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Ogboni = known as Osugbo in Ijèbú is a fraternal institution indigenous to the Yoruba language-speaking polities of Nigeria, Republic of Bénin and Togo, as well as among the Edo/Benin people groups. The society performs a range of political and religious functions, including exercising a profound influence on regents and serving as high courts of jurisprudence in capital offenses. Its members are generally considered to be part of the nobility of the various Yoruba kingdoms of West Africa.
Though versions or lodges of this fraternal group are found among the various types of Yoruba polities – from highly centralized kingdoms and empires like Oyo, to the independent towns and villages of the Ègbá and the Èkiti. The Ogboni are recognizable for their veneration of the personified Earth (Ilè or Oduduwa) and their emphasis on both authority and benevolent service to the community. While membership in the Ogboni generally signified a high level of power and prestige, the society held pre-eminent political authority among decentralized groups like the Ègbá, where they were intimately involved in the selection of rulers that served as little other than figureheads in practice. In contemporary Yoruba land, Ogboni members still command great power and influence in the affairs of their societies, although this is largely due to the history of their respective chieftaincies and not to any official authority.
Ogboni lodges were one of the main commissioners of Brass jewelry and Sculpture in pre-colonial Yoruba land, using the metal’s rust-resistant qualities as an apt metaphor for the immortal functions and beliefs of Ogboni adepts. The most recognizable of these symbols was a pair of Ogboni initiates, one Male and one Female, attached by a chain and worn around the neck. The pair are thought to symbolize the attachment of the sexes in procreation and balanced society. Generally, one or both figures will hold a thumb in the grip of the opposite hand, demonstrating the paramount Ogboni handsign denoting initiation and membership.
Various fraternities in Nigeria have incorporated references and insignia from the original Ogboni, including the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, the Indigenous Ogboni, and various others. Many of these contemporary societies combine elements of Ogboni’s historical functions with superficially similar institutions like Freemasonry and the Rotary Club.
Similar traditional institutions combining political, judicial, and sacred duties exist among the various ethnic nationalities of southern Nigeria, including Nze na Ozo in Igbo-speaking southeast Nigeria and Ekpe/Ngbe/Ugbe in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Initiatory secret societies are a common feature of pre-colonial government across much of West Africa and Central Africa.
History and Structure: With regard to how to describe the Ogboni, members of the Ogboni “society” would likely take offence at having their organization referred to as a “cult” or a “secret society” and would probably refer to themselves as a “lodge” similar to that of the Masons. In Nigeria the Ogboni are commonly referred to as a “secret society” by Nigerians, but that Ogboni members would likely self-identify the group as a social club whose members help each other in matters such as commerce, marriage. Consequently, in this Response the Ogboni will be referred to as a Society. There has been a lot of “cross-fertilization” between the Masons and groups such as the Ogboni, since there are many Masons in Nigeria and that they have been there since the 19th century.
The traditional Ogboni society was part of the checks and balances system of the Yoruba kingdoms. They were kingmakers, and disposed of both a religious as well as a judicial function. They had also the power to dethrone the Oba (the king) and could order him to kill himself. They are thought to still dispose of considerable local influence, forming part of the traditional power network to regulate societies and control resources. It is assumed that through their membership they also have strong connections to official state structures.
First we have the Osugbo gbede which is normally referred to as being owned by the Oba. This is for the Oba’s chiefs. There is Ogboni Aborigine fraternity of Nigeria, there is Iwule Ogboni and it is believed to be for the elderly four. Firstly we have Ogboni Out Ife, there is Ogboni Arapa Nika, this came from Akoko in Ondo State, there is Ogboni Ara Ife, there is Ogboni Akala, and there is Ogboni Agamasa, Ogboni Ogenete and also the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity which came out of Ogboni Aborigine.
The Osugbo’s being titled chief of the Oba can however attend functions of the Aborigine because they are respected members of the society. It is therefore not expressly possible for a member of one society to gatecrash into another’s. Asked to state when the traditional Ogboni was created, the Oluwo Ogboni Aborigine, Iledi Iyadamilola I, Imota Chief Emmanuel Olatunji Akinyemi said nobody could say when Ogboni started. “What is known about Ogboni is that they existed before the advent of colonialism, they ruled with the Oba, they governed and adjudicated matters in traditional ways and they were so meticulous that even when the colonialists came, they found the system so formidable that they coudn’t tamper with it,” he explained.
*** Ogboni society, including its history, structure, rituals and Sources indicate that information about the Ogboni society is limited. Several sources also indicate that they are referred to as a “Secret” Society or as a “Cult”.
Historical Background: Ogboni society is an “assembly of elders” that created a cult based on the cosmology of Yoruba. The Ogboni considered themselves as the “privileged intermediaries between the Living and the Ancestors”. They venerated mother Earth or goddess Earth, Sources indicate that the Ogbonis acted as the “check and balance” against the power of the king to the point of having the authority to remove him if necessary. The Ogbonis had judicial functions, their primary role was the preservation of the “Ife oracle”. Priests of the Obgoni society are often called on to consult the oracle to determine a number of sensitive issues, such as Ancestral support for the King. In fact, members of the Obgoni society are Guardians and Protectors of the Divine Oracle and Laws. The Ogboni society was the highest court in Yorubaland, with the power to judge powerful individuals that did not face justice in the open judicial system.
The only Yoruba parts of Nigeria where they still have some real influence on the traditional administration of the cities are in the Egba, Egbado and Abeokuta parts of Nigeria. However, the Ogboni still have “quite significant” influence and power over the affairs of the nation. Nevertheless, the political integrity of both the Ogboni Society and the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity “has been called into question given their strong links with Freemasonry, the Rotary Club, or the Rosicrucian Brotherhood”. All Ogbonis are under the authority of the political leader, referred to as the Alafin, who has the authority to convoke the priests into “extraordinary sessions”. However, the structure of the Ogboni society is a “secret that only an Ogboni member can answer,” risking death by poisoning.
Rituals and Ceremonies: particularities about the rituals and ceremonies of the Ogboni society are a “Secret that Only an Ogboni Member can Answer,” risking his or her own death. Membership is open to Yorubas and other ethnicities, and that men and women are eligible for initiation within the society, although the “predominance of Male Elders is undeniable”.
The society is “potentially very dangerous for individuals who join them”. Even though positions within the Ogboni society are not inherited, if one person’s parent was a member of the Ogboni Society, and that person had been exposed to their activities meetings held at his or her parents’ house while the child was present so that over the years the child grew up knowing the identities of the Ogboni; or the parent deliberately pledged that his or her child would become a member. In most situations, individuals deliberately and voluntarily join these societies because they want power, financial rewards, and success….
*** The Apena was the spokesman of the Ogboni society which was a central and important institution in all Yoruba states. The Ogboni has been defined as a ‘secret and ritually united corporation of political and religious leaders and its special priest. The Egba Ogboni as the ‘real leaders of the town’. The Ogboni was once the civic court, the town council and the Electoral College… In principle the Ogboni stood between the King and his subjects, preventing the one from being despotic and ensuring the proper subordination of the other.
Reference Sources: Oba Ogboni Agbaye – Ask Legit – Wikipedia…