The “Agberonization” Of Young Benin Males
From Bob Izua to Osakpanmwan (aka no-more-less), most young Benin males now see “Agbero” as the best job in town and the path to wealth.
The Benins are a proud people. They are indeed a very proud people. The world history books are inundated by their rich culturally heritage and exploits in the heydays of the Benin Empire. Nigeria history (in fact Africa history) is incomplete without the great Benin Empire – the kingdom of Igodomigodo!
Olfert Dapper, a Dutch historian and writer, wrote in the 1600s (referring to Benin Kingdom): “The king's palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam, but one larger than another, resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles…”
In 1699, another European wrote that “The King of Benin can in a single day make 20,000 men ready for war, and, if need be, 180,000, and because of this he has great influence among all the surrounding peoples. . . . His authority stretches over many cities, towns and villages. There is no King thereabouts who, in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, is his equal.”
Such was the greatness of the people of Benin Kingdom (today Edo people) before the Kingdom declined after the British burnt down Benin in 1897. There are names and proverbs in Edo that still portend the greatness of the Benin kingdom. For instance, the Benins would say that the Oba (the king of Benin) owns the world (Obahiagbon), from Benin to the land of the white man!
Today, Benin City is a bustling metropolitan city experiencing population explosion as people from every part of Nigeria migrate to the city to work and do business. Unarguably, the Edo people are the most welcoming and least tribalistic people in Nigeria. In Benin, your next door neighbor (tenant or landlord) is mostly like a non-Benin speaking person.
The question now is what are the Benin people up to in their land? Every time I visit Benin City, I attempt to engage the locals to feel their vibes and hear their stories. For one month (December 2013 to January 2014), I went out on the street of Benin to see how the locals live and also engage them in conversation.
Before I proceed, let me state that the opinions I will express here are purely based on my personal observations and the discussions I had with several people over a one month period in Benin City. The opinions are not to be viewed with tribal prism but with concern for the future of Benin people, especially young Benin males.
My first observation was that any bank I entered in Benin, I heard more of other languages spoken than Edo language. To know if my observation was right, I decided to ask questions. Several bankers told me that the reason for that is because most of the banks post their senior management from Lagos. As a result, the senior managers tend to bring along their “own people” to fill the different positions within the bank. Ok now, that explains why there are few Benins running the banks in every nook and cranny of the city!
At First Bank, one of the Benin staff told me “otemwen it is all over, even UNIBEN (University of Benin), you hardly see Benin people in key positions there”. To confirm that statement, I asked locals around on the street. They confirmed that if not for the new VC (one Professor Oshodi), who happens to be the first Benin man to hold that position, the Benins were nowhere to be found!
The bank observation sparked my curiosity. I decided to research if the Benins were running the “big businesses” in the city. From my “informal and unscientific” research, I found out that non-indigenes are running the large capital intensive businesses. A Benin person angrily told me that “Benin boys are busy with Cultism and Agberos and the women are satisfied with selling kola nut/Bulle/bread rather than thinking of running big business”.
Shaking his head rather sympathetically, “bros, more than 20 boys fall (meaning died) this December period alone for this Benin oo because of cult matter. Because of fear, most boys run commot for area na. You no see as the Christmas dey boring?” he lamented.
I wanted to know if the “Agbero” comment was true. Viola!! All the public transportation parks and stops I visited, almost everyone wearing “EDWS”, “RTEAN”and other “Agbero” uniforms (as some described it) were young Benin males. Unlike in the banks and key business centers, EDWS personnel I greeted in Benin language around the parks/bus stops, responded in pristine Edo language. Looking like mercenaries, they walked around these public transport parks and stops with sticks and “koboko” collecting so-called “revenues” from the helpless intimidated cab drivers.
What could have driven so many young Benin males to become “Agbero”, I imagined. Again, I took the question to the street. I was told that the young men, especially in the area called “Ogbe” in Benin City, saw the rise to fame and wealth of one “Bob Izua”, who many considered to be Agbero. Also recently, I learned that one “Osakpamwan” (aka no-more-less), also described as an “Agbero” became outrageously wealthy over night because he was contracted by the Edo State Government to run the public transportation park services.
“So it is a legitimate service then since it was constituted and signed by the governor”, I asked a local. Looking at me quizzically, he said, “my brother, Oshiomhole has no one respect for Benin boys ooo. It is only Agbero jobs he dey give them so he can have peace in the city. If you be graduate or learned person for this town, you will not get a job. But once you become Agbero and start maiming and killing people, they will make you a millionaire over night. Na the society wey we dey be that my brother.”
It is shameful and sad that we have produced a generation of young people who feel that without violence, machete and guns their voice will not be heard and they cannot make a living.
It is high time Edo State Government and Local Government leaders, Benin traditional leaders, parents and all concerned Benin people home and abroad started to address these matters. If not, I fear for the future of Benin people!
God bless Edo State and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.