IN recent times, issues on Yoruba-Benin historical relationship have been nothing but hot and characteristically, disputatious. Controversy seems to trail every account. But no side of the debate would bulge. Prince Edun Akenzua, one of the sons of the late Oba Akenzua of Benin says the main reason for the mistrust by the two ethnic groups is because the Yoruba and Benin approach history from differing perspectives.
According to Prince Akenzua who spoke in an exclusive interview with the Nigerian Compass, in Benin City, Edo state recently, the misunderstanding is like two people describing one thing they both saw but from different view angles. Akenzua, who is the sixth son of the late Omo n’ Oba n’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Akenzua II of Benin explained that why the difference persists is because one appraises history from the standpoint of mythology while the other take the reality option.
Refering to the issue of key figure, Oduduwa or Ekaladerhan in the history of the two races, the royal prince said: “The Benin people know the history of the Ekaladerhan which the Yoruba people do not know… Suddenly they found somebody in their place. They began to see him as god that descended from the sky. They named Oduduwa. And that was the point they started relating with him. But we in Benin know him more than that. We know about his birth; about when he was to be executed and what happened and about his past, generally. The Yoruba did not know that. So when the Yoruba begins to tell the story of Ekaladerhan or Oduduwa, depending on the one they choose to call him, that is just simply from their point of contact with him. But that is not the truth. “
Citing recent newspaper publications on Yoruba-Benin relationship, the Edo Kingdom prince revealed that he was shocked over the hot comments on History of Benin, a recent publication by his elder brother, the current Oba of Benin. According to him, he will, in due time, comment on what the erudite historian, Prof. Joseph. Ade-Ajayi wrote.
He claimed that among other commentators, Ade-Ajayi in his article criticised the Oba of Benin for not being a trained historian or adopting enough empirical evidences. But noted that Ade-Ajayi “who claims to be a trained historians has always believed in Youba version of creation” that cannot be proved.
He said that the version of the narative which Ade-Ajayi projects stated that Oduduwa came from heaven with 300 deities.
Akenzua’s observation: “First, I thought that this was funny for reading a professional historian like Ade-Ajayi who would accuse the Oba of Benin of making statements without supporting such statements with documents or empirical evidence, and reasoning that he endorses the Yoruba myths of how Oduduwa dropped from heaven with so many gods is curious. Ajayi did not tell us or other Nigerian the documents that Ooni of Ife has provided to support that assertion. So, I thought that was curious for a professor of history.
“But my worry is that Ajayi who is supposed to display that same academic and empirical prowess and all of that, decides to keep quite anytime the Ooni makes such statements. I am surprised that he is accusing one person for failing to produce evidence to prove his case while supporting another person who made the same mistake – perhaps, in even more bizarre manner.
“You see, in this paper, (raises a copy of Vanguard Newspaper with a pull-out publication on Ooni’s 80th birthday), the interview here was conducted with the Ooni and it is elaborate. For me, what he said is quite interesting. One of the things the Ooni said in this interview was that Olodumare, God Almighty created heaven and earth and in doing so appointed Orunmila to continue with the creation.
“According to him, Orunmila was one who liked palm wine. So, he took one cup and became drunk. And because of his drunkenness, he created the imperfect human being. God now got angry and put him aside and appointed Oduduwa to come around and continue the creation. These are the kind of myth that they want people to believe as fact. We want them to understand that this is quite different from what the Benin is saying. What I am saying is that we should not join myth with common historical fact which happened recently. No sensible person will believe such a thing.
“Well it was very interesting reading it. But to me, it is just a part of Yoruba mythology. Every nation has its own mythology. Therefore I ask: So, when it is an issue of Yoruba mythology according to Orunmila and all that, nobody contests anything with them?
“The Benin also have their own mythology. If you go through the Benin mythology, you will discover why the Benis believed that the Oba owns the land up till white people’s land. But what I also found strange in this last interview by the Ooni is that he gave Orunmila and Oduduwa the same assignment of creating the universe. And I think that was ridiculous.
“Take the newspaper and go through it (he throws it), you will find out that it is full of contradiction. Let me tell you a fact. In 1982, when the Oba of Benin paid an official visit to Ife. A speech of welcome presented by Ooni to the Oba was at that time prepared for the Ooni by Prof. (Sabiru) Biobaku, and I think that the man or people who know this are still alive. He was a former Vice-Chancellor of University of Lagos and a professor of History (like Ade-Ajayi). Part of the speech read: “We welcome Your Royal Highness most heartily back to Ile-Ife, the cradle of our common culture, the origin of your dynasty and ours. Today is really a very good day for us in us and its environs because since you left in 891 AD, we have come to know that your dynasty has performed wonderfully well. I hope that they know what that means because Biaboku is not just an ordinary historian but one of the best Yoruba historians. The records are there for any person who cares to go through instead of shouting and calling others names,” he said
Asked if he read Biobaku’s lines to mean an underscoring that Oduduwa was the Benin prince known as Ekaladerhan, Akenzua said yes. He added that there is an affinity between the royal family in Benin and the one in Oyo kingdom. According to him, the affinity is closer in the sense that Oranmiyan who came to Benin, to give birth to Eweka I, was the one who left Benin and returned to Ife. But by the time he got to Ife, his father Oduduwa or Ekaladerhan may have died.
“It is a long story, but we believe that the Alafin (of Oyo) and his people are our brothers from the same Oranmiyan. And it was not a surprise that in history, you can only talk about Benin empire and Oyo empire. There is nothing like Ife empire,” he said.
Throwing more light, Akenzua said: “I also read in that interview by the Ooni that the Oba of Benin used to be buried in Ife. One will ask: Where do they get all that information? I was surprised when I heard that story in Benin here. The truth of it is that if there is anything out of it, it will be in difference to Ife, which was formally known as Uhe, where Ekaladerhan had lived and Ekaladerhan’s son who became the Oba here (Benin). It was only possible that they may like their body being interred in Uhe or Ife or wherever. But if the Ooni of Ife made reference to it, it does not prove anything. To us it does not prove that Benin is Yoruba or that Yoruba is Benin.”
On the story that the Benin people went to Ife to ask for a king, Akenzua asked, “How can a group of people you do not know before just come to you and demand for a king and you will just give your eldest son to them – to go to the land you don’t know to be their king? Simple reasoning will tell you that it is not true. So when they say that Oramiyan’s son was the first Ooni of Ife, I always ask them: Which one of them?”
Akenzua further dismissed the claim that modern Benin is trying to rewrite history. Describing the allegation as funny, he went on to say: “Tell them that they should stop mixing myth with reality. Benin also have their myth of creation. But when we talk about Ekaladerhan, we are not talking myth. We are talking about something that actually happened. As you will see in this book (raises a book entitled, Ekaladerhan), up to today there are stories and songs done in honour of Ekaladerhan here in Benin. There are villages named after him where he was to be killed. That village is still there for people to see.”
Following the reference to his generation of the Benin royal family court seeking to rewrite history, Akenzua, a London-trained linguist, psychologist and journalist, laughed. He alleged that the Ooni of Ife was quoted in an interview as saying that the present Oba of Benin holds an incorrect position in the tale of the Yoruba-Benin history while his predecessor, the late Oba Akenzua II presented a differing, correct account which the current generation is trying to put aside. The prince said that is not true. “For me, since he did not say the version of the account that is correct and the one that is not, we will not be too forward. But one would have expected that in discussing a situation like this, that would have been an appropriate time for him to come out with what he said Oba Akenzua said and the other statements that is not correct so that people can know which one is the truth. But according to this newspaper, Oba Akenzua made that statement when he was going to commission WADECO, a car company probably owned by the Ooni in Ife. My father was very happy that a new company is coming to Benin. It is very unlikely that my father will take that occasion and be talking about history of Yoruba and Benin. I have the privilege of being a private secretary to my father. I am aware that all the speeches he made everywhere, the records are available. So we are waiting. Whenever the Ooni publishes what my father said at a time, we will be able to relate it to what we have here. But until that is done, that statement by the Ooni will be looked into.”