This JAMES IBECHI-authored article best regarded as the biggest report ever in the media about the Igede speaking people of Nigeria was first published in November 2008 by The Congress magazine. Due to popular demand, it has been mildly rejigged, reviewed and republished to suit the New Media. The aim still remains to bring the plight of the marginalized Igede people to national or global consciousness, for desired turnaround of the Igedenation. It is not a polemic against any leaders; neither is it against the people as some are wont to criticize its headline. Visit www.jamesibechi.com to read the full article, drop your comment here or go to james ibechi facebook page and do so. If you wish to support the production of more of such reports in Benue or Nigeria, you can email email@example.com or call 08076896824.
Writing about Igede land is also writing about its people. People make up the land. Land without people is fallow and wasted even if it is fertile. It is God’s ordinance that man (people) should inhabit the land, till and replenish it. Any land inhabited by the people and is not developed or replenished calls for question the nature of the people that inhabit it. So, who are the Igede? What is their land? Is Igede land a developed land? If yes, good. But if no, why is it not?
In a paper he presented at a forum in Makurdi, organised by Igede National Youth Forum in 2003, titled ‘Igede: A Quest for Political Leadership,’ Prof. Silas Okita defined Igede “as ethnic group bound together by a common history and culture, including religion and language, with territorial boundary and integrity, and having a desire and wish for identity, and ensuring its survival.”
According to him, Igede had been used in the past to refer to the land. The people who occupy it and the language they speak, and that today “it is fashionable to define Igede only in terms of the language and the people who speak it. This implies the Igede both at home and in the Diaspora. It is generally believed that a number of Igede people are settled in other parts of Nigeria who have been assimilated by the cultures that host them.
Igede, within the context of this report is restricted to the boundary enclaves of Benue state, Nigeria.
Indeed, Igede are people who speak Igede language, one of the several thousands of languages in the world delivered to them after the collapse of the Tower of Babel in biblical history.
In other words Igede is a language of God not lesser in importance to Him than the English, French, German, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Tiv, Idoma, etc. The language of a people can only be valued by those to who it belongs. It is, therefore, not strange if an English man, Igbo, Hausa, Tiv or Idoma does not value or respect it because it is not their language.
So, Igede land is inhabited by Igede people. In their present geo-political state, the land cuts across Oju and Obi Local Government Areas of Benue State. The land is very fertile. The land has boundaries with Ebonyi and Cross River states to the South and four local government areas of Benue States including Ado, Otukpo, Gwer and Konshisha all at the northern axis.
Igede people are generally versatile, intelligent and honest. In physique, they are of average sizes compared to the Tiv and Idoma, in Benue state. Their lack of big sizes is linked with the type of food they eat. They are believed not to be disposed to eating very nutritious foods. Except in the recent years an average Igede family does not add fish or meat’ to his daily menu. Even now majority of Igede families eat meat only on festival periods.
They rely mostly on starchy foods such as garri, akpu, black fufu or yams.
The energy derived from these foods is dissipated daily in the farms. It is ironic that common foods like green beans, potatoes, vegetables, onions, carrots, garden eggs, etc, are rare on the meal tables of many families in the land. You have to weep for them because poverty and ignorance are their bane.
However, when it comes to education, Igede are highly respected. In Igede land it is difficult to find a family of ten without five HND or University degree holders. Already, they have produced over 50 professors with many more waiting to be so crowed.
If it is accepted that knowledge is power, if it is true that knowledge rules the world, it means for Igede massive development and improvement of life of majority of the people. But is this the situation? Why are the professors anonymous in the state and national economic and political discourse? Why is it that with high number of educated elite the land cannot be transformed?
What are the development indices in Igede land compared with the Tiv and Idoma speaking areas of the state? It can statistically be proved that Igede have the highest labour migration in Benue state. More than half of Igede youths are outside Igede land for one form of menial and odd job or the other. A visit to any family in Igede will reveal a sorry state of affairs as only old men and women including parents are available. Most of the youths have migrated to towns in search of jobs which are non-existent in their land. Over 500,000 Igede people are believed to be settled in Western Yoruba States with no hope of returning to their land. Some are said to have raised children, married them to Yoruba and are not interested in coming back again. Cocoa farming and hired labour are their succor.
The facts of Igede underdevelopment are segmented to prove that there is more to cry for the land than most people realize.
In the Daily Champion of Tuesday, August 26, 2005, a bit of the social-cultural problems facing Igede people was brought to national limelight. In a features article captioned “Sex Trafficking: Virgins for Sale in Lagos,” pictures of three young girls between the ages of 14 and 15 were shown.
According to the paper, the three young girls were victims of sex trafficking who were brought from Oju and Obi LGA of Benue State. Their stories painted the poverty situation in the land.
The three girls were driven by despicable poverty to agree to be “conscripted” to Lagos where they were promised juicy jobs. But they ended up in the hand s of sex traffickers.
One of the victims, Miss Priscilla Idah, 14, told Daily Champion: “My brother’s friend came and told me that he wanted to take me to Lagos to do some good job so as to help my parents. He told my father and gave me some money to buy cloths.
“When we arrived I was taken to Olugade Street, Mende, Maryland and handed over to one man called Dr. Kay. In the night he gave me concoction to drink. Every night he will warn us that if we did not follow his friend he will use native power to turn us to snake.
“I was afraid, so every night men will drive to the place at Maryland and carry us to their own houses. If I refuse the man will beat me and say he has settled our master.”
This is a tip of the iceberg on the atrocities committed against Igede youths and children by those who capitalized on the poverty level of their land to woo them into prostitution and other odd jobs in the western States of Nigeria.
Information made available to jamesibechi.com shows that the perpetrators of this illicit business are sons and daughters of Igede origin who have sojourned in the Western states – Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Lagos.
Most of their victims are children between the ages of nine and fifteen whose parents are unable to pay their school fees at home. In most cases, these children end up missing their schools either because they are unable to raise their sufficient money to return back to school or they are out-rightly denied money by their task masters. The cases of young Igede boys and girls who escape from their torturers in Lagos and elsewhere are too numerous to mention but are almost on a weekly or monthly basis.
It should be noted that the office of the Ad’ Igede of Lagos had on several occasions made frantic and passionate appeal to the political authorities in Oju and Obi on the need to halt the business of child trafficking in Igede land.
But deaf ears have been paid to it. On September 6, 2005 the Ad’s Igede’s office in Lagos, wrote a letter to the wife of a former deputy governor of Benue State Mrs. Comfort Ajene, intimating her of the large scale illicit business of trafficking of young boys and girls for prostitution and child labour.
“Under-aged boys and girls are being brought to Lagos and South Western states and even across the borders to our neighboring African states for prostitution and child labour against their will,” the letter read.
According to Ad’ Igede I, Lagos, Chief I.A. Ikpeh (JP) and five other members of Council of Chiefs, the Igede Council of Chiefs, Lagos chapter had tried within their limited resources to put a stop to the illicit business and had returned a great number of boys and girls home, and that the deputy governor’s wife should assist them in arresting the situation.
This medium gathered that the anti-social behavior in Igede land by youths has reached an alarming rate. It has been reported that security of lives and property in Igede is no longer guaranteed. House breaking and theft as well as armed robbery cases have become rampant, especially in Oju local government area. There have been invasions of ritual killers in the area. The invaders were believed to have been brought by Igede indigenes.
It is true that Igede people abhor theft, prostitution and smoking. In the years past, it was a rare occurrence to see young boys smoke in Igede. The scenario is different today. At Ihiejwo (Onyike) and Ihiokwu major markets in Oju and Obi Local government areas respectively, young boys have openly engaged in smoking and excessive alcoholism with no parents to caution them.
There have been records of hundreds of secondary school dropouts. The manifestation of these socio-cultural problems are the incidents of organized stealing and armed robbery in the land. Who will help address these problems?
It is generally acknowledged that Igede people are a highly educated group in Benue state. We had earlier stated that it is very rare to have a family in Igede without a degree or an HND holder. As Prof. Ode Ojowu, former Chief Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo would put it,
“Education is the only weapon a minority like Igede people have. Our children should go to school but try to learn and excel. When it comes to educational merit, it has no cultural or tribal barriers,” he said.
Prof. Ojowu was a living proof of the value of educational merit when he was appointed as Chief Economic Adviser by President Obasanjo in 2004 despite the facts that he comes from Igede minority group in Nigeria. Indeed his appointment by passed the PDP state government of Benue State then.
But the tragedy still looms large in Oju and Obi on the appalling number of secondary school dropouts.
Poverty has reduced the rate of education among Igede youths. Yet you cannot doubt the sincerity and zeal for learning amongst them. A thorough research will show that more than 40 per cent of students who go to secondary schools in Igede are unable to register for WAEC and NECO in their final year. 50 per cent of those who are able to register have no parents or guardians to do so for them, but out of their personal efforts. About 10 per cent are privileged to have guardians or parents who are well-to-do.
A large population of Igede youths is in western cocoa farms and other who had failed to continue their education due to poverty. Some of them involve in odd jobs like prostitution and 419 thereby denigrating the image of Igede people outside.
This category of boys and girls is prone to be victims of sex traffickers and child labour and enslavement by their masters.
The quality of education in Igede is another story. In the entire Igede land there is no secondary school with boarding facilities. There is no special science or technical school, the only state tertiary institution in Oju otherwise called College of Education is described as a glorified secondary school. The college has no hostels, good library and lecture halls.
It is evident on the ground that the Benue state government that owns the college has not put up a single structure in the last nine years. All the buildings that have been put up were done through the LIT intervention fund.
Yet the school is populated with over eight thousand students who daily struggle for water, toiletries and accommodation.
Who is to rescue education and knowledge in Igede? Who will provide the necessary scholarship to the student held back by poverty? Who will bail out Secondary students who fail to register for SSCE and NECO? These are questions, individuals, political leaders, Oju and Obi council authorities should ponder on.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INFASTRUCTURE
Many politicians of non-Igede origin have spoken glowingly about the beauty of Igede land-the greenery, the plains and the undulating hills that cut across the land. Speaking about the beauty of Igede land, a PDP chieftain from Ado LGA of Benue state, Chief David Attah said “you can liken the beautiful scenery of Igede to that of South Africa.
Bongos Ikwe, the famous musician also fell in love with the beauty of Igede: said he: “I visited Igede during my primary school. I have always watched the hills in Oju from Otukpo. And if you start any tourism resort there the whole world come,” he once told a group of Igede that visited him at his Double K Resort, Otukpo.
There is no supermarket or pharmacy store in any part of Igede. There is no cottage industry in the area. There is only one glorified General Hospital but with no adequate medical personnel to man it. The people practise native medicine more than western Orthodox Medicine. Death due to HIV/AIDS is alarming. But these are not reported because Benue media stations do not cover Igede area.
It is very difficult to separate politics from development. Politics is all about development.
Except under the military regimes, there is no civil administration in Benue that Igede people are not represented. But that does not translate into development for Igedeland? A critical look at the material and lifestyle of political representatives from Igede in the last ten years, create an impression that their land is flowing with milk and honey.
The material acquisition of political representatives from Igede in the last nine years are more than the ones provided for the people.
For instance, in the last twenty years, no LG chairman has constructed a building in Oju LG. No public transport system has been set up in Igede like in other areas of the country. But political representatives have acquired a lot of houses, cars and lands. Some have used local government funds to build petrol stations, set up business empires abroad for themselves.
According to Prof. Ojowu, a major political setback for the Igede is her present extra-ordinary weak political leadership and that “in Igede’s development chain, the political link is the weakest. And any chain is as strong as its weakest link.”
Compared with their minority status, the Igede have produced a fair share of political positions in the state. They were always represented at constitutional conferences in Abuja. They have produce the position of the deputy speaker (twice), secretary to the state Governor and Deputy Governor, as well as state commissioners and President Secretaries, let alone elected State House of Assembly and House of Representatives members.
It appears Igede politicians and political representatives have become anonymous in the politics of Benue and Nigeria in general. Why are our politicians silent on the marginalization of Igede by dominant Tiv and Idoma? Why are they silent on the poor quality of work and the slow pace of the construction of federal and state roads being executed by the Tilley Gyado construction company (Oju/Awajir Road)?
Why are they silent on the federal government need to take over the College of Education Oju? Why are they silent on the action of the Benue state Government in developing townships in Kastina-Ala, Gboko, Makurdi and Otukpo with no mention of any Igede town? Why is Oyongo Waterworks not working? All these call for weeping for the people.
Prof. Okita, in his essay pointed out that “the surest way for minorities in Nigeria, or elsewhere for that matter, to eliminate themselves is for them to commit suicide of near-complete dependence on the major groups or the mainstream political structure, who are too busy fighting about domination and hegemony among themselves to really bother or care about minority groups such as Igede.
“The minorities, wherever they are, have to be more creative and more imaginative, as they need more resources of the mind, since they lack those of numbers which politics requires and demands.”
Prof. Okita was not done. He went further to criticize selfishness in the political behavior of Igede people as against the general development of the land.
“A few opportunists who constitute themselves as the political class or self-appointed kingmakers without seeking the mandate of those they profess to lead must learn to broaden the base of political participation.”
According to him, they should discourage the emergence of political or ruling dynasties in Igede society adding that the choice of a representative should be based on personal qualities accepted and respected by the people themselves within and not an imposition from outside, or by some political elites.
The general belief among the majority of elite in Igede is that the quality of representation at the political front should be upgraded to achieve desirable development for the people. A situation where political representatives are not accountable or not being held countable to the people will always aggravate the neglect and poverty level of Igede people. This has been the scenario in recent years. Igede should know the destination they want to reach and strive to reach there. They need federal and State Government presence in form of institutional development such as schools, good roads and water, health institutions, industries as well as security and employment.