By INWALOMHE DONALD
The President of the Ijaw Youths Council ( IYC ) , Eric Omare recently said that the ownership issue of Gelegele community in Edo State, if not properly handled may lead to a serious communal crisis. It is clear that the President of Ijaw Youth Council is ignorant of the ownership of Gelegele which was established by Oba Ewuare the Great of Benin Kingdom to facilitate trade between Benin Kingdom and European nations. Let me educate Eric Omare that Gelegele is not an Ijaw community. Gelegele is a Benin community. For the fact that we have some Ijaw people, Yoruba people and other tribes in Gelegele does not make it Ijaw community. I want to educate Eric Omare on Oba Ewuare the Great and the development of Gelegele. It took various Obas in Benin Kingdom to open up the various communities in Benin river including Gelegele to the Europeans. There is no controversy and no dispute about the ownership of Gelegele. For the fact that Oba Ewuare II is calling for the development of Gelegele port since last year does not mean that there is a dispute over ownership of Gelegele.
Gelegele is an historical port of Benin Kingdom that was opened by Oba Ewuare the Great before it became a major Oil and Gas producing community in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State that hosted the philip’s oil company limited subsidiary of philip 66 of texas USA in 1963. The assets and liabilities of Philip oil company in OML 96 were divested to Dubri Oil Company in 1987. It has made Benin Kingdom and Edo state one of the oil and gas producing state in Niger Delta. THE Portuguese were the first European travelers to visit Benin through Gelegele, which they called Benin, this was during the reign of Oba Ewuare the great. The Portuguese admitted finding a highly developed kingdom with a very advanced system. This visit and subsequent interchanges led to King John II of Portugal who reigned between 1481 to 1495 exchanging correspondences with the King of Benin on a peer like basis. Between 1504 and 1550 AD, the Portuguese established diplomatic and trade relations with Oba Esigie and his kingdom of Benin
By the 16th century the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon and the king of Portugal reciprocated by sending Christian missionaries to teach the Binis the gospel.
Oba Ewuare II is pushing for the development of Gelegele port The Oba of Benin Kingdom, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, has consistently expressed the desire for a Free Export Trade Zone at Gelegele Community in Ovia North-east Local Government Area of Edo State.
Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II has done very well to woo foreign businesses to Edo State. It is an imperative that Oba Ewuare II, has focused almost as vigorously as he pursued investments most especially in Gelegele. It is disheartening therefore to know that this effort does not seem to be meeting generally accepted objectives; and the desired level and types of new foreign investments are not materialising because of some uneducated Ijaw elements in Gelegele.
The development of Gelegele as a port and industrial zone is of high priority to Oba Ewuare II, Oba of Benin and the Government and people of Edo State, as it will improve the economic competitiveness of our state. Governor Obaseki has, therefore, set up a seven-member, high powered committee headed by Engineer Gregory Ero, to establish Gelegele as a foremost economic and industrial hub in Nigeria
It was towards the tail end of Oba Ewuare’s reign that the Portuguese first made their visit to West Africa in 1472. Oba Ewuare the great died in 1473. At the actuaries on the bank of what is today known as the Bight of Benin. When the Portuguese arrived in the kingdom of Benin through Gelegele, they were stunned by what they found on the ground in terms of level of administrative sophistication, social engineering and military activities. They found a monarchy dating back many centuries, with complex structure of chiefs and palace officials presiding over a kingdom that was expanding in all directions and a highly developed kingdom with unique and very sophisticated political, artistic, linguistic, economic, cultural and military traditions in the process of territorial conquests.
The English made their first call in 1 553. This visit was a harbinger of lucrative business, for significant trade relationship soon developed between England and Benin. The British anthropology writer and curator, Henry Ling Roth, described Bini as Great Benin. Other European visitors to Benin in the 16th and 17th centuries brought back to Europe tales of the Great Benin”, a fabulous city of noble buildings and efficient administrative system.
While alleging marginalization of the Ijaws in appointments and elected positions in Edo State, the IYC said the uproar that occurred mid way into the meeting with the Acting President in Edo State was not to be handled with levity as according to him, that was a “timed bomb.”
Benin kingdom was in the throes of great conquests and had healthy, disciplined citizens; well planned and laid out streets, a palace extending over kilometers of territory and a king and his nobles, civilized to their bones. The Portuguese felt honoured to be accepted by the Bini and quickly entered into treaties of cooperation with Oba Ewuare, exchanging emissaries and trying to trade. There is a hint that they tried to preach Christianity to the monarch but were not rewarded with favourable response. It was taboo to talk about alien Gods in a civilization ruled by vibrant African Gods. It was during Oba Ewuare’s reign, however, that an Aruosa (Edo faith) delegation visited Portugal in 1472 as guests of the Portuguese faith, with mutual respect.
At a point somewhere about 60 miles from the sea coast, the Benin River (2) divides itself into two branches. In 1839, Mr. Robert Jamieson (3) of Glasgow, who had considerable trading interests in the Oil Rivers, named the northern branch of the river after himself. In April, 1840, during his exploration of the Benin River, Mr. John Beecroft named the southern branch Ethiope after the name of the 30 horse-power craft used for the voyage. It is on the left bank of the Ethiope River that Sapele is situated. Gelegele, Siluko and other Benin villages are located on the Benin River.
First contact with any European was made by Oba Ewuare the Great About 1440AD-1473AD when Ruy De Sequeira visited Benin City in 1472.The Portuguese came via the Atlantic Ocean and they finally landed in Gele Gele Sea Port in Benin Nation.The Gele Gele Sea Port was from then onward used predominantly for their legitimate trade with Benin Nation.It is also record that slaves
(illegitimate trade) were also conveyed from the region via the Gele Gele Sea Port to Europe. Factually the Portuguese and British Government used the Gele Gele Sea Port extensively for more than half a century before the 1897 infamous British punitive expedition. This historic Sea Port site is today part of Benin kingdom historical sites.
The kingdom of Benin dominated trade with Europeans on the Nigerian coast from the late 1400s to the end of the 1900s. When Portuguese traders arrived in Benin in the 1400s they brought brass bracelets, known as manillas, to exchange for pepper, ivory and slaves. The artists of Benin transformed this European brass into plaques to decorate the oba’s palace. When these plaques were first seen in Europe in the late 1890s they astounded art critics who couldn’t believe that such technically accomplished sculptures were created by African artists
There have been many great Obas of Benin. Three of them include EWUARE the GREAT about 1440 A.D who was the first Oba of Benin to come into contact with Europeans and built Gelegele port. He introduced the royal beads and scarlet cloths (ododo) and greatly encouraged Ivory and wood carving in Benin. He invented the wind instrument Eziken like the Fife and the Ema-Edo, the royal band. He introduced coral beads into Benin and since his time the Oba’s palace became the biggest repository of coral beads, ivory and bronze works. He was a renowned magician, physician, traveler and warrior reputed to have travelled over every part of Nigeria, Dahomey, Ghana, Guinea and the Congo. He also made good roads in Benin.
Centuries ago the land of Benin or Bini was called Igodomigodo other names given to the Binis were Ile Ibinu, which means the land of vexation supposedly by Oranmiyan about 1170 A.D. Edo by Oba Ewuare the great (1440-1473) and the city of blood and skull by Real Admiral Harry Rawson. Internationalization of Benin artefacts is the process through which the huge quantities of Benin art works get to the notice of the international community through Gelegele port. This famous Benin artefacts which include Woods, Brass/Bronze, Hand Craft and Ivory art works numbering tens of thousands was once unknown outside the ancient city of Benin Kingdom presently located in modern day Nigeria.
According to Brook verifiable knowledge of the civilization achievements of many African people are still scanty while major archaeological discoveries in Africa came about by accident and report of early European explorers. Gelegele port emerged at the peak of Benin arts in the 15th century with the arrival of the Portuguese Missionaries and traders. Although the Portuguese met a military and economically advanced city their arrival sparks off a process of greater political and artistic development. Benin art has been in existence since at least 500 BCE, although only made popular to Westerners after the Punitive Expenditure of 1897.
In fact, the trade with the Portuguese probably encouraged the growth of brass casting in Benin at this time and the development of Gelegele port. Although West Africans invented the smelting of copper and zinc ores and the casting of brass at least as long ago as the 10th century, they themselves did not produce enough metal to supply the casting industry of Benin city, which gave such splendour to the king’s palace. The Portuguese found a ready market for brass ingots, often made in the form of bracelets called ‘manillas’.