The 26th day of June, 1896 has contrasting significance for the British colonialists and the Nupe people, as far as military encounter between both parties is concerned in Nigerian history.
For the British colonialists, it was a day of shame in their military encounter with the Nupe, and so it may remain till the end of time; for the Nupe people, it was a day of pride in the encounter, and so it may remain till the end of time.
That day was just like every other day for the British colonialists in their adventurous military expeditions for territorial conquest and protection across the length and breadth of the vast region now known as Nigeria.
The British colonial Toubman Goldie’s Royal Niger Company unit of special constabulary, comprising two European officers and 45 men of the constabulary, had set out that day, fueled by the arrogance of superior weaponry, bracing forth against a unit of the army of the Nupe kingdom led by the 13th Emir of Bida, Etsu Bubakar.
Unknown to Goldie’s army, shame lurked scornfully for it at a location at Ogidi, near Ijumu, a shame etched on the stone of colonial history. Contrastingly, perhaps unknown to the Nupe army of Etsu Bubakar, pride had rolled out its carpet to receive it.
Both armies clashed. The Nupe army over-witted and overpowered the Royal Niger Company army, forcing it to surrender in defeat, heavily weighed down by the most painful shame of an army equipped with what was then superior weaponry surrendering at the feet of an army equipped with inferior weapons of the African folks. The two European officers and other soldiers were said to be wounded in action.
More injurious to British prestige was that the Royal Niger Company constabulary was forced to surrender its entire weaponry to the Nupe army. Such was what the Nupenchizhi now describe as ‘the heavy weight of shame’ on the colonial army.
It is said that the colonial army had to go for special weaponry to dare the Nupe army in another battle in 1897 to scrub away from its name the shameful scar of 26th June, 1896.
Exactly 113 years after that historic day of 26th June, 1896, the Nupe people of central Nigeria declared it the Nupe Day, Efo Nupenchizhi, from this year to infinity.
Their grand resolve is to build it into the highest unifying forum for all their kith and kin, an annual convergence to remind themselves of their significant victory of 1896; hone their pride and status as a leading determinant of the success of the Nigerian project; review their place, progress, problems and state of association with all other fellow peoples of the Nigerian nation; and, very significantly, revive their entire heritage as a very rich people according to the resources humanity is endowed with.
The maiden edition of the Efo Nupenchizhi was staged in Lokoja, Kogi State, on Friday, 26th June, 2009, as a deliberate plan to begin the infinite celebration of the annual event with, most importantly, a visit to the tomb of Etsu Bubakar in the confluence town, where he was banished to after the colonial army defeated his own in another battle in 1897, and his immediate dethronement, just a year after he defeated them at the Ogidi combat.
“The Nupe Day is being organized by the entire Nupe people themselves,” Engineer Yusuf Yabagi Sani, a spokesman for the Nupe, explained.
“It is to articulate the Nupe history, values and culture, in a way to showcase the importance of the cultural activities among the Nupe people in the various states, some of whom are coming together to ask for Edu State,” he explained further, stating, “So, the significance of this 26th day of June is that it is the day that the Nupe people were able to conquer the British.”
Engineer Y. Y. Sani explained why the Day is being organized now, 113 years after the historic defeat: “You know, everything has its beginning. One of the reasons why, it is coming up now is that there is a lot of excitement among the Nupes to come together and have a state of their own. Apart from this emerging need for an entity of their own, the fact that this is 113 years after the defeat doesn’t mean any delay in celebrating the day. The Sokoto Caliphate celebrated its 200 years of establishment, Kano celebrated 1000 years of existence, the Saifawa dynasty of Borno and the Adamawa Emirate also celebrated various lengths of their history recently. Why didn’t they do it since? Why are they doing so now? So, we are not late.”
He argued: “There comes a time when people become conscious of who they are, and the fear of losing those values of who you are by way of your culture, norms and traditions, as well as your language, startle you up to revive, sustain and safeguard your entire heritage before it entirely disappears from history, leaving you just as a man without identity.”
Culturally and linguistically, “We the Nupes have just discovered that we have become an endangered species by way of the extent to which the encroachment of the Big Three (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) adversely affects our socio-cultural being. Geographically, we are the most central tribe in Nigeria in the sense that, for instance, if you are going from the East to the North, we are the bridge, you have to pass through Lokoja which, as you know, is also part of the Nupe domain. If you are going also from the West to the North, you have to pass through Jebba, another part of the Nupe
kingdom. Each of these major tribes is eating into the Nupe to the extent that some of the words and expressions in the Nupe language are becoming corrupt,” the Nupenchizhi spokesman observed regrettably.
He lamented: “Some of our children today find it difficult to speak the pure Nupe. As they speak the language, they suddenly jump into Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo or any other neighbouring languages. This is why it is very very important for us to capture the essence of the Nupe heritage as typified in that historic moment when we defeated the British colonial army.”
According to him, “We have a very rich culture. We have our own trade, our arts and craft, our own language, and we even had our own religion before the advent of Islam and Christianity. It is established in a book entitled: Nupe: The Origin, that even the Yoruba originated from the Nupe. In fact, there are books written by the Yoruba themselves, tracing their origin to Nupe. You can safely say that the history of Nigeria originated from the Nupe history. You can trace it in history that as far as Cameroon and Benin Republic were all covered and ruled by a very wide Nupe kingdom. It was the Jihad of Uthman Danfodiyo of the 19th century that shrank the sphere of authority and influence of the Nupe.”
The Nupe spokesman talked on heritage revival: “We will visit all our historical sites so as to bring the essence of the Nupe heritage as the main repository of cultures and traditions in this country and even the entire West Africa. In West Africa as a whole, you will find out that we stand out in this respect. This is what we want to showcase and bring to the fore on the 26th of June. It will be an annual affair.”
He said as the Nupe celebrate the Day every year, “It will be a three-day affair with the introduction of a lot of cultural programmes and celebration of colours. All Nupe sons and daughters will assemble at an organised location. On the day, we will honour all our sons and daughters who have excelled in their various fields of endeavour. We will also review our progress and problems, especially in terms of education, within the Nigerian nation. It is not going to be just Edu State, Niger State or Kwara State affair. No! We intend to make it a global affair, to mould what we will want to see as the Global Nupe.”
He announced: “We are going to look at how we will advance in the context of the Nigerian nation. To this extent, you can see that the unity of this country can be re-personified because we are the bridge across the country. We are geographically committed to the Nigerian nation. We don’t have a choice at all to one Nigeria. So, we don’t mind playing the role of the unifying bridge, but we don’t want our culture to disappear. We want to bring back the glory of the Nupe as a people so that every Nupe man and woman will be proud of himself or herself wherever he or she is globally.”
The Efo Nupenchzhi is intended to be a grand heritage revival.
“There is going to be a Nupe Heritage Centre to be established in Bida. We also have a Nupe cultural anthem. Wherever the Nupe are gathered, the anthem will be played and the entire gathering will sing it as an expression of belonging and commitment so that we don’t lose everything to the Big Three eating deep into us before we know it. The advent of the Western culture after colonisation also bastardized the whole system as far as culture and tradition are concerned. This is why we have to really take action, and the time is now. Your portrait as a person is your culture and tradition. The moment you pretend to be like someone else, you don’t fit, the person will laugh at you, you have lost your people and you can never be like the person you are trying to be like. Very remarkably also, we have our identifying costume, which is a hand-woven cloth coloured with red, green and blue stripes. The red stripe symbolises our valiant disposition, because we are a people with remarkable military prowess, the green stripe symbolizes that we are an agrarian population, while the blue symbolizes that we are a riverside community.”
Prominent woman politician and presidential aspirant, Mrs. Sarah Jubril, the Jakadiyar Nupe, hailed as Giwar Mata, was also part of the maiden celebration of Efo Nupenchizhi.
“This day expresses the significance of the honour, dignity and sacredness of childbirth. God has given us women the privilege to give birth to the royalties of
the world and nurture them,” she offered, continuing, “For us to now see that our heroes, it means that we are the mothers of heroes (like Etsu Bubakar, who defeated a colonial army). We have given birth to warriors.”
She talked on the role of women in the Nupe heritage revival. “Definitely we must do away with ignorance. The Nupe women must support the proper education of their children, not only the boys but even the girls, so that they can better understand the history dignity and honour. The Nupe girl has to be well educated and brought up with the knowledge that we are well cultured and well organized, which was why were capable of stopping the incursion of white people.”
She corroborated Y Y Sani on the importance of the Nupe Cultural Centre. “We are going to have a Nupe International Resource Centre. That is where we are actually going to tell the history and the culture of the Nupe. We will try to collect all available cultural artifacts and museum pieces in that centre as custodian of our cultural heritage. Definitely, we have tremendous joy today that the educated Nupe are beginning to go back to restore our historical heritage of respect and dignity. Whoever has a drop of Nupe blood in him, whether he is Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani or any other tribe, we will regard him as Nupe.”
For Ambassador Sulaiman Isa, “We can define cultural revival in several ways. It has so many dimensions to it, but, first and foremost, I mean the most significant aspect of it, is that the cultural revival of the Nupe is seeking to get the Nupe people to now speak with one voice. We want to now remind ourselves of what we were before, what we were expected to have been, and then we now plan with the benefit of the information we have gathered to revive our collective being for a better future for our own people and for ourselves in the present.”
According to him, “We are in the majority in the Northern part of Nigeria. In fact, the Nupe constitute the majority in the Central Sudan. But with the incursion of the white people, the British in particular, we were threatened as a people. They came in specifically to break up the Nupes, and they succeeded in doing so. When a tribe or nation is broken up, you find that initially there is some disunity. People go their different ways, because that is the way the conquerors want it. Now, the conquerors have gone, we have seen the light, we have experienced being conquered by the British and we now believe we can forge the way forward.”
Ambassador Sulaiman explained the plan to pull along the Nupe in the Diaspora. “Hitherto, we did not have any forum to create any required awareness. But with this celebration of June 26 and the revival of our cultural heritage, we will feed all our kith and kin in the Diaspora on these developments and the many activities we have started. We will especially send information about the cultural revival, the Nupe anthem and the Nupe costume with the red, green and blue stripes, and we know they will respond positively accordingly. Most importantly, we are setting up a Nupe International Resource Centre where we will pool sufficient information there to feed our people in the Diaspora. They can also come into the centre to find out what is happening in their homeland.”
He talked further on the functions of the resource centre. “It will have a lot of things. We will gather artifacts and museum pieces on our culture and history. But as at now throughout Nupe land there is nothing like a museum for such valuable items. The Etsu Nupe has given us a piece of land in Bida where we will construct the resource centre. One of the major structures there will be a museum. We will gather the artifacts and museum pieces. They are all over, but as at now, if you embark on a search for one of such museum pieces, you really don’t know where to go and get it. So, when the resource centre becomes operational, if you go there, whatever artifact you want from Nupe land and its location, we will be able to direct you to it through the centre.”
Ambassador Sulaiman expressed deep concern on the Nupe language. “We have been aware of the impasse, the dangerous influence of other languages on the Nupe language, a long time ago. When the Europeans were here, they developed a kind of word dictionary in Nupe. In fact, one such dictionary was published in 1914 by Reverend Benfield. However, since then, there hasn’t been any follow up. A dictionary grows every day. But since 1914, there hasn’t been any improvement on Benfield’s Nupe dictionary. I am pleased to inform you that by the special grace of God, we are now out with a draft of a Nupe Heritage Dictionary. This dictionary will form the foundation of our fresh effort at reviving our language, our literature and all that relates to the expression of our culture in our own language.”
He announced: “The first volume of it is going to be English to Nupe. We are doing that because a lot of our children are schooled in the English language, and we want to be able to relate what they hear every day to what they understand in their schools by way of English literature. We will not just have a word dictionary. For example, when we have a word: ‘Amina’ in Nupe language, we will also try to explain what ‘Amina’ means. The Heritage Dictionary will profile our great leaders, both dead and living. For example, we profile some of our prominent Nupe citizens in all the professions – lawyers, doctors, politicians and all others. We will give a small profile on them, because the dictionary will be published on the internet. So, our people in the Diaspora will see in the internet that we have psychiatrists, this and that in all fields. Then they will be impressed well enough to come and chip in their contribution into our development.”
Such is the significance and greatness of the Efo Nupenchizhi, the 26th day of June, to the Nupe, a day of shame for the British colonial army of Toubman Goldie’s Royal Niger Company.