This is certainly not the best of times for South East Igbo living in Port Harcourt and the other parts of Rivers State. Equally, the situation is not very palatable for most Igbo of Rivers extraction. This is because Rivers’ top politicians and leaders of thought, just for the purposes of 2023 general elections dynamics, as well as personal interests, are now denying their Igbo identity and ultimately declaring open war against Igbo visitors and also threatening a fatwa on any of their fellow Rivers Igbo who identify with the South East Igbo.
It has been reported that the South East and South-South disunity, in this instance now, Rivers, is as old as Nigeria itself.
Although the present apostle of the South East and South- South disharmony is said to be Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike in view of his “we are not Igbo” slogan, the animosity between the two former Eastern brothers has always been there, although diligently managed by both sides no matter the provocation.
The first recorded South East and South -South misunderstanding was in 1942 following the crisis that engulfed the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first genuine nationalistic organization. According to an account “The NYM president, Dr. Kofi Abayomi resigned his position for a political position and a struggle for succession ensued between Ernest Ikoli, the vice president, an Ijaw, and Samuel Akinsanya, another founding member, a Yoruba from Ogun State.
Zik and most Igbo in the association supported Akinsanya while Awo and most of his Yoruba followers threw their weight behind Ikoli. Eventually, Ikoli won. Rather than congratulating Ikoli, Zik and his Igbo tribesmen left the association en masse and NYM crashed almost immediately. What happened next was an accusation of bias by Ijaw people against Zik and Ndigbo. The Ijaw claimed Zik led Ndigbo to stop their next-door neighbour while supporting a distant Yoruba man”.
Meanwhile, it must be pointed out that Zik went against Ikoli on account of business interests, not tribal or political. Recall that Zik was the publisher of the highly influential and successful West African Pilot that took the Nigerian newspaper industry by storm. Years after, Ikoli came up with his Daily Service and practically gave Zik’s West African Pilot a real fight. Therefore, when the issue of Ikoli/Akinsanya came up, Zik saw it as promoting his business enemy if he placed his premium on the Ijaw man. That was the story behind Zik’s support against Ikoli.
Again, in 1951, Zik, perhaps, in his conviction that he was indeed Zik of Africa and Nigeria’s greatest political evangelist, wanted to achieve a huge political fervour. He ignored the Eastern House, his home base, and came down to Ibadan, the capital of Western Region, and contested for the position of head of government on the platform of NCNC.
Remarkably, Zik and his NCNC won the highest number of votes and seats. However, that victory was never allowed to be. On the day of swearing in on September 24, 1951, Awo, invoking tribal sentiments rather than national stability, got most of the Yoruba members in NCNC to move over to AG and Zik was denied that electoral victory. In anger and frustration, Zik rushed to Enugu and caused the sack of Professor Etta Eyo, an Efik in today’s Cross River State, who was already in charge as head of government at the Eastern region and installed Michael Okpara. It was that bad.
A report has it that “almost within that period, the Eastern minorities comprising what are today Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states alleged that Okpara discriminated against them. However, this was not true because Okpara appointed both I. N. Akpabio and S. E. Imoke respectively as commissioners in his cabinet and their children ultimately emerged as governors of Akwa Ibom(Godswill) and Cross River(Liyel) states several years after.
The first recorded South East and South
-South misunderstanding was in 1942
following the crisis that engulfed the
Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the
country’s first genuine nationalistic
organization. According to an account
“The NYM president, Dr. Kofi Abayomi
resigned his position for a political
position and a struggle for succession
ensued between Ernest Ikoli, the vice
president, an Ijaw, and Samuel
Akinsanya, another founding member,
a Yoruba from Ogun State.
Two, Okpara built the great Trans Amadi Avenue in Port Harcourt, constructed the imposing Presidential Hotel also in Port Harcourt, put in place the Adapalm now Risonpalm plantation that still exist in Rivers, the Michelin Factory in Port Harcourt, the Cement Factory in Calabar completed the Obudu Cattle Ranch which was modernized by former Governor Donald Duke. He started the construction of the Port Harcourt -Mbiama Road, the highway that links Rivers and Bayelsa states together today. So, the allegation of marginalization against the South South from Okpara cannot be substantiated. It was known to all that for the ugly incident of the coup, Akpabio would have succeeded Okpara as Eastern Premier.
It is on record that the three Igbo leaders in Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu never discriminated against the South South when they (Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu) held sway as president, head of state or Eastern governor/ head of state of Biafra. For instance, under Zik, Mathew Mbu was a minister/ambassador. Ironsi made Kurubo a service chief while Ojukwu had Philip Effiong as his second -in – command. Even, the man who suggested the name Biafra to Ojukwu, Frank Opigo, was a Bayelsa man who later took a high chief title”.
During the Second Republic, Ndigbo were disappointed that the two states of Rivers and Cross River were won and controlled by the NPN rather than NPP, the Zik party that had Igbo inclination.
Again, Ndigbo were shocked that of all the regions in Nigeria, it was in Port Harcourt that their hard-earned property were declared abandoned! It was also in Port Harcourt that roads and streets bearing Igbo names were changed from Umu to Rumo, hence, you now have Rumuola instead of Umuola, etc.
Here, the example of President Goodluck Jonathan comes to play. Ndigbo “adopted” Jonathan as their son. Even at that, when the all-powerful Nigerian oligarch decided to mow down Jonathan, they labeled him Igbo to make his downfall very easy.
Wike is not the first Rivers man to deny Ndigbo as their brothers or his Igbo origin. Even at that, well informed political analysts are of the opinion that Wike is only saying what he is alleged to be proclaiming just to counter Chief Rotimi Amaechi who now goes around flaunting his Igbo identity in the face of the 2023 presidential election.
Before Wike’s alleged diatribe against Ndigbo, previous Rivers State leaders and elders have at one time or the other informed their people that they are not Igbo. For instance, Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro on several occasions warned Rivers people to not associate him with Ndigbo, politically. Of course, Ken Saro Wiwa did the same thing when he was the administrator of Rivers during the Nigeria – Biafra War. Rather than pitching his tent with Ojukwu’s Biafra, Saro Wiwa ran to the North and provided the avenue by which Nigerian forces bombarded Biafra. Sadly, both Boro and Wiwa were brutally expired by the Nigerian government.
Chief Diete-Spiff was at the helm of affairs when Igbo properties were declared abandoned in Rivers. He also directed the change of roads and streets named after Igbo identities to be changed. It was on this account you now have Oyigbo instead of Obigbo, Rumuola instead of Umuola, etc
The celebrated author Professor Elechi Amadi openly denied his Igbo affiliation. He said they were Igbo speaking and not Igbo people? First Republic minister and Ijaw leader, Pa Edwin. K. Clark was at the forefront of “do not mind this Igbo people” campaign. However, he now appears repentant. He is now campaigning for an Igbo presidency in 2023.
And now Wike has mounted the podium. A concerned Igbo commentator had asked “I have frequently wondered why these people are wicked to the Igbos. Before the invasion of Obigbo, otherwise known as Obi Ndi Igbo, (Igbo homestead), and no wonder several Igbos in Port Harcourt reside there, Wike had told the world via a press conference that the EndSARS Protest was as a result of an incitement by Nnamdi Kanu and placed one million naira prize on his head. So, Nnamdi Kanu, in a far away continent is so powerful to have placed a bounty on a serving governor and chief security officer of a State and the governor became jittery.
Zik won the highest number of votes and seats. However,
that victory was never allowed to be. On the day of
swearing in on September 24, 1951, Awo, invoking tribal
sentiments rather than nation stability, got most of the
Yoruba members in NCNC to move over to AG and Zik
was denied that electoral victory. In anger and frustration,
Zik rushed to Enugu and caused the sack of Professor Etta
Eyo, an Efik in today’s Cross River State, who was already
in charge as head of government at the Eastern region and
installed Michael Okpara.
“Okay, let’s assume that Nnamdi Kanu said so. Let us also agree that Nnamdi Kanu incited the proscribed IPOB to do their own protest. But this is an EndSARS Protest that took place in all the states of the Federation and Abuja. Which means Nnamdi Kanu must have incited all those 20 million youths, including top celebrities across Nigeria to protest.
“If at all Nnamdi Kanu was the one that incited the youths of Obigbo and indeed the whole Nigeria that means that Nnamdi Kanu is not an ordinary human like you and I or if he is human, deserves an international award.
“If Nnamdi Kanu was the one that incited the youths of Obigbo which he has denied, so the sins of Kanu should be visited on the Igbos. I remember once Tompolo threatened to make Nigeria ungovernable. Did the Federal government declare genocide against the Ijaws in Nigeria?
“What of Tom Ateke, Asari Dokubo and others. Did they not incite their people at one time or the other? Did the Federal government or their governors invade their respective communities to kill their people? When Obasanjo ordered the killing the people of Odi in Bayelsa and Zakibiam in Benue State, did it that the entire Yoruba race is guilty of his action.
“Wike is aware that Ohaneze Ndigbo is the official mouthpiece of Igbos, not Kanu. If Kanu is not the President-General, Secretary-General or spokesman of Ohaneze, and Wike knows he is none of these, why would anybody declare genocide of Igbos because Kanu said something on radio far away outside Nigeria? So, if Nnamdi Kanu speaks on behalf of himself or even IPOB, then all Igbos should be exterminated. One wonders what would have happened if it was the Ohaneze chairman who made the statement, the entire Igbos in Rivers State would have been set ablaze.
“I am equally surprised that Wike is denying his Igbo identity or history. Whether ‘umu’ is changed to ‘Rumu’ to separate the Rivers people from the rest of their Igbo kinsmen, what of their language and culture? Me thinks that since they have changed the names of their towns and streets to Rumu, they should also change their names from Wike (Nwike) to Rumuwike and Amechi to Rumumechi. Does it not sound sweet”?
The story even gave a vivid account of some of the personalities mentioned above and how they have been carrying out hate instigation against Ndigbo. “Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro studied Chemistry at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Throughout his stay in the school, he depended so much on his Igbo friends and colleagues. During vacations, Isaac would hang around in the homes of Igbo friends until the next academic session.
“At a time, he contested for the President of the Student Union Government against three other contestants – all Igbo. Yet, Igbo students who constituted over 80 per cent of the student population voted and fought for him to victory. Even his chemistry department students did not support him. Recall also that Isaac Boro was the first de facto coup plotter in Nigeria when he formed the first militia force in Nigeria, the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) and on February 23, 1966, declared the Niger Delta Republic, the first time any part of Nigeria attempted to secede.
“Boro and his comrades were arrested, tried and sentenced to death for treason. It was then head of State, Ironsi, and an Igbo who commuted their sentence to prison terms. On the eve of the Biafra war in 1967, Boro was released, and he immediately joined the Nigerian army and was commissioned as a major. He later led 1,000 Ijaws to fight against Biafra and open the way for Nigerian soldiers to enter Port Harcourt. He was later killed under mysterious circumstances in 1968 at Ogu (near Okrika) in Rivers State by the same people he fought on their side against Biafra.
During the Nigeria/Biafra civil war 1967-1970, Ndigbo who are majority Biafrans left their property in the old Rivers State created in 1967 and fled for safety of their lives during this war. After the war, when they came back to Rivers State under the then Rivers State governor, Lt-Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, to start up a new life, they were deprived of their property with the connivance of the Nigerian state.
“Before the end of the war, Ken Saro Wiwa was allegedly among the Rivers State indigenes who led other like minds from the state to Gowon. The outcome of their meeting was an accord with the Gowon-led government that should the war end in favour of Nigeria; the state would take over all that Ndigbo left behind in Rivers State.
Ndigbo were shocked that of all the
regions in Nigeria, it was in Port
Harcourt that their hard-earned property
were declared abandoned! It was also in
Port Harcourt that roads and streets
bearing Igbo names were changed from
‘Umu’ to ‘Rumo’, hence, you now have
‘Rumuola’ instead of ‘Umuola’, etc.
Thereafter, Rivers men and women led by Ken Saro Wiwa, Diete-Spiff, Elechi Amadi, E. K. Clark, Sergeant Awuse and others claimed Ndigbo property worth millions of pounds which they characterized as “Abandoned Property”. One of them even wrote a novel in which the author mimicked Igbos by alleging how Igbos were eating toads and lizards out of hunger during the war.
“Saro Wiwa afterwards became the champion of implementation of abandoned property programme and was said to have been the person who with Sani Abacha, claimed Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu’s extensive property in Port Harcourt. Who knows if their enmity started there? Saro Wiwa was later killed along with the rest of Ogoni-9 by the Abacha regime for reasons we all know. The execution triggered wide-spread unrest in the Niger-Delta anchored on mass agitation for resource control.
“It is also on record that it was An Igbo, Emeka Anyaoku, then as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth who opposed Abacha’s move to kill Saro Wiwa and his group. After their killing, it was Anyaoku who spearheaded sanctions against the Abacha regime”.
If Biafra is the reason for persecuting Ndigbo, the account recalled that the entire former Eastern Region was involved in the war. According to it, “Major General Philip Effiong was Biafra’s Chief of General Staff and later, Head of State while Mr. N.U. Akpan was Secretary to the Eastern Region and later Biafran Government.
Mr. Ignatius Kogbara was Biafra’s representative in London while Dr. Gary Leyton was Deputy Head of the Research and Production Department. Mr. Okon Okon Ndem was Communications officer and Broadcaster Radio Biafra while Mr. Frank Opigo who introduced the name “Biafra” was Commissioner for Rural Development and Biafra’s administrator of Yenagoa Province. Dr. S.E. Cookey was Biafra’s Relief Co-ordinator while M. T. Mbu was commissioner for education and Mr. S.E. Imoke – Chairman Rehabilitation Commission. There were several others”
Thus, the leaders of both sides are advised to seek means to end the dichotomy to encourage regional stability, economic growth, political development and cultural advancement.