Palace Watch

National Monument: Work begins at Ogaimen Ancient palace

By Gabriel Omonhinmin

The ancient Royal Palace of Ogiamen of Utantan, in Sakponba Road, Benin City, Edo State Nigeria, was built in 1160AD. It is one of the oldest palaces in West Africa still standing.

After several visits to the palace in Benin City by the then British Colonial Masters, the ancient palace was in May 29th 1959, declared one of the country’s national monuments.

62 years after this declaration, members of the Ogiamen Royal Family, especially their elders, are still having problems clearing the surroundings of the palace of illegal structures and debris to pave way for the National Museum and Monuments.

The Ogiamen Royal Family’s strenuous efforts to eject all the illegal occupants of the surroundings of the ancient palace in Benin City have yielded very little results. Unfortunately, the illegal occupants of the ancient palace neighbourhood have done all within their powers to frustrate this move, just because they want to continue to remain in the vicinity.

Plywood sellers in Benin City, who have made the palace surroundings their trading spot for years, constitute the majority of the occupants in the area. They are also accused of generating the huge dirt that litters everywhere around the palace ground, thus making it difficult to access the palace and the entire area. The issue is further complicated by some relatives of the Ogiamen larger family who have also built their houses in the area in question without getting the approval of the elders of the Ogiamen Royal Family.

This has obviously resulted in a tug of war between the elders of the Ogiamen royal family and all the illegal occupants of the surroundings of the ancient palace for about 62 years.

The National Museum and Monuments management on its part, has continued to maintain, that it can only take over the ancient palace, only when all the surroundings are cleared of the filthy and illegal structures. They stressed that there must be, at least 50 meters radius between the ancient palace and all the structures in the vicinity.

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In a deliberate effort to meet these conditions, the elders of the Ogiamen royal family of Utantan sometimes last year, met in Benin City and resolved to do all within their powers, to clear the palace surroundings of all illegal structures and debris so that the National Museum and Monuments can move into the place.

The head of the Ogiamen Royal Family, His Imperial Majesty, Rich Arisco Osemwengie, JP, the Ogiamen of Utantan Bini who spoke with Palace Watch, said, “We are surprised that this matter has continued to linger unnecessarily. Some persons, who bought the unauthorised areas in conjunction with some of our relatives, who have built their personal these areas without seeking approval, are making things to be very difficult. At some point, they went to court, to restrain the Ogiamen Royal Family from ejecting them from the palace surroundings. But we on our part have now resolved to clear the place so that the National Museum and Monuments can take over the palace. It was in line with this resolve, that the larger Ogiamen family recently met again in Benin City, and decided to task itself and contribute money to rebuild part of the ancient palace that has fallen. From these contributions, the family has also embarked on the renovation of the inner chambers of the ancient palace.

“As we speak, 15 deities inside the inner chambers of the ancient palace excluding Olokun and Orunmila, have all been appeased and revived. The Ogiamen Royal family, however, rejected the Olokun and Orunmila idols we located in the place because these idols are not aboriginal to the Bini people. As the name suggests, these idols are of Yoruba extraction. We are Bini people, not Yoruba.

Osenwengie continued; “I was physically present in that palace on a one-day working visit, to supervise the work going on, in the inner chamber and surroundings of the ancient palace. The point that must interest you to note, is that among the deities just revived in the inner chambers of the palace, has one of the most potent deities in Bini land. It is known and called the fire eating and fire-spitting ‘Osu Nazengban’. This deity immediately it was revived swung into action to exterminate all the people, who have been working over the years against the peace and progress of the Ogiamen Royal Family of Utantan Benin City.

Another idol known as “Evan Nu Regbe” was also recently re-awoken, and is now set to strike, His Majesty stressed, “The time for the National Museum and Monuments to take over the ancient palace as a national monument is now because this project can no longer be delayed.”

Palace Watch: Your Majesty, what specific measures have you now put in place that will last and ensure that normalcy returns to the place and eventually results in the clearing of the palace surroundings of all the intruders?

Osenwengie: “As civilized people, our measures or more appropriately efforts, to clear all these surroundings of filthy and illegal structures, were initially that of stick and carrot. Then we were pleading and begging them to vacate the area peacefully. It was when these entreaties fell on deaf ears, we decided to adopt other measures to clear the place of all the mess.

Palace Watch: Your Majesty after my tour of the ancient palace surroundings in Benin City, I discovered, there is still a lot of work to be done, to meet the requirements of the National Museum and Monuments:

First, at the front of the ancient palace at plot 97 Sakponba Road, only 20 meters as against the 50 meters of the National Museum policy, have been met. As areas cleared of structures from the major road to the palace, is just about 20 meters.

Second, the two sides of the palace have not been cleared of filth and illegal structures.

Third, the back of the palace has been cleared of dirt and structures up to about 50 meters or more. But there is still a lot of work to be done in the entire area, if the mess on both sides of the ancient palace must be removed?

Osenwengie: The truth is that we are fighting very hard to remove this mess. No matter the present odds, we will succeed. My family will not relent in efforts to make the ancient palace ground a tourist attraction. For those illegal occupants and owners of those structures, who are recalcitrant and are still living within the palace grounds or areas, they either learn to leave the place voluntarily or would invariably be forced out of the place. It doesn’t matter how long it will take us.

I must confess, presently, it has not been easy at all for us to clear some of the surroundings of the ancient palace, which we have so far succeeded in clearing. It is sad, that a place as important as these ancient palace surroundings has been for decades now the hub of plywood sellers and other illegal activities, which we strongly objected to as a family.

I must say, this illegality festered, just because we as a family were not too decisive in our initial actions then. So these people saw our passiveness as a sign of weakness, which is not. But now, this is no longer the case. In the process of being peaceful and civil in our approach, all manners of illegal structures continued to spring up around the palace. While the debris generated by plywood sellers daily and other activities in the areas continued to mount. Thus, making the whole area eyesore. This can no longer be tolerated or remained unchallenged.

I must at this point emphasize that no responsible member of the Ogiamen Royal Family sold any of these areas to anyone. As civilized members of the society, we initially tried to be civil in all our approaches. We appealed to the senses and conscience of all the people involved in these illegal activities, especially the plywood traders, alongside some of our relatives who decided to illegally build structures in the palace surroundings to vacate the areas.

At some point, we have to issue them, with quiet notice since they refused to vacate the areas peacefully. At another point, we have to write to invite the Edo State Ministry of Environment to come and do their job and ensure that the whole area becomes habitable. At another point, the law enforcement agencies were invited to come and help in the clearing of the place of these people who have continued to constitute themselves as a nuisance in the entire area.

After all these efforts, the people who still have their buildings in the area, and who have refused to leave the place on their own volition, will have to be forced out of the place, when we finally appeal to the Federal Government to help us prevail on the Edo State Government, to do all within its powers to clear the areas of all illegal occupants and structures so that the national monument can now take off.

Palace Watch: How will this National Monument benefit the Ogiamen Royal Family directly when it finally becomes functional?

Ogiamen Arisco: The preservation of the ancient palace and its relics is of great importance not only to the Ogiamen Royal Family of Utantan-Bini alone but to all the aborigine Bini people at home and abroad. Firstly, this particular palace was built before the palace now known as the Oba of Benin Palace. The present Oba of Benin palace was never inhabited by any of the Ogisos, who are the original owners of Benin City. The palace situated around the Ring Road area of Benin City, if the truth must be told, was once the burial ground of the people of Igodomigodo land.

Ogiso Evian and Ogiamien Erebo also lived in this particular ancient Bini palace before the invasion of Benin City by Oranmiyan and his forces.  It was during the reign of Ogiamen Erebo that the sanctity of the ancient Igodomigodo now known as the Bini Kingdom was violated by the Yoruba invaders.

It was the crisis that arose, after several failed attempts to invade Igodomigodo land that was mostly responsible for the exit of our relatives, who later went on to establish other ethnic groups or kingdoms in other areas of Edo state of today. These kings and their people migrated from this place to where we now know as Edo North, Edo West and Edo South.

In the case of the Niger Delta areas of today, the majority of our kingsmen formed the bulk of some of these areas in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States. People from these areas were our kit and kin who fled during the unfortunate attempts to invade our land.

The Bini history is very clear about the early rulers of Igodomigodo land, who were all known as Ogisos “King of the Sky”. A succession of the Ogisos then maintained political, traditional and administrative control over Igodomigodo land. The last Ogiso called Ogiso-Owodo, who died without a son, ruled Igodomigodo Bini from 1125AD to 1130AD. As there can never be a vacuum on the throne, Ogiso-Owodo younger brother, Ogiso Evian, who was born to the same parents as Ogiso Owodo after his passage ascended the throne and took effective control of Igodomigodo land. It was Ogiso Evian, who gave birth to the first Ogiamen Erebo, who ruled Igodomigodo land from 1130AD to 1170AD.

Ogiamen Erebo, just like all the Ogisos before him, maintained all the political, traditional and administrative structures and took effective control of them, until the unfortunate invasion of Bini, by Oranmiyan and his forces from Ile-Ife. Much as they tried then, they were not able to take over Igodomigodo land as they were just knocking at Ogiamien Erebo’s gate as it were then.

It was sometime in 1170AD, as the war between the Binis and Yoruba became protracted and bloody, and the fight that ensued between the Oranmiyan forces and Ogiamien Erebo troops continued unabated. However, the Oranmiyan troops were held in abeyance in a place now called Egor. Egor then minds you, was the outskirts of present day Bini. While Oranmiyan was residing in Egor, a Bini woman called Erhinwinde had a son for him, who later became known as Oba Eweka the first.

As the war progressed, Oranmiyan became very old while still living in Egor and still he could not penetrate the heart of Igodomigodo Bini. At some point, he finally departed for Ile-Ife, with his son Eweka I. Eweka I, as an adult later returned to continue the fight his father could not win. This time, Eweka I had a lot of support from his kit and kin from Ile-Ife, who helped him in wreaking havoc in all the areas surrounding Bini, all in their desperate attempts to take over the seat of power of Igodomigodo land. Despite all these desperate attempts, they met stiff resistance from the great fighters of Igodomigodo land.

At some point, this protracted war could no longer be sustained by Ogiamen Erebo and the Bini people. As some of the Ogiamen Chiefs were alleged to have begun plotting to surrender themselves to the regime of Eweka I. Ogiamen as expected saw through these dangerous antics and then decided to move fast to broker some truce with Eweka I.

This was when Ogiamen Erebo decided to secretly invite Eweka I to this particular palace in Benin City to eves dropped into the proceedings of the meeting that was held in this palace on a particular day.

It was also in this same palace Eweka I was hidden, in a place called AZA on that day. The AZA of a place is still here in the palace up till this very day. At the close of that meeting and when all the chiefs have left this palace for their respective homes, Ogiamen Erebo of Igodomigodo brought Eweka I out from the secret room. It was then that Eweka I, told Ogiamen Erebo that it was a privilege to have listened to all the discussions that took place in the ancient palace on that day and that he was now ready for peace.

Immediately after then, both parties agreed to reach a truce. It was then after Ogiamen Erebo and Eweka I, decided to sign what is today known as “The Ekiokpagha Treaty”. It was during the signing of this treaty, that the present-day Benin City was divided into two equal parts between Ogiamen Erebo and Oba Eweka I by the Colonial Masters, who supervised the meeting.

The point you must note again is that the aboriginal Bini people never had an Oba in the ancient Bini. It is Ogie ‘Kings’ that we have in Bini. This happens to be my title ‘Ogiamen.’

While signing this treaty Ogiamen Erebo insisted that some of his conditions must be met for the treaty to be binding. The details of this treaty are known to most Bini people including the present Oba of Benin.

It was after the signing of this Ekiokpagha treaty, that Oba Eweka I reign began in Benin City. As we speak, seven out of the Local Government Areas in Edo South in present-day Benin City are in what used to be known as Igodomigodo land or side of Bini. Another fact that is incontrovertible is that the people of aborigine Igodomigodo areas of Bini live in areas that are located within the original Bini mote. While the settlers reside outside the original Bini motes

I have taken my time to take you through the brief history of present-day Bini and to further emphasize the importance of this palace being made a National Monument. Let me again seize this opportunity to say, that there is no fight or problem between the Ogiamen of the Igodomigodo kingdom and the present Oba of Benin City. Once both parties learn to keep within their historical boundaries made by their ancestors.

Palace Watch decided to contact the Oba of Benin Palace for its comments on the Ogiamen Arisco’s brief history of Benin. A senior Palace Chief, who pleaded anonymity, said he does not want to be involved in unnecessary controversies with the Ogiamen as the claims of Ogiamen Arisco are false. The truth is that Ogiamen is just one of the chiefs, among other numerous chiefs in the Oba of Benin palace.

“Ogiamen Arisco with this type of dangerous mindset, in 2015, decided to violate the Edo State Traditional and Chieftaincy law, by installing himself in that same palace as the Ogiamen of Utantan-Bini. As expected, he was promptly arrested and detained in Oko prison in Benin City. He was later granted bail and he jumped bail and has since then remained a fugitive in Benin City.

“Contrary to the Ogiamen Arisco’s story, Ogiso Owodo was the last Ogiso of Igodomigodo land before that era ended. The Benin people first operated a system of governance based on seniority or the oldest man in the town, known as gerontocracy. Ogiso Evian and Ogiamen Erebo were nothing but ordinary administrators who held forth, during the interregnum until the emergence of the Oba of Benin era in Benin City.

“Unfortunately, Ogiso Evian and Ogiamen Erebo wanted to continue illegally in power, but the Edo people at large said no, we want our Oba. And that was it.

“When Ogiso Owodo died, the Edo people who wanted to install a new king consulted the oracle, as it has always been the practice, before installing a new king, it was then the oracle told them, that the only son of Ogiso Owodo Prince Ekaladeran, who was unjustly banished from Benin is still alive somewhere, and that the Benin people should endeavour to look for him and installed him as their new King. It was after a very long search, that it was discovered that Prince Ekaladeran, was now settled in a place called Ile-Ife, with the name “Izoduwa”. It was this particular name the Yoruba people corrupted to be their present Oduduwa.

“Izoduwa, however, told the Benin people that reached out to him, that although he was wronged and unjustly treated he was then too old to go back to Benin City to ascend the throne of his ancestors. He elected to send one of his sons, Oranmiyan to go and ascend the throne in Benin City in his place, since his son was his flesh and blood. This is the link between the present Oba of Benin with the Ile-Ife people.

“And when Oranmiyan arrived in Benin City he married the daughter of the Enogie of Egor, who gave birth to a son for him who was named Eweka. He Eweka later ascended the Benin throne as Oba Eweka the first. This is the true history, not the history according to Ogiamen Arisco.” He concluded.

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