The Pre-Colonial Judicial System of Esanland (a Case Study of Irrua Kingdom)

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Title Page i
Certification ii
Dedication iii
Acknowledgement iv
Table of Contents v
Historical Background of Irrua 1
Traditions of Origin, Migration and Settlement 3
Traditional Religious Beliefs 23
Socio-Political Organization of Esan Society 28
Women Association 33
Political Structure 35
Judicial System: Dispensation of Justice in Esan
Pre-colonial Society 46
Types of Offences 49
Process of Prosecution 52
Types of Punishment 58
Process of Appeal 62
Impact of the Judicial System on the People 69
Existence of a Free and Fair Society 71
The Existence of Rule of Law 72
Conclusion 79
Bibliography / Oral Informants Interviews 83
Appendix 85


Irrua is in Esan Central Local Government Area of Edo State in Nigeria. Irrua and other towns around her are part of the Esan group. It is situated in the western portion of Esanland. The town covers about 80 square kilometers. It shares a common boundary with Agbede to the north, Ewu to the North-west, Ekpoma to the South-West and Uromi to the South-East.
The town is made up of twenty (20) villages namely; Eguare, Usugenu, Akho, Idumebo, Idumabi, Usenu, Onogbo, Agua, Edenu, Ugbokahre, Ibore, Atuagbo, Ugbalo, Udomi, Ibhuolulu, Afuda, Ekomojoudu, Idumuogodo, Idumoza and Ujabhole. The traditions of origin of the people have put Irrua into two groups: these are Otoruwa group and Uwesan. But administratively Irrua is divided into four (4) groups of Otoruwa, Uwesan, Ikekato, Ujabhole. The Otoruwa group consists of Eguare, Usugbenu, Idumebo, Idumabi and Usenu. Uwesan consists of Onogbo, Agua, Edenu, Akho, Ugbokare and Ibore. Iketato consists of Atuagbo, Ugbalo, Udomi and Ibhuolulu. Ujabhole consists of Aguda, Ekomojouda, Idumuogodo, Idumuoza and Ujabhole.
In pre-colonial times, the people were predominantly farmers due to their fertile soil. There was considerable thick forest in which timber and palm tree were plentiful. The pre-colonial Irrua society depended on Agriculture as the major foundation upon which other economic activities were built. Both men and women had different roles to play in the society. While the men constituted the farming, hunting bands and fighting force, the women were more involved in trading and supplemented the men with the cultivation of crops like, cassava, pepper, tomatoes, okro and beans.
It was through the Onojie of Irrua that most of Enijie in Esan paid their annual tribute to the Oba of Benin. This position given to Irrua was confirmed and awarded the title of Okaijesan on Ikhihibhojere, by Oba Akenzua 1 of Benin in 1723.

The origin of the people of Irrua is characterized by the lack of documentary sources in explaining it early history which is also peculiar to the pre-colonial history of most West African states and in an attempt to know how the people of Irrua came to be where they are would lead to various accounts of its origin.
According to the people from the Otorowa group, the great migration, which took place in Benin during the 15th and 16th century, mostly during the reign of warrior Kings like Ewuare the great, Oba Ozolua and Esigie brought about the settlement of Irrua.
According to this tradition, the migration from Binis was occasioned by the inhuman mourning laws decreed by Oba Ewuare the great in 1460. Majority of these migrates escaping Ewuare’s tyranny moved in groups. The fleeing Bini groups were led by notable warriors like Oghu, who settled at Ivue, Uromi. They found their way to Esanland after months of wondering in the forest between Benin and Esan. The tradition further states that, the very first group mostly people from Ugboko in Benin City landed in Irrua under the leadership of one Amilele, a great warrior (Okankulo) of Benin. They settled in Irrua territory.
According to Dr. C.G. Okojie in his book “Ishan Native Laws and Customs”, Amilele together with his followers founded the present day Eguare settlement and due to the superiority of the new immigrants in term of number, cooperation and domineering spirit were able to conquer other settlements around them in which some of their neighbours migrated to Iki which is the present day Opoji.
When Oba Ewuare finally realized that he could not use force or the use of force would not be able to bring back his rebellious subjects back to Benin, he sought diplomatic means. He declared a general amnesty to the leaders Okankulo and promised them rewards if they could return to Benin. The group that settled in Irrua sent back to the Oba with the word “Iriowa iide-e” (we are at home, we are not coming). It was the word Iriowa that was later corrupted to Irrua during the colonial era.
The second tradition has it that the people of Irrua migrated from Uhe near Ile-Ife many years ago. Amilele gathered his people and took them on diplomatic visit to Benin to pay homage to the then Oba of Benin who was called Ohe. On getting to Benin, the Oba (Ohe) gave his daughter called Iruiwa to Amilele as his wife and gave him the title of Onojie (Enigie). After a short stay, Amilele and his new wife, together with followers set out from Benin to return home. But on their way home to Ifeku, they stopped to rest on the way and the site they rested became the present day Eguare. While resting, they sighted a large and ripe palm fruit and subsequently interpreted to be an evidence of the fertility of the land. Amilele decided to settle there and sent a report to the Oba of Benin notifying him of their decision to settle in the new territory. There and then they named that settlement Iriowa, after the Oba’s daughter and Amilele beloved wife.
The fault of the second tradition of the origin of the Otorowa people in Irrua is that of Ifeku island which did not occur until the 19th century. However, both traditions of origin have Benin as its place of origin and Amilele as the hero or founder.
According to the intelligence report on Ishan division of Benin Province, has it that they began to grow and in no time other villages were established around Eguare. The villages founded by the descendents of Amilele and his followers were Akho, Eguare, Usugbenu, Idumabi, Idumebo, Usenu and Onogbo. They were collectively known as Otoruwa. Tradition has it that the remaining thirteen villages of Ibore, Atuagbo, Ughekhare, Agua, Ugbalo, Udomi, Ibhuolulu, Eidenu, Afuda, Ekomolouda, Idumogodo, Idimuoza and Ujabhole, migrated originally at different times from Benin, Ifeku, Otuo and Agbede. The establishment of the twenty villages that constituted Irrua will be treated separately.

Eguare is the headquarter and residence of the Onojie, due to the arrival of Amilele and his followers. According to the tradition of origin, the immigrants migrated from Ugboka in Benin City. Due to their domineering attitude they were able to conquer the people around them which made some to migrate to Iki-Okpozi. Ekpereijie was the first Onojie appointed by Oba Ewuare in 1463 in Benin City.1

The indigenous people of Akho came directly from Ibie. They came to settle in Irrua before other people but because they were defeated by Usenu, a later group of immigrants from Usen in Benin City, in the battle of Idigba, their power was redued and they took the third place after Eguare and Usenu in Irrua.
But despite their status which was reduced, Akho still had in possession the Oto shrine (Aluoto). The ownership of the shrine is regarded as the first settler in any area in Esanland according to their belief.

Most of its early founders came from Benin. Usugbenu is the largest village after Eguare. It is divided into five (5) (Idumu) Ikekiyala, Uhaekpen, Ugheriokhua, Uzebu and Ididigba.
Ikekiyala: The founder of this quarter came along with the Benin immigrants led by Amilele. In search for farmland, they crossed the Eguare mot (Iyala) and settled, which gave rise to their name Ikekiyala meaning beyond the mot.
Uhaekpen: the original settlers of this quarters came from Uhaekpen in Benin.
Ughenokhua: Majority of the settlers of this quarters were from Ighanlan (Igalla).
Uzebu: The founders of this quarter came directly from Uzebu quarters in Benin.
Ididigba: This quarter was founded and populated by Irrua princess from Eguare. The founder princess were the princess of the Enijie between Ikhihibhojere and Ogbeide 1720 – 1840.2
Uwelen Edo: Is a sub-quarter in Ididigba and was founded by later immigrants from Benin.

The original inhabitants of Usenu were said to have migrated to the area from Uselu in Benin at the time that the great migration took place in Benin during the reign of Oba Ewuare the great in the 15th century. These immigrants were said to have arrived in Irrua before the arrival of the Ugboka immigrants from Benin who eventually occupied the present Eguare the headquarter of the Onojie. Uselu migrants were said to be great warriors as regard to the defeat of Akho in the battle of Idigba. It was their victory in the battle of Idigba that made them second to the people of Eguare Irrua, in the matter of status and order of settlement.

Oral tradition has it that majority of its founders were not among those from Benin rather they migrated from Ibiebhe (Iseube)3
The Idumebo quarter was said to have been settled by latter immigrants from Obeidu, a village in the present day Uromi. The original immigrants were said to have arrived Irrua almost the same time as the Ugboka immigrants from Benin.

The founder of this village was said to have come from both Ujagben Urohi, but another account claimed that the original founder of this village were among the followers of Amilele.

Unogbo was founded by Prince Amese (Omese) and his followers4. In the account, Etaghaife and Amese were prince of Ekpeneiji the Onojie of Irrua. Etaghaige was the elder and was obedient to his father the Onojie but Amese the younger was not. To avoid conflict after his death, the Onojie called Amese and gave him riches including slaves and servants and sent him away to the area now called Unogbo with the promise that in the new abode, his elder brother (Etaghaife) and others will no longer be able to interfere in his affairs.5 Amese gladly accepted the offer. Another has it that, Prince Amese was the heir apparent of Ekpereiji the Onojie of Irrua. After the death of his father, Ekpereigie, he collected all his first sons of all families in Irrua and went to Benin in order to collect the staff of office from the Oba of Benin.6
He later returned to Irrua without the first sons he had left Irrua with. This action of Amese angered the Irrua people and they refused to accept him as the Onojie. Subsequently, they drove him away from Eguare. He wandered to Onogbo where he became the founder of the Onogbo people.

The name Agua is from the Esan world ‘Ogua’ meaning ‘mixture’. As its name is so also is the village, which is made up of three quarters, apart from Eko-Eiche and Eko Kakulu, which are recent settlement.
These three quarters are made up of immigrants from different areas which include Idumu-Eguale, Idumu-Abokha and Egbelualemon.
Idumu-Eguale: The founders of this quarter are immigrant from Ugboha in the present day Esan North East Local Government Area. Their leader was Ihaianlomon.
Idumu-Abokha: Was founded by Emando refugees from the Eguare-Ikeakhe war of 1850 in Ekpoma7. Egbeluabelomon quarters were immigrants from Ujamen, a suburb of Benin.

This village was founded by three (3) great warriors namely: Aighe, Unobi and Omorulare. They settled in three different quarters in what came to be known as Eidenu. Eidenu has three quarters Eidenu-Abo, Idinobi and Udowa.
Eidenu-na-Abo was settled by Aighe and his followers. Its first settlement was Odoa. With the continuous increase in population led to the formation of quarters like Idinegbon, Ogbakha, Uwendalo and Eko-nou-khou. It is this area that was settled by the descendants of Aighe that became Eidenu-na-Ato quarters.
Unobi and his followers settled in the quarter now called Idinobi. Due to increase in population Iyobhebhe migrated eastward to establish a quarter called Eko-Iyobhebhe. The descendants of Omariare, a Nupe warrior left Emmaudo-Ekpoma during the Eguare-Ikeakhe wars of 1860 occupies the quarter now known as Udowo. In a report, the three warriors that settled at Eidenu were from Ifeku. But they did not arrive at Irrua until after the immigrants from Ugboka in Benin.

Uneah is the name for the people who now settle in Ibore, Atuagbo and Ugbalo villages. The various tradition of their origin claimed that they migrated from Otuo, a town in the present day Owan East Local Government Area.
According to .O. Okosun, Ineah was the teacher of the quarter – in Otuo. Due to the constant maltreatment of the people by the king of Otuo, he gathered his people and left Otuo. At Irrua, the Onojie granted Ineah and his group protection and permission to settle in Akho.8
According to Dr. C.G. Okojie, the migrants were different from that of the people that protected them. For instance, in Irrua when animals like buffalo, wild pig and eagle were killed by hunters, the right leg of the animal must be sent to the Onojie as sacrifice. But if a tiger is killed, the dead animal must be sent to the Onojie. According to Irrua custom, the killer of the tiger after presenting the animal to the Onojie and rewarded,the dead animal is buried as an honour to the king of the animals.
But for fear of offending the Onojie of Irrua, every animal killed by the migrants were presented to the Onojie accompanied with war song and dance.
The Uwagwe – leader of Akho, was surprised at the strange behaviout of the immigrants even the Onojie was not comfortable with the strange behaviour. It was anticipated that one day, one of the Uneah hunter might commit a taboo against Esan custom, and this may lead to unfavourable consequence to the society. Just as it was anticipated the deed was done in the sense that an Uneah hunter killed a tiger sent it to the Onojie after rewarding the hunter. In accordance with the custom, the Onojie ordered the dead tiger to be buried but the people (Uneah) insisted that they should eat the dead animal. The attitude of the people made the Onojie to belief that they could do worse things than that, on this basis, he (Onojie) ordered them to leave Akho which they moved far into the forest.
This was how they moved to their present home which became known as Age-Okhouria. But was later changed to Uneah as a memorial of their founder.

The original founders of this village came from Ifeku directly to their present settlement. But after the indigenous Irrua group had already settled at Eguare, the leader of the original founder was said to be great warrior like the founder of Eidenu. He was said to have followed after them but he met the people of Eidenu already settled, so he moved northward and settled in their present village.

The founders of Ujabhole were immigrants from the Uhe quarters in Benin. They came during the great movement in the 15th century during the reign of Oba Ewuare the great. They first settled near Oghus at Ivue due to constant conflict in Ivue, they migrated to their present settlement.7
The Ujabhole village is the most outlying Irrua district toward Uromi from the direction of Usesa. The Onojie of Irrua land had right from the time of their arrival given the title of Iyasele (commander-in-chief of the warriors) to their leader. He made him oversee all Uwesan villages and the Onojie’s representative in the area. According to tradition as a symbol of testimony to the status of the Ujabhole’s leader, the Onojie gave him a short stem of Ukhimi (new bodia leaves) to plant in his village (Ujabhole) and the Onojie instructed him not to allow it to be uprooted (Ujabhole) hence the name Ujabhole, which has since remain the name of the village.

The original founders of this village was said to have migrated directly from Benin during the great migrations of the reign of Oba Ewuare. According to tradition, Oghu was the warrior-leader who left Benin during the reign of Oba Ewuare. Oghu and his group settled in Ivue (the highest point in Esan). When Oba Ewuare sent for the war leaders in 1463, Oghu was among. But he gave execuse for not going due to the problem he had with his foot. He pleaded with his first son, Oghala to go for him to Benin which his son declined and in an alternative, Oghu consulted his younger brother, Ichesan who went for him.
The hatred between the father and son spread to the village. According to C.G. Okojie, Oghala and his supporters were banished from Ivue. Oghala and his followers first settled at Onewa and later at Aho, finally at Udomi. Their present home in Irrua.10
Another version of this tradition of origin has it that it was Oghu who migrated from Ivue and sought for permission to settle on Irrua soil at Udomi, which was as a result of the decision of Ichesan, who on his return from his elder brother’s assignment to Benin kept the Onojie title he brought to himself instead of delivering it to his elder brother, Oghu.

The original founders of this village came directly from Uhe in Benin under the leadership of Omojoudu. This was during the period of the great movement from Benin in the reign of Oba Ewuare. A testimony to this account of origin is the fact that this village is popularly called Uhe.

The founders of the village came directly from Avbiele in the district of Agbede. According to Pa E. Osagie, the founder of the village were from Benin, who left Benin during the movement in Oba Ewuare’s reign in 1440 – 1473. They first settled at Avbiele along with other immigrant from Benin, but left to their present home Ibhiolulu.

The founders of this village are closely related to the founders of Ibhiolulu. They are said to have migrated from Avbiele about the same time as the founders of Ibhiolulu.

The original founders of Aguda came directly from Benin during the reign of Oba Ewuare in Benin. But majority of it present inhabitant later migrated from Eguare rrua.

The founders of this village constituted a branch of Ujabhole. The site of this village was the farmland of the settlers of Ujabhole.

Religion is the belief in the existence of a supreme power, who is belief to be the creator and controller of the universe, who gave to man a spiritual nature, which continues to exist after the physical death of the body.
Esan were polytheist in their religious belief. The polytheism was highly influenced by the nature of the environment. The Esan have gods ike Idigun – god of iron, Unoko – god of the Iroko tree, Osun – god of medicine and goddesses like Obiehmon – goddess of the sea (this was gotten from Benin traditional belief). Nature features like rocks, sea creatures like crocodile inter alia where not worshipped because such features were absent from the Esan environment.
The central religion worship was ancestral worship in Esan land that is the soul of a person is continuous. The death of the physical body does not imply the end of life or existence. Esan believed that after death the person climbs into a more superior realm (the world beyond). In this realm the earthly dead continues to exist in a more superior way. Here (the world beyond) he is able to see and communicate with Osenobua the supreme God. This ability enables him to direct and influence the activities of the people he left behind on earth. It was this Esan belief that influenced their worship of ancestors whom they regarded to as Elimin spirit.
Every family in Esanland had it own ancestral god. In appeasing the gods or ancestors sacrifices of various kinds are made. It was the surviving first son (Omijiogba) in a family that had in his possession of the ancestral god. Any of his uncles, aunts, younger brother and sisters who needed blessing from the ancestors approach him to perform the rites or worship for him or her. Items used for sacrifice include goats, fowls, pounded yam with well prepared soup.
At the appointed day of the worship, all the family members are invited to the ancestral shrine in the Oduwa (main compound where the Omijiogba lives). The Omijiogba slaughters the provided animal and blesses the particular appeaser using the Ukhure make some abstract signs before him or her. He prays for the entire family as well. The food provided was shared by all. At the end of it all, the appeaser goes home with the psychological belief and satisfaction that his or her supplication has been heard and accepted by the ancestors.
In Irrua and also the entire Esanland, religion has utilitarian value in the society. It provided a moral etiquette for the people.

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