Chigachi EkeWednesday, March 6, 2013
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Port Harcourt, Nigeria




he Obolo Ijaw submitted a document titled “Memorandum for the Creation of Oil Rivers State Out of the Present Rivers and Akwa Ibom States” to the National Assembly in June 2012. Lead signatories include HM King Prof. TJT Princewill, Amanyanabo of Kalabari; King Edward AWD Pepple, Amanyanabo of Grand Bonny; HM King Dandeson D. Jaja Jeki V, Amanyanabo of Opobo and HRH E.T.I. Obudibo, Amanyanabo of Ogoloma. Altogether, 590 Ijaws including Ben George T. Sekibo, representing Rivers East in the Senate and Bright Tamuno Gogo, representing Okrika/Ogu/Bolo in the House of Representatives, endorsed this document.

Cartographically, proposed Oil Rivers covers 5000 sq kilometers of the southern seabed of Engeni, Abua/Odua, Akuku Toru, Degema, Asari Toru, Port Harcourt South, Okrika, Bonny, Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro, Eastern Obolo and Ibeno. The capital is Isaka/ Bakana or Degema while its 2, 344,945 population is exclusively Ijaws of Eastern Delta. Arc. Esoetok Etteh, also signatory to this document, explains this exclusivity, “We must recover and retain our culture lost to British balkanization of the past two hundred years. Some of us have lost our language and ways of life. The proposed Oil Rivers State will correct these anomalies.”

In Akwa Ibom State the memo sent a cold fear into the stoutest of hearts where it was judged a reenactment of the terrible, terrible old days when Ijaws’ canons spat balls on Ibibio and Eket lands. Only British intervention in the affairs of Niger Delta singularly gave respite to the peoples of Ikot Abasi and Mkpat Enin from warring Ijaws. But this time they were ready. Their counter-attack came in petitions submitted to Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy President of Nigerian Senate and Chairman, National Assembly Committee on Constitutional Amendment.

Led by Obong E.C.D. Abia, Attah of Eket, the traditional rulers of Eket Senatorial District comprising of twelve Local Government Areas, LGAs, including Eatern Obolo and Ibeno, urged the National Assembly February 2013 to reject the Obolo Ijaw demand: “The agitators and architects of the said memorandum have employed outright falsehood and distortions to advance their demand. If the Ibenos and the people of Eastern Obolo who now claim to be of Ijaw extraction desire to join the people of Rivers State to form a state, they should do so with their land and wealth not ours…The area of our land and wealth thereon which the people of Ibeno and Eastern Obolo local government areas of Akwa Ibom State have caused to be drawn or made to form part of the proposed Oil Rivers State is ours, they do not belong to the people of Ibeno and/or Eastern Obolo.” Armed with documented evidence the leaders pointed out that “the entire coastal area known as Stubbs Creek and the sea extending from the mouth of the Qua Iboe River eastward along the seashsore to the Child Point (Okposo II) belong to the Ekets, to wit: Eket, Esit Eket and Onna local government areas,” in line with the Supreme Court at Calabar, the West African Court of Appeal and the Privy Council judgements of 1914 and 1918.

As matters stand now the stage is set for a major ethnic upheaval in Akwa Ibom. The contestation being (1) the Obolo Ijaw’s desire to unite with their kit and kin in “one culturally homogenous and territorially contiguous” unit called Ijaw land, Oil Rivers will form part of this grand scheme, in line with the original pre-colonial configuration and, (2) the opposing desire by the Eket and Ibibio to retain the present Akwa Ibom State structure including Eastern Obolo and Ibeno LGAs. Akwa Ibom state devoid of Eastern Obolo and Ibeno will virtually cease to be littoral as the bulk of its oil wells are located in these two areas. This explains why the counter-petitions by Ekets continue to harp on “our land and wealth.”

It must be said that the Ijaw have a valid case reversing colonial injuries until you hear the bitter story of their neighbours: Imperial Ijaw who bestrode pre-colonial Niger Delta and hinterland was an inflexible monopolist. His middleman position in trade and military was ruthlessly employed to the disadvantage of others. This golden era of Ijaw nationalism marked the nadir for their traumatized neighbours so much so that the Ibibio should be forgiven if they wake up tomorrow only to demand for reparation from Obolo Ijaws for the latter’s high handedness in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Obolo Ijaw must remember that the very conditions which catapulted them to glory worked in reverse for others. The Ijaw would be naïve resurrecting a great past without the ambiguous legacy that comes with it.

It is common knowledge that pre-colonial Ijaws rode to glory joggling war (war-war) and diplomacy (jaw-jaw). Their expansion East and West from Ogbe Ijaw, hypothetically, was conditioned by military conquest or willful migration. If by the former this talk about uniting all Ijaws will bruise old wounds rekindling the urge for revenging in those who lost lands to Ijaws. But if by the latter then we must carefully re-examine the claim of “territorially contiguous” Ijaw land, as I hope to do here, not to fall into the trap of arguing from answer to question. Human geography world-wide is mapped following ancient settlement patterns. In ancient times, Ijaws included, group settlements were never coordinated but discriminatory. That is why you have Zulu people in kwaZulu Natal (South Africa); Swaziland (Kingdom of Swaziland); Mpumalanga (South Africa) and Matabele Land (Zimbabwe), for instance.

Territorial contiguity is a political necessity very much alien to our survivalist ancestors whose security often meant putting great distance between themselves and their kind. Again in the Zulu example, Mzilikazi who was Emperor Shaka’s General decided to flee Zulu land with his Khumalo Clan when he lost a battle. Returning to Shaka at the capital city of Bulawayo in kwaZulu Natal would have meant execution so he did the wisest thing. Crossing the Limpopo River after more than seven hundred kilometers he founded a new settlement called Matabele land, called his new capital Bulawayo; but changed his identity from Zulu(s) to Ndebele(s). You reap conflict tampering with ancient truth or interpreting such to justify modern exigencies. I draw the attention of better informed historians like Felix Tuodulo, Timi Kaiser-Wilhelm Ogoriba and Etteh that a culturally homogenous Ijaw land less territorial contiguity could be nearer the truth, whether pre or post-colonial truth. Bear in mind that the natural trend of Ijaw civilization is ever fragmentary, never otherwise, favouring onward expansion in search of new fishing grounds in line with Ijaw economy.

Every empire must die someday. Ijaw City-States cannot be an exception to this immutable law. Ijaws must reconsider how to maximize modern realities than expending energy recreating a glorious past likely to pitch them in vicious struggles with others. That is Utopia. With the greatest respect to the Kaiama Declaration, which I whole heartedly endorsed before President Miabiye Kuromiema, I insist that 21st Century Ijaw nationalism must be balanced with realism. Something is seriously wrong if at every turn we find Ijaws in conflict with Yorubas (Ondo State), Binis (Edo State), Itsekiris (Delta State) Ikwerres and Ogonis (Rivers State) and Ibibios and Ekets (Akwa Ibom State). How feasible is a territorial contiguous Ijaw land? In Maka and Grande Village (Gabon) I met large Ijaw communities of many generations who do not consider themselves Nigerians but Gabonese; they are also very proud of their Ijawness. Do we now extend Ijaw land to Central Africa to include them or stripe them of their Ijaw identity since they fall outside Ijaw territorial sphere?

I have read elsewhere that Ijaws are Black Jews. This could be so only because they are indigenes of Lagos, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River States; and citizens of Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasha and Angola. Creating a united Ijaw land out of this hotchpotch remains to be seen even as none bothers about the flip side: Ijaws outside the new enclave would be condemned as settlers, a terrible minus demographically, territorially, economically and strategically, in particular, as a blockade is then feasible. But Ijaws scattered as they are today can claim indigenes/citizens of any state/country like pre-1948 Jews. Therefore, until an Izon Republic can protect Ijaws world-wide, like Israel does to Jews, the present configuration is best. The Obolo Ijaw of Eastern Obolo and Ibeno LGAs of Akwa Ibom have no need reinventing the wheel to assert themselves.

To attempt a solution is to ask what Godswill Akpabio, Governor of Akwa Ibom State, is not doing to convince the Oron, Obolo, Annang, Eket and Ibibio that Akwa Ibom is “equally” for all.

In “Godswill Akpabio: The Magician of Akwa Ibom,” Comrade Ebenezer Babatope in a rare show of generosity crowns Akpabio the Father of Akwa Ibom State with reasons. Akpabio’s transformation of this multi-ethnic state equals what Kim ill Sung did in North Korea and Audu Bako wrought in old Kano State. Predictably, Socialist Babatope is kind to Akpabio for the latter’s pro-populi agenda. Everything capable of making a people great Akpabio built and made available for his people. But these grand works could go up in smoke unless he calls the Obolo and Eket to a speedy order. For at the bottom of this problem is the generational indigene/settler curse. The highest courts in the land had looked into this matter with limited success. Magician Akpabio must change tact before these protagonists ruin his wonderful performance. A better art could be dealing a regular hand to all.

Chigachi Eke is an Igbo Rights Activist.