Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Enugu State, argues that, we should be celebrating Enugu State at 29 because the leaders of the state have kept faith. He says that, on balance, Enugu leaders have managed to prove critics wrong by dint of hardwork and perseverance that have now placed the State on a pedestal of development.
The journey to the creation of Enugu State commenced at the heat of Nigerian Biafran civil war, on the Saturday, September 6, 1969 at Okohia, Mbano in the present Imo State. The leaders of the Northern Igbo comprising, the old Afikpo, Awgu, Eha- Amufu, Enugu, Ezikwo, Igboeze, Nkanu and Udi defied the harsh conditions in Biafra and the risk of rebellion under the command of General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to hold the meeting because they were pushed to the wall. It was a meeting in the valley of the shadow of death because, during the war, any meeting or a precursor to agitation, unrest or revolt was considered a mutiny with ruthless consequences. They however resolved to continue the liberation struggle without minding the outcome of the war.
Why the risk? One may ask. The reason is both substantial and sentimental. The sentiment is a product of the substance which began in 1857. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) led by Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a liberated slave of Yoruba stock, arrived Onitsha, Anambra state in 1857. Right from the start, Ajayi used western education as a handmaid of the Bible. At about 1860, the CMS had established primary schools within Onitsha and its environs as a platform to win souls for Christ. Consequently, while various communities in the present Anambra state had established Churches and primary schools as at 1860, the various communities in the present Enugu state, in contrast, were still fighting against the penetration of the colonial masters between 1904 and 1917. My community, Ugbo in Awgu local government area of Enugu state, fought gallantly against the penetration of the Whiteman but was subdued by the colonial forces in 1917.
Unfit for Employment
Before Enugu became the administrative capital of the Eastern Region in 1938, the present Enugu state was under Onitsha, as the provincial headquarters; the present Imo and Abia states were under the Owerri province; while Abakiliki and Afikpo of the present Ebonyi state were under the Ogoja province. The public service at both the Onitsha province and the new regional capital at Enugu comprised the colonial masters and the literate Igbo of the time. It turned out that the people of the Northern Igbo (Enugu and Ebonyi sates) were practically unfit for recruitment into the public service in the old Eastern region because of their late contact with the western education. Before and after the Nigerian independence, the top echelons of the public service had been occupied by the Southern Igbo and more recruitments into the public service were based on ascription to the utter exclusion of the Northern Igbo (Wawa). The commercial, social, cultural and even the religious activities derived impulse and impetus from the public service and the educated elite of the Eastern region. The gap in education brought untold hardship and miseries to the Northern Igbo or the Wawa because, they were relegated to the background as hewers of wood and drawers of water. The Northern Igbo suffered various forms of sordid indignities and stereotypes in the hands of the Southern Igbo brothers. The Wawa became the butt of cruel jokes as people were wont to cast martyred and savage look at them. The relationship between the two groups was better imagined than experienced. Thus, the Whiteman had used the western education to create two diametrically opposed socio-cultural Igbo groups, the backward, uneducated and oppressed Wawa on one hand and the Onitsha/Owerri oppressor group on the other.
Genesis of Agitation
The first letter to General Yakubu Gowon, the President and Commander- in-Chief of the armed forces for the creation of Enugu state was written on March 20, 1970, shortly after the civil war. In the letter signed by Chiefs C. C .Onoh, J. U. Nwodo, C. A .Abangwu, Enechi Onyia, Achi Kanu, Aja Nwachukwu, B. C. Okwu, among others, the leaders lamented that among the twelve ministers of the former eastern region, none was of the Wawa extraction until they protested in 1956. And that “throughout the constitutional conferences and foreign representations between 1952 and 1970, not one person from our area was considered qualified to accompany our Southern Igbo brothers as a delegate, nor appointed into any worthwhile federal or regional board” It added that “no person from our area had ever held the post of permanent secretary both in the regional or federal public service”. They further stated that “of the four Igbo ambassadors, not one came from the Northern Igbo”. They regretted that the University of Nigeria Nsukka was located in the Northern Igbo, while the secondary schools- stair case to the upstairs, was not within the reach of our people and as such, “our undergraduate ratio was in the pitiful ratio of 1 in 50”. The most agonizing was that “even the military regime of Emeka Ojukwu did not find it fit to appoint even one person from the so called Wawa area into his cabinet….” The leaders lamented that in spite of the impeccable loyalty, courage, gallantry and supreme sacrifice exhibited by the Wawa during the Biafran struggle, all they received in reward was “condescension and rebuff”.
The struggle for the creation of Enugu state intensified after several letters to Gowon, attracting admiration on one hand and intense acrimony, animosity and discrimination on the other. The 1976 state creation exercise by Gen. Murtala Mohammed was hope rising for Wawa state but was truncated at the last minute. It was in such mutually exclusive social relation that the East Central State was split between Anambra and Imo States. The then Anambra state comprised the present Anambra, Enugu and parts of Ebonyi State. The creation of Anambra state, the battle field became narrowed between the present Anambra and the Wawa; and of course, the narrower the battle space the more intense and severe the friction.
Jim as the Tipping Point
It was in such an obnoxious dichotomy between the Anambra South and Anambra North that Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo, an Enugu indigene won election as the first elected governor of the old Anambra state in 1979. The leadership of Nwobodo between 1979 and 1983 was the critical juncture, the very tipping point with profound outcomes; and we are eternally indebted to his political sagacity.
Nwobodo initiated various innovations that brought relief to the Enugu people. First, the policy of one secondary school in each of the communities in the old Anambra state was a major quantum leap. Second, each of the 23 local government areas in the state was entitled to one commissioner and a permanent secretary; among others policies of strategic socio-economic upliftment. Other governors that ruled the old Anambra state include; Chief C.C. Onoh, Admiral Allison Madueke, Commodore Emeka Omeruah, Robert Akonobi and Col. Herbert Obieze.
Born at Last
In a letter to General Ibrahim Babangida, the Founding Fathers, while lamenting that “we have been reduced to the position of second class citizens, social and political outcasts, who got only left overs in the distribution of social, economic and educational amenities”, assured Babangida that “Enugu state would be politically stable and economically viable”. They reiterated that Enugu state would be exemplary on mutual love, social justice and equity that would antagonize hate and acrimony. They added that Enugu state would be a place where peace reigns supreme.
The creation of Enugu state, comprising the present Enugu and some parts of the present Ebonyi state, was announced on Tuesday, August 27, 1991 by the Babangida regime, during the tenure of Col. Herbert Obi-Eze, a military administrator. The announcement on news media was received with tremendous joy by all the Enugu indigenes all over the world. At the residence of Chief C.C. Onoh, at Ngwo, numerous well-wishers trooped in to celebrate “the long walk to freedom”. Other governors/military administrators that governed the old Enugu state include Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Temi Ejoor, Col. Mike Torey, Col. Sule Ahman, and Adewunmi Agbaje.
Birth Pangs and Coming of Age
I had argued elsewhere that Enugu became a hotbed of political theatrics since its creation in August 1991. Each of the political battles in every democratic election left wounds, scars, bad blood and deep enmity among the adherents of the major political actors in the state. The electioneering grudges were carried forward to the governance and policy framework of the state. With the prevailing acrimonies, the vision and creed of the Founding Fathers, where peace would reign became well-nigh unattainable.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo is proud to celebrate the creation of Enugu state because the Enugu narrative has dramatically changed from being a martyred state to a tourist destination in line with the vision of the Founding Fathers. The adversaries are stunned by the swiftness and precision of the Enugu ascendancy in national affairs. Enugu state has produced erudite upright justices in Nigeria; and others currently in services. Enugu state has produced several reflective scholars who have served as Vice Chancellors of federal universities without blemish. In the armed forces, Enugu has produced several officers in the category of general. In modern science and technology, Professor Bart Nnaji remains a global phenomenon. Enugu daughters have kept faith; they are meek but strong and resilient in character.
Hon. Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia holds the title of Ozowaluona Mbanabo, and is President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Enugu State.