JUST like the nomadic cattle herders in Nigeria, the Ijaws are another itinerantÂ ethnic nationality in the over 250 ethnic groups in the country. For the Hausa/Fulani herdsmen, they are everywhere. As a youth in this country, the cattle herdsmen were very friendly people and they were good visitors to almost all communities.
They were hardly associated with armed robbery, kidnap, rape and murder as has become their pastime lately. These nefarious activities have even led to states enactingÂ anti-open grazing laws to curb the criminality that nomadic herdsmen have lately constituted themselves into.
On their own part, the Ijaws who were concentratedÂ and owned lands in the places known as Bayelsa and DeltaÂ have from ancient times been known for travelling through the coastal areas to anywhere there is river to ply their trade of selling OgogoroÂ (local gin) in parts of Rivers, Edo and Ondo states. From the sales ofÂ Ogogoro, they became settlers in these states, Edo and OndoÂ in particular.
The history of Benin is well known to all Nigerians and the world. The Benin Kingdom is respected because of the blue blood progeny of the successive Obas. The kingdom reigned from the location of the palace in modern dayÂ Benin City to Dahomey. That is why the history of Benin Kingdom is clear on the Oduduwa story. An attempt by some Yorubas to re-writeÂ history led to Oba Erediauwaâ€™s â€œI remain Sir, Your Obedient Servant,â€� a treatise he used to educate all Nigerians who were on the wrong lane of history to get their facts right.
All of these come readily to mind given thatÂ the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, recently compelled by necessity of his duties as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Security Officer of the stateÂ toÂ call on Ijaws of Edo State not to take the State Governmentâ€™s tolerance of their presence in the state for granted.
Obaseki who made the call in commemoration of the International Day for Tolerance, marked on November 16 each year, said the state governmentâ€™s commitment to a free society where people can express themselves freely, must not be taken as grounds for violating the law.
The State Government had earlierÂ described as egregiously abominable, sacrilegious and criminal, the planned coronation of one Godwin Oguyenbo as the â€œPere of Olodiama Kingdom,â€� in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State.
It was in reactionÂ to an advertisement on page 22 of the Vanguard Â of Tuesday, November 14, 2017, which carried a congratulatory message on one Godwin Oguyenbo, Alagbabenafa, Agadagba, â€œPere of Olodiama Kingdomâ€� in Edo State.
The Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion OgieÂ had in a statementÂ said: â€œThe pronouncement constitutes an unprecedented affront to the long-settled culture, traditions and norms of our people.â€�
HeÂ equally explained that â€œGovernment 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 particularly the traditional rulers and chiefs law of Edo State which said Law sets out the list of all recognised traditional rulers and chiefs in Edo State andÂ that â€œthe said Law further makes it a criminal offence for any person to recognise or purport to install any person as a traditional ruler except as provided for under the Law and in fact makes it an offence for any unqualified person to present or permit to be so addressed.â€�
The government notedÂ that â€œthis act is intended to precipitate strife and contestation leading inevitably to the breakdown of Law and Order in our dear State.â€�
Consequent upon this,Â Governor Obaseki directed law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to take all steps to immediately abort the proposed or purported coronation anywhere within Edo State on the date proposed or on any other date whatsoever.
The Governor also directed law enforcement agencies to effect the immediate arrest and prosecution of all persons involved in the said coronation either as beneficiary, participant or sponsor, to the full extent of all extant laws, as the government and people of Edo State have always projected a peaceful and welcoming disposition to all persons living within its boundaries.
One also remembers vividly in the days of Navy Captain Anthony Ibe Onyearugbulem as Military Administrator of Edo State in theÂ early â€˜90s when some Ijaws also took the laws into their hands in Ovia North East, unleashing mayhem on some Binis in Gelegele and attempting to install a â€œKingdomâ€� within a kingdom. Onyearugbulem who was not even from Edo State saw it as a clear affront on the Benin Kingdom and an attempt by some misguided Ijaws to want to take undue advantage of the benevolence of Edo people.
It wasnâ€™t much of surprise, therefore, to hear Governor Obaseki unequivocally stating that his government isÂ â€œproud of our diversity as a state and our peaceful coexistence, but will not tolerate acts of illegality by any group, who, for their selfish desires, want to rail-road the peace-loving Ijaw people of Edo State into a criminal aspiration.
He also stated that â€œwe are creating a culture that appreciates human diversity in all its colours for a robust pool of ideas that would drive socio-economic development at an unprecedented speed in Edo State.
The laws of our land is clear on traditional leadership of all communities from the beginning of the 1st century till date. For someone to planÂ to oppose what is cast in law by acts of illegality such as the purported installation of one Godwin Oguyenbo, as the â€œPere of Olodiama Kingdom,â€� an Ijaw community in Ovia North East Local Council Area of the state, isÂ not just irresponsible but a calculated attempt to fan the embers of disunity and stifle the planned development of the Gelegele sea port which the Obaseki -led APC administration has been championing since assumption of office a year ago.
The Ijaw nation in Bayelsa and DeltaÂ states should call their kinsmen resident in Edo to order to avoid unnecessary conflict that will be of no benefitÂ to the Ijaw nation. Edo people are peace-loving and hospitable people. Majority of Ijaw people in Ovia North East and South West of Edo State are equally peaceful people who have co-habited with the Edos in these areas peacefully over the years. The peace-loving Ijaws should not allow themselves to be dragged into the voyage of death being embarked upon by those behind the so-called installation of â€œPere of Olodiama Kingdomâ€�Â in Edo land.
The traditional leadership structure in Edo State is well known to all over the centuries and no insane man can come to alter the structure.
It is also important to call on all Edo people both at home and in Diaspora to rise up and stand shoulder to shoulder with government on its directive to have peace in the state.
*Mr. Dan Owegie is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Edo State.