By Inaju U. Inaju
It does not matter how you look at it, the Ibaji that our great and noble ancestors bequeathed to us, is dead and buried. The Ibaji that we have today is one that is driven by greed, avarice, myopic, selfish and ignoble leadership at all levels.
Our forebears bequeathed a beautiful land of peace, harmony, culturally balanced society where people worked hard and played hard without fear of assassination. Our ancestors took pride in honesty and shunned lies of any sort, our ancestors flourished and frolicked in the joy of what they produced from the land and they managed the community and inter personal relationships so well that it was hard to know who is your brother, mother, father or sister because everyone looked out for everyone’s interest.
The Ibaji I know as a child was a land of live and let us live. At the time, we had Christianity of a different brand, and our cultural heritage and ways of life were loved and appreciated, even respected. We celebrated our festivals and everyone, no matter where they came from, can partake without fear for their lives.
Today, we all pretend to be adherents of religions that we do not understand and call ourselves believers, indeed, we are believers in evil and our morbid and unquenchable desire to self-destruct in such abysmal ways leaves one wondering what happened to us as a people. Despite our newfound holier than thou religiosity, we now indulge in useless fetish and charms that egg us into such criminality that portrays our actions as something organized and controlled by the prince of hell, by Demons of the worst kind.
Today we are killers of our brothers and sisters, all we do is tell lies and run each other down. The rich no longer look out for the poor and needy. We show off our wealth by oppressing the poor and we display our political strength by subduing our brothers and sisters. Ibaji and by extension, Igala land, is crying out for leadership with vision. Purposeful leadership that is people centered. Ibaji-land, nee, Igala land, cry out for new type of leadership where our children and women can feel safe. Are we going to find such people among this generation of weed smoking, ogogoro drinking and gun-trotting youth who enjoy snuffing life out each other at the drop of a hat?
Oh, Ibaji/Igala Kingdom, the land of honest people, great farmers, hunters and fishermen and women. The land that produced Mr. James Omachona of GSS Onyedega fame. The land that produced such great teachers like Mr. Udalor, to name but a few, what happened to us?
Ibaji was a place where people wake up in the morning, go to farm, worked from sunrise to sunset. Plant their yams, rice, cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, water-yam and the list go on. They come back from farm and the women cook dinner and families eat their food in peace. While eating, any passerby who is hungry could join in the dinner. Ibaji was among the community that made Benue state the food basket of Nigeria!
After dinner, mothers tell their children stories and sometimes fathers do the same. The youth who does not want to listen to stories visit each other or meet at the village Square under the moonlight and play harmless pranks or sing and dance gaily. It was so much joy and fun to be an Ibaji child.
Ibaji farmers waited patiently for the harvest season as their crops grow in the belly of the earth. Once the crops are ready, they are harvested and stored in barns and the people come together and give thanks to their God through festivals and spiritual cleansing ceremonies.
I remember Eka/Equenyi, Era, Ane and other festivals. I remember the powerful Abule masquerade as it sets out early morning to right all the wrongs perpetuated by evil men and women all year round. It was a cleansing ritual that only the guilty were afraid of. Can anyone remind me of when and how we lost all these wonderful traditional practices that were the cradle of Ibaji civilization? How did we end up with lazy visionless youths that find pleasure in arson, murder and unconscionable barbarity that has made us the laughingstock of Igala kingdom?
Yes, we still go to farm, but the rise of barbaric culture and the belief in a god that take forever to strike and met out punitive measures to marauding criminals meant that the strong can now play god and enjoy the pains of the weak. Our farms have become a dangerous place to go alone as people are now killed on their farms for land and political reasons.
Illiterate and misguided politicians with jaundiced politically naive ideology see Ibaji as their farm and they take pleasure in seeing the people go at each other as they water their political farms with the blood of the people.
Iyano ward was one of the fastest developing wards in Ibaji in the recent past. Iyano village had a good primary school, a very good secondary school and a market that people came from far and wide to school and trade in. Today, not only does Iyano not have any of the mentioned facilities anymore, Iyano village has become a byword for unmitigated landgrabbers and unnecessary killers whose only agenda is to steal, kill and destroy. Their mantra is “if I cannot have it then we must burn it!”
The recent fight between Iru of Iyano and some settlement near Unale bellies the foregoing assertion. Iru youth from Iyano, allegedly, are now owners of Ak47! Reliable sources confirm to me that AK47 was used in this week’s fight between Iru and Unale/Ojuba and the level of cruelty displayed, I gathered, is worse than anything Ibaji has seen in the past. The Ibaji that we inherited was not one where anyone or group of people will kill someone, cut off his head and bury the corpse in a shallow grave, but that was exactly what Iru youth were alleged to have done to one Pastor Austin Egwaba this week! A man, I was told, had no dog in the fight that took his life!
Something untoward is taking roots in Ibaji, especially in Iyano, and the sooner something drastic is done to curb it the better for all Ibaji people. While the root of the carnage may or may not be unconnected to population explosion, poverty or some evil and misguided politicians trying to create unnecessary crisis for political gain or just pure greed for land, it is important for Ibaji elites, especially the traditional rulers, the Local Government administrator, the Kogi State Government and such bodies like IUF, IDA etc., to approach this perennial conflict from the perspective of land use regulation. If we fail to put laws in place that will regulate land ownership and use in the 21st century, our children may end up destroying each other out of ignorance. There is an ongoing evolution and devolution of power in Ibaji and some nouvaeu rich politicians are now rewriting history to favor them and their people and this has led to perennial fight for land and throne.
As a young man growing up in Iyano, I remember I used to walk from Iyano to Inemeh, a village of about 5km or more from Iyano, as late as 1:00am to attend parties. We took the same walk to Ikaka, Akwuro and so on. Now it has become scary to walk through the same footpaths to neighboring villages even in broad daylight. Our young people have tested the barbaric act of killing and they are no longer scared of taking life. Such a shame.
For an Ibaji man, not only to kill a fellow Ibaji man, but have the heartlessness to cut off the person’s head and bury them in a shallow grave in a cold-blooded manner should get all Ibaji people concerned. I am alarmed.
We must all come together to smoke out the people behind this dastard act. For starters, the community leaders of the marauding community should be invited by the Onu Ibaji and his Council of Traditional Leaders and the police must be empowered to hold such community leaders accountable until the produce the young men behind the cold blooded murder or Pastor Austine Egwaba.
I have said it somewhere else, when Iru/Abujaga and Aluaja went after each other using guns, that if we do not arrest the act of gun running among young people in communal feud, it will become the new normal and we will all suffer for it. No one took me seriously. Well, here we are, while I hate to thump my chest and say I told you so, It can only get worse if nothing is done to ensure that the police arrest the people behind this inhuman act, investigate the source of the guns and bring perpetrators to justice.