By bobson gbiniJe
History is witness of the times, the torch of truth,
the life of memory, the teacher of life and the messenger of antiquity
CICERO (106-43BC) De oratore.
In his magnum opus and literary tour de force entitled “ Heauton Timoroumentos” the philosopher and essayist Publius Terentius Afer said, “Humo sum ; humani nihil ame alienum puto” ( I am a man; and nothing human is foreign to me). It is this drive to ensure that nothing human is foreign to man that gave birth to History. History is an authentic chronicle and a verifiable documentation of ancient and modern events.
The matrix of history is buttressed and consolidated by inputs from oral tradition of folklores, preserved by memories and recounted to the existing generation to document for posterity. The elements of written, divinatory and numerological submissions etc also contribute as resource archives from which historians, historiographers and archaeologists can get factual information. Before the art of writing was introduced, man, from the Paleolithic through the Mesolithic to the Neolithic ages used Primitive means to document events.
Fundamental and remarkably eventful occurrences in history like the Nile Valley Civilization, the Cretan Civilization, the Sumerian Civilization, the rise of Babylon, Assyria, Chaldea, Phonecia, Persia, the Roman Empire, the early history of Greece and Christianity were documented in history. But the art of writing and documentation did not arrive in Africa until the 16th century, when European historians, from a European perspective, had already documented most of Africa’s history.
Although the king of the ancient Mali Empire, Mansa Kankan Musa (1307-1337 A.D) set up the Sankore University in Timbuktu in 1310 A.D, it was a University for the propagation of Islamic studies (Arabic education), as against what was prevalent, the Western Education and the art of writing. This exposed Africa’s early history to the whims and caprices of history dabblers, sentimentality, historical prejudices, myths, tribal jingoism, misplaced patriotism, falsehoods, judgmental fallacies, arrant controversies and apocryphal submissions, making African History and anthology of incongruities.
When our African historians came on stage, they depended largely on the historical plinth already created by European or foreign historians. Where they had to get the factual basis of the history of their own people, it was sometimes coloured by their own prejudices, fabrications and intellectual bankruptcy. African history is to some extent a splendid documentation of falsehood, laced with lies, inconsistent with reason, at variance with logic and grossly out of tune with facts.
African history records that the Ashanti people who were Akan- speaking people subject to the then Denkyra State came out of Lake Bosomtwi, a small crater lake in central Ashanti. And to further consolidate the bases of their unity, Ashanti caused a “golden stool” in which the spirit of Ashanti ancestors was supposed to be hidden to descend on the Knees of Osei Tutu the ruler of Kumasi. The assembled Ashanti rulers acclaimed Osei Tutu as their superior and invested him with powers over all the Ashanti people.
One version of Africa history records that the Yoruba’s migrated from the east in about the 10th or 11th century, that their ancestors belonged to the Quresh tribe of Mecca in Saudi Arabia and that their first father was Lamrud or Namrud who had an idol-priest called Ya-harba. The word Ya-harba is an Arabic word-meaning warrior or army general. When Islam was introduced in Mecca in the 7th century Lamrud, Ya-harba and their supporters refused to embrace Islam. The Islamic Jihadists took up arms against Lamrud and his pagan supporters. In the ensuing battle Lamrud was defeated and they fled the city, crossing the red sea to Africa. They got to Egypt in 648A.D. they moved to Tripoli, Algeria and Morocco. During this journey the idol-priest, Ya-harbar, consulted his oracle, and they were told to follow the oracle’s direction. They followed the oracle’s direction until they arrived at Ile-Ife in 900A.D.
During the journey to IIe-Ife, Lamrud and his idol-priest, Ya-harba, died on the way. It was therefore Oduduwa who led the Yoruba’s to IIe-Ife. This is why Oduduwa and not Lamrud or ya-harba is referred to today as the father of the Yorubas. Even though Ya-harba could not reach IIe-ife his people decided to immortalize his name by calling their settlement Ya-harba, which was later converted to Yoruba. One other version says the Yoruba progenitor, Oduduwa fell from heaven.
Some years ago, the Oba of Benin, Omo Noba Nedo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa launched his book entitled “I REMAIN SIR, YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT”. He opened the Pandora’s box of Yourba/Benin history, when he claimed that the Yoruba’s migrated from Benin where prince Ekaladerhan (Yoruba’s Oduduwa) escaped from execution, and that after a horrendous and marathon journey through the thick forest he arrived at IIe—Ife, where he became their king. When the Binis discovered that tradition made it obligatorily imperative for him to come back home, they requested for him. But he turned down the request and in turn sent his son Oranmiyan to commence the present dynasty in Benin.
This historical submission drew the ire of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II. He said that the Oba of Benin whose dynasty began in the last decade of the 12th century was an Ife Prince lent to the Bini people at their request after the reign of the Ogiso’s ended in Benin. The Ife monarch asserted that Oduduwa descended directly from heaven through a chain to where is today known as Ife in the company of four hundred deities. They both however agree that Oranmiyan was the son sent by Ekaladerhan (bini), Oduduwa (Yoruba) and whose son, Eweka, born of a Benin woman, became the progenitor of all Benin Obas.
It is not the concern of this writer to look at which of the submission is plausible, true or false. But to observe that there is a trend in African history, which is based on a tribal renaissance-a kind of Risorgimento that stimulates a rewriting of history. This is a prevailing situation across Nigeria and nay Africa. Why did the Oba of Benin wait for so long to rewrite a part of Benin history? Is it possible for Ekaladerhan to have trekked such a long distance to Ife by foot and through a thick forest? So nobody accompanied the Bini Ekaladerhan? And why would a man or fugitive from justice be called back to come and become a king? How is it possible for Oduduwa to have fallen from heaven?
These are glaring cases of half-truths, philistanization of history and deliberate mythologization of the origin of a people. The case of a ‘golden stool’ being invoked from heaven for the Osei Tutu of Ashanti and the Ashanti people haven come out of a lake are sheer myths, frills and thrills on the edge of perfidious manipulations. History is supposed to be a pedantic hallmark, a check valve, a vertical and horizontal integrator of a people’s life and a factual record of past events. A reliance on the facts of history enables people to understand themselves and strategize for the future. History is a barometric format and a lodestone to the future. It is the intrinsic paradigm, steer man, master, cicerone and conductor of a people’s development.
In Warri, Delta state, the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri, have been sunken in dastardly fratricidal and internecine wars over the ownership of warri. The collective troika have doctored, falsified and even created history to justify their ownership claims. The story is the same in virtually every family, tribe and community etc in Nigeria and nay Africa. This is partly so, because the economic, socio-political metamorphosis of a people entails renewed renascence where the elements of pride, power, position and growth becomes issues in the front burner of their discourse. It is so critically crucial to them that they in most cases resort to rewriting of history to enable them to be put in proper and advantageous stead in the comity of peoples, states and nations.
But a history written with such background is always fraught with bias, concooned in pyrrhonism, silhouetted in the configurations and contours of asymmetrical and nebulous mélange. They drum up myths, fictitious non- existent and never-existed dates, heroes and heroines. In the book “A Text Book of West African History (A.D 1000 to the present Day), the author Ola Abiola, not too sure of dates and scenarios wrote “several hundreds of years in the past there existed in what is today known as West Africa some flourishing kingdoms and empires, whose brand of civilization was comparable to that developed at that time in other parts of the world”. What can be more vague, inarticulate and indefinite?
Africa’s History is too laced with folklore, unverifiable dates and persons. Great historical submissions like, Old Africa re-discovered by Basil Davidson, the Dawn of Africa History by R. Oliver, A History of Islam in West Africa by J.S. Trmingham, History of the Yorubas by S.Johnson ,Africa : its people and their Cultural History by G.P. Mudock , the Lost Cities of Africa by Basil Davidson,A short History of Benin by J. Egharevba and a Brief History of the Okpe people by Prince Mebitaghan e.t.c all suffer from conflicting dates, wrong geographical setting, halftruths, mythologization and exaggerations. They are in most cases inadvertent because of insufficiency of information, where they exist they are not put in proper perspectives and used in details.
In the preface to his book entitled, “Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta “ Professor Obaro Ikime said “in the context of Nigerian History, certain names spring readily to mind-Bishops Crowther and Johnson, Kosoko, Jaja, Ovonramwen (Overami) and Nana, the subject of this study, to mention but a few. Although the names of these and other leading Nigerians of the nineteenth century are freely mentioned in history circles, it is a fact, at the time of writing that in none of them is there any detailed study. The reason usually advanced for absence of detailed studies is the lack of the kind of materials required for biographical surveys. This is largely true. But the absence of detailed studies has meant that even such materials as does exist have not been fully used in existing works”. This is an inviolable truism.
But the history of Africa in the Nineteenth and twentieth centuries carries a lot of credibility and dependability index. Because the art of writing, education, revelations from the 2nd world war gave a great impetus to nationalism, constitutional developments, religious teachings and independence, which are easily verifiable because of adequate documentation, although with miniscule bias by European and African historians and nationalists. In this historical genre we have, Pan Africanism by G. Padmore, Ghana-Road to independence by F. Bourret, Nigeria-Background to Nationalism, Politics in French speaking West Africa by R.S. Morgenthau, Others are- The Development of Modern Nigeria by O. Arikpo, Nationalism in Colonial Africa by Thomas Hodgkin, Senegal: A study in French Assimilation Policy by Micheal Crowther, A Thousand Years of West Africa History by J.J.A. Ajayi and lan Espie, Catholic Missions in Nigeria by Martins Bene and West Africa since 1800 by J.B Webster, A. Boahen and Idowu.
It is clear from details of the aforementioned historical observations that Africa’s ancient and parts of its modern history are long overdue for more detailed, factual and comprehensive research. It is also overdue for a complete demystification; demythologization and being purged of prejudicial syphilization, because a people whose past is unknown cannot channel a great course into the future. If we do a consummate job on our history we will no more be having the myth that Oduduwa came directly from heaven by means of a chain, that a ‘golden stool’ fell from heaven to consolidate the rule of the Ashanti King and that Ekaladerhan trekked through the path to Ife being a fugitive from justice e.t.c. These are all mere fabrications and myths to boost modern tribal and clannish renaissance. They must be discarded. The Bini, Yoruba, Urhobo, Ijaw, Itsekiri indeed Nigerian and nay Africa historians must go back to the drawing board.
In doing this we have to review the syllabus and course content of our history students from primary through secondary to university levels. History at all levels of study must be research –driven, we are now in an era of a great revolution in information technology, we must make all historians computer literate, so that they can source for and store correct information that will embrace their studies. A book and handout written and produced on “Nationalism in Nigeria” (1914-1960) released in 1970 is still being used in some of our universities. It is clear that historical research and more up to date records has rendered the book and handout obsolete. How then will a graduate that is handout and obsolete text book bound know the difference?
Our historians must go back to the public records office London, Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Belgium e.t.c to get documented records on our past. They must visit the National Archives Ibadan, Accra, Abidjan,Bamako,Niamey etc and they must visit Libraries all over the world and then settle down in our universities etc supported by credible oral submission and then do a more convincing history of the Bini, Yoruba, Urhobo, Ijaw, Itsekiri nay Nigeria and indeed African history. It must be noted however, that no amount of research can bring out the facts of the history of a people unless they resolve to be honest with themselves and their past. If at all nothing is done, let myths, Prejudices, Lies, arrant falsifications and prestidigitation be discarded from our history. No more Oduduwa falling from heaven, no more Ekaladerhan myth and no more ‘Golden Stool’ mystery.
Finally, the Government, at Federal, State and Local Government levels must be prevailed upon to channel their revenues to research institutions and individuals to find out, update and document the history of the people in our various communities, state and indeed Nigeria. A situation where verdicts and judgments are given in our courts based on falsified history is totally a travesty of justice. It calls too much for the discretion of the judges to deduce which history is correct and which is incorrect. It therefore follows that the greatest manipulator of history wins. Let us get serious with purging our history, for anybody, nation and a person with a history based on myths is wallowing in the crypts of lycanthropy. Our history as is presently written remains an anthology of incongruities and a demonstration of Orwellian duplicity. We call on the Ooni of Ife and the Oba of Benin to demystify their various histories and let other historians follow suit.
CHIEF BOBSON GBINIJE
MANDATE AGAINST POVERTY (MAP)