Nigeria’s history is made up of several unique elements, but one that has stood the test of time is the Oba of the Benin Kingdom. The kingdom was a pre-colonial empire located in what is now southern Nigeria. The capital city of the Benin Kingdom was Edo, now known as Benin City. It’s important to note that the Benin Empire is completely different from the Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey.
The Edo people were the original inhabitants of the Benin Empire and were initially ruled by the Ogiso (kings of the sky) dynasty, who called their land Igodomigodo. However, Prince Ekaladerhan, son of the last Ogiso, decided to end the dynasty, giving rise to the Oba dynasty.
Who Is Oba?
People who visit Nigeria are often fascinated by the high esteem in which many Nigerians, especially the Edo people, hold the Oba of the Benin Kingdom.
Also known as Omo N’Oba, the Oba of Benin is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Great Benin Empire. The name Oba was derived from Oba Eweka I, Benin Kingdom’s first Oba who rose to power between 1,180 A.D. and 1,300 A.D.
Oba rule continued for centuries until the arrival of White settlers in 1897. The British introduced imperialist rule in the region and exiled the then-Oba Ovonramwen.
After capturing the empire, the colonialists established the British colony of modern-day Nigeria. Oba Ovonramwen died in 1914, and his throne was never restored to him or his descendants.
However, they all preserved their titles and status as traditional rulers in modern-day Nigeria. Post-imperial Obas of Benin since 1914 include Eweka II (1914-1933), Akenzua II (1933-1978), Erediauwa I (1979-2016), and Ewuare II (2016).
Functions of Oba
While Nigeria is a constitutional democracy that elects its leaders, the hundreds of ethnic communities scattered across the country still acknowledge their own traditional rulers. Among the most recognized traditional leaders in Nigeria is the Oba of Benin.
The Oba performs several important duties, including settling disputes within his kingdom. He is a peacemaker and although he doesn’t have legal authority to punish anyone, he usually interprets customary laws and helps offenders acknowledge and learn from their offenses.
Additionally, the Oba has some authority to handle land matters, especially those that concern land owned by indigenes in the south of Edo, according to Al Jazeera. The people of Edo also consult their Oba on family conflicts and community feuds, explaining that they trust the Oba because he belongs to the royal family and is not into politics.
The kingdom of Benin represents a snapshot of a relatively well-recognized and refined African political system that was in operation before the arrival of European colonialists.