The Benin-Ife Dynasty Connection

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written by Andy Ehanire (Sunday May 23, 2004) (Last Update June 16, 2021)

Since the presentation of the Book “I remain Sir, Your Obedient Servant” by His Royal Majesty the Oba of Benin, it was my genuine anticipation that reputable and credible authorities will lend their wealth of knowledge and experience to this seemingly and obviously interesting angle of the Benin-Ife monarchical connection.

I say obviously because we understand history to concern human affairs which can still be related from as many angles as new insights provide. Secondly, we understand history as dynamic subject to different interpretations with often- new insights to unanswered questions. This is why Prof. Ade Ajayi himself said in his article that nothing is certain in history.

By the very nature of our distant history therefore (derived mainly from oral tradition), we cannot apply the mathematical science of exactitude, but to crisscross the paradigm of probability, correlation and logic. For instance, we hear history records the Yoruba Oduduwa as having descended by chain from heaven. Another version has it that he came all the way from Egypt. Since there is little or nothing to substantiate or corroborate these claims, it is expected that historians would keep their minds open to new information and possibilities. .This is how I believe historians should view both the “established” and other angles (including the Oba of Benin narrative) to the Ife Benin monarchical connection.

The so-called established historical records have it that the kingdom of Benin sent a request to Ife (a new monarchy) on account of the immediate circumstance of past relationship between the two relatively distant and apparent unrelated communities. There is nothing to show that at the point in history Ife had a singular appeal culturally or politically, to warrant an established kingdom like Benin with a monarchy spanning several centuries before Ododuwa (31 Ogisos (Kings) to proceed to Ife and request for a king (chronology being an important tool in determining credibility of historical records).

Will students of history not seek to know if it was an oracle that was consulted or a star was seen in the west, which led the Benin wise men to Ife? ‘What was so compelling to the extent that in spite of the brief sojourn of Prince Oromiyan in Benin (insufficient to make any meaningful impact) the Benin people would uphold a pregnancy by him as the fountain of a new dynasty? These premises are enough for historians not to go to bed as to the origin of the Benin-Ife dynastic connection (a major historical event), but to leave a big question mark that requires answers or further enquiries
This is why I was highly disappointed when I read Prof. Ade Ajayi’s comments on the Oba of Benin’s angle in the Sunday Vanguard of 16 May 2004. The distinguished Prof. Borrowed the intolerant tone of the Ooni of lfe both of whom equally rebuffed any attempt to “rewrite history” it would appear that there is an attempt to preclude any further contribution that can unravel the unanswered questions concerning the Ife-Benin monarchical connection. “Benin sent to Ife for a king and Ife gave them a king,”

Now HRM the Oba of Benin in his new autobiography expounded the angle that at that time in history, a Benin Prince Ekaladerhan who was compelled to go into exile and having sojourned in many places ended up in Ife where he was eventually enthroned as king with the name Ododuwa. The narrative went further to state that a monarchical vacuum occurred later in Benin and it was revealed that the son of the erstwhile monarch was alive and this led to a search to find the exiled Prince, which took them all the way to Ife. Having confirmed that Ododuwa was indeed their exiled Prince, they requested of him to come back to take his throne but Ododuwa who was probably too old at this stage preferred to send one of his Sons (the youngest) to Benin to be king.

Now, the undiscerning reader might erroneously conclude that the Ekaladerhen narrative is a recent finding of the Oba of Benin, whereas it is common knowledge in Benin oral tradition. What is baffling therefore is that in spite of this popular oral tradition of the Benins about Ekaladerhan, historians have seen no need to throw up these issues sufficiently to limelight until His Royal Majesty; the Oba of Benin did so in his recent autobiography, which is now generating what amounts to an uproar. Was there a conspiracy or a concerted effort to ignore or subdue this common historical belief of the Benin people? Or is the same attitude being displayed by a historian of no less standing as Prof. Ade Ajayi even when this view is coming from one as learned and experienced as the Oba of Benin (the custodian of Benin Tradition).

It doesn’t take a historian to view the Oba’s Ekaladerhan angle against the background that Benin produced many monarchical dynasties in Southern Nigeria far more than any other kingdom in this region: Warri (Delta), Ogba land (Rivers), Lagos (Lagos State) Idah (Kogi), to mention but a few and left wide influences in present day Yoruba land and as far away as Dahomey (now Benin Republic) and even Ghana. The circumstances of these far-flung dynastic creations could not have been too different from the Ife Benin example. In which case, it is more historically probable that Benin gave Ife a king (Ododuwa) and not the other way round.

As pointed out in the early part of this write up, there is nothing to explain why an established kingdom like Benin, which had already recorded a dynasty of 31 kings (Ogisos), would request for a king from Ife a newly created monarchy at that time (Ododuwa being the first Yoruba monarch). What was the connection? This can only remain a historical mystery unless further interpretations or new facts emerge. But as with unwritten distant history, historians must necessarily draw on the paradigm of correlation, probability and logic. The Ekaladeran story does not disprove that Benin got a king from Ife (a major historical event) but only to add the why(s) and how(s), which Ade Ajayi do not seem to want to hear or understand. This indeed is strange considering Prof Ade Ajayi’s intellectual height, which ought to have inclined him to applaud the Oba’s work for its merit in provoking further research.

If the Oba of Benin made a little digression in his book to give the Ekaladerhan narrative (which is clearly relevant), Prof. Ade Ajayi cannot under that circumstance expect him to state all his studies and evidence in that small section. So, if indeed Prof. Ade Ajayi wanted to pursue the subject matter, he will keep an open mind and seek further clarifications from the Oba. But he chooses to foreclose any further interest in it except to say clearly that the Oba had none to give and that it was pure politics. This is the same learned professor who confessed in his interview that there is little or nothing to prove in our local history (Benin or Yoruba) as they are derived from beliefs “we just accept story of creations and myths of origin as a matter of belief, we cannot as a matter of fact because none of us was present

Brig. General (Dr) S. O Ogbemudia (two time Governor of former Midwest Region and Bendel State), in his book Years of challenge, (Heinemann Publishers, Ibadan 1991) also mentioned Ekaladerhan as the source of Benin-Ife dynastic connection, though from a different connection, and from a different perspective. It also referred to it as derived from Benin oral tradition and alluded to the resistance of the Benin people to change their dynastic succession. I do not know if this book also drew fire works from any quarters, but it has been there for over a decade. Again, I would expect that the respected Prof. Igbafe must have his own position on the Benin-Ife dynastic connection, which I am sure Prof. Ade Ajayi would have been aware of.

The point being made here is that if the Oba had the benefit of Benin oral tradition as already alluded to in Brig. Gen S. O. Ogbemudia’s book and of course reviewed other materials, there are, including those written in line with Prof. Ajayi’s position on these events, then he had good enough grounds to also make his opinion and interpretations. But Prof. Ajayi expressed doubt in his interview under reference as to the Oba having any references or carrying out any study. We recall that late sage, Chief Awolowo once said that while other politicians were busy junketing, he was at his desk studying. So it would not be surprising that while some others were busy at “owambe” parties, the Oba of Benin was carrying out his studies. His effort went far beyond the Ekaladerhan narrative to cover many other areas including his extensive experience in the Public Service of Nigeria.
If the learned professor has no proof for his position on Yoruba history (in which he clearly took sides with that of the Ooni of Ife), why then does he demand strict Proof from other views and not wait for the answers. He would not even want to hear that perhaps, Ife was a village at that time in history. The view by Dr. Egharevba that the Benins came in from Egypt is something that is at best a mere conjecture. In indeed the Benins came in out of the Yorubas from Egypt how come there is little similarity in their language and culture except those that could have been acquired in relatively recent era.

The eminent professor of African history in the State University of New York, Buifalo, Professor Peter Eke in his lecture titled “Ogisos and Eweka times, a preliminary history of the Edoid complex of cultures”, clearly stated that, from all his studies on Benin history, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Benin people came from anywhere else other than where they are found today. He posited that the tendency to ascribe migrant status to our indigenous people is a fashion being encouraged by those who do not want to be seen as the only migrants in Nigeria. The view of Dr. Egharevba that the Benins migrated in tow of the Yorubas from Egypt could only have been formed in Ibadan.

There is the view expressed by Professor Ade Ajayi that the place to go to research Yoruba history is Ife and not Benin, but then we hope he won’t say Ife is the only place as significant parts of history have been witnessed and recorded by parties who were neither involved, affected nor related to such historical events. European explorers and missionaries recorded many aspects of the history of Nigeria in the last few centuries even when the people who were subject to that history left no record of such events.

Another comment by Prof. Ajayi was to remind the Oba of Benin that his predecessor took his place among Yoruba Obas during his time. This is strange because, the mere attendance of traditional rulers council meetings at regional administrative headquarters does not translate to saying for example that, the Shehu of Bornu is a Hausa man, or that the Obong of Calabar is an Igbo man. In the Administration of the old Western Region, the Oba of Benin would of necessity or duty attend Obas meetings in Ibadan, the capital.

In the case of Benin-Ife dynastic connection, two distinct and separate peoples are involved and history must invariably record the available perspectives of the event. These in turn would be left to the scrutiny and interpretation of not only those who are related to the events, but every independent research and review notwithstanding those whose linkages subject them to emotional reactions. It is only then we can clearly see those who are playing politics with history.

Perhaps, some myopic thinkers perceive Ekaladerhan angle to the Benin Ife dynastic connection as a cheap avenue by Benin to enhance their status in West African history, but then, the historical and cultural legacies of Benin are clearly unparalleled and already well established. It would appear from some quarters too that the Ekaladerhan angle tantamount to demystifying Ododuwa, for which such ethnic bigots appear to have taken the stance of firm resistance. To those who might be reasoning from such premises, by chain from heaven. If not, the relative obscurity of Ododuwa’s origin as against tracing him to one of the foremost forest Empires in Africa does not amount to any sacrilege.
As mentioned in the beginning of this write up, my expectations of contributions from credible authorities on the current issue of the Benin -Ife dynastic connection was high, but from what I have read in the interview granted by Prof. Ade Ajayi under reference, it would seem that my expectations were misplaced. If indeed Ekaladerhan is a direct descendant of Ogiso dynasty as the Oba of Benin narrative reveals, then Prof, Ade Ajayi and others like him should join Benin in celebrating the feat of having one of the longest single dynasties in history; Ogiso dynasty all the way to date.

(Source: The Sunday Observer (Nigeria) Sunday May 23, 2004)

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Benin kingdom copy right