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!
During the Idah Was (1515 - 1516) one of the Benin Ward, called Ijie, was very much impressed with the expanse of virgin jury teeming with wild animals in the Esan Country. I could get no confirmation story to some of the elders' suggestion that there was an Oba’s son a hunter who left Benin in disgust because his father used to confiscate all the animals he had killed while hunting. The Oba ruled at this time Esigie and it is difficult to believe that a son of the Obas of those days could degrade the palace by partially living in the jungle in pursuit of animals for food, and that the Oba could hanker after the carcasses, several days old, that the hunter son brought home.
Ijie was no Oba's sun but simply a Bini who had already seen Esan country during the Idah expedition. It was his interest in hunting made him find his way to Esan and the place he wanted to settle in Uda's Ekpoma. Instead of the same game he was used to at Benin, he forsake the forests teeming with elephants. To these he went after in an insatiable manner. All he wanted from them really were the beautiful but expense tusks. The elephant is so large that one could not kill one without the neighbourhood knowing of it and with that, the news went straight to Onojie, who at this time was Ojiekhere (1515) the son of Uda the Great Ekpoma. No sooner Ijie arrived home than Ojiekhere's Iko (messenger would arrive demanding not one but all the tusks as tributes to the Ono owner of the land. This went on until in exasperation Ijie decided to into the jungle where he could enjoy the fruits of his labour. He moved south in search of a spot removed from tribute maniacs.
At a spot lying between the young settlements of Osa, headed Onojie Anyi, and Igbanke, Ijie pitched his hut surrounded by a few of grown up sons who were able to go through with the long trek.
It is said that on his dying bed, many years later, when Ijie giving his children his last blessings and words of advice, he admonish them to remember their home which he said was E - KPON -, but the breath went out of him before he could complete the word EKPOMA.
The affinity between Ekpon and Ekpoma was maintained to peaceful relation and another link of the old association is represented by fact that the old man and his family carried forwards some of the habits had got used to at Ekpoma, for example, they continued to have their main buying and selling day - on the same first day of the Farm Week.
Ekpon consists of:-
1. EGUARE (1953 - 438; 1963 - 3,834):
Together with ORENOKHUA and IDUMUJE as components, Eguare grew out of the settlement Ijie himself founded round about IS55. Ijie himself was no Onojie, it was with the growth of the settlement that one of his descendants was said to have gone to Benin for his installation as Onojie.
2. IGODUMA (512):
This quarter was founded by some of Ijie's children, to be enlarged by the later arrival of the children of Akasan. Here the Oniha of Ekpon is found.
3. OGBE (184):
This is the traditional home of the Esogban and was founded by the children of Akasan.
4. IKPUDU (232):
Ikpudu was founded by immigrants from Eguare and thus many of them are descendants of Ijie. Some of the early settlers were Tsekiri elephant hunters under the ledership of Ebo who had a camp at Ijie's settlement. This is the home of Edohen of Ekpon.
5. EKU (1953 - 247; 1963 - 1,521):
This was the Eko (camp) that started during Ogbole's time; it is the traditional home of the Iyasele. Nearer Eguare is the original settlement which is known today as EKO-UWA.
Eguare and descendants' quarter of Igoduma form the Kingmakers of Ekpon.
This is performed by the Oniha.
I have been quite unable both here and in Benin City to get any information of whether any of the rulers of Ekpon ever was installed Onojie formally by the Oba of Benin, but today, in accordance with Esan custom, the accredited head of Ekpon is Onojie. The best known, at least in modern history is EDOBO I. He was a minor when his father Usifo joined his ancestors and his uncle IREN OBUBOKI was appointed a Regent. He had his primary education in Ubiaja Catholic School. He took over the reign of office in the early twenties.
EDOBO I was a man of great energy; to a stranger he may have appeared always aggressive, but to those who know him intimately, he was an enthusiastic worker, stubborn to a cause he was convinced of and showed a dignified loyalty to his friends.
He succeeded in the 1951 election and became an Honourable member of the Western House of Chiefs. He died on the 15th of August, 1972 'at the age of 84. After the burial ceremonies his son and heir, Prince Robert, ascended the Ekpon throne as Edobo II. Death struck so prematurely and he was succeeded by his first son and heir Prince Charles Osajie, as Edobo Ill on Friday, 12th of January, 1990.
VI PRESENT ONOJIE:
Prince Charles Osajie was 29 years old when he was called upon to assume the highest post of authority in Ekpon. On the death of his father he ascended the throne on 12th January, 1990 as the 12th Onojie, including Ijiekhijie (forgotten names), as given to me by his illustrious grandfather -
Edobo I. Officiating at his installation, according to Ekpon native law and custom was Chief Ukpebo Uzebo, the Oniha of Ekpon.