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Anambra, not just 28… she’s come a long hard way

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MOST TIMES, results of struggles overshadow the efforts invested in them. Even in reporting the development, narrators tend to dwell more on what was procured to the detriment of the vital information that answer questions on the ‘whos,’ ‘whys’, ‘whens’, ‘where’ and ‘hows’ of the ‘what’.

This is why there is a school of thought that holds the view that prizes are the more realistic measure of worth of social quests notwithstanding the quantum of activism, sweat, blood and lives it took. I do not actually subscribe to that view.

Whilst there are vital social and political feats secured on a platter of gold with little or no spill of sweat or tear, there are trivial prizes secured after a deluge of bloodletting. So, laurels, prizes, trophies and such material modes of measurement cannot be the sum worth of some quests.

As Anambra (the current Anambra State) marks her 28th year as a state today, this issue becomes important because too many pundits tend to prefer to compare what the new Anambra State has achieved with what, they think it should have netted. That, I deem, big disservice to the bigger story.

Though as things stand currently, Anambra State is marking her 28th anniversary with aplomb, having distinguished herself in several spheres, comprising governance, commerce, education, the arts, sports, grassroots development among others as a distinctive state, there are a lot more successes in the annals of the state than material feats can count.

When sociological thinkers reason that states are created to help fix economic and social problems, they do not mean that infrastructure and the bling-bling of flashy street lights, high rise glass houses and cars plying overhead do not count. They mean that they matter as much as other intangible factors, from sense of belonging to self-esteem and pride in an identity.

The fact that, in less than three decades, the land on the banks of rivers Omabala, Niger and Urasi have eventually proven the eureka that some strategic but largely misunderstood thinkers envisaged it would be a decade before her created is a story worth narrating to young ones.

Though the eureka moment could not come easily, the hiccups and jigsaw paths to the stable days of hope of today deserve eulogies even if wisdom requires that we do not lose our heads in the euphoria of the moment.

It is now difficult to imagine that as recent as four decades ago, the very warm people of Anambra State who are widely known for their blooming drive and confidence were almost tamed and asphyxiating in a choking political aggregation that has now been partitioned into Enugu, Anambra and part of Ebonyi states.

The puzzle in this part of the narrative is that the people in the other states have also found the lift to success after the parting. Anambra has justified that states created on solid ground help their country grow phenomenally.

Indeed, the current spate of socio-economic and political activities in Anambra State justifies the grounds of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for creation of new states in the country.  Quest for new states have remained a knotty issue in Nigeria since the 1967 – 1970 Nigerian civil war. At the eve of the war in 1967, then head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) replaced the political enclaves known as regions with 12 states.

That only spurred calls for more states as the war ended. In 1976, the requests rose in pulsation along with frantic calls for the reorganisation of the country and the federal government set up a panel headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe. According to the White Paper published by the federal government, the panel recommended the basis for the reorganisation as creation of more states.

The Justice Irikefe panel further explained the calls for new states thusly: “…the basic motivation in the demand for more states is rapid economic development. All other reasons adduced by state agitators are… rationalisations to achieve the basic purpose of development.”

Following the white paper on Irikefe panel, Nigeria was repartitioned into 19 states in April 1976 from the hitherto 12 states. There was the name ‘Anambra State’. But that was the old Anambra State with capital in Enugu city. Struggle for new states of which New Anambra was one of the frontline bids, reached a high pulse in Nigeria’s Second Republic.

On September 23, 1987, under the regime of then military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.)  the number of Nigeria’s states was farther expanded to 21 with the addition of Katsina and Akwa Ibom states. Even as there had been a strong quest for a new Anambra State, the request was not granted.

On August 27, 1991 when Gen. Babangida farther expanded the number of states to 36 the request for a new Anambra was granted. But the state was not named ‘New Anambra’ as touted. It took the name of the old state from which it was carved out, ‘Anambra.’ The state from which the new (current) Anambra emerged took the name of her capital city, Enugu.

The build up to the new state was remarkably tactical and eventful. It was marked by political sophistry. However, it was largely a plunge into unknown waters with hope not really, a certainty that it will turn out the kind of success it has become, 28 years after even as the prospects were evident.

Memories of the put-ons, puzziers and putsch that characterised the mostly posh class quest for Anambra were once revealed by the second republic Speaker of the old Anambra State House of Assembly, Ifeanyichukwu Enechukwu.

Chief Enechukwu who was among those in the vanguard of the campaign for the new Anambra and later, the coordinator of Anambra State Founding Fathers Forum recalled what he called the  Wawa (current Enugu State) versus Ijekebee (current Anambra State) row that heralded the fruition of the state.  He narrated how what people then deemed his ‘fight’ with the second republic governor of old Anambra, Dr. Jim Nwobodo, a charismatic and dexterous politician was only a “battle for the creation of Anambra State.”

Speaking during a 2011 interview he granted TheNigerianVoice.com, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary, Chief Enechukwu explained that the struggle involved not only politicians but monarchs, elders and the intelligentsia. His narrative as well as other findings established that the struggle for new Anambra overshadowed second republic politics in south-eastern Nigeria. Though no evidence of spilling of blood, yet there are many proofs that it was intense and engaging. Even labour unions were drawn in and it was a major plank in the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and National Party of Nigeria (NPN) furore then.

Identifying himself among the founding fathers, Enechukwu recalled how marginalisation in representation and development caused the quest. “With me as the Speaker of the then Anambra State House of Assembly,” he said, “some traditional rulers approached me to settle the imbalance in the number of local government areas between the

‘Wawa’ and the ‘Ijekebee’ areas of the present Anambra State and I had read the constitution very well and told them that we were already talking about it in the Assembly to create more local government areas but I knew within me that there was no way we could balance it because the Wawa people were already two thirds of the House of Assembly.

“Out of the 24 local governments, they were 18 in number and we were just six. So, decisions in the House were taken by number of votes and there was nothing you can do about it. So, I told them that my own idea was to ask for our own state.

That was at Ojoto, and the late Pius Okigbo, who was sitting on a stool, sipping his Champagne, came down from the stool and addressed everybody and said: “It is that thing Mr. Speaker said we shall do.” Everybody spoke to me, the traditional rulers and other highly placed individuals said “okay.” I promised to call another meeting as they requested.

“I thought fast. I told them that a meeting would be summoned at the palace of Igwe and Eze Okpoko of Oba because I knew the political implication. As the Speaker; you are supposed to be neutral. I called one of our councillors and my adviser to help distribute the invitation to all local government areas and called all the wards at that time to a launch at the Igwe Okpoko’s palace.

There, we told them what we wanted to do and actions were set up. Senator Onyeabor Obi and Anene Ana were there, because they were the only Senators we had from this side. So, the memorandum was drafted for future meetings. We resolved it was not going to be in Igwe’s palace because Nwobodo naturally would not be happy.

“He would say we were trying to divide his kingdom. The Wawa people eventually reacted in that regard. So, when you hear of dichotomy in the old Anambra State, this was the beginning that we wanted a state of our own and the governor reacted that every position in the government,

the Wawas must take two thirds and all the people from this area, who, because of their higher education, were greater in number in terms of qualification and something like that, all were gradually dropped in positions.

In one of the meetings, I remember Senator Ofia Nwali told Jim: ‘If it means appointing a palm wine taper a permanent secretary, this administration must do it because Abakaliki people must have their own quota of permanent secretaries.’ So, it became the policy of Jim Nwobodo’s administration.

“My legislators came down; we signed the documents and submitted it (to the Senate) through Onyeabor Obi and Senator Ana to Joseph Wayas  (then Senate President) and Edwin Umezeoke (then House of Representatives, Speaker) of blessed memory.

We went through a lot of problems but at the end of the day, the NPN administration decided they will create two states in Nigeria, Katsina and that time, new Cross River State which is now Akwa Ibom State. It was a party policy.

We were talking of new Anambra State and we had made every noise about it and I shared my legislators into groups that went round all the state Houses of Assembly in the country to canvass for support, because the creation of state was a legislative function. Two third of legislators in the country must vote in support of your request. Alex Ekwueme came in with full support, it became politicised.”

At a time, the campaign for new Anambra became a ‘me too’ object for politicians in the area as Enechukwu explained.   “The group we formed at Igwe Okpoko’s palace was immediately infiltrated by all NPN stalwarts who said they were people championing it from this present Anambra State.

There was only one NPN legislator at the Federal House and one at the state House of Assembly. So, for us (in NPP), we were very comfortable. After a long dragging, (second republic president, Shehu) Shagari invited us for a meeting with the governors and said that the demand was cut and dry but the creation of Katsina State and the new Cross River State favoured.

I rose up and said Your Excellency, the demand for the new Anambra state was “cut and dry” and most likely the first to be submitted to the National Assembly but Joseph Wayas called me aside and told me: “if you want a new Anambra State, you and Zik must agree; because while you are talking about new Anambra State.

Zik is talking about Anioma State but if two of you can agree, you can get it for the fact that two of you have this accord,” That was the NPP and NPN accord of 1979-1983. But the military struck in December and we left office.”

Though there was a setback, the founding fathers did not relent. When Babangida came on board, the campaign resumed. In 1987, he created Akwa Ibom “and said it was final as far as state creation in the country was concerned… (but) we kept on with the struggle and eventually, he came to Anambra State.

Pius Okigbo, Ikemba Nnewi (Ojukwu) and a number of stalwarts from the state went and canvassed support and gave him a chieftaincy title of Ogugua Ndi Igbo (consoler of Igbo race).

“When he went back, he announced the creation of present-day Anambra State and left Enugu people to answer Enugu State and later Ebonyi State came on board,” Enechukwu recalled.

Evident in the former Speaker’s account of the state’s emergence is the doggedness of the founders. Whatever ndi Anambra celebrate today is an outcome of that their never-say-die spirit, focus, tenacity and commitment to set goals.

That is what has kept Anambra going. Even when things tended towards the awry, especially in the political turf, the tough Anambra spirit persisted in quest for solution and the story is marked by glory.

 

Happy birthday Anambra!

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