,
compelled to carry out an administrative policy which they did not see
any need for, decided to eat their cake and still have it: they would
abide by the new directive and yet maintain the status quo aute.
Chief Obaseki would continue to run the show in Benin, but with a
change of nomenclature, from "Chief" to "Oba". It was here that Prince
Aiguobasinmwin's strength of character, and the hardiness which had
been built into him by all of his previous experiences stood him in
good stead in the struggle he had to wage, so that the Restoration,
which was now inevitable, was vested in the same Oronmiyan dynasty
which had lost it seventeen years earlier. In his fight against the
overwhelming influence and contrariwise disposition of James Watt
Aiguobasinmwin reached outside Benin for help. He appealed to the
Ooni of Ife, whence the Benin dynasty came. He wrote to the Alaafin
of Oyo, his junior half - brother, born after Oronmiyan their father
had walked out on Benin. He appealed to the British monarch King
George V. In Benin City itself the PACT which was made two hundred
years earlier between Oba Ewuakpe and the Benin City chiefs: that the
office of the Oba of Benin would be occupied only by the First Son of
the deceased monarch, to the exclusion of all others - came powerfully
into play, and ultimately carried the day. Aiguobasinmwin was given
the nod by the British, but on a probation period of one year. All
the fears of James Watt were written down as the do's and dont's with
which the restored office was hedged round. Effective power was left
in the hands of Chief Obaseki, now re-titled the Iyase of Benin. But
what had been achieved proved sufficient for the good of Edoland, and
of the near-areas of Nigeria running a culture derived from Edoland.
And it resulted in the encouragement of the codification of the seven
centuries of the history of the restored Benin dynasty.

Prince Aiguobasinmwin was crowned the Oba of Benin on 24 July 1914.
July was the rainiest month of the year, and the new Oba had no Palace
to move into, the Palace of his fathers having been destroyed
seventeen years earlier during the British War. When, decked in his
full regalia, he arrived that day in Benin City from his coronation
venue in USAMA the new Oba moved into the Prison farm which was the
only portion of the old Palace grounds which had not been built upon
by the colonial authorities. He spent the first night as the Oba of
Benin in this scrub-land, under the open, weepy skies. Some
corrugated iron roofing sheets placed over forked sticks shielded the
new monarch from the elements. The following day the building of the
present Benin Palace was begun, with the Oba already in residence.

x x x

Aiguobasinmwin was given two praise-names by his appreciative
subjects, the Edo people. He was called: Ovbiudu :

"the Leopard - Hearted, the Brave One".

a reference to his resolutely standing against the desires of the
local colonial officials in Benin, and successfully wresting his
patrimony from their unwilling hands.

The other praise - name was:

Eweka n'Ologbe :

"Eweka II, the Re-Builder of the Ancestral Homestead".

He acquired this name with regard to his re-building of the Benin

The two praise-names summarise very succintly the trajectory traversed
by the life of this Prince, and the significance of that life to the
people whom, at a critical point in their history, he led as the Oba
of Benin.

He is truly the "Edo Man of the Twentieth Century".

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