The Barubas: One People, Two Countries
RECENTLY, it was reported that 16 communities in Baruten Local Council of Kwara State had been taken over by Benin Republic. The communities, according to media reports, included: Kpuru, Woru Wuren Kparu, Ajuba,1, Ajuba 2, Saka Yeruman Kparu, Ogomne and Gandasunon.
Others are Monta, Dotin Kparu,Halidun Kparu, Yakubun Kparu, Sonsi, Semen Kparu, Gunosani, Alhaji Kparu and Yodo Mankparu.
Although the matter seems to have been resolved, a visit to the area showed that although there exists friendly relationship between people of the two countries, there is tension in Ogomue, one of the disputed communities. You hardly see any Nigerian living there.
Benin Republic hoisted their flags in most of the affected communities.
Benin Republic is also constructing a new border post for its gendermes near Boriya.
However, there is normal flow of business activities between the Baruba in Kwara State and their kinsmen in Benin Republic.
According to one of the indigenes, Ahmed Idris who worked with the Kwara State Board of Internal Revenue, Boriya, Ogomue used to belong to Nigeria.
He disclosed that right from time, Ogomue is a village in Boriya under Okuta district. He said dispute over Ogomue between Nigeria and Benin Republic started around 1993/1994 during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd).
“They sorted it out that time. They gave Ogomue to Nigeria. I think the issue arose again around year 2007/2008 during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo. They dragged it and resolved it again. But today, Benin Republic is now claiming almost 16 villages under Okuta district.”
He said some of the villages belong to Boriya and recalled that when he was growing up, the border between Nigeria and Republic of Benin was after Ogomue.
“But a new construction is now going on to create a new boundary between the two countries. By the time they cede the land to Benin Republic, it will affect Boriya politically and economically.”
Idris who attended a wedding ceremony between his brother, Zulkane Abdulahi and his bride Duwe, at Ogomue recently said that the land issue has affected the friendly ties between the two communities.
“We went for a wedding ceremony there. The groom is my brother. The bride is from Ogomue village.”
He explained that the relationship with Duwe and Abdullahi started while the girl was schooling in Boriya.
He added that the bride is a daughter to the village head of Ogomue. After the wedding was consummated, husband and wife went back to Boriya.
“We the indigenes of Boriya did not want Benin Republic to take the land because it is part of our land that is going. Assuming there is a serious reaction from our government, things would have been different,” he said.
However, Speaker of Baruten Local Government Legislative Council, Kosubosu, Alhaji Abdullahi Salihu said that there is a clear demarcation between Nigeria and Benin Republic.
“There is a river at the back of Boriya community. That river has been the boundary between Nigeria and Benin Republic. That river is the natural demarcation the colonialists used to demarcate Nigeria and Benin Republic but in some parts of the border, they equally used mountains, hills for better clarification. Up till now, those beacons are there.”
He recalled that sometimes in 2011, the border dispute between Nigeria and Benin Republic led to a serious crisis.
“The National Boundary Commission had to intervene. Nigeria and Benin Republic met and clarified which land is for Nigeria and which one belongs to Benin Republic,” he said.
Salihu said it was resolved that Ogomue belongs to Benin Republic. It was stated clearly that whosoever is interested to go back to Nigeria, the Federal Government will relocate them to a new site.
“That led to the establishment of the new Ogomue settlement located about 500 metres from Boriya.”
He maintained that the Baruba in Benin Republic and Nigeria are one. “We all speak the same dialect, we have the same culture. It is only the international border that divides us. We do inter marry.”
He added that the Baruba in both countries always meet in Nikki, Benin Republic (on the 24 December) for the Gani Festival.
“I want the government to complete the houses in new Ogomue village for Nigerians that are interested in coming to Nigeria. That would drastically reduce the border crisis that has been our problem for a couple of years now.
“Secondly, I also urge the Federal Government to try to develop the border area to enhance the economic viability of the people in the area. If the government had developed the border community, it would have reduced relocation of people from Nigeria to Benin Republic where they have social amenities.”
He said that due to the nature of the delineation of the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic by the colonial masters (France and Britain in 1914) people cross the border forgetting that they are in Nigeria or Benin Republic in some places.
“The nature of the border demarcation has been overtaken by events. Most of the fishermen and farmers do move from one country to the other.
“Whether Nigerians are dominating the place or Beninoires, they will like to claim the place forgetting that there is this international boundary that divides the two countries. That is just one of the reasons why we normally have crisis,” he said.
He reasoned that the way out is for the two countries to have a clear demarcation to easily identify the border between them.
“Here in Nigeria, the Baruten depend on farming. They produce yam, millet, sorghum, wheat and even sugarcane. We do export it to Benin Republic. We import rice and fairly used goods from Benin Republic. What we need is to improve the economic ties between the two countries.”
Secretary to Baruten Local Council, Alhaji Shero Umar corroborated the fact that the Baruba in Nigeria and Benin Republic are all one.
“Most of our fathers migrated from Nikki, Benin Republic to the present day Baruten Local Council Area of Kwara State. We found ourselves in two countries due to the partition of the countries by the colonial masters, ” Umar said.
He disclosed that he is related to the Emir of Nikki. “My wife, Mujainat is from Benin Republic. The governor of Parakou in Benin Republic is from Yashikira in Nigeria. We even formed Baruten Cultural Institute made up of Baruba in Nigeria and in Benin Republic. We hold our meetings in Nigeria and Benin Republic.”
He added that most of the border disputes are caused by the traditional rulers.
“We the masses, we don’t have problem because we understand ourselves. We go to the same market. We were even surprised when we heard it in the news that 16 of our communities had been invaded by Benin Republic.”
He said the communities under dispute belong to Benin Republic. “The other time when the issue came up, we stopped going to their markets from Nigeria and the people in Benin Republic stopped coming to our markets. After ironing the whole thing out, they now come to our market and vice-versa.”
Umar urged the government to make life easy for the people living in the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic. “They should provide primary and secondary schools, dispensaries, boreholes to improve the lives of the people in the border community. The local government cannot afford that.”
He recalled that the recent canoe mishap that claimed the lives of many children of Bukuro community(a border community) on their way back from school in Kasuala, Benin Republic to Bukuro in Nigeria was still fresh in the minds of the people of the community.
“If you have land and you don’t take care of it, what do you expect? And this place is porous. It is lack of the necessary structure on ground that brought all these.”
Spokesperson for the Bukuro community, Baba Ahmed disclosed that the river where the mishap happened is a natural boundary between the people of Bukuro and Kasuala in Benin Republic.
“Since the canoe mishap, the Nigerian government is yet to provide any engine boat to help the people of the community to cross the river to Benin Republic.
“If there had been an engine boat for the children to cross the river, the disaster would have been averted.
“It is like the President of Benin Republic, Thomas Boni Yayi now provided four boats for the people to cross the river during the raining season.”
He said any time from July that is when the river is always boisterous and that the only place they could go for good medical check up is in Benin Republic. “We go as far as Sahoro about 30 minutes drive from here. That is where they have a very good hospital and consultants.”
Speaking on the land issue, Professor of Geography, Ademola Omojola of the Department of Geography and Planning, University of Lagos (UNILAG) disclosed that the government has a key role to play when it comes to the issue of land.
“To understand the land stuff, the quality, the amount, where it is, who owns it, government has everything to do with land. And it is a key resource base. So any nation without land is like no nation. We have the land but the problem is how are we using the land? Who and who is using the land and how much is accruing to government?”
He said the government can perform better by having more understanding of the land.
Omojola urged the government to get all the stakeholders to appreciate what the land resources are all about.
“I can’t really see a land dispute between Nigeria and Benin Republic. If there are some areas that are not properly mapped, we should proceed to map them. We have a boundary commission, they should be able to rise up to the occasion.”
He described Benin Republic as a very friendly nation. “I can’t see us going into any serious issues with land with them.
“Even with neighbours, you do have land issues. The process to adjudicate is a case and there are tools and processes on ground to do that.”
Omojola said without proper documentation of the land belonging to Nigeria, some people may just be overzealous.
“If you have a proper record and documentation on your land, you know what belongs to you and what belongs to others and there are scientific tools that enable you to know where your boundaries are and monuments in it. There are professions that are doing that. The surveyors, that is actually what they do. If they are called to do their work, things will be okay,” he said.