Benin(Edo) Influence Before the British Invasion
Professor Ademola Iyi-Eweka (
According to Benin/Edo history recorded in artifacts( many of them now lying
in the vaults of private and public museums in Europe), songs and stories,
Lagos (EKO) was established as a WAR CAMP by Oba ORHOGBUA in the 1500's. It was an attempt by Oba Orhogbua to control the present day coastline of
Nigeria about 600 years ago. Oba Orhogbua had been trained in Portugal in
one of their naval schools. He understood the power of navigation and sea
power because , the Portuguese power was based on naval power then. On his
assumption to the throne, he organised either independently or with the help
of the Portuguese, an expendition to established control over the present
day coastline, extending from Togo, the present day Republic of Benin down
to the borders of modern Gabon. He signed treaties of friendship with many
of the local rulers. Garrisons made of Edo/Benin soldiers were established.
You can begin to see how the Edos got to Ghana where they are generally
regarded as the ancestors of the modern day GAS of Ghana. You can see how
the ancient Edos got to Togo and Dahomey ( Republic of Benin). That was
why the rulers of Dahomey had to seek the permission of the Oba of Benin
before they could change the name of Dahomey to the Republic of Benin. In
fact it is on record that when Eyedema of Togo visited Nigeria in the late
1960's, he was sent to the Midwest. While in Benin, he was taken to
Ishan/Esan Division, where he saw the home of General Isidahome of Ishan and
the palace of some Enogie''s in Ishan/Esan. I was then a teacher at Ubiaja
You can figure out the connection between Dahomey and Isidahomey. There he
was told the meaning of EYEDEMA which tallied with the Togolese
interpretation. He found out his origin in Ishan/Esan land. Isidahomey was
the Edo general who led the Edo army into the area later called Dahomey.
Even before Eyedema and Kerekou's visit there was a race to know who was the
most EDO between Togo and Dahomey. Most important institutions like their
Universities were named after Benin.
In Lagos/Eko, once a decision was reached to make it a permanent garrison,
the establishment of a government with its accompanying bureacracy became
necessary. It was necessary to have somebody to control what goes on in the
new camp-EKo/LAGOS. There were others who had argued that the occupation
and settlement be disbanded since it was too far from Benin City/EDO NOBA
YE. Oba Orhogbua countered the arguement by saying that ," you do not just
break camp and desert a settlement you have established." He now ordered
one of his sons to go back to Lagos /Eko and take charge with title
ASIKPA-ASIKPA HIEN EVBO RE- which is the Edo translation of Oba Orhogbua's
It is on record that the first eight to ten Obas of Lagos/Eko
bear distintively EDO NAMES. Professor Biobaku in one of his writings has
confirmed this. Some writers spell it ESIKPA. The change of names from
distinctive Edo names to yoruba names has to with acculturisation.
Succeding rulers of Lagos/Eko married yoruba (ANAGO) speaking women. Even
in 1999, I am bearing a yoruba name, probably influenced by mother who is a
yoruba woman. If we were to go by the law that a child must answer only
their immediate father's name, my children would be bearing whatever their
first name is with their surnames being ADEMOLA.. IYI EWEKA would simply
disappear. You can hardly connect my children to the royal family or even
EDO just 50years after my death. You can begin to understand the reason
for change of names in Lagos/Eko traditional rulership.
The successor to Oba Orhogbua, Oba Ehengbuda died enroute to Lagos/Eko. He
got drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. His death is always reenacted at IGUE
Festival with songs and the movement of a man being tossed about by the
ocean tides or waves. His death also led to a revolution in Edo/Benin
military warfare. Hitherto, Obas of Benin always led the army to battle,.
That job was given to the Chief EZOMO of Benin. He became the commander of
the Benin royal army. It was a job that made many Ishans/Esan and Etsakos
generals in the Benin army, even up to time of the British invasion in
1897, despite Oba Ovonramwen's attempt to purge the Edo/Benin government of
The establishment of the dukedom of Lagos/Eko was accompanied with the
establishment of the traditional bureacracy. This is more evident in the
traditonal dressings-white clothes and white caps chiefs and the titles they
bear eg BAJULAIYE etc. You have to follow these chiefs into their homes
and traditional shrines, for those who cared to preserve theirs, inspite of
christianity and Islam to see THE EDO MAN,RELIGION AND CULTURE operate in
their lives and Lagos/Eko Go to Iga Iduganran, watch some of the rituals
performed at the shrines-prayers and songs, inspite of christianity and
Islam . You will see that EDO CULTURE sticks like a velcro to anything it
It is important to state at this point, that the title OBA OF LAGOS/EKO is
as recent as the British occupation of Nigeria. Up till the 1920's,
whoever was the ruler of Lagos/Eko was referred to as the ELEKO. He was not
regarded as an Oba on the same footing with the Oba of Benin. In the battle
for Lagos in the 1850's between Akintoye and Kosoko, both confirmed the fact
that Lagos belong to the Oba Of Benin, and that they had the support of the
Oba of Benin on their claim to rulersship. The Oba of Benin hated the
British and saw them as a political cancer, whose aim was to destroy his
political domination of that part of the world. The Oba preferred the
Portuguese whose interest was only trade. Britain not only wanted trade,
they also wanted land. Therefore the battle for Lagos/Eko in 1850 and
finally the 1897 battle for Benin City was inenvitable. Some historian
tended to see the battle for Lagos/Eko as a Kosoko and Akintoye affair. It
was actually a battle between Britain on one hand and Benin/Portuguese on
the other .
Kosoko was vehemently anti-British and pro slave trade ,because of the
activities of the British missionaries in Abeokuta and their support for
Akintoye influnced by Madam Tinubu, who was herself a great slave trader.
In the end Britain and Akintoye/Madam Tinubu won and Kosoko/Benin lost..
Kosovo took to flight and hunted from place by British agents, his second
son OLOJO ended up in Benin City just before the British invasion. Olojo
was arrested by the Benin soldiers as a spy for the British, since he spoke
yoruba and came from Lagos. Hauled before Oba Ovonramwen in chains with
instant death staring at him, he was reported to have shouted at the top of
his voice in yoruba," I AM A DESCENDANT OF ASHIPA THE FIRST ELEKO OF EKO. I
AM OLOJO THE SECOND SON OF KOSOKO . I CAME BACK HOME TO CLAIM MY RIGHT AND EDO HERITAGE. I AM HERE TO SEE WHAT HAS REMAINED OF ASHIPA'S HOUSE." Oba Ovonramwen immediately ordered him freed and those who brought an EDO PRINCE in chains to the palace were lucky to have escaped with their lives. Olojo Kosoko was given a piece of land where he built his house opposite the
Oba's Market. Later he converted it to a MOSQUE because he was a muslim and
converted many families into Islam. That mosque is still standing at the head of Lagos street, Benin City, opposite the Oba' s market. That street was named LAGOS STREET because of Olojo Kosoko, the Edo/Eko man who came back home. His descendants in Benin today simply goes by the name OLOJO without the Kosoko attached.
It is also important to point out that, the last rulers of Lagos /Eko and
Bagagry whose bodies were brought to Benin City for burial, were those that
immediately preceeded the British Occupation of Lagos in 1850. When
Akintoye died, the British authorities refused the body to be taken to Benin
City for burial on the ground that Lagos was now a BRITISH TERRITORY. To
support their arguement, they forced OBA DOSUMU of Lagos to sign the article
of ANNEXATION OF LAGOS as belonging to Britain in 1861.
It is also necessary to point out that the ancient Benin Empire has only one
OBA and that was the Oba of Benin. Many of the other traditional rulership
from Lagos through parts of Ondo,Ekiti, Ogun states to the west and Delta,
Anambra, Rivers and Balyesa states to east and Edo state owes their origin
and creation to the Obas of Benin.
It was a treasonable offence for anybody to call or equate himself with the
Oba of Benin. DUKEDOMS were created by Obas beginning from the OGISO ERA
for their children for two reasons: The first reason was to reduce the strifes which accompany succession struggles when the empire needed stabilty. Therefore adult children of deceased obas were therefore given their own dukedoms to rule as if they
were the Obas of Benin. Sometime parallel institutions were created like in
Issele-Uku, Ughelli, Warri ( Olu of Warri) Owo,Idanre (OKE) Irrua etc Oba
Eweka the second created one for his brother EHIGIE at UWAN village near
UGBOGIOBO on the old Lagos road and a few kilometers from NIFOR, Oba Akenzua
created three for his brothers Uwaifiokun at OBAGIE, Ogiesoba at AIDEYANOBA
and IYIEWUAREFO (my father) at OGHADA near Abudu in 1935.
Oba Erediauwa created more than eight dukedoms in 1988 -Ologbo,Abudu,
Orogho, Owa etc for his brothers. Inspite of that safeguard, there WERE still violent struggles for the throne in Benin City.
The second reason for the creation of dukedoms was for generals to be able
to hold to hostile terriories. This was their reward for loyal services to
the Edo Nation.
Sometimes, prominent and loyal generals are also made
dukes(ENOGIE/ONOGIE/OVIE/OBI)). They all report to the Oba of Benin and are
hereditary. Many of these generals marry into the royal family to give it
legitimacy and power. When Benin City fell in 1897, the first thing the
British conquerors did, was to proclaim the independence of these dukedoms
and its territories as independent of the Oba of Benin. Warri/Delta
province was carved out of the Empire and a British resident posted to
Warri. In what remained of what they now call Benin Province, Oba Eweka,
the second, was forced to sign off his right to Owan, Ishan, Etsako areas.
He had no choice . Benin had already lost Lagos in the 1850s and the
remaining yoruba states were effectively occupied by the Lagos Colony
administration as Benin City fell 1897. The power of the Oba of Benin was
now limited to what we now call the "BINI-SPEAKING" areas of EDO STATE. By
the time the British authorities discovered the damage they have caused as a
result of their political arrangement, which was aimed at curtailing the
power of the Oba of Benin, it was too late. What they resorted to, was
to acknowledge the Oba's sovereignty over these areas by subterfuge. Cases
over land and succession in these areas were often referred to Oba Eweka,
the second, to settle eg. 1920/22 case in Lagos, the Enogie of Ewu's stool
in Ishan in the 1930's and the Obi of Ogwashi-uku stool in the 1930's. etc
The present rumblings or grumblings by some Enogies in the "BINI-SPEAKING
AREAS" of Edo state, in the aftermath of the face off between the MILAD and
the Oba of Benin, has to do with the imbalance this British creation has to
done to the ENOGIESHIP in the Bini-speaking areas. While those in Ishan,
Etsako etc including those in Delta states (some are actually regarded as
first class Obas)) are paid about 15000 naira a month, those from Benin
areas are paid only 2000 naira. This is inspite of the fact that all of
or most of them were created by act of DUKEDOMSHIP by the Oba of Benin.
The mistake the agitators have made is that they should have argued on
salary increase, stressing the historical fact that, they were all created
like the Olu of Warri, Ovie of Ughelli or nearer home the Enogie of Ewohimi
or Irrua by the Oba of Benin. What it seemed they are now doing in Benin,
is challenging their creator who has a traditional mechanism for allowing
those stools or titles to LAPSE after the death of the present agitators.
An example can be found in UDO. Udo was settled by Prince Aruaran and his
followers. Prince Arauran was a giant like prince with all brawn and no
brain. As a result, he was cheated and pushed aside by his younger brother
Oba Esigie for the Benin throne. Prince Aruanran left Benin in anger and
set up a settlement called UDO in place of EDO. He established a parallel
bureucracy in Udo. There were skirmishes between his supporters and that of
Oba Esigie. Then suddenly, Prince Aruanran disappeared into the thin air.
He led an army into an expedition and never returned till this day-700 years
later. When Prince Aruaran did not return, some of his followers fearing
persecution or were actually persecuted, packed their things and fled to an
area today identified as ONDO. In fact the name ONDO is partly derived from
these run-away settlers who were described as EWAN NE UDO-the deserters of
Udo and a tree under which travellers between UHE(Ile-Ife) and Benin would
normally stop to rest. The Ondo man would call it ODE EDO. But anybody
who understands Edo language will tell you point blank that, this an Edo
sentence meaning --"the way to Benin.." All Obas of Benin for the past
700 years, refused to instal another duke/Enogie at UDO. The Iyase of Udo
and a few approved chiefs by the oba of Benin have been running the affairs
of the community. There is even some tradition which claim that the first
traditional ruler of Ondo , was Prince Aruaran himself. He was nicknamed
OSEMWUGHE ( yoruba- OSEMAWE) meaning -" this guy is something to be
watched" as he escounced himself between Benin City and Ile-Ife. He got
fed up fighting with his brother and simply packed his things and moved
further inland. It is the descendant of the Iyase of Udo ( he is not even a traditional
ruler) who we understand is leading the present agitation.
Another example is in Isi clan. The village is called today EGUA EHOLOR.
It used to be called EGUA OGISI (EGUA OGHE OGIE ISI ). The Enogie
misbehaved and the Oba of Benin , not willing ot move on him militarily,
allowed him to die. When the children wanted to bury the Enogie, the Oba of
Benin gave them some task to fulfil. It was an impossible task and since
they could not fulfil it, they could not bury their father. Since they
could not bury their father, they could not ascend the throne of OGISI.
And so the title lapsed. Since nature does not allow vaccum, the Oba of
Benin sent in chief Eholor to Egua Ogisi as the administrator and the PRO
for the Oba of Benin in ISI clan Chief Eholor simply changed the name of
the community to Egua Eholor because that was his seat of administration.
The children or decendants of the Ogisi are still there.
Another example is title of the Olu of Warri. From all intent and
purposes, it has lapsed because of the behaviour of an Olu of Warri.
For almost over 80 years, there was no Olu of Warri because the family of
the Olu of Warri could not fulfil the task the Oba of Benin had imposed on
them on the death of the last Olu of Warri. It was the British
intervention that restored Oluship of Warri in the late 1930's. You can
now see why the Itsekhiris cooperated very well with the British Invaders in
the destruction of Benin Empire in 1897. Contrary to what people say, the
Urhobos fought with the Benin army. Inspite of threats and inducement, the
Urhobos would not tell the British commanders the location of Benin army in
the battle for SAKPOBA/OSASIMWIOBA. The British army was routed and the
commander killed. His head was brought to Benin, where it was hung on a
tree. British soldiers got hold of the head when they entered Benin City.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think this is enough history for one day.
Ademola Iyi Eweka.