By Dr Samuel Okafor
I had earlier made a submission stating that the Binis were the first to be exposed to Western Education. This very position which I presented was not well received by a lot of my Yoruba brothers who have gone to great lengths to discredit this true historical fact. Some have even resorted to outright fabrication of history. They have based their own
position on sentiments which have no bearing to know historical research. I have thus decided to provide further historical evidences to further substantiate my previous position, because the very essence of historical research is not to belittle any ethnic nationality but to provide a deeper understanding of our history with a view of correcting some wrong pre-conceived notions held or being propagated by some ethnic nationalities.
In historical research, when one disagrees with another position, that person must provide an alternative and completing evidence to the contrary, and also provide references that can be crosschecked for accuracy. My Yoruba brothers have failed to provide the much required evidence. They have simply stated an alternative position without showing that indeed their position on the balance of historical evidence is the one to adopt. This, as one of my great professors, Adiele Afigbo would put it, is the lazy historical approach to historical research. I would now provide incontrovertible evidences that the Binis were the first to be exposed to Western Education.
THE BINIS WERE THE FIRST NIGERIANS EXPOSED TO WESTERN EDUCATION
I would ask that readers google the Name, Ohen Okun. Ohen Okun from historical records held in both Benin archives and in the annals of Portuguese history was the Olokun priest of the port town of Ughoton Benin. Oba Esigie the Great, who reigned from 1504 to 1549, sent the Ohen Okun to Portugal as the Ambassador of Benin to the Portuguese Court. While in Portugal, the Portuguese Affonso .D. Aveiro remained in Benin as the Portuguese envoy. Ohen Okun was treated with respect while in Portugal. He later returned to Benin and is described as the first known Diplomat of Nigeria origin to Europe.
A BINI MAN WAS THE FIRST NIGERIAN GRADUATE
Let us go further; who was the first known Nigerian graduate? As this issue has generated so much controversy, it is important that I deal with it comprehensively and provide a clear evidence to substantiate my research. Readers, again kindly google the name: Olu Atuwatse (Dom Domingo). Olu Atuwatse was the crown prince of the Bini Empire who was sent to Portugal in 1601 for advanced studies by his father, the reigning Oba. He graduated from the University of Coimbra in 1611. He is the first person to obtain a European university degree. He later married the daughter of a Portuguese noble, Dona Feirs. Their son Antonio Domingo referred to in Benin History as the Golden Skinned king, succeeded him to the throne in 1643.
Antonio Domingo, a Christian who wanted to spread Christianity throughout the Empire wrote the Pope in 1652 asking for Missionary assistance. This is the oldest letter written in Nigeria. I think this lays to rest which ethnic national produced the first educated
Nigerians. If required, I would provide other historical research to substantiate my position further. I ask my Yoruba brothers to provide the same.
OTHER EARLY NIGERIAN GREATS
In my research I stumbled on some other ethnic nationalities who can also claim to have been in the forefront of exposure to formal education. For learning knows no colour or race. One such name that struck me is Mamadi Make. Kindly google this name.
A person of Kanuri nation who was born in North Eastern Nigeria in 1721, Mamadi Make became the Valet of Prince George Christian of Sicily and chief servant of Joseph Wenzel prince of Liechteustein. An associate of Wolfegang Amadeuz Mozart and John Haydn, “Bassaseim” in Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seragio” is reputedly based on him. He joined the Vienna Masonic Lodge in 1783 and rose to be Grand master changing its practices to include scholarship.
What about Mohammad Ibu Fulani Al Kinsnawi? A fulani fron northern Nigeria and a mathematical genius who travelled to Egypt in 1732, this man would write a manuscript in Arabic procedures of constructing magic squares up to order II. Magic squares are complex mathematical algorithms. This great Fulani died in Cairo in 1741.
What about Nana Asmau, daughter of the great Usman Dan Fodio? She is the first known Nigerian poetess whose works in Arabic till date are still being studied in institutions of higher learning. “Waknar Geway” in English translation, “The Journey” was her greatest work, however, Nana Asmau is credited with over 60,000 surviving works.
These are facts.
However I would be failing in my duty as a historical researcher if I do not acknowledge the contributions of my Yoruba brothers – who though came later to the field of education – have contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria.
My research has uncovered some unhidden germs of Yoruba extraction whose contributions to education are clear. Examples include:
Professor R.A Coker: this classical pianist was born in Abeokuta and studied music at the Abeokuta Institution between 1861 – 1864 under the famous Professor Bale, prequel to studying further in London 1880. He later lectured at the Lagos Female Institution between 1881 and 1884 specializing in the pianoforte. Professor R. A Coker is regarded as the first professor of music in Nigeria.
Others include William Broghton Davis. Davis was born in Sierra Leone of Yoruba parentage. He and Africanus Horton were selected for the Army medical training qualifying from Kings College and Edinburgh in 1858 – 1859 enlisting as an assistant surgeon in 1859 listed as the first Nigerian doctors.
This very assertion is in conflict with information I earlier provided on who was the first Nigerian doctor. I had earlier stated that Sillas Dove a man of Efik extraction was the first doctor in Nigeria.
I had to conduct further research and discovered that although Sillas Dove was indeed the first Nigerian doctor, the British Colonial authorities may not have recognized his qualification because at the time educated Nigerians who had received their education in other jurisdictions outside of the then British Empire face sever discrimination and often rejection of their qualifications. These qualifications from countries like France, United States to name a few were locked down on by the colonial authorities. This does not mean that Sillas Dove a trained doctor in France was not the first doctor. Indeed the French who governed the French West Africa had a similar retaliatory policy against English trained professionals. This is evident in their dealings with indigenes of Western Cameroon after Western Cameroon formally governed as part of Nigeria came under French control.
Andrew Thomas: First Nigerian-born newspaper Editor. He edited the Lagos Times and Gold Coast Colony Advertiser. The great son of Yoruba land was the first to edit a paper that focused on Yoruba culture and tradition “Iwe Irohin Eko.”
Kitoyi Ajasa and Eric Moore: Born in 1866 and 1878 respectively. These two legal scholars attended CMS Grammar School and were called to the bar in 1893 and 1906 respectively. It is important to point out these great sons of Yoruba extraction to show that indeed the Yoruba have also been at the forefront of education in Nigerian.
Professor Wole Soyinka, first and only Nigerian to receive the Noble Prize in English Literature: This great Yoruba man of Ijebu extraction made Nigeria proud by becoming the first Nigerian to win the converted Noble Prize in literature. His extensive works on African Literature and the underlying cultural expressions used to explain away complex aspects of Yoruba culture have undoubtedly made this Nigerian an Icon. He is quoted and studied in the best institutions in the world. Please conduct research on this great Yoruba man of letters.
Professor Cyril Ayodi Onwumechile; first Nigerian professor of Astrophysics and former Vice Chancellor University of Ife: This great scientist is credited with setting up Nigerian first observatories. Born in 1932, Onwumechile scored an academic fit by becoming the youngest person ever appointed to the rank of professor of physics in the Commonwealth, becoming a professor at the age of 30. He became a professor of Physics at the University of Ibadan in 1962.
What about Professor Augustine Njoku Obi? Born in 1930 in Owerri, this great mcrobiologist from the Tuskegee Institute is credited with discovering the Cholera Vaccine which was approved by World Health Organization (WHO) as efficacious in 1971. Kindly conduct research on this great Ibo scientist whose discoveries have saved so many lives worldwide.
However I cannot close my submission without drawing attention to a living Nigerian legend. A man some refer to as modern-day Einstein living amongst us. He is the only African to be nominated three times for the Noble Prize in Physics. A man whose discovery of generalization of super conductivity called Animalus Iso super conductivity (which requires a new mathematics of the isotopic type) is studied in the best science institution around the globe. A living legend. A professor’s professor. A man best described as one of the most intelligent humans alive in the science world today. Africa’s major hope for Noble Pize in physics: Professor Alexander Animalu, a product of the famous Dennis Memorial Grammar School.
I have been waiting for a response from those Yoruba intellectuals who claim their ethnic group is the most advanced in Nigeria. These half-baked intellectuals have suddenly gone into hiding after superior arguments have been presented to them about who were the first educated Nigerians. Where are all those professors from the southwest who Femi Fani-Kayode claims are in overwhelming numbers? Where are they? When the cats are away, the mice come out to play
THE WAY FORWARD TO PROVIDE A CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR DIALOGUE AND PROGRESS
Now, let me turn my attention to how we as a country can move forward and resolve the issue of development for all without any ethnic nationality feeling cheated. We must strive to ensure that no ethnic nationality suddenly wakes up – after huge investments have been put into their section of the country by the Federal Government – to claim our collective heritage. This is the problem that we are currently confronting in Lagos where some leading Yoruba elites are now advocating a return of other nationals to their section of the country despite the huge investments made collectively by all ethnic nationalities of which the Ibo are one of the most visible. I would want to deviate a little to point out a fact I stumbled on when reading through the paper. I refer the readers to an article published in the Osun Defender titled: Nine Most Dangerous Nigerians (Dead or Alive); published on the 16th of March, 2013. (Author unnamed.) (Access via link: http://www.osundefender.org/?p=95807 )
What surprised me is that one of the names on this list was that of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Awolowo who was described by this paper as being one of the most dangerous Nigerians who after the Nigerian civil war made sure that every Ibo man got only 20 pounds no matter what he previously had in his bank account before the war. This paper went further to state that even though the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon gave instructions to Awolowo to ensure all properties belonging to Ibos were handed back to them, Awolowo first accepted it, then acted contrary to instructions and maintained his evil objective of improvising the Ibo. These are facts. Can you imagine the pain and suffering the Ibos went through to start life from scratch with only 20 pounds?
Do my Yoruba brothers now understand the fear that we Ibos have when someone like Femi Fani-Kayode tries to start a war over our collective investment, Lagos? Do my Yoruba brothers now understand why the Ibos distrust Awolowo and anybody who tries to propagate his evil policies with regards to ethnic discrimination? The Osun Defender in this issue goes further to state that shortly thereafter, Awolowo instituted the indigenization policy which saw the transfer of wealth to his people. That is what formed the basis to a large extent of the wealth Yorubas have today. It was not because the Yoruba are smarter than the Ibos or any other ethnic nationality but because they had a windfall from the misfortune of the Ibos. Can you now see the basis for Professor Achebe’s in-depth analysis in his book: “There was A Country?” Achebe is not a Yoruba hater as some Yorubas have tried to portray him but a man who spoke the truth about our country Nigeria; may his soul rest in peace. Amen.
Digression over, I will now focus on the way forward for us. There are three courses of action to be taken to ensure the protection of all citizens’ rights in areas that were under Federal control with national investments. These are to create Special-Areas following any of the following three models:
1. Following the Indian Model: –
In India there are three federally controlled regions in the country:
* New Delhi
* And Gowa
These areas are federally controlled because of the country’s history and investments and citizens are federally protected. Indeed, General Murtala Mohammed had copied this model and created in 1976, three Special-Areas in Nigeria namely:
* Port Harcourt
In everything bad something good can be found, and as difficult as it may sound, I would like to commend Femi Fani-Kayode for starting this debate. While I totally disagree with his logic I think the country must examine its underlying issues carefully. We must return to General Mohammed’s creation which was sabotaged after his death.
2. Following the South African Model:
In the alternative, the South African model should be copied where the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are based in different cities:
* Cape Town and
Cape Town is the legislative capital; Pretoria is the administrative capital and Blomfontein the Judicial capital.
3. Rotate the Capital City:
The third alternative that I now strongly recommend is to rotate the capital city between the six geopolitical zones to ensure that as has happened in Lagos one shadow Gwari does not emerge one day to say that they built Abuja. The recommendation is that each zone should serve as the capital of Nigeria for a period of 20 years.
On a lighter note, Femi Fani-Kayode, you claim I am faceless. Let me start by saying that you are again dead wrong. Facts are facts and cannot be hidden. Stop this hate and let us join hands to move the country forward.
*P.S: I will also ask readers to google the name, Edward James Roye; this man of Igbo extraction who become the first Chief Justice of Liberia from 1865 to 1868 and the first member of Liberia’s True Whig Party to become president.
Born into a prosperous American family in Newark Ohio, Roye was a descendant of the Igbo people, his father John Roye managed a ferry across the Wabash River at Terre Haute Indiana and acquired considerable land in Terre Haute as well as Vandalia in the neighboring Illinois. As a result of the family’s financial standing, Edward was able to attend Ohio University, acquiring sound legal education by 1836. Attracted by the American Colonization Society, Roye migrated to Liberia in 1846, later joining politics in Liberia and eventually rising to the position of President of Liberia. In my research, I am yet to find another person of Nigerian extraction who had acquired legal education before 1840 based on English common law.
SOURCE: “Liberia’s Past and Present Presidents” in Liberia Perspectives (Author un-named) Sourced Online: http://www.liberiapastandpresent.org/19thcColonist.htm#E.J.Roye