Two issues are involved in the acerbic disagreement that cropped up 24 days ago between the Yorubas and Binis over their Oduduwa ancestry, following the statement of His Royal Majesty Adedotun Gbadebo III, Alake Okukenu IV of Egba Kingdom, that the Oba of Benin is the third – in – rank among Yoruba monarchs, coming after the Ooni of Ife, who is followed by the Alaafin of Oyo, with the Egba title holder in the fourth position and the Awujale of Ijebu Kingdom in the fifth place. The first pertains to the place of origin of Oduduwa, who the majority of Yorubas say came from Saudi Arabia through Egypt and the Sudan to Ile – Ife, while there is another story that Almighty God lowered him from heaven with a chain.
But for the Binis, he was the son of the last king of their Ogiso dynasty who left Benin to found Ile–Ife and who on getting there changed his name from Ekaladerhan to Oduduwa. A Yoruba word that is said to mean the essence of reality or the pious role model man of behaviour (Odu – ti – o da – iwa) or the reservoir of existence (Odu – ti – o – du uwa).
The second contentious issue is the resentment of the Binis to the classification of their king, the Oba of Benin, as a Yoruba monarch, where, as Oba Gbadebo stated, he is ranked as the third in the hierarchy of Oduduwa’s descendants. The Binis say although their first king in the post – Ogiso dynasty era, Eweka 1 (1180 – 1246), was the son of Oranmiyan or Oranyan, that he is not a Yoruba king because they are not of the Yoruba ethnic nationality. They say the Yorubas originated from Benin and as a result their monarch is senior to the Ooni of Ife and the traditional rulers in Yoruba land.
From the research I conducted on the positions of the two sides, it is a case of the Yorubas winning on one issue and the Binis on the other. Oduduwa or Oranmiyan never waged war and did not conquer the Binis nor ruled over them as king. Like the monarchs of many towns in Nigeria, Africa and Europe, the list of the 38 kings of Benin of the post – Ogiso dynasty era from Eweka I to the current one, Oba Erediauwa, is in Wikipedia Encyclopedia on the internet. But the name of Oranmiyan is not on it, unlike the roll–call of the Alaafin of Oyo, a town which he founded and where his name is in the number one on the list of traditional rulers, followed by that of his son, Ajaka who succeeded him when he decided to return to Ile–Ife and later became the sixth Ooni.
It is true that when the crisis that led to the collapse of the Ogiso dynasty proved intractable that the Benin sent messages to Oduduwa to give them a king and that Oranmiyan was the one he chose for them. But the situation he met when he got there was such that he was unable to enter the town as many people were opposed to someone coming from Ife to rule them. He stayed in the outskirts of the town for about three months and decided to return to Ife when it became impossible for him to rule the people.
Oranmiyan was said to have described the town as Ile Ibinu, Yoruba words that depict the place as a land of crisis or tumult inhabited by vexatious people. Ile Ibinu was later called Ibini and its people Ibinis. The town became known as Benin through the way the Europeans pronounced Ibini.
During his sojourn in Benin, Oranmiyan was said to have impregnated a local woman who after his departure gave birth to a dumb son. The name he was given at birth is not known but in adulthood he became known as Owo mika, Yoruba words for my hand has touched it, which he was said to have uttered when playing a game with people, thus ending his dumbness. It is Owo mika that became pronounced as Eweka by the Binis, making the young prince on ascending the throne to be known as Oba Eweka and becoming Eweka I, six hundred and sixty – eight years later, when the prince who became the 36th Oba of Benin in 1914 chose to be called Eweka.
Since the version of the history of the Yorubas says they originated from Saudi Arabia, that means the Binis were a different people, not the descendants of Oduduwa and not members of his ethnic group. They became connected with Oduduwa when they had a problem coming up with a king when the Ogiso royal dynasty collapsed and they sent to him in Ile-Ife to give them one of his sons to be their ruler.
From this scenario, it is the king of Benin that has ties with the Yorubas and not his subjects who speak the Edo language which is different from Yoruba spoken by the descendants of Oduduwa. Even if Oranmiyan had been king in Benin, to me, he would just have been a son of Oduduwa served as a monarch over the people of the town. But it would not have made him as the third – in – rank among Yoruba obas, because the Binis are not Yorubas. In other words, the ranking Oba Gbadebo gave of the position of Yoruba obas should have been the Ooni as the first, the Alaafin second, Alake, third, Awujale IV and so on and so forth.
Even if the Oba of Benin as a descendant of Oduduwa had ruled over Yoruba people and had been one of Yoruba monarchs, I don’t think he would have accepted that he is third – in – rank after the Ooni and Alaafin. This is for the same reason that Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, the 45th Alaafin of Oyo in the 1980s resented the Ooni of Ife as the number one king in Yoruba land. Oyo for centuries had an empire which covered parts of Nigeria and Benin Republic, if not up to Togo or beyond. Benin too had an empire which was created by its 12th monarch, Ewuare The Great (1440 – 73), which extended to parts of present – day Ondo and Ekiti states, if not Kogi State as well and which lasted for more than four – and – a half centuries (457 years to be exact), until 1897 when the British conquered Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1888 – 97) the 35th ruler of Benin, who died in exile in Calabar in 1914.
Rulers whose ancestors conquered large territories and had empires for centuries, see their thrones as great and, therefore, cannot accept to be subordinate to kings whose forebear did not conquer other people and ruled over just their town. They don’t welcome monarchs as heads of an ethnic group because they are spiritual leaders of the tribe.
Next week: The dispute over Oduduwa’s place of origin.