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Edo 2020: Why Ijaws must not vote

By Ben Nanaghan

The first ship load of slaves from the Benin Kingdom arrived America over 400 years ago in 1616 and the kingdom harvested richly in Guns, Gun Powder, Gun Canons, Whiskey, Gin, Mirror, Regal Sceptres, Golden Plates and cutleries and of course lots and lots of money for slaves captured and sold.

The Bini Kingdom after 7 centuries of its migration from Oduduwa Land is still thinking, nursing, brooding and conceptualizing slave breeding while most princes, princesses, heir apparents all over the world are de-emphasizing kingship and kingdom affairs.

The Bini Kingdom still holds fast to this primitive and archaic slave culture and mentality. The Binis have never stopped calling the Ijaws of Edo State slaves, an accusation they cannot prove.

The Ijaws all over the world have never been anyone’s slaves not even of the Bins who have been our neighbours, since their arrival from Ile-Ife.

The Ijaws have therefore vehemently rejected this label of slavery imprinted on them by the Binis as they (Ijaws) are the index and original owners of wherever they are domiciled in Edo State. The Ijaws are the indigenous owners of their ancestral lands in Okomu, Gelegele, Inikorowa, Gbelebu, Abere, Ofunama, Ajakurama, Ugboama, Safarogbo in Edo state e.t.c

The great Bini historian, Chief Jacob Uwadiae Egharevba (1893-1981) in his book “A Short History of Benin Kingdom”, made it crystal and emphatically clear that the Binis met human inhabitants in the places now called Ijaw Ancestral Lands when they escaped from Oduduwa Kingdom in Ile Ife. Chief Jacob Eghareba demonstrably pontificated that the Binis came across several rivers and streams and met people whose daily livelihood was tied to these rivers and streams. These people are the Ijaws and according to Chief Egharevba, these people helped the hordes of warriors from Ile-Ife to cross over the areas in the present Benin Kingdom. For speaking this undeniable truth several Bini historians castigated Chief Egharevba for saying the Binis met people who paddled them across the various streams they came in contact with. It is possible that most of these Binis leaving Ile-Ife were coming in contact with streams and rivers for the first time in their lives.

The Binis are a very aquaphobic people while the Ijaws live nearby or on rivers and streams. From creation day Ijaws have been dependent on water and they are a highly aquaphilic riparian people as they live by, near and sometimes on rivers and streams. It is therefore unthinkable, fallacious and grossly incongruous to think that the Binis are the ancestral owners of Ijaw ancestral homes and shrines whereas it is of universal knowledge that the Binis migrated from Ile Ife to their present places of abode.

The Binis do not have any claim of ownership of any Ijaw ancestral lands situated in Edo State or elsewhere. On the contrary Ijaws have original ownership claims and rights of all Ijaws ancestral lands in Edo State.

The Binis have deprived us of all the necessities of life since the existence of the Nation called Nigeria. In fact from 1960 on independence to 1963 when the Midwest Region was created, to 1976 when Bendel was created and to the present Edo State which was created in 1991.

The overriding influence of the various Obas of Benin has muzzled the Ijaws out of existence. The whole world is aware that no Governor ruled Edo State without the Oba of Benin’s approval and support. In fact we all know in Edo State that the “power control button” is in the bedroom of the Oba of Benin and he clicks on it to favour only himself and the Benin people. Edo State is a monarchical state as the control button is in the hands of the Oba of Benin and not the undemocratically elected Governors of the State. Edo State does not operate a democracy, it runs a monarchical Regime remotely overseen by the Oba of Benin.

The Benin Kings over the years have with both feet muzzled life out of our throats, making it impossible for us to breathe and live. Since the pre-existence and the advent of the Nigerian nation, the Binis, through the various governments have treated us even worse than slaves as millions of our people have died out of deprivation, lack and outright frustration. We have been excluded from the dividends of democracy and Jean Jacque Rousseau’s social contract.

The greatest injustice and travesty of justice is for the Bini monarchy through the machinery of state power to deny us of our full voting rights in a democratic 21st Century Nigeria. What the Edo State Government has granted the Ijaws in Edo State is called partial franchise. It’s a government remotely controlled franchise which only allows you to vote for the Binis ad never to be voted for. This is deviously perfected to deprive us of our rights to be voted for. For instance, the local government structure is carved out to further compound our partial franchise, just like the local Jim crow laws of post slavery America which tried to frustrate and limit the franchise given in 1870 and 1920 respectively for male and female freed slaves. Despite the 19th amendments of August 1920 in America, it was on the 8th Aug. 1965 that women were finally allowed to vote and be voted for.

With a population of approximately one million people, the Ijaws have not been given full franchise in Edo State in a 21st Century Nigeria.

In most of the Northern States of Nigeria nearly every community is a Local Government Area. For instance, in Adamawa State Small towns like Demsa, Numan, Song, Hong, Ganye, Lamurde et.c. are all Local Governments with just one or two hamlets surrounding. The largest Local Government Area in Adamawa State is Toungo Local Government Area with only 5,665.37sq meters while Okomu which does not even have a Local Government ward has over 25,000sq kilometers accommodating Okomu Oil Palm, Okomu National Park, Okomu Forest Reserve e.t.c from the above, Nigerians can see the massive and scandalous oppression, victimization and slavery to which Edo State government, teleguided by the Binis has subjected the Ijaws in Edo State.

This wickedness and heartlessness perpetuated by the Binis against Ijaws is further accentuated by the very aggressive, gestapo and military style response to any peaceful demand for our basic and fundamental human rights. In Edo State, the Ijaw man has no rights of any sort, fundamental or basic, they don’t even have privileges.

Communities like Okomu Kingdom, Nkorowa, Safarogbo, Gbelebu, Ugboama and all the other smaller communities are more than enough to form Okomu Local Government Area. In Egbema Clan the towns of Ajakurama, Ofunama, Abere, Gbolukangan are more than enough to form two local government areas with Egbema as headquarters of one of them. But instead of at least three Local Governments Areas, all these towns above are unjustifiably and undemocratically merged with the Bini Local Government Area of Ovia South West Local Government Area. A very large town like Nikorowa is even lumped up with Ovia South West Local Government Area. Nikorowa alone can stand as a Local Government on its own. The other host Local Government Area for Ijaw towns and Communities is the Ovia North East Local Government Area which accommodates Ijaw towns like Gelegele, Ekenwan, Ikoro, Ikorikoro, e.t.c

With this undemocratic and ludicrously preposterous political gang up, all Ijaws in Edo State have been disenfranchised. The highest Political position an Ijaw man can aspire to in Edo State is that of a Local Government Councillor. Even this is at the discretion f the Binis whereas the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) categorically states that a Nigerian citizen can aspire to the highest political office (President) in the land.

Chapter 1 section 7 of the Nigerian constitution under local governments system categorically defines conditions for the creation of Local Government Council Areas by the State. These are as follows.

  • The common interest of the community

  • Traditional association of the community

  • Administrative convenience

The first condition of common interest in the communities in both Local Governments is nonexistent. The Ijaws have not a single common interest with the Binis even in the remotest imagination.

The second condition of traditional association is also not applicable because Ijaws and Binis are two ends of a spectrum, two sides of a coin and parallel lines that can never meet. The ijaws have a distinct culture and tradition that is diametrically opposed to that of the Binis. The Ijaws are a very peaceful people satisfied with the wealth and prosperity of their sea-based aquaculture and economy, whereas the Binis are highly belligerent, troublesome, restless and war mongering.

The third condition for the creation of Local Government is administrative convenience. What administrative convenience are we talking about when the citizen from Okomu has to undertake a tedious river voyage by canoe, row his boat to Arogbo in Ondo State. Take a taxi from Agadagba Obon to Ore. From Ore he takes another taxi to Okada junction before taking his third taxi to Iguobazuwa which is the administrative headquarters of Ovia South West under which Okomu, Ajakurama, Abere, Ofunama, Gbolukangan, Gbelebu, Safarogbo, Nikorowa, Ugboama etc are congestedly cramped and lumped into. From Iguobazuwa he takes his 4th taxi to Udo from where he boards his 5th Taxi to Okomu bush path where he is taken by Okada to Okomu.

The alternative route of the Okomu trader to Iguobazuwa is a bush path which has been barricaded by the Okomu Oil Palm Police/Military Road block. Administrative convenience indeed!!! The road to Okomu has long been overtaken by a thick forest.

All past Governor have treated us alike except…. Prof Ambrose Folorunso Alli (Oct. 1979-1984) who because of his academic freedom from incurable conservatism pitied the Ijaws and tried to assist them but the Iron fist of the Bini monarchy stopped him and he died mysteriously after he was reported to the Nigerian Military President Muhammed Buhari who sent him to prisons without trial.

Another ruler of Edo State who planned well for the Ijaws was Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbelem 7th August, 1998 – May 1999, who was highly dissatisfied with the slavish position of the Ijaws in Edo State. He spent only 9 months as a military administrator and died mysteriously after physical threats and constant sacrifices dumped in front of his official residence. He even planned to appoint an Ijaw person as a state commissioner and this annoyed the Binis so much and he died mysteriously almost immediately.

But of all the governments of Edo State, the most disappointing and promise breaking is that of Adams Oshiomole, who came on board in November 2008 with very strong and tough labour union rhetorics of making sure every Edo child is educated  and his administration touching every nook and cranny of Edo state. The Ijaws clapped and praised Adams Oshiomole to high heavens because of their anticipated freedom from the Binis. But all of Governor Oshiomole‘s Uhuru vamoosed after his courtesy call on the Oba of Benin where he was warned and subtly tthreatened o operate a status quo policy for the Ijaws. I will quote a few lines from a guardian article I published in the Guardian Newspaper of December 23rd 2008. “And for those who believe that hope is lost and that change can never come to Nigeria, I have news for you, change indeed is coming to Nigeria, change that will be fundamental, change that will be basic and structural and liberating. Gov. Adams Oshiomole should accept this historic challenge to be Nigeria’s catalyst of change’ with a determined vigour and unprecedented zeal because this opportunity is rarely bestowed on man”. But in vain did the Ijaws depend on Governor Adams Oshiomole.

Governor Godwin Obaseki in four years has achieved so much but none of these has benefiled the Ijaws, especially in the areas of our core focus and deprivations. Governor Obaseki has built 20 health care centres, rebuilt 240 primary schools, trained 11300 primary school teachers employed 157000 of Edo State origin. Governor Obaseki has done these and even more under three years as at 2019. The problem with Governor Obaseki regime is that he does not even recognize the existence of Ijaws in Edo State. In the Edo State Government website there is not a single mention of Ijaw language or its people.

The website mentioned only four languages in Edo State and these are Bini (Edo), Esan, Etsako and Owan. Even where 17 languages are mentioned, Ijaw is not one of them. The Edo State Government ab initio has never believed that there are Ijaws in Edo State. This is one of the rudest shocks and travesties of human history from creation to date. And Governor Godwin Obaseki is married to an Ijaw woman.

Even Col. John E. Yeri who is an Ijaw man could not do anything to uplift the status of the Ijaws because of the massively oppressive and highhandedness of the chokehold the Benin monarchy wields on the state governments and its people.

The Benin Kingdom was a land locked area until the Ijaws granted the Binis a free right to the sea via Gelegele after several emissaries to Gelegege Kingdom several centuries ago.

Gelegele seaport and oil exploration activities are the greatest sources of economic and industrial sustenance in Edo State. Other sources of revenue for Edo state Government are the Okomu Oil Palm Company, Okomu Forest Reserve, Okomu Timber Fellers Association and Okomu National park and Okomu Wild Life Conservation.

Today with only 18 Local Government Areas, Edo State stands No 15 out of Nigeria’s 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). As an oil producing state, Edo State gets a whooping monthly average of N7,86BN which is Gelegele’s contribution to the fortunes of Edo State. But instead of reciprocal respect, peace, good neighbourliness with the indigenous people of Gelegele kingdom, the Binis (with both Army and Police backing), have always chosen war, unreasonable and unwarranted conflicts to claim an indigenous territory that was fully established well before the Binis migrated from Ile Ife. When the Binis failed to wipe out Gelegele, they tried to divert everything going to Gelegele to Ughoton, a small Bini community near Gelegele. This Bini strategy failed as Ughoton did not have any oil deposits and Gelegele remains the only seaport in Edo State.

The same strategy was used against the people of Okomu. In 1990, the federal government gave Okomu Town 20% of Okomu Oil Palm Company shares in a letter dated 11th December, 1990 written by Dr. H.R Zayyad who was the Chairman of the Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization. In another letter from TCPC dated 21st April 1992, the Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization (TCPC) granted Okomu Town a Director Slot on the Board of Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. The Bini King through the Edo State Government sabotaged all our efforts to secure the 20% shares and board membership approved for Okomu by the Federal Government. This is a great wickedness of Mephistophelian proportion. The Edo State Government dispossessed Okomu of both and acquired same for the Bini people.

The Binis also attempted to change Okomu Oil Palm Plc to Okomu-Udo Oil Company Plc, but the Federal Government rejected this subtle take-over of the oil company as the Federal Government Nigeria recognizes Okomu as the indigenous owners of the approximately 332 square kilometer on which the company is situated.

This land grabbing and annexation streak was revved to a high voltage mode when a new Bini King was crowned in 1979. This new Oba of Benin, an Oxford graduate and a former Federal Permanent secretary, immediately on coronation sent Onogies (Bini Chiefs) to several indigenous Ijaw kingdoms to rule over the peace loving and neighbourly Ijaw people. These vexacious abomination to tax the Ijaw people nearly led to a bloodbath that was averted by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The shameless Onogies were withdrawn and the annihilation of the Bini myth by the humongous and all conquering Ijaw war machinery was put on hold.

All the Ijaws are asking for is Representative Democracy that guarantees and ensures that our preferences and interests are considered in the total contrivances of governance. It is a sad travesty of history and equity to deny approximately a million people their fundamental and basic human rights of democratic representation.

For over 70 years, the Ijaws have voted for Bini politicians into their LGAs, House of Assembly, Federal House of Representatives and the Senate to further enhance their political superiority over us. The Ijaws, as a result of lack of local government council area of their own have been intimidated, enslaved, oppressed and balkanized into two Bini Local Government Areas, Ovia South West and Ovia North East.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher in his “Social contract” theory avers that governance and the governed are in a symbiotic relationship where sovereignty rests with the people, not with one king as it is in Edo State. It is our fundamental right to expect good governance in a representative democracy as the power of our votes should strengthen us as consenting and contracting parties to Rousseau’s contract. Any society that is not founded on the general will, people’s sovereignty and the fundamental inalienable rights of the people is an illegitimate government and is not qualified to rule over an unrepresented people. It is highly ludicrous, a mockery of tremendous proportions to so flagrantly flout and rubbish democratic tenets that sustain the social contract between the government and the governed in this 21st century.

The Binis won this war of attrition over the Ijaws without firing a bullet but by merely depriving the Ijaws of Education and all the basic accessories of life. I have always posited that depriving a man of education over a long period of time is the best method to destroy him completely. And that is the weapon of mass destruction the Bins have used against their hapless and frustrated Ijaw neighbours.

But I must confess that so many Ijaw leaders have become intimately complicit and guilty in this ceaspool of quagmire the Ijaw find themselves, in Edo State. Some of these leaders threaten mayhem and brimstone only to be settled with fat envelopes at the Benin Government House.

This Special appeal is to every person of Ijaw Origin in Edo State not to vote for any candidate during the forthcoming September 2020 gubernatorial election. Anyone who votes in Edo State Elections henceforth is a slave as alleged by the Bini Monarchy.

Ijaw are not remembered for state recommended federal appointments like Ambassadors, ministers, membership of state and federal boards. No Ijaw man has ever been appointed a state commissioner in Edo State. The deprivation can only be called slavery of the meanest and most demonic proportion.

To redress this abnormal situation, all Governors, Senators, Representative members, all politicians and every person of the Ijaw ethnic group both at home and abroad should put pressure on the federal government of Nigeria to grant the Ijaws their long demanded Toru Ibe State. Or on the alternative grant the Ijaws the three local government areas of Okomu, Egbema and Nikorowa in Edo State as earlier posited.

Ben Nanaghan, wrote from Lagos and can be reached on benanaghan@yahoo.com

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