The Benin Empire- the past, the present and the future as it affects contemporary society- a paper delivered at National Union of Benin Students Seminar- 9th July 2010, by Hon. Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo.
With profound humility, I salute His Excellency-Dr. Pius E. Odubu-the Deputy Governor of Edo State, His Royal Majesty- Oba Erediauwa CFR, ably represented by eminent Benin chiefs, the Chief Host-Prof. O.G. Oshodin- V.C. of University of Benin, The Enogie and executives of Bini Students, Uniben, officers of Edo State Government here present, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
I salute the academic wisdom in the leadership of the National Union of Bini Students expressed in the setting up of this seminar which is apt as far as cultural education and renaissance is concerned. I wish to point out that I chose to rephrase the title of this seminar paper to “The Benin Empire; and the challenges of Benin nationalism in Nigeria” because Benin empire was conquered by the British Government forces in the infamous Benin Massacre of 1897, in a bid to colonize the totality of ethnic-nations around the River Niger; and thereafter, Nigeria as a geographical nomenclature and nation-state was created in which the people of old Benin empire are subset or subjects or citizens. This review became critical because the federal Government of Nigeria and her security forces will be indisposed to an expression that apparently implies succession.
The Webster's encyclopedic dictionary aptly captures the Benin Empire by its definition of Empire thus “a union of dispersed territories, dominions, colonies, states and unrelated peoples under one sovereign rule”. On the other hand, Webster's defines Nationalism as 'devotion to the nation as a whole, Patriotism'. Dialectically, the Benin Empire refers to the social, economic and political evolution and imperialist exploit of the Binis who lived in a pre-colonial African nation called Igodomigodo between 1440-1897. Organizationally, the Benin Monarchy was structured in such a manner that commands the respect and loyalty of the Binis and the envy of other ethnic nationalities, this endeared the Kingdom to the Portuguese who were the first trans-Atlantic foreigners to visit the ancient Kingdom for exploratory and trade relations. The loyalty of the Binis towards the sustenance of Benin monarchy, its cherished artifacts and cultural attributes is an expression of nationalism; this attributes are still strong till date. In fact some persons are referred to as apostles of Benin Agenda not only because of the political relevance of the word but because these persons will do anything to protect the Benin heritage. The Portuguese documented several events and exploits of the Benin monarchy. I make bold to say that the origin of peoples and races are controversial and that of the Binis is no exception. The reign of Benin Kingdom assumed a mysterious (inexplicable events) dimension within Africa's societies during the reign of Oba Ewuare in 1440 AD. To buttress the might of pre-colonial administration of Benin Kingdom, Dr. Peter P. Ekeh in his paper entitled “Ogiso Times and Eweka Times” he posited inter alia “the Ancient Africa experienced an abundance of civilizations and state formations. They stretched back to ancient Egypt of some five millennia removed from our times through Kush, Ethiopia and other Nilotic traditions of civilization to the triple state formations of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai and the Hausa and Yoruba states of West Africa. Except for the more ancient instances of Egypt and Kush, which existed long before the Christian era, most of these state formations were contemporaries of Benin. Remarkably, with the single exception of Ethiopia and Benin, all the significant civilizations and state formations of ancient Africa ceased to exist before the arrival of European imperialism introduced a new era in African affairs. Both Ethiopia and Benin had strong royal traditions, even after the advent of European imperialism in Africa. In the 1970s, Ethiopian royalty collapsed, leaving Benin monarchy as the sole survivor and exemplar of royalty from ancient times of African history”.
The main point that relatively comes to mind is that Benin was central to the cultural and pre-colonial political evolution of some contemporary states of Africa, and its glory can not diminish as long as history provides the bedrock of rational reasoning; this perhaps accounts for the land mark statement by High Priest Osemwengie Ebohon “Benin is the centre of cultural microcosm in Africa”. Attempts by some pan-Yoruba intellectuals and apologists alike to substantiate the accounts of Benin evolution as an offshoot of the Yoruba evolution have been popularly discountenanced by the 'fallacy' in the Yoruba's story that they are direct descendants of God almighty having regards to Ododuwa; that Ododuwa came from Heaven or the Sky with some sands and hen on his hand, this polemic defies all known scientific reasoning. According to Omo n' Oba n' Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa CFR, the Oba of Benin, in his landmark book- Yes Sir, Your Obedient Servant, the 'actual' historical antecedent of Benin in respect to the 'origin polemic' was laid to rest. In fact, the Oba of Lagos concurred with our reverend Oba of Benin that the Yoruba migrated or are descendants of the old Benin Empire, based on the Ikaladeran dynastical accounts.
The emergence and fame of leadership of Oba 'Ogun' n' rie Ewuare earned him the appellation of the 'Great', in view of the conquest of inter-ethnic rivalry and Gestapo-like-administration of the colonies and sub-territories of the Empire. It is noteworthy that Oba Ewuare's father died in a mysterious circumstance which some historians attributed to his high-handed ruler-ship of Benin Kingdom, Ogun amongst other children of the fallen Oba who fled for refuge fought severely to reclaim the throne of Monarchy. It is said that Oba Ewuare was blessed by the mysterious god of forest with powers to perform unspeakable actions and magic. The Benin moats situated in the present day Oredo Local Government Area were partly developed or built by Oba Oguola and Oba Ewuare as security mechanisms to check external aggressions in the head quarters of the Kingdom which also serve as the center for Military mobilization and reinforcements.
Without much ado about the pre-colonial exploits of the Benin race which are abundant in our libraries and internet, I like to comment on the Benin contemporary existentialism with regards to the federation of Nigeria. It is a well known tenet of political-socialism that one of the purposes of federalism is to protect the interests of all the federating units; however, how well the Benin nation has felt in the Nigeria federation is debatable. In fact, to me, that Nigeria political authority has not succeeded in repatriating all looted treasures and artifacts carted away by British forces during the British expedition cast serious aspersion to the negation of the values of federalism to the detriment of the Benin people. This struggle is supposed to be pursued up to the International Court of Justice, in The Hague by the Federal Government of Nigeria, because Britain has continued to maintain that these artifacts belong to the people of ancient Benin Kingdom, in Nigeria. So, it is not a case of lost but found; but a case of “na we thief am, but we never talk when we go give una, and if we nor give una, nothing dey happen”. As President of Benin National Congress, I made efforts to file legal suits against all illegitimate holders of Benin artifacts. We secured a similar suit in 2008 against the Federal Government, but we had to withdraw it because we needed to review the defendants as the National Commission for Museums and Monuments was adamant to be a defendant, as they could turn a hostile witness against us since they are custodians of the remnants of the looted artifacts; as well as the relevant data of the subject. In terms of landmass, population and natural resources, the people of present day Edo South senatorial district stand tall, but how have we developed in terms of infrastructure and human capital development lives much to be desired. We are grateful to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole for restoring a sense of belonging in Edo South people and other senatorial districts in terms of relative equity and social justice; at least, our people have not been so carried along since 1999, so may the Governor live long and may his tenure blossom, amen.
The concepts of political marginalization, resource control agitation are expressions which are relevant in contemporary Nigeria because the various ethnic nationalities express their grievances as to their relatively small proportion or share of the national cake. As students, learning about your cultural values and inter-ethnic relations are not parochial as most people would want you to believe because, when the cheeps are down, your lineage will become your immediate constituency. I started Edo cultural activism in Uniben when I was in 200 levels in the year 2000; so what you are doing today is part of those legacies I left behind to my younger generation of students. I call on Edo leaders of thought to close ranks and forge purposeful cause of unity and development; because Edo people are yet to realize their full potentials in terms of district delineation and mineral resources exploration. It was the quest to define Edo Agenda that I proposed the Benin National Summit in 2008; and when we presented it to His Royal Majesty (November 2008), he appreciated the philosophy behind the plan, but some centrifugal forces worked to undermine the convocation of the Summit.
I challenge you to rise up and say no to godfatherism and misuse of scarce resources, remain critical of Government (Local, State and Federal) activities and uphold the values of hard work and transparent behavior.
Oba gha t' okpere, Ise.
Thanks and God bless you all. Amen.