RESPONSE TO RENO OMOKRI’S CLAIMS ON IGBO SLAVERY IN ITSEKIRI

The ability to evaluate the information you have access to is a skill. It is called critical thinking, and not many people have this skill. Sometimes people can present information in a manner that makes you think they are telling their audience the whole truth. I understand that people are busy these days – or lazy – and do not have time to fact-check the information they consume, and they are most likely to believe misinformation. In this age of digital lies, being careful and actively prepared to interrogate information is a skill you have to hone to avoid misinformation from people like Reno Omokri.

No doubt, Reno Omokri is an intelligent man. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, Reno is also very good at misinformation and revision of history. To his gullible audience, he is a god of history and nuggets of information, and he enjoys that sweet dopamine hit of feeling like he is right when they lick his ass. Therefore, anytime someone else probes or interrogates his false claims, his insecurity is triggered and immediately blocks the person on social media. He did that to me because I provided a factual account of scriptural claims he made. He deleted my comment and blocked me on social media.

Another thing about Reno Omokri is that he is an Igbo-phobe, a racist, and a religious bigot. Most times, if you do not critically examine his nuanced and complicated writings, which are mostly not based on thorough research, you would think he is telling the whole truth. I have keenly observed how he cherry-picks information, especially those that malign the Igbo, and some gullible Igbo would swallow hook, line, and sinker what he deceitfully puts out in attempts to demonize the people. Why is Reno Omokri obsessed with the Igbo? Did any Igbo woman ever break his heart? I know our women are beautiful and can be heartbreakers (wink).

Recently Reno Omokri threw another shade at the Igbo with his false narrative that his small Itsekiri tribe had many Igbo slaves for centuries. That triggered social media contestation this week, and many like Mazi Ogbonnaya Okoro, Mazi Azuka Onwuka, etc., have all overwhelmingly debunked his lies and half-truth with historical facts. Reno hasn’t come up with any credible information to support his claim. As persecuted people, Ndi Igbo must not lose this social media war. It makes me happy seeing our people living up to that expectation.

Now let me add another perspective to the debate and annoy some of us a little. The sky is not always blue. It can be red, grey, or black, depending on the weather. That is why intelligent humility is necessary for critical thinking. To allow emotions to cloud your judgment when it’s about a negative part of your history is a weakness. Some people suffer from this information bias.

Long before Europeans stepped their foot in Africa, Igbos enslaved other Igbos as punishment for crimes, payment of debts, and prisoners of war. It is a practice that is as old as the human race. In his biography, Olaudah Equiano, an Igbo abolitionist, explained the difference between Igbo slavery and those of the Americas and Europe. According to him, “those prisoners have been now not offered or redeemed we kept as slaves: however how unique become their situation from that of the slaves inside the West Indies! With us, they do no greater work than other members of the community, even their masters, their food, apparel, and accommodations were almost similar to theirs, (except that they were not approved to eat with free-born individuals)… some of those slaves have even slaves underneath them as their very own property, and for his or her own use.” Here Equiano pointed out that the Igbos treated their slaves far better than slaves elsewhere before the Europeans arrived. Still not an excuse.

Fast forward to the 15th Century when the transatlantic trade began, the demand for slaves spiked, and the Igbos, in their usual business acumen, smelled the boom and took advantage of it. The sad part of it was these: 1. Igbo slaves were in high demand. According to Olaudah Equiano in his narrative, “Europeans preferred Igbo slaves because of their hard work, intelligence, integrity, and zeal.” 2. Sadly, Igbos enslaved other Igbos. 3. Just like today’s Igbo political and religious elites, the Aro Confederacy and kingdom became corrupt – a conduit for the slave trade of Igbos in the name of punishment for serious crimes “frowned” by the gods. Igbo slave traders would kidnap people from distant villages or family members who brought shame to the family and sell them off to other slave merchants.

Within the above context, is it possible that in the exchanges of slaves, some Igbos became the properties of Itsekiri slave merchants and owners? Yes, but no historical evidence! Therefore, the claim by Omokri that Itsekiris and the Binis had Igbo slaves for centuries before British colonialism is false.

In response to Reno Omokri,  Dr. Ejiro Imuere pointed to other historical facts. Itsekiris did not enslave any specific tribe…, people from every tribe in the Niger Delta only sold slaves to the Itsekiri, being the people at the coast before the seashore where the Portuguese camped. You must pass through their lands before you can export your slaves. In fact, if you will not sell to them as middlemen, but you want to sell your slaves directly, then you will have to pay them a rent called “comey”. Even the Portuguese paid them this “comey” to anchor their boats on the shores of their lands.

Historian P. C. Lloyd wrote in his paper, “The Itsekiri in the Nineteenth Century: An Outline Social History” published in The Journal of African History, Volume 4, Issue 2, July 1963, pp. 207 – 231:

“A further change in Itsekiri social structure during the century was the development of domestic slavery. At the turn of the century, the king held a large number of slaves, but the number owned by the chiefs is not known. The kingdom must have exported at least a thousand slaves annually. But with the decline of the slave trade, the supply did not cease, and slaves were integrated into the Itsekiri economy. Thus of Jakpa’s 5000 people, Burton estimated that 600 – 700 were slaves of Diare. Olomu’s slaves were variously numbered at 1000, 3000, and 4000.

“The slaves were never Itsekiri, rarely Ijoh. Most were Urhobo, often being men and women expelled from their communities for serious offences and sold in the riverside markets. Some were given to the Itsekiri as pledges for debts. The Itsekiri usually equate the price of a slave with a puncheon of oil. They assert that they never went to a war to capture slaves, though a favourite method of settling a debt or a quarrel was to seize a man’s slaves. Other slaves came through the trade routes from Benin and Yoruba country where they had been captured in inter-tribal wars. Nana’s most senior slaves were Ologun, a Yoruba, and Sagay, a Benin.” In summary, Itsekiri’s slaves came primarily from the Urhobo; secondarily from the Yoruba and the Bini; and sometimes (though rarely) from the Ijọ.

Looking at the nature of the Igbos, the Itsekiri tribe never had what it takes to own and domesticate Igbo slaves as Reno wanted his audience to believe, to the extent of the slaves becoming an un-named Igbo group in Edo or Delta, that claim is laughable. The Europeans who sought highly Igbo slaves because of their hard work, intelligence, integrity, and zeal, were not even able to handle the Igbo slaves because of their stubbornness and rebellion let alone the small and insignificant Itsekiri tribe o. Do you see why you must put on a critical thinking cap with Nigerians like Reno Omokri? Most Europeans who traded in Igbo slaves had losses because they were resisted and sometimes killed by the Igbo slaves. Most times, the Igbo slaves killed themselves rather than remain slaves. Within the Bini Kingdom, the Igbos dominated to the extent that the Oba of Bini saw them as a threat. They retained their Igbo language and identity under the kingdom and influenced some Bini people to speak Igbo, too. Where on earth do you have slaves colonize their masters to the extent of changing the language of the master? It’s always the other way around. Reno speaks English today because Britain colonized Nigeria. Why is the language of Britain not Itsekiri, Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa? I wonder where Reno got his own history about the Igbo slaves in the Bini Kingdom. Also, do you now understand what is still driving today’s generation of Igbos in the pursuit of self-determination? If at all, there were Igbo slaves owned by any Itsekiri, that would have been the sick and infirmed ones sold to them, because the Igbo race, especially their women, were considered a prized and treasured possession. In fact, the Fulani up to this day would dip their penises in the soil an Igbo woman urinates. That is how prized Igbo women are in black Africa. Do you now understand?

The Igbos remain the most emancipated people in black Africa who helped to liberate many other ethnic groups. The “Independence” of Nigeria was primarily championed by the Igbos. Today, the same Igbo are still championing the struggle to free obedient slaves like Reno Omokri from Fulani’s enslavement. Reno Omokri is a slave of the Fulani like most Nigerians today. He is in exile and cannot step his foot in his ancestral land, and from there, he still worships the Fulani because he loves and cherishes his slave status like his kinsmen – Keyamo, Omo Agege, etc. Reno cannot own the wealth and the benefits of the wealth of his Itsekiri, the Fulani owns and control everything belonging to Reno and his people and only hands them peanuts. Isn’t that the worst kind of slavery? Yet Reno claims he owned Igbo – the most rebellious race in Africa – as slaves. Absolute madness!

I know that Reno Omokri understands how some Igbos can be emotionally charged because, like the Jews, Igbos are the most persecuted people in Africa. Therefore, any time he wants to gain some popularity on social media, he throws shade at the Igbos, monetizing his social media influence. I understand his games. But something we cannot afford in this age of social media is to lose the war fought on this lane. We can’t allow people like Reno to keep demonizing the Igbo. They did that in the past with the traditional media, but never again in this age of digital media can they succeed.

Finally, Reno Omokri should understand that we cannot be like the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, or any other group because we are unique. Of course, everyone is unique, and I expected a self-acclaimed man of God like Reno to understand that God created everyone and race in a unique way. Asking the Igbos to behave like the Yoruba, Hausa, or any other group he throws up as role models, is insanity.

@ReesChikwendu is a social media commentator, policy analyst, and communication expert living in The Netherlands.