The tale of the scorpion is in its tail. Here’s the tale of Erelu Bede, a woman who lived in the time of Orunmila, the Yoruba deity of wisdom and divination. The Araba of Osogbo, Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, told me this tale in detail. The tale grew popular and became a collection in the series of Ifa teachings called Ogundabede.
In this article, I intend to use the tale of Ogundabede aka ‘Ikunmú àgbà’ as a metaphor that weaves the power of language and culture into a tapestry, like a hairdresser using the ilari cutting comb to part the customer’s hair into three per time before weaving each three it into strands of knee-length box braids. ‘Ikunmú àgbà’ is the mucus in the nose of the elderly, difficult for the young to point out.
Hear foolish parents raising children in their fools’ paradise, “I don’t want my children to suffer the suffering I suffered!” Ask them what ‘suffering did they suffer’, and they tell you how they trekked to fetch water from the village river every morning before trekking to school kilometres away.
These parents fail to realise the difference between labour and indulgence. A Yoruba proverb believes labour doesn’t kill, overindulgence does. The freedom and choice of adventure is the reason why ‘local’ chicken is sweeter than ‘agric’ chicken. One is given the free range to roam while the other is locked up in the cage for safety. Overprotection inhibits flourish. And nothing ventured, nothing gained. The most expensive cutlery in the world cannot give the taste and tactile feeling the palm gives when it helps pounded yam explore edikang ikong soup for ponmo, crayfish, bokoto and snails.
It’s absurd how some industrious parents overindulge their children in the good life, losing the essence of hard work, diligence, perseverance and consistency in the process.
Erelu Ogundabede lived in an era when baby mama-ing wasn’t a badge of honour among female survivors of dysfunctional relationships. An impending doom loomed large for Erelu. She must perform a series of sacrifices to avert the danger of having three kids for three different husbands, warned the gods. The ingredients of the etutu (sacrifice) were three goats, three pots of cowries and three sashes (òjá). She must perform the sacrifice three separate times.
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The prophecy that made the heart of Erelu skip hippity-hop would have been a cause of celebration among the younger generation of today, male and female. But Erelu Bede lived in a time when morality defined marriage. Erelu became sad because she had no money to procure the ingredients of the sacrifice. She devised a plan. Only kings have such money to throw around.
So, she went to King Alara and told him her story. Alara married Erelu and performed the first round of sacrifice for her. And she begot a son. Erelu urged King Alara to perform the other two rounds of sacrifices but the king told her to tarry awhile. Erelu was unhappy that Alara couldn’t solve her problem, so she left the king after naming her son, Igara, meaning that the king maltreated her.
She went to another king, this time, the Ajero, and told him her story, and King Ajero married her, performing one of the rounds of sacrifice for her. She urged the king to complete other rounds of sacrifices but the king told her to tarry because there was a paucity of funds. Erelu begat a son, whom she named Òfòrélé, the son of Ajero. Òfò is calamity in Yoruba.
Worried about the last sacrifice, Erelu went to King Orangun, told her tale, and the king, Owarangun Aga, married her. She bore another son to Owarangun, whom she named Amuni nje amuni.
Thus Igara became the first bandit in the human race. He teamed up with his two other half-brothers to form a formidable gang of robbers, attacking people on market days. One day, they waylaid Aje, the wife of Orunmila, and snatched all her money. Aje reported her calamity to Orunmila, who gave her a bag to sling across her shoulder on the next market day. The three-brother gang struck again, snatching Aje’s bag.
They went to their rendezvous under the Iroko, where they shared their booties. The bag was heavy, must contain more cowries, they thought. Igara unfastened the bag and dipped his hand into it. Haaaaaa! He threw the bag to the ground and ran off in pain. Òfò and Amuni felt Igara had run off with some money. Both struggled for the bag. Òfò snatched it from Amuni. He dipped his hand into it. Sss-hh-aaa! Òfò flung the bag away and ran off, too. Amuni was glad he had the whole bag to himself. He slung it across his neck and dipped his hand into it. “Yeeepaaaa!” he wailed and struggled to throw the bag off, running a short distance before slumping to a painful death, like others.
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A cobra snaked out of the bag into the forest. Erelu couldn’t have all her children for one man because she failed to perform the three sacrifices in one fell swoop.
If we blame Erelu for impatience, we should blame the kings for jibiti because she came clean with her problem; the kings shouldn’t have married her when they knew they didn’t have the money for all the sacrifices. This is my personal view, may the gods not twist my mouth for blasphemy.
The lessons inherent in this tale are many. One of them is the preeminent place of mother tongue in teaching. Another is the beauty of culture as the custodian of customs, traditions, habits and practices. No African, nay Yoruba son or daughter with understanding, wouldn’t relate to this tale more than they relate to Shakespearean language, more so if it was told in Yoruba.
It is ridiculous that Nigerian leaderships since independence have failed to evolve comprehensive curricula that would promote learning and teaching in Nigerian languages. This would aid assimilation and develop native languages.
I often wonder what is the essence of speaking in foreign languages in our mosques and churches, only for interpreters to translate what’s said in foreign tongues into English or local languages. Why don’t you preach in Nigerian languages and skip the hurdle of translation and time-wasting? In the kingdom of God, there’s no language imperialism as God understands all tongues.
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I wonder when Nigeria would break the shackles of self-imposed mental slavery and stop barring workers from wearing bùbá and sòkòtò to the office all through the week, except Fridays and weekends. Bùbá and sòkòtò are smarter than suit and tie. If you’re in a suit and tie, please, don’t argue with a bus conductor.
Anytime I wear Nigerian clothes in the US, heads turn in admiration, mouths open in compliments. Americans, whites and blacks, love diversity and many are quick to ask where they could get African clothes.
Wave-making Nigerian music stars including rave-of-the-moment, Asake; Flavour, Phyno, Tiwa, Yemi Alade, Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Olamide, Portable employ Nigerian languages and cultures to deliver their messages. Many of these stars enjoy regular airtime on American airwaves. It’s ironic that many parents home and abroad don’t encourage their children to speak Nigerian languages but they enjoy songs in Nigerian languages. Understanding one’s language and culture has a cutting edge.
I wish Nigeria a quick restoration to its old glory. I wish the ‘Japa’ syndrome would cease so that the country could stop losing its future leaders to foreign countries. Many Nigerian kids abroad have lost their mother tongue. They speak English better than native speakers. Whose gain? Whose loss? When Nigerian kids abroad grow up, they don’t fit into the cutthroat existence of Nigeria anymore. Whose gain? Whose loss? Is ‘Japa’ truly another slavery?
Whatever you do, wherever you are, encourage your children and wards to embrace their language and culture. There’s something about Nigeria that the world would soon wake up to – if our leaders fetch their thinking caps quickly enough.
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola
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!
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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.
OPINION: Rivers Of Betrayals
By Suyi Ayodele
“A child”, the elders of my place say, “only knows when he takes the oath of loyalty but is never aware when he breaks it” (Ojó tí omodé bá mu ilẹ̀ lo mo; kii mo ojó tọ́ bá da). They did not stop there. They go a bit further to talk about the consequence of treachery. Their judgement is a grave one. They submit thus: “Ilẹ̀ ní pa òdàlẹ̀” (The earth kills the one who breaks an oath). Now listen. When you hear the word, “ilẹ̀”, my elders are not by any means referring to the solid surface known as land – earth surface. No. It is deeper than that. Ilẹ̀ in Yoruba philosophy goes beyond the physical. My little knowledge of our culture tells me that once a person is cursed with the land, all terrestrial and celestial bodies are invoked and evoked to come to play. I know one or two persons that suffered the misfortune of being so cursed. As I penned this, my mind raced to those personalities in pity, and I trembled at the same time.
I tell you a short story of how someone I know suffered the fate that befalls every treacherous being. The two characters in the story are brothers of the same father. Their family, like every other polygamous set up, is not spared the ordeals of sibling rivalry. But those two guys were the closest in their family, or so we thought. They also shared one common character determiner; they are both rogues. So, it happened that one night, they conspired to burgle a tenant’s apartment in their father’s house. As planned, the elder brother was the one who climbed the ceiling to gain access to the apartment. As soon as his younger brother confirmed that he was in the room, he raised the alarm. Neighbours gathered and surrounded the house. It was to everybody’s shock when the thief was caught, and he turned out to be the son of the landlord. The culprit, on sighting his brother, asked why he decided to act the way he did. The police came and took him into custody. Days later, he was arraigned in a magistrate court and was summarily sentenced to a three-year prison term. He did his term and returned home in the dead of the night.
Early the following day, he left for the family’s ancestral home and sent a traditional message to the elders of their clan to join him there because he had a story to tell. The elders gathered. Some wayfarers joined them. Then he went ahead to narrate how his brother betrayed him on the night he was caught. His brother was in the audience. He did not dispute what the elder brother said. Before the elders could speak, the ex-convict did something tragic and irreversible. On the traditional spot where the family’s first placenta was buried, the ex-convict placed his left foot on it and issued a curse on his half-brother thus: “Let the land judge between us if I deserved the treachery from you that night.” The people present chorused “Ase”- Amen. He (the one caught) left town, only to return years later, a practically useless man. The last time I was in their place, I saw the two brothers. The signs of the effects of the jail term and the curse were very visible. Indeed, “Ilẹ̀ nií pa òdàlẹ̀.”
FROM THE AUTHOR: Tribune At 74: A Reporter’s Diary [OPINION]
Mr. Nyesom Wike, the immediate past governor of Rivers State, and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), has been in the news in the last couple of days. And it is for very bad reasons, though that has, in itself, become the new normal in the Nigerian political firmament. Wike, unarguably, is a man who thrives in trouble and controversies. He is the typical “Arogunyo” (he who is happy when there is war). Is that an enviable attribute? I leave you to answer that. From doing-in his own political party, the now comatose Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the last presidential elections, to his attempt to remove, unceremoniously, his political protégé and successor, Governor Siminalayi Fubara, to practically insulting a Bishop of the Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Oko-Jaja, the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Niger Delta, the FCT minister cuts the picture of a man whose yam turns out to be the biggest in the compound but has not learnt the wisdom of covering his mouth while eating it. There is a word of caution for such indiscreet behaviour. I don’t know how much of learning Wike has in our culture. I can just offer a free lesson here, to wit, what joins one to eat the biggest yam is more than one’s family members.
I saw the video of Wike’s tirade on the Bishop, and I asked myself what would have been the reaction of, let’s say, My Lord Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, the retired Bishop of Akure Diocese. Tufiakwa! No Jupiter would dare do such a thing where my Lord Bishop Gbonigi presides. Not even a Military Governor or Administrator would ever come to the lion’s lair the way Wike did in Port Harcourt about a week ago, where he openly upbraided the clergyman for not recognising him when he (Wike) entered the church. Such behaviour also has a description in our traditional folksongs. In one of the songs, someone of Wike’s behaviour is called; “Ajaye ma wo ehin” – he who carries on without a thought for the end result. The elders, again, warn such an individual to note that the world rotates. Today, Wike is the FCT Minister. But for how long? Probably, another eight years, if God permits. After that, he becomes an ex-FCT Minister the same way he is being referred to as ex-governor! That is life. It moves, it revolves and those who carry on without sparing a thought for the repercussion of their actions and inactions are usually caught on the wrong side of history.
How true then is the saying that a man with bad character may not necessarily know himself? I found an answer to this question in the recent statement credited to Minister Wike, who was quoted to have said that he could not tolerate ingrates. Whao! So, the restless former governor detests ingratitude? Wike, while speaking at a function in Abuja, described his successor, Governor Fubara, as an ingrate, who attempted to crumble his political structure in Rivers State.
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This is how the minister described his successor and the political crisis in the once-peaceful state: “Let me tell you, I don’t like ingrates. I can’t stand it. What is happening now is what former Governor Peter Odili said in his book: ‘Give a man, power and money, then you will know the person.’ If you haven’t given a man, power, and money then you don’t know the person…. You know what is painful? All these allegations, I smile. Who and who sat with him. In all your doings be grateful in your life no matter the circumstance. Nobody who is a gentleman, and a politician will support this kind of thing. I left projects for him to commission so he would showcase them during his 100 days, then politics came in. We are just starting. God gave you something, you are now importing crisis. God gave this on a platter of gold, no crisis. The Federal Government is not fighting you; nobody at home is fighting you. You are the one trying to create a crisis for yourself. What kind of system is that? Who does that? Only ingrates that it is in their blood that will support what is happening there. Only those who are naturally ingrates.”
So, in all his dealings with all the benevolent political squirrels that cracked his political palm kernels for him, Wike has remained grateful to all of them? Who among his political benefactors has Wike not shown ingratitude to? Who among them has he not decimated? Which of the political structure that was used in making Wike chairman of a council, Chief of Staff to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of State for Education and finally governor of Rivers State, is still standing today. Has Wike been eternally grateful to his benefactors, like Dr Peter Odili, whose book, “Conscience and History – My Story”, he quoted at the Abuja function. If Odili had not shown magnanimity, maturity, and a deep sense of forgiveness, would he and Wike have been on talking terms today? What about Rotimi Amaechi, the man who handed over power to Wike? Is the Ikwere man not nursing the fatal political injury inflicted on him by Wike till date? If Amaechi were to write the memoirs of his political voyage, how many negative chapters would Wike occupy? What has been the foundation of Rivers State since the beginning of this present democratic dispensation if not treachery, ingratitude, and acute backstabbing?
While one will not necessarily support Fubara burning the bridge that he used in crossing his political river, it is completely out of place for Wike to talk about ingratitude. His entire political life and journey is built on that infamy. Whatever a man sows, is what he reaps. Nothing changes that! Is Wike not ungrateful to the PDP which sharpened his political teeth for him? Did he not sink the PDP in Rivers, Enugu, Abia, Oyo, and Benue States, when he led the PDP G-5 Governors, in the last election? Without the PDP, would Wike have amounted to anything politically? Is he not an ingrate and a prodigal political son to the benevolent Odili? Did he not repay Amaechi, the man who made him a CoS, a junior minister, and a governor with ingratitude when he found new masters in the former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his wife, Madam Patience Goodluck Jonathan? But for selling his old godfather, Amaechi for 30 Shekels of silver like Judas Iscariot, would Wike not have been long confined to the ignoble dustbin of political history? Something is wrong with Rivers State. The owners of the land need to look deeper into the issue of political treachery in the oil-rich state. The way political leaders there change loyalty like a baby’s diapers calls for concern. Political decency appears to be in short supply over there!
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In Rivers State, it has been an unbroken stream of treachery. Odili tells it all in his “Conscience and History – My Story.” The Rivers’ political ancestor tells the story of how he made his own Personal Assistant, Rotimi Amaechi, a member of the House of Assembly, and then the speaker. Wike was a council chairman in the Odili government. When it was discovered that the Abuja powerhouse would not support Amaechi’s governorship PDP candidature, it was the same Amaechi who nominated his cousin, Celestine Omehia and he was elected governor. Suddenly, the same Amaechi became incommunicado and disappeared from the radar of the godfather, Odili. By the time Amaechi resurfaced, Omehia was no longer the governor, having been removed by his cousin, Amaechi. As the new governor, Amaechi appointed Wike his CoS, and the duo ganged up to dethrone Odili as the political godfather of Rivers and stripped him naked! Then it was the turn of Wike to derobe and dethrone Amaechi, who made him CoS, nominated him to Goodluck Jonathan for appointment as minister.
Amaechi lost Wike to Abuja and from there joined forces with Amaechi’s foes to sack him from Rivers politics. With Abuja behind him, Wike defeated Amaechi’s candidate and became governor of Rivers. In the last election, Mr. Wike made his Accountant General, Fubara, the governor. Seven months down the line, Fubara is up in arms against Wike as a continuation of that narration of treachery. One strange thing about it all is that at every bus stop of treachery, each of the traitors complained loudly that he had been betrayed. The Yoruba say curse (egun) moves from one generation to the other. Treachery will continue in that political family in Rivers for a long time until an outsider comes in to break the jinx. Did Odili ever do that to whoever his political godfathers were? That is a task for political historians to handle.
It is true that Wike has been much luckier than his mates. He has enjoyed the best of political patronage and upliftment. He has the right to behave like the proverbial “Ajaye ma wo ehin.” Most people in his category see others who are less-fortunate as never-do-well. But there is always a tomorrow for people in that mould. When you eat in the house of a benevolent deity, it is foolish to look at others in a home that suffers lack with disdain. Why? There is a saying by my people that “Ebora ayini je, he yini hi ta”- the deity that feeds you doesn’t give you to sell. This means there is an extent to which luck can carry a man. Wike had used the sword of treachery to decapitate his political benefactors in the past. It is natural that Wike is worried that Fubara is sharpening that same sword and aiming at his political skull. He can fight all the fights. He has the support of those in power. But one thing is sure; vengeance will surely come at the appointed time. The sword has been unsheathed. It is now like the Biblical “bow of Jonathan”, and the “sword of Saul”, which “turned not back, and returned not empty” without touching “the blood of the slain”, and “the fat of the mighty” (2 Samuel 1:22). He can only postpone the evil days; they will surely come the way day succeeds the night. This is not a curse; it is the course of life that no man can change. We will witness it and we will recall that at a point in time, the past treachery of a mighty man was fully repaid in full measure, if not more. It will happen!
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