The True Oduduwa Story: In Defence Of The Omo N’ Oba
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written by Omorodion Uwaifo (June 2, 2004) (Last Update June 16, 2021)

“You can’t just wake up and say Oduduwa was a Benin Prince”. So, said Professor Ade Ajayi in a talk he had with a newspaper (not The Guardian). “Omo N’ Oba’s contention was that Oduduwa could not have been the father of Yoruba kings”, his guest said.

"Yes, on what evidence?” the Professor said. He went on. “You don’t say something without evidence to back it up... What did the Oba of Benin study? Did he study Johnson? Did he study Egharevba?... Although I say that myths of origin are a matter of belief... some beliefs are more credible than others... And many people will say the story told about Ife in Benin is less likely to be credible than the story told about Ife in Ife.”

He went after the monarch. “Now, who is the Oba of Benin to come and tell the Yoruba what they should ‘believe about themselves?  I think very, very wrong and impertinent to assume that you know more about the Yoruba people than the Yoruba know about themselves. On what basis? “That is as clear as it can be, but natural for words from a man that taught history.

What the Omo N’Oba had said of the link between Benin and Uhe (Ife) irked the man. But would it have angered him if what he wanted to hear was what the Omo N’ Oba said? How would he know without the research he later advised, that what he wanted to hear was right? Did he think that what the Omo N’ Oba knew was different from what he said in his book? And did the Omo N’Oba just wake up to say it?

That cannot be right to think that, is to fail to know who and what the Edos are. The Professor has no reason to feel baffled. Omo N’ Oba did not say that he knew all about the Yorubas more than they knew of themselves. He also had no thoughts of myths when he wrote his story. Like their neighbours, the Yorubas, the people of Benin did not write until the Ebos came. Of course, that was bad for dates in their annals. Before then, the people did two things well. They used art as records of their epochs. If the events shook their world, they had them as symbols in their festivals. And often in their songs and dances from these, oral records have grown.

A few examples might explain this point. A dull day with no rain in Benin is thought of as Ekaladerhan‘s day. If you live there and you speak the language, it is likely that you would look up at the sky and say ede Ekaladerhan na khin (this is Ekaladerhan day). The day was as that day, dull and poignant. The Prince Ekaladerhan might have left Benin for Ughoton and then for Uhe (Ife) some nine hundred years ago; his sad leaving has remained fresh in the minds of his people.

A private event takes place each year around the month of October. At it, the Palace hosts the Osuan family (Osuan was one of those that came back to Benin from Uhe with Oronmiyan). The annual event is called the Ugie Ododuwa (Ododuwa’s festival). It re-enacts each year, the event of long ago. In that way, the people keep events fresh in the mind.

The Edos believe that kings are born. They don’t make them. That means that the surviving first son of the King alone has the right to succeed him. That has had the advantage of a single line of kings. And with that has come a lineage that is easy to trace. So, what the Omo N’ Oba spoke of was the oral record of his fathers The Professor had asked, “What did he study that was not available to Egharevba?” That is his answer. It is the story of his father’s as told by his father and by the Palace. No myths there, at all.

All Edos are proud of their great son, Jacob Egharevba. How glad they are that the Professor has raised him to a historian of his own ilk, If that were so, their man would be the first they know with his level of learning, to be an authority in the written history of his people. Wow! But was he? Or is the Professor the politician? The people of Benin had thought that their son wrote a readable story of Benin. They don’t know he even did better than that. Is it not fitting that His Royal Majesty, the Ooni of Ife has also thought of the book as a work worthy of his reference library? Just great!

Yet, must one ask what Egharevba’s sources of facts were? He knew that his Oduduwa story had much to do with the palace. There is a sense in which it was in fact about the palace. What history would it be then, if he did not even clear his “facts” with it. Did his Ado Akure link stop his search for these most vital facts? As Ado Akure, he was a fringe Yoruba. If the Omo N’Oba were a true son of Ife he would be a Yoruba. Why would he then resent being called one any more than Egharevba would want to be called a Yoruba? Why did the Western Region reject Nnamdi Azikiwe as Premier in 1951 why wouldn’t an Onitsha man be the Obi if he could not trace his lineage to Benin? Why couldn’t an Itsekiri be the Olu of Warri if he was not a full-blooded Itsekiri or a half ltsekiri and half Benin? Why did many Indians object to Sonia Gandhi as Premier of the country? There are human questions as that raised by the Omo N’Oba in his book.

The Professor said that the story of Ife told in Benin is less likely to be credible than the story told of Ife in Ife. When he asserts that Oranmiyan founded Benin, does he concede that he could be less credible than the Omo N’Oba who said that there was the Ogiso dynasty in Benin before the Eweka dynasty? Should he as an historian “just wake up” and say that? What is his evidence? Or does he not need one because he is an historian?

Omo N’Oba is one of the kings of the Eweka dynasty. Wouldn’t he know the history of his throne? It surprises one that the Professor could make as many gaffes in so short an interview. Why did he rush to comment on a matter he knows so little about? He was right when he said... “What we need really is a more intensive and more extensive research so that we can collate all these stories and interpret them in the light of what we know... “Wait a moment. What sit-tight politics is he up to? Has he interpreted the tome written by each of many Yoruba historians that have debunked the story of Ife supremacy? What has he done with the works of JA Atanda and by Ade Obayemi? To name just two.
We must make no mistakes here. Professors like this could put their seals on a “wrong” and it would become “the right”. Omo N’ Oba said in his book that Egharevba was Ado-Akure, not Akoko Edo. It is safe to say that a Benin man or woman ever told the professor that Eko means Oko a farm. A true Benin would have said to him that Eko means Camp and that Ugbo means farm.

Benin has not been the same after the British war on it in 1897. Pressures of modernization might have left her to flutter in the wind of change, but the roots of the events that shape her are there still, deep and strong. She does not talk of art; she lives it. She has Igun Eronmwon and Igun Emoton for brass and for iron smithies to show for it. She has Owina Street for woodwork and Iwebo Street .for clothing and beads. She has always had a thriving oral culture. They help her raise the pulse that feeds the memory. Her annals might not have had dates, but they have been alive in her people.

(Source: The Guardian (Nigeria) June 2, 2004)

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Benin kingdom copy right