District And Village Administration In Edoland
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THE administrative system of Benin was centered on the Oba and his palace from where all directives radiated to the length and breadth of the Empire. One is therefore left in no doubt as to the seat of power, especially when it is realized that all agencies of government were direct creations of the kings who had evolved administrative devices tied up with the elaborate chieftaincy and guild systems which owe their existence to the Supreme God-ordained king from the sky or more appropriately, God-sent king! It is for this incontrovertible belief that the Edo people and their Oba find themselves inseparable from one another.

The government of the empire is therefore one that can only be understood from the complex system surrounding the Oba on the one hand and the Chiefs belonging to the different categories on the other Mr. D. B. Partridge in his report ‘Investigation Into the Role of Mid-Western State Divisional Report in Respect of the Benin East and the Benin West Divisions” compares the Oba’s position to that of Louis XIV of France which he observed “could have claimed L’etat c’est moi (the state is me)”’. His reference to Bradbury’s description already referred to earlier requires some comments. To talk of the Oba as L ‘etat c’est moi - ‘the state is me” is really to undermine the fact that the Oba governs with the consent of the Chiefs and the people. At State level, the Oba had what Chief Egharevba called ‘Seven Councilors of state” (Uzama N’Ihinron) or the King Makers; and “Eghaevbo (the Executive Council)” It is pertinent to add here that, the Oba also had the Eghaevbo N’Ogbe which were also in the capacity of “Privy Councilors” and they normally deliberated on State matters with the Oba before they were really brought before the larger councils of the State to enable executive decisions to be taken. At village levels, the Enigie, Village Chiefs, Ohen and Odionwere administer affairs on behalf of the sovereign in accordance with the laid-down laws and customs of the land.
Turning attention to the ritualistic nature of what the description tended to make of the Oba, one may say that what mattered most to an Edo person, about his Oba, is the noble leadership role the latter plays in times of war or peace.

The exemplary lives of Ogiso Ere, Oba Ewedo, Oba Ewuare, Esigie, Ehengbuda, Ozolua etc, to mention a few, are clear testimonies to the valour, wisdom and good governance ever recorded in human history. No wonder that Edo people often say that “when the whole people stand together, they are like the Oba, but when the Oba sits on the throne Ekete, he is like God’. In other words, the might of the people, is the might of the Oba whose might is from God. The Obas have over the years evolved their democratic system of governance but where there were any violation of customs or any arbitrary use of power, the Edo have their ways of showing their resentment without desecrating the age-long monarchy .they regard as inseparable from their persons – hence the saying Obamedo - “ Oba fits or suits Edo” .

The control of villages was not merely through “rituals” or “cults”. There were village councils which were held regularly to make rules, laws and regulation and also to enforce the laws of the State. The village councils also administered justice within their competence or jurisdiction thus cases relating to individuals were settled according to customary procedures. Capital punishments which were the exclusive preserve of the State normally reached the Oba who presided at such judicial sittings from time to time. There were clear-Cut distinctions between the laws that could be administered at state and village levels. For most of the time, the village administation was left in the hands of the village heads who were either Enigie (or dukes who were appointed by the Oba from Sons of past Obas), chiefs (who probably were war lords posted to administer the villages), priests (who exercised almost the same powers as the Enigie) Odionwere who were the most senior people in the community. Each of these grades of title-holders derived its authority from the most sacred Sovereign- the Oba. While the deities and cults play their religious roles within the community, the political position of the village titled-men remained that of the representative of the Oba and the Central Government of the State or the Kingdom of Benin.

Broadly speaking, the villages are headed by two types of title holders, viz: The Enigie and other title-holders. The following are the types of titles held in village or district level:

There are two types of Enigie. The Ogie Isi (or royal dukes) and Ogie Ikanaban (non-royal dukes). The Ogie-Isi is created by the Oba from the sons of past Obas. They are the blood relations of the Oba. When a new Oba ascends the throne, he makes some of his brothers dukes who are assigned to villages which they govern on behalf of the Oba. Their titles are hereditary which in all case are inherited by their successors who must be the eldest surviving sons but where there are none, the dukes’ immediate brothers will succeed them. The succession entirely based on hereditary patrilineal primogeniture. The domain of an Enogie could be one village or group of villages or yet a large village or town. In the dukedom of an Enogie, other title-holders like priests, chiefs and odionwere may be in existence to assist the Enogie in both the administrative and religious matters of the area; whereas an area headed by a Priest may not have other people performing administrative and religious duties since these are assumed to be welded into one. The Enogie is subject to no one else other than the Oba and it does not matter whether the area from which his dukedom was carved out was once a part of another domain or not. The Enogie’s jurisdiction over such an area that forms his dukedom remains under his authority, subject only to the suzerainty of his overlord - the Oba. He is vested with royal powers and provided with insignia of office. His insignia of office, apart from the royal birthright accoutrements which include: (Ada and Eben and Ivie), are Ikhu (royal matchers), Ugbudian (fly whisk) and Egue (Royal hoe); male and female servants, wife or wives; enough wealth to enable him establish his position in his new domain. He is also vested with the staff of the spirits of the Oba’s ancestors and the Erimnwidu shrine. The other types of Engie (Egie-Ikanaban or non-royal dukes) do not possess the royal insignia even though they are vested with the powers of Enigie. They have no royal blood connection but their positions must have been carved out as rewards for some war exploits or for some useful services rendered to the Oba creating them. They do not have the Oba’s ancestral shrine nor the Erinmwidu associated with royalty. The title like that of the royal duke (Enogie) remains hereditary. More often than not, such an Enogie was called upon to carry out war exploits which might involve the loss of his life. . It has also been said that some of such Enigie have been made victims of war exploits by some generals who were only too anxious to prove their velour by bringing the Enigie’s heads as trophies in place of escaped rulers of a defeated people. It is thought that this was another way the war generals concealed their inability to capture the real rulers of the conquered territory. Perhaps the most odious belief was that some of these Enígie usually accompanied the deceased kings to the grave in the olden days! Whatever story lies behind the non-royal dukes (or Enigie) is now lost in the far distant past. For the moment, the non-royal Enigie are now fully integrated into the system which has evolved in modern society. The Ogiso rulers who started the Enogieship left such customs with the subsequent rulers. Chief (Dj.) Egharevba mentioned that:

"The Ogisos used to send their sons out to rule over villages and they continued to owe homage and allegiance to each succeeding Ogiso as their father and overlord. This example was followed by the Obas descending from Oromiyan in the second period. Osanego, the Onogie of Ego and maternal grandfather of Oba Eweka I, was the ninth Onogie of Ego and he was ruling at the time of arrival of Oromiyan from Ife.”

Ogiekae also appears to be of Ogiso origin. The distinction between Enigie created by the Ogisos and those of the second dynasty (from Eweka I (1200 AD)] is more of time rather than royal connection for both have blood connection with past kings. The non- royal Engie are few in number even though one may not now bother to single them out especially as their functions are now practically the same as those of the other Enigie already discussed. After all, royal obsequies no longer entail human sacrifices. In this circumstance, one may content himself with drawing attention to known areas having royal or non-royal Enigie whether of the Ogiso era or the present dynasty. A full list of the districts, villages or towns with the various types of Title-headship will be dealt with later.

However, it is important to realize that the districts were not only administered through the Enigie (of whatever category) but also through other titled functionaries like District Ekhaemwen, Ohen (or priests), Okaevbo (or Village head), Odionwere (Village oldest man). In general, these district chiefs derived their existence from the Oba who either appointed them or confirmed their appointment in accordance with the tradition of the land. The district chiefs are distributed over the whole of the former Benin Empire. Any area outside the main metropolitan Benin was treated as district. Even the rural areas now administered as part of the metropolitan city, are characterized by the presence of Enigie and other district chieftaincy titles. To understand their relative positions, one has to go into their historical origin wherever possible. As a step towards any meaningful analysis of the titles, it is more convenient to deal with them according to the local government areas.

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