THE PRE-COLONIAL JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF ESANLAND (A CASE STUDY OF IRRUA KINGDOM)
The paper examines the nature the pre-colonial judicial system of esanland.It is argued that the various polities in pre-colonial Esan were able to use various entrenched local modalities to keep the peace and justice system functional in the area. Moreover, the study shows that although the area did featured large state political system borrowed from Benin kingdom and other places, the various Esan polities remained largely autonomous, they were by no means isolated from one another. On the contrary, they evolved harmonious living through different forms and levels of peacekeeping in times of conflict which created room for unity and cooperation.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF IRRUA
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.
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN, MIGRATIONS AND SETTLEMENT
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.