History and Timeline of Obas of Benin Kingdom

Explore the history, people, culture and art of the great Benin Kingdom

Obas of the Great Benin Kingdom

The Oba of Benin, is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and all Ediod People and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire – a West African empire centered on Benin City, in modern-day Nigeria. The ancient Benin homeland has been and continues to be mostly populated by the Edo (also known as the Bini or Benin ethnic group).

The title of Oba was used after the Ogiso title and was created by Oba Oranmiyan, Benin Empire’s first ‘Oba’. Oba Eweka I, Oranmiyan’s son, is said to have ascended to power at some time between 1180 and 1300. The Oba of Benin was the Head of State (Emperor) of the Benin Empire until the Empire’s annexation by the British, in 1897.

In 1897, the British launched a Punitive or Imperialist Expedition, deposed and exiled the then Oba Ovonramwen, taking control of the area in order to establish the British colony of Nigeria. The expedition was mounted to avenge the defeat by the Binis of a British invasion force that had violated Benin territory earlier in 1896. It consisted of both indigenous soldiers and British officers, and is still remembered by the Edos with horror today. Under the pretext of covering for the cost of the expedition, the Benin royal art was stolen and auctioned off by the British. Ovonramwen died in 1914, his throne never having been restored to him. His son, grandson and now his great-grandson, however, all preserved their titles and statuses as traditional rulers in modern-day Nigeria.

Oba Ovoranmwen – The famed Oba of Benin

Royal Majesty Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa I

Obas of the Benin Empire

Below is the chronology of the Kings of Benin of the Oronmiyan-Eweka dynasty:

OBA                                 YEAR OF ASCENSION TO THE THRONE

  1. Oronmiyan                  c.1170 AD
  2. Eweka I                       c.1200
  3. Uwakhuanhen             c.1235
  4. Ehenmihen                  c.1243
  5. Ewedo                         1255
  6. Oguola                        1280
  7. Edoni                          1295
  8. Udagbedo                   1299
  9. Ohen                           1334
  10. Egbeka                       1370
  11. Orobiru                        1400
  12. Uwaifiokun                 1432
  13. Ewuare the Great        1440
  14. Ezoti                            1473
  15. Olua                            1473
  16. Ozolua                         1481
  17. Esigie                          1504
  18. Orhogbua                    1550
  19. Ehengbuda                  1578
  20. Ohuan                         1608
  21. Ahenzae                      1641
  22. Akenzae                      1661
  23. Akengboi                    1669
  24. Akenkpaye                  1675
  25. Akengbedo                 1684
  26. Oreoghene                   1669
  27. Ewuakpe                     1700
  28. Ozuere                         1712
  29. Akenzua I                   1713
  30. Eresoyen                     1735
  31. Akengbuda                 1750
  32. Obanosa                      1804
  33. Ogbebo                       1816
  34. Osemwende                1816
  35. Adolo                          1850
  36. Ovonranmwen            1888
  37. Eweka II                     1914
  38. Akenzua II                  1933
  39. Erediauwa                   1979
  40. Ewuare II                    2016

Post-Imperial Obas of Benin (1914-Present)

Prince Aiguobasinwin Ovonramwen (Eweka II) was born to Oba Ovonramwen and Queen Eghaghe.

Oba Eweka was a bold and courageous person which earned him the appellation of Ovbiodu. He rebuilt the present palace after the ruin of the old palace after the Benin Expedition war of 1897, hence the appellation of ‘Eweka N’ Ologbe’. The term became so appropriate in that it was Oba Eweka I who started the second dynasty after the deposition of the last Ogiso and the coming of Oronmiyam, a grand- son of Ogiso Owodo from Ife where his father was on exile after being expelled from Benin through the evil machination of Esagho, the wife of Ogiso Owodo.

After the deportation of Oba Ovonramwen the son, Eweke II retired to his mother’s sister Ediagbonya house at Ekhor to pursue farming to earn a living until he was called back to Benin by the consul. He was appointed District Head. He then resided in his grandmother’s house at Ogbe quarters.

Before his ascension to the throne, Oba Eweka II was also a skilful brass smith and an expert in ivory and woodcarving.

The advent of the British brought much disaster to the throne of Benin and hope was almost lost as to whether Benin would ever have its Obaship again. The British conquered Benin exiled its monarch to Calabar. During this traumatic period, Chief Agho Ogbedeoyo, the Obaseki of Benin worked with the British to rule Benin. Benin lost its grandeur and the monarchy almost became extinct.

At the demise of Oba Ovonramwen in exile in 1914 his accession was challenged and become a matter of debate. But for the wise judgement of the British Official, on the strong evidence of some Benin Chief, the table would have turned in favour of Chief Agho Ogbedeoyo, the Obaseki of Benin, who had acted as the Oba during the interregnum, 1897-1914.

The monarchy was restored when Prince Aiguobasimwin Ovoranmwen was crowned Oba of Benin with the title Eweka II on 24th July, 1914. The colonial rule with its indirect rule by Lord Lugard altered a lot of things.

Eweka II was the first post – Imperial Benin Monarch. He took the oath of allegiance to the British imperial king. The first time in Benin history, a Benin monarch took an oath of allegiance to another king.

His enemies often accused him of human sacrifice, every  reports of its kind was vigorously investigated, by searching the whole Oba palace and other secrets places nothing incriminating  were  ever found. Any act or festivals that involved anything incriminating were dropped or reorganized. Many secret ceremonies were scrapped.

Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Akenzua II was born in 1899. Before being crowned, he was known as Prince Godfrey Akoro Eweka Akenzua. He was the Oba of Benin from 1933 until his death in 1978.

Oba Akenzua II in his youth was place under the Tutelage of his father’s friend Chief Ajayi, the Ovienrioba of Benin. Here he was groomed in the deposition and comportment of an Oba.

While still with the Chief he was sent to the Benin Government School under the headmastership of late Mr. Okai a Ghanaian in 1907. He passed the then Standard Six in 1915. In 1918 he proceeded to King’s College, Lagos, where he studied and passed the then Junior Cambridge examination in 1921 which was the highest class attainable then in the college. Among his classmates at king’s College were the late Bishop A.W. Howells, Justice R. Ade Doherty and Dr Samuel Manuwa. His tutors included Mr. Earnest Ikoli and Mr. Charles James Smart who became a popular letter writer in Benin City before his death in 1966.

Oba Akenzua II distinguished himself as a brilliant scholar. He was a very keen sportsman; he was very good at cricket and football. After his accession to the throne, he took great delight at playing billiard. He had billiard table in his palace which he played most of the evenings with some Chiefs.

Apart from his Western Education, he was very vast in the knowledge of Benin tradition, customs and culture. He was trained in Royalty obligations art of administration and component of an Oba. All these contributed immensely to his qualities, wisdom, virtue and forthrightness in his rule in the years of his reign.

On his return from the college, he was appointed a transport clerk in the Benin Native Administration, and later transferred to his father’s palace as the Oba’s confidential secretary, in these posts; he acquired more knowledge of administration and human relationship.

In 1925, he was sent to Abeokuta to study Native Administration system under Sir Ademola II, the late Alake of Abeokuta. To put the knowledge so gained into practice and on his return to Benin, he was appointed the District Head of Eguaedaiken, although he had not been initiated into the Palace Society or installed the Ediaken. He was virtually in change of the area of Iyeke-Uselu. That is the whole of the area after and beyond Uselu up to Benin Divisional boundary with Ondo State, in matter of jurisdiction and administration. He performed his duty creditably and judiciously without blemish and earned praise of the Colonial Administration Officers and the admiration of all. He depicted the genuity of a born ruler. He was, in fact, well prepared to assume the Obaship of his people at the time he was called upon to put on the mantle of his forefathers as a great ruler. Akenzua II was enthroned as Oba of Benin in April 1933 following the death of his father, Eweka II in February that year.

Key Events/Achievements

  • In 1934, there was the great Forest Reserve dispute between the colonial Administrator and the Benin people. There followed a long dialogue which resulted in the establishment of the Benin Native Authority Forest Department under a British Forest Officer with the late Ranger Adams Obasogie Ekuawe as the head of the field staff.
  • In 1936, Oba Akenzua II began the movement to return to Nigeria the Benin Bronzes looted from the royal compounds and ancestral altars in the punitive Benin Expedition of 1897. During his reign, only two of the 3,000 royal court bronzes were returned. However, two coral crowns and coral bead garment, thought to have belonged to Ovonramwen, were returned to him in 1937 by G.M. Miller a son of a member of the Benin expedition, who had loaned the pieces to the British Museum in 1935.
  • The Oba’s interest in education and for the progress of his people to measure up with other Nigerians, he sponsored the establishment of Edo College, Benin City in 1935 under the proprietorship of the Benin Native Authority. He gave land freely towards this program. The College was open in 1936 under the principal-ship of Mr. B.D. Coker, a Ghanaian and former headmaster of the Benin Government School, The original site is now occupied by the Idia College while the Edo College moved to a new and larger site along Murtala Muhammed Way, Benin City. His love for education and the great premium he placed on Western Education he saw to it that he gladly gave the Roman Catholic missionaries land for the establishment of a secondary school- Immaculate Conception College which was established and opened in 1943.
  • The Roman Catholic Mission also was granted land permission to establish and run Saint Philomena Catholic Hospital for the welfare of mothers and humanity in general in 1944.
  • To preserve the history, culture and heritage of the Benin kingdom, the Oba initiated the establishment of the Benin Museum under Chief Jacob U.Egharevba as the curator. To the Museum, he contributed generously and in no small measure several antiquities. Many people of goodwill also donated to growth of the Museum. The Federal Government has taken over the management of the museum under trained curators and under the Department of Antiquities. A befitting building in the heart of the City has been created to house the museum, officially opened to the public on August 10, 1973.
  • He was awarded Companion of the order of Saint Michael and Saint George (C.M.G) by the Queen of England, conferred with the Doctorate Degree LL.D (Causa) on the 19th May 1966 by Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was also after the Nigeria independence awarded the commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (C.F.R.N) and he was appointed Justice of Peace (J.P).

Oba Akenzua II died in 1978 and was succeeded by his son, then Prince Solomon, who took on the title of Oba Erediauwa and duties as the traditional leader of the Edo people in Benin City, Nigeria.

HRH Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo SOLOMON IGBINOGHODUA AISIOKUOBA AKENZUA EREDIAUWA I, 39th Oba of Benin (1979-2016)

Erediauwa I was born on 22 June 1923, son of Oba Akenzua II. Before being crowned he was known as Prince Solomon Aiseokhuoba Igbinoghodua Akenzua. He attended Government School, Benin after which he proceeded to Government College, Ibadan in 1939 and obtained with flying colours, his London Matriculations which qualified him to gain admission into the then Yaba College in 1945. After completing his studies at Yaba College, he was admitted into King’s College, Cambridge to study Law and Administration. He returned to Nigeria to join the Eastern Nigeria Civil Service in 1957 as a District Officer, later moving to the Federal Civil Service where he retired as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health in 1973. For a short period he was the regional representative of Gulf Oil. In 1975, he was appointed Commissioner for Finance in Bendel State during the Military Administration of Major-General George Agbazika Innih.

His early retirement from the service was to have time to expose him fully to the intricacies of the administrative challenges that would confront him in the performance of his duties as Oba of Benin.

Succeeding his father, Oba Akenzua II, he ascended the throne on 23 March 1979. Erediauwa I celebrated his 30th anniversary in 2009.

During this period, he several times acted as a peacemaker between politicians. For example, he intervened in a dispute between Abia State governor Orji Uzor Kalu and Tony Anenih, Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party Board of Trustees, and resolved another face-off involving Anenih and former Edo State Governor Lucky Igbinedion. Apart from the ceremonial aspects, his 30th anniversary festival was a week-long carnival and a showcase of Benin arts and culture, with numerous performances of traditional music and dance, as well as an art exhibition and food fair. His death was announced on 29 April 2016. He was succeeded by Ewuare II.

His Royal Majesty Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, The Oba of Benin is the 40th Oba of the Great Benin Kingdom.

The coronation of HRM Oba Ewuare II was on the 20th Day of October, 2016 at Urhokpota, Oba Ovonramwen Square, Benin City, Edo State.

benintradngTimeline of Obas of Benin