EDOKPAMAKHIN ADDRESS TO THE EDO HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY - APRIL 2OOO.
Dr. Oboma Asemota, MD
Sirs or Madams:
EDO HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY AND THE ENTIRE EDO PEOPLE.
The continually worsening atmosphere of uncertainty, instability and at times total chaos in Nigeria, calls for a review of our past, a look at the present and suggestion for the future. The Edo people lost their independence in 1897 when the British troops led by major Dawson took Benin City after several days of heavy artillery bombardment. The marauding British troops ransacked the palace, stole several artworks - the most prominent is the bronze work of Queen Idia. The British demolished and dismantled the Edo commonwealth and empire. From then the Edo people became subject of a foreign monarch. The British wasted no time in splitting the Edo people into semi autonomous units. Their fear was the unity of the Edos as they remained a threat to their West African branch of the British empire. The Edos were the only Nation in Nigeria that had an empire that spread along the West African coast for about one thousand miles.
Our identities, histories, language, religion culture and state of development were relegated, we had to learn the ways of life of the British. Since 1897, we have been partof the Niger River Protectorate than as part of the protectorate of Southern Nigeria and then as part of Southern Provinces.
In 1914 for the convenience and benefit of the British colonialists, Edo people were conscripted without consultation into an amalgamated Nigeria. By this fell act, we were now grouped with 200 other Nationalities whose ways of life, religions and culture were quite different from ours. Among these are the Hausas-Fulani-Nupe Caliphate whose incursion into Edo Nation was just stopped at the Ishan borders after they had overrun Auchi and Agbede. The Socio-Political implications of this event are many. Our society is based on religious tolerance, whereas the Northerners are Islamic fanatics bent on
spreading the message of Islam if necessary by force and intent on conquering the South so as to enable them "dip the Koran into the Atlantic Ocean." Our language became suppressed, public life and commerce were conducted in elitist English thereby alienating majority of our people. This is how we found ourselves in Nigeria and became part of Western Nigeria and later Midwestern Nigeria to Bendel State and now Edo State.
The founding fathers of Nigeria adopted a Federal System of Government with the regions, fully in charge of her resources. Things were running fairly well until the military came into the scene and then muddled the water. The soldiers opted for a unitary government inspite of the Country being refereed to as a Federal Republic. All resources were centralized and of course the army being dominated by Northerners, all organs of government became dominated by Northerners. Inspite of the fact that the North hardly contributed anything to the common purse. They controlled disbursement of the Federal
fund. We are all aware of the gross abuses and crass financial mismanagement and unbridled looting that took place. These have nauseated terribly the nervous stomachs of the people of the Niger Delta who have resorted to violence to stop further exploitation and abuse of funds they see coming solely from their area and squandered by people whose economic insecurity seems to give them insatiable appetite for money. Every other Nationality could not but watch the wholesale plunder of the common National funds.
In the 103 years since we lost our independence, we have been allowed to govern ourselves for only fifteen years by an Edo person (one year with Gov. Innih, eight years by Gov. Ogbemudia, four years by Gov. Alli and two years by Gov. Oyegun). Nearly all the economic gains, educational progress, industrialization and social-cultural gains were made during the reign of Edo sons. It is heart warming to note that another Edo son, Gov. Igbinedion has just been elected as Governor of Edo State. His impact will certainly be better than that of his immediate predecessors.
The impact of successive reigns of foreign military governors had been to erode and in most cases wipe out all the gains made during the Western, Midwestern and Bendel regions and especially during Gov. Ogbemudia's glorious years and the years of Gov. Alli. The ruling military cabal turned our State into a territory of improvised unhealthy, illiterate and beleaguered peoples. Unemployment became rampart, street violence became the order of the day. Our girls had to take to international prostitution to survive.
Young men had to flee to other lands to earn a living doing the most menial and sometimes illegal things to make ends meet. What is the future of a community if all her youth emigrate. With schools dilapidated and no industries to employ the youth and the old industries closed down because of centralized government and control of non-Edos. This has left the community disillusioned and angry.
In all these times, it has become apparent that our best times have been when an Edo person was in charge of Edo affairs.
We are best custodians of our affairs. We should never allow a situation ever again that foreigners will govern us. Outside or out of the State, one is treated like a foreigner and is worse in certain States. The recurrent tribal and religious conflicts makes an Edo person safer to live in Kumasi, Ghana than in Kano, Nigeria.
We should not be allowed to have the false sense of security of belonging to a County and yet you cannot live freely anywhere outside your State in a Country supposedly your own.
We therefore urge that we give serious thought to getting complete autonomy over our future. This will enable us better plan the development of our nation. We need to reinvent ourselves and take our destiny in our hands. It is time to reestablish our National identity which we lost over one hundred years ago. Before this, we were a Nation. Edo was the third Nation to recognize the independence of Brazil.
We had embassies in Portugal and Brazil. The integrity of our nationality should not be sacrificed on the alter of Nigerian unity. Like the proverbial Lizard we have climbed the heights of Nigeria unity and fallen several times. It is time to stand on our own. We can have loose relationship with other will Nationalities on equal basis to form a loose Federation of Nigeria. We have a population larger than many present members of the United Nations - Cyprus, Malta, Botswana, Gambia, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Jamaica, and Panama, to mention a few. Enough blood has been spilled and enough suffering and deprivations have been suffered by our people in an attempt to pursue the dream which is Nigeria Unitary Government. It is time to change course. Staying in Nigeria as it is now does not guarantee our safety or progress. There is no hope that an Edo person can be elected the President of Nigeria as we are still a minority in Nigeria.
The amalgamation was a badly set up experiment and there has been no surprise as to the results - anarchy, chaos, religious intolerance and open North-South marital incompatibility, if allowed to continue the way it has been, it will only lead to stagnation and retrogression. We must now bring our people into the twenty-first century. We must pursue massive industrialization to provide jobs to the teeming unemployed youths. Before the coup of 1983, Benin City was about the fifth in small scale industries in Nigeria behind Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Aba.
Many of these small industries have folded up and virtually no new industry has been established all because of the Unitary Government in Nigeria. Our education system needs revamping and updating to
the standards of the 21st Century.
Majority of us in the Americas and Europe through telephone contact and e-mail chats are in agreement that the best thing for Edo State is to seek our own autonomy. When this is guaranteed, then we can negotiate our relationship with other willing Nationalities if need be. We therefore urge all Edos to support the demand for total autonomy. The Edo people of the present day are proud descendants of
brave and glorious ancestors who established an empire along the West coast of Africa.
They developed a well structured community whose members specialized in metallurgy, arts and farming techniques comparable to other communities all over the world. Edo State is rich in oil, Natural gas,
Bitumen and timber to name a few. The Nation is also
blessed with educated and technically qualified human resources. The ancestral and spiritual home of Benin City has been regarded as the cradle of human civilization. There is no doubt that our State
will be economically viable and that we shall achieve peace, unity, stability, and progress which have eluded Nigeria. From the inception of Nigeria, Edo sons and daughters have been on the forefront of fight for Nigeria unity. The aspirations of our people at Nigeria union at independence and during the civil war have been abysmally subverted by repetitive military and civilian governments who have
promoted an internal settler-colonialist and religious agenda. A fundamental restructuring of the Nigeria union is now necessary in view of hegemonic tendency of the majority ethnic groups which has
resulted in the underdevelopment and backwardness of our people. We quite agree with Gen. Gowon's assertion that "there is no basis for unity " of Nigeria.
The Conclusions are:
There is no foreseeable prospect of an Edo person being elected President of Nigeria.
We do not have faith in Nigeria as presently constituted.
The most acceptable mode of Association is a true Federal or (Co-federal) structure with the right of the Federating Units to self-determination (as in the constitution of Ethiopia and Switzerland)
The Nationalities Federate on equal basis irrespective of their size.
The Federating units to have a loose center.
The Nationalities will control and harness resources in their respective areas with agreed minimal contribution of the center (such as in
These are some of the issues to be discussed at the Sovereign National Conference.
We believe that these will ensure our peoples progress, full gainful employment, modern health services, security, stability necessary to take our people into the twenty first century that we rightly belong.
Whereas the generations before us fought and died to give Edo people a respectable name in the world they lived in, it is now left to this generation to take us out of the over 100 years of loss of independence and reinstate Edo Pride and Autonomy. To do otherwise is to betray the trust of our people.
Oboma Asemota, M.D.