Southeast: Ebubeagu, Amotekun and the confusion of meaning


Recently, the five South-East governors announced the launch of a security outfit codenamed Ebubeagu. Like the use of Amotekun by the South-West governors, the choice of the name “Ebubeagu” generated a controversy over its meaning in English. It was variously interpreted as “the aura of the lion/tiger/leopard.”

When Amotekun was launched last year, there were some arguments among the Yoruba whether “ekun” stands for lion, tiger or leopard. Amotekun means “the animal that looks like ekun”. That animal should be “tiger” (or cheetah), but did the ancient Yoruba people have any interaction with the tiger (or cheetah)? The answer is no.

You would not blame many of today’s Nigeria who choose to identify with the tiger or lion in Southern Nigeria as the iconic animal of their people. Watching animal documentaries and reading about the lion as the king of the jungle whose roar sends tremors through the hearts of all the animals or about the “tiger, tiger burning bright”, who would not want to identify with the lion or tiger? No wonder when Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe returned from the United States of America and founded the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he chose the lion as its symbol. Students and graduates of that university are called “lions and lionesses”, and when they are addressed as such, they roar in response. Similarly, the Eastern Nigerian Government House in Enugu was named Lion Building. Across the border, our Cameroonian neighbours call their football team “The Indomitable Lions”. Likewise, when Prof Wole Soyinka wanted to counter the Negritude movement, he noted that “a tiger does not proclaim his tigritude; he pounces.”

But was the lion or tiger the key animal of the rainforest area of Southern Nigeria? First is that just like the bear, the tiger is not even an African animal. Our forefathers never saw it, at least not in the last 1,000 years. If it ever existed in Africa, that would be some thousands of years ago, which would have made it blotted from the consciousness of our forefathers.

The natural habitat of the tiger is Asia and some parts of Europe. It is the biggest, fiercest and strongest among the big cats, with the Siberian tiger being the biggest of the tigers. The tiger can defeat the lion in a duel, but both of them do not live in the same environment and never meet.

Conversely, the lion is an African animal. However, it lives more in the grassland or savannah where animals that feed on vegetation abound, and where it can operate without any obstruction from trees.

Unlike other big cats, the lion lives in groups called prides. Because lions hunt as a team, they are able to kill big animals like buffalo, giraffe and even elephant, especially small and medium-sized ones. Because of this ability to work within a team and achieve great results, the lion is called the king of the jungle.




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