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Their Jerusalem; My Benin-City
By: Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs
March 16, 2011



I was privileged to be among the Christian pilgrims who left the shores of Nigeria on the 23rd of December last year for Israel. Until I found myself in Jerusalem, this city of God and the centre of the biblical world only exists in my imagination. In fact, some of our parents believe till this day that Jerusalem is in heaven. In the matter of Jerusalem, whether you believe or not that it is real is of little significance. One thing is clear; like heaven and hell the myth exists. On my part, since I can now tell the story of Jerusalem, I have overcome the Jerusalem myth. It is, however, painful that I will not be able to in the same manner tell the story of heaven or hell because they are destinations you go and do not return.

Modern Israel came into being in 1948 through a U.N.O resolution creating a homeland for the Jews after the holocaust. It is a small country of great people who are proud and passionate about their ancestry. It occupies an area of 25,946 sq km and its population is about 7 million people. Its length from North to South is 420 Km and from East to West it ranges between 16 Km and 115 Km. It is the melting pot of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is home to many of their sacred sites and for this reason plays host to many adherents of these faiths on a continuous basis.

In my opinion, there is no tourist destination in the world that is as captivating and enriching as this land of the Jews. In eleven days, I was able to see in great detail the past, the present and the future of these people of covenant who have refused to be diminished by circumstance.  In ancient biblical sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana, Jericho, Joppa, Ashkelon and many other interesting sites, we were acquainted with the truth and spiritual significance of biblical accounts. Jerusalem is the soul of Israel, the city of David and city of peace. The Jews are very passionate about Jerusalem as confirmed by the psalmist in; “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5).

  The Political & Spiritual Purpose of the Holy Land
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It is very amazing seeing the architectural ingenuity of the ancient sites many of which predate the Christ era by over a thousand years. The fact that they could survive the destruction which followed the conquest of the ancient kingdom of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, the Christian crusaders and Saladin the Muslim ruler attest to the integrity of materials used in their construction. Ancient Israel is built with stones. How very heavy boulders were lifted to great heights to build retaining walls and colonnades without the modern crane is left to conjecture. I admire the artistry of the stone masons and the knowledge of geometry of the builders in creating delightful patterns. This is reflected in the unity of dimensions, the symmetry of the arches and the intricate floral tendrils.  Irrigation canal (aqueduct) built by King Herod over 2000 years ago is still there.

 Farming in Israel is musical, the poorer the terrain the merrier.  Farming here is knowledge based as distinct from the inanity which has characterized Nigeria’s agriculture. Many of us when traversing the Negev desert bled internally having seen the healthy oranges and apples cultivated there. The irrigation network is a delight to behold. Nigeria sinks billons of naira yearly into agriculture especially the Fadama projects with nothing to show for it. Our Ministry of Agriculture, apart from being barren of ideas, is more corrupt than the Police. Give the Jews the size of Edo and Delta states they will feed the whole of Nigeria and still have enough for export.

My trip to the holy land made me ruminate on my ancient Benin Kingdom. Why can’t my people, the Binis, preserve, promote and market their ancient historical sites as the Jews are doing. I was in Israel with Delta Pilgrims, and I could estimate that we spent over N75 million on wares and memorabilia in Israel. That is just one state out of the 36 states in Nigeria and from one country out of about 200 countries in the world. The tour guides who took us to the historical sites and traders who sold the Bible and rosary to us are not Christians. They are Judaists who are still expecting a savior other than Christ.

In terms of historical sites that would be of great interest to tourists the Binis are well endowed. The Portuguese explorers who visited the Benin Kingdom in the 16th Century during the reign of Oba Esigie (1504 – 1550) expressed admiration for its monarchy, city layout, administration, art work, architecture and military might.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, the Benin moat dug round Benin – City (1280 – 1295) to hedge out invaders is second only to the Great Wall of China in length and age.  The moat and ramparts enclose 4,000 sq km of community lands and circumscribe about 10,000 km of earth boundaries. The Benin wood carving and bronze casting guilds are one of the most ancient and most celebrated in the world. A 16th century pendant mask, a masterpiece of Benin sculpture will soon be auctioned in Europe at a record sum of about 4.5 million pounds. There are many houses in Benin-City especially those of the Uzamas older than 700 years. Many shrines in Bini land are older than 800 years. The sepulcher of Benin Kings and Queen mothers are still there.

If the Jews are proud to have Moses, Kings David and Solomon, the Binis are proud to have great Obas like Ewuare the Great, Esigie, Eweka I and Ozolua. The Jews have heroines in Debora and Esther while the Binis have theirs in Queen Idia, Queen Iden and Emotan. It needs be emphasized that similar to what Jesus Christ did for mankind, Queen Iden offered herself to be buried alive for the sake of peace in Benin Kingdom. Her burial spot is still there till this day.

It is painful to note that the Binis are not as passionate as the Jews in the preservation of historical sites. Modernism and religious bigotry are responsible for this apathy towards historical sites. Some Binis have burnt their shrines and some have refused to pass on the knowledge of natural cures for ailments tormenting mankind today.  Children of the masters in the art of woodcarving and bronze casting are shying away from the trade. I don’t bow before shrines, but I will preserve the shrines in my father’s house to allow my descendants have full knowledge of how their forebears relate with their God. The house would remain a gallery whose value would grow with time.

Some recent actions of government   towards the preservation of places of interest for the future leave much to be desired.  The Benin Government School, the first primary school in Edo and Delta States built in 1900 had its buildings pulled down around 1974. The site which is still lying fallow till this day was to be used for a government library.  The old buildings of the Katsina Teachers College built later in 1922 have been preserved as a historical monument. Edo College, Benin – City, the first secondary school in Edo and Delta States built in 1937 was moved out of its expansive and serene location in 1973. As a result of what I would describe as inverted foresight the school was relocated to an erosion prone area close to the Benin moat. With this location future expansion is inhibited. The school has found it difficult to mark out a good football field.  The state of the old buildings in the school’s former site now allocated to a girls’ school is better not reported.

A nation that fails to preserve the past for the future will live the future without memory. Nigeria should take exemption to this primitive attitude.

Mr. Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs
Phone: 08037871553
E-mail: jacobsosagie@yahoo.com

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