Since the beginning of the Yoruba-Bini ethnic origin imbroglio, there have been several vain attempts by some non-Yoruba and non-Bini individuals to cash in on the issue. One such individual was Chukwu Eke who wrote, in the Vanguard of June 3, 2004, an article titled “Oduduwa: Saving history from ethnic propaganda”. That one Chukwu, in writing such a ridiculous tale, could jump into a bandwagon even while being ignorant of its destination did not really come as a surprise. What else would one expect of a Chukwu in a matter between the Yoruba and the Bini?
I was however surprised that an organization going by the name Media Watch Nigeria would forward the Chukwu Eke article to me. What could have been its motivation? As champions of an ethnic interest, the faceless members of the group have their antecedents in a previously failed campaign to make me answer to a different name (Femi Fani-Kayode). My first reaction was to wonder if any of my articles in recent times had made me step on their paranoid ethnic toes again? It occurred to me that I had not even written anything about the raging Yoruba-Bini palaver. Therefore I could only arrive at two conclusions: That the organization had gone into all that trouble merely to gloat because I’m one Yoruba they love to hate. Or they probably have assumed (again?) that I was the writer of that article parading as Chukwu Eke.
As far as the forwarded article was concerned, here, in a nutshell are my views:
By writing that piece (Chukwu Eke), being an Igbo man, did not achieve anything except to shoot himself in the foot. Although, his primary target was the jugular of the Yoruba ancestry, he also did not spare the Bini who he described as merely “having lesser of the Yoruba sin of making spurious historical claims.” Worse still, that article, if anything, was not a compliment to the Igbo race. It was just a confirmation of an oral history that the Yoruba people, at one time, occupied the land of a people who were branded “ara Igbo” (bush people), so-called because they lived as barbarians in the bush. To the Yoruba of those days, any race of people without a King or organized way of life was viewed with scorn.
Just as the lawless barbarians of old constituted themselves as a nuisance to the civilized Roman people, so also did these Igbo (according to the Yoruba history) constituted themselves as a menace to the Yoruba people of Ife. These bush people never followed the norms in warfare. Rather, they would pretend to be evil spirits while launching sporadic attacks against the Ife people, mostly women and children in market places until the matter got to a head. To unravel the mystery and stop their menace once and for all, an Ife woman (Moremi), who also had roots in Offa (in the present day Kwara State), offered to go on a special espionage mission into the Igbo land. To achieve this feat, she allowed herself to be captured by the Igbo.
The leader of the Igbo fell in love with the beautiful woman and being a “woman wrapper” that he was he unwittingly exposed the secret behind the raffia costume of his women-attacking marauders. With this secret in hand, the woman escaped from Igbo land to leak the secret to her people. Upon their subsequent “visit” the raffia costume of the Igbo marauders were simply touched with fire and this resulted in their massacre. The Ife Army subsequently invaded Igbo land, captured their leader and enslaved the people.
If Chukwu Eke’s article was intended to ridicule the Yoruba, it was unwittingly a rude joke on his Igbo race. Here are samplers:
1. If he (the writer) insists that the name “Oduduwa” is not legitimate just because the “autochthon (sic) Igbo” he colonized had a different name for him, are the Yoruba supposed to address their progenitor by the nickname given to him by the subjects in his colony?
2. The writer wanted us to accept that the “aboriginal inhabitants” of Southwest were Igbo. From where then did the Yoruba come to invade them, the Southeast? In line with Yoruba history however, the said Igbo marauders were from “Ila orun” (land of the rising sun).
3. Quoting ignorantly from one Robert Smith (an American for God’s sake!), to back his claim, Chukwu asserted that the conquest of the Igbo had since been celebrated by the Yoruba at the annual Eid festival. Yet, “Eid” not being a Yoruba word can only be linked to Eid El Fitril, an Islamic festival.
My question now is why an Igbo man would gleefully give publicity to such a self-immolating story all in a vain attempt to make a silly claim that the Yoruba had their roots in Igbo land? And going by Chukwu Eke’s “historical excursion”, since when has a group of conquerors had their roots in a conquered land? Really, what was Chukwu thinking while writing that article? And what did an ethnic interest-championing group such as the so-called Media Watch Nigeria expect to gain by forwarding such a boomerang of an article to me?
And now that I’ve been dragged into the Yoruba-Bini issue, I might as well make my own contribution. The Oba of Benin has spoken. And the number one descendant of Oduduwa (the Ono of Ife) has disputed the claims of the Benin King. More so, all the known and unknown Ph.D holders in History from both sides have treated us to several academic lessons on the issue. I would therefore like to be objective here. In doing so, the views of both sides will be treated as assumptions, subject to some tests of logic:
The Oba of Benin wrote among other things that, “…Owodo was advised by oracle, so it was said, to have the son (Oduduwa) executed. Owodo (unaware that he had been tricked about his son) got the Oka Odionmwan (the executioner) to perform the act. But the executioner had pity on the son and…let him off…”
In Lagos of the 1960s, there was a house on Herbert Macaulay Street in Ebute Metta that had a bold inscription “A JI SE BI OYO” (we who wake up to imitate the Oyo people). These words did lend credence to a very interesting adage of the proud people of the old Oyo empire that “a ji se bi Oyo la nri. Oyo o se bi enikeni” (we only see those who try to imitate the great Oyo people. The Oyo people have no cause to imitate anyone).
Let us now assume, as the Oba stated in his book that Oduduwa was a Bini prince who ran away to escape from a set up and ended up founding a place called Ile-Ife where he ruled over the people. Logically therefore, one would expect the founded town to bear a Bini name. Going further, the Yoruba people should have assimilated the Bini culture and in fact be speaking the Bini language instead of what they speak. Whereas, there is absolutely no trace of Bini culture in core Yoruba land. This, precisely, is the rug or carpet on which the entire argument should rest.
Going by the Yoruba version of the history however, the relationship between the Yoruba and the Bini commenced when Oduduwa sent his son, Oranmiyan, to rule over the Bini. This has been responsible therefore for the Yoruba cultural presence in Bini land up till now. Even there are some highly titled Bini Chiefs and several Bini men and women bearing Yoruba names. Yet, there is nothing like vice versa in this scenario. For instance, there are no real Yoruba with Bini names. And neither do we see any King in Yoruba land having a title that has a cultural or linguistic bearing to Bini land. On the other hand, even the King of Benin is called Oba (a Yoruba title for King). Does this not strongly suggest something in support of the Yoruba version of the History?
We can also draw some examples from Ilorin in Kwara State where the Yoruba once extended their influence. Till today, there are many descendants of Alimi (the progenitor of the Northern ruling house in Ilorin) who are bearing Yoruba names. Even the current Emir has a Yoruba name. The mother of Sango, one of the most powerful Aalafin of Oyo empire was from Tapa land. And before ascending the throne, the great man once resided in Tapa land. It’s not surprising therefore to see some elements of the Yoruba culture among the Tapa people and vice versa till today. There is also the Itsekiri part of Warri where their King bears a Yoruba title (Olu) and the people speak a language that sounds like that of the Remo people of Yoruba land. These are empirical evidences that no one can fault. It will however be grossly unfair and indeed offensive for anyone, even a King in Ilorin, Tapa land, Itsekiri or wherever else to suddenly wake up one day to state that the Yoruba progenitor came from his part of the world.
Just last week, some friends (both fellow Yoruba and non-Yoruba alike) wondered why almost everybody is suddenly embarking on an ego trip at the expense of the Yoruba. And my answer was in form of a question: Which other ethnic group in Nigeria is really worth riding on its back by a different group? This clearly explains why some other Nigerians would readily blame the political, economic and social woes of their ethnic groups on the Yoruba.
The Yoruba civilization is comparable to those of the old Greeks and the Romans. Here are a pace setting people not only in Nigeria but also in the whole of Africa. As I stated in an article written sometimes in 2003, every Yoruba kingdom was based on a parliamentary system of government. The Yoruba were the first to have a textile industry…when many other Africans were still going about stark naked.
The Yoruba were the first to use modern weapons of war such as bazooka, artillery guns and automatic rifles during their intra tribal wars. This was a time others were still going to wars with cutlasses bows and arrows. The Yoruba were the first to adopt a modern military hierarchy from “eso to Are Ona Kakanfo” (soldier to Field Marshal). The Yoruba were the first to have a television station, the first to have an Olympic stadium, the first to build a sky scrapper (Cocoa House), The first to set up Free Primary education etc etc. A people that could achieve all these pace-setting feats have no cause whatsoever to take the historical accounts of their great ancestry from outsiders. More so, when such outsiders are, themselves, victims of identity crisis that borders on inferiority complex.