By Kester Ifeadi
THE current wave of agitations for self-determination by various ethnic groups in Nigeria has brought to fore the reality of the contradictions of the Nigerian state. It has brought to the fore the deep seated hatred and lack of trust that exist amongst the various ethnic groups which for ages have been suppressed by various administrations.
The Northern elite believe that there is nothing wrong with the structure of Nigeria as it is. To them, politicians across board have failed to deliver good leadership to the people and that is accounts for the current cry of marginalisation across the country.
For many in Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt, the pseudo federal arrangement which in practice is unitary government exemplified cannot allow the states to actualise their economic potentials and bring the much desired development to the people. For this group, restructuring or true federalism is the solution.
Some groups have persistently called for the restructuring of Nigeria, while in some instances, it has been a call for outright secession.
Leading the call for secession is the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. The agitation by this group has been so loud that on the 30th of May, 2017 to mark 50 years of the declaration of the defunct sovereign state of Biafra, a sit at home call was made by the group which was highly successful as economic activities in the five South East states of Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu were brought to a halt.
There has been so many reasons advanced for the success of the sit at home campaign. Some felt that the compliance was as a result of the belief in the campaign for the sovereign state of Biafra while others felt that people stayed off the streets for fear of attack by IPOB members; many stayed at home as a mark of respect and remembrance for those who died during the Biafran war which affected virtually every Igbo family. Whatever may be the reason for the compliance, the truth is that on the 30th of May, 2017, the streets of major cities in the South East states were deserted.
The protagonist of this Biafra agitation have in their map included territories in the current South South states of Cross Rivers, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo state.
Some of the people in these South South states have challenged their inclusion because they felt they were not consulted before the inclusion.
The leaders of this Biafra agitation should note that coercion, dictatorship, authoritarianism and issuance of decrees cannot lead to the desired Biafran State. The Aniomas of Delta State are among the people included in the map of the proposed Biafra State by the protagonist. At no time were Anioma people consulted on the issue of joining the proposed Biafra State. The people believe in consultation and cannot be coerced into joining a nation they have little or no idea about.
Aniomas are found in nine local government areas of Delta State which make up the Delta North senatorial district and also in Ota and Igbanke in present Orhiomnwon local government Area of Edo State. From historical account, Aniomas migrated from different places including Bini, Igala, Yoruba and Igbo in the South-East and have lived in their present location for centuries.
Most Anioma communities have kings and kingdoms and these kingdoms have existed for centuries. The kings are recognised and command huge respect among their subjects and people. These kings and Chiefs-in-Council are given a pride of place in decision making in the society.
Politically, the Aniomas have over the years been part of the Western Region – Mid-Western State, Bendel and Delta states and have never been part of the Eastern Region. In all these political arrangements, the Anioma people have been given their due recognition. Chief Denis Osadebey was the first Premier of the Mid-Western Region and the current Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, is a proud Anioma son.
The Aniomas have enjoyed good political and economic relationship with their neighbours in Edo and Delta states with whom they have formed political alliances over the years. The Aniomas have never been together politically with the Igbos of the South East and for any alliance, there is need for high level of consultation and not coercion.
During the Biafran war, Aniomas fought on both sides. There were fighters in the Nigerian Army like Rtd Gen. Godwin Alabi-Isama, Major Pius Eromobor, Major Igboba etc. On the Biafran side were Col. Achuzia, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who led the first military coup of January 1966 and who was in detention in Biafran territory when the war broke to mention a few.
Anioma suffered a very high level of casualty during the war because of its location. It was the gateway to Eastern Nigeria from the West which had Lagos then as the federal capital. There were series of battles to control the River Niger bridge.
The loyalty of Anioma people during the Biafran war both ways was questioned. While the Biafran soldiers saw them as belonging to the Nigerian state and could not be trusted despite the Igbo language they speak, Nigeria soldiers also saw them as Igbos and should be dealt with despite the fact that Anioma belonged to the Mid-Western Region. This wickedness by Nigerian soldiers was exemplified in Asaba and Ishegwu massacre of October 1967.
The region has one of the highest concentrations of human and natural resources. Anioma sons and daughters have excelled greatly in all sectors of the economy and more than capable of managing her affairs. Aniomas have always championed their cause for an independent state. For example, at the last National Confab in 2014, Anioma State was among the few states that was approved for creation. And with the deluge of intelligentsia, nobody can speak for Anioma people better than the Aniomas .
To this end and as a matter of urgency, the Aniomas must do the following: Strengthen its mainstream political/socio-cultural leadership to speak with one voice.
Articulate the genuine interest of the people through widespread consultation among its people – Aniocha, Ika, Oshimili and Ndokwa – to determine what we actually need.
Avoid the mistakes of the past where our people where neither here nor there as experienced during the civil war.
Demand an equitable stake in the affairs of the nation as Anioma in any conference or dialogue that may be called at the federal and state levels for the purposes of restructuring.
The Anioma congress should be re-engineered to include all shades of opinion in Anioma land. Aniomas are stronger as a unit and will present a stronger force than the current dialectic divide of Aniocha, Ika, Oshimili and Ndokwa as the wind of change is so strong that those who are not ready will be blown away.
The recent call for restructuring of the country by former leaders like Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is not a coincidence. For Nigeria, the time to restructure has come and we cannot pretend anymore.
Mr. Ifeadi is president of Organisation for the Advancement of Anioma Culture.