Let me first register my unreserved appreciation on this privilege granted. I’m sincerely grateful for you found me worthy of the privilege.
The topic: Ebiraland at Crossroad: 21st Century Perspective, is a topic worthy of scholarly attention. I settled for it hence with the belief of calling us to mind, such task deserving scholarly attention. As the lesson begins, what will be discussed is an opinion hence, your suggestions are most welcomed. It is high time we presented Ebira to the world in an academic milieu.
THE EBIRALAND IN NIGERIA
In West African Nigeria, we have 250 ethnic groups and Ebira is one of them. The “Ebira” ethnic group is usually found mostly in Kogi State, located at the centre of the state precisely.
Ebira means ‘behaviour’. Ebira people are accommodating, peaceful, loving and hardworking.
They have this customary food called “apapa” that is mostly loved by everyone in Ebira land and it is highly celebrated by all. Apapa looks like moi-moi but the colour is different and very rich in protein than moi-moi. Also, the coat of the beans is not removed when picking.
The migration of Ebira people to the present region is mostly surmised by oral history.
However, most versions trace the migration from the Jukuns of the Kwararafa state, north of the Benue River and in present-day
Taraba State. One of the relics of their trace from Kwararafa is the Apete stool, their symbol of authority and identity as a group within the kingdom, brought along and kept in a place in Opete (deriving its name from the stool), in present-day Ajaokuta. The Apete is presently the title instrument of Ozumi of Okene.
After migration from Kwararafa, they originally settled with the Igalas and both groups lived together for about 300 years. A dispute between the two groups led to a parting of ways, and the Ebiras moved southwest of the River Niger to their ancestral home called Ebira Opete an area around Ajaokuta . Other groups later moved south to found Okengwe, Uboro and Okehi.
Historically, these Ebira communities were autonomous units without a central king or recognized royal families but were managed by leaders of lineages in a type of gerontocracy.
The Ebira came into contact with European culture during the colonial period. Similar to the Missionary activities, colonial presence in Ebiraland must have stretched from parts of the country which had earlier come under indirect rule.
Despite the regal consolidations which began in the 1880s, the first administrative encounter of the British with Ebiraland was not until 1900 – when Sir Frederick Lugard took over the government of Northern Nigeria from the Royal Niger Company and hoisted the British flag in Lokoja, the present capital of Kogi State. Prior to this time, British presence had begun to spread across the Northern borders, and had taken over the administration of key settlements along the Niger-Benue areas: Bida (in the present Niger State), Ilorin (in Kwara State), Ibi, Wase and Donga between 1884 and 1898. But the conquest tide did not stretch down into Ebira nation until 1903 after William Goldie received the authorisation of the British Privy Council for the establishment of the Royal Niger Company (RNC) in Lokoja. Many historians believe this as mere smokescreen for further occupation of sovereign Northern territories (Idu, 2004).
The major items of trade through the company were kernels, palm oil and cotton from far provinces in the North, and other agricultural products through its operational headquarters in Lokoja. The whole of Ebiraland according to Idu (2004) was later marked out as an economic annex of the RNC in 1890, and military garrisons built in surrounding municipals to forestall uprisings.
With huge military presence in Northern cities, lesser provinces like Ebiraland and other towns within the Middle Belt areas became vulnerable to British’s imperial might.
In 1890, Governor Lord Lugard, a British explorer and Colonial Administrator took over from the RNC and stationed his base in Lokoja. His style of conquest differed somewhat from his predecessors’. To conquer the land and fully have it under his rule, he admixed diplomacy with force. Upon arrival, eight of his men led by Captain Beddoes were sent to explain the terms of relationship to the Ebira nation – a proposal flatly rejected by the chiefs (Idu, 2004).
In 1902, a small military escort led by Mr. Malcom and Lt. F.F. Byng-Hall were sent to explore and subject the area under colonial rule. As it was in other regions, the people resisted until they were subdued by the superior fire-power of West African Frontier Force (WAFF) pitched amidst the locals to ‘tame’ them.
By 1904, Ebira finally agreed to co-operate with the English under Mr. Morgan who at the time was the Residential Officer of Kabba and all Ebira provinces (Idu, 2004).
The British conquest of most African territories rode on the back of evangelism.
The earliest means of contact with English in most African cities was through the missionary activities – later hijacked by the colonial powers. Natives who had embraced the new faith were promptly taught the basics of English and made local evangelists to help make proselytes of their kinsmen and equally teach them the new tongue. A similar scenario marked the arrival of English in Ebiraland at the early stage. The majority of the early school missionary centres were mostly run by teachers who were either mission clergies or attachés of the religious movements.
They preached and taught in English, both in churches and schools.
Local missionaries who came from the South also relied on English and Yoruba (being their first language) for their assignments. As fact, the first pupils of the CMS elementary school in 1918 were the Church’s Catechist and Festus Alusoka – who both were of Yoruba extraction. Though some Arabic Jihadists – who had earlier invaded from the North – settled among the natives, their linguistic influence was relatively slight.
Before the advent of Islam, Ebira people practised a form of African traditional religion with a central focus on a god called Ohomorihi , the rain-maker who lives in the sky. Rites are performed to appease the god whose attributes include punishing evildoers and rewarding good people. Other religious figures below the Ohomorihi are ori (deities) and spirits. In Ebira tradition, there is a belief in a spirit world where dead ancestors live.
CULTURAL AND SOCIAL SYSTEM OF EBIRA PEOPLE
In the early history of Ebira people, the family was headed by the father or the oldest male who acted as the provider, religious leader and the protector of the nuclear family.
Other important social systems are compounds( Ohuoje ) which are composed of related or kindred patrilineal families, Ovovu , the outer compounds and then lineages( Abara ), composed of several related compounds.
The Clan ( Iresu ) which is a community of kindred lineages in Ebiraland is led by the Otaru. Clan identities are distinguished by symbols mostly animals such as leopard, crocodile, python or buffalo. The affairs of the community were managed by a group of elder male members each representing related lineages.
The principal occupation of Ebira people is agriculture. They cultivate maize, yams, cassava and vegetables. In the nineteenth century, some communities cultivated and traded beni seeds. Ebiras are also known for their weaving and crafts.
THE WARS OF 21st CENTURY: MAJOR CAUSES
21st Century Ebira social life has seen changes over the years, though farming is still a dominant occupation, many Ebiras are influenced by Western and contemporary Nigerian culture and live in urban settlements. Behaviours such as polygamy and a close relationship with a related lineage are fading and the Attah or Ohinoyi is no longer the dominant political authority within the land.
Before now, I used to believe our major problem in Ebiraland is clan. Some folksingers and night masquerades like Late Dio Ozi Niger, Irenuohi Odenku, Sementy Ovehira, Arijenu Ihima, Adebira Eika, etc. identified both clan and political fluctuation as the major consequences of the recorded wars in Ebiraland thus setting the land underdeveloped until now it is witnessing turn of phase. That is true to some extent.
There is no more war in Ebiraland. Something dangerous affect us still. The paradigm is chronic lies.
In education, among those these lies have affected in the educational sector are Prof. Abdullahi Aliyu and Prof. Abdullahi Onimisi, all former Provosts of Federal College of Education, Okene. They were unable to complete their administration as a result of some laid up chronic lies supported by Dio Ozi Niger, in his 2002 musical collection. It was after their transfer from the College the environs saw the need of their attaining such position and the marvelous intentions of the two Professors.
Politically, where lies are predominant, it is only in Ebiraland you will hear that an Okene man is a stranger in Okehi land, a district of Ebiraland still.
Attempt contesting for any political office in the present day Ebira society. Do not bother submitting any birth certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission, my people are `perfect in this act. Your history is contained in their left hands.
21st century Ebiraland is ridden with phenomenon of violent conflict. The people took to nerve explosion and self immolation. If it is not a violent contest between political parties; it is one Ebira community versus another. At other time, it could be one masquerade group versus another or one clan against another. At a time it was Idozumi versus Idoji in Okene, at other time it was two clan groups in Adavi that engaged in war of attrition. Again in the Adavi area, it was Adavi versus Ihima and two clan groups in Ogaminana tore each other apart. Ogu and Omoye clan groups in Okene have also mauled each other to bits. The violent conflicts are often occasioned with the use of guns and other dangerous weapon, leading to razing down of magnificence building of opponents, cremation of lives and fleeing of people who also become refugees in neighbouring towns and villages. Eyire versus Ehebe and Omavi are still fresh in our minds.
Government reports concerning the cases of violence indicted politicians for fomenting violence in Ebiraland. The accused are usually left unpunished, thus, it appeared the government was interested in the conflicts. Although relative peace has been restored in Ebiraland as the 2019 recently concluded elections were peaceful. Yet the problem is far from being totally resolved. This is because people are not ready to say the truth as a result of fear of been killed.
It was observed that the control of masquerade institution by young gangs has led to its use as instrument of unleashing terror and fomenting troubles thereby forcing successive governments in both Kwara and Kogi states to enact laws banning the echane festival celebration. In fact, the threat and imposition of ban at one time or the other have not yielded positive result as the festival continued to be characterised by violence. Tenuche, (2009) notes that since 1979, none of the celebrations of the annual Ekuechi festival has been devoid of violence. Unemployment among youths and manipulation by some powerful community leaders have been attributed to youth violence under the façade of masquerade festival.
The victims of violence are mainly the women and the children; several women turned widows with added responsibilities of children upbringing in addition to industrious women having their wares destroyed when properties and markets are torched by irate youth‟s groups.
The change of value system also has its fingerprints of youth restiveness in Ebiraland.
The Ebira society was mainly agrarian. Having a large family in those days was an asset which could be employed for farm work. Hence people were encouraged to marry as many wives as possible because it was not difficult to cater for the family. Laziness and joblessness were never condoned. With modern civilization, children have to go to school.
Children no longer labour with their parents in the farm; hence, the need for marrying many wives was no longer necessary. The inability or refusal of many parents to change in line with the current value system created some social problems which include having many children beyond what one could cater for, leading to denial of education because of lack of funds to pay school fees, poverty, lack of control among others. The resultant effect is becoming unruling and rebellious to parents, alienation to express their feeling leading to antagonism and resistance, encouraging the use of drug and other stimulants to strike back at parents and society. A corollary of the above is what Ogido (2008) described as parent “eating the food they cannot swallow” that parents should have children they will be able to cater for. The implication of this is that if husband could not provide for his wife and children, abdicating his responsibilities will serve as a negative role model for the children.
Another observable phenomenon responsible for youth violence in Ebiraland is the growing discontentment amongst the youths on the activities of the elders in Ebiraland.
Their performance in public offices left much to be desired. The youth saw their failure in the inability to create enabling environment for the youth to prove their mettle. They failed to use their public offices to alleviate poverty in form of job creation and provision of social facilities. In the light of the above, the youths have determined to shift the balance of power. They insisted on fielding in their candidates to contest elections. This has led to procreation of several youth organizations that straddle civil servants, academics, market women, retired military personnel and even students (Tenuche, 2002).
Examples of these youth organizations are The People Initiative Foundation (PIF), Ebira Youth Congress (EYC), Pal Collectives (PC) to mention just a few (Audu, 2009). It is also interesting to notes that these orgaisations are conglomerate of different youth associations of Ebira descent across the country with main objectives of promoting unity, peace and development of Ebiraland. For example, the EYC is made up of 152 Ebira clubs and association across the length and breath of Nigeria (Tenuche, 2002).
It is necessary to state that the aforementioned clubs and association are also implicated in conflicts situation in Ebiraland. Once a member was attacked, the club members jointly retaliated to put their enemies at bay and equally showed the strength of their club through display of weapons. These clubs financed their activities through collection of levies and dues from their members in accordance with the charter of their clubs. These clubs compete among themselves by demonstrating the immense proportion and sophistication of their weapons at any slightest provocation. A good case in point is the organization of a beauty pageant to select the most beautiful girl in Ebiraland. This contest resulted in violent conflagration in which Ebira central market was burnt and many lives were lost all on an alledged “trespass” of another club members‟ girl friend (Audu, 2009).
CHANGING THE CHAINS
Below are some of the recommendations of moving Ebiraland to the next level;
Allowing hate speeches and incompetence, nepotism will never yield positively rather, promoting fairness, justice and peaceful coexistence among the rising population should be the watchword of all and sundry. One can, therefore, no longer fold his arms but engage some of the issues that have confronted us as an ethnic group and threatened our national identity.
There is the need for massive awareness to change the mindsets of the diasporas and those at home. I challenge our tertiary institutions to break the disconnect between them and the political institutions and industries not only to fashion out the appropriate curriculum to drive this new orientation to confront our political and economic malaise but also to lead cutting edge research in providing correct local solutions to our diverse of problems.
For Ebiraland to move forward, unity must be our watchword. Our votes in November 16th 2019 gubernatorial election should be the option for our collective progress. Let’s say no to passing of bucks and blame games. We should rather fix our ethnic group collectively by standing against non-Ebira candidate. Let’s make proper use of our votes by not wasting it. Our quest for perfect democracy should not be dependent on any cyclic cabals or leaders but on our responsibility as an active Ebira citizen. Let’s salvage ourselves and regain freedom from sections of fallacy and failed promises of the past. Yahaya Bello should be reconsidered.
Ebira culture is invaluable and priceless. It is what defines us as a nation. Without it, we lose our identity and it is important that all efforts are made to ensure that it does not erode in the face of a western invasion. This revival needs to cut across all the fabric of our social life, including our dressing, language and social interactions which have been kicked to the backseat in the name of modernisation. As part of contribution to the return of these lost values, the following suggestions are symbolically worth considering;
Parents have key roles to play. Family is the smallest cell of any society. If the family fails, the society fails. Present day reality has parents and their children competing with each other when it comes to abuse of morality. With the display of unhealthy behaviours, they lose the temerity to caution the younger generation. This needs to change as each parent’s duty is direct their children to the right path.
Young people are expected to be the promoters of culture but this generation does not seem to be interested in it. The craze to adopt foreign belief system is overwhelming and youths need to see the value of Nigeria’s culture. Conferences should be organised for them so that they can see the value in our culture. The more young people appreciate our culture, the less people have to worry about anti-social behaviours.
Also, the past is a perfect compass for the future. Recall a time when women left the doors of their stores unlocked and unmanned through the night without the fear of being robbed crossing her mind. This was the degree of trustworthiness and sincerity members of communities has with each other. If you try it today, everything in your store will disappear in a jiffy! That past can be restored if efforts are made to teach children the importance of being responsible.
Finally, but very importantly, is the need for us to embark on intercessory prayers for Ebiraland. Prayer is an essential ingredient for success. It is the motivation that is used to seek for divine gift, the spirit that is used to seek for the bounty of the Almighty, and the sword of the believer. So we must have faith in God and seek for his face so that we can break the mountains of horrors placed before us by our hands.
Every ovation no matter how loud has duration. I bring this lecture to close. Expecting your various contributions. As rightly said, if you thank a man for what he has done, he will have the power to do more. Once again, I thank you sincerely for the recognition accorded me in this presentation.
– Farouk Ozigi Onimisi
An Online Lecture Presented at Ebira Youth Congress on 22nd June, 2019