As the September 10, 2016 governorship election in Edo State draws near, the Binis are confronted with the choice of a candidate that would enhance their development and restore their pride. A careful evaluation of the Binis vis-à-vis their socio-political environment would reveal that they have been diminished in many ways. The declining fortune of the Binis has its foundation in past actions, inactions and misjudgments. A brief history of Fulani expansionism is very instructive in this regard. The Uthman Dan Fodiyo Jihad of 1804 was critical to the Fulani expansionism in Nigeria. Through aggressive propagation of Islam, flags of conquest were hoisted in towns like Yola, Jalingo, Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Bauchi, Bida, Lafia and Minna. Today, the Emirs of these towns are Fulanis. Consequently, the Fulanis had suzerainty over more than a half of the Nigerian territory.
In contrast, the Binis under great kings like Ewuare the great (1440-1473) and Esigie (1504-1550) extended the frontier of the kingdom to the Republic of Benin in the West and to Onitsha in the East. Lagos (Eko in Bini language meaning a camp) was annexed by Oba Orhogba. Omumu, a great Bini warrior, who is my paternal great grandfather, brought Yoruba towns like Akure, Ilara-Mokin, Igbara Oke, Idanre and Odogbolu under the lordship of the Oba of Benin. Whereas, the Fulanis left everlasting footprints in territories they conquered by way of the establishment of monarchies, the Binis did nothing of such. They ran home to celebrate victory without a shield. It is sad that today the great Benin Kingdom is now compromised and reduced to seven Local government areas in Edo State.
The loss of Lagos agitated the minds of Binis (the late Oba David Akenzua, Chief Humprey Omo-Osagie and Mr Akintola Akpata) who were in Kings College, Lagos, between 1915 and 1919. Parapsychologist Okunzua, Pa Obahiagbon, Barrister S. Y. Eke, Dr Christopher Okojie and Justice Festus Ekeruche, a non Edo from Obiaruku, Delta State, who were Kings College students in the late 1920s and mid 1930s even contemplated how Lagos could be reclaimed. It was a wishful thinking coming too late.
Such omissions and misjudgments manifested in recent times. The first primary school in Edo and Delta states, Government School (founded in 1900) adjacent to the Oba market was demolished around 1974 to give way for a state library which is yet to be built till this day. The ancient and magnificent buildings bequeathed by the British are now lost forever. In the same manner, Edo College, Benin, the first secondary school in Edo and Delta states (founded in 1937) was relocated from a level and expansive land in 1972 to a hill bounded by the Benin moat. The buildings are now hemmed between the main road and the moat with no space for expansion. The antiquity and the tourism values of the school were not given a consideration. Inverted reasoning was on display.
The golden question is, why should the Binis allow their kingdom to slide in a downward trajectory? The kingdom’s glorious fortune is being degraded on a consistent basis. This should agitate informed minds. It is mind boggling that the Binis, for a long period, have not recorded significant progress even when their sons were at the helm of affairs in Edo State. It is painful that 21st Century Bini land is so rural that one would be compelled to question if the great attainments of the Binis in many aspects of human endeavor, many years ago, are true. These were the people who welcomed the first Europeans (Portuguese) in Nigeria in 1485. Is it the same kingdom whose craftsmen, organized into different guilds, produced ornate bronze casting, wood carvings and Ivory work highly sought for all over the world?
The Binis have abandoned their villages. Benin City is all in all. How many Binis know that that there are Bini villages like Evbuku, Umelu, Utezi, Ulegun, Ekosa, Oriokpa, Avbiama and Uholo? Bini villages are crumbling and are so rural that they are best described as farm settlements. They pale into insignificance when compared to towns and villages in the two other Senatorial Districts that are built up. There are some modern houses in Uromi and Ekpoma villages that are yet to find a place in Benin City. It is difficult seeing a Bini man leaving Benin City for his village with his family for Christmas.
Apart from the Lagos-Benin road terminating at Akpakpava street and the Benin-Sapele road terminating at the ring road, entering Benin City through other roads is a nightmare. It is pertinent to mention that these are federal roads. You will ride on roads half covered by silt if you enter Benin from Auchi, Siluko, Owo and Asaba. The roads are poorly drained and cratered. In the rainy season, about 60% of the roads in Benin are marshlands. The most pathetic is the Benin GRA. In the area of water supply, Benin is at the mercy of private boreholes; whereas, the Ikpoba Dam is busting at the seams and the well reticulated pipes are under the ground. The Bendel Brewery and Edo Line Transport Service are moribund. Sport is dead in Edo State.
A visit to Calabar, Enugu, Uyo, Awka and Owerri brings into sharp relief the rubbish diets of propaganda being fed to Edolites on a daily basis in the name of development. There is hardly a road not tarred in Calabar. It is beautifully laid out and the roads are hemmed in with trees. Calabar, which is as neat as Paris, has the cleanest pipe borne water in Nigeria. Comparing Enugu to Benin is like comparing heaven and hell. I don’t know where Gov. Chime got the funds to transform this town. It is noteworthy that he did not fill Jerusalem with sermons of “We are working”. This contrasts sharply with the noisemaking in Edo State. When people say Benin has been turned around, I wonder if I am blind or they are blind. Definitely someone must be blind. Propaganda hurts the reason more than alcohol and sells better than pornography.
The Binis should thank Chief Tony Anenih who, as Works and Housing Minister, facilitated the construction of the Benin bypass. The bypass is unarguably the most valuable infrastructure in Benin. All the roads resurfaced in the name of construction in Benin in the past 40 years do not add up in value to the Benin bypass. In the same manner, he should be appreciated for the dualization of the Benin-Warri road and the completion of the federal secretariat in Benin abandoned since 1975. Binis who choose to hate him are free to do so. What is sure is that his reputation is safe in the hands of instructed people.
It is pertinent to commend two Binis, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion from Okada and Chief Efionayi Iyayi from Egba, who have identified with their villages and added great value to them. Most of their business accomplishments are on Bini land. They are not business men in exile. Okada that was once an obscure village has been brought to limelight and international recognition by Chief Igbinedion. It now accommodates a University and one of the most equipped hospitals in Nigeria. To deny that he hasn’t done well is to contest the baptism and confirmation of the Pope. Chief Igbinedion once offended the Benin monarchy; he was disciplined and pardoned afterwards. After the pardon, he has been the butt of gratuitous insults and abuse by the governor. And some Binis without shame are joining him to drag this number seven in the Benin hierarchy on the floor.
The Binis are about 56% of the population of Edo State and they occupy more than a half of its land area. It has been the tradition to equate Bini land with Benin City. When a road is resurfaced in Benin City it is always accompanied by fanfare. An Emeka Anyaoku or a Yakubu Gowon would be invited to grace the occasion. It does not occur to them that if a road is tarred in the governor’s Local Government, ten of such roads should be tarred in Bini land to guarantee equity. The Binis have, for so long, been victims of propaganda and make believe. If you want to win the votes of the Binis what you should do is simple. Improve visible spots in Benin City, reroof and paint schools along the roads. Don’t bother whether other Bini towns and villages rot away. For good measure, pretend to love the palace. My people would declare you as Godsend. The Binis are now regarded as cheap. Tayo Akpata University was sited on Bini land to justify the establishment of a University in the governor’s village. Whereas, billions of naira had been spent on the Iyamho University, the Tayo Akpata University remains a bounded space. No stone has been put on another. One wonders why the Binis in the House of Assembly did not oppose the indiscriminate appropriation of funds for the University in the governor’s village. Were they bribed? One of them, a lady, made a Speaker for few days, was removed on the governor’s instruction and diced for political expediency. That says it all. It would have been better justified if the University was sited in Owan West, Owan East or Akoko-Edo LGAs. Siting it in the governor’s LGA where there is already a federal institution, the Auchi Polytecnic, is not fair.
As regards the culture and tradition of the Binis, two sparrows have been sold for a farthing. Some unscrupulous Binis, inspired by filthy lucre, have shown the way to the palace to all manner of people. They jump in and out of the palace at will. They come out and whip the Binis into line by claiming they have consulted with the oracle. If a fifteen-year old Bini boy, without a royal blood, finds himself in any part of Edo state outside Bini land, he has the privilege to break kola nut in any gathering he finds himself. This is irrespective of the fact that the Nigerian president comes from that town or village. It is adult abomination that the governor has been made patron of some Bini associations. This should not be misconstrued as arrogance. It is the culture of Edo people (not only of the Binis) which must be preserved.
Were it not for the redeeming steps taken by the immediate past Oba of Benin, the Binis would have been lost forever. He set the Binis on a path of recovery. It is good news that these Binis who have neglected to conduct themselves with honor have realized their folly having suffered monumental disgrace in the hands of a governor they made a graven image. I urge Binis to vote wisely in the forthcoming governorship election. They should vote for a candidate who will add value to them and free the kingdom from snollygosters.
Mr Osagie Jacobs sent this piece from Arco Housing Estate, Sabo-Lugbe, Abuja.