By PROF. SAM OYOVBAIRE
Former information minister, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, tackles erstwhile director general of the defunct Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), Prof. Omo Omoruyi, over his account of the creation of Delta State. Excerpts:
I am unable to hold back from elucidating some points of view based on facts and analysis in the cover story entitled, ‘’IBB fumbled in creating Delta State,’‘ by Prof. Omoruyi, published in The Sun of Tuesday.
It should be recalled that the Political Bureau had, in its report in 1987, based on very knitly close research, recommended the creation of only six states in the country including of only six states in the country including Delta.
The number of states then would have risen from 19 to 25. For reasons which are hardly clear and justifiable, only two states, namely Akwa Ibom and Katsina, were created. Yet, about four years later, August 1991, nine new states, without the benefit of further study but simply in response to governance pressures, were created by IBB. Delta State was one of these nine states.
Twenty years after the events constitute a long enough period to open up a little in the affairs of public governance. The vice-president, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, was directed by IBB in July 1991 to hold consultations and make appropriate recommendation on creating new states out of Bendel State. (It is important to acknowledge the fact the pressures for new states in Bendel were highly orchestrated from all segments – Afemai/Esan;/Asaba/Ika/Anioma; Urhobo/Isoko; and Ijaw). Adm.
Aikhomu summoned a consultative meeting of carefully and advisedly selected leaders who comprised, among others, their Royal Majesties, Oba of Benin and Olu of Warri, Gen. David Ejoor, Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia, Chief K.B. Omatseye, Chief Prof. Philip Onianwa, and Chief I.S. Moemeka. I remember that the late Chief Dennis Osadebay and the late Chief Sutherland were invited but could not attend.
Two major conclusions and recommendations were arrived at, namely:
(a) Delta Province should be a new Delta State with Warri as the state capital. The Itsekiri members were opposed to making Warri the capital of Delta State; and vehemently insisted that the Itsekiri nationality be excluded from a Delta State but merged with what is now Edo State or what Prof. Omoruyi probably canvassed with IBB as Eduwa State.
(b) Benin Province, which included Asaba District (now Oshimili, Ika and Anioma areas) or the core Ibo-speaking area of Bendel State should constitute Edo State with Benin City as the state capital. The Asaba members who attended the meeting vehemently insisted on either being granted Anioma State or as an alternative to exclude Asaba District from Edo State, and, absorbed into Delta State.
On the matter of Delta State, the decision of the AFRC meeting of August 26, 1991 was as follows: the new state was to be called Ethiope State with capital in Asaba; the Warri area (which used to be one local government, subsequently Warri North, Warri South, and Warri South-West) was excised away from Delta Province and added to Benin Province as Edo State.
Late in the night and highly-troubled by the decision of the AFRC on Delta State to be endorsed the following morning, I decided to do a hand-written note (three pages) to IBB. In the note, I sought to plead with IBB to reconsider the three decisions about Delta State.
(a) That Ethiope is the name of a river whose meaning does not go beyond the source of the river in the Obiaruku sector of Delta Province; hence it is meaningless to call the new state, Ethiope. Apart from the historical and political significance of Delta Province since it was re-named in 1952 by the Action Group government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo from Warri Province to Delta Province, it had already become rooted in the consciousness of the people, including the Ukwuani (Ndokwa) people of present-day three local government areas of Ukwuani, Ndokwa West and Ndokwa East. I pleaded that the name Ethiope should be dropped and Delta restored or retained as the name of the new state. Honestly, I do not know who counselled or canvassed the name, Ethiope, for the state; may be Prof. Omoruyi knows.
(b) Asaba was obviously on the north-eastern fringe of the state sharing River Niger as border with Anambra State. It was even much farther away from the people in the Escravos territory than Benin City as capital of Bendel State. Pretending that IBB may have forgotten the aide-memoire from Vice-President Aikhomu about Warri, I sought to re-emphasise the significance of Warri as the state capital.
My argument was that, contrary to the strong belief in certain quarters, Warri, as a state capital, would soon expand to convert the whole area into an economic, administrative and political conurbation and melting-pot city for the Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo and Ukwuani (Ndokwa) among other Nigerian citizens who would do business in the city. I am aware of the resentment by the Itsekiri leaders about making Warri the capital of the state for the fears of Urhobo domination and of their relegation to the backwaters by the forces of socio-political change and development, and also particularly of the Itsekiri monarchy.
(c) I requested even to the point of being rude to IBB the rationale of taking the Warri area into Edo State. The area is historically settled by the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhobo. Taking the Warri area from Delta is creating another round of new problems for the Urhobo who would now be a part of Edo State and for the Ijaw whose fellow compatriots in Edo State already have problems with their historical link with the Bini. To me, the recurrent crisis then in the Warri area would increase rather than reduce by the decision of August 26, 1991 by the AFRC. I, therefore, sought for the reversal of the AFRC’s decision.
At the reconvened meeting, it was announced to the AFRC by IBB that the name of the new state should be Delta State and the merger of Warri with Edo State rescinded. The capital of the state remains Asaba.
Having now relayed my own story as different from Prof. Omoruyi’s story, let me take issue with five points in Prof Omoruyi’s interview.
(a) When Prof. Omoruyi stated that “Urhobo and related people deserve a state of their own,” who are the “related people” he has in mind other than the Isoko, Itsekiri, Ijaw or Ndokwa? Prof. Omoruyi confuses one by this kind of statement because he also proceeded to advocate “that the Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri should be protected”; against whom, I may ask, other than the Urhobo?
There can be, as there has always been, a good case for the Urhobo people to have their own state, but how does Prof. Omoruyi deal with the fact that the Urhobo and Ijaw who are in Warri South, Warri South-West and Warri North will have been absorbed into his advocated “Eduwa State”? He was not invited, but how I wished Prof Omoruyi was present at the meeting summoned by Adm. Aikhomu in July 1991 when the two revered traditional rulers – Oba of Benin and Olu of Warri – were seriously engaged in altercation over the history and politics of the relationship between the two kingdoms and nationalities, that is, Benin and Itsekiri.
(b) I really cannot comprehend what Prof. Omoruyi had in mind when he said that “they (Urhobo) have not forgiven Babangida” for the location of the state capital in Asaba, and that Babangida took the decision for “personal consideration”. For Prof. Omoruyi, IBB’s “personal consideration” was the consequence of “Ogboru/Orkar Coup” of April 1990. I want to believe that Prof. Omoruyi is on firm ground, but I doubt it very much that the decision by IBB/AFRC to locate Delta State capital in Asaba has anything to do with anti-Urhobo feelings of IBB over the abortive Orkar coup. Prof. Omoruyi is insinuating that Ogboru is equivalent to, or the same as, all Urhobo people and that the Urhobo nation collaborated with Ogboru to sponsor the 1990 abortive Orkar coup. Unbelievable.
Incidentally, there used to be another laughably alleged IBB’s “personal consideration” which certain individuals used to bandy around in the location of the Delta State capital in Asaba. This one is related to the fact of Her Excellency, Mrs. Miriam Babangida (may her peaceful and beautiful soul rest in peace) being paternally from Asaba, and hence, as it was comically stated to me, the state capital was “the bride price paid for the traditional marriage of Mrs. Babangida to the Asaba people”. These are really funny political stuff. It is true that Babangida listened to the strong plea of the Asaba community to be granted Anioma State and be ”freed from the Benin empire.”
It should be recalled that, until only recently, the bogey of economic viability argument was used to shoot down, refuse, reject or counter any demand for state creation. Anioma was considered, rightly or wrongly, as unviable as a state. I know the individuals whose personal engagements swayed IBB (not even his wife) in granting Asaba “independence from the Benin Empire”; in attaching them to Delta Province for the purpose of Delta State; and in approving Asaba as the capital. It has nothing to do with the 1990 coup or with Mrs. Babangida being a paternal indigene of Asaba.
(c) I am perplexed by the persistence of Prof. Omoruyi in the linkage between Benin and Itsekiri in his proposition of an Eduwa State. In addition to what I have already said when the AFRC decided on August 26, 1991, to merge the Warri area of Delta State with Edo State, I really do not see the geo-political fundamentals in the Eduwa State proposition. There is hardly any direct geo-political relationship between Benin and Itsekiri.
The linkage is even permeated by the Ijaw community. Even if a case can be built around any geo-political contiguity in the creation of an Eduwa State, how can we deal with the Ijaw in Warri North and Warri South West, and Urhobo in Warri South Local Government Areas in Eduwa State? To extend the argument a little, how is Edo State dealing presently with the Ijaw minority in the state?
(d) Prof. Omoruyi talked so much about relationship among the three ethnic nationalities of Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri. There is a good case in the political relationship of these three groups in so far as there is an Urhobo phenomenon to deal with, yet the relationship between Ijaw and Itsekiri has not been less problematic than as between Urhobo and Itsekiri. In any case, the Ijaw communities in Delta State is only a part of the larger Ijaw nationality which is composed by Ijaw communities in Ondo, Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.
When the “coast state” proposition was orchestrated during the government of Prof. Ambrose Alli of the UPN and even, later, before the Chief Arthur Mbanefo Panel in 1994/95 under Gen. Sani Abacha, the proposition was not limited or envisaged as consisting of Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri only. The people of Ndokwa East and even a section of Asaba along the south western fringes of the River Niger were part of the agitation. I find Prof. Omoruyi’s thoughts and advocacy here very confusing or at best not well informed.
(e) Finally, I am not sure of what to make of the statement in the interview by Prof. Omoruyi by linking the result of the recent re-run election of January 6, 2011 and the politics of Delta State on the one hand, and what he believes as the mistake made by IBB in the creation of Delta State on the other.
I thought Prof. Omoruyi would be able to appreciate the problems and dynamics of elections and election results in Delta State. I say this with particular reference to the history and pattern of election results in the Warri political terrain, especially in the Escravos.
But if only Prof. Omoruyi understands the “politics of elections and even of census enumeration” in places like Ogidigben in Warri southwest, to take just one extreme location by the ocean, he will know that the results of election and census usually present interesting configurations in the electoral politics of the defunct Western Region, defunct Bendel state, Delta State and, of Nigeria.