It has been very illuminating to discover just how alike the Great Kingdom of Benin was to Great Britain in terms of their efforts to provide for their people and specifically in the different ways they employed to control trade and commerce in their domain.
Whilst the Benin Kingdom relied on annual tributes from all neighbouring countries, allowing them their sovereignty; the British disbanded existing governing systems, replacing them with theirs, exploited local resources including people and selling ‘Made in Britain’ products back to them.
Captain Alan Boisragon in his Book 'The Benin Massacre' said that all the neighbouring West African countries sent an annual subsidy or tribute to induce the king to keep the trade route open, the captain also acknowledged that: ‘The country (Kingdom of Benin), is rich in all kinds of produce, palm oil, Kernels, rubber, timber, kola nut etc’. Mr Moor, the Consul General, who accompanied the punitive expedition (Feb. 1897) in an interview with the Reuter's Special Service on January 16th 1897 in the Guardian newspaper publications , said; 'The military operation will lead to ‘... the opening up of trade routes which have so long been closed to European enterprise by the savage potentate'. He forgot the point that the savage potentate controlled all trade in the area and that these arrangements had been in place for centuries on account of Benin military might and in providing assistance to neighbours who needed help defeating invaders and in some cases, slavers from the North who burnt down their villages and took their people away as captives to be sold to European slavers.
Unlike the British, the king of Benin and his chiefs, respected others rights to their sovereignty and maintenance of their cultures; Benin never sought to colonise other countries though it could have easily done so, had it wished. Ensuring an affluent and rich country for their people was more important to the Benin nobility, we know this was the case from all the accounts available e.g. by Captain Boisragon above. This we should say was also Britsh intent. The British on the other hand, disposed of the kings and local chiefs and in most cases, burnt down entire villages and countryside just to control trade and colonise others.
Some people would argue that both countries were same but different and even go further by contending that the King of Benin and his chiefs were more humane in achieving this intention of achieving riches and comfort for the people. It is very telling how the British then chose to label the Benin king as ‘savage potentate’ and themselves as ‘saviour of the natives’. I think the jury is still out on that one.
Oba Ghato; Okpere !
Long Live the King!