For many years, the Ndokwa people in Delta State have been regarded as Igbo. Some even refer to them as Ika Ibo, but at a press conference in Lagos, the people attempted to put history in proper perspective. They also delved into other issues. ‘LOLA ADEWOYIN writes
The Ndokwa people, in Delta State, at a press conference addressed by the President-General of the Ndokwa National Union, Professor Steve Agwo Okecha, shed light on the issue of identity of the people who are mostly mistaken for Igbo, because of their similarities in name. Okecha said “a few times we the indigenes of Ndokwaland have been mistaken for Isokos and sometimes for Urhobos and many, many times, we have been mistaken for Igbo or the so called Ika Ibos by fellow Nigerians. This evidently shows that our identity is not fully grasped by our fellow country men and women.”
Quoting a publication by late Chief Eboagu, he said “we wish to inform the Nigerian public and particularly the generality of the people outside the Mid-West State that the Ukwuani people constitute separate ethnic group in this country and are not part of Igboland by any consideration. Current views being curiously expressed in academic circles show that there is almost total ignorance about our people and accordingly, it has become incumbent on us to enlighten the pubic.”
He said the Ndokwa people who probably speak Ibo are those who on conversion to Christianity by the Anglican Church many years ago, were understandably forced to swallow that brand of Christianity in Igbo language by the only available Catechists, Priests and Deacons, all of whom were Igbo. Some of our people have also learnt the Igbo language either by contact or by migration to Igboland. Some of our people have also learnt to speak other Nigerian languages by similar processes.
“You must be wondering why some of our names and some of our words are similar or near to Igbo ones. So what? I repeat, so what? Do the Tundes, the Lakojus the Agboguns, the Ajayis and the Akereles of Akoko-Edo Local Government Area in Edo State see themselves as Yoruba? No, of course. Are the Ogus, the Okoros and the Egbuwokus of Isokoland Igbo or Ukwuanis? They are Isokos. Do the Achugbues, the Ishiekwenes, the Animams and the Opute of Orogun in Ughelli North Local Government Area regard themselves as Ukwuanis? The answer is no, they are Urhobos, so they claim,” he said.
Okecha also faulted the last census, describing it as faulty, adding that most of the people in the Ndokwa were not counted. Okecha said the equipment for the exercise was not available in most places in the area. He said, “we condemn the use of the figures derived from the census exercise in planning and restructuring of federal constituencies. The official use of such figures is unacceptable to us, as it amounts to injustice in the superlative. The so-called present population of the Ndokwa ethnic nationality is a far cry from reality.
He said the colonialists created the divisions and districts with a sense of equity, putting into consideration a number of factors, including population, land mass, cultural affinity and contiguity. He said, “the divisions of old were at par and therefore does not make sense that one district of old is now more populated than a whole division, made of two districts. The Ndokwa nation has never fought any war in recent times resulting in massive loss of lives. The Ndokwa nation has never had any devastating natural disaster such as earthquake, hurricane, volcano, tsunami or flood.”
Okecha said resulting from the horrible head count, the Ndokwa Nation now has only one federal constituency compared to old Ika District with two federal constituencies. “We are not against any ethnic group with more federal constituencies than the Ndokwa nation, but we condemn without any reservation, the system responsible for the discrepancy.”
He said the three local government areas that constitute the Ndokwa Nation: Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Ukwuani, are all oil and gas producing areas. In fact, “Ndokwaland produces the largest volume of gas in the entire West African sub-region. This means that considerable revenue is derived from Ndokwa land.”
On Independent Power Plant project, he said Okpai, in Ndokwa East, where AGIP Oil Company has been operating for over 30 years is an eye sore. The oil company, he explained, has capitalised on the seeming docility of the people to treat its host communities with disdain. Their gross insensitivity towards the people is unprintable. “Light generated from there is supplied to people as far away from Okpai, outside Delta State. To say the least, this is an insult to the Ndokwa people, as every effort made by our people to have access to power generated in our land has yielded nothing positive.
“We wish to stress that much as we are law-abiding, we are not cowards and should not be taken for granted. Our history is replete with stories of heroism. We often hear stories that the IPP matter is being handled at the highest levels and the project is in the budgets. We are tired of stories. What we want is light everywhere in Ndokwaland now,” the professor further said.
Speaking on environmental pollution and degradation of the community, he said “the extent of pollution and degradation of our environment as a result of oil exploration and gas production is beyond comprehension. The damage done to the fauna and flora in our land is unprintable. Gas flaring has destroyed our vegetation. Our rivers and farmland are heavily polluted. Most of our people have access only to unsanitary wells to fetch water for drinking and domestic use. Our people now suffer from various ailments including respiratory diseases attributable to oil pollution and gas flaring.”
Highlighting what the Ndokwa nation considers as other forms of injustice, he said, “Nigeria is a plural society made up of over 250 ethnic nationalities. Every part of the country, therefore, should have a sense of belonging in the nation state. This informed the insertion of the Federal Character clause in the constitution to ensure sectional political balance at all levels of governance. The Ndokwa people, unfortunately, is denied fair share of government amenities at both state and federal levels. No Ndokwa man or woman has ever been a federal minister or an ambassador. Our youths are denied job opportunities at the state level, and during the James Ibori Administration, only one slot out of 40 foreign scholarships was purportedly allocated to the Ndokwa people.”
On state creation, the people opted to “belong to the state comprising the present Delta North Senatorial District, in the event of Delta State being split into more states. The North is made up of the Oshimili and the Ndokwa people. For the Ndokwa Nation to be part of the transformation of Delta North into a state, certain conditions must, first of all, be met, which include that Delta State should be retained as the name of the new state, with Asaba as its capital. The name Anioma being brandished is unacceptable to the Ndokwa people. All parties concerned must recognise that the new state will comprise only old Aboh Division of old Delta Province as well as old Asaba Division of old Benin Province, among others.”