Chief Agho Obaseki: Lest We Forget or Repeat History (EDITORIAL)
CHIEF AGHO OBASEKI OYOO
According to the official publication by the Obaseki family, Chief Agho Obaseki (who ruled in Benin between 1897 – 1914 as Head of Administration when Oba Ovonramwen was exiled) was the great great grand son of the Obi of Nsukwa, in Aniocha region of Delta State of Nigeria. According to a genealogical trace by the Obaseki family that has not been corroborated by relevant authorities in Benin, the first Obi of Nsukwa himself was the son of Oba Ehengbuda (ca 1578 A.D).
Chief Agho Obaseki was the last child of his father, Ogbeide Oyoo. Ogbeide Oyoo came to Benin from Nsukwa through Ewohinmin along with Prince Erediauwa who became Oba Osemwende after defeating his younger brother, ‘Oba’ Ogbebor who usurped the throne for a while. Ogbeide Oyoo served the Oba Osemwende as Omu’ada (shield bearer, the lowest rank of palace workers).
How Did The Obaseki Family Migrate To Benin?
Oba Akengbuda is among the longest serving Obas in Benin history. He ruled Benin Empire between 1750/1804, about 54 years, over half a century, on the throne. When the Leopard went above, after a very long reign, Oba Obanosa succeeded him at an old age, but did not last long on the throne.
Upon the transition of Oba Obanosa, there was a political struggle and intrigues played by key members of the House of Iwebo, the highest of the palace associations. Due to these political intrigues by some of the high ranking chiefs in the house of Iwebo, Prince Ogbebor, the second son of Oba Obanosa was coronated, instead of Prince Erediauwa, the eldest son. Once crowned, ‘Oba’ Ogbenor banished Prince Erediauwa from Benin and the rightful heir to the throne was declared a fugitive by his brother Ogbebor, who quickly consolidated power.
To save his life, Prince Erediauwa fled Benin City to Ewohimi in Esanland where his mother comes from. From Ewohimi, Prince Erediauwa made visits to nearby Isi in Nsukwa kingdom. Ewohinmin is close to Asaba, Nsukwa and other eastern Delta cities. Prince Erediauwa’s flee from his brother Ogbebor landed him in Isi, near Nsukwa. Upon arriving in Isi, Prince Erediauwa met a man named Osifo Oyoo, who was very sympathetic to the young Prince Erediauwa’s plight, because of the similar predicament that befell Osifo Oyoo’s father, Prince Emokhua N’Obo, at Nsukwah, years before.
Prince Emokhua N’Oboh was a native doctor in Nsukwa who was schemed out of the battle to become the King of Nsukwu. In protest, he relocated to Isi. Prince Erediauwa and Osifo Oyoo quickly connected, without much hard sell or conviction.
According to the Obaseki family official statement, Osifo Oyoo is reported to be among the strategists who helped Prince Erediauwa to regain the throne. But this claim has not been independently verified. Since it was dangerous for Prince Erediauwa to remain in Edo land or for anyone to be seen helping the young Prince, with his brother Prince Ogbebor on the throne and in control of the formidable Benin imperial military, he sought refuge in Ewohimi, his mother’s home town. His friend, Osifo Oyoo, ordered his young son, Ogbeide Oyoo to accompany Prince Erediauwa to Ewohimi and serve him, while he himself continued to reside in Isi.
When Prince Erediauwa returned to Benin and finally defeated his brother Prince Ogbebor, he was crowned and assumed the title Oba Osemwende. The royal servant , Ogbeide Oyoo, who would later be Chief Agho Obaseki’s father, was appointed as Omu’Ada (the sceptre bearer), the lowest rank in the palace. Ogbeide Oyoo nevertheless rose rapidly under Oba Osemwende’s reign.
After Oba Osemwende passed to beyond, Oba Adolor ascended the throne in 1848 A.D. Ogbeide Oyoo was elevated in rank until he attained the position as the head of Ibiwe (one of the palace associations, custodians of the Princes) and was titled the Inneh of Ibiwe. It was during Ogbeide Oyo’s role as the inneh of Ibiwe and being the custodian of the heir apparent, that Agho Ogbeide (Who would later be known as Chief Agho Obaseki) his son became very close to Prince Idugbowa (who would later be crowned with the title Oba Ovonramwen in 1888).
When Ogbeide Oyoo died, Agho still a young boy lived at Iguovionoba, where his brother Ogbomo was residing, which is about 35 miles from Benin City and also very close to his mother’s village Okha. However, his stay at Iguovionoba was short lived, because of a dispute with one of the high ranking elders there. When life became unbearable and under constant threat, he relocated back to Benin City and sought the help of Prince Idugbowa, his childhood friend. Once again, their friendship was rekindled as Princee Idugbowa helped to rehabilitate him and established him in the city.
Agho now a young man lived with his friend, Prince Idugbowa and started trading in cash crops such as oil, timber and spices. He became successful and influential, according to the Obaseki family, “because of the support he got from Prince Idugbowa”
Ogbeide Oyoo’s break came in 1888 A.D, when Oba Adolor passed to beyond and Prince Idugbowa was crowned Oba Ovonramwen. After King Ovoramwen was crowned, he rewarded Agho with a chieftaincy title which he created and named Obaseki and bestowed it on Agho Ogbeide.
This was how the former Omu’Ada became a palace chief and then was able to participate in the 1897 political drama that occurred in Benin Empire.
The 1897 Benin massacre was a dark period for the Edo nation. It marked the beginning of the end of the empire. After the 1897 Benin massacre, Oba Ovonramwen was exiled to Calabar and this broke the friendship between Chief Obaseki and his childhood friend.
According to official account of the Obaseki family published online “The role Oba Ovonramwen made Chief Obaseki played during the aftermath of the massacre, as a go between him and the British conquerors, especially during the bitter trial, placed Chief Obaseki in a precarious position. Also, after King Ovonramwen was exiled to Calabar, the subsequent elevation of Chief Obaseki to the position of control of Edo government by the British during the inter-regnum, made the Edos very suspicious of Chief Obaseki”.
After the banishment of Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar, Chief Obaseki accepted the Head the Benin Kingdom and do the bidding of the white man. The colonial masters trusted Obaseki but the Benin people didn’t trust him, they felt that he was a betrayer of trust. Many argue that Obaseki should have refused to accept to head the city and force the colonial masters to reinstate Ovonramwen but the Obaseki family and another school of thought argue that in the circumstance, Chief Agho Obaseki did what he had to do.
While administering Benin Kingdom for the colonial masters, Obaseki also sent his second son to Calabar to serve Oba Ovonramwen. Some people believe that he sent his son to Calabar with the intention to spy on the Oba and ensure that he never returns to Benin City. Chief Agho Obaseki’s second son returned to Benin City in January 1914 when Oba Ovonramwen passed on in that month. In 1908, while he was now effectively in charge of Benin, Chief Obaseki married Oba Ovonramwen’s daughter, Princess Orimwinamen, while the Oba was in exile in Calabar.
When Oba Ovonramwen passed to the great beyond in January 1914, Oba Eweka II was crowned, after a raging controversy that involved Chief Obaseki who didn’t want to step aside for the Oba, formerly Prince Aiguobasinmwin.
The British, in attempt to cause confusion between the heir apparent and Chief Obaseki, insisted that Chief Obaseki continued to be in charge but the Edo people, tired of the rule of someone who they believed didn’t have the blue blood and wasn’t from the bloodline of their Obas, resisted every move to perpetuate the reign of Chief Agho Obaseki as the head of Benin Kingdom.
As a compromise, the matter was resolved by allowing Oba Eweka II to reign as Oba (King) while Chief Agho Obaseki was installed by the British (not the Benin traditional authorities) as the Iyase (Prime Minister) of Benin.
Chief Agho Obaseki also married Oba Eweka II’s daughter, Princess Ebose, in 1918.
Finally, two years after marrying the Oba’s daughter, Chief Agho Obaseki passed away on September 9, 1920, exactly 23 years after the Benin-British War of September 1897 which culminated in the exile of Ovonramen N’Ogbaisi.
1. Ekhaguosa, Aisien (1991), The Stories From Old Benin – Erediauwa Prince of Benin
2. Bradbury, R.E., (1957), The Benin Kingdom, International Institute
3. Igbafe, Philip Aigbona, (1972), Obaseki of Benin, Heinemann: Ibadan
4. Igbafe, Philip Aigbona (1991). The nemesis of power: Agho Obaseki and Benin politics, 1897-1956. Yaba, Lagos, Macmillan Nigeria
5. Chief Jacob A. Egharevba: Short history of Benin
7. Statement by Prince Edun Akenzua, brother of Oba Erediauwa and Enogie of Obazuwa.