Ezza Ezekuna People: The Unsung Martyrs And Heroes Of Ebonyi State
INTRODUCTION: Ezza Ezekuna people otherwise known as Ezza people are descendants of the first son of Ekumenyi - the progenitor of Unwuekumenyi whose biological and foster children constitute Abakaliki bloc of Ebonyi State. Ezza people's ancestral home is Onueke in Ebonyi State even though strong biblical, ethnographic and socio-cultural evidences link Ezza people's descent to Gad, the son of Jacob otherwise known as Israel! For instance, just like Israel, Ezza is made up of twelve tribes. In 1st Chronicles 12:9, Ezza [Ezer] people were ranked first among the tribes that helped David in the wilderness of Ziklag to overcome King Saul's army. The description of Ezza [Ezer] warriors in 1st Chronicles 12:8 as "mighty men of valour, ... whose faces were like faces of lions, and who were as swift as gazelles on the mountains" is apt for both past and present generations. The people of Ezza Ezekuna remain the largest single family unit in Nigeria.
THE MARTYRS AND HEROES OF THE COMMON GOOD: Ezza Ezekuna people are mighty men of valour, honour and integrity: However, the distinguishing character of Ezza Ezekuna people is that their energy and valour are justice and equity-oriented; and have always been used to defend the weak and promote the common good. Beyond the scriptural references cited above to support Ezza people's positive use of their strength, contemporary historical records like the reports of the colonial British Intelligence Officer in charge of the jurisdiction covering the area now known as Ebonyi State, Mr. G.B.G. Chapman, abound in local archives. The encounter of Ezza Ezekuna warriors in the jungles of Ezzaegu and Umuhuali in the 1850s; the endearingly solicited interventions of Ezza Ezekuna people to protect Ezillo people from blood-sucking external aggressors in the dawn of the 20th century; as well as the sinew-exerting wars Ezza people fought to protect Effium people from imminent annihilation in 1928 were properly recorded and all constitute the immutable and incontrovertible history of Ezza Ezekuna people's sacrificial deployment of their gifts of industry and valour to their traditionally avowed pursuit of the common good.
It suffices that the security and preservation of most minority groups in Ebonyi and other contagious states were purchased with the blood of Ezza Ezekuna martyrs at the consideration of portions of the saved land which were perpetually transferred to Ezza people. This was how Ezza Ezekuna people who were never marauders at any point in history came to live in great numbers in all the senatorial districts of Ebonyi State; and even in Enugu, Benue, Ondo, Crossriver, Anambra, Lagos and other states. Unlike some other major tribes in Ebonyi State and elsewhere, Ezza Ezekuna people have no history of aggressive invasion or conquest: This, given their strength and ubiquity, is instructive and it is a compelling proof that Ezza Ezekuna people are warm and peaceful people. At the border areas where parts of the saved land were usually transferred absolutely to Ezza people, they live there and serve as bastions of security for the rest of the community.
EZZA EZEKUNA AND EBONYI STATE CREATION PROJECT: Beyond the various forms of persecution collectively suffered by Ebonyi people during the agitation for the creation of Ebonyi State, the only martyr of the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State, Monday Umanyi, was from Ezza Ezekuna. He was killed by anti-Ebonyi elements for mentioning Ebonyi State at a time it was "felonious" to do so. The highest individual donor at the fund-raising of the Movement for the Creation of Ebonyi State, Chief Samuel Okohu; and the man who submitted the formal request for the creation of Ebonyi State at the National Assembly, Sen. Offiah Nwali, were all from Ezza Ezekuna. When Ebonyi State was finally created, a large chunk of Ezza Ezekuna land from Unwuezeokohu through Unwuogharu to Amuzu formed part of the state capital.
THE BEGINNING OF ENVY: As the rule of might petered out, giving way to civilization which reduced aggression and the need for peace missions, Ezza Ezekuna people diverted their gift of valour to positive industries like agriculture, trade and services; and to the pursuit of the common good of the people. God prospered them beyond expectations: The first black man to obtain a doctorate degree (Ph.D) in Computer and Analytical Studies from Harvard University and the richest Abakaliki man were all from Ezza Ezekuna. Their number and spread were also potential advantages. All these put together qualified Ezza Ezekuna people as the most enterprising people of Abakaliki bloc. However, before the creation of Ebonyi State in 1996, the positive industry of Ezza Ezekuna people and the progress they made had attracted mountains of envy for them both individually and collectively.
THE BALKANIZATION OF EZZA EZEKUNA: The 1997 constituency creation exercise was used to balkanize Ezza Ezekuna people: Ezza South was unequally yoked together with Ikwo who were their traditional allies in Ezzikwo division. Because of Ezza-Effium people in Ohaukwu, the old Ishielu division was balkanized and Ohaukwu merged with Ebonyi LGA to become another federal constituency in Ebonyi North senatorial district while Ezza North and Ishielu formed another federal constituency in Ebonyi Central. So, instead of Ezza North/Ezza South and Ishielu/Ohaukwu federal constituencies, we have Ikwo /Ezza South; Ezza North/Ishielu; and Ebonyi/Ohaukwu federal constituencies. In the State constituency creation, Ezza South was left as a single constituency. In the creation of Electoral Wards, Ezza North and Ezza South had 11 wards apiece; all Ezza-Effium people with a population greater than that of some Local Government Areas were squeezed into two out of the 5 wards of Effium in Ohaukwu LGA while the rest of the wards were assigned to indigenous families. All Ezza people in Ezzaegu were lumped into four electoral wards. Ezza Ezekuna people in Ebonyi South at Abaomege and Ukawu had a total of 3 wards created for them. The great populations of Ezza Ezekuna people in Umuhuali, Ntezi and Ezillo and Ivo had polling units only. The meaning of this manner of constituency/ward delineation for Ezza Ezekuna people becomes clearer in the face of the fact that politics is a game of number. This exercise of fragmentation was done to diffuse the otherwise Domino impact of Ezza Ezekuna voting strength and drastically reduce the weight of Ezza voice as well as Ezza people's ration at the patrimonial dinning table.
THE PERSECUTION OF EZZA EZEKUNA: In 1999, the chaperones of democracy in Ebonyi State were swayed by expedient sentiments into using military jackboot menaces and other regimental body languages to scheme Ezza Ezekuna people who effectively and efficiently invested their resources, energy and blood in the preservation of Ebonyi people and in Ebonyi State creation project out of the main power game. A man from the minorities of Ebonyi North district emerged the pioneer elected Governor of Ebonyi State. This was against African cultural protocol which held the elders and first-borns in high regard and treated them as first in everything except where the first born has either sold his birthright like Esau in the Bible or committed an abominable crime! Between 1999 and 2003, Ezza Ezekuna people formed a wall of protection for the pioneer civilian administration, protecting it from the distractions of Abuja Group and propped it up for the second term election; yet, a bill for the creation of autonomous communities for Ebonyi people was denied assent because Ezza Ezekuna people in the diaspora of Ebonyi State would have benefited from it. However, by executive fiat, that same administration created autonomous community for Amuda people who were traditional tenants of Ezza Ezekuna people. In 2002, attempts were made to eject Ezza Ezekuna people from Effium, but it was vehemently resisted. Ebonyi State Government white paper on the report of the panel of inquiry on the crisis in Effium Autonomous Community dated October, 2004 literarily "amended" the Nigerian constitution in order to confer undue disadvantages on Ezza-Effium people, but judicial and constitutional developments have overtaken the white paper. From 2003, government apparatuses were frantically used to divide every major tribes of Ebonyi State. It succeeded beyond target in other places and failed in Ezza Ezekuna because of the strong cultural ties of the people. Two artificial political groups - Ezza Ezekuna Consultative Forum and Ezza Ezekuna General Assembly - were created and; supported with funds; government patronages and promises of successorship; and pitted against each other.
In 2007, a time Former President Obasanjo had made Nigeria's democracy compliant with positive cultural norms and usages in a brand of democracy captioned "Home-grown democracy", a Congo-trained economist from Ikwo, the younger brother of Ezza Ezekuna, emerged Governor of Ebonyi State. The error of the extraneous military chaperones of civil rule in 1999 was repeated.
At the commencement of biometric data capturing voters registration exercise, insufficient and faulty machines were deployed to Ezza Ezekuna areas. Where the machines miraculously functioned, they were withdrawn without explanation. The result was that no sincere attempt was made to register the voting population of Ezza Ezekuna between 2007 and 2015. Through deft use of state apparatuses, Ezza people in diaspora communities of Ebonyi State were barred from contesting elections into both the state legislature and council chairmanship positions between 2007 and 2015. The case of Ishielu West state constituency was a typical political miracle attributable to God almighty as well as the collective resilience of Ezza Ezekuna people; and not to any mortal man. In 2008, a dispute over the location of a pay-phone booth between two teenagers was allowed to fester into a full-blown war between Ezillo and Ezza-Ezillo people wherein the government of Ebonyi State literarily went into the trenches against one of the parties to the dispute. The high-point of the persecution of Ezza Ezekuna people at this historical point was the arrest and detention of only Ezza people, including their traditional rulers and professionals, over a war in which there were casualties on both sides! Ezza-Ezillo people were chased out of their homes. The persecution of Ezza Ezekuna people in this era was so tense that men of conscience like Dr. Hyginus Nwokwu openly confronted the alter ego of the administration in an open-air political rally at the risk of their lives, limbs and gainful engagements. No meaningful developmental project was executed in Ezza land within this period by the government which used propaganda machinery to label and stigmatize Ezza people as cannibals and people bereft of integrity, humane emotions and so undeserving of trust, love and human relations.
THE DAWN OF RELIEF: The high-level emotions and sentiments which heralded the 2015 power game provided yet another room for the persecuted and but courageously resilient people of Ezza Ezekuna to demonstrate their commitment to the common good of Ebonyi State. Ezza people stood strong insisting that power must shift to Ebonyi South so as to equitably complete the cycle of power. Their protest votes helped sink the ship of brazen inequity in Ebonyi State.
The emergence of the third civilian administration in Ebonyi State was a watershed marking a new dawn of freedom and relief for all Ebonyians including the persecuted people of Ezza Ezekuna. The gates of prisons were flung open to readmit the innocent traditional rulers, professionals and youths of Ezza Ezekuna to freedom. The negative labels were yanked off the people of Ezza Ezekuna while the propaganda machineries against them were dismantled with regimental dispatch. With the withdrawal of government machineries from the theatre of Ezillo by the new sheriff, hostilities ceased. A committee of clergymen was empaneled to study the remote and immediate causes of hostilities between Ezillo and Ezza-Ezillo people and advise government on how to reconcile the parties and restore peace in Ezillo on permanent terms. In the end, the proper status of Ezza-Ezillo people as co-owners of Ezzilo land was established and declared; Izzo autonomous community was created for Ezza-Ezillo people; a land area yet to be effectively occupied by Ezza-Ezillo people was mapped out for their resettlement; and peace has been restored to the extent that inter-community marriages involving Ezillo and Ezza-Ezillo people have been celebrated.
Since 2015, the process of re-admission of Ezza people into the pinnacle of social acceptance has been on. Meaningful projects like roads and the pulverization plant have been done in Ezza land; Ezza Ezekuna people have been appointed into sensitive positions with one charged with driving the flagship radical infrastructural revolution of the administration; and two Ezza Ezekuna sons in the diaspora of Ebonyi State - Hon. Chinedu Awo from Ezza Effium and Hon. Arinze Chukwu from Ezza Ntezi - have been elected into Ebonyi State Legislature and are currently serving their terms. It is instructive that in all these positions of public trust, Ezza Ezekuna sons and daughters have proved their mettles as people of goodwill and positive industry through diligent and dispassionate discharge of their duties.
CONCLUSION: This assemblage of verifiable incontrovertible facts and time-tested antecedents of the great people of Ezza Ezekuna became necessary to refresh our memories and set the records straight in the face of the deluge of lies and fabrications bothering on blackmail which are daily peddled by some political speculators ahead of the far away 2023 power game. The truth is that the people of Ezza Ezekuna have truly earned the profile of the unsung martyrs and heroes of Ebonyi commongood. If one will not sing this great people, one should eschew any attempt to disparage them for the obvious reasons that such act is futile, uncharitable and smacks of bad faith.
POST SCRIPT: Those behind the smear campaign against the most accessible and flamboyant senator from Ebonyi State as well as the media war between Izhi Tehu Foundation and Izzi Development Association are advised to desist from such acts which are condemnable. It is trite that we are better together in Ebonyi State and one can still run one's political campaigns without casting aspersions on real or imagined political adversaries. Above all, the fact that the 2023 General Elections timetable has not been published by INEC and the political parties implies that this period is for governance and not for political campaigns.