PROPOSED OIL RIVERS STATE: Adventurism of Ijaw Renegates Into AkwaIbom State - Part I

Source: Dr. Tom Mbeke-Ekanem, REA

The damage to Akwa Ibom would have been worse than what the Japanese suffered during the 2011 Tsunami that was triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. On Thursday, August 21, 2014, the National Conference inaugurated on March 17, 2014 came to an end with the submission of the Conference report to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. In its final report, the Conference recommended the creation of 18 additional states which will increase the number of states in the country to 54, four more than United States.

Among the proposed new states is Oil Rivers State. In the final report on page 708, it is stated that the Oil Rivers State will be created from Rivers and Akwa Ibom States. The inclusion of Akwa Ibom State in the proposed Oil Rivers when it was not discussed at the Conference was a shocker to the Akwa Ibom delegates. With a lightning speed, led by Gov. Victor Attah, a petition was sent to the Chairman of the con­ference, Justice Idris Kutigi.

The Obolo Ijaw had in June 2012 submitted a document titled “Memorandum for the Creation of Oil Rivers State Out of the Present Rivers and Akwa Ibom States” to the National Assembly. The proposed Oil Rivers was to cover 1930 square miles “of the southern seabed of Engeni, Abua/Odua, Akuku Toru, Degema, Asari Toru, Port Harcourt South, Okrika, Bonny, Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro, Eastern Obolo and Ibeno. The capital would be Isaka/ Bakana or Degema while its 2, 344,945 population is exclusively Ijaws of Eastern Delta.” It is stated that one of the renegades, Arc. Esoetok Etteh from Ibeno was a signatory to this document. He justified his signatory as follows, “We must recover and retain our culture lost to British balkanization of the past two hundred years. Some of us have lost our language and ways of life. The proposed Oil Rivers State will correct these anomalies.”

The leaders of Eket Senatorial District did not treat Ijaw's action with kid's glove. Led by Obong E.C.D. Abia, the Attah of Eket, the traditional rulers of Eket Senatorial District comprising of twelve Local Government Areas, LGAs, including Eatern Obolo and Ibeno, urged the National Assembly in February 2013 to reject the Obolo Ijaw demand: “The agitators and architects of the said memorandum have employed outright falsehood and distortions to advance their demand. If the Ibenos and the people of Eastern Obolo who now claim to be of Ijaw extraction desire to join the people of Rivers State to form a state, they should do so with their land and wealth not ours…The area of our land and wealth thereon which the people of Ibeno and Eastern Obolo local government areas of Akwa Ibom State have caused to be drawn or made to form part of the proposed Oil Rivers State is ours, they do not belong to the people of Ibeno and/or Eastern Obolo.”

Without a doubt, removing the two local governments, Ibeno and Eastern Obolo, from Akwa Ibom would certainly bring a Tsunamic catastrophe to the entire state. This action would be analogous to Niger Delta declaring independence from Nigeria nation. The negative effect would be too pronounced to fathom. With this, Akwa Ibom would cease to be an oil producing state, just like Cross River.

When the name Akwa Ibom suddenly appeared in the final draft document of the National Conference as one of the states from where Oil Rivers State would be created, the leprous hand was not difficult to detect. Others who also signed the petition along with Gov. Attah were a former minister of Lands and Housing, Nduese Essien, and a former Military Administrator of the state, Idongesit Nkanga. They noted that the plot amounted to a hidden agenda by people whose aim might be to scuttle the final outcome of the Conference. Part of the letter read, “This action is at variance with the Conference decision of the Committee on Restructuring and Forms of Government. The conference decision as correctly reflected on Page 281 (b) of the draft report was that 'the third state to be created in the South-South zone will be named later along with its state capital. This inclusion is a sleight of hand, unholy and completely unacceptable to us as there was no prior discussion with Akwa Ibom State and her delegates on the matter.”

“While it supported the move for the creation of new states in deserving parts of the country, the delegates insisted that the process should have been in consultation with every relevant stakeholder. As the true representatives of our state and people at this Conference, we have been mandated to reject totally and disassociate ourselves and our state completely from this provision. We assert that no part of Akwa Ibom state should be excised to form a new state.”

Members of Ijaw Youth Council were quick to challenge the petition in a statement signed by Eric Omare published in Vanguard Newspaper of August 21, 2014. They claimed in part that “The (Akwa Ibom) petitioners are not part of the proposed state; hence they lack the locus to oppose the creation of Oil Rivers State. Therefore, we call on the relevant authorities to disregard the protest, as the proposed Oil Rivers State de­serves to be created on merit.”

“We wish to make it abun­dantly clear that anybody or group of people opposing the creation of Ijaw state for the Ijaw people of Akwa Ibom and Rivers States on the one hand, and the Ijaw people of Delta, Edo and Ondo states on the other, are threats to the existence of Ijaw people. And we are ready to take any step to protect our exis­tence. ...”

Frontline Akwa Ibom Movement Weigh In
In a counter press statement released by FrontLine Akwa Ibom Movement (FAIME)

and signed by its president, Mr. Ibanga Isine, the group warned that the peaceful disposition of Akwa Ibom people should not be taken for granted and vowed to defend their state and its re­sources with the last drop of their blood.

They state in part that, “While we do not intend to join issues with the IYC over its spurious claims or be bothered by its empty threats against perceived opponents to the creation of an Oil Rivers State for Ijaw people, we, however, wish to use this medium to put the records straight. Nigerians and the world have not forgotten the role played by some criminal elements in the killing of thousands of innocent people of the Niger Delta region under the guise of militancy and Niger Delta struggle.”

“Nobody is in any doubt about the genesis of the touted militancy in the once peaceful oil-rich region…. and the ignoble roles prominent politicians in the Ijaw areas and IYC members played in the carnage that later engulfed the region….It is indeed unfortunate that the leaders and members of identified criminal gangs, who would have been sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges for crimes against humanity, are now enjoying Presidential Amnesty and running amok in search of new frontiers for plunder.

“While we will continue to pursue peace in the Niger Delta region and support the cause of a united Nigeria, we wish to warn IYC and any other group for that matter, not to take the peaceful disposition of Akwa Ibom people for granted….The elders and people of Akwa Ibom State are not opposed to the creation of Oil Rivers or any other state for Ijaw people. But we will not allow an inch of Akwa Ibom land to be excised for the purpose of creating a state for Ijaw people and we will employ every legal means to resist any attempt by groups such as IYC to blackmail our leaders.”

To be continued

Dr. Tom Mbeke-Ekanem, REA
Author, Beyond the Execution -
Understanding the Ethnic and Military Politics in Nigeria

Los Angeles, California
Tel: (951) 640-0737
Email: [email protected]

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