ANIOMA PEOPLE OF THE DELTA
By Kunirum Osia, PH.D.
Who are the Anioma people of Nigeria? This question assumes the lack of knowledge of those about whom it is asked. While the word “ANIOMA” is acronym, the people and place so called have existed for centuries. Interestingly, “Anioma” has been a community of people who, for ages inhabit the area between Ubulubu and Ebu in Aniocha North Local Government Area of the present Delta State. One needs to look at the colonial map of the area, and there sits “Anioma” wedged between Ubulubu and Ebu.
The modern “Anioma” derives its name from the four geopolitical and cultural quadrants of Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ika and Oshimili. This coinage was made by no other than the founding father of “Anioma State Movement,” the late Chief Dennis Osadebay of blessed memory.
A people are defined by their culture, history and geography. More importantly, a people are defined by how they perceive themselves. In effect, a people are who they say they are. History notes that Anioma people comprise individuals of diverse origins, who over centuries and due to “culture contact” or cultural cross-pollination, have developed a unique culture quite distinct from those of their immediate surrounding neighbors. Located at the crossroads of very diverse influences, Anioma has developed a syncretic culture rich in varied contributions.
Anioma people inhabit areas west of the lower Niger River, in today’s constituted Delta State. From the perspectives of Nigeria’s geopolitical matrix, Anioma is squarely within the south-south zone. In today’s political dispensation, Anioma is designated as Delta North Senatorial District. To the east, Anioma is bounded by Anambra State; to the southeast by lmo and Rivers States; to the south by Bayelsa State; to the southwest by lsoko ethnic group; to the west, by Urhobo ethnic group; to the northwest by Edo State and the north by Kogi State. There are very few Nigerian communities that are so contiguous to so many immediate neighbors as Anioma. In spite of these contiguities to so many states and ethnic groups, Anioma people are united by cultural homogeneity and value consensus about their universe of experience.
In 1951, political awakening was brought to Anioma people following years of neglect. Honorable Chief Dennis Osadebay (Oshimili); Honorable F.H.Utomi (Aniocha); Honorable Obi of Akumazi (Ika); Honorable Frank Oputa Ututu (Ndokwa) and Honorable Oki (Ndokwa) jointly moved a motion in the then Western House of Assembly to seek “a separate province” for our people, who hitherto had been balkanized and merged with Benin and Warri provinces by the colonialists. This merger was neither by referendum, choice nor by consent but by force. Even though Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group government had disallowed the creation of such a separate province, the movement for that self-determination has continued to this day. The record will show that no segment of the Nigerian society has had a longer demand for state creation than Anioma. However, the vagaries of politics have prevailed and the demand for the creation of Anioma State has remained unfulfilled. The struggle continues.
Confronted by the failure of successive regimes to create Anioma State and by the paradoxical dicta of human social relations, Anioma people have endeavored to create a community, which sees itself as an organic whole dependent upon an integrated set of relationships with unique and distinguishable identity. Events of the distant past and indeed, of the recent past, namely, the Ekumuku wars, Colonization, Christianization, Westernization and the Nigeria-Biafra war, have conspired, as it were, to shape the consciousness of Anioma people. While not succumbing to introversion, Anioma people have seen remarkable distinctness in their behavior and overall worldview from those of their immediate neighbors. Anioma identity has become a treasure that must be guarded and defended because identity is a value for which people in history are willing to make sacrifices. Wars have been fought and are still being fought to preserve the identity of people. People refuse to be subsumed under someone else’s worldview. Anioma people have for generations refused and indeed objected to the transposition of other people’s interpretive categories on Anioma culture. Our forbears in Anioma fought the Ekumeku wars because they refused to be dominated by outsiders. They fought against the attempts by the Royal Niger Company and their British collaborators to desecrate the sanctity of their culture, appropriate their God-given wealth and dominate their trade and subjugate them. They fought against Benin expansionist proclivity. In short, they fought and defended their Anioma ethnic identity with whatever power they could muster.
Ethnic identity exists because individuals include among their repertoire of social roles one or more culturally defined uniqueness. The conscious sense on the part of an individual that he/she belongs to a given collectivity is the basic building block of identity. Our Anioma ethnic identity derives from our common set of symbols and cognitions shared by our people. Aniocha, Ndokwa, lka and Oshimili, share the same cultural space and delimited physical geography. They dress alike. They dance alike. They use the same musical instruments. They speak the same or similar languages. They show the same deference to their elders and women. They respect character and integrity. They are not exploitative. Money is not everything, character is everything. In short, they have the same worldview. Our Anioma ethnic identity is cultural self-definition and philosophical affirmation of our self-determination as a people who see themselves at the crossroads of the contemporary Nigerian state. Anioma provides for us the physical and cultural space that define the necessary locus of our highest fulfillment as a people.
Anioma does not seek to define its personality or identity simply as an antithesis of everything around it. However, one point must be made immutably clear to any questioner: no Anioma person wishes to be recast in a mould that is not Anioma. We must emphasize unequivocally, that only Anioma can provide us an essential part of our historical consciousness, and also an index to the universal psychic character of our identity. Only Anioma can communicate a sense of history to us. Granted that legend, folklore and history point to our diverse origin, over time our forbears were able to create a culture that is uniquely Anioma, hence no Aniocha person, Ndokwa person, Ika person nor Oshimill person, sees one another as strangers. Anioma people do not need to look elsewhere for inspiration and identity. Anioma is not and can never be an extension of another group. This is why for several decades its people have attempted to rid themselves of their psychic frustrations of marginality and neglect by clamoring for the creation of Anioma State. There is a strong sense of community and commonality between and among our people. There is shared neglect by the powers that be. There is shared suffering. There is shared poverty. Who can forget the torture and torments experienced by our people during the Nigeria-Biafra war? Our people still suffer from the haunting memories of that war. During that war, our people experienced macabre brutality delivered with breathless vapidity. Who can forget the Asaba massacre? Who can forget the Isheagu massacre? We shall not forget. Our children shall not forget. Nigeria must not forget.
Since the end of that tragic war, it seems as if Anioma area still belongs to another age. Development as commonly understood is not just elusive but non- existent. The basic structure of inequality, inequity and iniquity has persisted despite many marginal adjustments in Nigeria’s political terminology, dispensation and practice. Aniomaland remains in the throes of decay and decomposition. Our roads have fallen into inexcusable disrepair. Our primary and secondary school buildings are so dilapidated that they provide habitation to lizards and goats at night and pupils in the daytime. The schools lack basic science facilities. How can our children compete in this new millennium without scientific knowledge? The few hospitals we have lack basic amenities and so they are dysfunctional. Our people struggle daily against the triumvirate problems of poverty, ignorance and disease. What is more, politics seems to fall at the outer fringes of our people’s life space. Many communities are without electricity and potable water.
The evidence in Aniomaland, as recently as August/September 2000, draws a compelling portrait of a people oscillating between despair and unimagined possibilities. The atmosphere conveys with disturbing vividness, hopelessness and helplessness. Aniomaland pulsates with anxiety and unfulfilled expectations. Our people seem trapped by the synchronicity of time, place and fortune. Some of our seemingly able men and women appear overwhelmed by uncertainties and larger improbabilities about their future. Others are left awash in lethargy and despondency. Our agitated youths feel that competition for place and preferment, has left ethnicity in the center of public cognition of political struggle in Delta State. So, many of them are teetering between aimlessness and anger. There is, indeed, a compelling immediacy for us Anioma indigenes in the United States and elsewhere to act in order to stave off the growing dissonance of the public life of our people.
The truth remains that Anioma is one of the least developed areas in Nigeria. It is a strange irony that Anioma sons and daughters have served Nigeria with distinction in various fields of human and intellectual endeavors, yet basic amenities are lacking in their homeland. These facts, notwithstanding, Anioma people wish to uphold, celebrate and elicit from Nigerians and other people, deference and devotion to the claims of their culture and history.
There is now in Anioma, hue and cry for credible and dynamic leadership, Anioma people worldwide cannot afford to pass their time in vacuous inactivity. We must endeavor to narrow the widening horizons of parochial loyalties that undermine our unity, thus impeding our attempts to assist in the development of our homeland. United and committed, we are sure to fulfill the chiliastic expectations that the founding of Anioma Association, USA, Inc. has aroused in our people at home and abroad. We should replace our rampant individualism, which has had corrosive effect on our Anioma society, with an ethic of collective responsibility.
All rights and permissions have been granted by the author for the benefit of advancing the Cause of Anioma. Dr. Kunirum Osia was former national president of the Anioma Association, USA, Inc. from 1997 to 2002