Benin, its neighbours and the law of movement
This really is about a paradigm of non-resolution of the aboriginal question in Nigeria. It came to light that a certain community known as Ologboin Edo state had been engulfed by communal tension with reports also of clashes, killings, kidnappings, and arrests, etc.
Now, is it the modular refinery with its great expectations and the opportunities for jobs creation that people are talking about? No. Is it how to attract other factories to keep people at work that is fuelling the tension? No. At an age when people should be conceiving, believing and achieving together, it is rather rent and tributes collection that is majorly behind the feuds in parts of Nigeria!
Disturbingly, what may yet continue to resonate in ethnic confrontations loom large in the days ahead, in the area where war drums had been beating, and diatribes flying about. But these untoward happenings necessitate reason and restraint.
Clearly, a way must be found which fosters healthy coexistence as prescribed by the poorly acknowledged, yet adamantine higher laws of nature which regulate the affairs of men; men who ought to be conscious of the necessity to curtail greed and unbridled material acquisition all of which have been to the detriment of their fellow sojourners on earth.
Now, the diatribes as a result of the clashes in this Edo community, have not spared any institution. The police, the state and federal governments, oil and gas services companies and even royal houses.
Concerning the royal houses, there have been also reports of people trooping (as they have become accustomed) to the palace of the revered Benin Monarch, the Oba, urging palace action as the Oba owns all land in his domain. But beyond the well-founded sentiments, there is unintentional damage at least being done to the enterprise of the custodian of the old monarchy thereby. These people remind one of modern religionists who when troubled by headache, seek miracles from the Almighty God instead of at least taking Paracetamol first. Now, it would seem that a people are suffering from over centralisation! And as that was happening, a traditional ruler from Delta state- the Olu of Warri, in a strange and audacious move, had purportedly set up a committee to resolve the matter between “owners” and so called tenants in a community domiciled in Edo state!
What has happened is that, with years turning into decades and centuries, (and ancient times without pure written records turn into modern era), the shoulders of “settlers” got broader and what lawyers call adverse possession, set in. Today’s claimants of “host” community land, began to take more pie from the pan. It should therefore now be high time for the “owners” of the land to look in the mirror and reinvent themselves! Failing which they may now continue to be like butterflies who run into spikes, constantly being dealt a bad hand!
When people mock history, contest ownership of land and make opportunistic claims everywhere they settle and this also include Ologbo, one can only ask, where were these people when the British came? Why were they completely anonymous then while the martyred real owners tried to defend their land?
But what should really be said here is that ownership of communities is ordinarily consolidated by possession. When you own, it is right and fitting to also possess. What you cede, successive generations help you to lose! A people cannot own a land or an island and leave it to be occupied by certain persons or even “tenants” as occupants are sometimes referred to, and retreat to a famed centre and then shout from time to time about the history of how they own the land.
Now, if old Benin exchanged Ambassadors with Portugal in the 15th century, it therefore follows that the people should have by now also evolved sound diplomatic models with advanced templates for beneficial neighbourly relations and inter- communal coexistence within Nigeria.
Yet, people must learn to live together, integrate, acculturate and allow the flourishing of more positive human traits as other races in the northern hemisphere have since realised. A people who yearn for the grand life but avoid the nitty-gritty of life’s rung of progress, must suffer from creeping retrogression despite perching on the pedestal of a once glorious past.
It is for this reason that great minds and inventors who make contributions to the growth of the society in whatever sector, be it the arts, education, music, the sciences, etc are knighted by the royal courts and given national honours in Europe and such other places. It is the contributions that you make, not the heavy indigene-ship blood running through your veins. Everywhere people have elevated their minds, they look at what you can offer, what you are bringing on board to improve existing conditions of anywhere you inhabit.
The entire Land area of Edo and Delta states in Nigeria, does not measure up to the Alpine stretch. The Alps are the most extensive mountain range in Europe, reaching approximately 1,200 kilometres across France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. Today, these countries find a way to cooperate especially technologically. We can cite clean energy as an example. And this, for the benefit of their citizens who are (for this purpose), united for the common good despite their own ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences.
Conversely, our peoples- Edo, Ijaw, Urhobo/Isoko, Itsekiri and the rest, keep bickering over nothing, and over excited about meaningless ethnic “differences” ostensibly unaware of the higher natural laws necessitating healthy exchanges, even unions among homogeneous peoples.
Clearly, the people who inhabit the Old Bendel state, now Edo and Delta states and even beyond, are homogeneous. We are meant to recognize the strength in our ‘little differences’ and not question the creator’s reason for permitted little, little differences among people here and there.
What is therefore demanded of every people? Continuous movement! You do not, for instance become acquainted with a riverine environment at one point in your development, and at another point, out of the desire for “more comfort” or for some strange convenience, now decide to stay away from your aquatic bequest or cede it to some neighbours in a sustained manner that is self-destructive and has now become a travesty.
In the case of the Edo people, there is clearly a need for an atavism of the spirit of Orhogbua and Ehengbuda- two sailor kings of old. We already see that landlocked countries are some of the poorest modern nation-states especially in Africa where inter-state cooperation is not well developed. Breaking this down, how can a people stay away from resource bearing waterways on their land and still pretend that they’ve got everything figured out?
Relatedly, if Oba Eresoyen (About 1735) built a banking house, it shows that the people already then, were thinking along the lines of financial management, savings and investments. Investments (whether foreign or local) have to be recognized and piloted today as one of the surest ways of driving development. So why should the same people now just run after today’s money, eat tomorrow’s fruits today any covet the easy money of barons and other persons under whom they frolic and hail as “the chair”.
But if for whatever convenience, a people obfuscate justice, and brand it as a commodity for only the “rich” and powerful and the elders of the land are finding it difficult to live up to the values that promotes sustainability, even pretend not to know that cherished societal normsare ebbing away dangerously, how then will the so called “non-owners” of the land, be the ones to be respectful of host community rights and values?
By appearing to be secreting their own bile, they unwittingly and maybe against their own wish, only turn the land into a world wide web of wickedness and headquarters of anything goes. Mere money buys cheap justice, has indeed become justice and elders prefer to mask their faces with wax. History teaches that the Pyrrhic victory won at the expense of the meek and the endangered colony of gentlemen has never failed to spell doom even when delayed!
Everywhere you go people are either dispossessing their kith and kin or grabbing land and erecting “things”. Values have collapsed and the unattended injustices in the land will only embolden “neighbours” to perpetrate their heinousness on a people who apparently have now apparently fallen asleep and only blink wakefulness by regaling feats of years gone by. Yet in the new time, a people cannot afford just to Luxuriate and bask in the old glory.
They must rediscover, reinvent, and recreate the old sense of accomplishment using it as a spur to swing unto a higher ground that is consistent with the wheel of the cosmic and the whims of the 21st century.
For only when the positive linkages of the great past is well discovered, allowed to induce the right kind of reflection and is located at the heart of today’s actions, that the great future can ensue! And in all these, the law of necessary movement (physical and spiritual) must be taken into consideration at all times!
The law of nature decrees that a land full of indifferent swashbuckling elite who are only doing easy things, favouring the so called high and mighty pretenders, in the desecration of values, must pay a painful price for that collective failure!
And coming back to where we began, the crisis in Ologbo is a paradigm of the indigene-citizenship and nationality conundrum in Nigeria. There ought to be clarity and certainty about coexistence. The fighting around the neighbourhoods centred on ethnicity is unnecessary where the grand norm of a nation state is supreme. Today, owing to this confused state of affairs, Nigerian citizens cannot see that they are the same people and that mere ethnic threads should serve only to promote healthy interchange. Professor Wole Soyinka once asked: When is a nation? Let us seize this moment to further ask: When is Nigerianness?
Obayuwana is a former foreign affairs editor of The Guardian, now with the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja.