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How Ogoja was robbed of a Statehood by Her (Own) Children (PART ONE)

By Imaji Jio Ufumaka

…A Story Of How Ogoja Began Its Journey To The World Of Underdevelopment.


It’s not my intention to reawaken or beat a dead horse. I’d written on this issue, about two years ago, especially, when one of our Ogoja sons, the very popular socialite, Donckleimz (DC) Elechor Enamhe, PhD, mentioned in one of his articles, names that were most belligerent to the course of an Ogoja State, as those who worked tirelessly towards the realization of an Ogoja State. I see as I’d done, such reportage, as callously misguiding, brutally false, morally misappropriated, politically untactful and disgustingly sycophantic.

There arose those who read his piece and hailed it. There was an argument substantiating the story, as true and sacrosanct. I consider such subscriptions as a mere mental exercise, displayed on the altar of ignorance and mischief, in the clan of the gullible!

When I consider the fact that someday, some years to come, somehow, somewhere, our children and their children may have no real truth aside speculative facts, I make bold to opine that the truth MUST be told or written upon, not minding whose ox is gored, because if not now, later, we shall be held responsible for the lies or truth we tell: our children and theirs may tag us as the lying generation, whenever the truth, naturally emerges!

Very touching and remindful is a piece posted to me via our shared WhatsApp page, by the very cerebral Bro Chima Christian Chuks (PhD), where, in parts, he wrote, “…my grandmother taught me the art of storytelling, and everyone around me complimented me each time I finished telling one. But I’ve since lost the art…I have since stopped bothering myself trying to rediscover the art. Certainly, not with Jio Ufumaka, the giant, taking the center stage. I have always found time to appreciate him and his freestyle of putting issues in perspective. But I have always quarrelled with him each time he writes without remembering OGOJA YOUTH MOVEMENT (OYM). What could be responsible for this great omission in all his theses on development? Read his last piece on the giant development strides of David Umahi of Ebonyi State. I laughed because…”

READ ALSO: History of Cross River State Northern Senatorial District

Having cited the chit above, thus, may I move on to embark on certain clarifications and information, plus education. Perhaps, by so doing, the records of history, as it pertains to this issue of how Ogoja was denied a State creation, shall have been straightened up. Perhaps, the likes of my brother, Chima (PhD) and all those guys of the OYM may be appeased and many erroneous submissions be relegated to where they belong: the garbage bin of history!

Before I get there, may I state very clearly and unequivocally, without an iota of doubt, herein, that Enamhe (PhD) was NOT an initial member of the organizing body of the OYM. In fact, if anything, he doubted the workability and articulation of the dream. When he saw that it was going to course a huge success in the gathering of the youths of Ogoja, he attempted, severally to hijack the show, thinking that the outcome would be a great deal of financial rain. In no small ways, he tried to infiltrate the gang with his minions of followers. But the guys were smarter and faster. At last, he succumbed, albeit, still surreptitiously and like a submarine, trying to take charge of the affairs. So he doesn’t qualify to write and speak on OYM and all that occurred in that union of diversified views and stars of Ogoja. He may speak and write in parts, yet those parts must be subjected to very serious and candid scrutiny!

My likes, pronto, were an immediate army of catalysts. A stud. We warred at his subtle chicanery. As the leader of that opposition, I paid for it, very dearly, later at the college (campus) of the University of Calabar. Need I add that what looks like a cult of mercenaries was sent after me. Both my life and its commercial/academic value were at stake. But in His infinite mercies and ahead-of-the-scheming of man, God stood by me, at last, and alas, I came out victorious alive and well. There is always a price to pay for honesty and sincerity of purpose, especially when at odds with negative energies.

However, looking back today, DC Enamhe, PhD, SEEMS to have grown, way, so far from those days of juvenile baptism of the absurd. He’s very responsibly married with kids. He’s gone a step further: A knight of the Roman Catholic church. He’s capped his academic travails and resilience with a doctoral mortar. He no more speaks with the threat and braggadocio of the years gone by. But that attitudinal perspective of his, to certain issues of political scheming, is what I do not claim knowledge of his departures!

Now, the main issue under review:
Ogoja has one of the finest and most well-planned landscapes, both by nature and the colonial government, long, long before Nigeria gained her political independence in 1960. Some analysts have suggested that Ogoja was well mapped out by the British, before the so-called 1914 amalgamation of the North with the Southern part of the hitherto, unnamed geographical expression known as Nigeria!

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Ogoja consists of many tribes and ethnic groups, namely, Ishibori, sub-divided into different clans, Uhmuriya, Ikajor, Ikaptang, Ikariku, Ishinyima, Imerakorm and Igoli, being the central town.

Mbube is one of the major tributaries that make up Ogoja, consisting of Odajie, Adagom, Ekumtak, Idum, Ojerim, Egbe, Nkim, Ogberia, Ogang, Ogbaria Ochoro, Oboso, Benkpe, Edide, Bansa, Aragban, etc. Yala LGA forms part of Ogoja, with its geographical entities such as Okpoma, Ugaga, Okuku, Imaje, Ijegu, Yahe, Ekprinyi, Woda, Abachor, Oloko, Yache, Ukelle, etc.

For the fear of over labouring my readers with the naming of all the local entities that make up the core and functional Old Ogoja, may I simply mention the rest by their local government designations; Obudu, Bekwarra, Boki, Ikom, Etung, Obubra. The above was designated to form the prayed Ogoja State.

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Sometimes in 1992-93, a group of “young, aspiring intellectuals”, to use the very key words by one of my long time highly academic buddies, the Ishibori-Igbo blood, Chima Christian Chuks, in an attempt to chart out a veritable and one united front for the entire Ogoja region, came together, under the aegis, OGOJA YOUTH MOVEMENT (OYM). The body was mainly coordinated by Mr Jude Ogbeche Ngaji, Barr Eddy Murphy (then, Akpong), Imaji Jio Ufumaka, Atari Atari (who later became the protem secretary after the substantive Secretary, Chima Christian Chuks opted out, having felt that some folks may critique him of seemingly over inclining to his maternal Ishibori. Chima was the scribe before the position was passed on to the equally brilliant head, Atari.
In fact, that singular union revealed the awesome brilliance of the Ogoja youths.

Other affiliate organizers included the following:
Mark Andogu
Brian Enya (late)
Dan E-man Odey (late)
Jimmy Anineghe
Nick Igbaji (late)
Peter and Paul Ushie (strikingly identical twins)
Philip Ashikem
Maggi Ngaji
Emmanuel Oteh
Agbo Mary Ngaji
Chris Ogaidang Ogar, aka, Tormentors (as we used to call him).
Robert Ikwun
Bisong (Mbube fellow, now in the States)
Peter Enamhe
Jayke Akpong
Peter Inok
Kenneth Gidigba (in-and-out attendee)
Steven Bisong
Jude Adie (Liberty).
Et al.

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This piece would be too much of a miniature to contain all the active participants of the Ogoja Youths Movement, who gave their all to secure a happy, independent and great future for an autonomous Ogoja State.

Like many of us, it’s Jude Ogbeche Ngaji that invited me to the ‘august’ meet. Its original and initial venue was at the then palatial compound of Barr Greg Ikaba Ngaji. Greg was the only Ogoja middle-aged person that was most youth magnetic. He not only let his place a venue for our weekly meet, he many times, gave money for water, soda (soft drinks) and certain snacks, eg, Cabin of biscuits and buns or Puff Puff (‘kpof-kpof’)! He’d been quite busy with his law business, allowing us to sometimes, hold our exco meetings at his law chambers.

It was from there that we decided, as the numbers began to increase, that it was needful, we made the Small St Ben’s Primary School field our venue.

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We grew so large and diverse, inarguably, there hasn’t been any time, in the annals of Old and New Ogoja that a body of young men and women, college and university graduates, including the so-called ordinary Nigerian met, apolitically, not campaigning for oneself or any other person, aside from the sole purpose of a united Ogoja family, simply for a state creation!

As time went by, the uneducated youths began to watch proceedings from afar, avoiding by all and every means, the Ayade-stic-like grammar that kept bombing the gathering, like a German bazooka!

It was fun. It was intellectualism at its practical lab. It was youthful cerebral exuberance at its peak!

Those Ogoja young ones had gathered to speak with one voice: ‘Ogoja State is a must’.

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We sat on the bare ground, in the field. When it threatened to rain, we sat there. When it drizzled, we perched, like some giant ‘agbana’, sorry, birds on the window frames of the school. When the Ogoja hot weather began, we became like giant lizards, being starved of certain preys, we lined our stomachs on the walls of Small St Ben: and like a gang of melancholic paupers, we spoke and looked at all directions but with no particular direction, aside from our mental focus on Abuja, the seat of Nigeria’s government.

In the dry season, we met and ‘jaw-jawed’. In some instances, we ‘war-warred’. We spoke grammar. Some were as incomplete as a broken bench. Many other times, some folks spoke their professional OR course grammar: be it in chemistry or physics. Others sounded like Shakespearean dramatists. Not a few spoke like Bambulu in ‘This is our chance’.

Many times, some of us spoke the grammar we seldom understood, not until we returned home to cross-check the words earlier spoken. Also, we learnt the art of addressing the crowd and composing ourselves, all in that gathering.

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Those who couldn’t meet up with the barraging and barging show of neo-elitist display of intellectualism became situational dumb and deaf members of the neo-elite society. There was also the sudden occurrence of natural selection: those who couldn’t meet up with the hot debates and parliamentary dramas, were sifted away, and never returned. They became the nay-sayers. Some became the cheap gossips. Others turned out to become our honourable cheering committees!

We began to plan on how we would get to the big cities. We needed to meet our ‘big men’, our so-called great sons and daughters in Lagos, Calabar and Abuja. We had no money but money was key. We needed to move with our collective dreams. The dreams came in colours. They are all saturated as ONE: An Ogoja State!

We embarked on street pauperization: it was an enlightened way of begging; we embarked on ‘bob-a-job’/’rag day’. We swept the Ogoja, sorry, Igoli streets. Every occupant of the Ogoja land was impressed and ready to support. The Igbos showed tremendous concern and support. The Yoruba community acted well too. The traditional Hausa-Fulani Ogoja community came out in droves. Many, if not all of that community of Hausa-Fulani, do not have any other place to call home, if not Ogoja!

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We spread like locusts during the harmattan season. OYM had its presence in all of the main/central Ogoja zones: Yala, Bekwarra, Obudu, Obanliku, Boki, Ikom and Obubra, (etc?).

Young boys and girls came out. It was a unity in diversity. We spoke no religion. We prided no tribe or ethnic region above the others. We never showed up our respective family economies or up-bringing. We ate and drank from one plate and cup. We drank from the same love potion. It was the love for an independent and autonomous Ogoja State. No more, no less.

We formed committees for everything. The Transportation Committee, Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), Complaint and Evaluation Committee, Information and Visitation Committee, Food Committee, Treasury OR the Exchequer Committee, Etc.

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At Okuku, our feet became brown and dusty of the Okuku market pauperising. We could’ve begged anyone for money. We desperately needed money.

We organized for fundraising. We expected a very large turnout of our sons and daughters in high places. On the day of the launch, only we became the main contributors.

An Ugaga, Lagos based young man by the name of Alhaji. Enyuma showed up. He pledged the sum of 20 thousand naira (N20,000). It raised much applause. It never was realized, though I was delegated to meet with him in Lagos.

Barr. Kanu Agabi showed up in one of our launches, it was a launch for an Ogoja tabloid, designated to be named as ‘The Broom’. Chima was to be the Editor-in-Chief, with my humble self as its maiden Associate Editor. Agabi pledged the sum of 5 thousand naira (N5,000), to be picked at his Calabar law chambers.

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Neither the pledged money was realized nor the magazine saw the light of day. Our delegation to his chamber visited him, barely daily, with loads of promises from him, always asking us to repeat the next day. The next day was unending. Not a kobo was realized from the pledge. Barr Kanu Agabi, whom we’d hitherto, seen as a demigod, was gradually becoming demystified. He opened our eyes to the human fallibility in his demigodness!

Time was fast approaching. We needed to be at the General Sani Abacha National Conference for Constitution Drafting. We were mentally prepared to engage the fathers and mothers at the Constitutional Conference.

We nosed and sniffed about like hunting dogs. If we heard of any ‘big man’ man’s presence from Abuja, Lagos or Calabar, we immediately arranged to meet with him. When the then Major General Unimna of Obudu was home at his Ohong country home to bury one of his uncles, the late john Aniah, immediately, OYM delegated some guys to meet with him. Mark Andogu and I led that gang of state agitators. After meeting and tabling our request/appeal to meet with him, in a very military manner, he cut in, “why do you want to meet with me ?”. We briefed him on Ogoja State creation. His response was as demoralizing as it was disrespectful of our scholarships. He said, “You are not qualified to discuss issues of an Ogoja State creation”. With that, he abandoned us as if we were orphans or some abandoned Nigerian projects.

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But determined and focused, we ran to the late Judge Evaristus Akpanke Uke, my paternal uncle, who, incidentally, was at the burial of the sage to whom both he and Unimna share the same ancestry, and by which, at that time, he was residing as a judge in Ogoja.

When we told him of our experience with the junta boss, he sprang to his feet, like the agile junta he was, breezed away with us to meet him.

Before the General could say much more, after repeating what he’d told us before the judge, Judge Uke retorted in Bette language, “eyeh, ukwanegi, kusi, manu ye-oh, (wa-o, my brother, please, do not be angry), why would you say such a thing ? Who spoke and struggled for the independence of Nigeria? The youths. The students!”, he seemingly thundered.

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Unimna appeared sober, turning to us, responded, “meet me at Abuja”.
Before his death, Judge Uke was the head of my father’s maternal side, to which Gen Unimna belonged. The general respected Uke like a worshipper to his/her Ówo ochī (morning god, in Yala)
Again, there was the need to meet Late M T Mbu, the then strong man of Old Ogoja politics, the life-long Zikist. It was a lone delegation. The lot fell on me. I was mobilized “…to go and die in Lagos”, as one guy quipped. In Lagos at his Bourdillion, Ikoyi residence, on hearing someone, an Ogoja person was at his gate, with a letter to meet with him, the elder statesman asked his security to open wide the gate.

At his reception hall, he walked in, asked that a cup of tea be served to me. He asked what type I would sip. I simply said ‘black coffee’. That brand of coffee used to be my best. The aroma. The agility it gave me. It kept me awake to some important duties.

Chief M. T. Mbu was surprisingly so hospitable, grandly excited and generous. He asked by what means I went there. After hearing I went by road, he asked me to check back, the eve of my departure. He concluded the meeting by promising that he would do anything within his power to support the course. Wherever by any good means. He asked me to take home his message of solidarity with the course and his readiness to make sure we met, “one-on-one” with the Owelle of Onitsha, the Great Zik of Africa!
His political father would soon be celebrating his 90th date of birth. The location would be at Nsukka, his home town. It was going to be a national, continental/international gathering of the creme de la creme!
It was the Great Zik of Africa’s day of birth, aka, birthday!

I left Lagos without going back to Chief Mbu. But not without meeting with Mr Dave Ashang, the Cross River State Liaison Officer. We met at his Victoria Island office. When I was ushered in, and after narrating the course of being in Lagos, he impatiently told me that he wasn’t interested in what would not see the light of the day. His word: “look, gentleman, I don’t know who you are, but I think your request for a state will not see the light of day”. He had the courtesy of wanting to know who I was. I reintroduced myself. Upon hearing my surname, he appeared calm and a bit friendly. But that was all there was in the meeting with Mr Dave Ashang of Obanliku, then, of Obudu!