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Disquiet over ban of Okaighele tradition in Edo

The decision of the Edo State government to recently proclaim a ban on an aged-long traditional community administration otherwise known as Okaighele (youth leader), in…

The decision of the Edo State government to recently proclaim a ban on an aged-long traditional community administration otherwise known as Okaighele (youth leader), in the seven Local Government Areas of the state has raised a lot of dust, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.


The ban has been generating mixed reactions in the state. While many see it as political, others say it will lead to a reduction in the security challenges relating to cultism and other security breaches in the state.

The development has pitched the governor against the Benin Tradition Council, the Oba of Benin, as well as an average Benin indigene who see tradition as their way of life and the Oba as their god on earth.

Obaseki in the wake of renewed cult fighting and killings, which he said has led to the death of 150 persons between January and May, banned the activities of the Okaighele.

Findings revealed that Okaighele is an aged-long tradition, which assists the Odionwere (senior elderly person) in administration of social justice in the Benin community on behalf of the Oba of Benin.

This Okaighele according to Benin tradition dates back to over 4,000 years and takes charge of the community’s security and cleanliness.

It was learnt that the Okaighele was used in helping the Odionweres in the day to day running of their various communities in the era of the Ogiso Dynasty and the successive Oba.

However, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that this is not the first time the palace and the state government are at cross purposes.

During the discussion preceding the return of artefact, the BTC and the state government clashed over its ownership, as the government claimed the returned artifacts would be domicile with the state government.

But the palace said the artefacts were looted from the Oba of Benin by the British Colonial forces during the Benin Massacre of 1897 and should be returned to their original home.

The governor was already building a museum to house the returned artefact before the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government laid the ownership tussle to rest when it gazetted that the custody of the returned artefacts lies with the place.

The federal government gazette however laid to rest the tussle over the ownership of the artifact before the current incident over the ban on Okaighele.

Also, the issue of creating another traditional council in the Edo South district mooted by some Enigies in a letter to the state government in 2022 and backed by the state government also created friction between the BTC and the state government.

The BTC had said the  plan would amount to balkanising the Benin Kingdom as there is no other traditional ruler in Edo South to preside over the proposed traditional councils than His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin.

These are some of the issues before the recent banning of Okaighele by the state government.

Interestingly, Governor Obaseki on June 7, while banning the activities of Okaigheles in the district, said it was part of a renewed effort to tackle cultism in the state.

Obaseki who disclosed this after a closed-door meeting with security Chiefs in Edo State, said “150 persons have been lost to cult-related activities and homicide since January 2024 till date”

He said his government had declared a total war against cultism and set up a special task force of the Security Council headed by the Director of the Department of State Security (DSS) to review every cult related incident in the state.

“The incidence of cultism is very high. What is particularly worrisome about cultism is the related homicide that goes with cult-related activities. From January to date, we have lost over 150 people to cult-related activities and homicide. We can’t tolerate and accept this situation anymore.

“The Council today, amongst its decisions, has decided to go full blast against cultists and cultism in the state. We have now passed an anti-cultism law in Edo State and that law will be implemented to its fullest.”

Obaseki added, “We have set up a special task force of the security council headed by the Director of DSS that will from tonight review every cult related occurrence in the State. We will look at all the data, incidents, perpetrators, and those behind these activities, and will make all resources available and leave no stone unturned.

“Related to cult activities are activities of Okaigeles in Edo South. The Council has prohibited forthwith activities of Okaigeles in Edo State. Anybody who claims he is an Okaigele, operating in any community will be dealt with strictly by the law.”

Soon after the ban, the Okaigheles in their hundreds protested to the palace of the Oba of Benin, where the Monarch rejected the ban on Okaigheles in the district.

Addressing the Okaighele, on behalf of the monarch, Chief Osaro Idah, the Obazelu of Benin, said the palace will dialogue with the government over the contentious issue, and charged the Okaigheles to maintain peace and order in their domains.

“You have not been banned, but the palace will not support any form of violent attack on anyone or group of persons in communities. If anyone is caught, the palace will support the government to prosecute such person(s)”, he warned.

Chief Idah said Okaighele is not something that can be banned by fiat as they belong to the Benin ancestors. Okaighele represents a segment of the aged-long Benin traditional administrative structure.

“Okaighele didn’t start in this century. As you have age grades, and senior sons, so we have them. When Odionwere (village head) is appointed by the Oba, Okaighele assists the Odionwere in the daily administration of the domain on a daily basis’ ‘.

But Obaseki, in reaction to Palace’s comments in a statement by the Commissioner for Orientation and Communication, Chris Nehikhare, reaffirmed his decision to ban Okaigjele.

He alleged that Okaighele and cultists pose the most severe threat to the security and stability of the state.

He said the decision to ban Okaighele was made in the interest of public safety and to curb the alarming rise in cult-related activities and the resulting homicides in the district

“The Edo State Security Council data has shown that these two groups (Okaigheles and cultists) pose the most severe threat to the security and stability of the state, resulting in the decision of the Council to place a total ban on the criminal groups.

“While we respect the tradition and customs of our communities, it is important to note that the safety and security of our citizens must always come first.

“Chief Osaro Idah, Obazalu of Benin’s contradictory statement does not change the gravity of the situation at hand, and we stand by our decision to enforce this ban on Okaigheles to protect the lives of our people”.

He warned that the government will not allow any individual or organisation no matter how highly placed to undermine the efforts of the State Security Council to protect the lives and property of the people of the state.

“We reiterate that the activities of cultists, Okaigheles and their sponsors remain banned in the state and we will spare no effort to ensure that those who flout the ban are made to face the full weight of the law” he said.

Speaking on the development, a resident of Benin, Chief Omo-Osagie Utetenegiabi, the Obadolagboyi of Benin, said the activities of Okaighele are an age-long tradition that can’t be banned by the governor.

“The history of Okaighele dates back to the beginning of the existence of the Benin nation. Before the Oba, there was Ogiso era and before Ogiso, there was the Odionwere and Okaighele era and this has been in existence for over 4,000 years and this means that Odionwere adjudication dates back over 4,000 years”.

He said Odiowere is a system where the oldest person in the community assumes office and takes charge of the affairs of the community.

“It is the oldest system of government even before democracy and other systems of government. As it were then, in every settlement the oldest person who is the leader adjudicated and since then, it has not changed.

“Even with the Ogiso Dynasty coming up, it didn’t scrap the Odionwere system of administration, which included Okaighele. As you have the Odionwere who is the most senior person takes charge when elders are seated and when the youths (Ighele) are together, the most senior of them which is Okaighele, takes charge”.

“Okaighelehe take charge of the security and the cleanliness of the land and it is because of their efforts that the Portuguese explorers said Benin was the cleanest place in the world then”

He said it is disheartening that the governor will just come up and said Okaighele are the culprit, alleging that the ban on Okaighele is political.

“Less than two weeks before the governor abolished the Okaighele, some officials of the state government  held a meeting with a few of them and  told them that  the  governor wants them to support him in the September 21, governorship election .

“They told the governor that they will stand by the Oba who is their god on earth they know and that they were not going to be used this time as they were used in 2020,

“And about nine or ten days after the meeting, he came up with the ban because they refused to work with him, so the ban is political”.

He said the pronouncement can’t work and doesn’t hold water in the Benin kingdom because he can use his security network as Okaigehele, because they refused to help him rig the election.

“To every Benin man, the Governor Obaseki’s pronouncement portends nothing, because the Oba is the king overall and the overall is God. It means nothing because he is playing politics”.

As the conflict raged, the BTC through it solicitors, Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), Prof.  Edoba Omoregie (SAN), noted that the conflict started over the ownership of artefacts looted from the Palace of the Oba of Benin by the British Colonial forces during the Benin Massacre of 1897.

“The federal government has since settled the issue of rightful ownership in favour of the Palace by gazetting the ownership and custody of the artefacts in the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare lII.

“When the idea of creating new traditional councils in Edo South was subsequently mooted by some Enigie in a letter to the state government of November, 2022, the BTC through the lyase of Benin and other chiefs of the Oba Palace made formal and informal efforts to dissuade the government from acceding to the request of the applicant Enigie.

“The BTC had emphasised that the government’s plan would amount to balkanising the Benin Kingdom as there is no other traditional ruler in Edo South to preside over the proposed traditional councils than His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin”.

“Despite the conciliatory efforts of the BTC, the state government proceeded to announce the creation of new traditional councils in the seven local government areas of Edo South to co-exist with the BTC.

“The state government also seized the statutory financial entitlement of the BTC. The decision of government to create the new traditional council is currently being challenged by the BTC before the State High Upon the creation of the new traditional councils, the state governor publicly received some Enigie who had mooted the idea, including those suspended for sundry violations of traditional norms.

“Following the petition of the BTC of impersonation against two Enigie, the police brought a criminal charge against one of them, and was at the verge of arraigning when the state government intervened by nullifying the first charge”.

The state government also wrote to the National Assembly to affirm that the creation of the new traditional councils in Edo South is a fait accompli. The two Enigie have since filed a joint suit in the State High Court to challenge their suspension.

“In the midst of these conflicts, the State Government has, without due process, written to His Royal Majesty, Oba Esuare II on 19th April, 2024 to revoke the concession of Oba Ảkenzua II Cultural Centre, a concession, which has been frustrated since November, 2016 by the decision of the state government to convert the centre to a motor park.”

“The BTC notes the reported interest of the Edo State government in an amicable resolution of the conflicts. While not averse to any such resolution, the BITC believes that this can only be genuinely achieved through the following:

“The statement said, for an amicable resolution to take place, there must be abolition by the Edo State government of the new seven traditional councils in Edo South.

“Complete restoration of the statutory financial entitlement of the BTC to the status quo prior to the date of the creation of those seven traditional councils in Edo South; and the refund of the balance of the financial entitlement of the BTC till date”.

A clear commitment by the Edo State government to avoid further interference with the internal affairs of the Benin Traditional Institution as prescribed by the Benin Customary Law including the established disciplinary processes, under the authority of the Omo N’Oba N’do Uku Akpolokpolo, His Royal Majesty Ewuare II, Oba of Benin.

The withdrawal of the letter issued by the Edo State government revoking the concession of Oba Akenzua lI Cultural Centre; and the restoration of the centre by the state government to its previous enviable condition, to be suitable for the purpose of the concession.

On his part, a resident, who gave his name as Johnson, commended the decision of the state government to ban Okaigheles. According to him, the Okaigeles have not been peaceful in the way they operate, saying they were set up to protect the communities but their actions have rather shown that they do not have our interest at heart.

“It is good because these youth leaders go about harassing and threatening people instead of protecting community assets.” he said.

He however noted that there is nothing political about the ban on Okaighele activities in the state.



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