‘In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King’, so the saying goes. This statement is very apt in describing the situation in Ipaja land, the setting of Aluko’s book, One Man One Matchet Ipaja land was a village in the then Western Region of Nigeria that consisted majorly of farmers whose livelihood depended on the proceeds gotten from their cocoa crops. This had been sustaining them quite well until a year when the cocoa trees became infected with a disease which had no cure except to cut down the infected trees before the disease spread on to other trees. This was the advice District officer Stanfield together with an agricultural officer, Gregory took to the people of Ipaja. This advice although innocently stated with the welfare of the farmers in mind marked the beginnings of trouble in Ipaja Kingdom. And this was where Benjamin Benjamin came in.
Benjamin Benjamin was a semi-literate, ambitious young man who had found himself on the wrong side of the law a number of times. Eventually he warmed his way into the hearts of the King and villagers as he was one of the few literate people in the whole of his village and more so because he offered himself for the service of his people. In this regard he was indeed the one-eyed man in the midst of the blind. As such when the district officer came with his advice, the illiterate people of Ipaja looked to him as one who could reason with the white man to change his mind. This was all he needed to launch a campaign totally different from that of saving the cocoa trees.
The people of Ipaja had a long standing feud with a nearby village over a piece of land which had been supposedly taken from them and given to the other village. In a bid to get this land back, Benja-Benja, a moniker given to Benjamin Benjamin by his supporters, launched a series of fund raising campaigns – funds that were to be used to seek a redress over the land issue in court. Alongside all this, a rivalry sprang up between Benja-Benja and the new Nigerian district officer posted to their region.
What eventually resulted from this over-reliance on Benja-Benja was a situation of total chaos, corruption, and unnecessary loss of life and property. Benja-Benja exploited to the fullest the ignorance of the villagers. Instead of using his knowledge to serve his people he rather became a self-serving, over ambitious man.
The Benja-Benja of this story still exists today. They are the elected officials who make the loudest promises just to win the votes of the people and after that ignore those same masses who voted them in, enjoying instead the tax payer’s money the same people provided for them. This story also serves as a warning and lesson of some sort to the masses, not to let the position or privilege a few persons enjoy cause them to swallow gullibly whatever is passed down to them.