From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
INDIGENOUS People of Biafra, IPOB and its twin organisation in the struggle, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) have been at the forefront of the agitation for an independent state of Biafra in recent times. They have as a result come up with a proposed map of Biafra territory wherein Anioma land of Delta State is included.
But Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa who hails from Owa- Oyibu in Ika North-East council area within Anioma land, disowned the purported map, insisting that no part of the state was in Biafra territory ab-initio.
“We have criticized Biafran agitation. Anioma land, as it is, from here we are part of old Bendel State, we are part of the Mid-west State, we have not been part of the South-East, so obviously, we cannot be said to be part of them.
“We may speak a similar language but we are not part of the South-East. We were part of the Mid-west which was later Bendel State. We are now Delta State and we are Deltans,” Okowa told journalists in Asaba.
Buttressing the governor’s point, Ogbueshi Paul Oliko of Umuagu quarters of Asaba told Saturday Sun that Biafran agitators who are claiming that their territory extends to Anioma land were misinformed by their leaders.
Oliko whose father was killed during the civil war, explained that during the war “what was declared as Biafra was the current South-East region. And when the war got to a particular level, our area here from Asaba to Benin to Ore was declared as Republic of Benin (ROB), we were young men at that time. There was no time Anioma was part of Biafra.
“There were two republics that were declared, Ojukwu was in charge of Biafra and when they declared ROB, it was Col. Nwawor who was the head with Benin City as headquarter. All Anioma including Warri were all involved at that time before the federal troops drove them away from Ore, Benin, Warri and pushed them to Asaba. We had the Asaba massacre before they ran across to the original Biafra.”
Oliko while applauding Governor Okowa for dissociating Anioma land from Biafra however, noted that the governor should have done more to prohibit pro-Biafra demonstration in Asaba, which has been a hotbed for the protesters in recent times, just as the governors of Rivers, Cross River and Akwa-Ibom did for the cities of Port Harcourt, Calabar and Uyo.
According to Oliko, “I think it is the weakness of our government that is making them to be using here for demonstrations. Our government is trying to play safe and it does not help anybody. Our governor was not bold enough to ban such demonstrations.
“The governors of Rivers, Cross River and Akwa-Ibom have made pronouncements prohibiting such protests. There are no more demonstrations in Port Harcourt, Calabar and Uyo because the governors are no longer tolerating the agitators.
“The towns may be in their (Biafra) map when they were still a small community, now they are all enlightened. Before, Effiong used to be Ojukwu’s deputy but the people of Calabar where Effiong came from dissociated themselves from the agitation.
“So, the current Biafra is a land locked area, Igbo speaking South- East, it has nothing to do with the South-South. Our governor mentioned it but he never gave the police order to stop them from doing their demonstration in Asaba.”
However, the Odua of Ubulu-Okiti Kingdom in Aniocha South council area, Chief Clement Ofuani, sees the demonstrations by pro-Biafran groups as an action within their constitutional right provided they do not infringe on the rights of others.
Odua Ofuani who described the Biafra agitation as a national issue, urged the Federal Government not to resort to the use of force in addressing the issue but to be very tactful in order to avoid what may lead to another Boko Haram.
“It is a very sensitive national issue and the way it is being addressed should be sensitive. We believe that it is not what you apply force to avoid killing people before we end up with another Boko Haram on our hand.
“As long as they carry out the demonstrations, which is their constitutional right, without disturbing other citizens who do not believe in their approach, we do not have issues with them,” Ofuani contended.
Although, Anioma stakeholders continue to hold the view that they are not part of Biafra or the South-East, some of their prominent sons, including the late Ambassador Ralph Uwechue and Col. Joe Achuzia (rtd.) have played prominent roles in the affairs of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaeneze Ndigbo.
While Uwechue who hailed from Ogwuashi-Uku was a former President General of the organisation, Achuzia, a native of Umuezei in Asaba and a commander of Biafran troops during the war, is a former Secretary General of the pan-Igbo body.
The problem of acceptability of the Aniomas as pure Igbo was still there, though not too pronounced during Uwechue’s tenure as the President General of the organisation which he allegedly operated using his personal funds most of the time as result of underlying suspicion by some South-East stakeholders.
Reacting to this development, Ogbueshi Oliko admitted that Aniomas were Igbos but insisted that there was a natural boundary between the South-East and Anioma nation.
“We are Igbos by tribe, the question of that does not arise, but we do not belong to Biafra. Like in Yoruba land, most of the South-West region speak Yoruba but part of Yorubas are in Benin Republic.
“It does not mean that if you are in a country, all of you must speak the same language, other people can be in other areas. Ohaeneze Ndigbo, on the other hand, is a cultural group for all those who speak Igbo language. Yes we are Igbo by language but there is a natural boundary,” he said.
Odua Clement Ofuani toed the same line of argument, saying that the fact that Anioma people share the same linguistic affinity with the people of the South-East does not make Anioma land part of Biafra territory.
“I am sure a lot of these agitators were probably too young at the time of the civil war or were born after the war. So they need to do some research to see the area that was Biafra when Ojukwu constituted it, and he never included any part of what is present day Delta State. We share linguistic affinity with the South-East, that is clear, but in terms of this geo-political struggle, Anioma people are just not part of Biafra.
“There has been a continued effort to carve out our true identity and one that we can be comfortable with in all ramifications culturally, historically and politically. I am sure if you go to Rivers State, the Ikwerre people will tell you that they are not Igbo and there must be a reason for that even though the language from all intents and purposes is Igbo. If you also go to parts of Ndoni, they will also tell you that they are not Igbo even though they share linguistic affinity with Igbo.
“Our heritage of linguistic affinity with Igbo as an ethnic group is not questionable but whether we share the same political direction is a completely different issue because before the colonialists came, we ran independent nationhood, they did not meet us as Igbo nation, they met us as different groups of Anioma Kingdoms running their own independent affairs and dealing with their neighbors both culturally and in trade and commerce as they deemed fit. So you cannot wake today now that you are creating Biafra and incorporating Anioma into it, that is not correct.
“During the war, there were families that got caught up, one brother wearing Nigerian army uniform, another brother wearing Biafran army uniform and they all met in the war front. This happened, unfortunately, mostly to Anioma people. So you could say that there has never been that unanimity of opinion about our identity but a number of people having studied what is in our best political interest have come to the realisation that our interests are best protected as Anioma nation and not another definition that anybody may seek to impose on us. We are Anioma people and we will relate with any other ethnic group in the way that we consider it of interest to us as Anioma people whether it is the South-East, or South-West or the North.” ple having studied what is in our best political interest have
Besides, a socio-cultural group for Anioma sons and daughters at home and in the diaspora, Ndi Anioma of Nigeria warned pro-Biafra agitators to desist from including Anioma in their territory.
Ndi Anioma of Nigeria, in a statement jointly signed on behalf of Anioma nation by Lauretta Onochie, Emeka Esogbue, Gloria Adagbon, Emmanuel Nwaokolo, Smart Ajaja, Frank Ofili, Benson Ozour, Harris Pen Ogbolu, Lawrence Egwali, Gregory Ogbolu, Ifeanyi Onwuli and Fidelis Chimokwu, noted that Biafra died permanently in 1970.
“Like most observers who followed the nature of Biafra in 1967, Ndi Anioma is of the view that Biafra died permanently in 1970 with the surrender speech made by Philip Effiong in which he emphatically stated: ‘Biafra ceases to exist’, following Col. Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu’s escape to Ivory Coast.
“In spite of this circumstance, a few resentful people of South-East origin are attempting to exploit a non-existent opportunity to make the present democratic dispensation ungovernable.
“But for posterity, Ndi-Anioma must make its position clear thus: Anioma has never been part of Biafra in history or administration. For record purposes, Anioma was first situated in the Western Region, then Midwestern Region, Bendel State, and now Delta State in the South-South. We cannot for any reason afford to be forcefully strong-armed into any region, outside the region within the South-South geographical zone.
“Henceforward, the representation of Anioma in different maps of Biafra does not and cannot amount to Anioma being part of Biafra. That can only be in the figment of the imagination of desperate irredentist adventurers who creatively made such maps to satisfy their thirst for empire-building. They may make Anioma to exist in their maps, but the world must note that it does not have our consent as we reject that tag vehemently.
“Nnamdi Kanu is not familiar with Anioma region and we cannot remember any contribution he has rendered towards the growth and development of our region. We cannot also remember him attending a mere social function of Anioma people to warrant our people to die for him.
“Frequent announcement that Anioma is part of Biafra on Radio Biafra is far from being a favour because we are not prepared to be drawn into any situation that may threaten the territorial integrity of Nigeria, nor to prosecute any war. Anioma is Anioma, not Biafra,” Ndi Anioma stated.
Besides this stand, is the position of the traditional ruler of Asaba, Asagba (Prof.) Chike Edozien who insists that the unity of Nigeria is no longer negotiable after the fratricidal war that claimed several lives including Asaba natives.
“What is the greatness of Asaba? The greatness of Asaba is that it the beginning, the centre of a great country that houses more than one-third of black people in the world. So if you divide Nigeria, Asaba will become the centre of part of that great country, you have diminished Asaba, I don’t want Asaba to be diminished.
“The only issue is that in building this country, like that of Europe, how were the countries in Europe built, one great people are able to conquer the others and imposed their culture on them, and then they become a country.
“That was then, today we are trying to put together more than 200 ethnic groups to become one country, it is not easy, it cannot just happen over night but it does not have to take 60 years. You can shorten the period, but you need the desire to have a great country Nigeria set up the mechanism to study the issues and how to overcome so that everybody has a sense of belonging and there will be justice. As long as there is injustice, there will be agitation for people to get away.
“Nigeria, to the rest of the world is still a collection of 200 tribes, we want Nigeria to become a nation, the president should do something about it. We should try to turn from being 200 or more tribes living together to become a nation. It is not simply thing that one man can do, one military man cannot do it by military fiat, it needs investigation, it needs financial support,” the monarch said.
Meanwhile, in sympathy with his brothers, former Secretary General of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) Frank Kokori who hails from Delta central came hard on pro-Biafran groups, saying that they were trivializing a rather serious matter by including areas in the South-South as part of Biafra territory.
Kokori, said that MASSOB and other pro-Biafran agitators were jokers trying to exploit the oil-rich Niger Delta, explaining that during the “civil war, there was no South-South. There were the Eastern region, Midwest region and Western region. The Midwest region comprised Bendel people. The Eastern region extended to Cross River, Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom of today but that was a long time ago.
“So, we in Delta State have never been part of Biafra. Anything that is Biafran today is purely in the South-East which does not include Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom.