NASS Constitution Review: The Wrangling of Wounded Lions

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A community is not a habitation for one person. A sense of community only comes when a group of persons decide to live together, in promotion of a common identity. Certain fundamentals of communal life must be considered when ‘marriage’ is being contracted. In Akwa Ibom State for instance, evidence abound that the Òrò people were not complacent to being captured in the state at creation. They were reluctant, believing that they would not escape wild oppression from the overwhelming majority ethnicities in the state. They opposed their inclusion and instead, opted to be captured in the Cross River State.

Fairly enough, the Oro ethnic nationality is hugely blessed in terms of human intellectual capital. It has enormous deposits of natural resources. The third largest ethnic nationality in the state, Òrò Nation is composed of five local government areas: Oron, Udung Uko, Mbo, Okobo and Urue Offong Oruko. It has remained a peaceful entity in Akwa Ibom State, despite unwarranted provocations. Her potentials have not been to her full benefits. The power sharing template has shown crass marginalization of the Òrò region. For nearly 16 years, the highest political office of an Oron person in government of Akwa Ibom State has been the 3-year old Office of the Secretary to the State Government, being held by Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem. Infrastructural deficits have plagued the Òrò people. Industrial expansion has no root in Òrò. Human empowerment of the last nearly 16 years, have remained insignificant. These coordinated exclusion, have occasioned the total annihilation of the Òrò people from enjoying democratic dividends in the state.

Sadly, political leaders of the state have resolved to further incapacitate the Òrò people. It is more painful to hear some principal government officials vowing that over their dead bodies, will they see the development of Òrò. Impeccable sources have whispered loudly, the stiff decisions of the majority tribe against Òrò’s political inclusiveness. Nothing more can provoke division and a strong sense of self assertion by the Oron people. Notably, Òrò is an enclave of outspoken people. They have constantly cried out, seeking justice, and to be allowed access to power and equal opportunities in the state. It has become obvious that the more Òrò people cry for justice, the more they are oppressed by majority ethnicities in the state. No wonder Òrò became a wounded lion at the just concluded National Assembly Public Hearing on constitutional amendment. The roles played by the Oron people in that exercise form the outline for this discourse.

The Senate Committee on Constitution Review held the South South Zonal Public Hearing in Port Harcourt on Thursday and Friday, May 27 and 28, 2021. The House of Representatives equally held their Public Hearing in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 1 and 2, 2021. The event sought, to further amend the 1999 Constitution of the federation, in line with current agitations across the country. The general idea is to produce a more workable democratic document that shall be accepted by more Nigerians. Among those who attended the event were representatives of governments and governors, speakers of state houses of assemblies, organized labour unions, NLC, TUC, NULGE and sociocultural groups across Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom States.

Speaking during the Public Hearing in Uyo, the Minority Whip of the House of Representatives and Chairman, South South (Uyo Centre) Committee on Constitution Review, Rt. Hon. Gwani Gideon Lucas observed that the constitution is responsible for setting social contract for any people. According to him, “the doctrine of equality, supremacy of the constitution and fundamental human rights, as well as the doctrine of separation of powers, are fundamental standards of a democratic entity.” He noted that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been amended 4 times, but that Nigeria was going through trying times which made it necessary for further amendment. Guani Lucas observed that all Nations go through turbulent times in their history. He believed such was what Nigeria was going through, a reason why the gathering should pass for an opportunity to establish a foundation for a new Nigeria.

He further said, “There are certain things that this amendment seeks to establish. We are here to discuss on electoral matters: including independent candidacy, Diaspora voting, among others. We also want to deliberate on local government autonomy, uniformity on the LGA and their financial autonomy. Our gathering is also to pursue a common ground for judicial independence, fundamental human rights and gender equality. Again, it is important that we seek to either strengthen or withdraw the immunity of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the immunity of the president of the Senate and those of governors. Other concerns are for us to deliberate and resolve whether or not to accept devolution of powers, state police, control of intellectual property and other important things like state and local government creation.”

A people with a long history of political emasculation, Òrò mobilized very densely for the outing. Just as they appeared before the Senate Committee in Port Harcourt, they were also determined to make a point back home in Uyo. Òrò tribe became the beautiful bride who was passionately intimated by other ethnic unions to seek new states: Calabar State or Obolo State. For instance, Secretary-General, Movement for the Creation of Calabar State, Chief Edwin Usang who presented the memorandum on behalf of the Co-Chairman, Prof. Okon Odokwo Bassey, had 18 delegates including many Oronians by his side. Outstanding among them were a Former Health Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Dr Edet Attih; President-General, Afaha Ebughu Development Union, Chief (Elder) Ita Onukak; MD/CEO of Miami Escape, Chief Ita Ntekim, among others. Meanwhile, those who stood for the Obolo State had a total of 32 delegates including the Former Nigerian Ambassador to Greece and pioneer Works Commissioner in the State, Sir (Amb.) Etim Uye KJW, Ikpoto Òrò; Prof. Bartimeaus Ebirien-Agana, Dr. Romsan Dressman, Sir Marcus Enene, Emmanuel Adasingwung, Hon. Loveday D. Ekoyork, Barr. Abang Mkpandiok, Engr. Koko Bassey, Sir (Surv) Ndekedehe Uno, KJW, Comrade Joseph Etim Antai, among others.

Citing marginalization of Òrò Nation in Akwa Ibom State, both delegates made a case, seeking to be joined with the Òròn people to form a state. Those rooting for the Calabar State proposed for the seven (7) local government areas (LGAs) of Cross River South Senatorial District in Cross River State to be added with the five LGAs of Oron Nation in Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District of Akwa Ibom State. For those who spoke for the creation of Obolo State, they called for the welding of Andoni LGA of Rivers State with Eastern Obolo, Ibeno and the five LGAs of Òrò Nation, all in Akwa Ibom State. The two groups of delegates defended their momoranda, based on population, geographical and cultural contiguity, potentials for economic viability, among others, stressing that their state would be better, especially for the Òrò people.

Similarly, three distinct bodies also presented their memoranda, advancing the agitation for a focused development of Òrò Nation, and calling for a united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria. They include the Oron Union, the Udung Uko Union and the Oro Think Tank. While Oron Union’s President-General, His Lordship Bishop Etim Ante was represented by the immediate past President of Lagos Branch, Barr Abang Mkpandiok, the President-General of Udung Uko Union, Dr. Mercy Effiong was represented by Captain Effiong Eyo, just as Engr Koko Bassey stood in for the Chairman of Oro Think Tank, Hon. Chris Abasi Eyo. Their presentations bordered on creation of state, additional federal and state constituencies, and local government areas for Oro Nation. They also emphasized on the need to identify the Oro LGAs with taxonomies, for a more unified identity.

Òrò’s attendance at the Public Hearing was significant. It showed why they ventured into the odds to make a categorical statement. A plethora of cogent reasons abound on why the Òrò people cannot afford to joke with the opportunity. Aside the few instances of her woes earlier cited in this piece, history is pregnant with sore experiences they have born for just being partners of statehood. As cited in a recent press Statement by Oro Youth Movement (OYOM), the Former governor of the South Eastern State, Brigadier General U. J. Esuene in 1970, caused Mobil Producing Nigeria to take its operational base to Eket, instead of Ibaka which was their actual intention.

Accordingly, Governor U. J. Esuene sacked the then Attorney General of the state, Late Justice Okon Esin for raising patriotic concerns in favour of his people (Òrò). He also dismissed the General Manager of the South Eastern State Newspaper Corporation, Chief Edet Asuquo Anwana, another Oron man, for allowing a critical Editorial to be published about the sad incident. Again in 1973, U. J. Esuene, using Military fiat, annexed Oron Land covering 280 square kilometres with a Coastline of 19km to his local government area, Eket. It is on record that Oron people petitioned the then Military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon against the annexation. Expectedly, nothing came out of it. This is why Òrò resorted to going to court where the matter still resides till date. Meanwhile, when Ibeno LGA was eventually created on December 4, 1996, both the Mobil Operational Base and the large expanse of land fell into Ibeno LGA against the ‘dark’ deals of the military man. Politics played out again when Ibaka was chosen in the early 1980s as the best location for the first export oriented Refinery in Nigeria. That Refinery was dramatically taken to Port Harcourt.

Today, that draconian annexation by the then military governor, is at the centre of Òrò’s most painful woes. The proposed Ibaka Deep Seaport is gradually eluding Òrò’s hosting right for that reason. Òrò’s agitation for recognition as oil producing area is also caused by that annexation which carved Òrò land and waters into Eket and now Ibeno.

Truth is, no human person can take several lashings on his back and remain silent. It is the nature of living things to respond to stimulus. The Òrò people have been trampled upon and treated like animals in a world of chances and choices. It cannot be God, the creator who orders or ordains the never-ending hatred and persecution of the Òrò people in Akwa Ibom State. After facing much trauma and pains, Òrò people see the Public Hearing of the National Assembly on constitution amendment as a natural window for possible escape. The occasion became a golden opportunity for the wild wounded Lions in groaning spirit, to make their voices heard.

Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. 

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