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FURORE OVER CHARTER OF EQUITY IN EBONYI

By NBF News

Historians and followers of the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State have described the journey as a sorrowful one. These historians have contended that besides the Koma people discovered recently in Taraba State, whose living conditions are reminiscent of the Stone-Age era, there is perhaps no other people East of the Niger that have been marginalized like the people of Ebonyi State.

For decades, Ebonyi people have remained under one administrative umbrella. By 1906, the defunct colonial administration had grouped the people under Ogoja Province. But following a memoranda and oral evidence given by the people of Ebonyi area to Willink's Commission appointed by the British Colonial administration in 1957/1958 to enquire into the fears of Minorities with a view to allaying their fears, the Ogoja, Ikom and Obudu Divisions were excised to form a new Ogoja Province while Abakaliki and Afikpo divisions were grouped into Abakaliki Province with a provincial headquarters at Abakaliki.

Willink's Commission reports stated, 'We are left, however, with no doubt that in this corner of the region there is a feeling of neglect and wish for greater share in roads, schools, hospitals, and water supplies.'

Since then, the people had remained as one entity until February 3, 1976 when they were cut in two and forced to go their separate ways out of the defunct East Central State created in 1967 by Gen. Yakubu Gowon's administration with Abakaliki Division going to Anambra State and Afikpo Division going to Imo State .

Again, the Movement for the creation of Ebonyi State, aided by experience, good leadership and total reliance on God re-presented the case to Justice Arthur Mbanefo-led panel on creation of new states. And on October 1, 1996; the late General Sani Abacha announced the creation of Ebonyi State alongside others. With that, justice was finally done; and the era of slave labour was seen to be over. To many observers, it was an hour of independence, freedom, triumph, emancipation, hope, redemption, love, unity and salvation. Abakaliki and Afikpo became one again.

However, it need be recalled for clarity of understanding that the death of Dr. Akanu Ibiam, the first national leader of the Movement for the creation of Ebonyi State, created some leadership vacuum shortly after the state creation. If he had been alive to witness the creation of the state, analysts claim, his pet-child would have been a symbol of unity for the whole state and would have moderated the politics of Ebonyi State to avert the rancour, bitterness and acrimony, which are fast becoming the order of the day.

It is most unfortunate that all major actors, who were in the Vanguard of Ebonyi State creation, soon after the creation of the state joined party politics and in the process lost their leadership clout in the whole state as they now speak from position of partisanship rather than neutrality.

Today, they are no longer seen as state leaders, but rather spokesmen of political parties, clans and pressure groups. The political class are now displaying 'a-do-or-die syndrome' in pursuit of their political ambition. The issue now is who controls the Ebonyi Government House? Besides, what will be the fate of Afikpo bloc in the on-going political engineering? Would they continue to remain 'slaves' to the Abakaliki bloc leaders who have vowed to hang on to power in the next 30 years?

Both Ebonyi North and Ebonyi central of old Abakaliki bloc now claim to be heir apparent to the throne without taking into cognizance the Ebonyi Charter of Equity entered into by prominent leaders of Afikpo and Abakaliki divisions during the struggle for the actualization of the state.

Already, the political class has started whipping up sentiments that query why their zone (s) should be allowed to take a shot at the coveted seat by 2011. It is shocking to hear politicians from Old Abakaliki Divisions especially our brothers in central boasting that as long as state capital is located in their land, (Abakaliki), the two zones of North and Central will continue to control the political power by using her overwhelming numerical strength to dominate the people of Afikpo Division, otherwise known as Ebonyi South.

Politicians from these two zones have further contended that Afikpo zone is dominating the entire civil service and, therefore, allowing them to hold on to political power would be suicidal. This argument does not hold water because the recent statistics released by Federal Character Commission has shown that old Abakaliki bloc controls every key sector of the state civil service that is in addition to the positions.

Even at that, some politicians from the central are not helping matters. In their selfish desperate moves to hold on to political power regardless to the need for fairness, they boast and educate their die-hard supporters that there was a 'covenant' between the North and the Central Senatorial Zone to the effect that the zones would hold on to power for at least 16 years before allowing any body from Ebonyi South to taste power.

But this argument sounds absurd, and bespeaks of insult on the sensibilities of old Afikpo Division whose sons and daughters played significant roles in the creation of Ebonyi State. Our heroes past, who were officers of Ebonyi State Movement including Late Dr. Akanu Ibaim, Ezeogo of Unwana Afikpo, Bar. Tony Iferenta (one of the Legal Advisers), D. O. Egwu and E. O. Okoro (Chairman and Secretary Afikpo LGA respectively); Chief Darly Umoke, Chairman Ohaozara LGA); Hons. Oko Alu, Akaa, Oje, M. A., former members of the House of Representatives; Hons. Abel Oka and John Opoke, (Members of Old Imo State Assembly) Mr. Ewa Udu, Chief Aja Nwachukwu, Dr. Agom Aze and Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, former Governor of Abia State, would be totally disappointed at the sentiments and intrigues being employed by their brothers from the old Abakaliki bloc.

Without doubts, these great men played significant roles in the struggle to actualize the life-dream of Ebonyians. Their contributions were quite invaluable and for any politician or group of people to advance such an argument of 'covenant' between the North and Central with a view to relegating the South to the background, amounts to declaring cold war between Abakaliki and Afikpo brothers, a people of common ancestry.

On the surface, it appears the advocates of zoning arrangement among the three senatorial zones are in order. However, it needs be reiterated that Ebonyi State is like a child sired by two parents: Abakaliki and Afikpo. After all, these are two major divisions that agreed to fuse into Ebonyi State out of their former sojourns in the present Enugu and Abia States, after fighting under the umbrella of the then Ebonyi State Movement.

Available historical documents attest to the fact that throughout the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State, mention was always made of Abakaliki and Afikpo area. This was evident in all the memoranda sent out and press conferences organized at that point in time. It was evident that on such occasions, the two divisions were wont to speak with one voice as brothers balkanized into two states and thus expressed total willingness and love to live together.

Understandably, the former governor, Dr. Sam Egwu, laid credence to the above facts when during his 2003 gubernatorial campaigns he made it categorically clear that Ebonyi State has only two blocs - Abakaliki and Afikpo.

According to Article 3 (i and iii) of the Ebonyi State Charter of Equity, it is stated that 'Ebonyi people re-affirm their belief in the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979, particularly Section 14 thereof as it affects Federal character and geographical spread in the conduct of the affairs of the government and that 'power shall not be concentrated in one senatorial zone or one section…'