The premier web site of Edo speaking people.
Nation of people who are mostly located in the Midwestern part of Nigeria, Western Africa.
I wish to begin by saluting the initiative of all those who had thought it
fit and proper to institute this annual lecture series in memory of the
great historian, Jacob Egharevba, a man who, by dint of hard work and
tenacity of purpose, was able to leave behind a worthy heritage in relation
to the history of Benin. The man in whose honour we are gathered here today,
was able to bring his great intellect to bear on the study of
The need for interrogating the historiography of African continent especially as it pertains to the Euro-African encounter can hardly be more compelling. Not only should the records be set straight, we need to draw the necessary lessons from what transpired in the past in order not only to obviate a repeat performance but also to enable us occupy our historical position in the scheme of things without any feeling of guilt, inadequacy or diffidence. The time is surely ripe to confront the arrogance of all those who wish to re-order our realities along their own images and interests or re-write our history with a view to covering up or suppressing their sordid past.
It should be remembered that
It is against this background that it is intended to examine the Anglo-Benin
The Euro-African Encounter in Historical Perspective
The entry of Britain into Benin in 1553 through Captain Wyndham, first to trade in pepper and soon after, slaves marked the beginning of the long British connection with what later came to be known as Nigeria.3 The concentration of the British on slaves rather than tropical produce, like the Portuguese before them helped to consolidate the transformation of Africa into “a warren for the hunting of black skins.”4 Having broken the monopoly of the Portuguese, the British wasted no time in establishing their dominance in the entire West African seaboard.
Paradoxically, it was under the guise of stamping out the unholy traffic in
human beings that the British were able to entrench their colonial hegemony
Furthermore, the British never owned land in the localities where they operated but had to lease land from the local population for the erection of their warehouses or barracoons for holding slaves prior to their trans-shipment to the New World.6 This testified to the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of the native rulers by the British at the outset of their interaction with Africa. In fact, no British vessel could enter a rover nor could any transaction commence without the offering of presents or “dashes” to the local rulers. With time, these presents matured into full-scale custom duties known variously as “shake hands”, “topping”, or “comey”, levied on every ton of cargo or slave exported.7 It is instructive that not infrequently, the local chiefs resolved commercial disputes between the British and their
suppliers as well as providing the requisite security for the various transactions, thereby enhancing a mutually beneficial rellationship.8
In sum, the transitional period before the confrontation that led to the
Treaties and the Colonial
The usual means of establishing colonial hegemony was by conquest. However,
in the case of
The controversy still rages among scholars as to why the British in
His opinion would seem to have been corroborated by that of a British writer
who observed that “Trade may have followed the flag or
vice-versa, but almost before
either of them arrived in the Englishmen’s knapsacks the law of
Others have laid the resort by the British to treaties with the local chiefs to necessity arising from their inability to effect conquest in one fell swoop and immediate establishment of full-fledged colonial rule thereafter.13 The sheer convenience of treaty-making as against military
action, in the view of Obaro Ikime, for example, explains the predilection of the British for treaties in many parts of Nigeria.14
However, it is submitted that no single explanation can be considered adequate or valid to unravel the motivation of the British for treaty-making. Although the British generally held the local potentates with whom they were negotiating in great contempt, their frenetic effort to secure the agreement of the local potentates was largely borne of expediency. They did not for a minute consider the African parties as equal partners but sought their “X” marks on the documents in a bid to secure their hold on the territories in question against any claims over the said territories by other prospective European colonial Power(s). As Elias had observed, “[The] local rulers were styled ‘kings’ before the execution of the treaties, but more often regarded or treated for all practical purposes thereafter as ‘chiefs’ only, implying that they had full sovereign powers to sign the treaties which ipso facto turned them into subordinates of the new sovereigns”.15
It is worthy of note that British penetration of the domains of the local potentates was effected through anti-slave trade treaties, commercial treaties and so-called treaties of protection, depending on the circumstance at hand. Accordingly, the anti-slave trade treaties provided the perfect framework for interference by the British in the internal affairs of the African party. It should be recalled that it was not unknown for the British Consul to meddle in local chieftaincy disputes right up to destooling unfriendly chiefs or influencing the appointment of preferred candidates!16 Under the guise of stamping out the unholy trade “at source”, the British were able to waive aside any claim to sovereignty and non-interference in their internal affairs by the local chiefs. Since the international community had acquiesced in any step taken to put an end to slave traffic, it became quite easy for the British to invoke international anti-slavery instruments in riding roughshod on the independence of the African sovereigns.
On the other hand, the commercial treaties sought to extract monopoly rights
from the hapless African chiefs and deprive them of jurisdiction in
commercial disputes involving British supercargoes and African traders which
they had been exercising hitherto.17 Not only did the treaties
envisage the establishment of consular and equity courts whose buildings
enjoyed extra-territorial status, their administration was put squarely
under the superintendence of British Consuls without exequaturs, much to the
chagrin of the local chiefs and traders. In effect, the Palmerstonian policy
of ensuring that the long arm of English law protected the Englishman
wherever he went became the precursor to full-blown colonization. Treaties
that were modeled along the lines of capitulation treaties of the
With regard to the treaties of ‘protection’ forced down the throats of the local chiefs, it needs be stated, without any fear of contradiction, that they were a mere prelude to de facto imposition of British rule over inhabitants of what later became known as Nigeria. It is worthy of not that in 1888, the Alafin of Oyo had consigned the entire Yorubaland to the “protection” of the British in exchange for an annual ‘dash’ of 20,000 bags of cowries!19 Some other rulers settled for much less, items such as handkerchiefs, padlocks as well as sergeant-major uniforms featuring frequently as consideration for subjecting themselves to British rule and dictation.20 As Umozurike had observed, it is quite intriguing that the treaties should be termed treaties of protection when the party against which protection was, in fact, needed was the colonial power seeking to imposes it in the first place!21
It would be recalled that when King Jaja of Opobo had sought clarification on the word, “protection” contained in a treaty presented for his signature, the reply of the British Consul was instructive:
“I write as you request with reference to the word ‘protection’ as used in the proposed Treaty that the Queen (of England) does not want to take your country or your markets, but at the same time is anxious that no other nation should take them; she undertakes to extend her gracious power and protection which will leave your country still under your Government; she has no wish to disturb your rule…”22
However, as Ikime has asked,
“…[H]ow could Jaja continue to rule his people as of old if, as laid down in Article V of the treaty, he was bound to act on the advice of British Consular officials in matters relating to the administration of justice, the government of the resources of the country, or in any other matter in relation to peace, order and good government and the general progress of civilization?”23
As Jaja was later to discover, much to his chagrin, the colonial
protectorate was no more than an artifice for the total take-over of the
protected state by its protector with the connivance of the international
community as prescribed under the Act of Berlin of 1885. Indeed, the
colonial protectorates envisaged under the so-called protection treaties
have been rightly described as “the outcome of a para-legal
metamorphosis…[with] no place in international law as a juridically
justifiable institution.”24 they were actually a subterfuge for
the incorporation of the respective territories into the
In view of the foregoing, it is clear that the situation existing both before and after the Berlin Congress in 1884–5 facilitated the perpetration of perhaps the greatest havoc in history by one group of people against another. After over three centuries of enslavement of the African people, the world was to witness another unprecedented travesty when an entire continent was raped and pilloried by the same set of countries that had felt no compunction in visiting misery and exploitation on our people. The odious atrocity has left an indelible imprint on the consciousness and reality of the African people so much so that hardly can any apologies or restitution suffice or atone.
The Treaty of
Pursuant to the expansionist designs of the British in the Benin area, in particular, and the Oil Rivers Protectorate, in general, it was felt that Benin should be brought speedily within the ambit of the protectorate.25 Not only did the British frown at the overlordship of the Oba of Benin in the hinterland in the Urhobo and Itsekiri areas, the sphere of influence of the Oba, especially in relation to trade and other matters was sufficiently irksome to the British that they decided that it was time for flag to follow trade. The appointment of Henry Galway as Vice-Consul for the entire area in 1891 signaled the intention of the British to plant their feet firmly on ground.
However, there was the small matter of how to disguise their intentions before the powerful Oba Ovonranmwen of Benin who generally superintended the trade in Benin and the adjoining areas in items such as palm oil, rubber, gum copal, gum Arabic, incense gums and timber, much to the annoyance of the British.26 As the British had done elsewhere, a carrot and stick approach was felt desirable in the circumstance. While they were most uncomfortable with the Oba’s predilection for what they considered fetish practices, the British decided to postpone their rendezvous with “the City of Blood”27 until much later, opting instead for negotiation with a ruler between whom there was no love lost. Accordingly, it was in this conjuncture that the 1892 Treaty was hatched. It should be pointed out immediately that the feelings of distrust and mistrust were mutual and the negotiations that led to the treaty smacked of a cat-and-mouse game.28
It is instructive that the British were determined to assuage the loss of prestige they had suffered when previous visits of emissaries were shunned by the Oba and his chiefs.29
Hence, this time around,
he would not be offering any presents unless and until a treaty had been signed, unlike previously, when presents were given on arrival, a fact which he believed had caused the failure of the mission.31 The emphasis on the offering of presents by a visitor to his host became somewhat trivialized when it was actually an African tradition merely symbolizing the bona fides of a visitor before his host rather than a bribe or “dash” which the British had transformed it into.
After another two hours of waiting, the Oba finally appeared in full
regalia, accompanied by his chiefs and courtiers to receive the British
While all this was going on, the Oba kept consulting with his chiefs, repeatedly inquiring whether Galway’s mission was for peace or war, more so as the Oni of Ife was said to have sent him a warning in 1890 that the Ifa oracle had foretold a great disaster in Benin35 while a man about to be sacrificed during the ugie-ivie ceremony in May, 1891 had also reportedly prophesied that white men would come to ‘spoil Ado.’ 36
It needs be emphasized that
the Oba’s name (‘Ovurami’ instead ‘Ovonranmwen’) was written. 38
A Critical Analysis of the Treaty
As earlier indicated, the Treaty was the standard one used in consolidating
the British stranglehold on different parts of the Oil Rivers Protectorate
which the British had proclaimed on
The opening clause of the Treaty tells an obvious lie to the effect that it was in compliance with the request of the Oba of Benin that the Queen of England intended to “extend to him, and to the territory under his authority and jurisdiction, her gracious favour and protection.” The British were impelled to so pretend in order to mask the fact that the Treaty was a colonial diktat. However, Art. 2 immediately exposes the true intent of the British to deprive the Oba of his independence at the foreign plane by stipulating that the Oba “agrees and promises to refrain from entering into any correspondence, Agreement, or Treaty with any foreign nation or power, except with the knowledge and sanction of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government,” a variant of the so-called ‘negative-sovereignty’ clause. 39
In other words, the Oba, to all intents and purposes, was to become a vassal
As I had observed elsewhere, treaties such as the one in question could not
be likened to the capitulation treaties signed with the
More poignantly, all disputes between the Oba of Benin and other Kings and Chiefs or between him and British or foreign traders or between the Oba and other neighbouring ethnic groups, which could not be settled amicably between the two parties, were to be submitted to “the British Consular or other officers appointed by Her Britannic Majesty to exercise jurisdiction in the Benin territories for arbitration and decision, or for arrangement.” 42
Art. V of the Treaty was, arguably, the most outrageous. Under it, the Oba of Benin engaged “to assist the British Consular or other officers in the execution of such duties as may be assigned to them; and, further, to act upon their advice in matters relating to the administration of justice, the development of the resources of the country, the interest of commerce, or in any other matter in relation to peace, order, and good government, and the general progress of civilization.”
Even the most liberal reading of this clause cannot disguise the complete
take-over of the sovereignty of the
As if the was not enough, the British compelled the Oba to open up his territory to trade by all foreigners, with rights to own houses and factories therein.44 Besides, no hindrances were to be placed in the way of Christian missionaries while all forms of religious worship and religious ordinances were to be exercised throughout the domain of the Oba.45 In effect, it was ‘Open Sesame’ for all alien adventurers to exploit the wealth and resources of the Benin kingdom. And, as a final seal on the unequal arrangement, the Treaty provided that in the event of any wreckage of any British vessel within his domain, the Oba was obliged to render assistance to the crew and do everything in his power to prevent plunder and deliver any salvaged goods to the rightful owners of their agents while the resident British Consular officer should exercise powers of arbitration for any claims for salvage.46
Interestingly, the Treaty merely provided that it shall come into operation “so far as may be practicable, from the date of its signature.”47 While there was no provision for implementation
Lessons for Contemporary
It should be recalled that soon after independence,
These are just some examples of
Admittedly, the international nuisance value of states depends on a number
of variables, including population, GDP, Human capital development, size of
armed forces, etc. Yet,
As far as treaty-making and treaty implementation go, there is a great need to overhaul the bureaucracy servicing the activity. Situations that led to the conclusion of the recent Green Tree Agreement, for instance, must be avoided. The procedures for treaty-making and treaty implementation should be well understood by all those involved in the exercise while input from the people by way of public hearings concerning the most important engagements should be actively encouraged.
It is self-evident that
Treaties are mere instruments for realizing foreign policy objectives.
Accordingly, the real task confronting
Perhaps the most significant lesson from the British-Benin debacle is that weakness severely incapacitates an actor in international relations. The fact that the British, within five years of entering into an engagement with the Oba decided to overrun his domain, seize him and banish him far from his domain, loot the priceless treasures of the palace, humiliate and oppress the population should be a lesson for us all today not to take anything for granted. In the dangerous and difficult world that we inhabit, it is a wise precept to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.
Today, greedy eye of numerous foreign exploiters are riveted on our raw
material. We are all living witnesses to the invasion of countries by powers
that are primarily interested in the resources of their victims. We have heard
of neutron bombs that would kill people but leave farmsteads, factories and
other structures standing for the appropriation and enjoyment of the victors the
morning after. In order not to suffer the fate of our forefathers, we must
apprehend the validity of the admonition of Vegetius:
Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum
(Whoever desires peace must prepare for war). Granted that
The 19th century was the period when we were colonized. The 20th century was the time when we managed to recover our sovereignty from forces that did not have any qualms in slicing out an entire continent like an apple-pie to be shared among themselves. The 21st century should be the era when we are able to consolidate on our nation-building efforts in order to ensure that, never again, would we be subjected to the stranglehold of foreign powers that are out to exploit and humiliate us.
1 See G-C. K. N. Onyeledo, “international Law” Among the Yoruba-Benin and the Hausa-Fulani in AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL HISTORY 156 (A. K. Mensah-Brown, ed. 1975). See also J. U. EGHAREVBA, A SHORT HISTORY OF BENIN 1 – 14 (1969).
A. B. Oyebode,
Treaty-Making and Treaty Implementation in
3 Ibid. at p. 11.
4 K. MARK, CAPITAL, Vol. 1, p. 751 (1967)
M. CROWDER, THE STORY
S. O. Biobaku, An
Historical Account of the Evolution of
Cf. Akin Oyebode,
Treaties and the Colonial
O. ADEWOYE, THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM IN
11 Ibid. at 14.
J. F. MAITLAND-JONES, POLITICS IN EX-BRITISH
13 See, e.g., J. C. ANENE, SOUTHERN NIGERIA IN TRANSITION, 1855 – 1906, at 63 (1966).
 See supra note 8, at 39.
Elias, International Relations in
16 Cf. Oyebode, supra note 9, at 21-22.
17 For more on this, see supra note 2, at pp. 21-29.
18 For an analysis of the origins and types of the capitulation treaties, see C. H. Alexandrowicz, The Afro-Asian World and the Law of Nations (Historical Aspects), 123 Hague Recueil Des Cours 150-157 (1962).
20 Cf. Oyebode, supra note 9, at 20
U. O. UMOZURIKE, INTERNATIONAL LAW
22 89 BRIT. STATE PAPERS 1089, quoted in C. H. Alexandrowicz, The Role of Treaties in the European-African Confrontation in the Nineteenth Century in AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL HISTORY, supra note 1, at 55.
23 IKIME, supra note 8, at 38 – 39.
26 Ibid. at 268.
Cf. R. H. BACON,
28 RYDER, op. cit. 268 -70.
29 Ibid. at 268.
33 Ibid. at 270.
34 Cf. RYDER, op. cit. at 270.
See J. EGHAREVB, A SHORT HISTORY OF
36 RYDER, ibid.
37 Ibid. at 271.
39 Cf. Alexandrowicz, supra note 24, at 64-65. See also id., supra note 22, at 55.
41 See Oyebode, supra note 9, at 22.
42 Art. IV
 Cf. eg., Oyebode, supra note 9, at 28-29.
44 Art VI.
46 Art. VIII.
47 Art. IX.
 Cf. RYDER, op. cit. 272.
See his THE WEST
Towards a New Policy on
See Oyebode, External Imperatives
of Democracy in
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