BY THE RIVERS OF BENUE.(Part One) By Prof Terhemba Shija


Permit me, in this five-part essay series, to parody the popular Boney M's classic pop song, "By the Rivers of Babylon" which, itself was picked from a Jamaican rastafari spiritual, derived from Psalms 137 of the Holy Bible. The river Benue with all its numerous tributaries is a mother-figure of regeneration and a bastion of civilization, just like the Tigris and Euphrates were to city-state of Babylon in Mesopotamia, or the the Nile river was to Egypt, or the Yangtse Kiang was to China. My first published collection of poetry, "Cantos For the Benue" is a praise song to "its swinging swange soul" and its great potentials, historical significance and spiritual regeneration for contemporary Nigeria. After criss-crossing the river thousands of times and watching its fortunes decline for no fault of hers, I'm constrained to associate Boney M's rivers of Babylon with my dear Benue. I guess, the common message between the two is the idea of living in a repressesive or deprived society and longing for freedom. In this case, the irony of people of Benue living on the banks of the hugely endowed river with nothing to show, has a correlationship with the Jews living in captivity on the shores of the otherwise vivacious rivers of Babylon. Apart from the sweet sonorous voices of the three female and one male baritone singers, there's something philosophical about the Boney M's hit song that brings various polar opposites together. A riverside lamentation versus a mountain-top praise of Jehovah; the land of exile versus the lost homeland; captivity versus freedom; mundane familiarity versus idyllic nostalgia and so on.

I personally had my share of the dilemma too when Boney M’s hit song was first released in 1978. I had perceived the convergence of the mundane and the spiritual in the then society that had not yet approved such a mixture. Having freshly graduated from a Christian missionary secondary school and governed by a puritanical inclination to the divine, I was however overpowered by the craving for the emerging pop culture which Boney M embodied. I imagined that something was amiss, but I also thought that the right chord had been struck in the binary structure of my teenage universe.
Many cities and civilizations are built around rivers and freshwater streams. Indeed, rivers assume the status of a mother, breastfeeding her children with the milk of fresh water and providing food of fish from her inexhaustible flow and agricultural yields from the fertile womb of her banks and floodplains. Rivers are also used for transport and recreation. They are a buffer for borders and defensive reasons, a channel for hydro-electric power and a destination for tourism. This is an inexhaustible resource that should not be overlooked by any community that is lucky to have it.
There will be so much to write about in this series dedicated to the Benue river. All the cities and settlements associated with the river Benue and its tributaries have a story to tell. As we shall examine their stories from the context of sociopolitical significance in contemporary society, we shall offer alternative viewpoints to improve the fortunes of our ancient mother and offsprings. Significantly, Makurdi, being the state capital of a state named after the great river Benue, would come under intensive scrutiny. The riverside towns like Katsina Ala, Abinsi, Gbajimba, Buruku, Tyulen and Akor would also be discussed in lesser degree of intensity just like the smaller tributaries of Katsina Ala, Nagi, Mu, Okpokwu, Ogbadibo, Guma and Amile. In essence, our preoccupation here would be the entire stretch and drainage of the Benue valley, its people, its politics, its successes and failures in relation to the Benue river.
Meanwhile, this series is inspired by Boney M’s refrain that says: ” Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord “
Part Two of By the Rivers of Benue continues shortly.

Terhemba Shija is a Nigerian academic, poet, novelist, critic and politician who, as of 2014, lectures at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi.

Shija served as a Member of the House of Representatives of Nigeria in 1992 Benue state.

He also served as Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs Benue State, during the administration of Governor George Akume, resigning in December 2002. He is the author of several books in the genres of fiction, biography, literary criticism and poetry. His best known titles are “Whispers of Distant Drums” “The Siege, The Saga” and “Cantos for the Benue.

(Source Wikipedia )

Chief. Hon. Prof. Terhemba Shija is the Zege Kwaghfan U Tiv. He is a professor of African Literature and Critical Theory.

Prof. Shija is a well refined academic, a reformer and a builder. A Frontline contender for the Benue State Governor in 2023.