Academic journal article Nebula

The Changing Phases of Power and Civil Administration in Benin: From Inception to 1987

Academic journal article Nebula

The Changing Phases of Power and Civil Administration in Benin: From Inception to 1987

Article excerpt


The ancient Kingdom of Benin was one of the most prosperous, powerful and prominent states in pre-colonial Africa. Its artistic triumphs, elaborate pantheon of gods, its sophisticated system of government and the intimidating aura of its monarchy make the Benin experience a fascinating subject of historical scrutiny. This paper, therefore, examines the structure, nature and character of governance and civil administration in pre-colonial Benin up to the advent of colonial rule. It analyses the processes of change in Benin from the era of the Ogisos through the period of the republican administration to the establishment of a monarchical system of government. The study reveals that Benin's history from the earliest times to the beginning of colonial rule was dynamic and witnessed monumental changes in the structure and character of the State. Though the monarchy had its fair share of the turbulence, yet it remained the most resilient of all traditional institutions since it provided the pivot around which the forces of change gravitated during the period under review.


Benin is located in the forest belt in the Southwestern part of Nigeria. The Benin kingdom spread with time and became an empire that covered a vast area of land that embraced both the Edo speaking and non Edo speaking people. Several centuries ago, at the time when Benin was called Igodomigodo (land of Igodo), that geographical area now known as Benin was the hub of a conglomeration of small settlements or villages that developed or spread into most of the areas of present day Edo State of Nigeria. Throughout that period, Igodomigodo made steady progress, especially in the areas of spiritual, philosophical and administrative development. Its efforts were largely concentrated on the arrangement of human order so that by the time Europeans made contact with the people of Benin in the 15th century, they had already established an administrative system that baffled the Europeans and earned for the capital of this far flung African country, the appellation "city" (Ryder, 1977:31).

A study on civil administration in Benin becomes necessary given the hues and cries that have been generated by writers on Benin history and historiography. As such, it is important to highlight the various phases of administration that the Benin kingdom and empire had enjoyed overtime. Indeed, these phases of administration are in line with the works of great Benin authors like J.U. Egharevba and P.A. Igbafe. This paper examines the changing phases of power and civil administration in Benin from this early period of the Ogiso termed Igodomigodo, an appellation coined from the name of the first Ogiso--Igodo (Obagodo); through the period of republican administration (the interregnum) to the establishment of monarchical system of government. It is significant to state from the out set that Ogiso was the name of a collection of rulers that reigned in Benin before the emergence of Prince Oranmiyan on the Benin throne. (Edo, 2001:10)..

The Ogiso Era of Benin History (c.900--c.1170)

The nucleus of the great Benin Civilisation was the monarchy, which the Binis perfected around the 18th century when, after a series of experimentation with the Ogiso, and some of the past Ogiso rulers, they introduced a monarchical system that is based on the principle of primogeniture, beginning with Oba Ewuakpe about 1712 AD (Egharevba, 1968:39). However, it is significant that the Ogisos laid the foundation for the structure of civil administration in Benin, which the Obas of the second dynasty later built upon, as from about 1200 AD, when the republican experience failed.

Indeed, the history of Benin monarchy dates back to the Ogiso era, which has been traced to about the 10th century. Although it is not possible in a paper of this nature to give a full account of all the Ogisos, it is believed that there were thirty-one of them before the arrival of Prince Oranmiyan from Ife (called Uhe by the Binis) (Eweka, 1992:4). …

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