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PRESS RELEASE BY IJAWS OF EGBEMA CLAN: REJOINDER.
1. The attention of the Toru-Ibe Ijaws of Edo state has been drawn to the Rejoinder of the Benin Traditional Council Christened Press Release by the Ijaws of Egbema clan: REJOINDER: In the said rejoinder the Benin Chiefs affirm that the Ijaws as a people have no God given lands in Edo State, particularly Benin area". They continued: "In conjunction with representatives of Ugbo and Itsekiri people we have proved in previous Press statement that the Ijaws in Warri, Benin and Ugbo land are migrants and settlers."
2. To say the least, nothing can be farther from the truth. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the Binis, the Itsekiris and the Ilajes who are laying false and baseless claims to Ijaws lands in Edo, Delta and Ondo States, and that they are the migrants and settlers in Ijaw land. The Ijaws In Edo, Delta and Ondo States are in their own God given lands from time immemorial.
3. While the Itsekiris in Warri, Delta state, the Ilajes (Mahin) in Ondo state including the Binis in Edo state, are all in Ijaw-lands. The Itsekiris descendants of Ginuwa I, the rejected and banished eldest son of Oba Olua of Benin in the 15th century, precisely 1480AD. came from Benin; the Ilajes (Mahins) from Ile-Ife while the Binis migrated from Egypt, after a short stay in the Sudan and Ile-Ife, to Ijaw lands.
4. In all probability the Press statement to which these Bini Chiefs are referring is very likely to be the one they conspired with Itsekiris and Ilajes to publish in the Nigerian Tribune of March 31,1994 and repeated in the Guardian of April 10th, 1994.
5. We published a very adequate and comprehensive response to all their false-hoods in a Press statement published in the Sunday Tribune of June 26,1994, to which these Bini Chiefs have no clues till today; that in reality the reverse is the case, that the Binis, Itsekiris and the Ilajes are the migrants, squatters and settlers in Ijaw land.
6. The history of the Ijaws in Nigeria including the Toru-Ibe Ijaws of Edo State, Egbema Ijaws in Delta State and the Arogbo Ijaws in Ondo State as the aborigines of both the Niger Delta and wherever they are found in the Nigerian Coast board has never been questioned or disputed. No history or historian has been able to establish that the Ijaws of Nigeria migrated from any where to the coast which they have been identified with. While many other ethnic groups in Nigeria have traced their origins to countries outside Nigeria, the Ijaws of the Niger Delta have no home other than their present habitat the Niger Delta which stretches from the Eastern Adonis in Akwa-Ibom state through the Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Ondo States. But on the other hand the Binis migrated from Egypt via the Sudan to Ile-Ife; the Itsekiris came from Benin, and so by implication, from Ile-Ife , and the Ilajes from Ile-Ife. The Ijaws are in their proper original home in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.
In other words whereas, there was a time when there was none of these people- Binis, Itsekiris and Ilajes (Mahins)- in the riverine places that they are now falsely claiming to be their own, the Ijaws, the most ancient people in Nigeria, have always been in these riverine areas, their natured habitat.
7. WITNESS OF HISTORY TO IJAW AUTOCHTHONISM IN NIGERIA
History books are replete with the fact that the Ijaws are the most ancient and indigenous inhabitants of wherever they are found in the riverine areas in Benin, Warri and Ugbo. In fact, it is the verdict of history that the Ijaws are the most ancient people in the whole of Nigeria, and are among the most ancient in West Africa. We shall quote a few historians who testify to this fact. Professor J.S, Coleman in his book titled Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (Los Angeles, 1963, p. 28) describes the Ijaws as "perhaps the most ancient in West Africa whose Language has little or no affinity with any other in Nigeria ". In similar vein Professors Stride and Ifeka submit: "Some of the oldest inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast are the Jola, Pepeh and Sorer of the Senegambia, and Sherbro and Bulom of Sierra Leone. Along the Guinea Coast, the Lagoon folk of Ivory Coast, the Guan of Southern Ghana and the Ijaws of the Niger Delta (underlining ours) must be included among the most ancient of the coastal dwellers." (.G.T Stride and C. Ifeka, peoples and empires of West Africa 1000-1800, 1971, P.S).
8. Dr. P.A Talbot, once acting Resident of Benin Division (1920), calls the Ijaws "this strange people- a survival from the dim past beyond the dawn of history- whose language and customs are distinct from those of their neighbors and without trace of any tradition of time before they were driven-southwards into these regions of sombre mangroves." (Tribes of the Niger Delta, 1932, p.5). In another context, Dr. Talbot submits firmly; "their (Ijaws) origin is wrapped in mystery. The people inhabit practically the whole Coast, some 250 miles in length, stretching between the Ibibio and Yoruba. The Niger Delta therefore, is…occupied by this strange people." (Ibid)
9. Professor Wilfrid D. Hambly testifies: " Beliefs held by the Ijaws are of particular interest because these people are probably the oldest inhabitants of Nigeria."(Serpent Worship in Africa, (Chicago, U.S.A. 1931, p.16). In another context, Professor Wilfrid Hambly declares firmly: "Pythons are held sacred throughout the region of Marsh lands and waters inhabited by the most ancient tribe of all, the Ijaws." "(underlining ours Ibid).
10. These and more are objective and honest historians and writers who have no ulterior motive for their work. They are unanimous in their submission that the Ijaws are the indigenous and most ancient people of the Delta and the riverine, coastal areas of Nigeria.
The Binis , Itsekiris and Ilajes who say the Ijaws are strangers, settlers , tenants or squatters in the Nigeria coast line are betraying themselves as liars, deceivers, and people engaged in dirty, expansionist politicking and who are bound to fail.
11. ITSEKIRI - ORIGIN
As a matter of fact, a historian, William Moore, an Itsekiri himself actually called the Itsekiris and the Ilajes (Mahins) squatters in Ijaw-land. He writes: "Prior to the advent of the Bini Ginuwa (i.e 1480), the territory now known as the Kingdom of Itsekiri or Iwere, was inhabited by three tribes, namely, the Ijaws, Sobos (Urhobo) and Mahins (Ilajes)… (The Sobos) occupied the hinterland, while the Ijaws occupied the coastline, and the Mahins (llajes) squatted on the sea-shore near the Benin River… the Mahins (Ilajes) hailed from Akoko and Ikale in the province of Ondo, Nigeria." (History of Itsekiri, 1970), P. B.
12. In another context, William Moore submits: "Prince Ginuwa first landed at Amatu (an Ijaw town) where he squatted for about three decades, he moved to Oruselomo where he married an Ijaw woman named Derumo… a dispute arose between him and the Ijaws of Gulani on account of the woman Derumo who was killed by him… he fled to Ijala where he later died…" (Ibid. pp. 18 - 20).
13. According to Chief Dr. Egharevba, "Oba Olua knew that his eldest son Iginua was hated by the Binis for the bad advice he had given against the people. He decided to send him away… The Oba did not wish the scheme to be known to his chiefs in order that they might send their sons to accompany him as his subjects so he cunningly asked them to send their sons with Iginua (Ginuwa) to sacrifice for him by the sea… Olua made a big box and filled it with the necessary royal attire… and to conceal the secret put the sacrificial victims on the top. He had made arrangements in advance for Ijaw men to take Igniua and his retinue in their canoes to their destination… Being very proud and fond of wearing fine clothes he was nicknamed "Iginua the proud". He was also very cunning and cruel. " (A Short History of Benin, 1968, P. 21).
14. Ginuwa's (Iginua) retinue was made up of seventy (70) all male including Ginuwa and all first sons of Bini Chiefs. There was no single woman among them. The Ijaws took them in their canoes to Amalu. After waiting for a long time and seeing that their sons did not return, the Bini chiefs realised that they had been deceived by their Oba. So they sent warriors to Ugharagin (now Oghareki) to fetch their sons home. But they had been ferried across the river by the Ijaws who refused to co-operate with the Bini chiefs, so, their mission failed.
15 Apart from accommodating these seventy men and giving them land to stay, the Ijaws gave wives to these seventy to marry and taught them all the techniques of living in the rivers including how to make river craft.
16. This is the story of the Itsekiri people who are actually the tenants, squatters and settlers in Ijawland as any reader can see for himself/herself.
17. ILAJES (MAHINS) - ORIGIN
The Ilajes met the Arogbo-Ijaws in the home land of the latter people. The Ilajes escaped from Ile-Ife a few centuries ago running for their dear life because of the misunderstanding between them and their kith and kins in Ile-Ife. They arrived in Ijawland in the present Ondo State and pleaded to be sheltered. Thus the Ilajes whose countrymen, the Yoruba are hinterland based people found themselves settled along the Atlantic sea-coast separated from the hinterland by the Arogbo-Ijaw clan who inhabit the fresh water swamps of the Delta adjoining the mainland. This historical event explains why the oldest Ilaje-towns can only be found along the Atlantic coast line and not more than a few decades old. The Arogbo-Ijaws taught the Ilajes the art of swimming, fishing, house building and canoe-paddling the only mode of transportation in the area.
18. This story was corroborated by the testimony of the then Olugbo-Elect, Crown Prince Adebanjo Akingbade Mafimisebi. He is now the substantive Olugbo of Ugbo. Testifying before the Justice Ajakaiye Chieftaincy Commission of Inquiry sitting at Akure, he deposed as follows: "The Ugbo-Kingdom in the Ilaje-Ese Odo Local Government of Ondo State existed before Oduduwa came to Ile-Ife. Ugbo (Ilaje) Kingdom is one of the ancient Kingdoms in Yorubaland as a whole, and the people (Ilajes) were originally (underlining ours) in Ile-Ife before Oduduwa (father of the Yorubas) came and raided them. They first settled at Oke Mafunranyan (High Hill) which was later known as Oke-Igbo, and later migrated to the Arogbo-Ijaw riverine area of Ondo State." (See Sunday Sketch, June 19, 1988.
19. This history of Ilaje settlement in their present habitat is further corroborated in a short history of the Ilajes by an expatriate, Patriarch J. G. Campbell who stated that the Ilajes left Ile-Ife to Ese-Odo area where they were assisted by the Ijos (Ijaws) to settle in their new environment.
20. The said press statement by the conspirator Chiefs was released on the eve of the so called Constitutional Conference organised by the Abacha Administration. Its intention was to mislead, misinform and deceive the public, the Abacha Government and the delegates to the conference to deny us our request for a separate Local Government - Toru-Ibe Local Government Area.
21. The present Rejoinder by these writers has the same intention: to misinform, mislead and deceive the public and the Federal and State Governments in the on-going Boundary delimitation exercise embarked upon by the National Boundary Commission. The third purpose of these conspirators is to show the Ijaws in a bad light, all in their attempt to corner our God-given oil rich lands.
22. They insulted the whole Ijaw race by describing it as " a nomadic and highly sedentary race that migrate to other places to live, "using their canoes in the water ways and settling on shore to engage in their fishing business." These are very inflamming words , and these chiefs owe an unreserved apology to the Ijaw ethnic nationality.
23. The Ijaws are neither nomads, migrants nor settlers, as we shall prove very presently.
But we are proud that we have our own river-craft, canoes, with which we ply our criss-cross rivers, rivulets and seas all over the coast of Nigeria and convey our goods and goods of others; we are not beast of burden like these chiefs who heave their loads on their heads and shoulders, walking miles and miles some times on bare foot.
24. Secondly, these Bini Chiefs are either very ignorant people or they are just being mischievous, out to deceive, misinform and mislead the public and governments. Their own son, late Chief (Dr.) Jacob Uwagboe Egharevba wrote that they are actually, the migrants, that they migrated from Egypt to the Sudan, and then migrated from the Sudan to Ile-Ife and then again migrated from Ile-Ife to the present place, and that "Tradition says that they (the Binis) met some people who were in the land before their arrival "(A Short History Benin, Ibadan University Press, 1968, P.1).
25. And the people, they met in the land were the Ijaws who ferried them across the Ovia river with their river-craft (Ibid. pp. 6&9) which the Bini Chiefs tried to ridicule. This duty of ferrying Binis and other people across Ovia River the Ijaws continued to perform creditably over the years until a few decades ago when bridges were constructed across the River Ovia. When vehicles appeared in Nigeria the Ijaws wisely joined two or three big canoes together to continue to do their job of ferrying men and goods across the river Ovia. The last Ijaw ferryman was chief Beyo of Ikoro, an Ijaw community in Ovia North-East Local Government Area.
26 In his book titled. The Origin and Titles of Yoruba Rulers (n.d. p.3) E. A. Kenya writes about the new comers (the Binis) "Up till that time the Oba of (Benin) and his people were pure Yoruba and did not understand the language of the aborigines who usually saluted themselves and the people thus: 'A doo', dolo o; and whenever the Oba's people saw these aborigines they used to call them "Ados".
27 S. K. Owonaro corroborates Kenyo's statement. He writes: "To the proposal Prince Godo readily consented. He therefore left Ife with the old woman and the regalia of authority… He migrated southwards till he got to the present site of Benin City where he met with some people known as Ifa, or Edos." (The History of Ijo and Her Neighbouring Tribes in Nigeria, 1949, p. 94).
28 And according to P. C. Lloyd, "… Yoruba was the Court language in Benin both before and at the time of Ginuwa's departure (in 1480), hence its use at Ode Itsekiri". (The Benin Kingdom and the Edo speaking Peoples of Southern Nigeria by R.E. Bradbury with a section on the Itsekiri by P. C. Llyod. 1957, p. 179).
29 Ado o., dolo o are the greetings of the Ijaws till today, an incontrovertible evidence that the aborigines Kenyo wrote about are the Ijaws. The aliens (the Binis) ridiculed and nicknamed the Ijaws Ados which in the corrupt form Edo/Ado became the name of the Edo people, their language, and the city of Benin. The Ijaws are the aborigines of Benin and the entire land.
30 Thus there are two elements in Benin today. The Oba and his dynasty commencing with Prince Oranmiyan from Ile-Ife in 1170 AD represent the alien, Yoruba element while the Ogiamwen, the Uzama, (an Ijaw word meaning "Ijaw people or Ijaw town") and the Iyase represent the Ijaw aborigines (A. Ryder, Benin and the Europeans 1485 - 1897), 1969, pp. 3 - 8. Cf Egharevba, Op. Cit, pp. 9f)
31 This was why there was a near perfect harmony between the Binis and the Ijaws all over the Country until the reign of the present Oba of Benin who has put the spanner between people who had been living together in peace for centuries. His ambition is to be both Oba of Benin and the Oba of Toru-Ibe Ijaws. We consider this as an inordinate ambition, impossible to realise.
32 It is important to state at this juncture one very important historical fact. And this is to the effect that numberless centuries before the slave trade, during the slave trade and long after the inhuman human traffic no interior tribe including the Binis dared to found any village near a river, particularly the five so-called slave rivers, namely Rio Primeriro (First River), Rio Fermoso (the Beautiful River, now the Benin River), Riodos Escravos (the slave River), the Rio dos Forcados (the Swallowtail River) and the Rio dos Ramos (Creek River).
33 Dr. P.A. Talbot, acting resident of Benin Division in 1920, corroborates this fact when he submits as follows;" the prevalence of slave-dealing raids accounts for the fact that, even now, scarcely a town of an interior tribe is situated on a river but about two or three miles inland, where there was a possibility of escape into the bush."(Tribes of the Niger Delta ,1932, p.6).
34 And this is why Prof. Alan Ryder stated and rightly too that :"which ever of the slave rivers the Portuguese frequented, the people they first met and traded with belonged to the Ijo tribe, which at that time dominated the coastal belt of the swamp forest extending inland to a depth of thirty or forty miles in this region." (Benin and the Europeans 1485-1897 p.26f.).
35 In another context, Prof. Ryder submits; "the Edo had been, and indeed remained, a land-faring people with a positive distaste for activities which involved travelling by water."(Ibid. P.13) And there are no grounds for believing that it (Benin Edo) ever extended nearer to the coast. In fact, at the time the Portuguese first touched the coast, Benin paid little or no attention to the sea; it was not a coastal state, and its trade and political interests drew it firmly towards the interior. Thus Prof. Ryder continues, "it was possible for the Portuguese to trade in the rivers without knowing of the existence of Benin, and they (the Portuguese) had eventually to penetrate inland in order to establish contact with it. "(Ibid. Pp.13,28).
36 In January, 1480, Prof. Ryder recorded that "two Caravels made a voyage to the Rio dos Escravos and obtained more than four hundred slaves most of whom were subsequently bartered for gold "(Ibid p.26). This and similar trade transactions were made with the Ijaws, not with the Binis or Itsekiris since at that time the Portuguese had not had any contact with Benin. It was only in 1483 (or 1486), that John Affonso d. Aveiro succeeded in visiting Benin . While 1480 was the year Ginuwa, eldest son of Oba Olua and the progenetor of the Itsekiris was banished from his ancestral home in Benin.
37 What we are saying in essence is that it was long after the slave trade that tribes in the hinter land, for instance the Binis, began to come nearer the rivers. In about 1887 slave trade was abolished and legitimate trade was introduced in pepper, ivory tusks, palm oil, palm kernel etc was introduced. The tribes in the interior including Binis, Ilajes and Urhobo, for instance began to come nearer to the rivers, some members of this tribes such as Urhobo and the Ilajes (Mahins) staying with the Ijaws in the latter's communities and other founding their camps and cottages, several miles from the rivers, in order to take part in these legitimate trades:
38 For instance, H.F. Marshall wrote in his intelligence report on Siluko District, dated March 10, 1939 as follows: "Since the Advent of (the British) Government there have been a large influx of Ikales (Ilajes) into the area. " Down the Rivers, there are many Ijoh settlements, some of considerable antiquity."
39 Of course the Itsekiris whom we have long adopted as children were very eager and quickly made friends with the Europeans and took advantage of the fact that the Ijaws were not too eager and regarded the white -man as an intruder with no great amount of affection for him.
40. The publication under reference is full of misrepresentations, concoctions and self-contradictions carefully calculated to misinform, deceive and mislead the unwary public and government to take wrong decisions that will affect adversely the Toru-Ibe Ijaws of Edo State including the Egbema Ijaws.
The Benin traditional ruler and members of his traditional council are all out to acquire the oil-rich riverine territories of the Toru-Ibe Ijaws of the Ovia South-West and Ovia North-East Local Government Council Areas. They are therefore prepared to use any means legitimate or illegitimate, to achieve their objective. The whole write-up is a trash fit only for the dustbin, let us point out a few examples.
41. Several instances of the deceit of the conspirators some to light in their use of Mr. H.F Marshall's Intelligence Report of September 1938, which they quoted often out of context. H.F. Marshal writes:
"14... The Ijoh villages (six) however brought captive from their country and placed them in the land by the Oba.......
"15...About a century later there was another large migration, this was in the reign of Oba Orhogbua, but this time the settlers were Ijoh... who had been captured by the Oba in one of his wars against the Ijohs... these Ijohs formed two distinct groups one settling at Ekenwan and spreading out to Ikoro, Nikorigha, Ibo (ro) (Sic-Ugbo) and Gelegele the other settling at Afonama and spreading to Ajakuruma, Abere…..
42. First, the writers carefully omitted the sentence "This was in 1334 A.D." in paragraph 14. This is because it will betray them as liars, dishonest and deceitful persons, since their fellow conspirators, the Itsekiris and Ilajes were yet to exist in the Nigeria Coast. For instance, Iginua eldest son of Oba Olua and progenitor of the Itsekiri sub-tribe was expelled in about 1480 or 1490.
43. Secondly, the deceivers also carefully omitted the name Oba Ohen who reigned in Benin in 1334 A.D. He was a cripple and was stoned to death by his subjects for executing his Iyase. How did a cripple fight the Ijaws in their riverine country in Benin River?.
Thirdly, they omitted the phrase in Benin River." This is pure fiction, a fairy tale.
44. Fourthly, "a century later" in paragraph 15th of the Report will be 1434 A.D. But Orhogbua reigned in Benin in 1550 A.D. This is 116 years before the actual event took place. This is a clear indication that the whole story of Benin going to fight Ijaws in Benin River is a concoction to deceive the Nigerian public and the governments, It is an impossibility. .Benin was never a naval power. The Benin writers are frauds for using a written document in a such a fraudulent way.
45. But our erstwhile colonial masters could not be deceived; they quickly saw the deceit in the stories. They knew the Ijaws to be culturally, linguistically, historically and geographically different from the Binis. They therefore went ahead to create separate political arrangements for them.
46. We are not asking for anything less.
47. Mr. H.F. Marshall was a British District officer in Ekenwan District of Benin Division in pre-independent Nigeria. H.F. Marshall's historical account of how the Ijaws came to live where they are today- an account which the Binis have tenaciously upheld - is not only provocative and mendacious, it is dubious, misleading and malicious; it is a distortion of history, a fictitious story. This aspect of the report was definitely the handiwork of some evil-minded, erstwhile Obas of Benin obsessed with tapping the enormous natural resources of Ijawland.
48. The present Benin leaders have resurrected the same bogus, fictitious stories to bamboozle the Nigerian public and governments. They have conspired and formed an unholy alliance with the traditional enemies of the Ijaws - the Itsekiris and Ilajes (Mellins). The intention of this unholy alliance is to join their dream republic, the Oduduwa Republic. What they are doing now is the concoction and manufacturing of all sorts of mendacious fairy tales including their so-called geographical contiguity which their sponsors the planners of Oduduwa Republic would easily accept to support their bid.
49. We wish them good luck . The Binis can go back to Ile-Ife, even back to Egypt where they came from initially and the Itsekiris and Ilajes can follow suit. All of them met us in our riverine areas, in our land. They cannot take our land with them. They came empty handed, some virtually victims of sacrifice like the Itsekiris, others, like the Ilajes, were war-victims seeking political asylum with the Arogbo- Ijaws. They will be good riddance.
50. We the Ijaw are living in our ancestral land, not in Bini land. We have our Peres and Agadagbas to whom we owe our loyalty and allegiance and who have over-lordship over our communal lands, not the Oba of Benin. The Oba of Benin is the Oba of the Binis, not the Oba of the Ijaws, so he cannot have over-lordship over Ijaw communal lands. Unlike the Enogies of the Edo-speaking peoples and the Obi of Agbor, the Peres and Agadagbas of the Ijaw communities never receive their sceptres of office from the Oba of Benin. Their office as Peres and Agadagbas pre-dated the office of the Oba of Benin.
51. As we have pointed out above, the Ijaws are the most ancient people in Nigeria which means every other tribe including the Binis, Itsekiri and the Ilajes met us in our ancestral land. Please, go away, enough of your trouble, but not with our land.
52. The Oba of Benin and his chiefs are always very quick to mention the land case in Gelegele. In the first instance, it is only a parcel or piece of land in Gelegele. The Gelegele community won that land case in the High Court of Benin in December 1978.
53. But that was before Prince Solomon Aifiokunoba Igbinoghodua Akenzua was sworn in as Oba Erediauwa II of Benin in 1979. A former Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service, also a former Civil Commissioner of Finance in the defunct Bendel State, he cannot forget the part Ijaw members of the Bendel House of Assembly played in forcing him to resign his commissionership. He is now the Oba of Benin, and Benin City, his seat is also the state capital and seat of the state government. He is virtually the ruler of the state and a sworn enemy of the Ijaws and has evidently sworn to deal ruthlessly with all the Ijaws, particularly the Toru-Ibe Ijaws of Edo State.
54. One of the first acts of this sworn enemy of the Ijaws was to resuscitate the Gelegele land case in the Federal Appeal Court in Benin. Why should the Ijaws, his sworn enemies win a land case "in his so-called land, he mused. After all he owns all "he owns all the lands from here to the whiteman's country, (even to heaven' God is a tenant to him), as a Bini saying goes. "As a matter of fact, one of the lawyers who defended the Gelegele people on the land case confided that a prominent Bini person in the Appeal Court actually made that remark when the case was being heard. An Oba with a prodigious influence who had clearly indicated his personal interest in the land case with Ijaws, the deed was done; It was ditto in the Supreme Court.
55. The premise on which the Gelegele land case was based- that is, over-lordship of the Oba of Benin over an Ijaw communal lands, in this case over Gelegele communal land- was faulty in the first instance. Gelegele is an Ijaw community. The Ijaws have their own customs which are quite different from Bini customs. With due respect to, the Oba of Benin is not the Oba of the Ijaws and so he cannot have over-lordship right over any Ijaw communal lands including Gelegele communal lands. Just as Bini person cannot be tried under Ijaw customary law but under Bini Customary Law just so an Ijaw person cannot be tried under Bini Customary law but under Ijaw customary law. It is so with communal lands. Gelegele people have their own Pere who has over-lordship right over all Gelegele communal lands, not the Oba of Benin.
56. Before the current Oba of Benin assumed office in 1979, the Ijaws in Ovia had their Kings - the Pere of Olodiama and the Agadagba of Egbema.
57. Pere of Olodiama. Mid-Western State of Nigeria Gazette, No. 56, Vol. 10 dated 10th October 1973, N.S.L.N. 62 of 1973, the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree, 1966, Iyekuselu District Council (Appointment of Chieftaincy Committee) Order, 1973 gave a legal backing to the Pere of Olodiama with his seat at Ikoro, in Olodiama Clan.
58. The Agadagba of Egboma. The Bendel State Traditional Rulers and Chief Edict 1979, extraordinary Gazette No. 51 Vol. 16 of September 28, 1979 gave a legal teeth to the Agadagba of Egbema with four ruling villages.
59. These arrangements, were said to be distasteful to the Oba of Benin. It was learnt from an impeachable sources that the Oba had sworn that another king in Oredo, Orhionmwon and Ovia Local Government Areas could only exist over his dead body. He got the Bendel State Government to issue Bendel State Legal Notice 44 of 1979 and published in the Bendel State of Nigeria extraordinary Gazette No. 51 Vol. 16 of September 28, 1979, recognising the Oba of Benin as the only prescribed traditional ruler in Oredo, Orhionmwon and Ovia Local Government Areas, thus precluding all other traditional rulers in these local government areas.
60. In 1981 Professor Ambrose Alli, the then Governor of the state planned to resolve the rift by constituting the Ijaws of Ovia and Warri into local government, with the Agadagba as the sole traditional ruler. The Oba shouted foul; Alli budged. In 1985, the then Government of Brigadier (now Lt. Gen) Jeremiah Oseni (Rtd) employed a master-stroke. He transferred the Agadagba of Egbema to Warri Local Government Area. But this executive action did not solve the problem since the greater part of Egbema clan is still in Ovia including the other Ijaw clans of Oladiama, Gbaran Furupagha and Okomu. The Ijaws of these clans are historically, culturally and linguistically one, they are also geographically contiguous. They want to maintain their homogeneity.
61. The Toru-Ibe Ijaws in the Ovia Local Government Areas are in "prison". The Edo State Government has became an instrument of oppression in the hands of the Oba of Benin. Only the Federal Government can release them from the clutches of the Oba of Benin.
62. We will like to take this opportunity to alert the Nigerian public and the governments about a strange happening in Edo State; a strange phenomenon which even the pedestrian can observe. It is the preparedness, the readiness and eagerness, even the willingness of the Edo State Government to initiate and execute policies or give backing to actions or inactions which directly or indirectly infringe on the fundamental human rights of particularly Toru-Ibe Ijaws of Edo State.
63. This strange phenomenon has assumed an alarming proportion since the present traditional ruler of Benin, Oba Erediauwa assumed office in 1979. Unless checked this strange phenomenon will grow wings which may fly all of us into the high heavens. We have given a number of instances of this phenomenon in this write-up. But another very good example is the statement credited to Chief Mike Ogiadomhe, the Deputy Governor of Edo State which has triggered this flurry of rejoinders.
64. In a parley of the land disagreement between Edo and Delta States which took place in the office of the National Boundary Commission, Abuja, Chief Ogiadomhe is quoted to have rejected out-rightly the attempt to trivialise the issue by the location of boundary based on the state of origin of the people living in the area, pointing out that it is a well-known fact that the Ijaws are a nomadic and highly sedentary race, that migrate to other states to live…. that it would be unfair to concede a portion of land to a people just because they have occupied the land as tenants for a long period of time, adding that it will be against natural justice to wrest land from its original owners because they accommodate and receive strangers." (The NIGERIAN Observer, Thursday, November 21, 2002).
65. These are not Chief Oghiadomhe's words. They are the words of the Bini traditional Chiefs. Chief Oghiadomhe only echoed them. Hence they came quickly to his defence in the rejoinder under reference.
66. With due respect, we advise our respected, young and dynamic Deputy Governor, Chief Mike Oghiadomhe to find time out of his busy schedule to read carefully this submission. We have quoted many authorities several of whom are themselves either Binis, Itsekiris or Ilajes. It will be very illuminating, informative and educative. He is likely to change his opinion about us; that the people he calls the "original owners" of the land are actually the migrants from Egypt via the Sudan and Ile-Ife. And the people he calls nomads, migrants and tenants are the actual "Original owners" of the land, and also that Edo state is the state of origin of Toru-Ibe Ijaws of Ovia North East and Ovia South West Local Government Areas of Edo State. Remember, States are not created along tribal lines. We were at first Western Region then Mid-Western State, and from Mid Western State to Bendel State and from Bendel State to Edo and Delta States. And it is against international law to call a people who have been living in a place for centuries on end tenants, migrants or nomads.
67. The Binis met us in this land. We have indicated below how Oba Erediauwa ordered Governor John Inienger to cancel a fund raising programme for the purpose of Development.
68. The most alarming was the attempt by the State House of Assembly to rename some Toru-Ibe Ijaw towns and villages early 2001 as a result of a memo from the Oba of Benin. The action generated deep resentment. Tempers were high. Calm eventually returned as a result of public outcry, the press and the intervention of people of good will.
69. However, the authors of this trash carefully and deliberately omitted the most important aspects of Mr. H. F. Marshall's Intelligence Report. These aspects dwell on the creation by the British administration of separate districts for the Ijaws because of their linguistic, cultural, historical and geographical differences from the people of the hinterland. For instance H. F. Marshall wrote in his Intelligence Report on Siluko District, dated March 10, 1939;
" 2 … The people are of mixed origins… since the Advent of Government there have been a large influx of Ikales (ilajes) into the area. Down the Rivers, there are in many Ijoh settlements some of considerable antiquity…..:
"31… The Ijoh villages fall into two distinct groups; the Ekenwan group and Ofonoma group.."
"33… After the advent of government the whole of Ekenwan District was first included in the Benin native court area but they were not directly represented on the court." (See Marshall's Report of September, 1938).
In 1920, a separate native court of 'd' grade was established at Ekenwan" (Olodiama Clan) for Ijoh villages of Ekenwan, Ikoro, Mikorogha, Ibo(ro), Gelegele, Ugbenoba etc."
"PROPOSALS FOR THE FUTURE"
"54… the failure of the present system lies as much in the fact that many of the villages have to go long distances to court as in the fact that the membership of the court (that is Ekenwan court) is not fully representative. The villages of the Ofonoma group are some six hours away from Ekenwan by canoe. It is therefore not surprising to find that very few cases come to court from this area, especially when it is remembered that the majority of the court members are Binis who have little or no knowledge of Ijoh customs.
"55… I propose that two Ijoh courts should be established, one at Ekenwan and the other at Ofonoma" (underlining ours.)
"59… the Ijoh Court of Ekenwan will be known as the Olodiama Court and will have jurisdiction over the villages of Ekenwan, Ikoro, Nikorogha, Ibo(ro), Gelegele, Ugbenoba, Eghudu, Evbonogbon, Ugbowangue and Shalogun. Of these villages, the last four are not Ijoh; Eghudu is of Ilaje origin, but they all expressed their wish to join with the Ijohs with whom they say they have close affinities."
"61… The membership of the court will consist of the ama-okosuwe and the Okosuwe of each of the Ijoh villages and Odionwele and Odion of Egbudu and the Onaraja and the Onare of the three Itsekiri villages."
"62… The village heads will take in turns to sit as president of the court."
"64… The court will be situated at Ekenwan but not in the present court compound."
"69… The Ofonama group court will be situated at Ofonoma and will serve the following villages all of which are Ijoh: Ofonama, Ajakunama. Abere, Ajanagiri, Gbelekagan, Gberuba and Okegan. The total population of these villages is estimated at only 822, but in view of the isolated situation of the group, I consider it essential that they should have a court of their own."
70. In conclusion, we wish to restate what we said both in the past as well as in the present statement that:
(i) The publications of the Bini Chiefs are bundles of falsehood carefully packaged to bamboozle the Nigerian public and governments.
(ii) There are Ijaws collectively known as Toru-ibe Ijaws comprising Egbema clan, Olodiama clan, Furupagha clan, Gbaran clan and Okomu clan in Ovia North - East and Ovia South - West Local Government Areas of Edo state. These are the Ijaws for when the Constituent Assembly of 1988 - 1989 set up by the Federal Republic of Nigeria strongly recommended a separate Local Government Area as follows;
"1. Ovia L.G.A - the Ijaw people in Ovia Local Government Area deserve a L.G.A.
(i) Riverine location (ii) Inaccessibility (iii) Not thoroughly assimilated by the Binis (iv) Denial of Development (v) Very rich in natural resources (vi) population high.
( Reference '. Federal Republic of Nigeria Report of the Constituent Assembly 1988 - 1989, Vol. 11, p, 492.)
(iii) Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia who was the NPN governorship candidate for the 1983 election made the promise at Ofunama to constitute into one Local Government Area Ijaw-speaking people in Ovia and Warri Local Government Areas of Bendel State (National Concord, Thursday, May 12, 1983, p.4)
This again belies these chiefs statement that there are no Ijaws in Ovia L.G.A Areas.
(iv) Egbema Clan, Olodima Clan, Furupagha Clan, Gbaran Clan and ' Okomu clan exist in Ovia North - East and Ovia South - West Local Government Council Areas.
Egbema Clan communities planned a two Million Naira Development Appeal fund Tagged " The Egbema clan Development Appeal Fund Launching slated for March 7, 1987, at Ofunama Primary School Compound which the traditional ruler of these chiefs Oba Eradiauwa instigated Governor John Iniengier to cancel. (African Guardian, June 18, 1987,pp. 8-9)
(v) The Mr. H.F. Marshall's historical account of how the Ijaws came to live where they are today is a blatant lie. It is dubious, a fictitious story, the handiwork of some evil - minded erstwhile Obas of Benin obsessed with tapping the enormous resources of Toru- Ibe Ijawsland. Benin was never a naval power. The Binis have a natural distaste for any activities involving water even now.
vi) The Toru-Ibe Ijaws are the original and most ancient inhabitants of what is now known as Edo State, Binis met us here. When their first king Oranmigan came in about 1170 A.D an Ijaw-man ferried him and his entourage across the Ovia river.
(vii) The Ijaws do not occupy any area of reasonable size alone" is different from they are not there at all. The two statements of the Bini Chiefs are contradictory. There is hardly any community without admixture. There are more than twice or even thrice non-Binis in Benin city; it does not make it less a Benin town. Ditto for other communities.
(viii) Before and during the British rule until the inhuman human traffic was abolished a Bini person dared not come near Ijaw community, the person would find himself or herself in the slave boat. And it is a blatant lie that there were no other traditional rulers. in Ovia North East and Ovia South West Local Government Area. The Agadagba of Egbema, the Pere of Olodiama etc whom Obe Erediauwa is fighting and some being forced by Professor Ambrose Alli to transfer to Delta State, pre-dated the Obas stool in Benin" their stools are gazetted. The very hostile attitude of Oba Erediauwa of Benin towards the Toru-Ibe Ijaws, unless checked is likely to create an ugly scene in Edo State.
(ix) It is the Oba of Benin and his chiefs who are doing everything in their power to seize Ijaw land especially since the discovery of petroleum and natural gas in the Ijaw riverine areas. For instance, Gelegele community has been selling parcels of land even to Bini Chiefs without a word from anybody until oil was found in the community.
(x) There is nothing like Benin Kingdom in the 21st century AD, it grows out of morbid thinking and ethnic chauvinism of the Binis..
(xi) Finally, we want to say that Ijaws have their clans in Ovia North East and Ovia South West Local Government Areas of Edo State of Nigeria. The Oba of Benin and his subjects, the Bini people migrated from Egypt via the Sudan and Ile-Ife to meet us here. You may wish to go back to Ile-Ife, even back to Egypt. We Ijaws are indigenous to our habitat.
Egbema clan Gbaran clan Furupagha clan Olodiama clan Okomu clan
Chief J.E.B EFERUSUOA
Chief IDOTI BEKE Chief AYEUYEN ESENIKA
Chief NUKA WOLO Chief NOAH IYUIN
Chief STEVEN OGBOYI Chief S.P. APOI
Chief AARON OGUOYIBO Chief GODWIN COUSIN
Chief AUGUSTINE YANK
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