THE PRE-COLONIAL JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF ESANLAND (A CASE STUDY OF IRRUA KINGDOM)
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 precolonial 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 aer 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). Aer 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, aer 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 dierent times from Benin, Ifeku, Otuo and Agbede. The establishment of the twenty villages that constituted Irrua will be treated separately.