Enogieship And Odionwereship Institutions Of Benin Kingdom
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BY Oriyomi Hope Marcellin (March 19, 2021)

Against the backdrop of the fact that education encompasses such realities as refined minds effectively mapping out mechanisms for social harmony and administrative intelligence, Africa had had its pass mark long before the colonialists of Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Belgium and Spain had contact with the continent. And this evidence must have been one of the principal reasons that necessitated the wisdom in the Indirect Rule system application of British officials in Nigeria, as they were fascinated by the nature of traditional political institutions – administrative, cultural and judicial structures – they met on ground.

However, in the course of disguised exploitation we were subjected to, most of these cherished values lost their saltiness, and as a result, were trampled upon, and are still being trampled upon with various degrees of harm. Nonetheless, some have survived the tempest and elephantine fury of modernization. Two beautiful ones are the Enogie and Odionwere valued institutions of one of Africa’s oldest kingdoms – the Benin Kingdom.

Both the Odionweres and the Enogies help in administration of various parts of Benin Kingdom. An Odionwere, contrary to the understanding of many, is not the oldest person in a street or the first person to build a house there. If it were so, it is logical to conclude that in a community, there would be a number of Odionweres – an idea that has no place in the Benin Kingdom, modernism nevertheless.

According to Chief Ojo Obamwunyi-Ogiegor, the Odionwere of Egor dukedom (a dukedom noted for producing Eweka 1 who began the Obaship dynasty still evident by the present thirty-eight Oba of Benin, Oba Erediauwa), an Odionwere is the second head of a number of communities/quarters that form a dukedom. Two conditions are met in order to assume the position of an Odionwere: the person must be the most senior, age-wise, in the dukedom (or community as the case may be) and especially own a house therein. There is no qualm in respect of the seniority criterion, as the elders know one another and meet regularly at the Oguedion where they hold meetings.

But there are no female Odionweres, in spite of the fact that it is possible to have a woman who meets the criteria set. With respect to this, Chief Olaye of Egor, corroborates: “Women are never Odionweres; it is an abomination in Benin”.

Principally, an Odionwere attends to reports he receives from the Okaidunwuns who actually are street heads. They are the street heads in the sense that they must have been the first to build houses in their respective streets, not necessarily the oldest or any other status consideration. In the event of a woman meeting the condition of an Okaidunwun, such recognition is accorded her husband or male child instead. The woman, however, enjoys fine status in the Women Forum; an important fact in a community or dukedom makeup.

The Okaidunwuns are obligated to feed the Odionwere with reports which are basically about the development and welfare of their various streets. Therefore, the Odionwere and his chiefs do not only control access to the community resources and mediate with central authority, but also keep order and settle disputes with decisions expected to be respected by the contending parties.

However, there are instances where (civil) cases prove stubborn to the extent of beckoning for a greater authority’s input. The Odionwere therefore reports such cases to the Enogie who is the traditional leader (crown head) of a community or dukedom as the case may be, not without usual periodic updating the Enogie even in respect of settled matters anyway. Issues, at this level, are finally settled.

The position of an Enogie is hereditary; never to be dragged. In fact, every Enogie is said to have a link with the Obaship lineage i.e. with Oba Erediauwa, Oba of Benin who is the overall head of Benin/Edo kingdom which comprises of Edo speaking areas. Indeed, that is why the Oba has the sole right to install his brothers as Enogies in communities which have not one. Isihor and Oluku for instance fall in that category of no-Enogie. Siluko is however said to have recently got one from the Oba. Other communities/dukedoms with Enogies (royal highnesses) include: Evbiakagbe, Aideyanoba, Umokpe- Irhue, Eyan, Egor, Ekae,Ogheghe (Siluko Road), Umelu, Ugolo, Umegbe, Ulpera, Uselunahor, etc.

With some rituals, Odionweres are installed by their respective Enogies. But in communities without Enogies, the Odionwere reigns supreme and is installed by the community elders who communicate recognition in that regard to the Omo N’Oba, Oba of Benin.

But modernization, understandably, has affected the Enogieship/Odionwereship administrative potency. For instance, in times past, all cases could be handled and settled ultimately at the Enogie’s palace with decisions of sacrosanct obedience, an equivalent reality still in practice in the palace of Deji of Akure, Ondo State. But rule of law and the statutory mandate of the Nigerian Police Force to exclusively take on criminal cases such as theft and murder have relieved Odionweres and Enogies such powers as of old.

Besides, the end-of-the-year practice of paying homage to an Odionwere and an Enogie by various Okaidunwuns and households with lots of choice gifts has weakened in its social vibrancy, especially in urbanized areas. Many are not even aware that these indigenous institutions exist, let alone knowing the personalities so elevated and accord due relevance.

However, the Enogieship and Odionwereship administrative layout incorporated in the socio-cultural fabric of Benin Kingdom is still beautifully appreciated.

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