By Emma Okocha Lagos
According to the respected erudite Nigerian legal authority Elias T.S. Oluwole, in the “Makers of the Nigerian Law,” 1963, Elias revealed that the Chief Justice of the new administration was Sir, James Marshall and the headquarters was at Asaba.
Furthermore, Gils Geography in use up to 1912 clearly stated that Asaba was the capital of Southern Nigeria. Dennis Osadebay, and numerous other authorities sustain our thesis on the status of Asaba before and after independence leading to the period that saw the scrambling of the Nigerian federation.
Therefore, for Chief Okumagba the president of Urhobo Progressive Union to refer to Asaba as the capital of a fringe Delta group before the vice-president and the governor of a pluralist state is to hoodwink history. Whatever happens, we cannot pretend that Delta has had a just exercise in the creation of states, on account of the size of its population, resource allocation, the condition of its trained manpower and language affinity. We believe that Delta should at least be divided into two or three states.
The injustice is so palpable when you compare the position of state to the “Triage” states of Kebbi, Yobe, Osun and Ebonyi states. If these states can stay, why not one more in Delta. If on the other hand, the state remains intact, there is the need for the various groups to accept each other on equal terms. We therefore, call for a state conference between the Anioma people, the Ijaws, Urhobos, Isokos, and the Itsekiris. For example the Itsekiris are full of trepidation whenever a proposal is made for a creation of New Delta State with capital at Warri.
Whatever happens, it is time we go back to history to represent the true events that led to the creation of Delta State. Navy Commander ‘Whisky’ Feghabo in his first town meeting with the people of Delta on assuming office as their governor told them the story behind the naming of Abakaliki as the capital of Ebonyi. He said the state was created in deference to the pioneer governor of the former Eastern Nigeria, Akanu Ibiam. Ibiam had the choice of setting up the capital at Afikpo his home town. Rather he opted for Abakaliki. Great Ibiam!
It was at the same occasion that Dr. Oka Orewa, a UN consultant on local government told the story behind the creation of Delta State and why Asaba became the capital. He said that during the struggle for the creation of states, in the Babangida era, the Anioma people continued with their agitation which was started in 1958. In fact, Anioma was the oldest proposal that was championed by Ndokwa born Oguegbunan Dafe, Chief J.I.G. Onyia, Chief H.U. Utomi etc. From this group, we saw the emergence of the Nduka Eze, Amadi Emina, Orewa, Halim and Nosike Ikpo took over from the last group. The New Delta group were led by the Orodje of Okpe, Senator Dafinone, Chief Edwin Clark, General David Ejoor etc. When the Anioma and New Delta group merged into Delta there was an agreement by all to establish the capital at Abraka an Urhobo land. Anioma supported Abraka on account of its central placing and access to virgin land for development. Later the Urhobos reneged on Abraka and opted for Ughelli. The Olu of Warri responded that Ughelli would be ‘capital of Delta on his dead body.’ Meanwhile, the government waited for the new proponents to name their capital so that the announcement of the new states will follow with the names of their capitals. With 48 hours to go, the Delta group were still unable to arrive at a compromise. They were unable to submit any name or city as the capital. The Federal Government guided by history and justice named Asaba capital. Anioma the oldest proposed state had lost out but had the capital. The Southern Delta was destined to lord it over the north as a result of its population advantages.
When there was no country called Nigeria, Asaba was the civil headquarters of the territory ruled by the Royal Niger Company. This British chartered company controlled the Southern territories of Nigeria after receiving the grant of charter to the company on July 10, 1886.
The balderdash that Asaba was named capital because the then first lady intervened does not hold water. Indeed, as a result of the trauma the family suffered at the hands of federal troops and some hostile Bini and Urhobo brigands, leading to the killing of her father, Mrs. Ndidi Babangida has blocked out the sad events and would rather not be passionate about the Anioma cause.