By Donu Kogbara
WHEN it was announced, two days ago, that Mrs Opunimi (or Nimi) Akinkugbe was the Governor of Ondo State’s ambassadorial nominee, some Ondo indigenes got miffed and decided to kick up a huge fuss.
Though Mrs Akinkugbe’s husband, Yinka, is from a highly respected Ondo family, she herself is a Kalabari from my home state, Rivers; and her critics say that she’s purloining a prestigious post that should be bestowed upon a “true daughter” of their ancestral soil.
Can’t say I’m surprised by the brouhaha. It is, after all, typically Nigerian to neurotically focus on an individual’s ethnic origins, instead of taking the high road and rationally judging him or her on the basis of his or her character, conduct and capabilities.
And, truth be told, the Ondo irredentists who want Mrs. Akinkugbe’s name to be replaced are not being uniquely myopic or obstructive.
Let’s face it: There are detribalised liberals everywhere. But they are a minority because sectionalism is the norm in every part of this country; and there’d have been equally disgruntled reactions in some Port Harcourt circles if the boot had been on the other foot – ie, if a Yoruba gal who married a Rivers guy had been given “our” slot.
Mrs. Akinkugbe’s case has attracted the attention of Mrs. Aleruchi Cookey-Gam, a distinguished former Attorney-General and Secretary to Government in Rivers State who feels that this “discrimination against married women should not be accepted.”
Some comments made by Mrs. Cookey-Gam, in the course of a recent interview with the sisiportharcourt.com online news website: “Often times, a woman becomes stateless once she is married. Her state of origin asserts that she has adopted her husband’s state, while her husband’s state refuses to recognise her as an indigene.
“Nimi is an indigene of Ondo [because]…she has been married…for over 30 years [and the marriage has been] blessed with three children. Furthermore: “Nimi is eminently qualified – intellectually sound and exposed…Ondo State should be proud of her.
“Only recently Governor Hope Uzodinma swore in Justice Ijeoma Agugua as chief judge of Imo State. The new chief judge is from Anambra State by birth and married to a man from Imo State. Married women who excel should be celebrated and appreciated.
“Women’s rights have been trampled upon over the years. It is disheartening and regrettable that the notes of discontent and resentment are in fact emanating from youth groups such as the Chairman, Ondo Youth Coalition, and the President, Yoruba Afenifere Youth Organisation of Nigeria.”
Mrs Cookey-Gam then quoted Section 15 of the 1999 Constitution:
- 1. The motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress. 2. Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited. 3. For the purpose of promoting national integration, it shall be the duty of the State to: encourage inter-marriage among persons from different places of origin, or of different religious, ethnic or linguistic association or ties; and … 4.
The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various people of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.
Section 42 further provides:
- 1. A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
- be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or… 2. No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth. 3. Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes restrictions with respect to the appointment of any person to any office under the State or as a member of the armed forces of the Federation or member of the Nigeria Police Forces or to an office in the service of a body, corporate established directly by any law in force in Nigeria,
Cookey-Gam concluded by telling Sisi Port Harcourt that “…We should not allow the discrimination playing out in Cross River State in the appointment of the Chief Judge repeat itself in Ondo State in respect of this Ambassadorial appointment.
“…Hon Justice Ikpeme (an indigene of Akwa Ibom State married to an indigene of Cross River) is the most senior and eminently qualified but is being discriminated against.”
Given that I – publicly known as Donu Kogbara throughout my life! – doggedly clung to my maiden name, even when I was happily married (because I didn’t want my identity to be swallowed up by my husband’s identity), I do not approve of the view that a woman becomes an Adam’s rib and chattel when she gets hitched.
I feel that both spouses should become equal partners and fully-fledged members of each others’ nuclear families, extended families, clans, villages, tribes, clubs, social circles, et cetera.
So, as far as I am concerned, Nimi should be an honorary or real Ondo Madame, while Yinka should be an honorary or real Rivers Oga!
Perhaps my Governor, Nyesom Wike, should give Yinka (a delightful gent, by the way) a job to “compensate” those of his Ondo brethren who are tiresomely bellyaching about Nimi’s upcoming diplomatic gig!
ANYWAY, I’ve known Nimi since we were youngsters. We even lived together in London for a while; and I know that she will be an excellent international representative of Ondo, Rivers and Nigeria because she is an accomplished and hard-working class act.