By Ochereome Nnanna
I HAVE watched with sour interest what has been going on between Akwa Ibom and Cross River states since the Federal Government decided that the latter was no longer an oil-producing state.
The story of the two sister states is an ironic and intriguing rise of a former underdog and the increasing impoverishment of a former social overlord, and in both cases for reasons beyond their respective control.
The two sisters used to belong to what was known as the South Eastern State which was created in 1967 and later renamed Cross River State in 1976 when additional states were created by the Murtala Mohammed regime.
The people of todayâ€™s Akwa Ibom State were generically referred to as the Ibibio and dominated the population of the old Cross River State so much that the peoples of Calabar the capital (Qua, Efik and Efut) started regarding them as alien invaders and corrupters of their proud Calabar heritage; pests that were to be looked down upon in the same way the peoples of Bonny and Kalabari areas of Rivers State used to look down their noses at the uplanders around them.
The simple reason was because the Calabar and Bonny people had early exposure to the white man, Western education and sold slaves from the hinterland.
They had rich and prestigious kingdoms in which their immediate upland neighbours came to take economic and cultural shelter. The Efiks of Calabar used to regard the Ibibio as â€œIbio-iboâ€ which, I am made to understand, means offspring of the Ibo, as a way of emphasising the difference between the Efiks and the Ibibio.
Even though the people of todayâ€™s Akwa Ibom also embraced Western education early, many of their less-privileged ones submitted to professional servitude in urban areas and became wildly known all over the country as professional house-helps, cooks and domestic servants; a fact reflected in Chika Okpalaâ€™s Masquerade comedy series, in which James Iroha (Giringory) played the role of the â€œCalabar Boyâ€ servant to â€œChief Zebrudayaâ€.
The people of Calabar are proud and epicurean; and would not submit to being anybodyâ€™s servant. Therefore, the lowly â€œCalabar Boyâ€ in your mindâ€™s screen was from todayâ€™s Akwa Ibom.
These hard working people spread to all parts of the country and in Aba where they learnt all sorts of trade and performed menial jobs to survive. They were derogatively referred to as Mmong people (mimicry of the sound of their language).
But from 1987, the story of Akwa Ibom started to change. General Babangida created a new state for them the same day that Katsina State was created. After Abachaâ€™s Conference when the 13 per cent derivation royalties were ceded to oil producing states, Akwa Ibom arrived as an oil-rich state.
The table turned. From the total federal monthly allocation, the state collects the fourth largest share of derivation royalties after Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa. What Akwa Ibom gained, Cross River lost.
Cross Riverâ€™s losing streak continued when Nigeria ceded oil-rich Bakasi Peninsula to Cameroun in order to fulfil its civil war mortgaging of the disputed area to enable it contain Biafra. While still struggling to resettle those displaced, a court ruled that a parcel of land containing 76 oil wells now belonged to Akwa Ibom.
Presto, the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC) declared Cross River as no longer an oil producing state. In a curious interpretation, the state was pronounced a non-littoral state even though the Calabar Ports are still there!
Today, Akwa Ibom towers head and shoulder above its neighbouring states (except Rivers) in oil wealth, which in 10 years, has been deployed to lift the standard of living of its people. Akwa Ibom people are no longer interested in being associated with Calabar in order to pass because the Akwa Ibom identity alone is prestige defined.
Stripped to the bone with imminent bankruptcy staring it in the face, Cross River approached the Federal Government to redress the â€œinjusticeâ€ of the boundary adjustment and apply some political measures to enable the state to survive. The President is at present looking into the request. After all, it is not a strange thing in our history to do so.
When the Supreme Court ruled in a case filed by the Federal Government during the Obasanjo years that all oil outside the water margin level of the continental shelf would no longer be computed for derivation royalties to adjoining states, Akwa Ibom was effectively off the list of oil producing states.
Many non-oil producing states, especially Northerners and some states in the South West, rejoiced because this meant more money for them from the Federation Account. But former President Obasanjo applied some wisdom and decided, through a political solution, to allow sleeping dogs lie. Akwa Ibom was back on easy street, and we rejoiced with it.
And now that President Yarâ€™ Adua is also exploring a political solution to enable Cross River to meet its bills and the needs of its citizens, Akwa Ibom is refusing to cooperate! They are fighting to keep the 76 oil wells unjustly handed to them on a platter of gold by Abuja-based federal agencies. They do not want the Federal Government to do for Cross River what it did for them to enable them survive.
They are refusing to be their brotherâ€™s keepers. It is none of their business if their neighbour starves; the same neighbour that provided them shelter and made it possible for them to claim to be â€œCalabar Boysâ€ when the going was not so good for Akwa Ibom people. That is not nice.
It is not in the interest of anybody if Cross River, the only state with most of its rainforest still intact, dies an economic death as a result of losing its natural resources to diabolical federal politics. How will it develop Obudu, the nationâ€™s number one tourism brand? How will it switch on Tinapa, the nationâ€™s premier business resort? How will it pay its bills?
Let us not alienate Cross River people and make them feel unwanted in Nigeria. The recent petition that Dr. Matthew Mbu and his group wrote to the President on this matter was a reflection of what the people of that state feel. Let me say it again.
Akwa Ibom, please be nice. Everything that goes round comes round. The tide of federal politics can change again, and as before, you will look for help.