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Edo Custom of Succession and Inheritance

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

By Samuel Idighi Udinyiwe Igbe

Humans develop first as persons and from persons later, fathers and mothers evolve. The union of fathers and mothers create families; they have children and families grow. Families become communities, villages, towns and countries.

When persons die they leave what they have here on earth. If they were young, they will leave little. In that case, siblings can take these things over in peace, if they were not memories too bad for parents. If people were grown up, but with no families of their own, Edo custom will allow younger siblings to inherit what they had. Lf any of the parents survive the deceased, they see to the orderly inheritance of his or her property. But there are special circumstances

when the custom allows the family to use its best judgement. In normal circumstances, Edo custom frowns on the old inheriting the property of the young. When mothers and fathers die, their children have customary rights of inheritance. These rights do, in measure, favour the eldest of the male children in the patriarchal culture of the Edo. And these children are the focus of the custom of succession and inheritance.

Women have their quiet dignity, yet are they wives. Wives, they belong to their husbands in Edo custom. The general idea is that the family will share out their property to the children of a deceased woman strictly according to age and without discrimination as to gender if she had proven instructions for a departure from this, that instruction should be respected. The custom is at best laissez faire and at the worst silent on what happens to her estate if she dies survived by her husband with an eye on the custom however, the husband will do his best to see that only the children of the woman inherit her estate.

Wives in Edo land have had little more than their Clothing and jewellery and the Akpeleku in which they kept them. So, inheritance of their estate has been little of an issue. Therefore, the custom has not evolved to deal with it any different from the treatment of the husband’s estate

If a father dies in Edo land, his children bury him according to Edo Custom. Having carried out the rites, the eldest son alone will undertake the ukomwen ceremony before he can succeed his father as head of the family, unless the father had previously indicated that ukomwen needs not be done, because of a new faith

If the deceased had more than one wife, all the siblings and the other wives will be subject to the new head of the family in the home the deceased left behind, until the children acquire their own homes and the other wives married again.One by one, the children that can will leave that house, to build their own homes And the girls that find spouses or the means to build their own houses will leave when they can.

The small family will grow larger as siblings build their own homes and have their nuclear families Cousins multiply and circumstances of space and living make them live apart. Because Edo families are close, the people developed the idea of an Okaegbee of the extended family for easy identification of lineages.

Ogiso Oriagba had ascended the throne of his fathers under the gerontocratic system and he had come determined to bring stability to the monarchy. A system that made a king out of a man counting the days to his grave did not make for a stable kingship if a son will take over from the father it will ensure that a younger person will come to the throne, he thought.

He came to the throne and took on the fight for a new system. That system is known now as succession by primogeniture. Given the past problems of the old system he backed up the new with the rule that the next of km shall succeed the monarch, if he died and had no child of his own.

If it is good for the King, it should be good for the nobles as well, he thought. He wanted the Eclion isen, the kingmakers of the land  at that time, to adopt the same system of succession for the same reasons.

He invoked the spirit of Erinmwindu and the ancestors of the land to guide his thoughts and to bring the members of the Royal Council on his side. In the end, the Royal Council did agree with him and they adopted the system of Primogeniture. All members of the Royal Council swore to it at the Erinmwindu Shrine that.

If the King dies, his eldest son shall succeed him to the throne.

lf he has no son his next of km shall succeed him to the throne.

The Edion ‘isen who later became the Seven Uzama, has absolute duty to crown the son or if there is none, to find the next of kin and to crown him instead.

If a member of the Edion ‘isen dies, the King shall invite the eldest son of that member to take his place. If he has no son, he shall invite the next of kin, to replace him.

Both the King and the Edion ‘isen shall have the joint duty to maintain a stable system of monarchy and of its institution of which the nobles are a part.

Since that time, all the families with hereditary titles in the land have operated and still operate under the system As with titles, so with properties, duties to the family and debts (if any) owed by the dead no one may take the credit and ignore the debit, the custom holds. They ah passed and still pass on, to the surviving eldest son.

As people, towns and territories grew, so did the Edo land to find how best to organise and to hold them together in order, in their communities. They evolved the system of the Odionwere for village and communities and that has helped. Just as the Okaegbee of a family, the oldest male citizen in the village or community took on the title after the customary ceremonies. Because villages were much smaller, he rules for succession to the monarchy and to the title of kingmakers. Could not apply. That is still the case today.

Conflicts within and between villages were inevitable and the people of Edo land had to resolve and to control them. They set up the IK’edionwere (the Council of Edionwere) to do this. Every Odionwere was a member of the council. The oldest member was the leader. Predictably, he was often very old; so, he nominated a younger member as the Oka ¡ko to help him.

Igodo, a strong and ambitious Odionwere of Idunmwun Ivbioto was the last Oku iko. He emerged as the first Ogiso and abolished the I k’edionwere. He mooted the idea of succession by heredity although none of his two Sons succeeded him to the throne. Ogiso Ere and his son Ogiso Orire, ascended the throne after Igodo one after the other. But they were the kinsmen of Igodo and their succession was in accordance with his perscription.

Ogiso Igodo set up a Royal Council in place of the IK’edionwere. He drew its member’s from the 1k ‘edionwere and from some of the members of the Odibo Ogiso - a group he had set up to help him enforce his authority. When Ogiso Orire passed on, he had no son to succeed him. Then the Royal Council reverted to the old practice and selected the oldest member of the Council to succeed to the throne.

The Odibo Ogua (Owere Nekhua) who were Iater the Edion ‘isen, ‘were all excluded from taking their turns in the arrangement since, they were the promoters, advisers and stewards of the monarch. They later became the kingmakers.

The Council had reasoned that the crown should go round many families instead of it being limited to just one. And they thought that with the oldest man becoming king, there would be no reason for the throne to be vacant.

They did it for just over fifty years, and in that period, as many as nineteen kings had been on the throne. Instability had come back to the system. The king on the throne was always fearful of the man to succeed him. The man was waiting in the wings, and at times, was planning for his early exit. Besides, they were old when they came to the throne and were often too frail to devote their time and energies lo strong leadership. Instead, they spent much of that time defending themselves against those they thought were their enemies. They had no choice then, but to go back to the son succeeding his father.

These then, were the experiences that shaped the Edo customary practices of succession. These practices have become the rule among the people and have worked well over many centuries. The law of the country recognises the practices and expects those who go before the courts to have kept strictly to them. They are not in conflict with any law of Edo State and ought not to be in conflict with the laws of other states in the country. The custom of a people is sacrosanct.

But there is a question to ask: What does the Edo succeed to? The answer is not as difficult as it may seem. They succeed to titles that are hereditary and they include the monarchy. Other hereditary titles are those of the Seven kingmakers and some other tiles that successive monarchs have made hereditary for chiefs and families they favour.

However, there is a sense in which all eldest male children are successors. They succeed their fathers as heads of the family, but they do not succeed to the sole ownership of his estate.

Edo Custom of Inheritance and that of Succession are applicable after all rites of burial have taken place. No child can succeed his father and have a share in his estate or solely inherit his property until his father has been properly buried and the child has played his full part.

If the eldest male child of the dead has observed the customs to the full, he will inherit the Igiogbe. That is the Edo custom. If the dead had no son, the eldest daughter or the next of kin, if he has no children, will inherit it.

But what for the Edo and for the proper observance of this custom is Igiogbe? If there are many houses in a compound, fenced or unfenced, the Igiogbe is that house among the lot, where the dead lived and died. If he had carried on with the beliefs of his forebears, that house would have his Aru ‘erha and Aru ‘iye as well as his living area.

The place of burial of the deceased is not customarily relevant in determining the Igiogbe. The Edo is usually buried in his home. But he could also be buried elsewhere, as happens to all in Ogbe Quarters of Benin City. The Omo N’Oba’s body alone is buried in the soil of that part of the City. That is the custom.

Edo custom is that the eldest son chooses the site for his father’s interment. The site he chooses would usually be located in the lgiogbe if he wants him buried in a compound. If he chooses the compound of a building which is not the lgiogbe, he must accept the chance that his father’s remains may rest with any of his younger siblings who may be allocated the building as an inheritance.

In Edo culture, the Ogbe is expected to endure forever it embodies the life of the founder and the people and it will bear his name forever. The Edo culture expects this to be so that is why the people give names such as Ogbeide, Ogbenede, Omokpaogbe, Ogbewe, Ogbewi, and so on.

The other properties of the deceased are shared among all the children, the older having his share before those younger or in accordance with the proven wishes of the deceased. But those wishes must not compromise the Edo Custom of Inheritance. in the event that the deceased had more than one wife, no urhoo, that is, door (this is a euphemism for wife) in his harem shall be left out Thai is, the children of every wife must be catered for, bearing in mind that no urho can have a share twice before another urho .

An odafen (a father and head of a home) can leave a share of his properties to a wife who was especially serviceable to him while he was alive He may do this through appropriate instruments. The family should respect his action, but the odafen has to be seen to respect the people’s custom, which holds that Om ‘oriukhu omwan. Literally, this means that the child is the father’s or the mother’s inheritor the custom expects all the children who shared in their father’s inheritance to look after their mothers.

Edo custom does not accept a child born out of wedlock and raised outside his father’s home, unknown to the wife at home and to the siblings. The family will have to satisfy itself that the child’s mother ke ‘wu. This means that the child’s mother cooked for his father where the father lived lf however, he was raised in the father’s home, or if he was known to the family and was accepted by the father in his lifetime, he will take his rightful place among the children

In Edo custom, the properties of a deceased person must be shared among the children as soon as the burial ceremony has ended unless he or she left a will or other proven instruction to the contrary. IF there is an instruction, it should be obeyed unless it is not consistent with the custom. The custom gives the family no right to delay this process.

(Samuel Idighi Udinyiwe Igbe is the Iyase of Benin.He retired from the police force in 1978 as Commission of Police.)

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