GBAGYI AT THE CROSSROADS: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GREATER RELEVANCE IN NIGERIA
GEORGE S. KOCE
The subject of this discourse is plausibly a contentious one. For this, I initially became agitated, to a state of perplexity, as I pondered over the likely motive of the conveners of this meeting. During my consideration of this highly engaging proposition, I slipped into a quagmire. Even though it was quite easy for me to read the lips of the conveners as I can attest to their patriotic antecedents on issues that pertains Gbagyi, I could not afford being oblivious of divergent responses such a discourse can elicit from the audience.
My problem was compounded, as the topic under consideration seemed a conclusive one so because the conveners seem to have seen Gbagyi people at a point, a critical one at that. Others may hold a contrary view. Others I am also convinced many will even be of the viewpoint that we have already crossed the Rubicon. Besides, the topic leaves room for inference that Gbagyi people have not been relevant enough to become a factor in the scheme of things in their localities, states of belonging and indeed Nigeria. I can at this point also bet that a handful of us will argue on the contrary. Furthermore the underlying tone is that, that smacks indictments thereby constituting a challenge and opportunity for soul searching. Indeed one may not be too far from the truth if one concluded that the conveners see Gbagyi people at a critical juncture which demands exploits as well as a clarion call for conscious, conscientious and concerted quest for greater relevance in the scheme of things. This position in some quarters I believe may be conceived as a figment of imagination only and can be vehemently contested by a few.
Having found myself in this state of quandary, I came to the realisation that whichever stand I took issues arising from the discussions had the potential of igniting a debate that could snarl into a controversy. With this understanding therefore, I had a number of options. Being an invitee the temptation was to play along the line of my deductions or assumptions. The other was to express my very personal views or positions, which could have been at cross-purposes with the conveners’ intentions. I could as well examine the thesis as an observer, say it as it is from a distance and damn the controversies that might arise there from. However, the reality is that being of Gbagyi extraction; I am involved and so foolhardy for me to think I could run away from my roots.
Given this background, I hope you will consider this submission as my humble contributions towards a more purposeful relevance in the scheme of things given the realities of our times. I will be most fulfilled if this exposition sparks of a robust consideration. Indeed an open, genuine and sincere will be a great service to the Gbagyi nation. So leaving this venue at the end of the day challenged, with discovered opportunities, with highbred views, enriched perceptions, extended visions, much more sharpened focus and anxiously conscious to make sacrifices towards taking our pride of place in the general scheme of things wherever we may be or find ourselves, will be most rewarding.
THE GBAGYI PEOPLE
Gbagyi people as an ethnic group have a common nationality, ancestry, culture and tradition. Gbagyi, the language spoken by these people is indigenous to Nigeria. An advertisement in the “New Nigeria,” No4022 of 30th January 1979, notified the general public of the adoption of “Gbagyi” as the nomenclature for these people. This was considered necessary, Gwari which was used to refer to these people was generally used derogatorily and according to Forde (1960:85) it was used by Hausa ‘ “loosely, on occasion to apply to a variety of non-Hausa people often seeming to denote “pagans” or “slaves” ’.
The 15th edition of Ethnologue data from Ethnologue: languages of the world, last modified in May 2005 mentions three dialects of the people as follows; Gbagyi, Gbari and Gbagyi Nkwa. The caveat however is that Gbagyi Nkwa has been “retired from use,” because “the speech variety…was merged into another language” understandably Gbagyi.
Even though it is generally agreed that Gbagyi is the nomenclature of these people, two identifiable dialects Gbagyi and Gbari exist.
Gbagyi subgroup or dialect are found in Bosso, Gurara, Tafa, Munya,Shiroro, Suleja, Katcha, Wushishi and Lapai Local Government Areas of Niger state; Birnin Gwari, Chikun, Igabi, Kaduna south and Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna state; Karu, Nasarawa and Toto Local Government Areas of Nasarawa state; Abuja Municipal Area Council, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Kwali and Abaji Area councils in the Federal Capital Territory as well as Kotonkarfe Local Government Area in Kogi state.
The Gbari subgroup are spread around Minna, Chanchanga, Paiko, Lapai, Suleja, Wushishi and Bosso Local Government Areas of Niger state; Kwali, Gwagwalada and Kuje Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory; as well as Nasarawa and Toto Local Government Areas of Nasarawa state.
Even though dialectical variations exist between the Gbagyi and Gbari, lexical similarity is very strong ranging between 66%-78%. No matter their location, existing squabbles and some distinctions, they remain fundamentally one family in terms of traditions and culture. In this regard, Dr Shekwo’s comment is highly instructive. According to him:
The minor intonational differences between the two dialect groups notwithstanding, the Gbagyi regardless of their geographical locations have a general sense of national and cultural affinity. The high degree of internal linguistic homogeneity among the people has thus enabled the Gbagyi in Kaduna, Kogi, Niger, Plateau (now Nasarawa) states and the Federal Capital Territory to maintain their culture and values regardless of where they live. Their common language and stubborn adherence to their traditions constitute the main unifying factors.
– Dr. J.A Shekwo
Dr. J.A Shekwo’s description of Gbagyi peoples geographic spread in the African Guardian of March 10, 1980 p.46 is apt. According to him;
They can be found in the area North of the Niger Benue confluence, that is as from Lokoja and Kotokarfe of Kwara state (now Kogi state).
Their Settlements, continuously extended to area in the vicinity of Niger River in the West of Umaisha area on the River Benue in the East, extending from these Areas northwards to Nasarawa, Keffi, Abuja, Igabi, and Giwa areas in Zaria, Zaria region.
Invariably, they are located in a region that extends over Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger and Kaduna states as well as the Federal Capital Territory. In terms of their population, Dr. Shekwo has also observed “No one is sure how many they are, but acceptable estimates over the past fifteen years say they are five million.” Most recently, the submission to the National Political Reform Conference by the Gbagyi of Nigeria posited on page three that our population figure by March 2005 was approximately eight million.
SIGNIFICANCE OF BEING AT THE CROSSROAD
The oxford Dictionary of current English (New revised edition of 1998), defines Crossroad as “intersection of two or more roads.” In addition to this, the Encarta World English dictionary, North American Edition of 2005 notes that Crossroads can also be held to mean “ rural community located at a Crossroad”; “point which serves a central meeting place that has a lot of activity”; and conceptually “ a decisive moment or time when an important decision must be taken”. In other words Crossroads may be seen physically as a location, junction, crossing, and roundabout or conceptually as a landmark, turning point, moment of truth or crisis.
In the context of our discussion, the theme of our discourse is of Gbagyi people at a critical point in our history when and where a choice must be made, decisions have to be taken, and a resolution of affirmative action determined. It is indeed a point where a collective resolve must be made.
To be able to take our destiny into our hands, I find Winston Churchill’s assertion apt here. According to him, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Furthermore when we consider the Biblical proverb that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29; 18a), we may stop asking “why” when we see things and commence dreaming things that never were and postulatively assert “why not.”
Having fairly examined the environment around me, I find Alan Harris’ declaration that
“Pain kindly wakes up stupidity Lest it slumber through eternity.”
most instructive and indeed awakening to the realities of Gbagyi peoples history, our journey and our future. Given this understanding as well as the fact that being at the crossroads means a period of crisis; the immediate question that comes to mind is what causes crisis? Maybe an attempt at answering that question, our challenges and opportunities might have been brought to our understanding. Even though the question may seem unanswerable, because there are extremely different kinds of unpleasant situations which human beings have experienced and which we get ourselves into, in just one word however, ignorance to my mind is the culprit.
Ignorance as used here does not imply lack of education. The fact about life is that crisis is witnessed by illiterates and highly educated alike, developed and developing countries, minorities and majority ethnic groups, Moslems and Christians etc. Invariably crisis is no respecter of colour or creed, shape nor size, wealth or rags. By my comprehension, Ignorance connotes lack of a good understanding of the law of cause and effects in our own lives. Let us take the example of the human being. Many of us think that we can do whatever we feel good, such as acquire wealth, achieve status, pursue romantic conquests, eat heartily etc. etc .In most cases the pursuit of such good is often at the expense of others with very little or no regards for such good living. This happens because we foolishly ignore the Karmic wisdom expressed in other popular dictums such as what goes around comes around and whatsoever man sows, that shall he also reap.
You may agree with my disposition that pain, unpleasant as it may be, to a larger extent is ultimately our stern benefactor. From pain one learns vital lessons as to the conduct of our lives. Experiencing the pains or getting to this point and realising the crisis we are in now, must have raised our attention and understanding to the fact that something(s) aren’t working. Realizing this means time has come to change our perspectives about the realities or get help through other’s experiences. This is necessarily so because seeking help is a wise step towards overcoming ignorance. The fact is that when we hurt and really need help, the tendency is that we shall listen attentively with our mind and heart. At this point, we are bound to learn lessons, which have the potential of preventing us from getting into similar predicament later on. Indeed some of us are cut to, and have to suffer consequential pain over and over before we are finally ready to seek out its causes. But eventually we say “Enough” and get to work. Maybe we are at that point now.
One other question, which might agitate our mind, is that which states What if the crisis is not our own fault? Frequently many of us see ourselves blameless and the tendency is for us to lash out at the society, chance, God, fate, the system or whatever other abstraction that may be most convenient to blame. In view of the fact that threads of causes and effects of ignorance are many and varied, our puny minds can hardly know for sure how or when an effect will blossom, from a previous cause or what combination of circumstances are being dealt to us by our own past choices. This is so because as masters of our own future, and free beings we ultimately discover that we are equally the slaves of our past and must pay the folly’s price.
Helpers in many different roles are available to give us the timely and desired aid we need within and without at this time of our crisis. Indeed other numerous sources of re-education, at this point that we are virtually against the wall are available. Ours is to genuinely ask them, they can help us overcome that ignorance which to my mind is largely responsible for our agony.
Accept it or leave it, a situation never becomes crisis until it involves pain and pain spurs us to react or ask questions. At this point, the crossroads at which we have arrived is the position where solid and beneficial learning must become manifest. To my mind, this is our point of covenant no matter our degree, diplomas, chieftaincy titles, social, economic or political standing. It should be this learning that should actually set us free. A critical examination of Alan Harris’ thesis on external cycle of human evolution – Ignorance, mistakes, pain, learning, and then freedom may be highly beneficial in examining our past, identifying our location before leaping.
CROSSROADS IN THE TRADITIONAL GBAGYI SETTIING
To the Gbagyi people, Crossroads like most traditional communities in Africa, according to Gwamna, “carry significant religious symbols,” and considered as “spiritual gates.” According to him
The Gbagyi call crossroads zokozundu.
Nubayibma, reconciliatory rituals were consummated at crossroads, just as new corns at harvest were given to the gods as “first fruits.” Deceased persons whose property could not be inherited due to “abominable deaths”, were laid at the crossroads…for the Yoruba, even evil was conserved and enacted at crossroads. The same belief is also held by the Gbagyi. Similarly, among the Mupun, crossroads were spiritual gates, which served as channels of communication. Sacrifices particularly of cleansing rituals and fertility rights were offered at crossroads.”
From the foregoing it is understandable that crossroads amongst Gbagyi had spiritual significance. It served as sites for rites of passage, and places of sacrifices. There, prayers were directed to the deities. Such places were held in awe among community members and revered as they were considered and perceived as points where spirits converged and could even be encountered. Gbagyi people learnt to appease and even attract spirits/gods at such locations
Human history is one of change and development. No matter what aspect of human existence we care to examine, politics, economics, the social order, religion, the environment, climate and weather, no matter our viewpoint whether individuals, families, communities, nation-states or a members of the world community, what is certain and constant is unprecedented and profound changes. Indeed swift, dramatic, and sometimes baffling changes have become a major feature of our lives. Gbagyi people certainly cannot afford to be onlookers of the inevitable phenomena
Given this human reality, Gbagyi scholars, commentators, elites, elders and youths, the highly placed and lowly, as well as sympathizers alike have express doubt and worries over the solidity of the Gbagyi social structure. They have indeed expressed fears of the imminent future. Dr. Shekwo in the first issues of Buznagna express this fear thus.
I have been asked several times, that how come that all things which once seemed sacred have now become unsettled: truth and humanity, justice and reason
Dr. Dogara’s commentary on Gbagyi at the Crossroads, Dr. Kutara’s views on Gbagyi,” Mr. Koce’s perception of Gbagyi culture besides Dr. Shekwo and Mailafiyas call for alert as the Gbagyi nation and culture are declining and beleaguered, are sampled views that express fears as well as show responsibility to cooperate in the task of preserving Gbagyi tradition and culture besides improving the world’s well – being and human civilization.
Given the threatened state of Gbagyi traditional values from the preceding, such have also raised the consciousness of the Gbagyi to act and fast too towards sustaining our culture and tradition. I cannot indeed agree less with Dr. Shekwo’s expressed optimism when he declares that,
Culture, social, economic and aesthetic crisis like the presence of disease and disorder, a large, always bring about the need to ameliorate them for man’s survival. Discipline like sociology and communication for example, have been animated and sustained largely by a profound sense of crisis in every sphere of life. The existence of an eschatological vision of dying world where things are beginning to turn upside down – should only cradle and nurture hope for a better tomorrow. The cultural crisis should be accompanied by hope and re – direction to equip ourselves and posterity to survive
amidst all the wreckage. Like phoenix, we must be ready to rise from our cultural ashes as a renewed and reinvigorated people.
In essence, at this stage that the Gbagyi people have discovered themselves, rather than given in, they should serve as a point of new beginning, a challenge and indeed an opportunity to come together, and prevent an organised destruction of our culture. This is more so for the fact that Gbagyi cultural mythology portray life as a battle ground of incessant struggles and Gbagyi people have not only been known to be courageous, they have been upheld as daring as records hold it that Gbagyi were among the best in the army of Abuja and Chief Warriors in time of war. Such a spirit of struggle can be invoked and transformed into fighting the battle for cultural revival, survival and its sustenance as much as in the socio- economic and political arena.
At this juncture, a few examples of some of our cultural traits may provide us a better understanding of our present predicaments as it relates to some of our pertinent characteristics. One fundamental characteristic of Gbagyi people is that we cherish individual liberty. Even though this is the case, Gbagyiman at the same time is in search of love, affection, and togetherness, as he is constantly seeking for someone who will advise him, who will lead and who will wipe away his tears when he has need to cry or weep.
No wonder there hardly exists a recognisable leadership structure. Indeed it may not be unrelated to this that adulation or deitification of monarchs in the traditional Gbagyi setting is hardly prominent. A critical examination and deduction may further explain why Gbagyi settlements may have largely become established independently of one another. Given this setting, the Gbagyi people were to find themselves at a disadvantaged position. Gbagyi people’s predicament in reference to their minoritiness in states of existence and indeed their relevance may be adequately understood from this perspective. Invariably the Uthman Danfodio Jihad laid the foundation for Gbagyi people’s segmentation and consequent secondary roles were play later whose bitter peel we have had to swallow.
The seed of servitude was sown unconsciously by our peaceful nature it seems. This was maximally exploited by the Jihadists and institutionalised by colonial masters. What a twist of fate. What an irony. Now that we can today better understand and appreciate our predicaments, now that we realise that we have the capabilities to take our future into our hands, the need to beat our path, set our goals and pursue our interests stirs us in the face today.
One inextricable Gbagyi traditional value system is hard work and self-reliance. Honour has always been cherished and at the top of Gbagyi peoples agenda. Even though this is the case, we never lose sight of being our own brothers keepers. This has always been exhibited through apparent and expressed compassion for the dispossessed, the elderly, and the less privileged. Indeed the orphans benefit a lot from the traditional protection and comfort provided by community members. You will agree with me that the whole existence of Gbagyi seems to be guided by the sense of shame in things that are spiritual and moral. Shamelessness as openly manifested in corrupt, praise singing for modern day bandits and acquisition of status especially chieftaincy titles by criminals had no place whatsoever in Gbagyi society.
Generally, Gbagyiman no matter his position, no matter our own views about ourselves, are largely considered and perceived as outcast as have largely remained from the “vulture culture.” To my mind, Gbagyi people remain fundamentally naïve in the scheme of things, and at the same time are craving for integration, into the modernity. How can Gbagyi people possibly blend hard work, self reliance, and moral uprightness with corrupt living, shamelessness and immorality and still expect to attain recognition, become front runners in politics as well as socio – economic pursuits. Certainly new wine has to and must be poured only into new wine skin. What a challenge, what an opportunity.
Prior to the introduction and acceptance of orthodox medicine and medical practices, Gbagyi like most other traditional communities had a well established traditional herbal practice for treatment of a variety of all sorts of maladies. However, herbal practice and cure based on ancient wisdom accumulated from time immemorial has inevitably become endangered. On this again, Gbagyi people find themselves at the crossroads. This is so because very often, unless situations become grave for patient at the traditional herbalists hands, orthodox medicine is usually largely considered as alternative. A very good proportion of the elite are not absolved from this practice.
Given that the Gbagyi traditional herbal practices are being lost fast, virtually irreversibly, two options even though unviable could be given some consideration. In the first instance, the Gbagyi elites can proceed with meticulous documentation of some of the practices or press for consultation and or collaborative works/researches with Gbagyi traditional physicians—ashigbeda/Abeyi in or with relevant departments in identified universities located in predominantly Gbagyi communities.
Farming has remained the principal and predominant occupation of Gbagyi people. In the pursuit of his preoccupation he employs collective service or labour cooperative farming in organising themselves in the productive process. Indeed cooperative organisation and production is employed in virtually every sphere of Gbagyi people’s life, from birth to his interment. However, as much as Gbagyi is aware of change in life as constant, the level and extent of individuality and individualism that have engulfed the Gbagyi people, that bond, that fraternity that spirit of “Gbagyiness” is fast giving way. Indeed lamentation, and as it was requiem over such cherished values pervade the air across various strata and segments of the Gbagyi people today. What has gone awry?
MORE ISSUES FOR REFLECTION
If I might have seemed incomprehensive or illusive, may be some issues addressed in form of questions may not only be more pungent but poignant. These questions are outlined:
- Who are you (me)?
- What are my (our) roots?
- Where are my (our) roots?
- What is your (our) background?
- Where lies your (our) future?
- Where is your (our) hope?
With the understanding that in human existence, there seem to be more questions than answers, and for any solution to a problem, there are likely more problems that emerge; I want to crave your indulgence to ponder over the preceding questions. Giving these questions to my mind a consideration may likely stimulate and make demands on our intellect; our abilities are likely going to be stimulated, and explanation, justification or proof will clear our doubts and ignorance. Indeed an advantageous chance or combination of favourable circumstances or situation might arise or open up in the process.
After such a consideration, and probe, we shall be in a good stead to understand, and appreciate the dynamics at play. Indeed may be in position to comprehend;
- Why Gbagyiman insists and persist in growing fundamentally annual crops.
- Why to a very large extent Gbagyiza operates and thrives in lamentation has restricted vision, and ambition, which translates into the level and extent he takes risks or ventures into risky ventures.
- Why Gbagyiman does not have a word for praise or more specifically congratulation in his language.
- Why leadership is only beginning to be recognised, recognisable, and institutionalised.
- His submissive tendencies to people, powers and or authorities that are exogenously imposed rather than endogenously established.
- His protective nature which has made it possible for the traditions and cultural traits as well as values to have been sustained up till this day.
- Why his bravery and daringness in the service to and for others have superlative at his own expense and indeed detriment?
- Why his thrust into modernity has been slow, jerky and spurtty.
- Why the larger proportion of names given to children are to very large extent expression of frustration, lamentation and pains.
- Why existing and operative political powers are utilised as vehicles for extension and perpetuation of domination to a very large extent of Gbagyi people.
- Why the “successful” Gbagyi people hardly carry his brothers and sisters along.
- Why he is externally regarded and respect but remains fundamentally disorganised and segmented.
- Why community based organisations, Non – Governmental organisation, Unions as well Association, projects etc initiated and commenced by Gbagyi people are hardly sustained.
- What has happened to Gbagyi songs, folktales, proper names, proverbs, aphorisms, verbal games and even games that have served as an effective medium for transmitting our values and value systems?
By our location, socio – political and economic circumstances, Gbagyi people are in reality at the crossroads. As much as this is the case, rather than being conceived as a barrier, the crossroads at which we have arrived at should be seen as providing immense challenges, and tremendous opportunities.
Having realised that we are at the crossroads, it is a commendable discovery. Brooding over our predicament is in itself a positive step in the right direction. A decisive action to confront the challenges and mobilization of human and material resources to combat the challenges will no doubt be a very bold decision. The actual and concrete steps in combating the challenges will certainly be daring and ultimately surmounting the challenges legendary, sweet and will be worth celebrating.
Certainly, the sustainability of the will to attain success cannot be possible without a clear vision, focus, endurance, sacrifices and resilience, on the part of leadership, on the one hand, and on the other, understanding patriotism and loyalty as well as diligent follower ship and service.
Fundamental to the attainment of desired success and attaining the goals, is a very knowledgeable, conscious, and conscientious leadership as arrowheads, and a vibrant follower ship as a vanguard besides a highly motivated human resource as well as a range of sacrifices. This becomes absolutely imperative because;
- Only the educated are free.
- Educated is better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.
- Edward Everett.
- Education is a progressive discovery of our ignorance.
- Will Durant.
- Education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern, but impossible to
- Henry PeterBrougham
- Education is a social process…Education is growth…Education is not a preparation for life, Education is life itself.
- John Dewey.
- Education is that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
- Ambrose Bierce
- He who opens a school door closes a prison.
- Victor Hugo.
It is absolutely necessary and imperative that Gbagyi people should resolve to aggressively make educational pursuit a priority. A Chinese saying that “there is no future without Education, culture and knowledge” is highly instructive. This is more so for the fact according to Blackburn (200:111) that
…Ignorance is a recipe for acting disastrously, both to ourselves and to others.
Thank you and God bless you all.
 Winston Churchill – Quotation Dictionary p. QD-39 in The Webster Dictionary of the English Language. International Edition
 Gwamna J. D., “The Gbagyi at Crossroads: A commentary”, in Gbagyi Journal Vol. 1 NO 2 2002 p.1
 Gwamna J.D., The Gbagyi at Crossroads: A Commentary in Gbagyi Journal. Vol. 1 No. 2. 2002 p.1–5
Kutara E.G. “The Gbagyis –Which way Forward?”, Being tet of of an address delivered at Gbagyi forum on Saturday 26th August 1995
 Koce G. S., “ Gbagyi culture in contemporary Nigeria: A threatened and beleaguered Heritage.” Gbagyi Journal Vol. 1 No. 2., 2002 p.6_17 Gbagyi Vision Publications
 Shekwo J. A., and Filaba M.A., “The declining and beleaguered Gbagyi nation and culture” in Gbagyi Journal Vol. 1 No 2, 2002 p. 19-32 Gbagyi Vision Publication
 Shekwo J.A., “Gbagyi culture in contemporary Nigeria.” In The Buznagna First issue. undated