Rejoinder To: “Ijaws are aborigines of Edo, not Bini” – Publication by Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI. May 17, 2017 but they must know Edo Aborigines are Binis
Until you take an ignorant man through a certain school he will continue to bask in the solitude of his ignorance that is the case of Ijaw fishermen. Prof. Alan Ryder in his book ‘Benin and the Europeans 1485-1897,’ page 27 line 25 writes, “Hence the Ijaw gained their reputation for ferocity and piracy, including the assertion that they practiced cannibalism”. Right from time immemorial you can see from the observation of a renowned British historian that the Ijaws have always had a negative identity which is also the characteristics of present Ijaw marauders which are not entirely different from their present day uncivilized and uncouth disposition. Edo Aborigines are Binis.
First they called our community “Gelegelegbene” an old tactics they have been using for Itsekiris, Urhobo, Isoko etc. It is really laughable and pitiable that what concerns a well-known historical fisherman with naming of communities? Well unlike most other kingdoms, Benin is the most advanced and we have documentation of all our communities and our naming pattern is quite distinct as it all have an historical explanation. The community is called “Gelegele” meaning “Truly Truly” hence we have statements like “A Gha Gele Rue” meaning “if we truly did it”. With that I have put to rest the argument of what Gelegele means in Benin language.
The Ijaws are not indigenous to Benin. They are Ijaws in the diaspora like the Afro-Americans who left different countries in Africa many centuries ago as slaves and can no longer tell from which country they left neither can they claim where they live in America now as ‘African territory’.
Ijaws in diaspora are different from the aboriginal or homeland Ijaws. The difference is recognized even by the Ijaws themselves. The late Isaac Adaka Boro, an Ijaw, hinted on this. In his book, The 12- Day Revolution, edited by Tony Tebekaemi, another Ijaw, he said, inter alia: “The Niger Delta we shall consider is strictly the area occupied by the Ijaws, the aboriginal tribe of the Delta. It spans the coast of the Bight of Biafra, from the Forcados River to the Opobo River and upstream to the Niger tributaries of the Nun and Forcados Rivers … The area under discussion is about 6000 square miles and controls an aboriginal population of about 2 million.”
None of the Ijaw areas Boro wrote about is in Edo State.
Prof. J. Alagoa, an historian and another Ijaw, also posited on the difference. In his book, “A history of the Niger Delta” – An Historical Interpretation of Ijaw Oral Tradition, he wrote, inter alia:
“The original home of the Arogbos that can be identified with confidence is the town of Gbanan (Gbaraun) in Apoi Ibe of the central traditions among the Gbaramatu Oporoza point as the ancestral home of that group and of the sub groups that broke away from it …” Now can any sensible Ijaw imagine the distance from Oporoza and Ogulagha in Forcados to Ogidigben, Madagho and Aruntan in Escravos and then to Orere and Ogheye on the Benin River?
In July 1994, the aboriginal Ijaws wrote a letter to the Queen of England and forwarded a copy to the Attorney- General and Minister of Justice in Abuja. In the letter they wrote:
“… it was only by treaties of Friendship, Trade and protection signed between Ijaws and the British Government on 25th of January, 1836, at Bonny with Lieutenant Robert Tryon on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain that our aboriginal territory of the Niger Delta became a British protectorate in 1885 and the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893 respectively..”?
The signatories to the letter were representatives of Augalabiri, Angiama, Sagbama, Odiani, Ogbere, Akassa, Midleton, Bonny, Ogolornoa, Obika, Opobo. None of the communities named is in Benin and Benin was never a part of the so called Niger Coast Protectorate.
It is pertinent to give a brief historical account of how Ijaws first came to be in Iko. Oba Orhogbua had planned a voyage across the seas between 1550 and 1579. Because his Benin people are not sea-farers, he needed people who could paddle canoes. The Oba had Ijaws who were his sea faring subjects; always on call and summoned them to be brought for the purpose from the Benin River to Iko where he and his troops embarked on the voyage. Those were the first group of Ijaws in Iko, on Benin land and he promptly dispatched them on his return from the trip. To further buttress my point on this so called marauders called Ijaws in Diaspora on December 11, 1998, the homeland Ijaws held a convention in Kaiama, in which the Ijaw settlers agitated that they have been neglected and so wished to return back to their kith and kin in the River states in a statement now known as the “Kaiama Declaration” The agitation itself shows that they were aware that Bendel State is not their home and this was even after the creation of Bayelsa State on October 1st, 1996 ostensibly to placate these homeless vagabonds.
Gelegele is now a well-known village. Not long ago, it was a shanty, little hamlet near Ughoton where Ijaws, Itsekiris, Urhobos lived in harmony with their Benin hosts as indigenes. The first Ijaw man who moved to Gelegele was a fisherman named Efeti, who got there about a 100 years ago. He obtained permission from Ohen-Okun Okunseri of Ughoton and subscribed to an Oath of allegiance to be allowed to settle there. In time, other fishermen, Itsekiris, Urhobos and Ijaws moved there. They paid tribute annually through Ohen Okun to the Oba as customary tenants.
According to the Ijaws quoting an excerpt from J U Egharevba’s book: Short History of Benin citing that the Benins migrated from Egypt, came through Sudan, then stopped at Ile-Ife on getting to Benin he met some people (ferrymen) which they foolishly assumed to be Ijaw people, if you believe J U Egharevba so much because it suits your greedy agenda, the question is did Egharevba mention in that same book that the people the Benins met were Ijaw people? Well the book Short History of Benin has a lot of historical errors which the author latter admitted before his glorious exit. The Benins never, I repeat never left our land so therefore we are the aborigines of this land.
They also said we are Yorubas because one Yoruba historical saboteur wrote that we were pure yorubas at one time, well this article is not meant for Yorubas but the only thing I would like to advice yorubas is that first they should tell us the origin of yorubas because they are people with four different historical accounts of their origin hence so many supremacy battle between them and in as much as I don’t want to join issues with people whose identity is in shambles, they should consult the Olugbo of Ugbo, Frederick Obateru Akinruntan for historical tutelage.
The claim of the Ijaw over parts of Gelegele has been contested in Court up to the Supreme Court level where they lost the claim. The following are judgements of courts of competent jurisdiction on the ownership of Gelegele which the Ijaw clowns called contorted and distorted and also referred to has black market court Judgement.
High Court of Justice, Benin. Suit No. B/44/1970. Judgement was delivered in favour of Benin by Justice Ekerutche on December 22, 1978. In the judgement, he held as follows:
“Finally, I enter judgement in this case as follows; for the avoidance of all doubts, argument or controversy. I hereby say unequivocally that Gelegele village and its environs and bushes are Benin land. They do not belong to the Ijaws of Gelegele as owners. The Ijaws are tenants of His Highness Akenzua II the Oba of Benin. Apart from above, the plaintiffs’ claims are dismissed in their entirety.”
Dissatisfied with the judgements, the Ijaw appealed to the federal High Court of Appeal, Benin. The Court of Appeal dismissed their Appeal. The Court of Appeal delivered was in favor of Benin by Justice Abdul Ganiyu Agbaje OJ and two others on December 16, 1981. Still not satisfied, they went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also dismissed their appeal, upheld the judgement of the lowers courts and awarded costs against them. Recorded as Suit SC.131/1982, the judgement was delivered by Muhamadu Lawal Uwais (CJN) and 4 others on August 19, 1983.
In conclusion, the Benins believe and rightly too that the reason for the appropriation of their land by the Ijaws is for the reason of cutting off our coastal boundaries that have provided Benin Kingdom since the 10th century AD access to maritime business. We also believe that their actions are very much about Oil, EPZ, proposed seaport and who controls the resources. In both cases, the Ijaws would be grossly unfair, first to themselves in the incongruous preposition of biting the finger that fed them and to the Benin people especially when they (Ijaws) have unhindered access to the coastal areas bordering their homeland.
The Benins have the remarkable record, more than any other Ethnic nationality, of exhibiting extreme hospitality and pliability in the propensity for allowing strangers free rein in their midst. Sadly, it is this supposedly commendable and wonderful attribute, worthy of emulation by all; that the Ijaws have seized upon to use as platform in their unattainable design to disinherit the ancient kingdom and its people of their natural endowment and to also achieve their pipe dream in creating Toru-Ebe State from any part whatsoever of Edo State. They will be mistaken if they believe that the Benins will just fold their hands to be so “conquered”.
Signed: Concerned Indigenous Benins.