By DR.CHRISTOPHER.G. OKOJIE, OFR, DSc (Hon)
It will serve a useful purpose to remember right at the onset that there are two parts to every Esan district: the royal family and the common people. They were quite distinct, for nearly all the ancient ruling houses came from Benin City or its suburbs. The head of the ruling houses was and still is, the ONOJIE, who with his family, servants and brothers inhabited EGUARE, the administrative CAPITAL of the district. Another important thing an enquirer must take notice of is the use of the word BROTHER by Esan people. It can mean anything from a male blood relation to a very good friend. Secondly OBA's SON can mean a BINI and, in fact, it was recently, a common thing for any Bini, outside the city, to describe himself as the OBA's SON!
The correct name is EILU. Although after the 1953 general census its population was given as 9,074, its correct population is much less than this, being only about 6,377. It consists of:
(a) EGUARE (765).
(h) EHANLEN (1,789 - 2,117 in 1963).
(c) UlOGHOLO (1.067 - 1137 in 1963).
(J) IOUNWELE (2,290).
(e) IHENWEN (324).
EKO-IDUZE, the original camp founded by the great farmer IDUZE, has grown into a village of industrious and intelligent people. Their origin is Idunwele. The original people of EILU were the inhabitants of the place today called EHANLEN - ONIHA. A superior set of people came about 1516 mostly from IDUMEBO, Benin City and they overshadowed those they had found.
One of Oba Ozolua's many sons called UGHULU was driven from the city for crimes he had committed against his hot tempered father. When leaving, many admirers and close relatives including his two maternal brothers, UAMEN and IKPEBUA, in order of seniority, decided to follow him into his forced exile. They all wandered on in the jungle for years until they got to a primitive settlement which today is Ehanlen Oniha, Because they said they came from Benin and because of the characteristic preferential treatment for strangers by Esan, those three fugitive brothers soon assumed positions of importance amongst the timid , fear-to-offend community that had given them refuge. Ikpebua, the youngest, was found to be very wise and kind, so the community elected him to be their ruler, to the utter annoyance of his senior brother, Ughulu. Armed with a bow and arrows the angry man wanted to avenge this wrong done by the elders and so he proceeded to the compound of the Okaku, called ONUGO. This wise leader saw him and read vengeance in his eyes; he very tactfully invited him in, talked to him and finally succeeded in pacifying him by giving him his first daughter called ISEDUA, who was a girl of rare beauty, in marriage. On seeing this lovely girl Ughulu soon forgot his anger; he married her and settled down to life near his father-in-law. His settlement became EHANLEN UGHULU. The second brother, Uamen, quietly went to settle in a place that is today called mHIUAMEN of Uzogholo, while the youngest brother, Ikpebua, now king, moved forward to live as befitted him, in a big area known now as EGUARE.
This place was founded by some quarrelsome settlers from Ehanlen Oniba, and their name was derived from EHANLEN-NAN-AWEN (Awen wen - meaning full of friction, troublesome).
The origin of this village is closely tied up with the history of Ekpoma. Assailed with taunts from friends and enemies Ikeakhe the Unlucky of Ekpoma (became Onojie in 1820), with the largest harem in Esan land and yet having not a single son, got to a stage when he could bear no longer. He began to hit back on Ekpoma, sparing no one and often indiscriminately widely. Round about 1849, some twenty years on the throne as an unhappy king, Eguare rose up against him and ejected him from Odugha. He fled to Ene. This incensed Ihonmidumun his mother's village, who felt that he should have sought sanctuary in bis second home Egble Aba bha jia yenlen, Akhian ise Inenen! He finally made his way back to them from where he went up to UWELEN - AKEN (Warraken).
Here he enlisted the services of some Nupes headed by the two desperados, IMOGODIA and ADAUDO. These old veterans of the Nupe or Kukuruku Wars (1850 - 1853) that had been ravaging the North-Eastern districts of Esanland, swooped on Eguare, Ekpoma with Emaudo bearing the brunt of the onslaught. Many waves of refuges left seeking peace in the rest of Esan. Those that went via Ukhun under the leadership of EGUAMEN, founded IDUNWELE.
The then Onojie of Ewu was Okoeguale (1845 - 1868), Eimuan's father. When Okoeguale died and Ehiemuan the Tyrant (1868 - 1898) became Onojie about 1868, the newcomers had a stork for a king! His atrocious reign got beyond endurance and the more touchy ones under the leadership of OMORUARE, packed and left the new settlement in search of the land of freedom. They thought they had found it in Udowo, Irrua – but at that time, sitting on the Irrua throne was OGBEIDE the Terrible!
EKO-OJEMEN is wrongfully described as founded by the fertile OJEMEN after whom the settlement was named. Eimuan had been consistently dreaded by all his subjects but towards the end of his life, he was the proverbial stork presiding over the destiny of the frogs who wanted a king! The innocent were used for forced labour and the guilty were sold into slavery. Such terrorist tactics dwindled the population of Ewu very fast. One of those who fled Idunwele about 1895, was a man called ALENDE. First he fled to Ogodogbo, an off-shoot of Idunwele, on the IIleh road. Three years after Eimuan died, Alende thought the danger was gone and so he returned to his village - Uwenlen-Udu of Idunwele. A man of great energy and construction, he found life in the village intolerable during the Ojiefo - Abhulimen tussle of 1903 - this time he left it for good. He built a camp near Agwa to which he had run.
Alende had five children, three sons - Akioyamen, Ejiya and Jemen, and two daughters - EJIANRE and IMAMEN. The youngest of those children was the verile, energetic, brave and abundantly blessed OJEMEN. It was a fitting memorial when the original EKO ALENDE came to be known as EKO OJEMEN.
All descendants of Eguamen forbid Akuaghanghan - the barking tree climber. During the devastating Nupe War (1850 - 1853) which some call Kukuruku War, the Northern Esan Communities of Erah, Isiolili, Ukhun, Idoa, Ewu, Ujagbe and Irrua bore the brunt of the slave raids. On one occasion Ewu wastakenunawares and the Nupes entered through Idunwele, The people fled into the jungle and took cover. Akuaghanghan carne down and played along the footpath leading into the jungle thus covering up the tell-tale footprints of the fugitives. When the Nupes arrived, found the village empty and seeing no footprints they thought the village had long been deserted and so left. The people realising what happened, knew this animal saved their livesand homes and from then decreed no one must kill or eat the animal. It became a sacred animal to Idunwele.
UJAGBE was originally part of Ewu. It ceded from Ewu in 1895, a few years before the death of Eimuan whose autocracy and atrocity were equalled only by the Enijieof Irrua or Uromi. He sold visitors, friends and even his children indiscriminately: that sort of thing made Ujagbe seek freedom under Agbede Clan.
This village is composed of three quarters:-
Despite the closeness of these quarters inter-marriage is permitted – an evidence (in Esan) of their founders having no blood affinity. Part of Ujagbe came from Ibhioran, hence the appellation of "Ujagbe - Oran" for the people of Ujagbe.
2. Present Onojie:
Ojiefo II was Isesele as Prince. He had his education at Ewu Government School which was opened in 1908. When he left school he went to Lagos as a Steward boy. In 1932 he returned home but was driven out as a pretender to the throne and so he went to live with his Uncle, Prince J.O. Ojiefo the late Oshodin of Ewu (now succeeded by his son Emmanuel Okonobo Ojiefo) at Sapele. At Sapele he returned to school until the Ojiefo - Omosun chieftaincy dispute was finally settled in his favour. This Onojie, now the oldest in the whole of Esanland, was able to go through a protracted struggle for his father's throne because of a dedicated Uncle, Prince J.O. Ojiefo. His case strictly hinged on the seven cardinal Esan Customary Laws on selection, appointment and installation of an Onojje. He became-Onojieon September 11, 1935.
Before this can be understood the different components of Ehanlen must be understood. Already we have seen that Ehanlen Oniba was already in existence before the three brothers, Ughulu, Uamen and Ikpebua came from Benin. Ehanlen Ughulu was thus not in any way related to Ehanlen Oniba. What is the origin of this place then?
Round about 1490, Uda who was growing from prosperity to a state of deification in his lifetime, could do anything without anybody in Ekpoma raising a finger. He sacrificed lavishly and invariably he looked towards Ojole of Ukpoke's Ehanlen for victims to be sacrificed to his ancestors. By the time he died it had almost become a custom to look towards Ehanlen for human sacrificial victims. Thus at Uda's death in 1515, his successor, Ojieikhere, who had his father's greatness as a buttress, was out to give his illustrious father the greatest burial in all history. That of course meant the use of an alarming number of slaves! At the initial stages of the ceremonies, Ehanlen people decided to save themselves and there was an almost wholesale exodus of men under the leadership of ONUGO, from the rich oil palm grove. The migrating band settled at a spot that became Ehanlen Oniha. They still talked of their oil palm grove nostalgically and in later years, they referred to their place of origin as being from under the palms.
Although this settlement that came from Ehanlen Ekpoma was the first habitation in Ewu, it did not have its present name of Ehanlen Oniba until after the creation of the Onojie title in the area. The wise Ikpebua, in wanting to appease the leader of the people who had given them sanctuary, conferred the Oniba title, next to that of the Onojie which they gave him. Now the relationship of the kingmakers of Ewu can be followed intelligently. They are the elders of:
(2) Ibhiuamen of Uzogholo, and
(3) Ehanlen Ughulu.
All were places founded by the three brothers and hence are all related by blood. Ehanlen Oniba's exclusion can now be understood to be quite in order.
After the heir has performed the necessary funeral ceremonies, he is installed by the Oniha, head of the original settlement that made Ikpebua Onojie about 1516.
Ewu suffered terrible chieftaincy strife that even till today has left the people divided and some of them, full of hate. There were two major strife’s in the history of the Ruling House. To be able to follow, let us go into that history of Ewu in general and that of Ehiemuan (Eimuan) the Tyrant, in particular.
(a) Ehiemun The Tyrant (1868 - 1898):
Ehimuan, abbreviated Eimuan, was a great and much dreaded Onojie. As an avid slave dealer he sold all subjects of his displeasure. He had three well known sons but before talking of these Princes let us go back into the history of this Ruler. His very first son, EBEJIAKHALU committed suicide because of insults from his pregnant wife. As a punishment she and her child were sold into slavery. The second, OBOZOKHALE (who was now the first) was expelled by his father to Agbede because of his unruliness. He was later found murdered in a bush between Ewu and Agbede after he had made a forceful attempt to return to his fatherland in 1890. His wife remarried in Agbede and had two children - Abu who died in 1931 and a daughter Mero who was still alive in 1962.
Now the well known Ehiemuan Princes: the first after the death of Ebejiakhalu and Obozokhale, was ABHULIMEN; the second was OJIEFO the Maatyr while the youngest of the three was OMOSUN.
Abhulimen was so cantankerous, so lawless and destructive, that if desperation, his father sold him into slavery. All Ewu felt relieved whether they were rid of him; Ehiemuan then took Ojiefo as his first son am groomed him up as his successor.On his death in 1898 the natural first son Abhulimen was nowhere to be found and might have been dead for all Ewu knew, so the kingmakers asked Ojiefo to perform the funeral ceremonies Having completed these vital ceremonies he was duly installed Onojie About five years later, kind hearted Ojiefo became quite unhappy thinking that while he was Onojie his maternal brother, Abhulimen was probably serving as a slave to a lesser being. He decided to search for him at a great financial sacrifice. At long last abhullmen was found somewhere in Northen Nigeria, a slave. Ojiefo redeemed him, brought him home, built a house for him and married a wife for him. He spared nothing to make him forget his humiliations and be a contented man. After some years evil men set to work on Abhulimen; he was told that he was his father's first son and by right ought to be sitting where meek Ojiefo was. They talked him into
forgetting that but for his junior brother's kind heart he might have lived and died a slave; he ungratefully lent himself to a few men who wanted to fish in troubled waters, and Ojiefo was asked to step down for him. That was about 1910. The kingmakers of Eguare and Ehanlen Ughulu stuck to native laws and custom and to Ojiefo, but by now the white man had become the final arbiter in Esan affairs.
The District Commissioner ruled that since the first son inherits the father's property and title and there was no argument that Abhulimen was the first son, he was the rightful claimant. Despite the kingmakers' protest that there were over-riding provisos, the Commissioner got the Government to recognize Abhulimen. Ojiefo then lodged a complaint at the Oba's Palace supported by some powerful Benin Traditional chiefs. The Benin Chiefs in Council went into the matter according to custom: True, Esan custom laid it down that the first surviving son succeeds the father but there were important provisos - the most important of which was, HE WHO PERFORMED THE BURIAL CEREMONIES, succeeded his father. In this case these ceremonies were performed by Ojiefo, the second son as a result of the first son's where about not being known. Therefore that first son had lost all rights to succession. This was exactly the point the kingmakers had been stressing though the white man just stuck to one fragment of the laws. Ojiefo then continued as Onojie but at the expense of having made powerful enemies on the government sidel The Commissioner watched his hands and feet with his district receiving extra attention.
Ojiefo the Matyr, a contemporary of Eromosele of Irrua, Imadojiemun of Opoji, Ogbidi of Uromi, Okojie of Ugboha etc, was not to enjoy peace for long. In 1913 the poor man was cornered with a crime under indirect slave trade, which in the 1950s was still practised in Esanland - pawning of children! The facts of the case was that Ojiefo had pawned three daughters of the same woman married to a man in Agbede. A. Norton Harper the District Commissioner who had been looking for poor Ojiefo to fry saw him covered in oil and quickly set him on fire! It was a quick business sending him in for two years. His heir Ijiebomen was made the Regent but in 1915 some Hausa goat traders passing through Ewu were looted, allegedly, under Ijiebomen's instruction. He was tried at the Native Court at Irrua and sent to meet his father for four months. That was enough for the sticky Ojiefo family. Then arose the question of regency. Brave Omosun, Ojiefo's junior brother was made the Regent in 1916 after a short interregnum. On Ojiefo's return, the Government supported by all Ewu, not knowing the grave consequences, advised that Omosun should be allowed to pass the rest of his life as Regent. Then fate struck Ojiefo family again.
Ojiefo himself predeceased Omosun, in 1928, and to worsen matters, his heir Ijibomen died in 1930, leaving Omosun squarely on Ewu throne. In September, 1932, Omosun himself died and a real succession tussle began for Ewu.
Mr. J .O. Omosun, the late Omosun's heir claimed the Onojie title while ISESELE, though very young, maintained that by right, as heir to Ijiebomen, Ojiefo's eldest son, he should be made the Onojie. The District officer, Commander J.G. Pykenott (later Lieutenant Governor, Eastern Region till 1953) decided in favour of Mr. Omosun who now backed by the Resident, was installed in 1932. Led by Mr. J.O. Ojiefo of the Posts and Telegraphs, Sapele, the Ojiefo family petitioned His Excellency the Governor that theirs was the correct line and not that of Omosun. The Governor, of course trusting the officer on the spot, replied that SINCE A VAST MAJORITY OF EWU PEOPLE WERE SOLIDLY BEHIND OMOSUN he saw no 'reason to intervene. In point of fact there was no gainsaying it, that Omosun was the choice of all Ewu. The tenacious Ojiefo family were undaunted and they put up yet another petition to His Excellency telling him that they never argued that a majority of the people were for Omosun; their contention was that the Onojie title in Esan was a constitutional monarchy guarded jealously by Native Laws and Custom. It was too sacred to be left to the caprice of popular vote. They implored His Excellency to be guarded by what was right and not the popularity of the contestants. They added that in all these matters of Onojie in Esan, the Oba of Benin who originally installed Enijie should be an authority. The Governor duly referred the matter to the Oba of Beilin and with the Resident Present, he went into the laws and custom and found that the Omosun line began as a regent; but for the mistake of respect for Omosun's person, in allowing him to continue as a regent when the substantive holder of the title had returned from prison, all these disputes could have been avoided. In Esan custom once a man has been duly installed nothing but death removes him. Imprisonment or deportation might deny him government recognition but did not and could not remove his birth right of Onojie title from him. On the Oba's strong recommendation, Isesele won the fight and on September 11, 1935, he was installed Onojie ofEwu. (See No.BPC.182/140 of September, 1935 and IDC 25/13 of 31st July, 1935) - I quote:
"SUCCESSION TO THE TITLE OF ONOJIE OF EWU"
"On the 20th of July, 1930 Dawudu and 6 others on behalf of Isesele of Egwarre village, Ewu Clan submitted to Arbitration in accordance with the Arbitration Ordinance the dispute as to who is entitled to succeed to the title of Onojie of Ewu. The parties concerned appointed the Oba of Benin and an Administrative Officer to be the Arbitrators.
2. On the 11th of September, 1935, the Arbitrators, the Oba of Benin and Mr. Stanfield, Assistant District Officer, commenced the investigation in presence of the parties at Benin.
3. The following points were established by the unanimous consent of both parties:-
(a) Ogiefo the son of Emuwa was duly and properly appointed as Onojie of Ewu.
(b) Ogiefo had an elder brother called Awarime who died without male issue, and a younger brother called Omosun whose son J.O. Omosun is one of the disputants to the title.
(c) Ogiefo, owing to misbehavior was forced to resign the title Onogie, and Omosun assumed the title and office.
(d) Igiebo, the son of Ogiefo, died shortly after his father (i.e, about 6 years ago) but before his Uncle Omosun died.
(e) Isesele, the son of Ogiefo, would have undisputed right to the title had his grandfather not been deposed.
(f) That the people of Ewu, though in another District are to be considered as Binis'and subject, with modifications, to Benin custom particularly as succession to Onogieship.
1. It was alleged that when Ogiefo was deposed he took an oath that he renounced his title for himself and his descendants forever. It would appear that it is upon this the claim of J.O. Omosun is chiefly based.
5. The Arbitrators arrived at this decision of the 11th September, 1935. Both arbitrators were in agreement that Isesele is the rightful claimant and their observations and decision are appended.
(Akenzua II, Oba of Benin.
(Sgd. Arbitrators (
(Mr. Stanfield, Assistant District Officer. (Sgd.
No. BPC 182/140
Benin City, 27th September, 1935.
The District Officer,
The information with reference to his Confidential letter No. I.D.C.25/IV of the 31st of July, 1935.
(Sgd.) H.F.M. White,
OBA'S DECISION (Folio 141):
Before I give my decision I should like to explain one or two points. The first point is that I consider you, although at present you are under a separate Division, as Benin, and I take it that you all agree with me when I say this.
The second point is that as Benin people I consider that the custom of Benin, though there can be no doubt that there is some modification of such custom in some parts of Ishan Division, prevails in Ishan Division and I can I take it that the custom as regards succession to Enogieship in Ewu Clan of the Ishan Division does not differ materially from the Benin custom. I feel sure that you will agree with me in this point too.
Now thea the important points to be considered about the dispute concerning the Enogieship of Ewu are:-
a) Who is the eldest son of Emuwa the last Enogie and father of the disputant’s grandfather or father.
b) Whether or not the deposition of Ogiefo the Enogie of Ewu was in accord with native custom.
c) Whether the appointment of Omosun as the Enogie of Ewu was in accord with native custom.
d) Who is the rightful claimant between Iselele and J. Omosun.
Referring to the points item by item it has been discovered that the eldest son of Emuwa was Awarime and he has died leaving no male but a female issue. His son should have been the proper man to be appointed as Enogie of Ewu if there is any, but according to the law of Benin people descendants of a female child do not succeed as Encgie; so the question of Awarime or his descendants through his female children is ruled out. The next question is about the deposition of Ogiefo and second son of Emuwa who has succeeded his father as the Enogie. It has been said that this man has been made to vacate the stool and made to renounce all claims to the Enogieship for himself and his descendants by taking an oath. This was wrong as in ancient days the people could not depose an Enogie or cause an Enogie to renounce his right to Enogieship for himself and for his descendants. The "whole procedure concerning the deposition of Ogiefo Enogie of Ewu was a novelty and was unthinkable in ancient days. When Ogiefo was deposed a regent should be appointed. In doing this it has been discovered that Igiebo could not succeed or be appointed as Regent while his deposed father lived and so one Omosun who was the next brother to Ogiefo was appointed as regent but unfortunately after the death of Ogiefo, Igiebo his heir apparent was denied the right to succeed by the regent and while labouring under this adverse circumstance Igiebo died, Omosun the regent thus became free. Seeing that his father Igiebo had died and that Omosun was still in power Isesele or his supporters saw that it was useless pressing the matter forward until after the death of Omosun the regent. Isesele's supporters were wise when they took steps to remedy the blunders that had previously been committed in regard to the deposition of Ogiefo and the appointment of Omosun as regent or Enogie.
It was right to appoint Omosun as regent but wrong to appoint him as Enogie. In any case as regent or wrongly appointed Enogie, his son cannot succeed him as Enogie or even still as regent if the rightful claimant is of age and he is one Isesele who derives his right by virtue of being the eldest son of Igiebo who is Ogiefo's eldest son and the rightful Enogie after Emuwa the Enogie. There is no doubt about this and I have after deep consideration come to the conclusion that Isesele is the rightful claimant. Now therefore I have appointed him, Isesele, according to the general custom of Benin people in regard to succession as the Enogie of Ewu.
(Sgd.) Oba of Benin.
Despite this decision based on age old Native Laws and Custom Mr. Stanfield the Assistant District Officer, Benin Division, in concurring with the Oba tried to twist the custom in an attempt to bend the law towards Omosun's claim as Onojie of Ewu. However on the Oba's strong analysis and findings Isesele won the fight and on September 11, 1935 he was installed Onojie of Ewu.
"I concur with the Oba of Benin on his decision that Isesele is the rightful Onojie of Ewu. It is agreed that had Ogiefo not been driven away Isesele would have undisputed right to the title.
"I concur with the Oba of Benin that there is no good reason for believing that Ogiefo could dispossess his heirs by renouncing his claim for ever. It is agreed that the title of Onojie derives from the Oba of Benin. It is agreed that the appointment and deposal of Onojie is a matter that should confirm to Benin custom, such custom provides that a son cannot claim the title of his deposed father during his father's lifetime. For this reason it is evident that Igiebo could not claim the title or drive out Omosun.
The reasons for deposing Ogiefo cannot apply to Ogiefo's grandson. Thesins of Ogiefo may be considered to be finished and forgotten.
It is immaterial whether Omosun had a right or not to assume the title of Onogie. In either case his son cannot claim to succeed. I consider that Isesele should be Onogie of Ewu and that no other person has a better title.
(Sgd.) Mr. StanfieldAssistant District Officer,