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Ovonramwen: The Last Independent Oba OF Benin Kingdom

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Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, the last independent Oba of Benin

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, also known as Overami, was the last independent Oba of Benin until the British punitive expedition of 1897 intervened.

Born around 1857, he was the son of Ọba Adọlọ. Upon his coronation in 1888, he adopted the name Ovọnramwẹn Nọgbaisi, which translates to “The Rising Sun” and “which spreads over all.”

By the close of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Benin, blessed with abundant natural resources like palm oil, rubber, and ivory, managed to preserve its independence.

The kingdom’s autonomy vexed the British, as the Ọba maintained control over trade and held a monopoly that the British found disagreeable.

Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi’s challenges began in the early 1890s when a group of influential British investors advocated for the annexation of the Benin Empire and the removal of the Oba.

The turning point arrived in 1896 after Vice-Consul James Robert Phillips and Captain Gallwey, the British Vice-Consul of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, persistently pushed for action.

Phillips led a British invasion force to overthrow the Ọba in 1896. The force concealed its weapons within baggage and its troops disguised as bearers. Phillips’ intention was to gain access to Ovonramwen’s palace under the pretense of negotiations.

However, his plan was thwarted as the expedition was ambushed, leaving only two British officers alive. Somehow, Ovonramwen had gotten wind of the true intentions.

Subsequently, a follow-up military operation against Benin took place in 1897, led by Sir Harry Rawson. This operation resulted in the destruction of Benin City, the looting of the Benin Bronzes, and the dismantling of the city’s defenses.

Ovonramwen managed to escape, spending six months evading capture in the forest. Eventually, he returned to the city and formally surrendered on August 5, 1897.

In a bid to avoid exile, he offered Consul General Ralph Moor 200 barrels of oil worth £1500 at the time and disclosed the location of his buried stash of 500 ivory tusks (worth over £2 million in that era).

However, Moor had already located them, rendering the offer futile. Ovonramwen underwent trial per British law, was found guilty, and exiled to Calabar along with two of his wives, Queen Egbe and Queen Aighobahi.

In Calabar, he found refuge in a small town called “Essien Town,” hosted by Etinyin Essien Etim Offiong, the progenitor of Essien Town.

Ovonramwen’died in January 1914. Following his passing,  his first son and legitimate heir, Aiguobasinwin Ovonramwen ascended the throne of Benin on July 24, 1914.

Aiguobasinwin adopted the name Eweka II in honor of Eweka I, the founder of the dynasty and the kingdom’s first Oba back in the 13th century.

Sources: Britannica | Wikipedia

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