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Anioma: Igbo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko, Leave Us Alone!

I want to preface this write-up by emphatically stating that we are “Anioma,” our region can and should only be correctly referred to as “Anioma” and not “Western Igbos,” “Ika Igbos” or even “Delta Igbo,” all of which presage nothing but “fake Igbos.” Care should also be taken not to refer to us as “Delta North” as we have never heard of “Ebonyi East,” “Lagos North” or “Sokoto South” these derogatory and discriminatory references are threateningly tending to overshadow and send our prestigious name, Anioma to its early grave, so the proper usage of this name is of uttermost concern to me.


Contrary to prevailing circumstances and dilemma which relegate us to the background in Delta State and Igbo politics, such as poor representation in political affairs of the State, lack of amenities, ethnic identity crisis, deliberate marginalization, abandonment by our Igbo kiths and kin from the South East etc, we know we are still a great nation to reckon with. This write-up will therefore focus on the two factors which have been egregiously and heavily weighing down the Anioma ethnicity, and at best have prevented us from finding our bearing, how our Anioma region with innumerable associations, countless social groups, technocrats, political office holders, professionals of Anioma extraction, etc have contributed to the disgraceful predicament of the present state of the region.


The first and major issue of dilemma confronting this region is the problem of ethnic identity, the present state of the region weakened by abandonment and lack of vision has again raised the question on whether Anioma people are Igbo or not. This question has generated a lot of debates in the past and present, and will continue to do so even as it hampers growth and development in this region and presents us with nothing but pauperization. I make bold to comment that the attitude of the Igbo of South East to their Anioma counterparts have not really justified that Anioma are Igbo except on papers, and that if ever the people South East deem this necessary, they have always relied and ended such only with historical support and not more, however actions have failed to justify this.


Evidently the Igbo will always count on us to support the large population density of the entire Igbo nation by for instance stating that the Igbo are 40 million if a thorough and unbiased population census is organized in Nigeria but it does not go beyond this. An Igbo may also want to merely count on similar names existing between the Igbo and Anioma as a reason for justifying the Igboid relationship with both regions, but ask an Anioma just what he has gained from the South East; he looks at you endlessly and tells you “nothing.” We have been in this situation for long, so it is not in the least surprising. The Igbo are taught in school that the Igbo are only in South East, in this case what happen to others? It is for this reason that the phrase “core Igbo” exists in our dictionary today.


I am still racking my brain to remember the last time any Governor from the South Eastern part of the nation officially visited the Anioma region even if it is solidarity one. The place of issues bothering on Anioma is what is missing in Ohaneze Ndiigbo’s agenda, do we not know this? Interestingly, the Igbo have in some way been frustrating the race for the actualization of Anioma State because to them there is no reason why the State should emerge, this apparent when a committee headed by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu on State creation for the Igbo completely and arbitrarily ruled out the choice of Anioma State for the Igbo because according to them this could mean another State for the South-South geo-political region, but right senses accord us the knowledge that the emergence of Anioma State would make a sixth State for the South East, if the Igbo so desire it to be, Is Onitsha today a community within the South East not an Anioma community I ask? We may for certain reasons, clear or unclear ignore this but history will not because no one can turn back the hand of clock. An Anioma State would have been a full-fledged Igbo State for the Igbo, the great Chuba Okadigbo realized this before his death.


It is a fact that the Anioma people have never been in the agenda of the Igbo contrary to what an Igbo writer like Ogaranya Uju Nkwocha Afuleze tries to force down into our throats. We have now deeply understood from Emma Okocha that when the Republic of Biafra was declared as a secessionist State from Nigeria by Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, Anioma was not included in the maps of Biafra, instead the declaration only claimed Onitsha, a part of Anioma community now lost to the South East but in the pogrom that accompanied this, Northerners did not spare Anioma people because historically, and to the best of their knowledge, Anioma are completely part of Igbo nation, the result was that we shared in the killings and maiming.


Some Igbo Historians have argued that the events that led to the civil war was caused by the Late Chukwuma Nzeogwu but these Historians fail to understand that first and foremost, Nzeogwu was not the leader of that coup, again he (Nzeogwu) only acted in reciprocity of the bad treatment and marginalization being manufactured by the Northerners and targeted at the Igbo, a race he felt he was part and parcel of but when the battle line was drawn, he quickly realized that he was not in the arrangement of Ojukwu when he was ostracized from the affairs of the then Biafran Republic. I have lost count of the number of Army Commanders of Anioma extraction Biafra had. We died for the lived and died for the Igbo during the Nigeria-Biafra War, in the history of the Biafran War today, there is no Igbo community singly or put together that died as a result of organized massacres than the Anioma communities.


Yet the rejection of Anioma people as proper Igbo or as “fake Igbo” peoplewho cannot speak Igbo properly has continued to this day.


“Again in the 2007 election, as a prelude to that charade, Prof. Pat Utomi {from Ibusa}, whose wife is from the East, went to OHANAEZE to solicit for support for his presidential ambition. Chief Orji Uzor Kalu also went to solicit for his too. A section of OHANAEZE that rejected Pat Utomi, gave me a terrible food for thought. One of them, according to some daily Nigerian newspapers’ reports, hankered abject adroitly : “Is he really a proper Igbo man? Look at him, he cannot even speak Igbo properly.” Others even insinuated that his name did not sound Igbo. I was shocked to the bone marrow.  I couldn’t believe what I was reading from prominent Igbo citizens.


Instead of asking the two candidates to present their programmes and manifestoes, they were busy hankering on whether one of them is a “proper Igbo” or not. I was shocked of words. If any Igbo person does not know the meaning of Utomi, then that person should take a suicidal dive into the river Niger .” (Igbos of Delta State and Crisis of Identity (Conclusion) by Ephraim Adinlofu


Interestingly, Pat Utomi is a member of Ohaneze Ndiigbo. We should never beg the Igbo to accept us as their kiths and kin rather the Anioma leaders should devise ways of wining the battles by taking the fate of the region in their hands, is the region must succeed. The status of Anioma is not strange in the polity of Nigeria , consider the seeming ethnic affinity existing between the Isoko and Urhobo, yet the Nigerian constitution and people recognize these as two distinct ethnic groups in the country. The case of Itsekiri who mixed with Benin and Yoruba as the Anioma are mixture of Bini and Igbo is also a case study here, the Itsekiri people are today distinctly an ethnic group separate from the Yoruba as well as Bini. When Peter Okocha was stabbed in the back, Ohaneze never collectively took up his course and addressed it. Instead he was abandoned to his fate.


It is for this reason that I totally disagree with the view of Ogaranya Uju Nkwucha Afuleze linking ethnicity to divinity thus:


“First, it is not up to them to say what they are and what they are not. When God created them, He did not ask them who they wanted to be. He just created them Igbo. The only way you'll know who belongs to what ethnic group in Nigeria is the name and what language the name comes from. Anybody whose name is Amadi or Onyeri, or Eke, or Odili, Wanodi (Nwanodi) does not need to tell you who he is. He is Igbo, his politics notwithstanding”


 Perhaps I am the only one in this whole universe who knows that the activities of European Missionaries to Nigeria altered ethnicity and tribes in the country either due to their lack of understandings of these tribes or as a deliberate means of achieving their selfish aims and objects. And this act extends beyond the Nigerian confines. Much of the countries we today refer to as Arabs were never Arabs but were arabized, typical of these countries are Egypt , Syria , and Iran etc.


If a true organization capable of articulating the answers, responses and solutions to the challenges confronting the Anioma ethnicity emerges, the question of whether Anioma are Igbo or not will become a thing of past. This will also take care of the lack of leadership problem challenging the region today as a second factor confronting Anioma. If Ohaneze, Arewa and Oodua exist in Igbo land, North part of the nation and among the Yoruba, why cannot Anioma people sit down and devise a forum for championing the course of the region instead of relying on the Ohaneze’s assistances which never comes anyway?


The fate of Anioma people in the hands of Ijaw, Urhobo, Isoko and Itsekiri also need to be addressed. These our brothers in what is believed to be their own Delta State have arrogantly dominated us since the creation of State. While there is nothing to show in Anioma as part of Delta State , there is everything in these other areas to show they are the “core Deltans” At least warri is the unofficial and economic capital of the State while Oghara is the administrative capital. Chief Ibori made them so. This is purely because we are considered Delta Igbo in foreign lands. The Anioma people need to work harder towards the actualization of Anioma State , and only this will make our crisis of identity a thing of the past  

By Emeka Esogbue