By Emmanuel Ogbeche
October 18h, 2008
Since the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914 and the subsequent creation of states in Nigeria, the issue of state creation has always being a tenuous and delicate matter. It is gratifying to know that the present National Assembly has listed the creation of more states especially as it has to do with the South East as part of items in the much anticipated constitutional review..
Since the issue of an additional state came up, there have been, as usual, several groups from the South East representing one interest or the other clamouring for the proposed additional state to come their way. There is nothing wrong with these agitations only that most of them stem from parochial and narrow perspectives with warped historical facts..
Before I proceed further into the heart of the matter, I wish to make it clear that my interest in the quest for an additional state for the South East region is premised on my status as an impartial Nigerian who has always argued for equity, balance and justice for all regions and sectors of the country. Besides, my marriage ties with the South East makes it more imperative for me to add my voice to the lingering debate as to what should be done by leaders of thought in this zone not to allow this historic opportunity pass them by in the realization of an additional state for their region..
When the National Political Reform Conference of former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to an agreement on the need for an additional state for the South East so as to bring it at parity with other zones of the country, it was unique in many respects particularly when seen from the perspective that the issue of another state for the South East, which has five states against six for the other regions, has always being relegated to the periphery of national discourse. Therefore, when delegates to the conference in near-unanimous acclaim agreed to a parity status via another state for the Ibo-speaking South East, it was a significant step that was not missed on political watchers that the full integration of a marginalized people was on the decline almost 35 years after the civil war..
Immediately the issue of an additional state was muted, diverse groups took to the trenches to canvass arguments as to why the new proposed state should come their way. Arguments such as intra-cultural affinity (meaning: slight cultural hues within the Ibo race), contiguity and proximity are now being bandied by some promoters of state creation in the South East as the rationale why ‘their own narrow area’ should be considered against the general good of all Igbo..
For historical purposes, it should be remembered that the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates was done for colonial expediency and the ‘natives’ as the British considered the conquered peoples of the then regions had no say in the matter. .
After the amalgamation, the second attempt at ‘state creation’ was done on the over-taken theory of a nation on a tripod-Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa as the major ethnic groups in the country, therefore the country should be politically and administratively split along that line in the historical myopia of the British that the minorities of the Delta, West and North would find a place in the new arrangement. Subsequent attempts at ‘state creation’ all had one reason, politically correct or otherwise, as the driving force. While these attempts were hailed in many quarters, the South East by some unexplained happenings always found itself ‘locked out’ on the equity and justice scale of state creation. .
Today, since the issue of an additional state came up, no less than five (5) groups- Adada (Enugu), Orashi (Anambra/Rivers), Aba (Abia), Njaba (Imo/Anambra) and Igboezuo (a small of each of the existing states in the South East) State Creation Movements have emerged in the South East canvassing why they are all best suited to have the proposed state. What are their arguments? .
The Adada group in an unheard and laughable proposition argues that they are culturally distinct from the rest of the Igbo. Unbelievable, you say! It is common knowledge that the Igbo share common cultural affinity while not taking away the fact that there might be linguistic variations but they are the closest to ‘wholesomeness’ in all of Nigeria. Therefore, for the so-called Adada proponents to argue on the basis of ‘distinct cultural affinity’ is to entirely miss the point..
For the Orashi advocates it is the desire to be with their kith and kin in Rivers and Anambra states that is driving them to demand for a state. The question that needs to be asked of them- which is greater- to ‘be with their kith and kin’ whom they have been inter-marrying for ages or to have a state that is of greater importance to the entire Igbo race? The answer no doubt is obvious..
The argument of the proponents of Aba and Njaba states are not too different only that both are claiming large population in their present states, therefore the need for them to be ‘on their own’ as if that were enough criteria in itself for state creation..
The most plausible and convincing argument I have seen to date is the agitation for Igboezuo state. The proponents have demonstrated correctness of perspective and have placed the overall interest of the Igbo nation first before any other mundane consideration. What is their argument? To them, Igboezuo is like a union of the five Eastern States; the new heartbeat of the Igbo nation..
They are proposing that some existing local governments from the five states of the region be excised to form the new state. From Anambra state, Orumba North and South Local Governments; Enugu will relinquish Awgu and Aninri, while Ebonyi will give up Ivo and Ohaozara Local Governments. Abia will cede Isuikwuato and Umunneochi with Imo producing the bulk of the local governments by giving up Okigwe, Onuimo, Ideato North and South, Isiala Mbano and Ehime Mbano local governments. With these, the new state will be ready to take off with 15 local government areas with headquarters at Okigwe..
The new state according to its promoters has in abundance agricultural potentials like rice, root crops, oil palm, cashew, rubber, cocoa as well as rich minerals deposits of kaolin, lead, tin, bentonite and limestone to ensure its viability and sustenance. .
Besides the fact that the new Igboezuo State like Abuja at its founding will be in a near-virgin territory, it will give each and every Igbo man a new capital city devoid of the filth and decay that any of the other proposed states represents. There is no gainsaying that the Igbo stands at the threshold of history and should for once show unity of purpose rather than embark on separate and confused agitations that have the tendency to submerge the demand for equity under some other purpose that is at variance with the wishes and aspirations of the peoples of the South East.
Any failure to find a common platform will no doubt send the signal to other groups in the country that have shown some understanding with the Igbo cause for an additional state to withdraw their support. And the outcome of such withdrawal is predictable. .
Emmanuel Ogbeche, media affairs analyst writes from Abuja.