The ancient Benin kingdom is unarguably one of the last empires in the African continent. The cohesion in the Kingdom, typified by the reverence accorded the throne of the Omo N’Oba N’Edo, no doubt, contributed to the sustainability of the kingdom. But the cord of unity almost snapped some 24 years ago, when Ogiamien Osarobo Okuonghae, the Head of the Ogiamien Royal Dynasty, disappeared mysteriously. His successor, Ogiamien Rich Arisco Osemwingie, like the proverbial child with the hilt of the sword, demanded for the death that killed his father by declaring, in 2015, the Ogiamien as an independent monarchy. The government of the day rose to the occasion by arresting him and arraigning him. In this piece, HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE traces the genesis of the crisis and how Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki resolved the issue to bring everlasting peace to the ancient kingdom.
United as one fist, for centuries, the palace of the revered Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo and the Ogiamien Royal Family kept the faith in historical Benin ever since the signing of the famous Ekiokpagha Treaty of 1200 AD, when the last Ogiso, King of the Sky in Bini, Ogiso Erhebor, resisted the coming of Prince Eweka 1, the son of Oranmiyan as the Imperial Majesty of the ancient Benin Empire.
Arising from the treaty, a coronation rite which involves a mock battle is usually fought between the Edaiken, the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom and the head of Ogiamien Family before the ascension of the Edaiken to the throne of his ancestors.
For centuries, peace survived as a result of the famous peace pact but the age long amity was, however, tested in 2015 during the run up to the coronation of incumbent Oba Ewuare II.
The 1998 mysterious disappearance of Ogiamien Osarobo Okuonghae was however a painful blast. Citing his independence as a distinct traditional ruler of Igodomigodo (the old name of Benin) 17 years after, his successor, Ogiamien Rich Arisco Osemwingie, had pronounced himself as his Imperial Majesty of Utantan Benin in 2015. He hinged his bravado on ancient historical hard facts.
In line with the old adage which holds that having two monarchies in a kingdom amounts to anarchy, the state government under former Governor Adams Oshiomhole promptly ordered Ogiamien Osemwingie’s arrest seven days after the declaration and docked him.
He was arraigned for proclaiming himself the Ogiamien of Benin Kingdom without the authority of the Oba of Benin.
Seven years after, the royal rumble in Great Benin appears to have calmed down, an action which apparently prompted the state government to enter Nolle Prosequi as regards the case against Ogiamien Osemwingie.
In a letter dated April 29, 2022 and signed by Mr. Oluwole Iyamu, SAN, the Edo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and addressed to the Registrar Magistrate Court 4, Benin, wrote that the state government decided to enter nolle prosequi following an agreement by the Ogiamien to revert to his official statutory title as Ogiamien of Benin Kingdom as recognized under the government’s Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law and legal notices issued thereto.
Besides, Iyamu explained that the action of the government was also as a result of the Ogiamien Family’s decision to withdraw all pending claims and/or appeals against the state government, Benin Traditional Council and/or any other authority arising from or related to any claim of sovereignty or traditional authority outside of the position recognized by the laws.
The Attorney General noted that the decision to prosecute the high chief in Charge No. MOR/148C/2015 and other legal and administrative charges arose because of his actions and utterances at a time of traditional transition in Benin Kingdom.
He added that the actions were deemed to be a breach of the government’s Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law and a clear and present danger to the peace and tranquility of Benin and the entire state.
The spokesman of the Great Ogiamien Royal Dynasty, High Chief Monday Wehere, hailed Governor Godwin Obaseki for resolving the royal tiff between the Ogiamien Royal Family and the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Ewuare II.
Chief Wehere, who spoke on behalf of the Ogiamien Royal Family, commended Governor Obaseki for restoring the ancient, family which dates back to the Ogiso Dynasty, back to its original official statutory position as the Ogiamien of Benin in line with the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law and Legal Notices Edict No 37 of 1968.
He emphasised that the Ogiamien Royal Stool was recognised by the state government way back in 1968, noting with dismay that all the traditional rulers who were recognised in 1979, 10 years thereafter presently use the appellation of either His Royal Highness or His Royal Majesty.
Unimpressed with the efforts by the state government at brokering an enduring peace in the kingdom, a coalition of civil rights groups in Edo State appealed to Oba Ewuare II, to abolish the title of Ogiamien and the Treaty of Ekiokpagha, as both have outlived their usefulness.
Speaking on the theme “Sovereignty of the Benin Throne”, the spokesman, Mr. Imasuen Amowie Izoduwa, lashed out at the Ogiamien, who he insisted were opportunists as the land they occupied in the last 157 years belonged to the Ogisos of which all the the Obas of Benin were proud extension of.
Izoduwa let it be known that the majority of the Obas didn’t observe the Ekiokpagha mock battle because of the insignificance of the practice.
He derided the battle, adding that it is more or less a ceremonial practice during the coronation phase of the newly crowned Oba of Benin.
Izoduwa said that the magnanimity of the Oba of Benin influenced his decision in considering the title of Ogiamien as hereditary and also as his chief, that was so because they recognised the services of Ogiso Evian to his kingdom; otherwise, apart from the Osogan myth, it is regrettable that there is no other beneficial service to the kingdom attributable to the Ogiamien succession.
He emphasised: “We, therefore, plead with His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II, Ogidigan, as a result of these overwhelming facts to abolish this Ekiokpagha Treaty which is built on deception and lies and also renders the Ogiamien title useless as in the first instance, he was the one who gave relevance to that title.”
The royalist passionately pleaded with those who might attempt to distort Benin history by giving full recognition to the Ogiamien title in the state to desist from it.
The immediate past Public Relations Officer of the Edo Civil Society Organizations (EDOCSO), Mr. Osazee Edigin, amplified Izoduwa, noting that members of civil society were ready to go the full distance to protect and preserve the sanctity of the rich Benin cultural heritage.
He reiterated the determination of the members to resist any attempt by any institution or individual to distort Benin history just as he pledged his unflinching loyalty to the Benin monarch.
With a dismissive wave of the hand, Chief Wehere, who was arrested along with Ogiamien Osemwingie, however countered the activists, insisting that it is the Ogiamien Royal Family that gave the kingdom the popular traditional swords, Ada and Eben in Bini, which are the symbol of authority of the Oba of Benin.
He mused: “It is on the Oba’s letter head. That is why we say that there can never be an Oba without Ogiamien. The British gave us our coat of arms. Nobody gave us. Documents do not lie; pictures do not lie. There’s no family in Benin that has its coat of arms except the Ogiamien”.
Notwithstanding the opinions of hardliners in the different camps, there is no shadow of doubt that the end seems to be in sight as regards the squabbles between the Oba Of Benin, Omo N’Oba Ewuare II and the Ogiamien Royal Family.