Anioma: Nigeria’s 37th State in the making

There is no doubt that every Anioma indigene from Igbanke in Edo State to Aboh in present Delta State is in dire need of Anioma State. Pauperization and marginalization of the people tellingly support it. Expectedly, there are three categories of Anioma indigenes as I have recently observed in our cultural assemblage, those who need Anioma State with absolute knowledge of why it is desirable and possesses the vigour to pursue it to a logical conclusion; those who believe in its obligation but consider it impossible to achieve no matter what and people who do not believe that it is necessary for any reason at all. The members of this last group believe that with Asaba, Anioma should be comfortable as real owners of Delta State thus it is of no use wishing to exit the state as presently constituted. However, no matter the group you have decidedly chosen, you need to ask yourself why.

I believe there are without doubt many reasons we passionately desire the Anioma State of our own out of the present Delta State. Other ethnic groups in our state see reasons with me too. Any serious political analyst who has followed up the historical history of this country from the years that her destiny was crafted by the British till date will understand too well that no policy has brought development closer to the grassroots than creation of states because it gives the people what belongs to them. It is an unassailable verity which will be difficult to negate because it is so.

As I observed earlier, some Anioma indigenes believe that Delta State belongs to Anioma people because the capital of the state is located in Asaba. For this reason therefore, the Anioma people should accept the state as their own and win the central leadership position of the state which will eventually bring development to the people. Others believe that disunity among the Anioma is what has constantly denied the people their right to the governorship throne of the state. Yet, there are still a few others who think that the situation of the people is made worse by betrayal from Ndokwa and Ika people who overlook the core issues of Anioma of Anioma concern. How true are these allegations?

Exactly how the Anioma can overwhelm the Ijaw, Urhobo, Isoko and Itsekiri, the other ethnic groups in the state who basically share common historical origin and ancestry is a big poser since Anioma receives peanut of the total allocation that the state derives from the federal government. Asaba is the capital but the city today belongs to all the ethnic groups in the country without exception. Of what use is a state capital to a people when governors of foreign extraction concentrate developments only in communities of their origin? Again, there is no evidence to support the fallacy that Ndokwa and Ika people have abandoned Anioma. Ndokwa and Ika see themselves as one and are so treated in inside the Delta State House of Assembly as members of Anioma ancestry. The Ndokwa and Ika have always been quota system victims in Delta State they are therefore Anioma. The division of Delta State into Delta North, Delta South and Delta Central is well known and there is no doubt that Ndokwa and Ika belong to Delta North whether they view it so or not.

Delta State is structured in such a way that the governorship position of the state will continue to elude the Anioma people in democratic arrangements. The Anioma may out of struggle or chance win the position but very soon it will elude them as the situation has always been in the past. It costs more than the unity to win positions in Nigeria. In the case of Delta State, except rotational arrangement or honest agreement is respected, the might of the other related ethnic groups in the state who see Anioma as belonging to “Onitsha” will always prevail. Before Uduaghan was removed by Court of Appeal, he had an arrangement with Anioma people in which it was agreed that the people would back him to return for second tenure while he would in return ensure that an Anioma indigene occupies Asaba Government House thereafter. This is the necessity of the creation of Anioma State.

With the creations of more states came 36 state capitals and a lot more of local government areas that have developed beyond what they were in 1960. With the creation of states came the spread of several government ministries, government parastatals and private investments; with the creation of states came the establishment of several housing estates; with the creation of states came financial institutions; with the creation of states came the number of universities and polytechnics that we have today; with the creation of states came the spread of television and radio stations; the creation of states came certain facilities that have catered for our explosive population.

Anyone who therefore thinks that creations of more states in the country were unnecessary should reverse the country to the era of regions and see for himself what will become of our society. Though, states should not spring up indiscriminately however viable ones should be considered. The revision to regionalism will cause all the present state and federal facilities we have today in Asaba and beyond to vanish. That is how best to evaluate the advantages we have derived from state creation.

To further subject it to better analysis, let us draw back the hand of clock to 1963-1990 when our people where placed within Benin-Delta division (Bendel) State. What was the level of development of Asaba? The situation was worse. How many Anioma sons and daughters governed the defunct Bendel State? The best we achieved were senators who represented our constituencies. I doubt if the voices of these so-called representatives were ever heard within the short period that democracy reigned inside Government House. The environment was really not advantageous to air their voices. More so, we were minorities. Senator Nosike Ikpo, a two-term senator of the second republic was one of the champions of the creation of Anioma State but his voice echoed only inside and around the house but not beyond. This is why “Anioma” is just gaining currency.

Perhaps, I was the only one that understood that our existence in Bendel State was not only calamitous but a waste of time because the state belonged to the Oba of Benin, his traditional chiefs and surrounding Edo communities to the exclusion of the Anioma communities. The Benin imperialism was high and the Anioma could not contain it. The same imperialism is what the ancient city is extending to Igbanke, holding tightly to the Ika-Anioma community. At least in Ibusa, Issele-Mkpitime, Illah, Okpanam, Ebu, Onicha-Olona, Mbiri, Ewulu, Isheagu, Idumuje-Ugboko, Ezi and others, I could hardly point to development of any sort. However, the Anioma historians can effectively argue in favour of the people in the defunct Bendel State if compared to the period the people were placed within the Midwestern region era. The Anioma region almost did not exist in terms of socio-economic development in the defunct Midwestern region. In fact, the periods of Midwestern region and Bendel State are best remembered as the periods of the rise of two self giants, Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia and Ambrose Ali and their respective villages.

While it afforded Ogbemudia the rare ignoble prospect to focus every practicable developmental plan in Benin, It was Ekpoma for Ambrose Ali. Ali was a catastrophe for Anioma. He left Igbanke in Orhomwon Local Government Area of Edo State to gradually rot. It was his neglect that spelt upheaval for Anioma people largely. In fact, the marginalization and pauperization of the Anioma people climaxed in the years of office of Ogbemudia and supported by Ali. Ogbemudia hated the Anioma so much that he misjudged that it was better for Igbanke, his mother’s native land to remain with Benin Division because Anioma may not develop beyond what it was. To him, it was a favour that must be accorded the Igbanke people but in reality, it was a discriminatory choice aimed at disuniting an already united people and the result is what the people of Igbanke is feeling today. The disunity that colonial Britain visited the Anioma region was after the Ekwumekwu movement was completed by Ogbemudia. With carefully orchestrated anti-Anioma policies, Ogbemudia laid the foundation for the near ruination of the region. He was so authoritative that our Anioma fathers could not restrain him. Unknown to him, in response to his retention of Igbanke as a community under Benin, the Anioma people of Ibusa nicknamed him “Ogbe mu dia”. (My town is there)

Ogbemudia was still leaving with the imagination that it was the conspiracy of Anioma indigenes that led to the invasion of the region by Biafrans during the Nigerian civil war. It was a treacherously imagined feeling that greatly and deliberately left Aniomaland neglected for decades throughout the era as the innocent Anioma struggled to survive rather than win developments. The invasion of Midwest drew a battle line between Edo and Western Ibos (Anioma) because it was to deny the people equity, justice and fairness in the region. Asaba Division were the happiest to leave Benin following the creation of Delta State.

Ogbemudia drew the attention of non Edo people to the Anioma people as a people that conspired with their Igbo kinsmen to invade his area. Anioma paid exceedingly for this because just as the federal government had made up its mind to limit the number of states due to the Igbo of Southeast, Anioma State was continually denied the right to exist. The general assumption of Gowon, Murtala, Babangida and Abacha was that the creation of Anioma State would mean a plus for the Igbo state. Refusal to create Anioma State was therefore a chastisement for the Igbo nation. In 1984, Alhaji Shehu Shagari included Anioma State in the list of states to be created by his administration but nights before the announcement, Gen Muhamadu Buhari (Retd) and his fellow khaki boys struck, the idea was truncated.

Ambrose Ali laid the foundation of Bendel State University in Ekpoma, his hometown so that it was a Bendel State University with two campuses, one in Ekpoma and the other in Abraka. Not to forget that University of Benin was already located in Benin in addition to other higher institutions in the region. What then did the Anioma have? The near social dream of Ambrose Ali is what Ekpoma is today and anyone still in doubt should take a trip to Ekpoma. The development of Ekpoma is good but people inhabited other parts of the state. This is good anyway and it is for this reason that we desire that we have our own state where our own people will lead us. Many universities in Nigeria are either located within the state capitals or the hometowns of the pioneers of the establishments of such states.

It is always interesting to listen to the prejudiced argument that Asaba was wrongly chosen as the capital of Delta State. Asaba played a great role in the economic and political shaping of Nigeria. Asaba was the first capital of Southern Nigeria which included Warri and even Lagos before it was shifted to Calabar. Asaba was the British choice from where the Royal Niger Company derived economic and political power. Asaba therefore was not in any way strange to the British who made it their choice. The town is more finely located than many state capitals that we have today. Personally, I still see Asaba as more ideal than even Abuja because it has what Abuja lacks-water despite the amount of money sunk into it. I am unpleasantly surprised that the well respected Prof Itse Sagay would fault the geographical location of Asaba and use it to try to justify his reason for faulting its roles as a state capital.

When many of us argue that Delta State remains the best home for the Anioma people because we have the capital at Asaba, I become amused because such people make this observation based on the abundant resources they assume are derivable from oil in Delta State but the “true” Niger Deltans are no fools because they know that if it is not panadol, it is not the same thing as panadol. This is why Asaba may in some measure enjoy the status of state capital in books but not in terms of spread of obvious growth to several other Anioma communities. And with this situation, only famished Anioma men, women and children will continue to walk into the banks located in Asaba. Delta State has nothing to offer a group of people who are not considered part of it. Again with the historical affinity shared by the other groups that make up the state, it is suicidal to remain in Delta State as one of the owners. And as we have noted only selfish reasons will enable it.

Many of us who argue against the creation of Anioma State today will tomorrow if created hurriedly return to the state in search of lucrative jobs, seek business investments, hunt for juicy political offices or try to explore the potentials it offers as one of the units of the nation. Yet many of us will be transferred to the state to stay closer to our families and kinsmen. Many of us will prefer to work in the banks, ministries, government parastatals, universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, local government councils, tourism, hotels and other private enterprises in Anioma State and will also like to see multinational companies extend to other areas of Anioma such as Onicha-Ugbo, Amai, Ekwuoma, Igbodo, Oko-Ogbele, Onicha-Ukwu, Ubulu-Unor. I am wondering what manner of Nigerian political observer that will not understand that creation of state opens up even the most remote villages and transforms them to the best cities. Such people had better take a trip to Ekpoma, Oghara, Ado-Ekiti, Uyo, Awka, Osogbo, Jalingo, Birin-Kebbi, Nassarawa and Yenogoa. Ibori’s governorship position tells us that a people are better ruled by their own person(s) because he will develop only his hometown.

When a leader steals money, he is likely to invest it in the development of his community. When the entire world labeled Ibori with several corrupt charges, Oghara indigenes refused to hand him over to EFCC for prosecution because the fly-over, good roads, stadium, hosting of African female soccer in the village were the testimonies of his love to the village. When a people are ruled by their own person(s), it is the best gift the people have given to themselves. We know this as true in the Nigerian context because numerous examples abound. Has anyone ever thought of the fact that the existence of Anioma State would usher in from time to time allocations that are equal to what other states collect which if put to judicious use will lead to the development of the state. No matter how corrupt our leaders decide to be, it will be beneficial because it is exclusively for the Anioma. The creation of Anioma State will also continually present one of our own to the Federal Executive Council meetings. I pray that my people should wake up from slumber.

Is it for nothing that David Mark is determined to create Apa State? Is he a fool to think of venturing into such? Is it a perfidy to give his people a state in the Nigerian polity? One of the regrets of David Mark would be noted if after he has spent all these years in the Senate and his people don’t get a state out of the present Benue State. Mark is aware of the benefits derivable from the existence of the Idoma in a separate state of their own so it is not hoodwink that he is trying desperately to obtain one for his people. If in the end, states are created and Apa State is not listed, I would blame him because he had all it took to win it for his people who have never tasted power in Benue but he failed.

Having provided us with a unique umbrella of actions and expressions, it is now the duty of every illustrious Anioma man and woman to complement the efforts of what Umu Anioma Foundation has started. Everyone has equal chances of contributions whether from Ika, Ndokwa, Oshimili or Aniocha as Umu Anioma as the Foundation and other groups provide level playing platform for achieving this. The region has the viability for sustainability however, as individuals with equal stake in the community; we need to put in our best to see to the creation of the state because it is the sacrifice that we owe ourselves and our suffering people back in our villages. The establishment of Umu Anioma Foundation is an enough roadmap not only for the creation of Anioma State but for the general enhancement of the welfare of the people.

By Emeka Esogbue