Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

Gov. Wike And The Crisis of Identity

Gov. Nyesom Wike

Gov. Wike And The Crisis of Identity By Joseph Onyekwere
I recently saw a clip of an online interview the prodigious Dele Momodu had with Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, where he laboured so hard to deny his Igboness, talking about the similarity in names and being in old Eastern Region. 

He talked as if Calabar, Uyo, Ogoni, Ijaw and others were not part of that old Eastern Region he made reference to. He did not say how many of those other tribes in the old Eastern Region bear Igbo names in large numbers and for which Igbo’s are insisting they have similar ancestry. I shook my head in disbelief, seeing his dishonesty and how hard he struggled to maintain that narration. 

The truth is that Gov. Wike is not honest with his Igbo ancestry. He denies his Igboness, his cousins admit theirs. Some of his kinsmen I know admit their Igboness, while he and many others grandstand. Too much confusion! Why is Igbo so hated by its neighbours, that they labour this hard to distance themselves from their roots? If it has to do with ancestral offence, must those of this generation face the consequences of what they know nothing about? Are the Okun people in Kogi denying being Yoruba or their Yoruba ancestry? Are those in Kwara doing same? Are all those ethnic nationalities in South Western States?

Gov. Wike’s argument that he is in Niger Delta is invalid in that respect. Ikwerre (Igbo language) is even clearer to my ears than that of Abakaliki, Afikpo and Nsukka that are in South Eastern States. Will Wike say Etche people are not Igbos? Will he say the same for Egbema that was in my own knowledge carved out of Oguta in Imo State to Rivers? Will he say Obigbo, that was carved out of Ukwa people of Abia State and renamed Oyigbo are not Igbo because they are now in Rivers? When did being in a different state (mere geographical expression) vitiate ones origin? So, it stands to reason that if Nsukka were to be in Benue or Kogi State, they certainly would have also denied their Igboness as if admitting being Igbo adds value to the Igbo nation or subtracts from it. 

Dele should have asked Wike his tribe. If his argument of being in Rivers takes away his origin, then Asaba people who are in Delta State can say the same. They will simply declare that their tribe is Asaba or Delta. Hilarious! While no one, including me, cannot force any one to choose any nationality, Wike should tell his children the truth that the cowardice of his forebears denying their nationality to survive the brutality of the ravaging Nigerian troops during the civil war brought about this new narration and renaming of cities and towns with meaningless letters that makes no difference to the meaning of those places. Ijaws, Ogoni’s, etc are also in the same state and I have never read or heard any Igbo whatsoever associating them with Igbo ancestry. 

So, why must it be Ikwerres? Who goes about looking for nationalities to claim and appropriate? Say the truth about your origin Mr. Governor and insist on how you prefer to be identified. That is more honourable. There will be no problem. It is your choice. After all, we have Nigerians who have adopted the nationality of other countries and vowed never to associate with their roots. They are not prosecuted for that. It is their choice, but it will never upturn the truth of their ancestry. 

Anybody can renounce his family name and choose what he wants to be identified with, but that will not take away the truth about where the fellow came from. 

If some prominent black Americans like Bishop TD Jakes would trace their origin to Igbo, why should anyone bother about a neighbour whose position is of no relevance to Igbo nation? If you want to condemn criminality, arson and killings by your citizens, please go ahead and do so and stop saying Igbo’s did this and that as if they are Igbo immigrants or strangers in your state, whereas they are actually citizens of your state. Stop the hatred! Your claim of loving Igbo’s is not in sync with your disposition, especially the one I saw in that interview. The truth is the truth. Say it and move on with your life. I’m sure no one cares how you prefer to be addressed.

However, the most painful aspect of the whole drama in this crisis of identity was seeing the delegation of South East governors, the leadership of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and the Igbo community in the state visit and listened to Gov Wike talk about peaceful co-existence with ethnic nationalities in the state. The governor talked as if strangers from neighbouring Igbo states, who live in Oyigbo committed the violence, for which he allegedly unleashed the military on them. 

I was shocked that none of the leaders was able to ask the governor whether Oyigbo, where the crisis took place is Igbo settlers’ community or part of Rivers. That the whole delegation accepted the blame on behalf of Ndigbo for the violence in Rivers because Igbo speaking people populate the local government where it happened is beyond imagination. Unless there is something I am yet to understand in the whole scenario, which I will be willing to be educated, not ironing this out with the governor suggests that the Igbo community in Rivers, by this I mean those from other states were responsible for the attack on security personnel and their facilities. This is exactly the same spin some tried to weave in Lagos State following similar looting, arson and killings that occurred as a result of the shooting of EndSARS protesters in Lekki. But revelations from the Lagos probe panel indicate Igbo’s are actually victims of the violence in large numbers. 

While I commend the visit and the reason for it, I was disappointed that they allowed Gov Wike to create the impression that Igbo’s, who are strangers in his state committed the evil in the name of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), whereas that community is home to Igbo speaking people of Rivers like many others in the state. 

Will the governor in all honesty aver that no indigene of the state belongs to IPOB, if truly members of IPOB committed the atrocities? Assuming without conceding that some stranger elements took part in the violence, which is not unusual in such period of disorder, it would still not repudiate the fact that the attack had the support of some of the youths of the area. 

No matter who the suspects are, do they deserve to be killed extra-judicially, just as they did to their victims? I don’t think so.

In my view, the best thing to do is to launch a manhunt, arrest and prosecute them so they face the full wrath of the law. Anything in the contrary is unlawful.

Joseph Onyekwere is a journalist with Guardian newspaper, he can be reached via +234803 595 9312