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THE 10TH CHIEF EGHAREVBA MEMORIAL LECTURE - THE 1892 BRITISH-BENIN TREATY BY PROF. AKIN OYEBODE


Introduction

I wish to begin by saluting the initiative of all those who had thought it fit and proper to institute this annual lecture series in memory of the great historian, Jacob Egharevba, a man who, by dint of hard work and tenacity of purpose, was able to leave behind a worthy heritage in relation to the history of Benin. The man in whose honour we are gathered here today, was able to bring his great intellect to bear on the study of Benin and its people so
much so that we and succeeding generations can be proud beneficiaries of his learning and contributions. Of him can truly be said that he achieved greatness and through the sublimity which he exuded in all that he did, was able to leave his foot-prints on the sands of time.

Africa’s engagement with the rest of the world has historically borne traces of lopsidedness, inequality and grudging tolerance if not, in fact, total disdain and mockery from other peoples and nations. While today, it is indisputable that Africa is the cradle of human civilization, it is a sad reminder of race supremacist attitudes and tendencies in certain quarters that records of Africa’s encounter with the outside world continue to embody considerable prejudice and partisanship aimed, more often than not, at justifying the atrocities perpetrated against our ancestors. This asymmetrical relationship has endured to this day so much so that Africa is compelled to continue to seek ways and means of re-asserting itself in order to emerge from the peon of marginalization and irrelevance to which it had been confined.

The need for interrogating the historiography of African continent especially as it pertains to the Euro-African encounter can hardly be more compelling. Not only should the records be set straight, we need to draw the necessary lessons from what transpired in the past in order not only to obviate a repeat performance but also to enable us occupy our historical position in the scheme of things without any feeling of guilt, inadequacy or diffidence. The time is surely ripe to confront the arrogance of all those who wish to re-order our realities along their own images and interests or re-write our history with a view to covering up or suppressing their sordid past.

It should be remembered that Africa was the last continent to be colonized. With particular reference to the British, it must be stated loud and clear that the perfidious Albion was well practiced in the art of deception in his relationship with the natives, be it Amerindians, Australian aborigines, Indians or Sarawaks. This equipped them with the audacity to overrun and overwhelm the ill-prepared African formations in their brisk but devastating encounter.

It is against this background that it is intended to examine the Anglo-Benin Treaty of 26 March 1892. We shall begin by situating the treaty in the historical context within which it was concluded and examine the architecture of the Treaty before coming to grips with its rationale vis-à-vis the colonial project of the British. Finally, an attempt would be made to elicit lessons from the conclusion of the Treaty and conclude with some prognosis, based on our previous interaction and experience with the rest of the world.

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