By Osita Mordi
1. In the Vanguard Newspapers of March 3. 2016, one Ben Etaghene, self-appointed himself as the spokesperson of the Anioma people, declaring in the papers that “Anioma is not Biafra”. While I understand that as a Deltan, he has some stake in Anioma just as I have some stake in his Okpe-Urhobo homeland, the point is that issues like this remains out of bound for us. I have no interest in his Okpe-Urhobo homeland if it decides tomorrow to ask the federal government to give it rights to self determination. It however becomes suspicious when these people who are not of Anioma origin delving into matters like this. Just today, a Bini from Edo State, Paul Osuyi has towed on the same logic like Ben Etaghene. One begins to wonder what is responsible for the obsession by these people. They should not be the ones to tell our stories for us. What these “writers” have done is that they are gradually telling the world that they have issues
2. Now this is my take on the said “map”. If anyone goes through the report by Paul Osuyi, you will notice that he started by dismissing the inclusion of the Anioma in the map. He went further to suggest in his report that since Anioma was never a part of the Eastern region, it should not be a part of Biafra. Now, in the same report, he removed the states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River which were all in the old Eastern region from the same “Biafra”. His reason is not far fetched, those are “non-Igbo speaking states” (ignoring the fact that the six states of the “southsouth zone” have indigenous Igbo speaking communities) . Now, you will notice that he invoked the ethnic factor here as a decider. He just contradicted himself because you cannot define Biafra as the old Eastern region of Nigeria in order to separate the Anioma from their Igbo kith and kin from the Southeast, and still go on to disassemble the Southeast which you had upheld in your logic that its territorial integrity be respected in order to carve out the “minority states” from it.
Unlike Paul Osuyi, I will not contradict myself. The two factors “territorial integrity” and secondly “ethnic factor” must be respected. In International law(hence what is defined as “historical consolidation”), there was an Eastern region (which predates the Independence of Nigeria) thus any attempt to relegate that fact cannot be supported by law. Also, there is the issue of “ethnic factor” which brings the Anioma and the Ijaw people of the old Midwest and Western region into the question. They are free to identify with their ethnic brothers and their interest in this question should be respected. There had been examples all over the World throughout history. Note that the map never included Paul Osuyi’s Benin kingdom. While, there is nothing wrong to canvass separatism of the minorities from the supposed “dominance” of Igbos; there is also nothing wrong to suggest that the Anioma can freely decide whether they would join their linguistic brothers/sisters in the Southeast region. It is therefore wrong to assume that Anioma has nothing to do with Biafra or the Southeast. Far from it.
3. Sen (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa is not from Owa-Oyibu but from Owa-Alero. This should be noted. I agree with what Ogbueshi Paul Oliko said when he claimed Anioma was part of the then “Republic of Benin”. But the said Republic of Benin was a client state of the Republic of Biafra. Anyone can go and compare the maps of the two states. However, Nwawor was not in charge of the client state but it was Albert Okonkwo. The reality of a “Republic of Benin” being a client state of Biafra must have angered the proud Edo people who did not trust the intentions of the “occupiers” and mistrusted the Anioma people leading to subsequent massacre of over 1,000 Anioma residents in Benin City by federal troops in connivance with Paul Osuyi’s Bini people. The atrocities were well documented. You will notice that he did not bother to mention that. He also did not delve into details how Ogbueshi Oliko’s father was killed and those responsible for it.
Now, let me make one point clear here, the Niger had never been the natural boundary between the Igbo people East and West. Rivers never divide people but unites them. This is why just beyond the Niger to the east, communities with similar cultural and dialectal backgrounds with the Anioma to the west is the case. This explains why the entire Ndoni area despite being on the eastern flank of the Niger was a part and parcel of the Midwest region. Thus the Niger was never the “natural boundary” culturally, linguistically, or politically. Ndoni was lumped to Rivers State(ought to have been Imo State since they are closest to Oguta people) just in 1976, 6 years after the Civil war. If the River Benue does not separates the Tiv, North and South of the river nor the Niger did not separate the Nupe North and South of the river, why should the issue of “Niger as natural boundary” comes as a factor when it comes to the Igbo speaking people?
4. Claiming that Dr Ifeanyi Okowa dissociated himself and the Anioma people from such protests tells just a part of the story. The full story is that no politician including the ones from the Southeast such as Obiano, Okorocha etc supported the protests and dissociated the entire Igbo people from it. These are politicians elected through the institutions in Nigeria, hence they cannot condemn it. For Okowa, his primary constituency remains Delta State and it is understandable that he preached that all Deltans are one. That is the import of his statement . Based on the reason of “administrative factor” ie the former Eastern region and the “ethnic factor” covering the Anioma and Western Ijaw areas, such protests should be expected in those places. Be it Uyo, Calabar, Enugu, Asaba, Port Harcourt, Aba etc.
Paul Osuyi should only raise alarm when he suddenly wakes up one morning and he sees IPOB organizing protests in Benin City or other parts of Nigeria which is neither connected to the Southeast via administrative relationship nor by ethnic factor. Claiming that Okowa had been “weak” for not condemning the protests in Asaba is nonsense. As far as the protests are peaceful just as Chief Clement Ofuani asserted, there is absolutely no problem. It is also noteworthy that several Anioma people are tied to the IPOB either as members or are sympathetic to the movement. This is natural. Aniomas cannot be divorced from the larger Igbo group in Nigeria. This was also the case during the Biafran war, most Anioma soldiers and volunteers fought on the side of Biafra.
5. Paul Osuyi also attempted to give the impression that Biafra is just a movement by the Southeast Igbo people. That is a carryover of the lies the Nigerian State fed to Nigerians. It dates from the Civil war and it still remains the case till today. For those with selective amnesia or are just Igbo-haters, the likes of Philip Effiong who actually signed the end of hostilities or Okokon Ndem and many others who were not Igbos played prominent roles in Biafra (administrative factor). In the same vain, Aniomas were tied to it because they are Igbos and saw their existence and interests better protected in a Biafra (ethnic factor). Comparing the Yoruba people of Benin Republic with the Anioma by Ogbueshi Oliko is baseless. The Yorubas of Benin Republic did not on their own decide to leave their Nigerian brothers but it was the Europeans who did that. Invoking that sad event suggests inferiority complex. The Anioma question cannot be used as an analogy to the Beninese Yorubas. Aniomas belong to 21st century Nigeria and not the 19th century Africa defined and divided by European powers.
6. Reference to Ndi Anioma is the most ridiculous dimension to the said report and it exposes Mr Osuyi’s real intentions. When Ndi Anioma an APC mouthpiece made that “press statement”, we were quick to refute it to tell Nigerians that their “press statement” remains their own opinion and does not represent collectively the position of the Anioma people. Also, in this group, we explained why towing the line of Ikwerre people would backfire. No where in Anioma bears the tag of oil capital of Nigeria or has a seaport like the Ikwerre. Thus our land is not that strategic. I believe however that the Ikwerres should follow our lead and stopped being used against their own (Igbo speaking) people. It is also important to make it clear that Ndoni at no time followed the example set by the Ikwerres. In any case, their opinion is identical to those of Anioma or Ogbaru people of Anambra State.
7. The likes of Paul Osuyi and Ben Etaghene are advised and warned to leave Anioma people alone. No Anioma person is interested in wherever the Bini or Urhobo people decide to do with their destinies or future. It is important to repeat once again that our closest relatives are Igbos especially parts of Anambra and Imo States. We will never accept Asaba/Okpanam to be separated from Onitsha/Anam or Ndokwa East to be separated from Ogbaru/Oguta or Ubulu-Uku from Ozubulu in Anambra State. Neither do some Bini nor Urhobo people have any standing to tell us who or what to associate it. We have been good neighbours for centuries with the Edo and Urhobo as well as Ijaw, Isoko and even Igala people and we will remain good neighbours.
8. Let me emphasize that the agitation for “Biafra” originates from a perceived injustice. And many Nigerians irrespective of which region of the country they come from also share the same sentiment. The federal government should be proactive to address this issue. Sadly , Nigerians especially from parts of the Middle Belt and South do not seem to buy into this clamour which would lead to positive change and progress for the entire country. As far as they are concerned, it is the business of some “Igbo miscreants”. Or those miscreants are only interested in the oil as if the oil had actually benefited Nigerians and the oil producing areas. People should stop being petty. If reforms are instituted such as true federalism, or the tenets of the Aburi Accord is implemented, such calls for a Biafra would die naturally. Lies , dishonesty, ethnic hatred especially towards the Igbo people and divide then conquer strategy will not put to an end the activities of IPOB.
I also see no reason why Nigerians do not discuss the civil war. You cannot forget an event which had greatly shaped the destiny of the country. If others who are aggrieved from the event (because those responsible for such atrocities were not punished and some even adorn our currency notes) and are not ready to join the state-instituted amnesia, such people are on the right cause. Forgetfulness is one of the reasons Africans and Africa remains backward. We must learn from the past, never forget it and plan for a better future.