As in most of Africa,the early colonial period in Nigeria was characterized by intermittent rebellions,revolts,and uprising against the newly established colonial state. These upheavals were mostly the reaction to colonial oppression: the imposition on the people of strange policies and exacting demands like taxation. There were however areas that they spared of such upheavals.Such was the area of the former Benin Kingdom.on the surface it might seem thay they acquiesced in their own oppression and exploitation.This chapter examines a case study that proves that such areas did not acquiesce,but rather engaged in resistance in some other ways that were not obvious and have therefore been mostly inadequately documented.Some of these forms of resistance hvae been variously described as passive resistance. and more recently as every day forms of peasant resistance.According to J.C.Scott the occurrence and tenacity of the latter,in dominated societies,is influenced by existing forms of labour control,severity of retaliation/punishment from the rulling power and what safety valves exist for the oppressed groups.The peasant subjects in many communities under the powerful Benin Kingdom entered colonialism with a long long tradition of resistance to several hundred years of domination by a tribute exacting ruling aristocracy.As a result,exit strategy or migration out of the reach of the oppressing power had become the norm in resistance activities among the peasants of the Benin area.
The violence and brutality that characterized the conquest and establishment of colonial rule over Benin Kingdom showed to the colonized populace the extreme lengths to which the colonizing power would go to enforce it’s dictate and punish infringements by those opposed to it.Consequently,from the time of conquest and into the earlier years of colonial rule many chose to flee or emigrate. Since these emigrations were very disruptive of effective administration,labour mobilization,and tax collection,it is not surprising that the administration not only frowned at it,but also responed with violence in an attempt to check it.This chapter examines the interface of colonial violence,together with process used to establish colonial administrative apartus on the one hand,and the use of migration as a resistance strategy on the other.It shows how Beni peasants outsmarted the administration for a long period during colonial rule and how fugitive communities produced by these migrations managed to escape the reach of the colonial administration and survived for almost four decades until 1935/6 in the Benin rainforest.
The 1897 ambush and killing of a British Consular party by Benin Chiefs provided the much needed pretext for the long planned invasion of Benin though it was termed a “punitive” expedition.The fierce Benin resistance and the extreme violence of the conquest set the tone for the subsequent violence that was to characterize the establishment of British colonial rule.With the capture of the city on 17th February 1897 after five days of fighting,the conquering army went about destroying various quarters of the city suspected to belong to Chiefs believed to have participated in the ambush and/or involved in “fetish” practices.In the process,a supposedly “accidental”fire burnt the palace and adjoining quarters.The pursuit of Oba Ovonramwen and Chiefs who left the city before it’s fall provided another opportunity for violence against the people.A report fo 18th March,1897,confirmed the killing of the headman of Orio for attempting to escape,while been forced to guide officials to the king’s hideout.In the same report,a new town to which the king was said to have recently escaped from and the town of Amofia were destroyed.In another report,Ebeikhinmwin,one of the hereos of Benin resistance to invasion was summarily executed after he was betrayed by another chief.Captain Roupell reported burning down two vilages and collectin their livestock during his pursuit of a chief on 23 April 1897..Such wholesale violence terrorized the people and made their situation and admitted with some regret that the chiefs were “afraid of the whiteman…..It was a pity to have burnt their houses”. As a result,he resorted to cajolery and blacmail that succeded in making many chiefs and,later on,the Oba the submit tothe colonial officials.The Oba and some of the chiefs were tried,the Oba later deported to Calabar,while some of the chiefs were excuted in September 1897.
The continued resistance of Chiefs Ologbosere,Ebohon and Oviawe ensured the continuation of this orgy of viloence against communities in areas where they are based.According to Robert Home, “The Benin territories expedition….was one of the hardest bush campaigns ever fought in British west Africa.The resistance took the form of subversive activities against the new government in Benin.The Chiefs continued to govern their areas of Jurisdiction in defiance of the colonial power.Ologbosere in charge of Ehor,Ebohon in charge of Okemue and Oviawe in charge of Igieduma and Uhi.The stopped people in these communties from going to Benin to pledge allegiance to the new government.British symbols of authority like flags,outpost and rest houses were destroyed.Furthermore,spies were used to keep track of what the new government was up to.Despite early effort of the British officials in Benin to reconcile them to the new government,these chiefs adamantly maintained their non-cooperative attitude.the result was a reconnaisance in the territories of Ologbose and Abohun of May 1898 and “Benin Territories Expedition of 20th April to 16th May 1899,which ended their resistance to British rule.
however, the end of armed resistance did not stop the use of violence against the people.It seems to have been a deliberate policy to continue to terrorize the people into total submission.The colonial officials, have painted a negative image of the people as bloodthirsty, maintained theri rampaging troops in the territory of some time.They were withdrawn in 1904,returned 1906 and were thereafter deployed at will untill the First World War.The incessant use of military force terrorize the populace and instilled the fear of the Europeans and their agents in the people.The European became synonymous with violence and the people summarized their experience of this time in the proverb:Ebo gha re,Evben re [The European arrives,trouble alights.] The severity of colonial official retaliation registered in the peoples psyche.Henceforth,punishment among the Edo that was considered to be extreme was declaimed by the proverbial query: Te ime gbe Ovbiebo?[did I kill a European] This proverb expresses the peoples’s execration of the barbarity of British violence that can be likened to killin a fly with a sledgehammer.With such wanton violence on the part of the British,confronting the colonial administration was therefore discounted as a resistance strategy;instead many people deserted their communities to seek refuge in relative safety elsewhere from from the reach of Europeans.
While much has been documented about the general oppression and exploitation of the colonized during the colonial rule by colonial officials and their agents,very little seems to be written about the cruelty of particular colonial officials,which was also seriously felt by the helpless peasantry. A combination of personal psychological make-upf of the officials,prevailing racis ethos and the negative stereotypical depiction of particular African peoples by Europeans-like the Benin people who were dipicted as blood thirsty and their capital city dubbed The City of Blood-in many instances produced great acts of cruelty.Oral sources and written document attest to the cruelty of certain colonial officials.
“Okhaemwen Ologbose Irabor continued his resistance of the British occupiers. It was a
resistance that lasted two years during which the Benin war commander
defeated the Royal Niger Company private army at Okemue and prevented
the British penetration of the hinterland and the European traders
from establishing trading posts in Benin City. Eventually with the
help of their collaborators, in May 1899 the British captured Ologbose
Irabor. As expected the British occupiers, in their usual kangaroo
court proceedings, the Ologbose was found guilty of being the chief
instigator and perpetrator of the Benin `Massacre’. On June 27 1899 he
was hanged for defending his land against a group of marauding British
thieves who hands were covered with blood and hearts fill with evil intentions.”