OPINION: Oyinlola Keeps His Promise Despite Tinubu’s Victory (2)
After reading the first part of this article last week, Oyinlola called me, and as my phone was ringing, I was tempted to fetch the bitter kola in my hunter’s pouch, take a bite, gargle some aromatic schnapps and chant the incantation, “Ohun ta wi fun ogbó, l’ogbó n gbo, ohun ta wi fun ogbà, l’ogba n gba, kóse kóse ni ti ìlákòse, á sùn má párádà ni ti igi àjà… tùèh!”
I wasn’t going to harm Oyinlola with my chant. Far from it. I was only going to safeguard the kill that Ògún Lákáayé Ósìnmólè, the god of War and Iron, had secured for me, a gunless hunter, from a gunnery old soldier. I didn’t want to hear, “Tunde, I mistakenly sent some bags of cowries to your vault. I’m sorry; they’re not meant for you. They’re meant for Tunde Kelani, the world-renowned cinematographer.”
Well, if Omo’ba Lagun had tried to recall the ancient legal tender aka cowries in my possession, in the manner Bible-loving Godwin Emefiele recalled the naira, I wouldn’t have been sheepish like the Nigerian masses. I would’ve stood up to him and reminded him of the epic Battle of Òrè during the Nigerian Civil War.
Oyinlola knows the art and science of war. He knows why the intensity of the Òrè Battle is prefixed with the phrase ‘O Le Ku’, Ija Òrè. It was in Òrè, Ondo State, that Biafran forces were turned back by federal forces.
I would’ve refused to return the cowries because in vain the moinmoin seeks escape after entering the house of agidi corn meal. The bracelet is cast on the wrist of Olóòsà, nobody can pull it off! I’ll remind Oyin that the Kelani that directed Ò Lé Kù also directed Agogo Eewo, which affirms the efficacy of African traditional powers. I have the full support of the Awise Agbaye, Prof Wande Abimbola, and the Araba of Osogbo, Baba Yemi Elebuibon.
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When I picked up Oyin’s call, his voice was unmistakable, “Young man, you want to reveal what we did in secret, abi? I’m going to sue you and press for damages because people are going to bombard me.” I protested, “They’ve been bombarding me too, despite my incantations, sir.” “Na you sabi di fake incantation you’re chanting. You’re muddling ‘Ohun ta wi fun ogbó, l’ogbó n gbo’, and ‘Fírí, fírí loju n ri, bòhùn, bohun làgùtàn ń wò’; the two serve different purposes. One is to make you do what you wouldn’t do, the other is to render you powerless,” he said. Hmm, I could see Oyin doesn’t know Ifa has gone digital.
Oyin belongs to the rich cultural past when mothers exhaled thrice ‘ha! ha! ha!’ before slicing open the gizzard of a freshly killed fowl, nowadays, ‘ha! ha! ha!’ could indicate delirium or the commencement of cult war. Nowadays, everything is muddled up.
Oyinlola continued, “I was the one God used to end the Ife-Modakeke War, not Chief Bisi Akande, as contained in the first part of your article. When I became governor, they were still fighting, albeit on a low scale. So, I went to Ooni Sijuwade Okunade. I told him, ‘Kabiyesi, you’re the only one who can put a permanent end to this crisis’. I said he should cooperate with me. Thereafter, I went to Baba Ogunsua, the late Chief Francis Adedoyin. I told him of the need to put a permanent stop to the war. I pleaded with him to follow me to Ife. And he agreed.
“It was on a Sunday. Modakeke people said Ife people were threatening that Ogunsua should not come. I said the Ogunsua should come in my car, that anyone who wants to kill or harm him would have me to contend with first. When we got to Ife, we entered the palace, and Ogunsua was given a seat, but he refused the seat and sat on the floor.
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“At the meeting, I suggested to Oba Sijuwade that all the lands of Modakeke seized by Ife should be returned, and he agreed. I also urged him to upgrade Ogunsua, who was a baale, to a king. Sijuwade also agreed. Also, I implored Sijuwade to pay all the salaries accruable to Ogunsua, which had been seized, during the war. Oba Sijuwade agreed to that, too. That was how the war ended permanently. So, when people ask what my greatest achievement was as governor, it is ending the Ife-Modakeke war, not the Osun State University, not the numerous infrastructural projects. Human life is sacrosanct.”
Never dig the hole of antagonism deep because you might find yourself in it, counsels a Yoruba proverb. I was the Lagos State Governor’s Office/Lagos State House of Assembly reporter when the letter transferring me to Osun State as correspondent came. Some of my Alausa colleagues I shared my impending destination with warned me of virtually everyone on Oyinlola’s media team. “Ha! Lasisi will want to control you.” “Oh! Oladeji is cunning. You can never know where he’s going.” “Salam is manageable, but don’t trust him totally.” The advice came in torrents. But I never allowed what I had heard about the trio to affect my relationship with them.
I cherish and nurture friendship. An ex-Osun House of Assembly Speaker, Chief Adejare Bello, was the first politician I met when I got to Osun. His enigmatic Press Secretary, the late Olumide Ajayi, (my ‘aburo’) saw me the day I arrived and insisted I must see his ‘oga’ in Ede. I complained it was getting late, but Olumighty begged. He was such an irresistible soul. I succumbed.
When Bello left government, I still kept in contact with him. Bello, now the Ambassador to Mexico, loves football. His team is Real Madrid and his favourite player is Ronaldo. Hardly a day passes without me needling him about the inability of Ronaldo to win the World Cup like my favourite player, Messi did. In return, he would remind me that Real Madrid are superior to Barcelona, my team.
During the Qatar 2022 World Cup, I was rooting for Argentina while Bello was seeking their ouster. When Argentina got to the final and I started to diss Bello, he said in annoyance, “Argentina will never win the cup.” “The cup is already in Bueno Aires,” I fired back. “Do you want to bet?” “Yes, sir, I want to bet.” “How much?” “N100k.” “OK?” Ok!”
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When the referee blew the final whistle and I was jumping about the house, thanking God for crowning Messi’s stellar career with a World Cup, my phone rang, it was Bello, “Tunde, congratulations! Send your account number, please.”
“N100k just like that? Why have you been wasting your time in journalism? Why don’t you become a pundit and make money, Tunde?” I wondered.
I don’t like to bet. The few times I have betted in my life, I returned the won bet. But what’s N100k to an ambassador? Did I ask for the win? Tunde, send your account number jo! I did and heard an alert shortly afterwards.
In 2011, inside PUNCH newsroom, I predicted the outcome of the 2011 Osun governorship election. Saturday PUNCH had on its cover the map of Osun, showing the 30 local government councils. The election was a straight fight between the incumbent, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, and the challenger, Chief Iyiola Omisore. Saturday PUNCH Editor, Mrs Bisi Deji-Folutile, predicted victory for Omisore.
The Executive Director, Publications, Mr Adeyeye Joseph, now Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, asked if I was the one that shaded each candidate’s areas of strength on the map. He was told I wasn’t. He called for me and directed that I handle the map.
On election day, Aregbesola won in all the 22 councils while Omisore won in the eight I predicted, though there were one or two councils where I predicted victory could go either way. When I got to the office on Monday, Segun Olugbile, the news editor, told me Saturday PUNCH editor was looking for me. When she saw me, she was full of praise for me.
I speak regularly with General Oyinlola. After the 2023 presidential election, I called Oyinlola to get his view. He said Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would win but I said Tinubu would win. He said, “Do you want to bet?” “Yes,” I said. “How much,” he asked?” I said, “Sir, let me stake N500,000.00 to you N5m.” He said, “Which type of betting is that?” Are you betting or not,” he asked with a military finality. I said, “Yes.” “How much?” he asked again. I said, “If I bet N500,000, I’ll win N5m.”
Last Monday, I got an alarm from a microfinance bank. I called Oyin. He said, “I am a soldier. I keep my word.”
This article written by Tunde Odesola, a columnist with The PUNCH newspaper was first published by the same paper. It’s published here with the permission from the author.
OPINION: Gbelebu As Agbelebu Of Misgovernance
By Suyi Ayodele
Gbelebu is a village in Ovia South-West Local Government Area of Edo State. It is a 100 percent Ijaw enclave. How such a community was delineated to be part of Edo, only God knows. Interestingly, the source of Gbelebu is Arogbo Ijaw in the present Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. Gbelebu’s brothers are also scattered in Ovia North-East Local Government Area, also in Edo State and other Ijaw towns and villages in Delta and Bayelsa States. I was in that agrarian village last weekend for the funeral rites of High Chief Aaron Ponuwei Ebelo, the Okito of Gbaraun Kingdom; and father of my university classmate, Goodluck Ilajufi Ebelo. Two of our classmates, a professor and current Head of Department (HOD), English Language, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Professor Dipo Babalola, and Fidelis Soriwei, another Ijaw son and cousin to Goodluck, also attended the ceremony. My first line-editor in the journalism profession, Ikechukwu Amaechi, and the General Editor, Nigerian Tribune, Taiwo Adisa, graced the occasion too. It was a carnival of sorts. The Ijaw nation demonstrated their unity when they filed out to dance. I was told that many of the people who attended the ceremony and who danced heartily never knew Pa Ebelo in his lifetime. They attended the funeral to show solidarity, and more importantly, to demonstrate that no matter what administrative convenience of boundary demarcation might have done, a people united in spirit cannot be separated. From Gbelebu, one can connect any part of the world through the sea. It is a place one wants to visit often and often because of the hospitality of the people. Yet it is a town one should not visit twice in a year! I will explain why it is so.
Christianity was introduced to the countryside in a very subtle way. At least that was what we grew up to know. The earlier ‘missionaries’ in my hometown, especially the ones we called SU (Scripture Union), came preaching without the present-day “fall-down-and-die” crusades. I am not sure if they had started with the aggression that we see nowadays, anyone would have listened to them. Those early SUs used symbols a lot in their engagements. One of such symbols is the Cross. The Yoruba call it Agbelebu. Agbelebu assumed other meanings apart from the tree upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. The Cross, over the years, became a symbol of burden. Whenever something unexplainable, and most of the times, avoidable happens, my people refer to it as the victim’s Agbelebu. And we all carry one agbelebu or the other. For the Nigerian masses, their most visible agbelebu is bad leadership. Bad leadership breeds misgovernance which ultimately leads to the governed suffering untold hardship. So, for years, the masses have been carrying on their lean shoulders, the agbelebu of bad leadership without any help in sight. How far they will go before they finally buckle under the weight of the heavy burden, nobody can tell. Will there be a day when the people will resolve that enough is enough? The only answer that came to mind as I asked this question is ensconced in the saying that when a load is too heavy for the head or the shoulder, there is a place it should be placed. Where is that place? Our elders did not state. That itself is an oro sunukun (deep thought).
From Benin City or Okada Junction on the Benin-Lagos Expressway to Udo junction, where the journey takes one to Gbelebu, life is more abundant. The two-dimensional road may not be the best, but the journey, traversing the routes can be very pleasant. However, the punishment begins immediately you drive out of Udo to connect to the road that takes one to Gbelebu. That is where the agbelebu begins. There are many bad roads in Nigeria, no doubt. Udo-Gbelebu road is in a class of its own. No one who has ever been to that axis will ever believe that such a road exists in the 21st century Nigeria. As we meandered through the artificial hills and valleys created by erosion on the road, I began to wonder which sin the people living in that area committed to be subjected to that kind of punishment. Every vehicle we passed by the road, or which passed our vehicle, had one tale or the other to tell. I asked myself what our problem was or is for a people to be so neglected! The torture on that road is a clear representation of the torture the masses go through daily in the hands of the inorganic leadership that has ruled and ruined the nation. The real agbelebu of the South West is Ibadan Ife Ilesa Road, a federal government property. It is as ghastly as a fatal accident. But the minister of works, David Umahi, did not include it on a list of his priority roads released recently. What offence did the people of that area commit to warrant carrying that horror of a cross? What about the Benin-Owo-Akure Road? Akure-Ado Ekiti Road; Ikole-Omuo-Kabba Roads and many more are begging for attention. On those roads and many more across Nigeria, kidnappers and other felons are kings!
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What worsens the situation for commuters on the Udo-Gbelebu road, especially the villagers, is the fact that there exists a shorter and better access road, but the people cannot use it, or are not allowed to use it. I asked why. Here is the explanation I got. A big oil palm company, Okomu Oil Palm PLC, has its plantations along that axis. The company, we learnt, a few years ago, said that its palm fruits were being harvested by thieves, and it devised a means of curtailing that. What did it do? It simply went and dug trenches across the road, a la Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and the road to Senator Natasha Apoti-Uduaghan’s constituency during the 2023 general elections. It never matters if there are indigenous people, whose ancestors used that same road before Okomu came to the locality. In fact, we were told that the road came into existence in the days of Western Region. The company, in crass impunity, simply cut off the road and every commuter is now forced to use the old farm road that was abandoned. Neither the Ovia South-West council, which is the primary host of Okomu Oil, nor the Edo State Government, has been able to come to the rescue of the people. While one is not averse to Okomu Oil securing its facilities and produce, adopting such a crude method and depriving the people the use of their heritage, beats every sensible imagination. By digging trenches across the road on the excuse that palm fruits were being stolen, and depriving the people access to the ancient road also shows that Okomu Oil thinks that an average villager in that locality is a thief! That is preposterous, at best! If the road had not been blocked by the giant oil palm company, we were told that the journey from Udo to Gbelebu would have been less than 45 minutes. We were punished on that road for almost two hours! How a company could take the laws into its hands without recourse to civilisation, and yet, the government looks the other way is something one cannot explain. For the two nights I spent in Gbelebu, I kept asking: how long will these people tarry before something will give?
Bad road is not the only agbelebu of Gbelebu people in the hands of the insensitive leaders they joined in putting in power at all levels of governance. We were by the riverside. I noticed that people just dipped empty water bottles into the river and drank the water directly. I drew the attention of Fidelis to the scene. His explanation was shocking. Pointing at the river, he told me that the water is so pure that it requires little purification to make it potable. Yet in the entire community and the ones we passed on our way to the village, there is no single pipe borne water tap. My mind did a simple arithmetic. If the water from the river at Gbelebu is as pure as I was told, how much would it cost the government to lay pipes into the river, and establish a treatment plant, from where the water can be channeled to the people? Probably a one-year “constituency project” cost of one ‘honourable’ member of the House of Assembly, or House of Representative, or the senator representing the area would have solved the problem. As we were approaching Gbelebu, we saw some locals carrying jerry cans of water on their heads, climbing laboriously, the steep hill that leads to their homes. Looking across the bad road, we saw some others having their bath in the same river! This will not go without pointing out that there is no single string electric wire in Gbelebu and the adjourning villages! Bear in mind, dear readers, that this year is 2023!
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Just as Gbelebu residents and their neighbours are carrying their own portion of agbelebu of bad leadership, something new and “befitting” is about to happen to our Vice President, Dr Kashim Shettima, courtesy of the new Emperor of Abuja, Mr. Nyesom Wike, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In his usual generosity, Wike has proposed to construct a N15 billion “befitting residence” for the comfort of the vice president! Virtually all dailies published on Monday had the story on their front pages. Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), which is kicking against the profligate spending, made an appeal to the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, to use his leadership position “to promptly reject the plan by the Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike, to spend N15 billion for the construction of a ‘befitting residence’ for the Vice President, Mr. Kashim Shettima.” I laughed when I read the story. How do you report the case of the wicked to the wicked? When there is a dispute between the man with a sore and a fly, who, among the duo, will the chief fly support? You will understand my skepticism over the SERAP appeal when you come to realise that one of the major reasons SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, advanced is the fact that “The plan to spend N15 billion on ‘a befitting residence’ for the vice president is a fundamental breach of the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international anticorruption and human rights obligations.” The body went further to remind the senate, under the leadership of Akpabio, that “…the Senate, has a constitutional responsibility to address the country’s debt crisis, including by rejecting wasteful and unnecessary spending to satisfy the personal comfort and lifestyles of public officials.” The same senate that approved a N5 billion Presidential Yacht, a N2.7 trillion supplementary budget that catered only to the needs of the president, the vice president and the president’s wife, two months to the end of the fiscal year, is the one SERAP is asking to stop Wike!
I have no problem having a conducive environment for workers. Each time I enter either the remodeled state secretariat or the high court complex and other government offices in Benin, my mind gives kudos to Governor Godwin Obaseki for deeming it fit to make the workplace nice enough for the workers. No matter his failings or shortcomings in other areas, it will be difficult for any rational mind to score him poor marks in the area of infrastructure. So, the president or the vice president, or any other government official deserves a good working environment. I have never been to the Aso Rock Villa to know how ‘rotten’ the vice president’s section has become, such that he would need a new structure to be constructed at the cost of N15 billion. I know that at a time, rats, we were told, chased General Muhammadu Buhari out of his office. Funny people! What is the state of the vice president’s quarters? How ‘unbefitting’ has the place become? If it is necessary to get him a ‘befitting residence’, how is that the problem of the FCT minister? Does the presidency not have its own budget? Or is the FCT minister trying to please the gods of the Villa? I don’t understand. When was the entire Aso Rock Villa built such that in 2023, the vice president needs another “befitting residence?” Questions and questions!
FROM THE AUTHOR: Tribune At 74: A Reporter’s Diary [OPINION]
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) lives in 10 Downing Street. That edifice was built between 1862 and 1864. That is well over 300 years ago. Over the years, the UK Government had only carried out major renovations on the property three times – in 1960, 1980, and 1990. These renovations were done to strengthen weak columns, expand a section or the other, and add one apartment or the other without any fundamental change in the original design as conceived by George Downing, the original owner and his architect, Christopher Wren. To preserve the history of the house, the name of the original owner is retained till date. Before the first renovation in 1960 was carried out, the UK Government set up a committee in 1958 to look into the matter. The government turned down the earlier suggestion that the entire house be “teared down” because “the prime minister’s home had become an icon of British architecture like Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament”. At the end of the day, the government decided that “Number 10 (and Numbers 11 and 12) should be rebuilt using as much of the original materials as possible. The interior would be photographed, measured, disassembled, and restored. A new foundation with deep pilings would be laid and the original buildings reassembled on top of it, allowing for much needed expansion and modernisation. Any original materials that were beyond repair – such as the pair of double columns in the Cabinet Room – would be replicated in detail.” (See Historic England. 10 Downing Street: National Heritage List for England, 2017). Raymond Erith, the architect who carried out the design, and John Mowlem and Co, which handled the rebuilding, followed the instructions to the letter. That is how people preserve their history! Our leaders run to the UK to meet the Prime Minister in the same 300 plus old 10 Downing Street. They marvel at the old architectural wizardry that dots every segment of the monument. But on their return home, they tear apart everything that can connect us to our past. For many years, they removed History as a subject in our educational curriculum. Civics was long buried. Why? The locusts that have been in power in the last 30 years are scared of the new generation knowing their history, where they are coming from and when the rain begins to beat us!
The worst form of wickedness that can be visited on a people is to tear down their memory. In a country where many people live without potable water, electricity and the worst of roads, it amounts to sheer insensitivity and pathological wickedness for the leaders to think only about their comfort. The bad road which is the agbelebu of Gbelebu people is the same all over Nigeria. My pastor teaches me to always pray for our leaders. But I find it difficult to open my mouth and ask the heavens to shower mercies upon our leaders with the anguish I see on the streets daily. The urge to ask for the opposite upon the locusts ruining our vegetation became stronger after my Gbelebu trip. That is my feeling right now. My heart bleeds even as I wish High Chief Aaron Ponuwei Ebelo a peaceful rest in the bosom of the Lord!
OPINION: Oba Of Benin, Ancestors And Lagos
By Lasisi Olagunju
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” Imagine this George Orwel dystopian quote in his ‘1984’ applying directly to where you come from. That is why I sympathise with both sides in the controversy that has followed Oba of Benin’s claim of Lagos as his ancestors’ creation. Between the two sides, who is telling the truth? I have a friend who thinks that more serious existential issues should provoke Nigerians’ outcries and not this antique matter of who founded where. But I told that person to read John Hope Franklin’s 1944 piece ‘History- Weapon of War and Peace’, and the author’s thesis that one of the intangible weapons of war is history.
Did Plato not say “those who tell the stories rule society”? An oba who rarely goes out of his domain goes out. And while out, he says publicly that “I do not want to say this” because of the certain controversy that will follow, but he proceeds immediately to say that very thing. He has not made a mistake; he had his reason for saying what he said where he said it. So, do not blame the people doing a pushback against the king’s claim; blame not the original owners of Lagos for replying the oba. Remember that slogan of the Party in Orwel’s 1984: ‘Who controls the past controls the future…’
The Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, said during his recent visit to Lagos that his ancestors founded Lagos. He spoke at the Lagos State House, Marina, where he was received by the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Addressing the audience, the monarch said, “I don’t want to say something that will now drag me into the controversy of Benin and Lagos. But I cannot help but say that it is in history books that Benin founded Lagos. But when some people hear it now, they (will) go haywire that ‘what is the Oba saying there again?’ But it is true. Go and check the records. Maybe not all of Lagos as we know it now, but certain areas in Lagos – maybe, the nucleus of Lagos was founded by my ancestors. The Oba of Lagos will say so. Everyone knows it, (that) the source of Lagos is Benin whether the Ooni of Ife likes it or not.”
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The good thing about Yoruba people is that their history is long documented. There is hardly a town without at least a book or pamphlet containing its ancient and modern history. My very small community, Eripa, in Osun State has a compendium that contains the family tree of every lineage in every compound in the community. Our next-door neighbour, Otan Ayegbaju, has a similar text; the next town on that line, Ila Orangun (where I had my primary and secondary school education), has a number of books on its history, one of them ‘The Orangun Dynasty,’ written by the town’s very first university graduate, Prince Isaac Adebayo, and published in 1996, qualifies as a history book on the Igbomina-Yoruba people worldwide. Lillian Trager’s Ijesa-focused ‘Yoruba Hometowns’ (2001) with Foreword written by Justice Kayode Eso, and Sarah S. Berry’s various works, including ‘Fathers Work for Their Sons’ (1985) tell the deep attachment the Yoruba have for their hometowns even when they no longer live there or “may never have lived there.” The Yoruba do not think any amount is too heavy to contribute and spend in defence of their homeland and its history. In wartime, they buy guns and send them home; in peacetime, they write and publish books on their home.
Emeritus Professor of the History of Africa at the University of Stirling, United Kingdom, Robin Law, in his ‘Early Yoruba Historiography’ (published in ‘History in Africa, 1976, Vol. 3, page 69-89), wrote that “the Yoruba have been exceptionally prolific among West African peoples in the production of historical literature.” Law said it was “exceedingly difficult to trace (all) the works of Yoruba local historians”. But he tried and got quite a number: There was Iwe Itan Eko by John B. Ogunjinmi Losi (1913) with its English translation ‘History of Lagos’ (1914). There were Iwe Itan Abeokuta (1917) and its translation, History of Abeokuta (1923). There was another ‘History of Abeokuta’ (1916) by Emmanuel Olympus O. Moore (better known as Ajayi Kolawole Ajisafe). The Yoruba also had Iwe Itan Ibadan (1912) by Isaac Babalola Akinyele who later became Olubadan. There were Iwe Itan Ajase (Porto Novo) by Akindele Akinsowon (1914); Iwe Itan Oyo Ile ati Oyo Isisiyi abi Ago d’Oyo by M. C. Adeyemi (1916); History of Ondo by the Rev. J.A. Leigh (1917) and A History of Ketu (in Benin Republic) by Abbe Thomas Moulro (1926). There were also ‘Iwe Itan Ijesa-Obokun’ by J.D.E. Abiola, J.A. Babafemi and S.O.S. Ataiyero (1932); Iwe Itan Ogbomoso by N.D. Oyerinde (1934); Iwe Ikekuru ti Itan Ijebu by M.D. Okubote (1937); Iwe Itan Saki by Samuel Ojo Bada (1937) and Iwe Itan Ondo by Samuel Ojo Bada (1940). There were several others.
The Yoruba’s pocket of well documented history is deep. Lagos has several such books. One of them is ‘Iwe Itan Eko’ and its translation, ‘History of Lagos’, by John Losi. There are more recent ones that include ‘A History of Lagos, Nigeria: The Shaping of an African City’ by Takiu Folami, published in 1982 and described as “most authoritative” in its Foreword by the late Oba of Lagos, Adeyinka Oyekan. A knowledge-driven people with this kind of background will always be difficult to defeat in a battle of records. So, when the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, was shown in Lagos some days ago flashing history and declaring that his ancestors founded Lagos and that his kingdom was the source and the fountain head of Lagos, it was not a surprise to see the Yoruba elite, especially the Awori-Yoruba, up and asking which ‘history’ the Benin monarch was talking about. The Yoruba say they have enough documentary evidence to prove that the claim from Benin palace was not based on facts of history.
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Lagos started from Isheri and “the first man that built Isheri and settled there…was a hunter, named Ogunfunminire, meaning ‘the god of iron has given me success.’ He was of the royal family of Ile-Ife…” John B. Losi, school headmaster and pioneer Lagos historian wrote the above in his book, Iwe Itan Eko published in 1913. It was twenty years after that book was published that the first book on Benin history, Jacob Egharevba’s ‘Ekhere vb Itan Edo’ (Short History of Benin) was published in 1933.
The fact of the Benin-Lagos history is that the Awori inhabited a land they called Oko under their leader, Olófin. Their Oko includes today’s Iddo and the general Lagos Island area. In 1603, the more powerful kingdom of Benin came on an armada of war boats, overran them, turned their Oko to a war camp (Eko), gave them a king and started collecting tributes from them. War historians will describe what happened as seizure by conquest. That is a relationship that does not align with Oba of Benin’s claim of founding Lagos and of Benin being its source. You don’t wage a war against a non-existent people. The fact of Lagos’s existence provoked the attack and subjugation from Benin forces. And, did you notice that the Oba of Benin said the Oba of Lagos would say exactly what he said about Benin being the founder and source of Lagos? He was right about the Oba of Lagos. The palace in Lagos, today, sees itself as an extension of the Benin palace. It won’t remember that there had been points in the past when the Lagos underling was weaned of his slavery. Robert Smith in his ‘The Lagos Consulate, 1851–1861’ published in 1978 cites an instance in 1860 when the Oba of Benin asked Oba Dosumu to allow exiled ex-King Kosoko return to Lagos. Oba Dosunmu turned down the request from the Benin palace declaring that things were “not as in former times when Lagos was under the King of Benin to whom annually a tribute was paid”.
Could the source of the current controversy be the Benin oba’s choice of words? He said his ancestors ‘founded’ Lagos. He used that word ‘founded’ twice, which means it wasn’t a slip. ‘Founded’ is the past tense and past participle of ‘found’ which means “establish or originate” (Oxford English Dictionary); “to bring something into existence” (Cambridge English Dictionary). So, how could the ancestors of the Oba of Benin have been the ones who brought into existence a settlement that they waged war against in 1603 but which received the Portuguese explorer, Rui de Sequeira, in 1472? The Oba also said “the source of Lagos is Benin”. ‘Source’, in this context, means the place where something (e.g. a river or stream) starts (Oxford English Dictionary). If he had said his ancestors took Lagos by conquest and imposed a dynasty of kings on it, he would have been right. But he chose the more solid markers of original possession: “found” and “source”. With profound respect, I say the Oba’s claims are historically not correct. I read G.A. Akinola’s ‘The Origin of the Eweka Dynasty of Benin: A Study in the Use and Abuse of Oral Traditions (1976)’. In April, 1973, the researcher was in the palace of the Oba of Benin, Akenzua II, on an interview appointment but the Oba changed his mind when he arrived. The Oba refused to speak with the man while he “wondered why a Yoruba should be interested in Benin history.” The researcher reported that his session with the king ended “with the Oba and his courtiers reminiscing about how Eko (that is Lagos) in fact belongs to Benin by right of conquest long ago.” I see a divergence here between the position of the current Oba of Benin and that of his ancestor, Akenzua II. The ancestor claimed Lagos as a war booty; the incumbent claims Lagos as a creation of his ancestors.
I have read the seminal ‘Benin Imperialism and the Transformation of Idejo Chieftaincy Institution in Lagos, 1603-1850’ written by Bashir Animasahun of Lagos State University, and published in the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (2016). I have read the author’s argument that the conquest of Lagos by the Benin Kingdom led to a change of the Lagos political system from a confederacy to a monarchy in the period 1603 to 1850. I have read his point that the imposition of Benin monarchy in Lagos made the Idejo chiefs who had ruled Lagos between 1500 and 1603 get incorporated into the new monarchy as white cap chiefs but that they retained control over land rights. From the fine lines of his work, I could deduce that Benin could claim a dynasty of Lagos obas, but it has little control (if any) over the land there.
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Lagos has had more than its fair share of socio-political changes imposed from outside. None of the outsiders should ever claim to be its creator, although they serially gave it names. The Awori ‘Oko’ became ‘Eko’ when it was invaded and conquered by the Benin in about 1603. When the Portuguese came, the toponym was Curamo, then a transition began. According to Liora Bigon (2011), “Curamo, was used in parallel to another Portuguese name, ‘Onim’, which became more dominant towards the end of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth. Among the other variations of Onim in contemporary sources, especially Portuguese and French, were Aunis, Ahoni, or Onis. These names, as explained by Law, were probably derived from Awori, the Yoruba sub-group to which the first residents of Oko belonged…The name Lagos itself — from the Portuguese lago or lagõa (‘Lake’ or ‘lagoon’) — permanently replaced all the other names only when Portuguese influence started to fade and gave way to the British.” (see Liora Bigon’s ‘The Former Names of Lagos (Nigeria) in Historical Perspective’ published in Names, Vol. 59 No. 4, December, 2011, 229–40).
Oba Ewuare II laid his claim to Lagos and added the clause, “whether the Ooni likes it or not”. With that broadside, the Oba was claiming more than Lagos. It didn’t start today. There is an age-long war of histories between the royalty of Benin and the House of Oduduwa in Ile Ife. Oba Ewuare II’s father and predecessor was in the ring with the predecessor of the incumbent Ooni of Ife on more than one occasion. On November 11, 1982, the Oba of Benin was a guest of Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II. Oba Sijuwade, at that occasion, told the Benin king: “As we have mentioned briefly during our historic visit to your domain not too long ago, we said we were there to pat you on the back for a job well done…Your present visit…we regard as a short home-coming where you will have an opportunity to commune with those deities you left behind… Now, my son and brother, long may you reign.” The Oba of Benin replied that address of welcome with “If the Ooni of Ife calls the Oba of Benin his son and the Oba of Benin calls the Ooni of Ife his son, they are both right” (see Edun Akenzua’s Ekaladerhan, 2008: Pages Xi -Xii). But you and I know that they cannot both be right. The Benin-Ife story started not with the present Oranmiyan dynasty but with the earlier pre-Benin Ogiso dynasty. Is it true that Obagodo or Ogiso, the man who started Igodomigodo, the pre-Benin entity, came there from Ile Ife? I have read Dmitri M. Bondarenko’s ‘Ancient Benin: Where did the first monarchs come from?’ (2001). I have read ‘A reconsideration of the Ife-Benin relationship’ by A. F. C. Ryder (1965) published in the Journal of African History. I have read ‘The Scholarship of Jacob Egharevba of Benin’ by Uyilawa Usuanlele and Toyin Falola published in History in Africa, 1994. I have read some more on Ife and Benin archaeology. But I note, specifically that Jacob Egharevba wrote ‘Ekhere Vb ‘Itan Edo’ (Short History of Benin’) and published it after reading the manuscript to Oba Eweka II in 1933 with the crown prince who would later become Akenzua II in attendance. The reading-and-listening exercise made the book the official/palace history of Benin. Now, what does the first edition (even the second edition) of that ‘Short History’ say about Benin and Ile-Ife and their origins?
Back to Lagos. A story is like a rope; no matter how long, it must have a beginning and an end. I end this piece with some words of knowledge from first class historian, Professor Ayodeji Olukoju, in his 2017 seminal piece entitled ‘Which Lagos, Whose (Hi)story?’: “We may conclude that Awori-Yoruba communities in Lagos, as we now know them, played host to, and absorbed, a series of newcomers. Among these were military invaders and settlers from Benin of Edo State; fugitives, refugees and adventurers from the hinterland Yoruba kingdoms, ranging from those displaced by nineteenth-century Yoruba inter-state wars and the Ifole in Abeokuta (13 October, 1867); retainers of chiefly families of Nupe origins; returnees and deportees from the Atlantic and West African diaspora; descendants of British colonial-era ‘Hausa’ constabulary and Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) personnel; and individuals who were absorbed as retainers and guests of notable Lagos ruling families.” The takeaway from the foregoing is that Lagos takes not just the waters of the hinterland; it takes (and cares for) the people too – from everywhere.
This article written by Dr. Lasisi Olagunju, Editor, Saturday Tribune, was first published by the newspaper. It’s published here with permission from the author.
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