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ESAN NATIVE LAW AND CUSTOM ON MURDER

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Like adultery this had a limited sense; it did not mean just taking another’s life. It was no offence, for instance, to kill a man from another village; on the contrary the killer had only proved to his people that he was fully a man to be able to go to another village with which there was no Okoven: and return home with a head as a trophy! Similarly death at wrestling contest was no murder. Everybody felt sorry for the dead man, but the victor had committed no indictable offence. - In those days when-might was right (queerly in world politics even in the twentieth century, MIGHT IS STILL Right!) murder meant the’ killing of a man or women from the same village o killing a person from a village under the same Okoven.

Although the attitude of modern old men to the question “what did our forefather do with murderers? is shifting and ambivalent, the one point of agreement is that in those days as now, a murderer at once forfeited his own right to live. He was sent out to Eguare where he became the property of the Onojie who was lord supreme. He went into the matter not with a view of a possible acquittal of the accused, guilty or innocent, but with a view of achieving equitable reparation to the family of the deceased, and to himself who had lost a subject! If the accused had a slave, a child or a junior brother, he gave ONE HEAD IN PLACE OF THE ONE LOST to the family, who was aggrieved while he himself remained at Eguare at the Onojie’s pleasure. He might allow him to live as his slave, he might be sold or he might be killed. His farm and house were seized by the Onojie. This was the law in districts like lrrua, Uromi and Ewohimi which had the more atrocious Enijie in other places. Like Ekporna, Ugbegun etc with less greedy and oppressive rulers, the accused was brought to Eguare and was led to the bush to die by self-hanging. No one must beat him or touch him lest he too became a murderer. He was merely led to the bush and advised on the quickest way to overcome ‘the horror of self-destruction by hanging. The village to which the man killed belonged went to loot ah the offender had. Sometimes if the deceased had powerful and influential relatives they went to loot the family of the accused.
In Irrua, particularly during Eromosele the Great’s time - Abuede (1876- 1921), it was not only the family of the criminal but his village of birth that suffered the looting leaving only the belongings of the immediate family of the deceased.

Killing a person from another village merely meant the killer had drawn .his own village into an. inter-village free shooting and where the killer’s village felt it was unprepared for war, it saved the situation by handing over the culprit to the angry village.
From the above it would appear as if Esan law on murder was confused and inadequate, since the treatment of murderers was not uniform or even definite anywhere. The cause of these apparent irregularities was the Onojie. Where he was powerful and dreaded his word was of course, law and any murderer with all he possessed automatically became his property. The act also gave him an inroad to loot and plunders the village of the murderer. Where the Onojie was weak and constitutional, the dreaded Inotu - the strength of the masses, handled the matter, from trial to judgment. After the trial proceeded with a terrifying war dance, the men did exactly what they wished. He might be killed on a stake, or asked to buy himself at an exorbitant rate (NON DUBI), a rate few men could afford as it ranged from ten to twenty ebo which equals about 373,322 cowries weighing 33.3 cwt or about 1,696.88 kg, requiring some sixteen hefty-men to carry (see Arithmetic of Cowries), today about N15.56, but in modern value, equivalent to about N60.00 to N100.00 (NOT the Nigerian useless Naira of 1994 of the Inotu might sell him outright and share the proceeds. The power of the Inotu waned after the establishment of the first Native Court in Uromi in 1903

There were other offences which Esan native laws and custom classified a as a capital offences like murder although the punishments were not as severe as for all categories of murder. The seriousness of these crimes were admitted by the swiftness of the Edion who inflicted the prescribed punishments.
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