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The glory of Benin kingdom and the shame of British Empire

By Anthony Okosun

The ancient Kingdom of Benin was described in glowing terms by early European visitors. When the British came to Benin kingdom, they were shocked and awed to find a very well planned capital city. Already well described both in writing and in sketches by earlier portuguese and other early European travellers, historians and visitors alike; and acclaimed by all as a world class city. Thus the use of the term BENIN CITY by the Europeans to describe Benin Kingdom's geo-political headquaters as far back as the 15th century. In preparing this piece, I have chosen to reproduce materials, direct from the various sources, where I found them, in the course of my research.  The reason is obvious, to convince cynics and critics alike, that the thematic scope and my perspective of the subject matter of this piece, are not the creation of my fertile imagination.

The excerpts reproduced hereunder are from http://www.answers.com/topic/benin-city?cat=travel

"Benin was the capital of the kingdom of Benin, which was probably founded in the 13th cent. and flourished from the 14th through the 17th cent. The kingdom was ruled by the Oba and a sophisticated bureaucracy. From the late 15th cent. Benin traded .... as well as ivory, pepper, and cloth to Europeans. In the early 16th cent. the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the king of Portugal sent missionaries to Benin."

"No trace remains of the structures admired by European travelers to "the Great Benin." After Benin was visited by the Portuguese in about 1485, historical Benin grew rich during the 16th and 17th centuries "

"In the early 16th century the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the King of Portugal sent Christian missionaries to Benin. Some residents of Benin could still speak a pidgin Portuguese in the late 19th century."

"After the fall of Benin in 1897, the British set apart Warri Province, to punish the Oba of Benin and curb his imperial power. The Benin monarchy was restored in 1914, but true power lay with the colonial administration of Nigeria."

Roese, P. M., and D. M. Bondarenko. in their book, A Popular History of Benin. The Rise and Fall of a Mighty Forest Kingdom. wrote:

" The kingdom and the capital city were both called Benin. The city of Benin was laid out in a system of huge straight streets. These streets were very wide, very long, and well maintained although they were not paved. You could travel on foot in a straight line for 15 or 20 minutes and not see the end of the street. Other streets opened from the main streets. They were also wide. Houses were built in rows along all of the streets. On the street front side, houses had covered porches to keep people dry as they sat outside. The Dutch and Portuguese traders who came to Benin by sea were not invited into the nobles' or artists homes. So we don't know how their homes were arranged, or what the back looked like. But we do know about the palace. "

" Dutch and Portuguese traders were invited into the king's palace - and thus we have written records of what the palace looked like. "The king's court is very big, having within it many wide squares with galleries round them where watch is always kept. I went so far within these builds that I passed through four such squared, and wherever I looked I still saw gate after gate which opened into other places."

You will find the piece reproduced hereunder from the British Concise Encyclopedia interesting:

"One of the principal historic kingdoms (12th – 19th century) of the western African forest region. Founded by the Edo people, the kingdom was centred on present-day Benin City in southern Nigeria.With the accession of Ewuare the Great in the mid 15th century, the Benin kingdom was vastly expanded, including the founding of the city of Lagos."

Roese, P. M., and D. M. Bondarenko. in their book, A Popular History of Benin. The Rise and Fall of a Mighty Forest Kingdom, again, wrote:"The Oba had become the paramount power within the region. Oba Ewuare, the first Golden Age Oba, is credited with turning Benin City into a military fortress protected by moats and walls. It was from this bastion that he launched his military campaigns and began the expansion of the kingdom from the Edo-speaking heartlands. The lands of Idah, Owo, Akure all came under the central authority of the Edo Empire. At its maximum extent the empire is claimed by the Edos to have extended from Onitsha in the east, through the forested southwestern region of Nigeria and into the present-day nation of Ghana. The Ga tribe of Ghana trace their ancestry to the ancient Kingdom of Benin."

"The state developed an advanced artistic culture especially in its famous artifacts of bronze, iron and ivory. These include bronze wall plaques and life-sized bronze heads of the Obas of Benin. The most common artifact is based on Queen Idia, porpularly called the FESTAC mask".

From Ijebu.Org, we have the piece, reproduced hereunder:

"The greatest legacy of the ancient Benin Kingdom is their glorious Bronze Sculptures many of which reside in the British Museum in London. At the height of its greatness, Benin's Obas patronized craftsmen and lavished then with gifts and wealth, in return for the depiction of the Oba's great exploits as fabulous and intricate bronze sculptures. Today a strong campaign is being waged to have these antiques returned to their rightful home in Nigeria."

From the book, The Military System of Benin Kingdom, 1440-1897, by Osarhieme Benson Osadolor, M.A., (2001) from Benin City, Nigeria, we have the piece reproduced hereunder:

"The use of iron and development of its technology in Benin kingdom has had influences in the state-building process. Iron technology led to the development of weapons which changed the character of war. Rich iron ore deposits were not available in Benin and had to be imported from the Etsako area - north of Benin - which had large deposits. Benin was able to develop an indigenous capacity to work the iron material into weapons of war. It is probable that this indigenous capacity which was basically the possession of iron smelting knowledge was acquired through training and apprenticeship of Benin blacksmiths in Etsako. By the second half of the fifteenth century when Benin expanded its Empire virtually in all directions, it established control over the iron ore sources which was considered to be essential to the development of iron technology in the state."

The piece reproduced below is from Wikipedia.com http://cc.msnscache.com/cache.aspx?q=72829963803585&mkt=en-US&lang=en-US&w=67c6aa03&FORM=CVRE2

The Punitive Expedition of 1897 was a military excursion by a British force of 1,200 under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson that captured, burned, and looted the city of Benin, bringing to an end the West African Kingdom of Benin. During the conquering and burning of the city, most of the country’s treasured art, including the Benin Bronzes, was either destroyed, looted or dispersed.

In March 1892, Captain Gallwey, the British vice-Consul of Oil Rivers Protectorate (later Niger Coast Protectorate), visited Benin City hoping to annex Benin kingdom and make it a British Protectorate. Although the king of Benin, Omo n’Oba Ovonramwen, was skeptical of the British motives he was willing to endorse what he believed was a friendship and trade agreement. The Benin king refrained from endorsing the Gallwey’s treaty when it became apparent that the document was a deceptive ploy intended to make Benin kingdom a British colony. Consequently the Benin king issued an edict barring all British officials and traders from entering Benin territories. Since Major (later Sir) Claude Maxwell Macdonald, the Consul General of the Oil River Protectorate authorities considered the ‘Treaty’ legal and binding, he deemed the Benin king’s reaction a violation of the accord and thus a hostile act.

In 1894 after the invasion and destruction of Brohimie, the trading town of Nana, the leading Itsekiri trader in the Benin River District by a combined British Royal Navy and Niger Coast Protectorate forces, Benin kingdom increased her military presence on her southern borders. This vigilance, and the Colonial Office refusal to grant approval for an invasion of Benin City scuttled the expedition the Protectorate had planned for early 1895. Even so between September 1895 and mid 1896 three attempts were made by the Protectorate to enforce the Gallwey ‘Treaty’. Major P. Copland-Crawford, vice-Consul of the Benin district, made the first attempt, Mr. Locke, the vice-Consul assistant, made a second one and the third one was made by Captain Arthur Maling, the commandant of the Niger Coast Protectorate Force detachment based in Sapele. In March 1896 following price fixing and refusal by Itsekiri middle men to pay the required tributes the Benin king order a cessation of the supply of oil palm produce to them. The trade embargo brought trade in the Benin River region to a standstill, and the British traders and agents of the British trading firms quickly appealed to Protectorate’s Consul-General to ‘open up’ Benin territories, and send the Benin king (whom they claimed was an ‘obstruction’) into exile. In October 1896 Lieutenant James Robert Phillips (RN), the Acting Consul-General visited the Benin River District and had meetings with the agents and traders. In the end the agents and traders were able to convince him that ‘there is a future on the Benin River if Benin territories were opened’.

In November Phillip made a formal request to his superiors in England for permission to invade Benin City, and in late December 1896 without waiting for a reply or approval from London Phillip embarked on a military expedition with a Niger Coast Protectorate Force consist of 250 African soldiers and five British officers, a trader and an interpreter. His mission was to depose the king of Benin City, replace him with a Native Council and pay for the invasion with the ‘ivory’ he hoped to find in the Benin king’s palace. Unfortunately for Philip some Itsekiri trading chiefs sent a message to the Benin king that ‘the white man is bringing war’. On receiving the news the Benin king quickly summoned the city’s high-ranking nobles for an emergency meeting, and during the discussions the Iyase, the commander in chief of the Benin Army, argued that the white men were on a hostile visit and hence they must be confronted and killed. The Benin king however argued that the white men should be allowed to enter the city so that it can be ascertained whether or not the visit was a friendly one. The Iyase ignored the king’s views, and ordered the formation of a strike force that was commanded by the Ologbose, a senior army commander, which was sent to Gwato and destroy the invaders.

On January 4 1897, the Benin strike force composed mainly of border guards and servants of some chiefs caught Phillips army totally unprepared at Ugbine village near Gwato. Since Phillips was not expecting any opposition and was unaware that his operation had lost its element of surprise, the contingent’s weapons were locked up in the head packs of the African soldiers who were posing as carriers. Only two British officers survived the annihilation of Phillip’s invasion force, which became known as the ‘Benin Massacre’

On January 12 1897, Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson, commanding the squadron at the Cape of Good Hope was appointed by the British Admiralty to lead an expedition to capture the Benin king and destroy Benin City. The operation was named Benin Punitive Expedition, and on February 9 1897 the invasion of Benin kingdom began,. The field commanders were instructed by their commander-in–chief to burn down all Benin kingdom’s towns and villages, and hang the king of Benin wherever and whenever he was captured. The invasion force of about 1200 British Marines, sailors and Niger Coast Perotectorate Forces , and composed of three columns; the ‘Sapoba’, ‘Gwato’ and ‘Main’ Columns. The ‘Sapoba’ column, and the ‘Main column’ reached Benin City after 10 days of bitter fighting but the ‘Gwato’ column was routed at Gwato. Immediately the British invaders secured the city, they began an orgy of looting and destruction. It was an exercise that was carried out by all members of the expedition. Monuments, and palaces of many high-ranking chiefs were looted and destroyed, and finally on the third day the looted Benin king’s palace was deliberately set ablaze. Most of the loot were kept by the looter and 2500 (official figures)religious artifacts, Benin visual history, mnemonics and artworks were taken to England. In late 1897 they were auctioned in Paris, France, to raise funds to pay for the expedition.

After the destruction of Benin, the British Admiralty confiscated and auctioned off the war booty of art to defray the costs of the Expedition. The expected revenue from the looted art was discussed already before Phillips set out on his ill-fated journey to the city of Benin in 1896. In a letter to Lord Salisbury, the British Foreign Secretary, Phillips requested approval to invade Benin and depose the Oba, adding the following footnote: "I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory would be found in the King's house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the King from his stool." Most of the great Benin bronzes went first to purchasers in Germany, but a sizable group is now back in London at the British Museum. The dispersement of the Benin art to museums around the world catalyzed the beginnings of a long and slow European reassessment of the value of West African art. The Benin art was copied and the style integrated into the art of many European artists and thus had a strong influence on the early formation of modernism in Europe.

Reproduced below is another version of an earlier account from Wikipedia  http://cc.msnscache.com/cache.aspx?q=72899154683869&mkt=en-US&lang=en-US&w=ba909344&FORM=CVRE5

"On February 17, 1897, Benin City fell to the British. On that fateful day in history, the city of Benin lost its independence, its sovereignty, its Oba (king), and its control of trade. The city was looted and burned to the ground. The ivory at the palace was seized. Nearly 2500 of the famous Benin Bronzes and other valuable works of art, including the magnificently carved palace doors, were carried back to Europe. Today, every museum in Europe possesses art treasures from Benin. "

The account reproduced below is from the 'Arm' website:

http://cc.msnscache.com/cache.aspx?q=72909368726496&mkt=en-US&lang=en-US&w=4f626301&FORM=CVRE

The events of 1897

Phillips had met Consul General Moor only once, in London, just before his departure. Moor, who had a history of violence against African rulers who did not submit to his authority, had already proposed a military operation against Benin but had been prevented b; his more cautious superiors in Whitehall (military expeditions could become very expensive and produce disappointing returns). Phillips intentions become clear in his despatches to the Foreign Office. Immediately on arrival he called a meeting of traders and officials and wrote a report to Whitehall:

The whole of the English merchants represented on the river have petitioned the government for aid to enable them to keep their factories (trading posts) open, and last but not least, the revenues of this Protectorate are suffering ... I am certain that there is only one remedy. That is to depose the King of Benin ... I am convinced that pacific measures are now quite useless, and that the time has now come to remove the obstruction ... I do not anticipate any serious resistance from the people of the country - there is every reason to believe that they would be glad to get rid of their King - but in order to obviate any danger, I wish to take up sufficient armed force ... I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory may be found in the King's house to pay the expenses incurred.

Before he had received a reply to this despatch Phillips had undertaken his disastrous mission. He had sent a message to the Oba informing him of his intention to visit Benin soon and had received a reply requesting him to delay his visit for some time due to customary rituals during which foreigners could not enter Benin City Phillips ignored several such messages and the advice of a trusted Itsekiri chief to lead his colleagues, carriers and servants to disaster The party of nine British officials and traders together with their servants and carriers, were ambushed on a narrow forest path south of Benin City. Their only weapons, revolvers, were locked away in their luggage. Only two of the white men survived the attack

His decision to undertake this unsanctioned mission was either motivated by personal ambition - to achieve a result before Moor's return - or he was acting under Moor's orders and had, in fact been see up by him to provide an incontrovertible excuse for military intervention Either way Moor got his desire in the violent overthrow of the independent kingdom. The immediate British response was to raise a Punitive Expedition which looted and sacked the City and sent the Oba into exile.

The official version

The ''official version' of these events was that a brave and humanitarian mission was massacred because of African treachery and barbarity. A small but successful war of colonial conquest then punished the perpetrators and freed the populace from the depredations of a 'Fetish-Priest-King' and his rule of terror. Much was made of the practice of human sacrifice in Benin as a justification for interference:

The King of Benin in the treaty he signed with captain Gallwey, had agreed to place himself and his county under H.M.. Protectorate and it was becoming a perfect disgrace that in the Protectorate ... so terrible a state of affairs continued as that in what was not very improperly called the City of Blood.

Captain Boisragon, Phillips' colleague on the journey, and one of the two whites to survive, stressed the humanitarian motive for the mission:

The object to the expedition was to try and persuade the king to let the white men come up to his city whenever they wanted to. All their horrible customs could not be put down at once, except by a strong-armed expedition, but could be stamped out gradually by officials continually going up.

A rarer British official historian suggested:

Phillips opinion was that every pacific means towards approaching the King would not be complete until he as Acting Consul-General paid a visit to the King. This was surely a humane desire, a benign wish, to avoid force if possible.

The Benin perspective

Philip Igbafe, a Nigerian historian comments:

Phillip's visit was against the remonstrance's of the Itsekiri traders, the advice of the Chief Dogho ( a trusted partner of the British), the Oba's refusal and in utter disregard for the traditions and susceptibilities of the Benin people.

The few statements recorded from the Benin witnesses at the trial of the Oba suggest a very different situation to the official version. They indicate that Oba Ovonramwen sought to avoid conflict with the British. Benin had trading contacts with Europe since the fifteenth century with early Portuguese, Dutch and British visitors expressing admiration for the kingdom. However relations had become strained in the preceding decades as the British established permanent trading stations and consulates along the coast and sought to interfere in the internal affairs of African kingdoms.

The 'Gallwey Treaty' had been concluded under veiled threats. The pro forma document was translated verbally from English via a dialect of Yoruba into Edo. The people of Benin have always argued that they understood it as a statement of co operation and trade, certainly not a relinquishing of sovereignty. However its existence was uses as a justification for military action:

It was an insult to the prestige of the Protectorate not to be able to assert its authority within its own limits.

There were internal divisions within the Benin court, dating back to Ovonramwen's accession, and disagreements over an appropriate response to British pressure provided a focus for discontent. Ovonramwen's approach was to refuse visits for all official visits after Gallwey's and to withdraw into isolation from the British, although he still conducted trade via the Itsekiri middlemen. Despite the Oba's attempts to dissuade Phillips from coming, in a courteous manner so as not to provoke him, Phillips stubborn insistence played right into the hands of the radicals who sought to weaken the Oba in the name of defending the nation's sovereignty. The rebels argued that Phillips incursion was a gross insult and that it was too dangerous to allow him into the city and the presence of the Oba. It was hardly credible to the Benin warriors waiting in ambush along the forest path that the party, with its large boxes and over two hundred carriers and servants, was really unarmed.

The Outcome

As Ovonrarmwen foresaw, the attack on Phillips sealed the fate of the Benin kingdom. Within six weeks of the ambush Benin City had fallen. The resistance to the Punitive Expedition was far greater than anticipated by the British but ultimately bows and trade guns were no match for Maxim guns, rifles and rocket tubes. The Oba, 36th of the current dynasty stretching back to the thirteenth century, was deposed. The accumulated works of art from many centuries which adorned the palace were removed wholesale.

A great grandson of Ovonramwen provides a perspective on the outcome:

Many people believe today that the British decided to burn the town as an 'appropriate finale' to the punishment for the people who murdered their sons in cold blood ... Whatever their reason, that should have been punishment enough. But they carried away all our works of art too and today we have to buy them back at extortionate prices from the descendants of those who took them. If the British had been intent on showing us a better way of life, they could at least have given us a better example than to remove our treasures and fire our city.

There is a strong sense of grievance of events which are comparatively recent in the oral history of a people whose dynastic legends are datable back through forty generations to the thirteenth century. After the death of Oba Ovonramwen in exile his eldest son was allowed to return to Benin and the dynasty was restored. The Oba of Benin is one of the most influential of modern Nigeria's traditional rulers.

The Art Treasures

The Benin art treasures were treated as little more than curios when they were first brought to this country but as the wonderful quality of the ivory carving and bronze casting became appreciated it was reflected in ever increasing prices in the art auction rooms of the world. The Foreign Office sold considerable quantities of ivory to defray the costs of the expedition and many of the officers retained collections of their own. The British Museum acquired the leading collection (partly direct from the Foreign Office, the rest by gift or purchase) while much went to the USA and Germany. Pieces were lost or destroyed during the Second World War in Liverpool and Berlin (apparently quantities of Benin art have been rediscovered in the eastern part of Germany since renunciation).

Relations between Nigeria and Britain were cooled when Nigeria was refused loan of an ivory mask which was the visual symbol of the 2nd World Black ~ African Festival of Arts Culture (FESTAC) held in Nigeria in 1977. Since a major exhibition of Benin art at the Museum of Mankind in the early seventies most of the British Museum's collection has lain in storage.

In 1980 the Nigerian Government spent £800~000 on acquiring four Benin pieces and one Yoruba mask at auction in London.

Increasingly within Nigeria, as well as within international organisations such as UNESCO, issues are raised over the legality of holding art collections expropriated by force (there are many precedents for the negotiated restitution of artworks, dating back to the Napoleonic wars). Parallels are drawn with the campaigns by Greece and Egypt for the return of their antiquities.

The Benin artworks belong to a living culture and have a deep historical and social value which goes far beyond the aesthetic and monetary value they hold in exile.

Reproduced hereunder is a Memorandum submitted by Prince Edun Akenzua to the British Parliament, making the Case for the return of Benin Cultural properties, removed from Benin Kingdom by the British.

Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix 21, House of Commons, The United Kingdom Parliament, March 2000.

The case  of  Benin

I am Edun Akenzua Enogie (Duke) of Obazuwa-Iko, brother of His Majesty, Omo, n'Oba n'Edo, Oba (King) Erediauwa of Benin, great grandson of His Majesty Omo n'Oba n'Edo, Oba Ovonramwen, in whose reign the cultural property was removed in 1897. I am also the Chairman of the Benin Centenary Committee established in 1996 to commemorate 100 years of Britain's invasion of Benin, the action which led to the removal of the cultural property.

History:

"On 26 March 1892 the Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul, Benin District of the Oil River Protectorate, Captain H L Gallwey, manoeuvred Oba Ovonramwen and his chiefs into agreeing to terms of a treaty with the British Government. That treaty, in all its implications, marked the beginning of the end of the independence of Benin not only on account of its theoretical claims, which bordered on the fictitious, but also in providing the British with the pretext, if not the legal basis, for subsequently holding the Oba accountable for his future actions."

The text quoted above was taken from the paper presented at the Benin Centenary Lectures by Professor P A Igbafe of the Department of History, University of Benin on 17 February 1997.

Four years later in 1896 the British Acting Consul in the Niger-Delta, Captain James R Philip wrote a letter to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, requesting approval for his proposal to invade Benin and depose its King. As a post-script to the letter, Captain Philip wrote: "I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory would be found in the King's house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the King from his stool."

These two extracts sum up succinctly the intention of the British, or, at least, of Captain Philip, to take over Benin and its natural and cultural wealth for the British.

British troops invaded Benin on 10 February1897. After a fierce battle, they captured the city, on February 18. Three days later, on 21 February precisely, they torched the city and burnt down practically every house. Pitching their tent on the Palace grounds, the soldiers gathered all the bronzes, ivory-works, carved tusks and oak chests that escaped the fire. Thus, some 3,000 pieces of cultural artwork were taken away from Benin. The bulk of it was taken from the burnt down Palace.

Number of items removed

It is not possible for us to say exactly how many items were removed. They were not catalogued at inception. We are informed that the soldiers who looted the palace did the cataloguing. It is from their accounts and those of some European and American sources that we have come to know that the British carried away more than 3,000 pieces of Benin cultural property. They are now scattered in museums and galleries all over the world, especially in London, Scotland, Europe and the United States. A good number of them are in private hands.

What the works mean to the people of Benin

The works have been referred to as primitive art, or simply, artifacts of African origin. But Benin did not produce their works only for aesthetics or for galleries and museums. At the time Europeans were keeping their records in long-hand and in hieroglyphics, the people of Benin cast theirs in bronze, carved on ivory or wood. The Obas commissioned them when an important event took place which they wished to record. Some of them of course, were ornamental to adorn altars and places of worship. But many of them were actually reference points, the library or the archive. To illustrate this, one may cite an event which took place during the coronation of Oba Erediauwa in 1979. There was an argument as to where to place an item of the coronation paraphernalia. Fortunately a bronze-cast of a past Oba wearing the same regalia had escaped the eyes of the soldiers and so it is still with us. Reference was made to it and the matter was resolved. Taking away those items is taking away our records, or our Soul.

Relief sought

In view of the fore-going, the following reliefs are sought on behalf of the Oba and people of Benin who have been impoverished, materially and psychologically, by the wanton looting of their historically and cultural property.

(i) The official record of the property removed from the Palace of Benin in 1897 be made available to the owner, the Oba of Benin.

(ii) All the cultural property belonging to the Oba of Benin illegally taken away by the British in 1897, should be returned to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.

(iii) As an alternative, to (ii) above, the British should pay monetary compensation, based on the current market value, to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.

(iv) Britain, being the principal looters of the Benin Palace, should take full responsibility for retrieving the cultural property or the monetary compensation from all those to whom the British sold them.

This brings us to the all important question, that was asked by the BBC in  2004,

Who should own historic artefacts ?

http://cc.msnscache.com/cache.aspx?q=72851492514477&mkt=en-US&lang=en-US&w=e33a5042&FORM=CVRE

According to the BBC:

"Aboriginals in Australia have seized bark etchings while on loan from two two British museums.  The Dja Dja Wurrung tribe have accused the British museums of 'colonial arrogance' But the British Museum and Royal Botanical Gardens have said they are committed to preserving collections for the benefit of the worldwide public and for future generations. The latest spat over ownership of historical artefacts comes nearly two hundred years since the Elgin Marbles case, when Lord Elgin removed 56 sculpted friezes from the Parthenon in Athens and housed them in the British Museum. Many other countries claim to have suffered losses of artefacts including China, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia and Egypt."

Certainly it is time for the British Museum and indeed all museums the world over, to return all stolen cultural properties to their original owners, especially the Benin cultural properties.  I am not a bini man, I am an Esan man. The interesting part, is that just like one from Delta state, who is interested in the history of Delta state, Nigeria  will soon find himself studying the history of Bendel State, then Midwest region, thereafter, Western region. Same applies to any Esan, Etsako and many others, especially in Edo and Delta states of Nigeria. Before Oba Ewuare introduced the construction of the moat defensive system, which were dug all around the ancient capital of Benin Kingdom, there was no Esanland Nigeria. According to historical accounts, the Esans are people who crossed the moats. Thus the name (Esan-Fua).  Among the leaders of these groups, those, who were paternally derived from the Benin royal family, were crowned as the Onogies/Enogies (Heads) of the various Esan towns, during a latter period of reconcilliation. [This explains the presence of Esan names in Lagos. e.g. Eko (small settlement) Idumu (small settlement) like in Idumu-Ota, Idumu- Agbo and Oloto (inheritor of land). Till this day, any new Oba of Lagos is usually crowned by the Oba of Benin.  

Any serious attempt by an Esan man, Etsako man or Ika man etc, to trace and know more about the history of his people will not go beyond Oba Ewuare's era. Ironically, as a child growing up in Esanland Nigeria, I heard a lot of oral narratives about events that happened in Edo land (Benin Kingdom)  during the reign of the Ogisos. The Ogisos were the rulers of Benin Kingdom, long before the introduction of the current Obaship system. (Ogi-[king] Iso-ancient former name of Benin.) Much  of the activities that occured, before Oba Ewuare's era, during the Ogiso's era and during and after Oba Ewuare reign e.g accounts of wars, cultural , traditional and customary practices and other aspects of the ways of life of the people were recorded as engravings  in an ancient picture form of writing, on wood and bronzes, which were all looted by Britain. Thus, the need for Britain to return these priceless pieces of Benin Kingdom's cultural properties, cannot be over emphasised.

The argument by Britain, that they are helping the true owners of these cultural properties to keep these properties is insanely insultive. Nigeria's federal government should help the Oba of Benin's  palace  to put in place a secure environment for the safety of these cultural materials, if and when they are returned. Nigeria must engage the help of the United Nations, to secure the return of all cultural properties derived from all the peoples, who are now part of Nigeria; where ever such properties may be found, anywhere on the face of the earth. If Nigeria must drag Britain to the world  court to recover these properties, so be it. All Benin derivitive peoples, whether based in Nigeria or outside Nigeria, must unite to recover  these cultural properties to enable them interprete these engraved picture writings and be more grounded in the culture, traditions and customs of their forefathers.

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