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Chief David Edebiri: When the traducer of witches and wizards joins his ancestors; By Mike Ozekhome


A nonagenarian and repository of Benin history, culture, customs and tradition, Chief David Edebiri (the Esogban of Benin kingdom), joined his ancestors on Thursday 20th July 2023. He died a contented elderstatesman and nationalist; next only to the Iyase (traditional Prime Minister) in the Benin Kingdom. By his Esogban title, he occupied an eminent second position in the Eghavbonore League in the Oba’s palace. I am very proud to belong to this elite league. 

In the rich tapestry of Nigerian history, there are certain iconic figures that stand luminous for their exceptional qualities and contributions to their communities and the nation at large. Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, was undeniably one such luminary. Throughout his lifetime, he epitomised courage, truthfulness, wisdom, and preached the virtues of unity in a bleeding nation still grappling with multi-dimensional challenges of misused diversity. This elegy aims to celebrate the unforgettable life, times and legacy of Chief David Edebiri, an influential and revered leader who left an indelible mark on the sands of time of Benin Kingdom and Nigeria as a whole.


Late Chief Edebiri was a delight to cross words with in hot arguments and intellectual masturbation even at his very old age. He fondly called me AKPAKPA ZIGHI ZIGHI instead of AKPAKPA VIGHI VIGHI (Generalissimo) of Edoland. I never bothered to correct him, because I believed that was how he preferred to pronounce it. In return, I always called him the head of witches and wizards. He would simply guffaw, without affirming or denying it. But was the Esogban truly a wizard? Was he father to witches and wizards, as often inferred? Who then is a witch; and who is a wizard? 


A wizard (in legend and fairy tales) is a man who possesses magical powers. Synonyms are sorcerer, warlock, magus, male witch and magician. 


A witch on the other hand, is the female version of a wizard; also called sorceress, necromancer, harpy, harridan, she-devil, termagant, occultist and enchantress. A witch is often depicted as a woman wearing a black cloak, pointed hat, and flying on a broomstick. She is believed to have magical powers, especially evil powers.

So, was Chief Edebiri such a wizard, or did he posses the powers to control them whenever they met in their spiritual coven world?  

He was interviewed on this. He agreed that it was he who was overseeing the operations of witches and wizards among his other traditional functions in Benin Kingdom. But, he denied being a wizard himself. He said though he is the “departmental head” of witches and wizards in the Benin monarchy, he was not a wizard himself; but only rendering services to humanity by taming the excesses of these destructive witches and wizards. Hear him:

There is the upper class; those are the people running the government. They run the government all of us are in. And once they make decision in that area, it is binding all over. They think of how the society will grow”, he narrated.

Asked where he acquired the authority he used to tame suspected witches and wizards, Chief Edebiri replied: “Ah, it is the power of God Almighty and that of the Oba of Benin (laughter). We have averted much havoc that these people would have caused in Benin Kingdom.

He recalled a time when witches were very brutal in Benin Kingdom until a traditional parliamentary action was endorsed by the great, great grandfathers, to put together a group, to which he (Edebiri) became the leader, to curtail their excesses.

According to the Esogban, “in the past, witches were either killed or sent to the evil forest; but now, any erring ones caught were court-martialed and deactivated to live a new life”.

Chief Edebiri shocked everyone when he revealed that “most of the witches were either church singers or having a position in the church but they could not succeed anywhere the name of Jesus Christ was mentioned”.

He said: “I tell you that most of them do not succeed anywhere Jesus is mentioned. And I asked them, do you mean that you people fear the awesome power of Jesus Christ, they said yes. I asked them further, if you say that you fear the power of Jesus, how do you feel when the pastor is condemning you people in the name of Jesus, they said they will be condemning the pastor too. But I can tell that so many of them have been converted to Christianity after passing through this place.”(see https://www.ceoafrica.com)

Thus, contrary to the widely held erroneous view, Papa Edebiri was neither a wizard, nor an unbeliever who controlled witches and wizards. Indeed, his above interview clearly shows that the legend believed in Jesus Christ whose power he described as “awesome power of Jesus Christ”. On the authority he invoked to “tame suspected witches and wizards”, the cerebral traditionalist laughed, but replied matter-of-factly, “Ah, it is the power of God Almighty and that of the Oba of Benin”. You see, he would never forget tradition even as he believed in the supremacy and over-lordship of God Almighty.


Chief Edebiri David was born into a lineage that had a rich history of courageous leaders. From an early age, he imbibed the values of fearlessness and resilience, traits that he would exemplify throughout his momentous life. As a young man, he encountered numerous obstacles and challenges, but his unyielding determination enabled him to weather them and rise above adversity to emerge as a beacon of hope for his people.

Papa’s courage was most evident during the period of political instability and turmoil in Nigeria. He fearlessly voiced his concerns about the prevailing issues, taking bold stands against corruption, injustice and imperialism. His unwavering commitment to the truth earned him both respect and admiration, laying the foundation for his lifelong pursuit of truth and justice. During his 93rd birthday celebration and the unveiling of his most recent three books- “Tripod of Life: Essence of Benin Tradition and Culture”; “The Life and Times of Iyase N’Ohenmwen,” and “Immortalising our Heros Past: Nigerian Nationalists in Focus” in Benin City, Edo State, he stated that Nigeria derailed from the path best suited for her development when she threw away the Parliamentary System of Government learnt from the British government over 100 years ago and changed to the American Presidential System of government. We are not even practising the American Presidential System of Government holistically. He argued that “If you want to adopt a system, you adopt it wholeheartedly. Today, our judiciary is still the British system; yet we are running a presidential government.”

Pa Edebiri recalled with nostalgia, his foray into politics in one of his tripodal books titled, “Immortalising our Heros Past: Nigerian Nationalists in Focus”. He recalled how he had fallen out with Chief Anthony Enahoro for accepting the position of assistant general secretary in the Action Group (AG) at its inaugural conference at Owo in April, 1951: “We queried: “why should a visionary, progressive nationalist of his calibre join such a tribal organisation of Yoruba egoists?”.

However, this partisan party differences never affected their relationship. This was why when Edebiri decided to defect from the NCNC/Otu-Edo to the AG in August, 1958, Chief Enahoro’s house was his first port of call, just like many others who also defected. Indeed, it was Oba Akenzua II and Enahoro who facilitated his decampment; a development that earned his instant recognition by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He reminiscenced on this: “My decision to join the Action Group at that point in time wad the best decision I had ever taken in all my active political life”. This is because it enabled him to work with “two political giants … whose boundless energy and skill for grass root mobilization were unequalled by any politician of their time”.

Pa Edebiri’s wise decision did not go unrewarded, as he was immediately appointed the Action Group administrative sbecretary, Midwest Area. He was later appointed the organising secretary of the AG in the same Midwest. Indeed, Alhaji Ja’ Usman (his former colleague in the N.C.N.C) was instructed to immediately assign a car to Chief Edebiri’s office. The understanding was that his main duty would be in the field and not in the office. Edebiri’s membership drive for the AG towards the Federal Elections of December 12, 1959, led to the popular acceptance recorded by the AG; a feat the legendary Awo was later to acknowledge at several fora.

The creation of the Midwest Region on 10th August, 1963, from the Western Region was spear-headed by Chief Edebiri, Oba Akenzua, Dr Dennis Osadebe, Kessington Momoh, Jereton Mariere, Chief Okojie, and a host of others. They used the Region’s resources from rubber and timber plantations to develop the Old Mid-West Region. That was how effective true fiscal federalism was. That is why the question is still being asked as to why the equation has suddenly changed to a meagre 13% derivation formula now that only the Niger Delta (South-South) zone produces the crude oil that drives the engine wheels of the Nigerian Nation. This is why South-South people feel offended whenever they are told to show “gratitude” for being “allowed” 13% of a product that is derived from their soil; an activity that destroys their aquatic and agrarian life, ancestral totems, cultural relics and which cause unprecedented negative economic and health issues. 


In a world where deception and misinformation are all too common, Chief Edebiri stood out as a champion of truth. The fiery orator, political activist, anti-colonial nemesis, frontline prose writer and fearless journalist understood the power of truth to shape society positively and transform lives. Whether it was in his personal interactions or public speeches, he always spoke with unwavering honesty, unafraid to address uncomfortable truths. He addressed the gender disparity in our politics. During the “Outstanding Women Award” organised by the “Live Above Poverty Organisation” in Benin, Chief Edebiri noted that “inequality of resources is responsible for the fewer number of women in political appointments and elective positions in the country”. 

As the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief Edebiri used his eminent position to advocate for transparency and accountability in governance. His commitment to truthfulness earned him the trust of his people; and he became an influential figure both within the Benin Kingdom and beyond. His actions demonstrated that truthfulness and integrity were not just abstract ideals that were mutually exclusive, but essential building blocks for a just, egalitarian and cohesive society.


An alumnus of Western Boys High School, Benin City (WOBITE), Edebiri at 83 (octogenarian) led his Benin Chapter Old Boys for a reunion to the USA, a forum where he showed his passion and zeal to develop his land. Chief Edebiri David’s wisdom is legendary. Drawing from the rich cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom and his own experiences, he offered profound insights into various aspects of life, governance, and societal development. People from all walks of life sought his wise counsel, appreciating his discerning perspectives on complex issues.

His wisdom transcended generations. He took it upon himself to mentor and guide the younger generation. He believed that empowering the youth with knowledge and wisdom was crucial for sustainable progress in Nigeria. Through his uncommon wisdom, Chief Edebiri David inspired countless individuals to make informed decisions and lead purposeful lives.


Nigeria, being a nation of diverse cultures, languages, and religions, has long grappled with issues of unity and cohesion. Edebiri recognized the significance of fostering unity among Nigerians and understood that a divided nation could not progress. As a unifying figure, he championed inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, striving to bridge the yawning gaps that threatened the very fabric of a country still yearning for nationhood.

Through his many energising speeches and initiatives, he emphasized the importance of embracing diversity and finding strength in unity. His message resonated across communities, sparking conversations that promoted tolerance and mutual understanding. Chief Edebiri David believed that by embracing their shared heritage and celebrating their differences, Nigerians could build a stronger, more inclusive nation; a case of unity in diversity.


Chief Edebiri David’s influence and impact extended far beyond the borders of the Benin Kingdom. His courage, truthfulness, wisdom, and advocacy for unity left an indelible mark on the national consciousness. His efforts to promote peace and stability in Nigeria were recognised and lauded by both his peers and younger generations. He gathered laurels for that. He believed that good leaders can only emerge through a free and fair election. While casting his votes in the House of Assembly Election conducted on February 25 this year, the elder statesman expressed delight that he could witness and still come out again to exercise his franchise even at age 93. 

His passing has left a void in the hearts of many who admired and respected him. However, his legacy lives on through the people whose lives he touched and the values he instilled in them. The various community development projects he initiated continue to thrive, serving as a testament to his enduring commitment to progress and prosperity for all.


Chief Edebiri David, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, was a true visionary and an embodiment of courage, truthfulness, wisdom, and unity. He fearlessly confronted challenges, upheld the truth in all situations, and dispensed sage advice that impacted generations. His tireless efforts to foster unity in Nigeria inspired countless individuals to embrace their diversity and work towards a common goal. His achievements are timeless.

As we reflect on the life, times and legacy of Chief David Edebiri, let us remember him not just as a remarkable leader of the Benin Kingdom, but as a symbol of hope, unity and inspiration for a united and prosperous Nigeria. Papa, may your example continue to guide us all in our pursuit of truth, justice, and unity; and this for generations yet unborn. Adieu, great Nationalist; Farewell, Hero of Midwest, Bendel and Edo Concepts. Rest in the Lord’s warm bosom, even as you continue to conquer witches and wizards from the great beyond. Isee!

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