What You May Not know About Iyase Okizi
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Dr. Patricia Fadaka-Igbinovia New York (March 24, 2021)

Iyase Okizi was very strong in the hierarchy of Benin Kingdom as Oba Ovonramwen (1888-1897) appointed him as the highest chief. The Oba was the supreme power with the Iyase and other chiefs with various functions under the supremacy of the Oba. The title of Iyase is not hereditary unlike many other chieftaincy titles. The Oba chooses a man of sterling qualities to be his second in command and such a person must be loyal, faithful, articulate, honest, critical thinker, acute in decision-making, a good counsel, and dedicated to perform the functions assigned him. Oba Ovonramwen (1888-1897) chose Iyase Okizi was one of such outstanding royal men and he was also in charge of the Benin Army, even while the Omo N’Oba was in exile in Calabar. Okizi was a famous warrior, strong in battle and humane in victory. Iyase Okizi headgear could have been any of these Iyase Masks by bronze caster, Owie at: (http://www.hevasof.com/chiefiyaseremask.htm)

According to Oronsaye (2017), On December 26, 1896, the team that left Old Calabar for Sapele included James Robert Philips, the acting Consul General of the Niger Coast Protectorate, with Captain Alan Maxwell Boistragon, the commandant of the Niger Coast Protectorate Force, and captains Sarle and Ringer (colleagues of Captain Boistragon). While Captains Sarle and Ringer proceeded on an expedition to destroy some Isoko towns and villages, the acting Consul General of the Niger Coast Protectorate, James Robert Philips with Maxwell Boistragon proceeded (without approval from the British Home Office) to Benin with the intent of killing the king, Ovonramwen, destroying other lives, and property and looting the palace of its treasures of ivory tusks to enable them defray the cost of the expedition. Chiefs Odogho and Dudu saw the intrigues being planned by the white men. Chief Odogho had openly warned the white men that it would be suicidal to visit Benin as the king was performing customary rites. On January 1st 1897, Chief Dudu secretly sent an Itsekiri courier to Benin to deliver an urgent message to the king saying: “the white men are bringing war.” 

Despite the king’s warning that he would not be available to receive Philip and others due to the Igue festival, Philip still proceeded to Benin, pretending it was a friendly visit. The warning message was received during the Igue festival that was started by Oba Esigie as a Christian-like gathering for renewal of faith and it involved fasting and praying, abstinence from sexual relationship for ensuring purity-no worldly pleasures, no alcohol, no women, and no visitors. The Oba Ovonramwen had to confer with his top palace chiefs about the urgent message about an imminent white men war with Benin. 

The Oba claimed the white men were his friends and that they should jet them in without harm. Some chiefs agreed with the Omo N’Oba, supporting their stance with the fact that Mr. McTaggart had visited some years earlier without prior approval and that he was a friend. Iyase Okizi, the highest chief and next in rank to the Oba, and supreme commander of the Benin Army, vehemently opposed this view and remained positively sure that the Itsekiri authentic message should be taken seriously because within the past two years, the Benin border guards had successfully preempted the Niger Coast Protectorate Army from forcibly entering the Benin territories and that some of those captured (Sierraleonians and Lagosians were being held captives in Benin jail. When the Benin soldiers captured them, they had high-level weapons. They had pretended to be rubber collectors. Iyase Okizi reminded the Omo N’Oba about the fate of kingdoms (e.g., Nana of Olumo) that have been captured by the soldiers of the Protectorate. The meeting did not reach any decisive stance on what to do about the un-invited white men.

Oronsaye (2017) said that: “It was obvious the Iyase was determined to kill the intruding white men” (p. 44). Iyase Okizi was highly supported by his field commanders of which Ologbose Irabor was one. 

Iyase Okizi reorganized the Benin army within two days January 2nd and 3rd 1897 to take charge of the impending “white men war”. He requested all chiefs (Ekhaemwen) to provide him with strong men as part of the armed force. Young Ekhaemwen such as, “Aiyobahan, Ehondor, Ehanire, Ihaza, Inneh, Obseki, Obanor, and Osague” contributed some of their personal guards and the force was highly reinforced. Iyase Okizi made a senior field commander, Ologbose Irabor to lead the task-force against the uninvited visitors. The strict directive from Iyase Okizi to Ologbose Irabor was that the white men should not be allowed to enter the city and if he allowed them, he would endure the consequences. When the Omo N’Oba eventually got to know of Iyase’s plan, the militia and their leader Ologbose were already en-route Ugbine. The king wanted to reaffirm that the visitors should be allowed to see him and not harmed. 

Ologbose Irabor performed his duty. By January 4, 1897, Phillips and his harmful troop walked into an ambush organized by the Benin Army, under Commander Ologbose Irabor. At first, they assessed to ascertain whether or not they were friends. The 200 African soldiers who accompanied the nine white men had machetes and some with revolvers tied to their head luggage. Ologbose and the other commanders started to kill the intruders at the command of Iyase Okizi who was not on site. 

According to Iyi-Eweka (n.d), while Oba Ovonramwen was in exile in Calabar, “in 1899, Iyase OKIZI was the defacto Oba of Benin and not Chief Agho Obaseki” (para. 6). The British soldiers had arrested and killed General Ologbose after he lost the guerrilla warfare he carried out at Okemue. Oba Ovonranmwen’s eldest son (Crown Prince, Aiguobasimwin) was on the run with a battalion of Benin soldiers. 
Iyi-Eweka says: 

Iyase Okizi, was an Edo patriot and soldier, who organized the defence of Ekiti land against the Ibadans. At his defence in 1897 trial after Benin fell, he was more concerned with Yoruba soldiers fighting on the side of the British. Some of these soldiers he had trained in the art of warfare while he was in Yoruba land. He did not deny his involvement in the massacre of 1897. In fact, he gave the order to General Ologbose, to use all means possible to prevent the white man, from making it to Benin through Ughoton. When the British soldiers showed their faces, he gave the order to attack. Since he was not physically on the scene of battle, the British agent could not convict him (para. 7). 

Iyase Okizi had the sole responsibility of organizing and leading the native administration, thereafter. Having been made aware that Oba Ovonramwen was not returning from exile, he began the construction of a new palace. Other chiefs (the royalists) and the British agents) became envious of status. “He died suddenly in his sleep in the early days of 1900 without spending one night in his new palace” (para. 6). There was no Igue festival in Okizi’s time as it was a period of interregnum.
Chief Agho Obaseki, who was the right hand man of Oba Ovonramwen and a close ally of the British administrators, became the Iyase of Benin during the reign of Oba Eweka II. Aiguobsinmwin was enthroned Oba Eweka II in 1914 and Igue festival was celebrated after the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, killing thousands of Edo people. The people protested and British administrators intervened and called for its restoration. 
Some pertinent questions from the author of this review, Dr. Patricia Fadaka-Igbinovia, include:

1) . Who took out Iyase Okizi or did he die a natural death?

2) . Why is Iyase Okizi being side-lined in terms of monuments representing those patriots who served to preserve the pride and strength of the Benin Kingdom?

3) . Why do some historians sideline Iyase Okizi (by omission or commission)?

4) . Why is history not condemning the British administrators who pillaged, robbed, and killed thousands of defenseless people just to promote the image and wealth of the British monarchy?

5) . Why was the total destruction of Benin by the white men called “Expedition” and the killing of the nine white men called “Massacre”? This should have been the other way round were it not for “twisted history”.

6) . Who are the descendants of Iyase Okizi? 

To be continued
Dr. Patricia Emwinghama Fadaka-Igbinovia (signed)

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