HOW OGOJA WAS ROBBED OF A STATEHOOD BY HER (OWN) CHILDREN : A Story Of How Ogoja Began The Journey To The World Of Underdevelopment!
-by imaji jio UFUMAKA
Back at Ogoja, the crowd had doubled. It was a great gathering. Ears were itching to hear the story from yonder. I narrated my experiences to every one at the meeting. Above all else, the crowd was encouraged by the Chf M T Mbu surprising reception. It was surprising because, albeit the journey, rumor at home was that Mbu was a conservative and cold fellow who would never be kind to hear our agitation. But he became the metaphor for hope and a paradox to misconceptions : he did what others couldn’t do. He supported us to the last, in words and cash.
Artist Mark Andogu was commissioned to design a gift for the ‘august’ occasion at Nsukka. He became the lone delegate to meet with officials of the state. That was how he met with Mr Pete Edochie, the erstwhile Commissioner for Information, Youth and Culture. It was through him that a letter was despatched to the Zik of Africa, the man who later plummeted (?) to becoming the Owelle of Onitsha.
While Artist Mark departed for Anambra State, with a mandate to meet with the government officials in Enugu, Paul Inyambri and I were delegated to meet with the big guys at the Constitutional Conference in Abuja. We were mandated to garner support from Ogoja students at the University of Abuja.
Arriving Abuja, again, it was Barr Greg Ikaba Ngaji that made his Apo Village official residence our interim home and center for external out reach/es. It was from there that we made move to meet with the ‘who’s what’ in the Nigerian political sphere of the time :
First, we made contacts with the Ikemba Gburugburu Odumegu Ojukwu, the Nigerian civil war gad fly. Then, we approached Gen Musa Yar’adua. Ojukwu sounded quite historical. He asked if we knew how the bridge at Garkem was blown and where the first Civil War bullet was fired. Before we thought of an answer, he cut in, “…Garkem”. The first Civil war bullet was fired in a place at Bekwarra LGA, known as Garkem. At the end of meeting with him, he reassured Paul and I of his support for an Ogoja State creation.
When we met with the senior Yar’adua, it was a very humbling experience. He got up, ushered us to sit on his palatial chair. Many malams and alhajis were there to consult with him, politically, but he announced, “please let me meet with the Ogoja young men before I start up with you…they’ve come from a far place”.
Seeing that every one, including our host took the floor, leaving the sumptuous seats for us, we winked at each other, and humbly followed the modest example of humility. We sat on the floor, with me taking my ever traditional yoga-like way of sitting, crossing my legs at each other, more like an ‘aboki’, while Paul sat the normal way. The Ogoja way. If there be such a way as an Ogoja way! In our discussion, Alhj Musa Yar’adua gave us the greatest assurance for a general state creation, but paused to say, “…please, do well to meet with your fathers in the conference. Meet Joe Wayas and Murphy. I hear there is a boy in the Armed Forces Ruling Council, from your area. Meet him. Meet them. If they accept, your agitation for a state will be met. If they do not accept, it would be difficult to realize it. I will do my best to appeal to the Head of State”.
That was it. We must pray and fast, in order to have our “fathers ” accept to make our dreams a reality, else, all our efforts would be a futility !
Meeting with Dr Joseph Wayas, the 2nd Republic and Nigeria’s first Senate President, after the newly independent country had left the parliamentary system of governance, and joined the American styled ‘presidential system’, was “a task that must be done”, just to quote Gen Yakubu Gowon’s civil war mantra in philosphizing that the union of Nigeria was sacrosanct. But meeting the big daddy, Wayas, needed our constant monitoring and spying upon. We tried severally before we could hook up with him. Before our meeting with Sen Wayas, we met with Minister Nsan, former Minister for Health under the Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida junta presidency. He sounded reassuring and prayerful, hoping that the creation of an Ogoja State would give his people of core central geo-political zone an ample opportunity to slug it out with the South of Cross River State.
When we met with the erstwhile Senate President, Sen Joseph Wayas, it was a different ball game. In his -babanriga’ attire, spotting a black and white colored pair of shoes, he met us at the door. Standing as if to say, ‘hey guys, speak up, I’m late for work’, he requested to know the leader of the delegation and what took us to his house. Paul Inyambri pointed towards me. Wayas rolled the balls of his eyes towards me, as if to intimidate us, then he asked, “yes, my young friend, what do you want and who are you?”. I first introduced my colleague, Paul Inyambri. He quipped, “Inyambri, my friend ?”. Immediately, we felt a bit warm. Then I introduced myself. At hearing ‘Ufumaka’, he retorted, “the mathematician?”. I responded in the affirmative. He asked why I wasn’t in the States with my father. Mute it was from me, before I responded, ‘Sir, I just returned home to Nigeria’. Paul and I looked at each other, as the big man smiled and laughed as if in Hausa language, if there’s a laughter in any particular human language. We had got him below the belt. Then, we began the story of our visit. He was calm yet impatient. His response was firm but very discouraging, “… are you fools ? Why would any right thinking person wish to leave a state that has just commissioned an EPZ (Export Processing Zone), one of the first and best in Africa? Look, I do not support you and your dreams. Ogoja cannot and should not leave Calabar. Go back home to Ogoja and tell them that I, Sen Joe Wayas is not interested and supportive of any Ogoja State “!
It was very officious and unkindly. As we were about to depart, he asked one John Inaku (late) to give us a treat, emphasizing that, he was being receptive because of the name, Ufumaka, the “American mathematician”, referring to my dad, Prof Akeh-Ugah Ufumaka, NOT me!
He gave us the privilege of having a treat in his Sheraton Hotel suite and asked John to use his 505 Peugeot car, dull ash and black mixed color, to drive us to wherever we needed to go, within the FCT, all in the ‘magical name’ of Ufumaka.
After our meeting with Wayas, we headed straight to Chief I. I. Murphy’s residence, also, within the Apo zone. After waiting downstairs for upwards of 30 minutes, we were ushered in by one of his servants. Chief I. I Murphy was a fine looking and polished skinned old man. Wearing his traditional white ‘agbada’, he acted like an English man, with lots of courtesy. Motioning us to take a seat while he sank into one of the sofas. He demanded to know us and our mission there. We introduced ourselves, with Paul begining the ritual of introduction. I followed. Then again, our story. Our intention : Ogoja State creation.
In the most gentlemanly way, what he hid in his body language he spoke with his words. He spoke smoothly and calmly. He sounded unlike his friend, Wayas, but passed the same message. He wasn’t in support of the agitation. He simply said : ” I wish you know the implication of your wishing to leave Calabar for a new state. It would not spell us well. I think we’ll be harming ourselves and the future of our children, if we leave the present Cross River State.
Gentlemen, I think you need a rethink on your agitation. As for me, and I think, Sen Joseph Wayas, that wouldn’t be in the best interest of the people of Ogoja”. He entered his hand in the pocket, brought clean bills of Nigerian wads, amounting to four thousand Naira. Before he handed it to us, he again asked, who’s Ufumaka amongst you ? Again, Paul Inyambri pointed at my direction. Murphy said, ” my son, your father and his family took care of me in America when I fell ill … I’m not giving this money to you as a support for your Ogoja State agitation. It is for your pockets, thank you, gentlemen”.
With that, the meeting ended, close to being albeit, abruptly!
Later, before we departed from Abuja, we attempted to meet with Gen Unimna. At his residential gate, we stood like a forever pair of sculptural works. When attention was given to us, it was a threatening one : the sentry had told us that ‘oga’ said “if you don’t want to spend some days in the guardroom, you should leave that gate immediately”.
Of course, we didn’t travel to Abuja to spend days in “guard room”.
We scramed !
We left Abuja, hugely downcast, yet hopeful that our meeting with Zik of Africa will douse all the very discouraging experiences which we had had with our own ancestral fathers.
(Please, wait for the part three, the final engagement)