a closer look at who the Akwa Ibom person is.
I write this article in response to the article that got the social media buzzing on the argument of Oron not being Ibibio. I would want us to read the article first as scholars.
In extension the article looks at all the ethnic groups that are in Akwa Ibom State.
‘In the wake of a new political dispensation, it becomes pertinent for a new thinking among the citizenry in order to rally round one another to foster development.
In this piece, I take a closer look at the peoples that make up the present Akwa ibom state and highlights the fact that the peoples of the state share a lot in common to be seen as peoples, rather the facts point that they are a people.’
We have amongst us here today in Akwa Ibom State, clergymen, businessmen, politicians, artistes, professionals in various fields, academics, students, civil servants, servicemen, etc. despite our different classes and status, we all live here under one umbrella, Akwa Ibom State. This umbrella means much more, I could see written on it ‘one people’ because there is a certain force that make us sit here together, and that force, to me, is called common interest. And that common interest is because we are from Akwa Ibom State. However I see Akwa Ibom State beyond matters of a mere geographically defined shape, rather I see it as a people bounded by the same ontological experience.
Today we shall time travel. We shall travel into the past; to find out who we are or who we were; also to the future, to understand our destination while we use today to reshape and redefine our common goals.
First, let us understand what the word renaissance means. Renaissance in general means rebirth, a term that was common in the 14th century for the revival of art; it is like the born again concept of the Christians, but unlike the Christian who needs total purgatory of the old self. The people of that period went back to the classical era of art to reshape their thinking which was distorted during the Dark Ages.
But the two side of the coin of renaissance shall be viewed in this context to assess if of a truth we need a rebirth. Renaissance as shall be used here stresses the need for total self-rediscovery.
Let us start our journey into the highways of time, and our vehicle shall be history, food, arts, fashion, rites, entertainment and philosophy. And we are going to be driving on the wheels of truth. So come go with me as we board to go on this journey, whose road has been clustered with vague philosophies.
One of the things that bother me whenever I think about our state is the level of development. And what comes after this thought, is a question on my mind; do we not deserve more than this? And I quickly answer ‘Yes!’Because looking at the annals of history we have always understood the importance of development, we have always craved for it. Another important question that comes to mind again is, what is my identity… that is who am I? Are we a race? The answers come again readily. ‘Yes’! I know who I am and I have a race, because I have a people I share the same language, cosmology, history, culture, rite, metaphysics, etc. with. And on reflection, I reasoned that if I have a race, what is my race called? On reflection again, I came to understand that a race is usually more often than not named after the language spoken by the people. Example; an Englishman speaks English Language, Latin, French, Dutch, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, etc.
It is also important to note that there is a sharp difference between language and dialect.
According to Edward Spirin his book Language, Race and Culture, he argues that; ‘Language has a setting. The people that speak it belong to a race (or a number of races), that is, to a group which is set off by physical characteristic from other groups. Again language does not exist apart from culture, that is, from the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determine the texture of life.’
Therefore it is suffice to state that language is a means of communication that constitutes verbal and nonverbal codes which are embedded in their metaphysics and history which are understood by a people with the same field of experience. And the variant in this language is known as dialect. If this is true, it is safe then to say that dialect is a subset of a language which is understood by all the different dialect speakers.
If the above argument holds, then it would be degrading if I say I am an Akwa Ibom man, and then not identifying my stock, my race with pride; thus the question about the name of my race.
To answer this question, I realized in the book The Black African People that Ibibio is the major language and has Efik, Anang, Oro, etc as its dialect. To understand this gist, I discovered that as I thought about certain names for items in the dialects that make up the Ibibio Language, I realized they mean the same thing, in spite of the phonetic similarities.
If all these primary words could be so similar and means the same thing, except for some phonetic variation, we can confidently say that we are the same people. And if the Ibibio is the derivative and the largest group, it may not be out of place to say that Ibibio is a language, while the others are a dialect.
This therefore means that we are all Ibibio.
I remember again that in 1920, The Ibibio State Union was formed and the inauguration of the union was held in Ikot Ekpene.
The notice for the anniversary celebration of the Union read thus: ‘…take notice that the Native Authorities of the Districts of Abak, Eket, Ikot Ekpene, Uyo together with the leading officials of the Ibibio Union will arrive in this native Court Hall on … 1947.’
This is the union which people looked upon as leaders, representing the masses of the Ibibio stock. It is worthy of note here quickly that the Ibibio were the first people under the aegis of the Union to send her children to study abroad. Out of this beneficiaries came Attah, Udo Udoma, Akpabio (not the immediate past governor), etc.; the first organized group to agitate for a federal system of government by requesting for state creation. All the members of the Ibibio State Union never saw themselves as any other group but as Ibibio. So historically, we are all Ibibio.
In his book Narrative of an Explorer by W. B. Baikai, it states that ‘the Egboshari (who was a king in calabar) is called Ibibio in Efik. Goldie states the same. In 1688, Jean Barbot, a description of the Coast of South Guinea, mentioned the various payments made at Calabar by the sailing ship Dragon, and he wrote Seventeen Copper bars to William, King Agbesherea. Ditto to Robin, king Agbesherea. This evidence destroys Mr. Afikpo’s remark on page p. 268 that ascribing the origin of the Efik to the Ibibio as dating only from 1858; it is clear that in 1688 Calabar was occupied by Agbesherea or Ibibio and they have been there ever since.’
This is among the many evidences of our oneness. If nothing could convince us, the sheer fact that we have the same ethos, marriage rites, rite of passage (Nkuho: fattening), justice system, belief in the same God ( Akwa Abasi Ibom), food , fashion, storytelling, names of days of the week, etc. Even our mythology is the same, also the agreement of the name of our dear state, Akwa Ibom State is by itself a proof of oneness.
I think however that the most sacred thing to man is his relationship with nature and how he could please it, this forms the course of religion and it is religion that forms socio-cultural order in society. This is handed down from generation to generation. What I am driving at is that, we all here have the belief of God, and our mode of approaching Him is the same culturally. Is this not evident enough of our oneness in the past?
A certain Colonial Administrator in the Annang area of Ibibio land never doubted the fact that the Annang are a sub-group of the Ibibio. Abak district officer S. E. Johnson wrote in 1932, ‘The Anang sub-tribe (of Ibibio) appears to have been the last area in the Calabar Province to be opened up by the government….’
The above statement is one of the many that are everywhere to prove that all the tribes in Akwa Ibom State are one and the same people. Particularly, I want to bring this important quote from the book Who are the Ibibio by Dr. Edet A. Udoh, to drive home the point of our oneness. ‘It is worthy of note however here that some educated Annang believe that they are the same stock with the Ibibio. E.g. Dr. Reuben Kendrick Udo, who was a professor in University of Ibadan in 1961 stated that ‘otoro is a dialect group of Ibibio’ and Dr. A. A. Udo of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the University of Calabar wrote: ‘it is generally believed that the entire group now forming the southeastern State belong to the Semi Bantu group.
The Anang have the same history of migration as the Efik Ibibio’ To infer thus, the above statement is logically implying that the Anang are Ibibio. Still in the colonial era, the British administrators referred to the Eket people as ‘very wild Ibibio.” Dr. Edet A. Udo, states in his famous book Who are the Ibibio, “that …the majority of Eket accept their Ibibio origin, while a few claim that they are not Ibibio, basing their argument only on the different between the Eket dialect and the language of Central Ibibio.” Stressing the point, Dr. Edet A. Udo maintained that ‘I have also compared the Eket culture with that of the central Ibibio and its sub-group and found that it is the same throughout the groups’ the Oron on the other hand also argued that they are not Ibibio, hence attribute their ancestry to various place such as Palestine, because of names; to Igbo through the fable table work of Dr. E. N. Amaku, Benin linage due to wood carving. It should be noted here that the Oron claim of the lineage to the above mentioned groups are not based on any analytical document, but mere speculations. Using language, Dr. E. A. Udo concluded that ‘Oron dialect drops consonants found at the end of Ibibio names (see table 2)
If all these facts hold, then what went wrong? What caused this schism among these great people? The answer again is not far fetched. It was the contact with the external forces that it all started. First was the Western European contact during the 1503 to 1842; the slave trade era 2, the spread of western education in 1846 to 1904. The contact with the West meant more wealth and knowledge of western politics and diplomacy, these mean pride and looking down upon other neighbours who did not have such advantages and opportunities. Thus were called uncivilized as western culture became what was referred to as civilized. This is common in almost every place that is open to other cultures settling among them, such places as Onisha Igbo which had their education since 1857 and the Owerri Igbo had after 1910. 3, With independence, the people who occupied the then Cross River State before 1987, found themselves as a minority group in an Igbo dominated eastern regional government of 1953 to 1967. The division among the Ibibio thus was again intensified in tumble for elections politics which was based on tribal sentiment. Western education acquired by Uruan, Efik, Oron Annang and Ibuno equipped them with knowledge of modern politics. They could gain more if they convinced the government that they were a distinct group from the Ibibio. The most conspicuous of these was the crisis in 1952/53 in Eastern House of Assembly. In the crisis Professor Eyo Ita who had been the Premier of the Eastern Region was replaced by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; this then caused a split in the government. And the result of the 1952/53 census which classified the Ibibio as Annang, Efik, Andoni, Oron and Ibibio as different people, while the Igbo was 4.94 million with twenty dialectical groups still as one but the Ibibio with just seven dialectical groups, was broken.
The debris of these acts has resulted in the stunted development of the totality of the people.
I did say from the beginning of this write up that we are going to time travel into two dimensions of time. We have been to the past, now let’s take a trip to the future.
In the future, I see Akwa Ibom State that will produce not only the secretary to the Federal Government, but a people that will produce the president of Nigeria. I see a people who will form a state that will have legacies of greatness for her children. A state that will become a force to be reckon with within the commity of states. I see a state that will take a slice from the past and realize that education is the panacea to any meaningful development. An Akwa Ibom State whose government will know that government means equitable redistribution of common wealth, but not a conduit pipe for irrational embezzlements. That the topography and fertile soil, untapped resources should be explored, well managed and used for the overall good of the people. Using it also to position the state to her rightful place. I see an Akwa Ibom child standing tall amongst pears anywhere in the world without fear of complex, but with a tall pride that his or her fatherland is solidly giving the necessary backings.
I see a state that will build enviable institutions that will stand a taste of time. A state whose education system will attract people the world over to come and learn the secrets of the success story. A state whose education standard will be rated among the best in the world; yes it is possible! I see a state that security will not work against, rather to protect the people
A state whose resources will not only be used for trade, but will revamp the overall economic, social and tourist essence of the state.
Brethren if all these are within our reach, and we all aspire for the true realization of this paradise, are we going to enjoy them as people without identity and living in disunity? Are these good things of life not worth fighting for? There is an adage that says a single broom stick can easily be broken, but not a bunch. We cannot continue in this baseless cultural schism and expect to get to that beautiful future. We will eschew you, because that future does not have any space for you. Therefore let us all burry what tribal politics started, and thus reconcile as a people we have always been. With this, couple with our spirit of hard work and intelligence, we can be royal again.
To this end, I conclude by saying; ndito ete, yak afit nyin ibono ke ima’.
Uwemedimo Essien Owo is a Social Commentator as a Media Consultant