The setting was the Conference Hall of the Grand Hotel, Asaba, where the Anioma people had chosen as the point of convergence to meet last Saturday and deliberate on their fate in the federation called Nigeria.
Setting the tone of discussion, the Asagba of Asaba, Obi (Pro.) Chike Edozien said the Anioma people are linked by history, linguistic and cultural affinity and common desire for a national identity.
“We are meeting with with malice towards none, but with a common desire to find a rightful place for Anioma Nation in the Nigerian polity.
“We should be under no illusions about what we are or who we are for no matter who some of us may claim not to be, the other Nigerians, including our neighbours, know who we are and what we are,” he stressed.
Going down the memory aisle, the Asagba recalled that the struggle of the Anioma people “for a seperate identity dates back to the 1950’s and since then, because we have not succeeded in actualising our desire, we have severally been referred to by those who wish to be kind, as; Midwestern Ibos, Bendel Ibos, Ika Ibos, Ibos West of the Niger and Ibos in Delta State.
“Today’s summit has been propelled by the dynamics of the Nigerian situation. There has been strong agitation for a Sovereign National Conference but some people fear that the conference will accelerate the disintegration of Nigeria.
“It appears that the Federal Government is prepared to consider a National Conference where the Nigerian nationalities can meet to discuss the future of the country with a view to ensuring its survival as a nation .
“The purpose of the summit is for us to articulate all interests in Anioma nation with a view to fashioning a more cohesive coexistence within the Delta state, the Niger-Delta sub region and the Fedeal Republic of Nigeria,” he appealed.
Speaking further, Asagba urged for unity, mutual respect, and greater understanding and appreciation for those things that bind us together as a people adding that one cannot continue to look back in anger at some of those things some of us imagine divide us.
“Yesterday is gone and we should all resolve here and now that to work for a united Anioma nation that will be treated with respect in the Nigerian polity . We have the men, we have the resources. Let us march forward with courage and vision, conscious of the fact that the weak are the victims of history.
He also proferred avenues through which the Anioma people can achieve their desires.
According to him, “one of the hallmarks of the Anioma people is the highly developed Obiship /Traditional Ruler/Senior Diokpa /Okpala Uku system which provides the administrative and spiritual leadership of our various communities.
“Now that the need for cohesion and understanding has become evident, the clarion call for this gathering has come from the traditional rulers’ forum.
“But our job today will be incomplete if we do not find a way of reinvigorating Izu Anioma which is supposed to be a non-partisan and non-sectarian umbrella body designed among others to provide Anioma indigenes a platform for the fostering of their common interest both as individuals or communities,” he counselled.
Needless to say that the Asagba’s speech attracted a thunderous ovation among those who were present. But the meeting went into a closed session immediately.
When the meeting ended, Dr. John Jideowo, the secretary of the summit, told newsmen that the people considered some relevant political issues plaguing the federation and declared that “state creation should be an integral part of the Constitution Review process with a view to making the six zones, as far as possible ethnically homogeneous and equal in size, population and number of states.
“To this end, we demand the creation of Anioma state” adding that similar aspirations (such as Ijebu State, the Yorubas in Kwara and Kogi states, the Ijaws in the South-South, the Igbos in Rivers state etc) should be accomodated thus advocating a 42-state nation with seven states in each of the six geo-political zones.
Tracing the history of the agitation for the creation of Anioma state, the summit argued that “records available showed that the request has become of the most credible, persistently presented, well canvassed and among the oldest, dating back to the 1950s and this demand will continue until Anioma is created”.
Expressing support for the principle of rotation on the basis of the six geo-political zones, rather than merely between the North and South, the Anioma People also proposed that “the same principle of rotation be extended to the state and local government levels, such that, rotation may be between the three senatorial districts at the same level and between two constituencies (to be created among the wards) at the local government level”, while agitating that traditional institution be given a constitutional role in the governanceof the country at the local, state, and national levels.
“To that extent, we support the provisions made for the traditional institution in the draft 1995 Constitution. We support the continued existence of one Nigeria”, the communique added.
Commenting on the measures that would guarantee peaceful co-existence within the state, the Anioma People posited that “for as long as we are still part of Delta state, constantly faced with hostility from some of our neighbours, we shall be constrained to demand equal partnership with other two senatorial districts that make up the state on issues at al levels of governance”.
Demanding “full participation in all matters of the state, since we take responsibilities, discharge our obligations and must therefore share in all the benefits accruing to the state,” the Aniomas stressed that “the federal and Delta state governments and this national conference should take note that of the fact that we are part of the Niger Delta (being at its beginning), since we believe that the Niger Delta Area includes marshy lands along the lower Niger, starting from Ebu, Illah, to Asaba through the Okos and the oil/gas producing areas of Abala, Okpai, Beneku, Aboh, Adiai, Asaba-Ase in Ndokwa East LGA, Patani, Bomadi and Burutu LGAs to Escravos and its environs.
“It is our plea therefore that the on-going National Conference should consider the plight of Anioma people along with the settlement of the Niger Delta crisis, so that the current problems in Delta State may be settled once and for all.
“Anioma people shall no longer accept their categorization of any sort by our ethnic neighbours and other Nigerians who seek to detract from our full participation as equal partners,” the people further cautioned.
Despite the seriousness of the session, words filtered out from the hall that some notable sons of Anioma refused to associate with the meeting due to fears that positions at the meeting would be diametrically opposed to the ideals and person of the state governor, Chief James Ibori.
For instance, the deputy governor of the state, an Anioma son, said to have been sighted at Asaba on the day of the meeting failed to turn up despite high expectations that he would be standing in for his boss, Ibori.
Although the organizers told THISDAY that the turnout was “encouraging” the feelings among the Anioma people who attended was that it could still be improved upon likewise the absence of two members of the National Assembly which the organizers did not take kindly.
Moreso, several people whom THISDAY spoke to believed that the summit should not been planned to coincide with the foundation laying ceremony of the palace of another community who is part and parcel of the Aniomas notwithstanding the argument of the organisers that the date was brought forward to allow a decision to be taken before the South-South zone of the presentation of the review of the 1999 Constitution taking place in Port Harcourt tommorrow.
Those present at the summit include the Minister of State for Agriculture, Chief Chris Agbobu, the State Commissioner for Commerce, Industries and Cooperatives, Chief Joshua Enueme stood in for governor Ibori. There were also Senator Nosike Ikpo and a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Ned Nwoko, among others.