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Benin-Ife-Yoruba Controversy

My understanding of, and position on the Edo/Ife/Yoruba relations is concisely stated at pages 3 and 4 of my publication entitled "Benin In World History" first released in 1997. Copies of the publication were made available to the public through some bookshops, gift shops, and book stands in Lagos Benin and Abuja. Copies may still be available in the bookshops and gift shops at Falomo Shopping Centre, Lagos, at Five Star Hotels' gift shops at Abuja and at the Edo Line in Benin City. My position remains firmly as I stated them in 1997, and I feel particularly happy and vindicated that my views therein are in full accord with Omo N'Oba's declaration of Benin history on the subject, in his recent Autobiography entitled " I Remain Sir, Your Obedient Servant"

Some commentators, including Professors of History in the South-west zone have granted interviews accusing the Benin monarch of looking for and courting cheap popularity and playing politics. Unless they have been wrongly reported or misquoted, their comments smack of intolerance and illibralism, particularly as they emanated from members of the Ivory Tower and their History Departments that are supposed to be centres of excellence in the Liberal Arts and the humane disciplines in the universities.

The Benin monarch was writing his Autobiography and where else should he be telling his readers and the public who his ancestors were and who they were not, I take my stand with His Royal Highness, the Oba of Lagos, who has maintained that Omo N'Oba is in the right. Every person, however highly or lowly placed, has a right to tell the public in his autobiography, who his ancestors were and who they are were not, and he or she is to be believed until the contrary is conclusively established. That is my understanding of the contribution made by the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, during his response to a question put to him on the matter. That response was objective, principled and dignified.

Already made available to the public by the mass media are the statements from his autobiography where the Benin monarch declared his ancestry from Oranmiyan through Ekaladerhan and direct to the Ogiso dynasty. Also made available by the media to the general public is the statement made by the Ooni of Ife debunking Oba of Benin's declaration of the ancestry of Benin Kings, insisting that Benin is one of the kingdoms founded by Oduduwa who descended from heaven to Ile-Ife with four hundred deities. Thus, while the Benin monarch's declaration of his ancestry is earth-and historical, the reaction by the Ooni of Ife has raised the matter to a higher level of the mythical and the celestial. At that level of the mythical and the celestial at which the Ife monarch and the protagonists of his point of view are conducting their response to Omo N'Oba, it seems that no progress can be made on this controversial issue unless and until that celestial father figure is
demystified and humanised and his earthly identity is revealed and established.

In his Lugard lectures on the origin of the Yorubas, 1955, Dr. Saburi Biobaku identified the Oduduwa of History, not as the one who descended from heaven but as a fugitive prince who arrived Ile-Ife by the 11th century from the East, and was made king and called Oduduwa by the people of Ife. But Biobaku did not go further than that and he left undisturbed the prevailing theory that Mecca was the homeland of Oduduwa. Many other scholars and historians have on the other hand, advanced the viewpoint that the homeland of Oduduwa is most likely to be within what is now the Nigerian geographical area, not outside Nigeria, and most certainly not as far away as Mecca.

Studies and research in areas such as these grey areas of our national history are what our professional historians in the universities, the emeritus and the not yet emeritus professors, should be doing for the country, and for the promotion of unity based on authentic facts and credible historiography. Had these been done before now, this long-standing simmering controversy should have been rested and resolved long ago.

The news that the Alafin of Oyo is considering making known his views on the issues raised in the controversy is most welcome. Like the Benin monarch, the Alafin is historically acknowledged to be a direct descendant of the same Prince Oranmiyan. What the Alafin of Oyo has to say about who his ancestors were and who they were not would shed considerable light on this matter, particularly as the name Yoruba was until the last century or two, the clan name of the Oyo people until the missionaries at Abeokuta and the colonial administrators extended that name Yoruba to cover all the clans and people of Southwestern Nigeria, who like the Oyos greeted with Eku, for example Eku abo, Eku aro, Eku joko, Ekuijometa etc. Thus was the designation Yoruba extended to the other clans namely, Egba, Ijebu, Ekiti, Lagosians (eko,) Akure, Ijesha, northern Nigeria peoples who greet with Eku, etc. All these peoples and their Obas are stakeholders in this ongoing
controversy. Their statements on the founding of their kingdom and who their ancestry were, would shed considerable light on the ongoing debate in which it is claimed that their kingdoms were founded by Oduduwa, who descended from heaven to Ile-Ife with four hundred deities.

Apart from the main controversy, there are side issues in the controversy that demand historical attention. Firstly is a lingering impression that because Prince Oranmiyan came from Ife to Benin, he was an Ife prince. That impression is refused and is not borne out by many examples of which we are witnesses even in very recent times. We shall begin with the case of one "Chief Eleyemi" of the Village Headmaster fame in a television play, who was here in Lagos making his round of jokes in his cast. Very few knew he was a prince until suddenly one day we learnt that his people from a town in Ijebu Remo had called on him to return home to become Oba of his town.

Today, "Chief Eleyemi", probably born in Lagos, but who certainly spent a good part of his life in Lagos is Oba in his home town. The questions are does the fact of coming from Lagos to ascend the throne of his ancestors in his homeland make him a Lagos Prince? The answer is an emphatic NO. Also did he have to be sent home by the Oba of Lagos. T he answer too is No. He needed only to have been sent off by his family and town folks resident in Lagos.

The above case study of "Chief Eleyemi's" home coming from Lagos to his hometown in Ijebu Remo, is replicated in many other examples of princes who in recent times returned home from Lagos to their homelands to ascend the thrones of their ancestors. They include "Councillor Balogun" also of the Village Headmaster cast who is now an Oba in his hometown. Others include Oba Adesanoye of Ondo, late AIhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako, Etsu Nupe, etc. The list is endless. The present Alafin of Oyo too returned home from Lagos to ascend the throne of his ancestors. All these aforementioned royal fathers came from Lagos to their hometowns to ascend the thrones of their ancestors. They are not regarded as Lagos princes. The case of Prince Oranmiyan cannot be an exception, unknown to and strange to the experience of Nigerian peoples and in fact to the history of mankind in general; in which we are being told that a prince with no pre-existing blood relationship was
approached and begged by the Benin kingmakers to come and rule over the Benin Kingdom.

Thus, in the light of all the foregoing, historiography in Nigeria must consider in earnest the Benin antecedents of Oduduwa of history through the Oranmiyan Ekaladerhan Ogiso connection; and that Ekaladerhan and Oduduwa could be names of one and the same person at two different periods of his life history, firstly as Ekaladerhan in Benin and later as Oduduwa in Ife. For example the present Benin monarch, in the years before his father's ascension to the Benin throne in 1933 was known as Prince Solomon Eweka, thereafter he became Prince Solomon Akenzua and after his own coronation in 1979 he is now known as Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, Oba of Benin, three different names at different periods of a life time and he is one and the same person.

Another issue that has been imported into the ongoing controversy is the membership of the Western House of Chiefs by Oba Akenzua II of Benin, father of the present monarch of Benin. On this issue, it is necessary to state clearly, if only for the information of our youths and future generations, that Oba Akenzua II, did not become a member of the Western House of Chiefs because he was a son of Oduduwa but solely because of his exalted position in the Western Region of which his kingdom was a part, at that period in Nigeria's history.

All historical records and evidence on Oba Akenzua's reign, that spanned both the colonial period and the post-Independence era uptill his transition in 1976 severally and collectively establish that throughout his long reign he resisted all overtures and pressures to make him a Yoruba or a member of Egbe Omo Oduduwa; to the extent that he personally founded and led the Benin-Delta Peoples Party to agitate for a separate region for the non-Yoruba speaking peoples of the Western Region, a cause that was achieved by the creation of the Midwest Region by Plebiscite during his life time. The statement by Omo N'Oba Erediauwa in his Autobiography is in order with and in full agreement with the position that his illustrious father had maintained and defended consistently, namely, that the Benin Kingdom is neither Yoruba nor is it a kingdom founded by Oduduwa. It is therefore difficult to see the point being made or scored by bringing Oba Akenzua II of blessed
memory into the ongoing controversy.

In addition, one of the factors militating against objectivity in the ongoing controversy is ethnicism and a feeling among some in the Southwest that as the majority ethnic group west of the River Niger, going by contemporary ethno-geo-politics, they should have been and must be the Alpha and Omega all the time, in the past, in the present and in the future. But history is a matter of facts and not of illusions of present grandeur. Were it not so, how can one explain the historical reality that great and powerful United States of America of today was a colony of Britain, instead of the other way round.

Ugowe writes from Benin-City

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