The Alake of Egba land reignited a firestorm that has from time immemorial been a source of contention between two sibling tribes (The Edo and the Yoruba). The Alake in-advisedly categorized the Oba of Benin as third in line in hierarchy amongst Yoruba Obas’. In a modern era where Nigeria practices a republican constitution, purporting to grade traditional kings who have no executive power under the Nigerian constitution seems an exercise in futility. The response from the Benin palace added an extra dimension to the controversy by purporting to say that the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin of Oyo were in fact from Benin.
Both Yoruba and Edo history base their historical accounts from word of mouth. Memory is an interesting object of study. If one were to tell a tale, by the time that tale is retold by the tenth person, that tale would be almost indistinguishable from the tale first told to the second person in the chain. The Benin account as told over 10 centuries is also somewhat interesting. According to the Benin, its prince was to be killed on the orders of its oracle. That Prince (according to the Benin) was not killed and somehow migrated to Ife where he became king. Then over 60-70 years later, that same oracle then informs the people of Benin that the fugitive prince is now king at Uhe (ife). That prince (now King Oduduwa) then sends his last son (Oranmiyan) to Benin to be king after being asked by the people of Igodomigodo. The Yoruba’s oppose that tale. They claim that there is no connection between the Benin fugitive prince and Oduduwa. That the tale is a belated exercise in tore-writing history and meant to make it easier for the Bini to rationalize the need to ask Ife for a King.
Oranmiyan (as Benin agrees) was opposed by the relics of the Ogiso dynasty. He spent less than 3 months as king of Benin and left his son in Benin as king. His young dumb son brought up in Benin uttered his first words “owo mi ka” during a game. Interesting to note that the first words of the little boy raised in Ile Ibinu (as it was then renamed by Oranmiyan and now corrupted by the Portuguese to Benin) to a Bini mother (after the departure of his Yoruba speaking father to Oyo) was Yoruba. The words “owo mi ka” (which means my hand has got it in Yoruba) was corrupted to Eweka and that name was given to Oranmiyan’s son as the first Oba of Benin. This is the Benin version.
What is clear is that Oba Eweka was king in Benin from 1125 AD. We also know that Oranmiyan’s rule at Ife was preceded by Oduduwa, Obamakin, Ogun, Obalufon and Obalufon (II). Obatala (we know preceded even Oduduwa to the throne at Ife). The position from the Benin palace that Oba was a title or name that was copied from the Oba of Benin seems to have no credence in history. What is clear is that prior to the reign of Oba Eweka, none of the Ogiso kings had the word Oba in or amongst their respective names.
What we also know is, judging by the maps of the world from 1025-1200 AD, Ife was a major empire between 1025 and 1200. Igodomigodo/Ile Ibinu/ Benin was not. The Hausa states and Kanen Empire were major power centres within the geographical space now called Nigeria at that time. We also know that neither Igodomigodo, Ile Ibinu or Benin were a major power, empire or city state at the time Oba Eweka became Oba of Benin. Ife by comparison and, as the referenced maps suggests, was a major power centre at the time and its territory covered almost half of the present day SW of Nigeria and covered a lot of present day Edo and Delta states.
With that in mind, it seems more credible for the relatively small and definitely less influential kingdom of Igodomigodo to seek a King from the larger more revered Ife Kingdom than the other way round. It also explains why Oranmiyan eventually left his growing Oyo Empire to become King in the more established and more prestigious Ife state when the opportunity for him to become the Ooni arose. Benin and Oyo Empires subsequently grew to eclipse Ife around 1400’s. Ife itself contracted and became a spiritual head of the Yoruba race. In fact, it had been the norm in the mid 1500’s that no King in Benin can properly take office until he had received a staff from Ife. Additionally, up until the 1940’s, Yoruba was the language of the royal court of Benin. Additionally, up until recently, the head of the Oba of Benin was buried in Ife.
What cannot be disputed, is that every tribe demands its self respect and dignity. The Edo built a major empire. That empire encompassed parts of Ekiti, parts of Ondo, parts of Igbo land, parts of Ijaw land and parts of Lagos Island. The Obi of Onitsha, Oba of Lagos and Olu of Warri are to some degree derived from the Oba of Benin. Purporting to subsume the Oba of Benin into the Yoruba sphere of influence is to re-awaken the forces that drove the desire for the creation of the mid-west in the early 60’s.
What should be noted is no king wants to be portrayed as an alien in their Kingdom. The British royal family changed their German surname to blend in with its British subjects. The Fulani empires jettisoned their Fulani names and language and replaced them with Muslim names and the Hausa language to fit in with their new subjects. The Ilorin Emir speaks Yoruba and (until recently changed to a Muslim name) had a Yoruba first name. The action of the Benin royal family is entirely understandable.
What is clear is that Ife, Oyo and Benin empires are now relics of history. The Alake will do well to accord each tribe their individual respect. No Oba has any power over a domain under the jurisdiction of another Oba. That remains the case whether the domain is ruled by a first or tenth class monarch. The Oba of Benin may well have been Yoruba centuries ago. He is clearly predominantly Edo now. I doubt whether he has more than 1% Yoruba genes in his current blood line. The Yoruba blood line has been significantly diluted over many many generations and many centuries.