By Dimm Uche Okwukwu
The Ngwa are Igbos. The Ikwerre are Igbos. They are offsprings of the same father. So the statement attributed to His Excellency, Barrister Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State was shocking. He said an illustrious Igbo son, and I believe he was referring to the Honorable Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, was only claiming to be Igbo to further his ambition of becoming Nigerian president come 2023. Wike further disclaimed being Igbo himself.
Agreed, Wike has the right to hold any view so far as it is within the ambit of the law and not counter-productive. He can define himself in any manner he deems fit. But Amaechi, who holds the traditional chieftaincy title of ”Ochi Ariri Ikwerre,” meaning the Defender of Ikwerre in Times of Difficulty, also has the same right to see and define himself as Igbo. Wike does not enjoy the prerogative of determining himself and at the same time defining others.
Amaechi was former National President of the National Union of Rivers State Students, NURSS. He was former Speaker of Rivers House of Assembly, Chairman of the Conference of Speakers in Nigeria, two-term governor of Rivers, Chairman of the Governors Forum of Nigeria, GFN, and two-term Minister of Transportation. He is the first Nigerian to be appointed Minister of Transportation and first Ikwerre to be appointed full-fledged Grade A minister. As an Ikwerre, I am proud of Amaechi. As an Igbo, I am also proud of him.
Coming from the humanities, Amaechi is conscious of history and social anthropology. He said, “Look, I’m Ikwerre. But I’m also Igbo.” By so saying he did not in any way stop any Ikwerre from presenting himself as non-Igbo. Such an Ikwerre who denies his Igbo identity would have to explain himself to the gods.
Amaechi’s assertion of his Igboness on the BBC should not cause anyone a headache.
The Ikwerre Is Igbo
It is important to state for record purposes that historically Ikwerres fully identified themselves as Igbos without suffering harms. Chief Joseph Wobo, member of the Council of Chiefs of Eastern Nigeria, clearly stated he was an Igbo. Nobody can dismiss him as he defended Ikwerreland in colonial Nigeria.
Sir Jackson Mpi, first and last Ikwerre to be conferred with Knight of the Order of British Empire, OBE, by Queen Elizabeth II of England in 1960, identified himself as Igbo. From the ancient Kingdom of Isiokpo, Sir Mpi worked tirelessly for Igbo advancement.
Dr Obi Wali was the first Ikwerre PhD holder, senator and university lecturer. He was also the only Ikwerre in the 1978 Constituent Assembly where he was selected one of the 50 Wise Men that drafted the 1979 constitution. The great Dr Wali identified fully with his Igbo heritage and was gruesomely assassinated defending it.
Okogbule Wonodi, first Ikwerre registrar of any university, first and only Ikwerre poet and Paramount title Holder of Eze Ohiaemeru. Ohiaemeru, where you have present-day Comprehensive College in Borokiri, was his ancestral home before the British vacated them between 1913-1923. Wonodi remained a respected member of Nzukor Igbo and Ohanaeze Ndigbo till the end of his life.
Patriot Emmanuel Aguma was former Mayor of Port Harcourt. As Principal of St John College, Diobu, he was the first Ikwerre to head any college. One of six pre-independence Ikwerre University graduates, former administrator of Port Harcourt Province in the defunct Peoples Republic of Biafra, first Ikwere minister in 1979, Aguma remained a member of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Emmanuel Oriji was a respected local government administrator, traditional ruler, a commissioner in old Rivers and core Igbo nationalist. The immediate past Deputy Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Isaac Wonwu, is an illustrious Ikwerre son from Elele. He is known to assert his Igbo identity. Equally valid, Chief Jackson Womenazu from Rumukrushi in the Evo Kingdom is a member of the Elders’ Council of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
In colonial documents, written when Igbos had no capacity to influence anything, Ikwerres also defined themselves as Igbos. When Ikwerre leaders presented their case before the 1957 Sir Henry Willinks Commission, Wobo declared that Ikwerres were Igbos and Port Harcourt to Onitsha was Igboland.
The cream of Ikwerreland have asserted their Igboness. Most illustrious sons and daughters. Tell me any Ikwerre whose CV can match those of Mpi, Wobo, Aguma, Wonodi, Dr Wali or Amaechi?
The Ikwerre: Space and Survival
We must resolve all outstanding issues occasioned by the military-inspired partition of Ikwerreland as war booty. Our irreducible stand includes:
One, Ikwerres are Igbos and Ikwerreland is so important to the Igbo that they will never take any step to destroy Ikwerres or toy with their destiny. In geo-strategic terms, Ikwerreland is the tongue of the Igbo race to the sea.
Two, we are aware there are plans to landlock the Igbo nation. These plans are rooted in history. My brother and personal friend, Wike, should not be a crusader for such plans because it will be resisted with the sword as no nation will allow itself to be landlocked. All legitimate, moral and spiritual means available to Ndigbo would be used to resist the excise of Ikwerreland from the larger Igboland.
Three, “Obigbo,” means “Heart of Igboland.” It is the right name for that Local Government Area, LGA. “Oyigbo” means nothing and was never and will never be the name of Obigbo. The British met local people on ground who said their world was called Obigbo. Any researcher can go there and verify for himself. None should be persecuted for calling Obigbo its original pre-civil war name. I, Uche Okwukwu, call it Obigbo and I have no apologies for that.
Four, “Ohiaemeru” is the original name for Borokiri. It was the British who removed the indigenous Ikwerre population there before declaring the place Crown Land between 1913-1923. Equally so, “Igweocha” or “Diobu” is the original name for Port Harcourt. We must set the record straight.
Five, demographically and historically, Igbos constitute the majority in the Niger Delta. Wike’s idea of the region is flawed considering that nine states make up the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, namely, Imo, Abia, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Ondo and Rivers. It is absurd and unacceptable stating that Umuagwo is not in the Niger Delta but Ogoja is. Be that as it may, there is now a statutory definition of the region manifest in the NDDC Act.
Any definition that excludes the Igbo from the Niger Delta, or tends to disenfranchise them from the privileges thereof, is unacceptable. This is because there were plans in the past that destroyed any benefit coming to the Igbo. Boundary adjustments were carried out to remove oil-producing areas from the former East Central State.
Six, in terms of ethnicity and language, Igbos are also in the majority in Rivers. It is fallacious that there are no Igbos here. Igbos are here because Ikwerres are Igbos. Ogbas are Igbos, Ekpeyes are Igbos. Etches are Igbos. Obigbos are Igbos. So no one can talk about Igbos coming in to cause trouble. Igbos are peaceful. Rivers is our home, and we are its autochthones.
Seven, Binis have no cultural or historical link with Ikwerres. We worship different gods, have different market days with different monarchical structures. Our Kingship is not from father to son like the Binis. Our kingship is based on gerontocracy where the oldest person assumes leadership. What brought us together was the 1914 amalgamation. No pre-colonial or colonial record has it that Ikwerres migrated from Benin. The post-war purported claim that Ikwerres are Binis is parasitic, defeatist and self-hate.
Eight, Ikwerreland is heavily garrisoned. Two million Ikwerres in four LGAs are tightly sandwiched by two naval barracks at Iwofe and Borokiri; two army barracks at Port Harcourt and Elele; air force base in Port Harcourt and an army shooting range in Igwuruta. Large swathes of land were appropriated for the building of the international airport, University of Port Harcourt and its teaching hospital, Rivers State University, Ignatius Ajuru University, Nigerian Television Authority, Area 1 Seaport, etc.
We believe in the unity of this country but the Federal Government should dismantle the military formations and return their locations to land-bereft inner-city Ikwerres. Our burgeoning population has no living space and this could lead to the Oromo experience.
Why is Wike denying his Igbo roots?
Wike is an illustrious Ikwerre son. And for emphasis, he is an Igbo man. A kettle might call itself an electric kettle, but it remains a kettle. Wike will do himself great service to forget the purported prejudice of the past and assert his Igboness. You don’t deny your own roots because they may not be there anymore when later you need them. All those who deny their people have always regretted it.
Was Wike not doing an overkill saying that an Igbo son desirous to be president was claiming to be Igbo? His utterance undermines our 2023 presidential project. My real pain concerning Wike’s outburst is why he chose these trying moments when some mischievous Nigerians lumped Ndigbo with IPOB. It is frightening and I would like to know who is writing the script for him.
There was no nexus between the ENDSARS protest and an innocent Igbo desirous to be president. Where is the link? Wike is not a member of the APC. It is not his business who becomes the party’s flag bearer in 2023. He should be more concerned with the presidential candidate of his own Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Who drafted this spoiler-script for Wike?
In these trying moments when our own son, Nnamdi Kanu, has taken negative steps to bring us to public scorn, our brother, Wike, must not help our detractors consummate their agenda. Ndigbo have made it abundantly clear that IPOB does not represent their interests. It assaulted Ike Ekweremadu in Germany and Amaechi in Spain. It also insulted Orji Uzoh Kalu, Rochas Okorocha, Nnia Nwodo, Ralph Uwazurike, Uche Okwukwu, etc. Naturally, one would call on Wike to retract his statement.
I’m sure Wike wanted to exonerate himself from the IPOB excesses by saying he wasn’t Igbo. But none has said that IPOB was Igbo, not even the Federal Government. They know that Kanu’s followers are not limited to Igbos alone. There are elements from other ethnic groups. But anytime Kanu erred, instead of dealing with him alone, they deal with every Igbo.
The Federal Government must be careful dealing with IPOB bearing in mind the way the war ended and how those who were defeated perceive Nigeria. Agitation for Biafra can be doused by giving the Igbo a bite of the cherry. For instance, forty years after the creation of Rivers the Ikwerre were excluded from ruling the state. Things got so heated up till Ikwerres came to power.
Likewise, separatists can be contained by giving the Igbo the chance to rule Nigeria. Such brinkmanship can avert an implosion in the former Eastern Region likely to consume everyone, including those who don’t believe in IPOB. Wike himself may not be safe from such a catastrophe.
Amaechi and Okonjo-Iweala
Amaechi is one of our best to run for the office of the president of Nigeria. A pan-Nigerian with large heart and strong character, he will privilege an all-inclusive government.
But if Nigerians desire a female president the most qualified is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As former Minister of Finance and Managing Director of the World Bank, she’ll create the enabling environment for self-employment.
We also have other qualified Igbos. As former local government chairman, Chief of Staff to Rivers State Government and minister, Wike has the credentials to vie for the office of Nigerian president as an Igbo. I urge him to present himself as you can never be defeated in a war you didn’t fight. Let him be courageous to step forward.
Okorocha is qualified to lead Nigeria. With his Rochas Foundation, he is training over 55,000 African children.
The cerebral Senator Chris Ngige, wonderful man who turned around a failed Anambra State as governor, can run for the Nigerian presidency. A charismatic politician with a vast appetite for discipline, he laid an enviable foundation in governance unmatched. The roads he built between 2003 and 2006 are still intact as if they were tarred yesterday. As a senator in the opposition, he contributed in consolidating Nigerian democracy.
Ogbonnaya Onu is the father of opposition politics in Nigeria. From 1999-2015 he was in the opposition showing principle. Amiable and calm, Onu has a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering and established the Department of Chemical Engineering in the University of Port Harcourt. He is eminently qualified to lead Nigeria.
To the ruling APC, we shall present these greats for the party to make its choice
Equity means Igbos must be accorded the right to first choice and first refusal to produce the next president. The journey is long and road tough. But we are confident of light at the end of the tunnel. From a people who call God “Chukwu,” heaven “Eligwe,” earth “Ali,” Lucifer “Ekwensu,” water “Mini” and salt “Nnu,” Nigerian president will emerge in 2023.
We are not bothered whether the Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will come from the Igbanke in Edo; Asa/Azumili in Akwa Ibom, Anioma/Osimili in Delta, or Ogba/Obigbo in Rivers. Our goal is producing Nigerian president so that pains arising from decades of exclusion can be addressed; even though he may not do much for Ndigbo.