By Oghogho Obayuwana
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 Ologbo in 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 puts the place in the news? Not nearly. And is it the necessity of attracting ancillary factories, foundries and workmen’s cottages to keep people at work, which is fuelling the tension? Again, far from it.
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 for continuous development and evolution.
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 were 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 some level of unintentional damage 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 Creator instead of first reaching out to an analgesic! Now, it would seem that a people are suffering from over centralisation! And as that was happening, a traditional ruler from Delta State, in a rather curious move, 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? Where there has been an old empire for instance(even when Rome bestrode), there would be thriving communities in and around the fringes of the empire(or Kingdom) capable of holding their own. Such that the centre gets involved only when things are beyond the grip of the local chief of centre of delegated power, not that issues are dragged to the centre, first hand.
And as if over-centralisation has not caused enough havoc, people do not inhabit their lands but regularly drift to the centre or flee abroad to allow for the swelling of the numbers of so-called “stranger” elements in their lands and thus set up a perfect stage for conflicts in the face of the failure to properly implement the provisions of citizenship in the Nigerian constitution. 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.
If the men of hard biceps and mechanically inspired citizens of the time could build the great moats and walls around the capital city of the empire, then hard work, resilience and engineering in its varied forms should be second nature to the people complementing their artistic accomplishment as today’s gift to 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. What is needed for development are the best traits inherent in the gene pool.
Progress for a people, city or nation state is achieved when its fortunes are driven by good, hardworking, committed, honest and virtuous persons irrespective of whether they are classified as sons of the soil or not. A people in any soil will do more harm than good if they have become contemptuous of work, decent labour and technical abilities, as they tolerate or acquiesce to thieving and grabbing and attempting to mock justice.
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. Just think of Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and many more greats.
These people were usually born in one city or country, raised in another and are accepted (adopted) by yet another. It is the contributions that you make, not the heavy indigeneship 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.
If a person loves a land, makes meaningful contributions as a testimony to that, and the land he occupies flourishes with his gifts and talents and brings blessings to his fellowmen, such a fellow should become a son of the land! Acceptance should be based on noble deeds! Wise people and societies keep attracting the best thereof from any clime and the people gain by so doing! 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 recognise the strength in our ‘little differences’ and not question the Creator’s reason for permitted little, little differences among people here and there. So why do some people “lose” their lands? History is replete with the fate of people who do not keep flapping their wings and failing to continuously soar, encourages oneself to be sullied and bullied.
Yet, there is to be no standstill in creation, only a continuous movement, lest stagnation sets in. We have a good example here when the Inca people (who thrived between 1438 to1533 around the present day Peru), lost their pearly empire to the Spanish conquistadors because they had become complacent.
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 recognised 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 and covet the easy money of barons and other persons under whom they frolic and hail as “the chair”.
Besides, today’s Dukes (Enogies) in the land should be enablers of development and dispensers or facilitators of the common good. A duke has a privilege of holding such a title that comes with enormous responsibilities. His brief, in all sense of natural justice is to conserve, preserve and grow the commonwealth. Pseudo aristocratic arrogance is now driving people to their tipping points. Yet, reports say some have rather become behemoths, oppressive figures who devour the resources of the land in a cavalier manner while crudely protecting their insatiable desire and pleasures. And all these in the 21st century!
These are rather the personalities who should be pulling the people up to dream bigger, reminding them of the feat of Agban, (one of the warriors of Oba Ehengbuda who is famed for constructing a scaffold in the 16th century) which should indicate that they must never put themselves in a degenerate frame of mind, erecting plenty shanties and substandard structures all around.
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 norms are 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 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 whereas clarity and certainty are needed with regards to coexistence of groups and individuals. 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 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, a former Foreign Affairs Editor of The Guardian, is now with the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja.
Vanguard News Nigeria