By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
LATELY, there has been nothing as controversial in Delta State, comprising chiefly the Anioma (Ndokwa inclusive), Urhobo, Isoko and Ijaw–speaking people, particularly before and after the January 6 gubernatorial re-run, as the creation of the state itself in 1991 by former military President, General Ibrahim Babaginda.
The hullabaloo has been further accentuated by the aspiration of the Urhobo, who occupy the Central Senatorial District of the state to take over the governorship of the state, not too long, after one of their sons, Chief James Ibori, vacated the office after an eight-year sojourn that lasted from 1999-2007.
But, the Delta South Senatorial District, comprising principally the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko, is insisting that it has not even completed its first four-year tenure, started by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and so, the Central District should forget about governorship for now.
Even at that, the Delta North Senatorial District, comprising mainly Oshimili, Ika, Aniocha and Ndokwa areas, maintains that the scramble over the governorship was uncalled for, as it should be taken as an accepted political norm, that, having ruled for eight years under Ibori, the tenure of Senator Felix Ibru as the first civilian governor of the state notwithstanding, the Delta Central Senatorial District should allow the Delta South Senatorial District to complete its eight-year tenure, and, thereafter, the Anioma would take their turn before they (Urhobo) would talk of governorship again.
But, it is not as easy as that, even in Delta South, which has the support of Delta North to continue and complete an eight-year mandate, there is incongruity among the component units that make up the district on the way forward with the former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, as the chief antagonist, on whether Dr. Uduaghan, who is an Itsekiri, should run the full course or otherwise. However, he (Uduaghan) already holds the PDP gubernatorial ticket and looks sure to run the race in April.
Some, particularly those who refer to themselves as core Deltans, however, strongly argue that the Itsekiri ethnic group never wanted to be part of Delta and should not be talking about governorship of the state. There is also the contention that Anioma is also not part of the original Delta State, as what the people wanted was Anioma State. So, the Urhobo people believe they are the nucleus of the real Delta State and should be allowed to run the state.
Empirically, the situation in Delta today is that there is a cacophony of voices over the true Delta State and the question that has propped up is: Did Babangida commit a blunder, about 19 years ago, in creating the state?
For sure, it is a matter that is being discussed in the political circles but once Sunday Vanguard raised it with some political and community leaders, last week, they read top secret in it. And, so, the reactions were moderated.
From the former deputy premier of the defunct Midwest Region and Isoko leader, Chief James Otobo; Delta North Leader, Obi (Senator) Nosike Ikpo; Delta State Commissioner for Orientation and Communication, Chief Paulinus Akpeki; one-time Commissioner in defunct Bendel State, Dr. Richard Tosanwumi and president of the Izon-Ibe Oil Producing Communities Forum (IOPCF), Chief Favour Izoukumor, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the matter, there were elements of subtlety.
What was, nevertheless, unmistakable from their ventilations was that Babangida did what he did with the creation of Delta State in 1991 based on the exigencies of the time, and there was nothing anyone could have done about it.
IBB goofed — Otobo
Otobo, who laughed his heart out when his comments were sought on the matter, went into history to explain that the defunct Midwest Region had two known provinces — Benin and Warri — with eight divisions or administrative units, four in each province. He stated that Asaba, which was one of the divisions then, was under the Benin Province and these are the people that make up the uncreated Anioma State today, except for the Ndokwa division, which is part of Anioma State presently, but, under the Warri province in the Midwest Region.
The erstwhile deputy premier said the intention, during the state creation exercise, was to make the Benin province a state with its capital in Benin City and Warri province a state with its capital in Warri. He, however, said that a sharp disagreement erupted, as the Itsekiri people, who claimed ownership of Warri did not want to be part of Delta State, adding, “They have this affinity with the Yoruba, which was obvious in the defunct Midwest Region and they said Warri cannot be the capital of Delta State because they are not part of it.”
He said the truth of the matter was that things did not work out even among those agitating for the creation of Delta State, as there was heavy contention on where the capital should be. Otobo mentioned the late Chief Amadi Emina as one of the prominent persons who went round to harmonise the different opinions, but, at the end of the day, Babangida capitalised on the division created by the Itsekiri people to move the capital to Asaba, which was not part of the Warri province.
He asserted that instead of losing Delta State, as it was obvious the military regime could not create two states out of the defunct Bendel State in 1991, “we sacrificed the issue of the capital going to anywhere, as long as we have Delta State,” adding, “that is how Asaba, which is not part of the agitation for Delta State, (they were agitating for Anioma State), became the capital of Delta State.”
The elder statesman posited, nevertheless, that Babangida made a mistake in the way he created Delta State, knowing that Asaba, which was made the capital, was not part of the original Delta.
On whether IBB could be pardoned for the act, he said, “There is nothing to pardon, it was a military regime, he was the Head of State at that time and he took his decisions based on the prevailing circumstances.”
Otobo, however, said that if he was from Anioma, he would not be agitating for anything in the current Delta State. “My advice is that with Asaba as the capital and already developed, Anioma people should press for the creation of Anioma State and leave the Delta people alone and I hope the National Assembly should create Anioma State so that we on this side should be in Delta State,” he said.
He added: “I make this recommendation with due sense of responsibility, not to spite anybody. My first four children are Anioma and I believe, at my age, that Anioma State should be created for the Anioma people, including Ndokwa because they are homogenous and contiguous people.”
IBB created Anioma, not Delta State — Ikpo
Senator Ikpo told Sunday Vanguard: “The creation of Delta State by General Babangida in 1991 was not a mistake in any manner; rather, it was a compromise. But, in the actual sense, what IBB created was Anioma State. I have said it on different occasions in Anioma meetings that, as a member of the National Assembly Committee on State Creation, from the defunct Bendel State before the military took over, it was clear that Anioma State was what IBB created though they called the name, Delta.’‘ He said a joint committee, which the late Amadi Emina was part of, went round the state to harmonise views on the various contentions by the agitators for Delta and Anioma states, but, the different ethnic groups stuck to their gun and the military had to make a compromise.
Ikpo noted that the people of Rivers State also wanted a state to be created out of their state at that time and there was no way Babangida could have created two more states, Anioma and Delta, with Benin City and environs as Edo State out of the defunct Bendel State without creating a new state out of Rivers. ‘’So, he navigated his way out by creating Bayelsa State and putting the capital of the Anioma State, which was tactically named Delta State in Asaba.’’
It was a mistake, but…— Akpeki
However, according to Akpeki, a committee was set up and headed by the former Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), Prof Omo Omoruyi, and it recommended the creation of three states: Urhobo State, Anioma State and Edo State, which Itsekiri people, were supposed to be part of. He said the Omoruyi team met with Babangida and presented the position of the people, but, at the end of the day, Babangida created Delta State as it is today.
According to him, “If my memory serves me right, I can recall that IBB met with the Olu of Warri to discuss the matter. I want to say that it is a mistake but IBB had his personal reason for what he did, but as Deltans, we ought to sink our ethnic differences and work together.”
I don’t blame Babangida – Tosanwumi
Tosanwumi told Sunday Vanguard, “Delta State was created by military fiat, it was a shock to the agitators because the high level agreement that was reached was for the creation of Anioma and Delta states.
“I don’t condemn IBB for what happened; I think it was to placate the situation on ground, the creation of Delta State with Asaba as the capital was determined by the situation on ground then. I don’t think it will be right for any section of the state to create confusion as a result at this time; we should sink our differences and live in harmony.
“In fact, we should accept zoning and rotation of power. It is fundamental. We, of the Delta South Senatorial District, feel we should complete our tenure of eight years, but, because some of us, for obvious reasons, do not want Dr. Uduaghan, though he is an Itsekiri like me, I am in the campaign team of Ovie Omo-Agege/Kpokpogri. But the ideal thing in Delta State is for us to allow rotation of power because the state belongs to all of us.”
God used IBB to fulfill a purpose — Izoukumor
Izoukumor, who praised Sunday Vanguard’s ingenuity for bringing the matter up for debate at such a critical time in the history of the state, said, “To me, IBB did not make any mistake in creating Delta State the way it is today. In Nigeria, most of the states were created based on ethnicity, but, that is not the ideal thing, and that is the reason for the problems we have today in the country.
“I want to commend IBB for gathering heterogeneous people and bringing them together to make up Delta State. He did not make any mistake, it was God at work, what happened was God’s handiwork. God has a reason; He has a purpose for creating Delta State the way it is today. The only thing is that we, the people of Delta State, should love ourselves and live in unity.”