By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
This is certainly a rough period for the Isekhure of Benin Kingdom, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, who was suspended by the Benin Traditional Council (BTC) for alleged flouting palace rules as the chief priest of the shrine of the Oba. The feud between the embattled chief and the palace of the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare 11 (Ogidigan), climaxed on Wednesday when top Benin chiefs invaded the palace of Isekhure, located along Sakpoba Road Benin City, allegedly to secure the Erimwi-Idu shrine, belonging to the Oba, and, in the process, destroyed every item that gave the place the semblance of a palace including the status of Isekhure erected in the palace several years ago.
The blow dealt on Isekhure is a pointer that this Oba will not tolerate any attempt by any of his chiefs to take for granted the monarchical rules of the kingdom. The chief priest of the Oba was alleged to have failed to perform his duties when Oba Erediauwa joined his ancestors and even when Oba Ewuare 11 ascended the throne last year.
The Iyase of Benin, who announced Isekhure’s suspension, last week, after pronouncing the allegations against the chief priest, narrated the history of the Ihogbe family and cited reasons the rituals usually performed by the Isekhure on behalf of the Oba was returned to the Ihama who, according to him, is the original performer of those rituals.
He said, “The Isekhure of Benin is a member of the Ihogbe Palace Society of Benin, the leader of which is the Ihama of Benin. Ihama was one of the traditional spiritual personages who travelled with Prince Oranmiyan from Ife to Benin City in about the middle of the twelfth century AD. Isekhurhe was, as the family grew in Benin, one of his male children.
The present responsibilities of Isekhurhe were part of the traditional duties of Ihama. When, as a result of old age, the Ihama found it difficult to walk from his Ogbe in Ihogbe quarters to the palace to perform some of his allocated rites, he pleaded with the reigning Oba Ewedo to empower one of his sons to take over the performance of the rites on his behalf. Uku Akpolokpolo approved and later in about 1280 AD, created the title Isekhure, the position in which the descendants of Isekhure functioned for their father until the present Isekhure decided, for reasons best known to him to desecrate it.
“He (Isekhure) designated his house as a palace where he held court in which he sometimes reviewed cases already dealt with in the Oba’s palace. Senior chiefs were at times openly bad-mouthed and vilified by him and during those times, he declared that the chiefs were not senior to him and that he would not pay respects to them again as palace cultures demand.
He turned himself into a be all and end all, and a seeming authority in the Benin Culture and tradition, especially palace procedures. He even pronounced himself the head of the royal family”. The Ihogbe family replied the BTC, describing the allegations or face legal action. When this ultimatum was issued, people who understand Oba Ewuare 11 said the chief priest was asking for more trouble.
In Benin, it is common knowledge that the BTC speaks on behalf of the Oba and therefore any threat issued against BTC is a threat against the Oba. And as it is generally known, no body fights the Oba, and the Ihogbe family threat to go to court worsened the matter. After the family issued that threat on Monday, on Wednesday, at about 9am, top palace chiefs, led by Chief Eduwu Ekhator, the Obasogie of Benin Kingdom, invaded the palace of Isekhure with policemen to execute the instruction of the Oba.
Their mission was to secure the Erimwi-Idu shrine and other properties of the Oba still in the possession of Isekhure. This created traffic jam along Sakpoba Road, Benin-City for several hours, as some youths, who wore a T-Shirt with the inscription “Ihogbe youths”, destroyed the status of the Isekhure and every structure erected in the compound which gave the place a semblance of a palace.
Family members wept uncontrollably as they watched. Before Ekhator ordered the youths to commence the demolition, Isekhure, who locked himself inside his residence since the Oba’s emissaries stormed his place, came out and engaged Ekhator in a heated argument. He accused them of bringing policemen into his compound to arrest him.
However, Ekhator urged him to allow them take possession of the Oba’s property in the palace, but fearing that he may be arrested, Isekhure ran back into the palace and locked the door. The action infuriated the Oba’s emissaries who now commenced what they described as the process of ostracizing the chief priest.
Explaining their mission, the Obasogie of Benin said: “This is the process of ostracizing him. The real power house of the monarchical power of the Oba, some of them are here and information reaching the palace is that some of these things are being tampered with. Obviously the Oba is the owner of that building, even though in his magnanimous manner he kept him there to take care of those things. It is like the sceptre bearer of the Oba, and when the Oba says he needs the sceptre and you run away with it, the Oba will look for it.
We have had cause to secure artefacts and the shrine and possibly the area they occupy. This house is the Oba’s house, we are not after the man; the Oba has already told him to take the extensions he built in there but the original foundation of the palace property should remain where it is, it is a monumental structure and we have to fortify it.
And I think all processes required by the palace has been completed before now. He has locked the door, we cannot get to the place which is the Oba’s domain. For now, he is completely ostracized. All his functions have been revoked by the Oba. This is someone who worked under the Oba; during the period of mourning, he refused to perform his duties and even during coronation he was nowhere to be found. So the Oba has asked him to return all he handed over to him so that the original owner will now control it and he is running away. That is unacceptable”.
Analysts say this is Oba Ewuare 1 who came back to complete what he started in his first coming. Oba Ewuare I ruled Benin Kingdom between 1440-1473 after ascending the throne through a bloody coup. In a recent interview, the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebiri, who gave an insight into the reign of Oba Ewuare I, said: “Oba Ewuare I, was everything.
He was the 13th Oba of Benin. He was politically sagacious. He was an explorer, he was what is today called a diplomat, he was a good manager of people, he is a warrior. His reign here in Benin brought in a lot of social improvement, good streets, cleanliness and more significantly, it was during his reign that white people first got in contact with Benin.
When John Squirrel visited this place in 1472, Oba Ewuare was the King here because they were hearing so much about Benin. Ewuare was the most travelled Oba ever since, how he did it nobody knows. They are signs that he visited areas outside the present day Nigeria and established his presence. He was nick named Ewuare Ogidigan, which means Ewuare the Great.
“He conquered so many areas such as Ekiti, Akure, Igbo land, he went to all those areas and brought them under the Benin empire. He expanded the empire, I gaze may be because he did not get the throne on a platter of gold that made him great. He organized a coup when his brother betrayed him.
Oba Ohen was his father, Ewuare’s native name was Ogun, right from when he was small the Benin people saw him as a warrior or someone if allowed to reign was likely to subjugate everybody. They did not like him starting from when he was a Prince. During that period, the rule of primogeniture was really not established fully. The battle was within the royal family. He was not the senior, his senior brother Ezoti took the throne but lasted for only 14 days before he was assassinated. So the throne became vacant again.
They drove Ogun into exile, he left here with his younger brother Uwaifioku into exile. They were wandering in the bush. He always come into Benin at night to get information about the political situation after that he sneaks back to the forest. It was one of those situations that he came to town that he met a lady called Emotan. Emotan had a hut where she sleeps around Oba market, Ogun sneaked into the place. But before then, he sent his brother to come to Benin to find out what the political situation was.
His brother Uwaifioku came to Benin, people saw him and were happy to meet him. Because of the love the people showed to him, he sold out and they made him Oba. So when Ogun (Ewuare) sneaked into Emotan’s hut, he was told that his brother has been Crowned King. He was shocked and said my own confidant, I told him to go and spy and report back to me he went to make himself king. That was how Ewuare organized a coup and Uwaifioku was assassinated.
When Ewuare became Oba he changed the name of this place from lle to Edo, the name we now bear today. He was a magician, he had medicines that speaks like human beings. He fought 201 wars, captured some many territories, killed their Kings and colonized them within the Benin empire. Many things are traceable to Oba Ewuare even the beads that we wear today.
Oba Ewuare died after a long reign and was buried at Essi town, near Udo in Ovia South West, as commanded before his death. This is the Oba who commanded that if he dies because he was sick, they should not bury him in Benin City but in Essi where his mother comes from. The burial place there is preserved, every Oba who wants to ascend the throne must go there to perform certain ceremonies”.
A critical look at where Oba Ewuare 11 is coming from will better give you an insight into the kind of reform that is currently ongoing in the palace. Since his coming, palace chiefs who were used to boycotting palace activities or meetings are said to have have changed their ways. Every Benin chief, no matter how poor, must dress well now before coming to the palace.
There is peace in virtually all the Benin communities due to his abolition of Community Development Associations. So, it is a big risk to dare Oba Ewuare II because, as history has shown, he can be ruthless if taken for granted. Meanwhile, as of the time of filing this report, the palace of Isekhure has been sealed and it is prohibited for anyone to go there.