It was E.H. Carr who gave a classic definition of History as ‘an unending dialogue between the present and the past’; he would proceed to add that ‘the chief function of (the) historian is to master and understand the past as a key to the understanding of present’. My take here is that history attempts to show the inherent relationship between the present and the past.
In this piece, I will assume the seat of a historian, despite the obvious difficulty, especially within the context of the definition advanced by Carr. That is, I will attempt to demonstrate the unique relationship between the Efik and the Binis in events that had already taken place and is currently taking place.
Between Friday 10th January and Monday 13th January 2020 His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V Treaty King, Natural Ruler, Defender of the Faith and Grand Patriarch of the Efik Eburutu Kingdom Saturday welcomed His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, Oba of Benin to Calabar, Cross River capital port city. The Oba of Benin according to news reports was embarking on a ‘Thank You Tour’.
The fundamental import of this visit is that there is a relationship between the two Kingdoms —Efik and Bini. This assertion is supported by history: in 1897, the British exiled a prominent Bini royalty Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar for basically exploitative economic reasons. According to Eyo O. Ekpo a prominent Efik son, the exile was for ‘no reason other than that they wanted access to the markets that he and his people controlled. Just as they did to King Jaja of Opobo barely 20 years earlier. British colonial rule in Nigeria was simply about markets and monopolies…’ For a brief period Oba Ovonramwen was held in a little basement cell under the Old Residency building in Calabar the state capital. He would later live in Essien Town in the northern part of Calabar where I understand that the Oba took an Efik lady to be his wife.
Again, at exactly 7:53PM on Friday Oba Ewuare II touched Calabar soil. While on Saturday 11th January he met with counterpart Obong Abasi-Otu V. This auspicious meeting was about Bini royalty meeting Efik royalty. What’s really keen about the royalty of the Bini and Efik? They are Natural Rulers whom the British colonialists met, they’re not created before then, and as such they are costodians of our highly valued heritage. Also, it is with them that Britain signed a Treaty that formalised the bilateral relationship between Britain and the sovereign state that would be Nigeria. In other words, they are Treaty Kings. By extension, they are first class kings in Nigeria. We have a handful of such first class royalties in Nigeria which include but is not limited to:
- Obong of Calabar
- Ooni of Ile-Ife
- Oba of Benin
- Sultan of Sokoto
- Obi of Onitsha
- Emir of Kano.
This revelation should bring to rest the unnecessary contention between natural rulers over kingdoms which existed hundreds of years ago and modern day or political creations. While all of these are traditional rulers in their own rights, the status of the Obong of Calabar appreciated against that of the others obviously because of the advantage of the river which allowed for the White colonialists to establish contact with the Efik first and thereby did trade with them.
So, the rare visit of the Oba Ewuare II to Obong Abasi-Otu V highlights the cordiality between the ancient ethnicities and kingdoms. As at today, there are indigenes of Benin resident in Calabar living peaceably and going about their legitimate businesses. For instance, on Saturday, before the two natural rulers, they requested for land from the Obong of Calabar to erect a secretariat for themselves.
Plans are on the way establish a multi million Naira memorial research centre in Calabar, Cross River State. The memorial centre when established aims at highlighting the impact and significance colonial authority had on indigenous cultures and traditions and become a guide and educational resource for Nigerians as well as all people of the world.