As the ethnic crisis of the ‘60s became evident that war was imminent in Nigeria, the crowds coming back to Eastern Nigeria from the North were deluging our villages, sparse urban centres, and making it rather difficult to administratively contend with, the question was now, how to make the very best out of a now worse situation. To say the least, the leaders of Eastern Nigeria had no illusions about our predicament, but the realities of life and death stared all of them in the eye, and they knew they were faced with something out of the ordinary. The pronouncements coming from mistreated minorities long before then were not addressed, and the collapse of the once united Eastern Nigeria was now becoming evident; furthermore, the once great geographical landscape, home to over 100 distinct nationalities, was about to be dealt a strong blow with the support of allies from within.
In 1967, Gowon and his cohorts dispensed of our drive for an independent Biafran republic that included all of Eastern Nigeria as we then knew it, by creating Rivers State and South Eastern State. In some sense that was a brave move that guaranteed their success in the later years of the war and gave some semblance of allaying the fears of the minorities of the then Eastern Nigeria. But that still did not stop the killings of the Rivers and South Easterner indigenes in the North and elsewhere as “nyamiris”, nor did it deter majority of them that knew that their bigger and greater historical lots lay with throwing their lots with the majority Igbo in the area. Hence in 1967, the first major fragmentation of the geographical, cultural and historical Igbo and Eastern landscape started. Ten years after in 1976 through the Justice Mamman Nasir’s commission, a bizarre redrawing of the Eastern geography was indulged upon, what they failed to do in ’67, was concluded in ’76; frontiers were reshaped, villages were divided, major cultural and ethical rifts were embarked upon, and though few protestations were recorded, it still brazenly continues today, even now, initiated by our own Governors in the form of autonomous communities (This phenomenon I’ll deal with in a later paper).
Now a bit of the history in perspective: ‘The history of Nigeria since independence has been dominated by attempts to restructure the federation into a form acceptable to all the various peoples it houses. The trend has been towards increasing fragmentation of state structures, as the federal government has sought to appease the demands of the different minority groups by the creation of new states and local government areas. This fragmentation of government has been, paradoxically, paralleled by increasing centralization in practice, as individual states have become less and less viable without federal financial support and oil revenues have supplanted all others as the foundation of the Nigerian economy.
The boundaries of the territory now known as Nigeria were first defined in 1907. Nigeria itself was brought for the first time under one government in 1914 by the amalgamation of two British colonial protectorates. Although the country was in theory ruled as a single unit, in practice the northern and southern parts of the country were administered by the British as distinct entities with little attempt at coordination. The policy of “indirect rule” strengthened, centralized, and reduced the flexibility of existing structures of authority, especially in the north, where powerful emirates formed the basis of local government. In 1939 the colonial government divided the Southern Protectorate into the Eastern and Western Protectorates, but the three units were still administered without any central political focus or representative institution. Only in 1954 did Nigeria became a true federation with a central government, including a Federal House of Representatives (responsible for foreign relations, defence, the police, overall aspects of trade and finance policy, and major transport and communications issues), and three constituent components with a large degree of autonomy in all other matters: the Northern, Western, and Eastern Regions. At the same time, elected regional houses of assembly were created for the Eastern and Western Regions with independent legislative powers, the British governor retaining only limited responsibilities; the North, however, at the request of its own house assembly, only gained self-rule in 1959, one year before independence.’
‘In May 1967 (when it was obvious war was imminent), Gowon announced that the four regions would be abolished and replaced by a new federal system based on twelve states, which sought to address the concerns of minority groups and thus increase their support for the federation, while at the same time breaking down the powers of the regions. The Igbos’ loss of central political power was thus exacerbated by the creation in the Niger Delta of Rivers State, which cut off the Igbo heartland from direct access to the sea and gave control of Port Harcourt, an important (Ikwerre) port at the beginning of its oil boom where there were extensive Igbo commercial interests, to a new state government. Shortly after the announcement of the new state system, in May 1967, the secession of Biafra was declared by the military governor of the former Eastern Region, Lt.-Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu. The civil war of 1967 to 1970, lost by Ndigbo, increased the strength of federal government and the centralization of power’. How well does this background connect with our present agitation in the South East for an additional state? Would the agitation in itself be said to be functionally correct? Is it justifiably correct to posit that it would balance out the imbalance against Ndigbo? Before answering these, a bit on the Igbo leadership.
Since the war ended, Ndigbo has effortlessly tried to prop up and follow an Igbo leadership cadre that would take up the task of creating out of the rubble of the war a meaningful life for the survived people while still keeping them focused and informed. If we once had an Okpara, Ibiam and others in that league, today we have gropers after the dark, who had neither the vision nor the interpretative will to match their lack of focus. The aspirations of the mock leaders of present day Igboland does not go beyond their noses; they grumble about the marginalization of Ndigbo, but fail to say and admit that they are the instruments of this marginalization. Of all the political debate that has taken place in Nigeria from 1970 till date, their best contributions has nearly always been to stifle the true conscious Igbo voices; they offer base arguments to buttress their dearth of knowledge and thus displaying their total disconnect with the populace. Time after time, through the various political exercises in Nigeria, they exhibited their total lack of understanding of the basic principles of politics in a complex Nigerian political landscape. From their schism within their respective political parties, from NPN through NPP to present day dog eat dog attitudes in PDP, ANPP and now APGA, they have infested any group that has come out to speak for Ndigbo with their warped political leprosy. As to be expected, Ohanaeze has gone the way of the jackals, by being part of the exercise to keep Ndigbo down. The present arguments witnessed today from the blighted committee of the group on state creation shows clearly the delusion and depravity of their visions.
From the time the idea of a State creation in the South East was muted as a possible gain from the NPRC, the leadership treated it with some frenzy rather than objective focus; mostly refusing to discuss in details with those who hatched the idea. Before one delves into this State creation question, I have to clearly point out that the Igbo agenda all along had always being far and above the idea of further fragmenting us; not going too far back into history, at the recently concluded NPRC the Igbo position were simple but consistent with what we have said all along, namely, the country must be truly restructured to reflect our status as a federation, citizenship rights for all must be guaranteed always and everywhere, the question of derivation must be consistent with this, the six geo-political zones must be the recognized federating units, with the creation of states and local governments left to the zones, etc. during the conference, at the various levels of meetings held with other zones, specifically with the South West, South-South and the Middle Belt, after several weeks and nights of deliberations, when most core demands were viewed as not feasible, it was thus agreed:
a) There should be devolution of powers from the Centre to the Federating Units.
b) The Presidential system of government be retained for Nigeria.
c) The States shall be the Federating Units.
d) Without prejudice to the outcome of this Conference on the issue of Structure and Composition of the federating units, an additional state shall be created for the South East zone.
e) The six geo-political zones should be enshrined in the Constitution and that the States within each of these six zones should continue to be free to create a zonal organization for the management of common services, interests and promotion of economic and political co-operation.
f) In accepting the States as Federating Units, there should be equal number of States in each zone and to this extent the present six zones of the South-South, South West, South East, North East, North West and North Central should have 8 States each, making a total of 48 states as follows:
From the aforementioned, it was evident that the call before our leaders was not just to go round advertising that they have won a great victory, by seemingly getting the country to come round to correct a 30 years injustice. Besides, it was evident equally that the agreement as agreements go in Nigeria ought to first be acknowledged and accepted by the rest and adopted by the federal government. As we well know today, the NPRC reports just like the previous reports from the Okigbo Commission reports & the Oputa panel reports are as good as dead. Except as we well know, if we are to believe the rumors making the rounds, that the only reports that are ever allowed to see the light of day are the ones heavily in support of the victimization and marginalization of Ndigbo. Unfortunately, the efforts of our leaders rather than making sure the National assembly gets fully briefed on these and soliciting their supports to that effect, they are busy wasting efforts on a debate that is bordered on irresponsibility. Since the reports are neither gazetted nor adopted by the National assembly, I wonder what the next logical step ought to be.
The historical arguments put forward at the NPRC as the basis for this demand for an extra state for the South East, was jettisoned by Igbo leaders in both Ohanaeze and the respective State governments, for all sorts of proposals. Amongst the crazed but ‘to be admitted’ suggested areas from which states ought to be created from, were amongst others Orlu state, Aba state, Adada state, Central state etc.; they entertained arguments, most of them plausible, but on the whole, all were deficient of the visions that ought to be our driving force in the 21st century. I am in no way against the continual debate about how best to bring some form of civility and good governance closer to the people, but when the question is state creation in Nigeria and related to the South East, I dare say we must be bold, focused and historically conscious of the realities of where our frontiers, geo-politics, demographic and cultural affinities begins and ends. In terms of frontier and demographic politics as practiced in Nigeria, Adada state of the suggested lot looks very much attractive to me, giving its ability and possibility of bringing together again after the long colonial darkness, of keeping brothers in Kogi and Benue away from their kit and kin in the Nsukka area. Yet the obvious were left out or were ignorantly not known to the Igbo leadership.
The arguments and suggestions so far presented all come from the understanding that the South East is as has been presently defined by the central government of Nigeria. This definition is suspect and acceptance of it by any or all of the present Igbo leadership smacks of open ignorance bothering on betrayal; besides, it envisages the enforced acceptance of the logic of ’67 and an outright acceptance by our leadership that Igboland starts and ends where Justice Nasir’s Commission through their infamous boundary adjustment commission of ‘76 and subsequent Nigerian military cartographers says it does. I reject that proposition and make bold to say that cultural, demographic and historical facts supports my argument. If in the course of Nigeria trying to correct its ills against any section of the federation, this time against Ndigbo, it goes further to subjugate a certain section, then it goes without saying that the problems would continue without end until the right things are done. I add here that, whether it is Ndigbo in any form or manner that decides to subdue the minority voices amongst them or make their rights non existent, it is with the same vigor that I state to challenge them. The right of one must be sustained, respected and protected, as much as the right of many. The present five states in Igbo land amounts to nothing if the inference is to show that our frontiers and landscape starts and ends where they presently stand; besides the consequence of murdering the concept of mutual co-existence, it implies that the present crop of Igbo leaders have either not passed their geography lessons or have refused to see the abundance of historical facts. We need to then remind them or even educate them.
From the plains of Agbor to the borders of Arochukwu, from the Hillsides of Nsukka to the creeks of Imo River, Oguta and its numerous borderlands, the Ikwerre’s, Obigbo, the Egbema’s, Ohaji, Ndokwa and the numerous pockets of Asa communities that are still presently divided but continue to hold common cultural celebrations, these summarily make up Igbo land and talk of state creation must include these. Strategically we need not force the issues, but if we are in this to right wrongs and not help in the further frustrating fragmentation of Ndigbo and Igbo land, then the new state, and why not states, must revolve around these frontier Igbo lands.
Asaba already presents a credible nexus; we do not need to recast the geography. Around Asaba all the arguments against marginalization can be brought to a head and haltingly so. Their creation into a viable state cannot be overstated; the burden of proof is just so heavy on the side of this that we wonder why Ohanaeze and their bull head Committee must not even pencil it down as a prime candidate. They would bring the necessary number to buttress the Igbo population and provide the necessary bulwark as they did a generation ago before and during the civil war years. It still stands to be ascertained if they did not give more to the cause of Igbo civil right agitation and campaign than most obviously destructive self-acclaimed Igbo leaders of today. Suffice to mention the Madiebo’s, Achuzia, Asiodu, Nzeogwu, Osadebey, Idigbe, Ifeajuna, Ogbolu and the numerous other faceless and nameless and yet to be properly mourned and honored native Igbos, from Agbor to Okpanam who paid with their lives for being Igbo at a time when it was bad politics to be so, and you’ll see why the present leadership cadre of Ndigbo are amongst men most depraved and ought to be pitied. They have been asking for this, long before the creation of Ebonyi State, for a state to be created out of Anioma, and we have not paid much attention to them. They have from inception paid their dues in kind and cash to the cause of Ohanaeze, but on and on over the years when practical issues involving any form of gain, comes up, we pretend they are not there and in most cases suddenly remember they are from the West Bank. This is a sad testament of how low our vision and focus have fallen as a people.
On the other side, in year 2000, the Asa-Ndoki-Obigbo League, ANOL, as reported by the Newswatch magazine of August 28, 2000 wanting to be joined with their kin in Abia State:
“…petitioned President Olusegun Obasanjo, alleging denial of social amenities such as electricity, pipe-borne water, motorable roads and hospital, among others. “Since we have been denied everything due to us, we must go back to our kith and kin in Abia State”, they wrote in a petition dated February 18, 2000 and signed by Stanley Akaya and Johnson Ezenma, president and secretary-general respectively. In the petition, ANOL gave 17 reasons why the people want to go back to Abia State… One of the reasons is that Oyigbo has been the base of the gigantic Afam
power station since 1962 and yet the place has no electricity. Secondly, even though Oyigbo is the nearest LGA to Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, ANOL said it has been denied of development…. Oyigbo is also said to have about 50 oil wells managed by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, and “yet there are no visible projects for our people”. A road in the area called “Shell road” is said, to be the most deplorable. Besides, the people also complain that they pay toll to enter Port Harcourt…. Asa- Ndokis found themselves in Rivers, Abia and Akwa-Ibom States. The decision did not go down well with the merger opponents who argued that a plebiscite ought to have been
conducted to determine actual wishes of the people. But the federal
government’s decision held sway. It was also then that the name “Oyigbo” came up… But then, the name “Obigbo” has stuck to the minds of many people strangers and natives. Oyigbo appears mostly in official documents. Altogether, 18 communities were transferred to Rivers State…”
I have extensively quoted these excerpts to buttress the fact that our leaders in Igbo land are neither politically informed nor are they strategically on the ground. There is no documentation of such shifts of interests in Ohanaeze; (I believe that most Ohanaeze chieftains had never even heard of any such group as ANOL or many others like them scattered all over the world) facts are not dealt with and the one key imperative of true leadership, which is to look out for ones owe people, is fraudulently neglected. We have operated ad hoc; failed to understand our changing prospects, indulged in shady flowery talk shops which generate nothing. Issues dawn on us and expose our unpreparedness, but our strange attitudes towards global issues are showcased by the recent orchestrated macabre dance, prequalified as demands for State creation. Take even the recurrent killings of Ndigbo in the North, though this is not part of the discuss here, we do not have the proper figures, no one has any detail of the culprits, instigators and minds behind it, so as to bring them to justice and there is just no master plan on how to protect them in the future or look out for them. The leadership we crave for in and amongst us in the 21st century must be one driven by an encompassing vision hinged on an intrinsic incentive generating ideal; so far in the past 20 or so years, we have had neither.
Abia and Imo states are on the fringes of oil producing states. Their cumulative income does not amount to anything if compared with the price we are paying in terms of the stealing that has been going on under our soil by the central government in our region. Prospectively, around the axis of the oil producing areas of both states we can make bold to demand and carve a state out to engraft all their kits and kin in present day Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, with a capital that can either be around the Obigbo-Ndoki or the Egbema axis. The politics of the 21st century is anchored around human and natural resources with the support of technological know-how. And here are a strange befuddled bunch of cretins claiming to be Igbo leaders, boldly giving up both their numbers and their natural resources, with the vast technological know-how potentials, which in the first place was not conquered or ceded but was brazenly stolen. The fiction that the SE is fixed is a wrong premise to enter into a political dialogue in the country; we are fluid, never fixated in a place, one might say we were even nomadic in our earlier demographic movements, this we cannot deny and must not allow ourselves to be imposed with this false and culpable identity.
Having faltered through the complex communal politics in Nigeria, where traditional ethnic loyalties still prevail, we strongly, firstly, owe it to our Anioma brethren to be in the vanguard of their quest for a political state; at the moment, after the Anambra basin they have the greatest concentration of trained professionals in all fields and can very much carry the Igbo procreative renaissance on their tested backs. The marginal arguments for the other states are supposed to be consigned to the background for now. Secondly, our southern brethren, in the face of the Obigbo, Ndokwa, and Asa peoples, are not to be abandoned because it is not ‘politically right’ as most people have argued even before serious Igbo circles. If politics, economics, demography and ethnic affinity is anything to go by, then common sense points strongly towards either an Anioma state or an Obigbo state, or why not both!
Seeming level of mistrust of the present Igbo leadership do not lend any heartwarming support to all these. These men at the helm of Igbo political life today are so compromised and drifted that the sense of the reasoning in this submission will virtually elude them. As Achuzia once said in his interview with Ugochukwu Ejinkonye: ‘…And note that when we say Igboland, we mean as far as Agbor, all the way to the borders of Ikot-Epkene, and then, down to Ahoada — all these constitute what is known as Igboland….’, and has presently been shouting himself hoarse on the question of Anioma state, with no one heeding him, it is then sufficiently evident that this definition and demand eludes the Iwuanyanwu Ohanaeze committee on state creation and so we must continue to remind them. Any organization or group whose leadership fails to gauge the socio-political atmosphere properly, due either to ignorance or sheer misjudgment are sure fit to be consigned to the dustbin of history. We are not in any way sure how the political drama of this country is going to out play itself from now through 2007, but if what has been exhibited within Ohanaeze is what we are truly going to showcase in 2007 then we must just as well forget it and start gearing up ourselves and our younger generation towards another long spell in slavery.
The agitation for further state creation is not the elixir to our Igbo problems; we need good governance in the polity and leaders who can stand by their words and thus keep faith with the populace even when the general political gain does not look too good for them. But if a state deserves to be created amongst Ndigbo and for Ndigbo within the present Nigerian arrangement, it must either be Anioma state or Obigbo state!