uneasy calm in Bini Kingdom, as Ijaw lay Claim to Gelegele

Moses Olufemi Agunsoye, the Elegboro of Ijebu-Jesa

LIKE thunderbolts out of the blue, the announcement of the planned installation of a traditional ruler in Olodiama, not only jolted many, but also left in its wake unease. Till date, the planned merger of some communities, predominantly Ijaw-speaking from Gelegele and other areas of Edo State, to form a separate kingdom within the Benin Kingdom, still reverberates loudly in one of the continent’s most revered kingdom.
 
Expectedly, this unpopular moves has attracted widespread condemnation and criticisms from the traditional institution, and the state government, which has already called on security agencies to arrest the sponsor of the planned coronation, and the “monarch-in waiting” as the action was in contravention of the laws of old Bendel State, now applicable in Edo and Delta states.
 
Indications of a possible crisis in that area emerged shortly after the Benin monarch, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, ascended the throne of his forebears, and announced during his coronation that one of his desires was to see the establishment of a free trade zone in Gelegele, which is reputed as the first point of contact between the Bini people, and the Portuguese (between 13th to 14th Century), and the British many years after, before the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates.
 
Ewuare’s position was re-echoed by Governor Godwin Obaseki, during his swearing in, where he expressed his readiness to attract private investors to the area.
 
This remarks generated tension, as the Ijaw in the Gelegele area began laying claims to ownership of the area, and also alleging that a portion of Bini
land belonged to Ijaw.
 
This claim forced the Benin Solidarity Movement (BSM), a group, which has been outlawed by security agencies (apparently because of its connotative militant nomenclature) to counter the claim.
 
The group staged a peaceful demonstration round the state capital, with stops at the palace of the Oba of Benin, and the state secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), where they alleged that the Ijaw were taking over their land.
 
In a statement, the BSM said a publication by an Ijaw group, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) early this year that Gelegele belongs to the Ijaw was taking the hospitality of the Bini people too far.

Signed by Curtis Ugbo, Osarodion Osagie, Kola Edokpayi, Osayande Okoro, Chief Odion Olaye, and Hope Emosieme, the statement said it is shocking and unheard of that having accommodated the non-Bini, they are now taking over their land.
 
In view of the claim of ownership of the land by the non-natives and settlers (Ijaw), Olaye, who spoke for the protesters said there were documents, including Supreme Court rulings in favour of the Bini Kingdom,

 
But reacting on behalf of the people of Gelegele, their spokesperson, Don Ben, said Ijaw people have been living in the area for centuries, stressing that when they arrived the place, they did not find anybody there, and should not be referred to as settlers.
 
He said the Ijaw believe in peaceful co-existence with their neighbours, and therefore urged those fanning the embers of crisis to desist from doing so, since they have had a cordial relationship over the years.
 
However, penultimate week, the state government registered its displeasure with the moves to enthrone a new monarch via a strongly worded statement.

The statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie, described as “sacrilegious, abominable and criminal,” an alleged planned coronation of one Godwin Oguyenbo, as the “Pere of Olodiama Kingdom,” an Ijaw community in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State.
 
It added that Governor Obaseki, has directed law enforcement agencies to effect the immediate arrest and prosecution of all persons involved in the said planned coronation.
 
“The pronouncement constitutes an unprecedented affront to the long-settled culture, traditions and norms of our people.

“Government is of the view that the claim of such a non-existent title in a non-existent community under any guise is a clear and pre-meditated breach of our laws, pa rticularly the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Law of Edo State, which sets out the list of all recognised traditional rulers and chiefs in Edo State.”
 
On its part, the Benin Traditional Council, (BTC) equally condemned the attempt, and insisted that the Ijaw Community were tenants in the state.
 
Addressing a press conference at the palace, the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, in company of other palace chiefs including the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebiri; Oliha of Benin, Chief Edionwe Oliha; Esere of Benin, Chief S.O. Obamwonyi; Eribo of Benin, Chief Ekhorovbiye Oviasogie; Eguezigbon of Benin, Chief O. Obamwonyi, Ine of Benin, Chief U. Ufumwen and the Secretary of BTC, Frank Irabor, described the “Pere of Olodiama Kingdom,” title as a non-existent one, adding that Gelegele is under the ownership of the Oba of Benin, hence there cannot be two monarchs in Benin.

“We want to state it categorically that Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State is under the authority of the Oba of Benin, who is the prescribed authority. We only have one monarch in the whole of Edo South Senatorial District, and that is the Oba of Benin.
 
“We would advise that anyone, who recognises, purports to install or present himself to be installed as a traditional ruler outside the provision of the Edo State Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Edict of 1979, is in violation of the law, and would be arrested and prosecuted,” it asserted.
 
He urged the Pere of Gbaramatu in Delta State to caution the “meddlesome interloper” against laying claim to any territory in the said local council.
 
“The Ijaw people of Gelegele are free to live in the area just as any other ethnic group that live in that axis. Any attempt to lay claim to non-existent title and community, or village under any guise, would be resisted. We call on all the law enforcement agencies to fully investigate and arrest those that are behind this abominable act”, Igbe stated.
 
Adding their voice to this development, traditional rulers from Edo North Senatorial District and their counterparts from Edo South, last Tuesday condemned the act.
 
Vice chairman, Edo State Council of Traditional Rulers, and Onojie of Opoji, His Royal Highness Ehidiamen Aidenojie, condemned the action of the Ijaw people saying, “There is not much argument about this, as you are aware in the 14th to 15th centuries, the Portuguese entered Benin and the only port the Bini people had was Gelegele. Over the years, that was where the Portuguese used and even built a storey building there. Gelegele has always been part of Benin Kingdom. When we were in the Western Region, we had two provinces, which later formed the Midwest Region. We had the Benin Province and Delta Province, the Benin Province included the Gelegele, and it was part of Benin Province. In the Western Region, there was no other kingdom, and there has not been any other kingdom, and there will be no other kingdom in Edo South because Edo South has one king, and that is Oba of Benin, there is just one kingdom in Edo South, the rest are dukes and the Oba has the powers to even appoint a duke at Gelegele, as done in other areas and I thought that if they had wanted a chief, they would have done well by talking to the Oba and pleading with him. Of-course, he can decide to give a chieftaincy of Benin Kingdom to that Gelegele because it is part of his kingdom or send an Enigie there.
 
“But I must commend the Oba of Benin and the Bini people for the maturity that His Majesty has displayed, as a serious problem would have happened, without such display of maturity.

“I cannot have Igbo people in my community and one Eze will come from Anambra State to come and crown someone as Eze of Opoji, that is an
abomination. So, government should not take this lightly. We resolved within ourselves to come out and speak the truth, so, government should not take it lightly.
 
“Edo people and the Binis are very hospitable and accommodating right from Oba Akenzua. For instance, in 1955, an Itsekiri man, Francis Okotie-Eboh, a former Minister of Finance, was made the Adolor of Benin Kingdom. He was an Itsekiri man, but he did not answer Olu of Warri. An Ishan man, the late Ezomo was also made the Imah of Benin Kingdom. So, I think the Ijaw people went too far, and that is why we are advising the state Police Commissioner, and Director of Department of States Services, to put their hands on deck and make sure that these people are arrested and prosecuted for this unacceptable conduct, which is an abomination. Edo South, including Ovia is part of Benin kingdom.

Aidenojie, who said it is very abnormal to address Gelegele as part of Bayelsa or Delta state, urged the Edo State government to c
ontact the government of these two states to “call this man to order and to stop trespassing on Edo State.”

Chairman, Akoko-Edo Traditional Rulers Council and Olokpe of Okpe, Oba Idogu III, in his remarks said that, “Nobody can trespass into Edo land, just as no inch of Edo land can be ceded to anywhere, and nobody has the power to come and install whatever they call it here. We are backing the Edo State government.”
 
Also, the Imah of Somorika, Alhaji Sule Idaye, said, “we are totally against anybody crossing all the way from Bayelsa or Delta state to Benin to confer a chieftaincy title on one of them and to claim any part of Edo land. We disagree with everything they have done and we want to send a message back to the governments of these states to call these people to order because Edo State is a peace loving area, the Bini people are peace loving people, and we commend the efforts of the Oba of Benin for whatever thing he has done to calm everybody and ensure that there is peace. We equally want them to know that the Gelegele seaport has a peculiar history with the Benin Kingdom, so they should go back to the records and look at history.”

 
However, some leader of some Ijaw communities of Egbema, Olodiama, Okomu, Furupagha and Gbaraun clans, last week, said the installation of Pere of Olodiama in Gelegele, Ovia North East Local Council of Edo State, was not new to the people of the state as alleged.
 
A statement signed by Prof. Christopher Dime and six others, on behalf of the leaders, the Amaokosuabu, chiefs and the people of Egbema, Okomu, Furupagha and Gbaraun clans made available to newsmen in Benin City, claimed that it was on record that the late Oba Akenzua II of blessed memory sent his son, then crown prince Solomon Akenzua (Late Oba Erediauwa of blessed memory) in 1958 to Ikoro, to represent him at the installation of the Pere of Olodiama, Pere Asulu Ogunyiebo (the traditional head of the Ijaw people of Olodiama).
 
He said the Pere of Olodiama was gazetted in the Mid-Western State of Nigeria, Gazette No. 56 of October 18, 1973, adding that before the said gazette, the Ijaw people of Olodiama clan had their recognised Pere of Olodiama, with his seat at Ikoro in Ovia East Local Government Area of the state.
 
He said the case in point was the coronation of Ogunyiebo Asulu as the Pere of Olodiama at Ikoro, which was published in the Daily Times Newspaper of February 27, 1958.
 
He said it is ironical that the Edo State Government, through the SSG exposed its ignorance when it claimed that Ikoro Community and all other Ijaw communities in Edo State and the title of the Pere of Olodiama Kingdom were non-existent and as such criminal.
 
Dime, who insisted that the Ijaw people were not bothered by the press conference held by the Benin Traditional Council on behalf of the Oba of Benin, however, stated that they were shocked with the statement of the governor, who in the course of his electioneering campaign came to the Ijaw people at Gelegelegbene to solicit for votes.
 
He said by the nature of the Ijaw geographical location- along coastal board of the nation, the Ijaw are found in six states namely, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Ondo states, noting that in five of these states, that is Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Ondo, there is no question about their status as citizens with equal rights and privileges, except in Edo State.

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Bini KingdomGelegeleIjaw


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