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IBB'S MEN AT WAR

By NBF News
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Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, former Minister of Information, has taken on Prof. Omo Omoruyi, former Director General, Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), over his recent utterances on the creation of Delta State on August 27, 1991. Both Oyovbaire and Omoruyi served in the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida , former military president.

Oyovbaire in his rejoinder to Omoruyi's interview with Daily Sun of Tuesday, January 25, 2011, puntured the roles Omoruyi claimed he played in the creation of of the state: 'It is reckless and foolhardy to assign or arrogate IBB'S action or advocacy to anyone particular person who IBB might have consulted.'

He agreed that 'Omoruyi would obviously have tendered some viewpoints or advice on the matter; but it is not correct that he alone was involved, and that it was because his advice (whatever it was) was not adopted by IBB, hence IBB 'fumbled.' '

Oyovbaire then explained what he said transpired before Delta State was eventually created. Full text of his rejoinder:

'I have always resisted the strong intellectual urge to respond to some of the many national and local issues of politics and governance which my good and amiable friend and also senior academic colleague - Prof. Omo Omoruyi – has been canvassing since about 1991 when he published his book with the title The Tale of June 12. Omoruyi has canvassed several historical facts and analytical perceptions in the book and in many media interviews which induce and indeed provoke contention and controversy.

'My reluctance to engage in rejoinders derives from very good reasons which are in addition to my very sincere and deep respect for him as an excellently likeable friend, senior intellectual colleague and with whom I have shared mutually challenging thoughts and discourses in matters of governance and political science. We also have a mutual friend who is a great statesman, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), and who incidentally, occupies the primary space of the critical issues in our discourses, and hence am disinclined to unduly invoke his person in the public domain.

'I am, however, unable to hold back this time from elucidating some points of view based on facts and analysis in the cover story of 'IBB fumbled in creating Delta State' by Omoruyi published in the Daily Sun of Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at pages 5 and 63. There are five issues in this story with which I intend to contend, but let me provide a concise preface to my rejoinder.

'It is common knowledge among close intellectual friends, advisers and scholars of IBB's statesmanship that he is a most complex and thoughtful person - a man who makes up his mind and does what he considers appropriate after listening, usually, to multiple sources, and even when what he does coincides with one's views or counsel, it is reckless and foolhardy to assign or arrogate IBB'S action or advocacy to anyone particular person who IBB might have consulted. Aphoristically, IBB's five fingers do not touch one another.

Hence, it amuses me when any friend of IBB says 'IBB did so and so, because it is my advice to him to do so'. It may or may not be correct. This may well be the source of Omoruyi's ascription of 'fumbling' to the mode and character of Delta State which the IBB regime created on 27th August 1991. Omoruyi would obviously have tendered some viewpoints or advice on the matter; but it is not correct that he alone was involved, and that it was because his advice (whatever it was) was not adopted by IBB, hence IBB 'fumbled'.

'It should be recalled that the Political Bureau had in its report in 1987, based on very knitly close research, recommended the creation of only six states in the country including Delta State. The number of states then would have risen from 19 to 25. For reasons which are hardly clear and justifiable, only two states, namely: Akwa-Ibom and Katsina were created. Yet about four years later, nine new states, without the benefit of further study but simply in response to governance pressures, were created by IBB. Delta State was one of these nine states. Same for the exercise of creating new local governments which was rejected by IBB earlier in 1987 but having been orchestrated by societal pressures, the AFRC approved and created over 200 in August 1991.

'Twenty years after the events constitute a long enough period to open up a little in the affairs of public governance. The Vice-President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, was directed by IBB in July 1991 to hold consultations and make appropriate recommendation on creating new states out of Bendel State. (It is important to acknowledge the fact the pressures for new states in Bendel were highly orchestrated from all segments- Afemai/Esan;/Asaba/Ika/Anioma; Urhobo/Isoko; and Ijaw). Aikhomu summoned a consultative meeting of carefully and advisedly selected leaders who comprised, among others, Oba of Benin and Olu of Warri, Gen. David Ejoor, Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia, Chief K.B. Omatseye, Chief Prof. Philip Onianwa, and Chief I.S. Moemeka. I remember that late Chief Dennis Osadebay and late Chief Sutherland were invited but could not attend. (The register of attendance, minutes and recommendations of that meeting remain in my longhand-writing in my personal library).

'One memorable feature of that meeting is the instructive altercation and educative engagement about the 'political origins' of the Itsekiri Kingdom between the two highly revered traditional monarchs, Oba of Benin and Olu of Warri. One other sideline entertainment feature of that day was the gate-crashing into the meeting by Chief (Mrs.) Rita Lori-Ogbebor, a domineering Itsekiri chief, who, knowing that the Olu of Warri was on his way to the meeting decided to attend uninvited and kept Aikhomu constantly on his toes in preventing her from participating in the proceedings. She paced round the Vice President's residence at No. 7, Ikoyi Crescent, Lagos, throughout the duration of the meeting.

'Two major conclusions and recommendations were arrived at, namely: Delta Province should be a new Delta State with Warri as the state capital. The Itsekiri members were opposed to making Warri the capital of Delta State; and vehemently insisted upon the Itsekiri nationality to be excluded from a Delta State but merged with what is now Edo State or what Omoruyi probably canvassed with IBB as Eduwa State.

'Benin Province which included Asaba District (now Oshimili, Ika and Anioma areas) or the core Ibo speaking area of Bendel State should constitute Edo State with Benin City as the state capital. The Asaba members who attended the meeting vehemently insisted on either being granted Anioma State or as an alternative to exclude Asaba District from Edo State, and, absorbed into Delta State.

'The meeting was occasionally quite heated. The two conclusions above were, however, formulated into an aide-memoire which was tendered by Aikhomu to IBB. Between July and August 26, when the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), held its meeting on the matter of creating new states and local governments, a lot of currents of political water passed under the political bridge. The currents and under-currents as well as the persons involved in the under-the-bridge movements are well known to me.

'At the AFRC meeting on August 26, 1991, I happened, by dint of insistence by my immediate boss, Aikhomu, to sit behind him as the only civilian adviser to assist in taking notes along with the Secretary to the AFRC, Gen. Tim Shelpidi. The meeting was not concluded by night, and Shelpidi and myself were ordered by IBB to produce the summary of the proceedings for the resumed sitting next morning, Saturday 27, 1991.

'On the matter of Delta State, the decision of the AFRC was as follows: The new state was to be called Ethiope State with capital in Asaba; the Warri area (which used to be one local government, subsequently Warri North, Warri South, and Warri South-West) was excised away from Delta Province and added to Benin Province as Edo state.

'Late in the night after my assignment with Shelpidi, and highly troubled by the decision of the AFRC on Delta State to be endorsed the following morning, I decided to do a hand written note (three pages) to IBB. I could not secure a photocopy but as luck will have it, I was told by Aikhomu that the note was handed to him by IBB at the end of the AFRC meeting on Saturday 27th August 1991. In the note, I sought to plead with IBB to reconsider the three decisions about Delta State.

'That Ethiope is the name of a river whose meaning does not go beyond the source of the river in the Obiaruku sector of Delta Province; hence it is meaningless to call the new state, Ethiope. Apart from the historical and political significance of Delta Province since it was re-named in 1952 by the Action Group government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo from Warri Province to Delta Province, it had already become rooted in the consciousness of the people, including the Ukwuani (Ndokwa) people of present day three local government areas of Ukwuani, Ndokwa West and Ndokwa East. I pleaded that the name Ethiope should be dropped and Delta restored or retained as the name of the new state. Honestly, I do not know who counseled or canvassed the name, Ethiope for the state; may be Omoruyi knows.

'Asaba was obviously on the northeastern fringe of the state sharing River Niger as border with Anambra sSate. It was even much farther away for the people in the Escravos territory than Benin City as capital of Bendel State. Pretending that IBB may have forgotten the aide-memoire from Aikhomu about Warri, I sought to re-emphasize the significance of Warri as the state capital. My argument was that contrary to the strong belief in certain quarters, Warri as a state capital would soon expand to convert the whole area into an economic, administrative and political conurbation and melting pot city for the Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo and Ukwuani (Ndokwa) among other Nigerian citizens who would do business in the city.

I am aware of the resentment by the Itsekiri leaders about making Warri the capital of the state for the fears of Urhobo domination and of their relegation to the backwaters by the forces of socio-political change and development, and also particularly of the Itsekiri monarchy.

'I requested even to the point of being rude to IBB the rationale of taking the Warri area into Edo State. The area is historically settled by the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhobo. Taking the Warri area from Delta is creating another round of new problems for the Urhobo who would now be a part of Edo State and for the Ijaw whose fellow compatriots in Edo State already have problems with their historical link with the Bini. For me, the recurrent crisis then in the Warri area would increase rather than reduce by the decision of 26th August 1991 by the AFRC. I therefore sought for reversal of the AFRC's decision.

'Through the help of my lifelong friend and colleague, who also was a senior political adviser to IBB, Dr. Tunji Olagunju, my note got to IBB more than one hour on Saturday 27th August 1991 before the AFRC reconvened. At the reconvened meeting, it was announced to the AFRC by IBB that the name of the new state should be Delta State and the merger of Warri with Edo State rescinded. The capital of the state remains Asaba. As I stated earlier, my note was handed to Aikhomu which I hope to retrieve. The ramifications of the AFRC's decisions and reversals are many; but I need not address such matters in this rejoinder.

'Having now relayed my own story as different from Omoruyi's story, let me take issue with five points in Omoruyi's interview in the Daily Sun of Tuesday January 25, 2011:

'When Omoruyi stated that 'Urhobo and related people deserve a state of their own,' who are the 'related people' he has in mind other than the Isoko, Itsekiri, Ijaw or Ndokwa? Omoruyi confuses one by this kind of statement because he also proceeded to advocate 'that the Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri should be protected'; against whom, I may ask, other than the Urhobo? There can be, as there has always been, a good case for the Urhobo people to have their own state, but how does Omoruyi deal with the fact that the Urhobo and Ijaw who are in Warri South, Warri South-West and Warri North will have been absorbed into his advocated 'Eduwa State'?

He was not invited, but how I wished Omoruyi was present at the meeting summoned by Aikhomu in July 1991 when the two revered traditional rulers - Oba of Benin and Olu of Warri - were seriously engaged in altercation over the history and politics of the relationship between the two kingdoms and nationalities, that is, Benin and Itsekiri.

'I really cannot comprehend what Omoruyi had in mind when he said that 'they (Urhobo) have not forgiven Babangida' for the location of the state capital in Asaba, and that Babangida took the decision for 'personal consideration'. For Omoruyi, IBB's 'personal consideration' was the consequence of 'Ogboru/Orkar Coup' of April 1990. I want to believe that Omoruyi is on firm ground, but I doubt it very much that the decision by IBB/AFRC to locate Delta State capital in Asaba has anything to do with anti-Urhobo feelings of IBB over the abortive Orkar coup. Omoruyi is insinuating that Ogboru is equivalent to, or the same as, all Urhobo people and that the Urhobo nation collaborated with Ogboru to sponsor the 1990 abortive Orkar coup. Unbelievable.

'Incidentally, there used to be another laughably alleged IBB's 'personal consideration' which certain individuals used to bandy around in the location of the Delta State capital in Asaba. This one is related to the fact of Her Excellency Mrs. Miriam Babangida (May her peaceful and beautiful soul rest in Peace) being paternally from Asaba, and hence as it was comically stated to me, the state capital was 'the bride price paid for the traditional marriage of Mrs. Babangida to the Asaba people'. These are really funny political stuff.

'It is true that Babangida listened to the strong plea of the Asaba community to be granted Anioma State and be 'freed from the Benin Empire'. It should be recalled that until only recently, the bogey of economic viability argument was used to shoot down, refuse, reject or counter any demand for state creation. Anioma was considered, rightly or wrongly, as unviable as a state. I know the individuals whose personal engagements swayed IBB (not even his wife) in granting Asaba 'independence from the Benin Empire'; in attaching them to Delta Province for the purpose of Delta State; and in approving Asaba as the capital. It has nothing to do with the 1990 coup or with Mrs. Babangida being a paternal indigene of Asaba.

'I am perplexed by the persistence of Omoruyi in the linkage between Benin and Itsekiri in his proposition of an Eduwa State. In addition to what I have already said when the AFRC decided on 26th August 1991 to merge the Warri area of Delta State with Edo State, I really do not see the geo-political fundamentals in the Eduwa State proposition.

'There is hardly any direct geo-political relationship between Benin and Itsekiri. The linkage is even permeated by the Ijaw community. Even if a case can be built around any geo-political contiguity in the creation of an Eduwa State, how can we deal with the Ijaw in Warri North and Warri South West, and Urhobo in Warri South Local government areas in Eduwa State? To extend the argument a little, how is Edo State dealing presently with the Ijaw minority in the state? In spite of well meaning attempts by the state government and the Benin Monarchy in the social integration process between the Ijaw and Benin, we need to be careful when we pontificate on these matters.

'Omoruyi talked so much about relationship among the three ethnic nationalities of Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri. There is a good case in the political relationship of these three groups in so far as there is an Urhobo phenomenon to deal with, yet the relationship between Ijaw and Itsekiri has not been less problematic than as between Urhobo and Itsekiri. In any case, the Ijaw community in Delta State is only a part of the larger Ijaw nationality which is composed by Ijaw communities in Ondo, Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom states.

When the 'coast state' proposition was orchestrated during the government of Prof. Ambrose Alli of the UPN and even, later, before the Chief Arthur Mbanefo Panel in 1994/95 under Gen. Sani Abacha, the proposition was not limited or envisaged as consisting of Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri only. The people of Ndokwa East and even a section of Asaba along the south western fringes of the River Niger were part of the agitation. I find Omoruyi's thoughts and advocacy here very confusing or at best not well informed.

'Finally, I am not sure what to make of the statement in the interview by Omoruyi by linking the result of the recent re-run election of January 6, 2011, and the politics of Delta State on the one hand, and what he believes as the mistake made by IBB in the creation of Delta State on the other. As an excellent scholar of elections management and electoral politics not only here in Nigeria but also in the Caribbean, the United States and Europe, I thought Omoruyi would be able to appreciate the problems and dynamics of elections and election results in Delta State. I say this with particular reference to the history and pattern of election results in the Warri political terrain, especially in the Escravos.

'Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has only recently drawn attention to this matter both on television and in the print media; and in any case, I hear that the results of the re-run election are being tested in an election tribunal. I wish therefore to refrain from any details. But if only Omoruyi understands the 'politics of elections and even of census enumeration' in places like Ogidigben in Warri South West, to take just one extreme location by the ocean, he will know that the results of election and census usually present interesting configurations in the electoral politics of the defunct Western Region, defunct Bendel State, Delta State and of Nigeria.'