The book of Omo N' Oba N' Edo,Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa II, the Oba of
Benin, has stirred an unending controversy between the Benin and Yoruba people.
As a matter of fact, I have been following the ongoing discourse, in the cyber
world I should add, but have been unable to participate by way of retort or
rejoinder due to the time factor in human nature. One thing about the book is
that the presentation of the Oba of Benin is so compelling that it has pricked
some of the traditional rulers, historians, writers, and others to come to the
stage to add their voices or make their views known about the subject. Among
them are the Ooni of Ife, the Oba of Lagos, Dr. Dele Adeoti, Prof. Ajayi, even
Ganiyu Adams, and many other others.
Reuben Abati, one of the contemporary voices in the field of journalism and
penmanship in Nigeria, has also lent his voice to the group of contributors in
this matter of profound historical consequences. Although Reuben Abati struggled
to present himself as an impartial analyst of the subject and the ensuing
polemics, it was undeniably lucid that his sardonic remarks had betrayed or
given way to his pent-up resentment for the Edo or Benin people. His
contribution was titled, "Ooni, Omo N'Oba, And The Politics Of Identity" and
published in the Guardian of May 9, 2004.
I have read Reuben Abati's works before, and I usually relish perusing his
write-ups, but this particular one was a bit different. The reason for that no
one but Reuben Abati himself can tell. Maybe, I say maybe, he allowed his
prejudice to gain control and assume center stage. As contentious as the matter
of the origin of the Benin and Yoruba people is and considering the stature or
position of the key participants in our society, one has to be a bit wary to
eschew any reckless and ungratuitous remarks like the ones the Ooni of Ife and
the other highly placed individuals have made. This is not a matter in which one
has to lose self-control or allow jaundice to take over. This is a very serious
Even though it does not have a string of economic impact attached, it does
have strong historical consequences and the way we see ourselves. Just like
every one of them who has responded, I think I should say reacted, save for the
Oba of Lagos, Reuben Abati could not free himself from the temptation of seizing
the opportunity to drivel rough "stuffs" at the Edo or Benin people. He made a
very costly remark, which was intended to denigrate the Benin people and certain
professions. In this particular article Reuben Abati made an unwholesome comment
that was mischievously reminiscent of the spew, not too long ago, of one Mr.
Oladokun, alias Omo Oba, in some of the Nigerian ethnic discussion groups on the
Internet. Pretending to be downplaying Ganiyu Adams' opinion in this matter,
Reuben Abati employed the opportunity to have a "swipe" at the Edo or Benin
people and wrote, "I wouldn't be surprised if a group of prostitutes from Benin
City also add their voice to it."
Since I read the piece, I have ruminated over what could have precipitated
the occasion for Reuben Abati, a touted journalist of his caliber, to inject a
remark with the sole intention to brutalize the psyche of the Edo or Benin
people for no obvious reason. Hitherto, I have viewed, as do many other
Nigerians including the group of prostitutes from Benin City, Reuben Abati and
his work as the epitome and semblance of probity, objectivity, and
forthrightness. In this particular matter, he took side, though with sly.
Injecting the Benin prostitutes into his analysis of the matter did not elevate
or aid his argument in anywise. Instead, it betrayed his overall intention and
besmirched the impartial reputation for which he used to be known and respected.
In short, Reuben Abati's throwing the prostitution matter into this one spells
how we, Nigerians, no matter how highly placed and because of incurable
jaundice, can and would always ethnicize issues.
This is a matter about the historical nexus between the Yoruba and Benin
people. The matter has nothing to do with the Benin City prostitutes, and
neither the prostitutes nor the trade they ply are part of the ongoing
controversy. What was the reason for bringing the prostitutes into the picture?
Why not a group of lawyers from Benin City? Why not a group of doctors from
Benin City? Why not a group of engineers from Benin City? Why not a group of
Professors from Benin City? Why not a group of journalists and writers from
Benin City? Why not a group of nurses and teachers from Benin City? Was he
trying to tell Nigerians and the world that Benin City is good for producing
only prostitutes? Was he trying to insinuate that Edo or Benin women are all
As much as he has written on various subjects, and abundantly I should add
for credit to him, one would have expected him to have a better understanding of
the intricate and variegated nature of the problems involved in international
prostitution as it concerns Nigerian and Edo or Benin women. He should have
known that the prostitution matter is a national calamity, not an ethnic thing.
The matter of contention is the historical connection between the Yoruba and the
Edo or Benin people. Where is the prostitution thing coming from in the picture
other than a devious and hidden design to spite and cast aspersion on the Edo or
Benin people? No matter how one may try to overlook Reuben Abati's gaffe and
perhaps extend a hand of forgiveness, undeservedly as it is, one thing was very
clear about his overall intention for the disappointing and condemnable
introduction of the Benin City prostitutes into the matter. It was very
palpable, just as the reason behind his introducing prostitution into the
discussion was quite scrutable, that his sole motive was to slur or defame the
entire Edo or Benin people, with a pretentious analysis of the contentious
historical matter. It is very unfortunate as it is sourly disappointing that
this kind of abhorrent remark came from a highly placed journalist, a man whose
work and take on issues most Nigerians, including the prostitutes, have come to
love and respect. It is a pity.
Another careless remark in Reuben Abati's analysis of the supposed
controversy is the reference to people in certain trades in which he wrote,
"soon mechanics, battery chargers, and even fashion designers, with access to
the media, may also tell us what they think of the historical relationship
between the Yoruba and the Bini." Whether the foregoing quote was a pointed
design to put down Mr. Ganiyu Adams or undermine his opinion in the matter is of
no contest here. Of silly importance and revulsion was his attempt to ridicule
the Edo or Benin people and undermine certain professions. Please allow me to
point out, at this juncture and without any measure of rudeness, that those
people in our society, to whom he thus referred and most deprecatingly, are also
human beings endowed like the doctors, lawyers, Professors, or journalists with
the same human qualities and abilities to reason, think, and sift out truth from
bits of available information. One must be reminded too that the people in those
trades he thus referred are also human beings endowed with the same right and
freedom to seek and determine what is true.
This is the problem with us in the Nigerian society today. We tend to over
exaggerate our self-importance and worth, with a tendency to looking down on
every other person not in our profession. What is wrong with battery chargers
and the rest having access to the media? Is the media supposed to be an
exclusive playground for the privileged few? Should all and sundry not be
afforded equal access to express their views publicly? That the people did not
undertake formal education, the western kind of education, must and should not
divest them of the right to contribute in a matter of historical significance if
it concerns them. The fact that some people were fortunate enough to have
acquired the western type of education does not confer in them the exclusive
right to seek and tell what should be the truth in historical matters. After
all, the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramid, a feat that continues to be
the marvel of the world, did not acquire any formal or western kind of
education. The ancient Egyptians who built the pyramid were ordinary people with
skills, courage, and imagination, driven by resolve for survival in this planet
earth. The ancient Egyptians who built the pyramid were ordinary people like the
mechanics, battery chargers, and fashion designers, the people in the trades
Reuben Abati tried to denigrate and dismiss offensively.
Even at that, our so-called educated elites and those who style themselves
"historians" are the ones actually confusing the people. With their
sophisticated western education or scholarship they are still hanging on to the
idea that a man descended from the sky on chains around 1120 A.D at Ile-Ife.
They are the ones encouraging the falsehood, rather than taking steps to correct
the mistakes that were made in the past about the origin of the Yoruba people. I
refuse to accept that the Yoruba people were not in existence until after 1120
A.D or so when Oduduwa was supposedly lowered from the sky on chains at Ile-Ife.
How ridiculous can that be? In fact, to think thus is to be completely
Reuben Abati wrote, "Re-writing Jacob Eghareva, the Bini historian, the Oba
had stated that the founder of the Yoruba race, Oduduwa, was a Bini Prince,
Ekhaladeran, who having escaped from the hangman's axe, found his way to Ife.
The simple interpretation is that the Yoruba descended from a Bini line." First,
let it be clear that the Oba of Benin did not re-write Jacob Egharevba. The Oba
of Benin only corrected some of the obvious flaws and deliberate omissions in
Egharevba's accounts of the origin of the Benin royal family and the Edo or
Benin relationship to the Yoruba people. I have read the part or session of the
book that evoked the reactions (courtesy of and thanks to Vanguard's good work).
There is nowhere in that session of the book in which the Oba of Benin put it,
whether conspicuously or adumbratively, that the Yoruba originated or "descended
from a Bini line." Looking at his wrong but "simple interpretation" of the
content of that particular portion of the book that deals with Oduduwa and
Ekaladeran, one may be compelled to posit that Reuben Abati fell into the pit of
misunderstanding, just like those who have rushed to react, to render such an
overly sprawled and suspicious interpretation.
The ongoing controversy is not about who is superior to whom or who
originated from whom. The facts proffered by the Oba of Benin concerning the
true identity of Oduduwa, the alleged founder of the Yoruba race, is to find the
truth about our historical connection, which ought to bring us more closer
together. Unfortunately, this is not the way some of our Yoruba people, led by
the Ooni of Ife, are seeing the provided historical information. From what I
have read in that particular portion of the book concerning the true identity of
Oduduwa, there is no hint of any kind for one to conclude that the Edo or Benin
people are superior to the Yoruba people or vice versa. Some of the Yoruba
people, especially the educated and highly placed, are the ones saying so by
mere fact of faulty deduction. The Oba of Benin only presented that Oduduwa,
whom the Yoruba people claimed descended from the sky on chains, was actually a
Benin fugitive prince, Ekalederan. Sans doubt, the presentation of the Oba of
Benin apropos the origin of Oduduwa is too compelling to be ignored. Those
arguing against it are only doing so for the sake of pride and for the
preservation of the long held belief.