Today’s #HistoryClass will look at a case, which proves that according to the laws of Nigeria, you can change your ethnic group. Today, we reference the work of P.O. Itua, C.O. Ndifon and I.E. Sagay.

The case in question here is a Supreme Court ruling from 1985, is important in uniting this country of ours. Adeyinka Ayinde Olowu was an ethnic Yoruba by birth, fromthe Ijesha sub-group, having been born in Ilesha. However, Mr Olowu lived most of his life in Benin, and married Bini women, who all bore him children. In 1942, Mr. Olowu applied to Oba Akenzua, the Oba of Benin requesting that he be “naturalised” as a Bini man. Oba Akenzua granted his request, and as a result he was able to acquire a lot of landed property in Benin, and elsewhere in what would become Edo state.

Then in 1960, Mr. Adeyinka Ayinde Olowu died.

As happens a lot in these parts, his death without a will set his children one against the other, and as a result, two of them were granted Letters of Administration over his estate. The first child, Olabowale Olowu, wanted to distribute the estate in accordance with the traditions of the Edo. According to Bini law, the first son of a dead Bini man is entitled to inherit the last house in which the father lived in before he died, and then share the father’s estate amongst his siblings as he sees fit. However, Olabowale’s brother, Babatunde, wanted to distribute the estate in accordance to Ijesha traditions, which specify an equal share to all the kids. As a result, this second child, Babatunde, and some of his siblings went to the High Court.

The High Court ruled in favour of Olabowale and his crew as the High Court was satisfied that their father, Adeyinka Olowu had become a Bini man.

So Babatunde and his posse appealed the case, and it eventually landed on the table of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in a landmark judgement in 1985 dismissed the appeal and held that though Mr. Adeyinka Ayinde Olowu was a man of Yoruba extraction, he was a ‘naturalised’ Bini. Justice Coker ruled that by virtue of this change, Bini traditions applied to Mr. Olowu and that the distribution of his estate would be governed by Bini traditions. Justice Coker also ruled that the late Adeyinka Ayinde Olowu and his descendants were entitled to the rights and privileges of Bini indigenes.

In the same case, Justice Obaseki viewed the assimilation issue from a historical and sociological point of view stating that “the history of population movement in Nigeria demonstrates that people moved from place to place before the advent of the Europeans. They settled and become assimilated into their new communities”.

A summary of the case is that even in Nigeria, we operate, as I have pointed out before, on a principle of jus sanguinis, not jus soli. This is not surprising because in the same period that Adeyinka Olowu became a Bini man, Lagos had Ejike Mbonu, an Igbo man as its mayor, Enugu had Umaru Altine, a Fulani man, as its mayor. We went wrong in 1956, but why we keep insisting on this indigene v settler bullshit, which some people only use to serve their selfish ends is mind boggling. There’s more to be said, but I’m hurrying off, so at this point, #HistoryClass is over.

Cheta Nwanze is journalist and information technology professional. He is a political activist and social affairs commentator. He tweets from @Chxta.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


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