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An HISTORY: OBA OVONRAMWEN NOGBAISI




Prince Idugbowa was the eldest son of Oba Adolo and his mother was called queen Iheya.
During his coronation he took the name Oba ovonramwen Nogbaisi in 1888.

He was tall, charismatic, very bold and possessed a his majestic voice.

He was blessed with children:
Princes: Aiguobasimwin , Usuanlele, Ehigie and Uvbi
princesses: Evbakhavbokun, Omono, Orimwiame.


BELOW ARE SOME NOTABLE EVENTS THAT OCCURRED DURING HIS REIGN
After his installation on the throne, he had some chiefs killed for opposing his ascension. They included chiefs Eribo, Obazele, Osia and Obaraye.
At the early stage of his reign, the Europeans visited Benin-city. Among them were Blessby, Bey and Farquahar.
That same year the Odundun, the Deji, Udezi of Akure acquired swords for himself without the consent of the Oba Of Benin. And when the Oba learnt of this in early 1889, he then sent Okpele to take the swords from Deji. After much threat, Deji surrendered the swords to Okpele and he then took them to Beni-city. Odundun sent a lot of presents to the Oba, but the Oba refused to accept his presents.
That same year, 1890 the Oba gave his daughter, princess Evbakhavbokun’s hand in marriage to Ologboshere.
Early 1890, the Oracle of Oghene of Uhe (Oni of Ife) warned Oba Ovonramwen to be cautious that he perceived calamity was going to befall the city.
May 1891, during the royal coral beads ceremony, a human sacrifice was offered to the gods. His name was Thompson Oyibodudu. During his execution he shouted saying ‘the white men that are greater than us are coming shortly to fight and conquer you and I, but do it quickly’. True to his words, the prophecy manifested in 1897.
In 1892, chief Nana of Benin River, stopped all trade between the Benin and the Itsekiri’s and he also prohibited the supply of cooking salt. After a while the issue was resolved and trade commenced. Chief Nana continued to pay homage to the Oba.
By early 1896, the Oba stopped trading with the Itsekiris because he felt the Binis were being cheated. After several negotiations, the Oba requested for twenty thousand iron sheets from their chiefs before he would lift the ban on trading. He had gotten some Iron sheets and brass from Mr Cyril Punch and other Europeans in 1891/1892 which he had used in roofing the palace halfway but he needed more to complete it, hence his request from the Itsekiri chiefs.
In 1895, the Onogie of Ekpoma, in Esanland, died and the people rebelled because they felt the Oba had ignored them and they needed a new leader. So, Oba Ovonramwen sent messengers there, commanding them to install the eldest son of the late Onogie.
That same year, the Oba built a war camp at Obadan village. He recruited ten thousand men to be trained, so they could be used in Agbor and other campaigns which he proposed to undertake.
THE BENIN MASSACRE AND THE EXPEDITION OF 1897
The Benin massacre and expedition of 1897 were two disastrous events that left the kingdom of Benin ransacked, devastated and deprived of valuable artifacts, artworks, sons, daughters and a great king.
The Benin massacre was the tragic incident that led to the Benin Expedition of 1897
It is worthy of note that Benin kingdom had existed from time immemorial and had thrived extensively as one of the most prosperous and mightiest kingdoms in West Africa.
Benin kingdom traded slaves, ivory, pepper and palm oil with the Portuguese as early as 1485 and at the peak of its power, Benin influenced places as far as Akure and Owo in the western part of modern-day Nigeria.
In 1853, the British made contact with the Binis to trade pepper, palm oil, clothes and ivory. Due to its economic and military power, Benin independently ran its trading activities in its region and was not subjected to orders from any other kingdom or empire, even Britain. The British found this displeasing and inimical to their lifetime mission which was to annex Benin into the British Empire and depose the king, Oba Ovoramwen Nogbaisi, if necessary.
In 1892, Henry Gallway, a British Vice-Consul, visited Benin with the intention of annexing the kingdom through a treaty. He presented the so called treaty of “trade and friendship” to the Oba who was skeptical about it and Britain as well. Oba Ovonramwen however signed the treaty agreeing to stop slavery and human sacrifice in Benin. But later, when Oba Ovonramwen realized that the treaty was nothing but a tactic to annex Benin into the British Empire, he forbade his people to trade with the British and barred the white men from entering Benin. The British saw this as a violation of the 1892 treaty and thus bent on punishing the Oba.
Another action of Oba Ovonramwen that fueled the British urge to punish him, was the stoppage of palm oil supply to Itsekiri middle men in 1896 because they refused to pay their tribute to the Oba. The stoppage of palm oil supply to Itsekiri middle men negatively affected trading activities in the Benin river region. The British merchants in the region found Ovonramwen’s action deadly to their business and therefore persuaded the British authorities to depose and exile him, then annex the kingdom of Benin.
In November 1896, Acting Consul-General James Robert Philips sent a request to the British authorities in London for permission to invade Benin and depose Oba Ovonramwen. Without waiting for approval, Philips sent a message to Oba Ovonramwen that he wanted to pay him a friendly visit and discuss peace and trade. Unknown to Philips, some Itsekiri chiefs had warned Oba Ovonramwen of Philips’ intention to visit Benin. The Oba quickly summoned his chiefs and tabled the matter before them. All the while, Consul Philips had set out for Benin with his “friendly troops” that consisted of two trading agents, two Niger coast protectorate officers, a medical officer and 250 African soldiers in the guise of porters.
The Iyase (commander-in-chief of Benin army) argued that Philips was coming to raze Benin to ashes, so he should not be allowed to enter the kingdom. Oba Ovonramwen suggested that Philips should be granted entry first, but the Iyase ignored the King’s suggestion and ordered Ologbosere (a senior commander and the king’s son-in-law) to lead a handful of armed men to dislodge Philips and his so called friendly forces at Ughoton.
On the 4th of January, 1897, the Benin forces caught Philips and his men unprepared in a forest in Ugbine village near Ughoton. They persuaded Philips not to further his journey to Benin because of the ongoing Igue festival which does not allow the king to welcome any visitor. Philips gave deaf ears to the warnings and in the scuffle, he was killed alongside his troops. Only two British survived the attack which was later termed “The Benin Massacre”.
On hearing the news of Philips’ death, the British authorities decided to punish Benin and thus, on the 12th of July, 1897, Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson (the commander-in-chief at Cape Town) was appointed to lead the invasion of Benin kingdom and capture Oba Ovonramwen. The operation was christened “Benin Punitive Expedition” and known in Nigerian history as “Benin expedition of 1897” or “Benin Invasion of 1897“.
The bombardment of Benin began on the 9th of February, 1897. Benin forces tried to repel the attack but their weapons which mainly consisted of machetes, spears and arrows were no match for the British sophisticated rifles and cannons.
All houses in the kingdom were torched, the people were killed irrespective of their gender, age and status. An order was given to hang Oba Ovonramwen whenever and wherever he was found.
British troops were about 1,200, heavily armed, and mostly Africans. And interestingly, the African fraction of the British troops did most part of the fighting, while the British soldiers sat behind machine guns and canons.
Shortly after ravaging the kingdom, Oba Ovonramwen was captured by British Consul-general Ralph Moor and casted before the British law. Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (also called Overami) was tried and found guilty. He was then deposed and with two of his wives, exiled to Calabar where he died in January 1914.
After Ovonramwen died in Calabar, his son, Aiguobasinwin was enthroned as the Oba of Benin on 24th of July 1914, taking the name Eweka II after the 13th-century founder of the dynasty, Eweka 1.
After Benin was successfully laid in ruins, the British troops looted the kingdom and carted away its precious artifacts and artworks which included the famous ‘Queen Idia head‘ statue which was used as the symbol of the FESTAC’77. The booties were auctioned off to defray the cost of the expedition.
As Philips had stated earlier when requesting for permission to invade Benin. He wrote, “I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory would be found in the King’s house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the king from his stool".
The 1897 Benin expedition had serious negative effects on the kingdom. Benin was plunged into a period of economic, political, military and cultural setback.
There has been recent moves to recollect Benin looted artifacts and artworks from museums which they were sold to. A cockerel statue which was stolen from Benin during the expedition was returned after a protest by students demanding the school authority holding the statue to return it to its rightful place.
Also a movie titled ‘Invasion 1897’ based on the Benin invasion and expedition was produced by Nollywood veteran, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen.
One of the survivors of the Benin Massacre, Captain Alan Boisragon, also wrote a publication on the incident.
REFERENCES:
* Akenzua, Edun (2000). “The Case of Benin
* Sir Ralph Moore to Foreign Office. Reporting on the abortive Expedition into Benin. 1895 Sept.12 Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of the Niger Coast Protectorate-National Archives of Nigeria.