Urhobo Historical Society

Urhobo Historical Society's Comments On

In an article in The Guardian of August 15, 2002, Professor Itse Sagay addressed the thorny issue of the wrongful location of the capital of Delta State at Asaba. We salute Professor Sagay for bringing to this important matter his weight of authority and scholarship and for his analytical insight into a problem that will not disappear until it is resolved according to the wishes of the people of Delta State. We recall that this was an issue that Professor Obaro Ikime and Professor Peter Ekeh also addressed as far back as 1999 in various media.  The problems created by the arbitrary location of Delta State capital at Asaba, in one of the grossest abuses in public policy making during the military era, rankle our communities. Their rejection of Asaba as Delta State's permanent capital dates back to its beginning  in August 1991 when, as Professor Sagay put it, "Babangida used the Delta State Capital to pay his bride price to his Anioma in-laws."  We are therefore very much pleased that Professor Sagay has kept the discussion of this important matter alive in a manner and in a venue that will bring its clear understanding to the rest of the nation.

We regret that some amongst our brethren in Asaba and its neighbourhoods have reacted with anger and insults to the views and perspectives canvassing for the relocation of the State Capital by leaders from the Old Delta Province, after which the present Delta State is named. We plead with Mr. Clement Okonjo and others in Anioma who wish to discuss this crucial issue to refrain from insulting Deltans who disagree with them on a problem that deserves public airing. We are all now in the same political arrangement, called Delta State, and we all must learn to live together. We suggest that this is a constitutional matter that should, and will, be decided by the people of Delta State in a constitutional fashion. We trust that the people of Asaba and its related neighbourhoods will understand that citizens of the Old Delta Province are fully aggrieved about the reckless decision by a military dictator to violate all political realities and sensibilities in this region of Nigeria. We all wish to welcome Asaba and its neighbourhoods to the Delta fold, but not at the unacceptable cost of losing the capital of the State to an area brought into our State as a favour by a military ruler. Indeed, we believe that Asaba and its ethnic neighbourhoods will have their just dues once the matter of the State capital is resolved. Leaders and communities in the Old Delta Province openly campaigned for Denis Osadebay's candidacy for Premier of the Midwest Region in the early 1960s. Osadebay was from Asaba. But it would be untenable and unjust to expect a candidate from Asaba and related neighbourhoods for such a position in the current Delta State to be well received by communities in the Old Delta Province, until the State capital is relocated. In other words, we believe that it is in the mutual interest of the Old Delta Province and the region now called Anioma to settle this matter of the Delta State capital as soon as possible.

Beyond our salute to Professor Itse Sagay for his affection for the Old Delta Province and his clear and important statement that the communities of the Old Delta Province have a common destiny and culture, our goal in this document is twofold. First, we want to explain, to Niger Deltans as well as to the rest of the country, why Asaba cannot be accepted as the permanent capital of Delta State. Second, we want to suggest to the Legislature of  Delta State what measures it can constitutionally take to relocate the capital from Asaba to the Old Delta Province. In order to ensure that these efforts are clearly understood by the rest of the country, we want to explain as fully as possible what the labels Old Delta Province and Anioma connote in these explanations and suggestions.

Old Delta Province and Anioma

Five ethnic communities constitute what we refer to as the Old Delta Province. These are, alphabetically, Ijaw (western), Isoko, Itsekiri, Ukwuani, and Urhobo. Long before British colonialism, these peoples shared common cultures of inter-marriage, food, and dress. Their relationships were further strengthened when they were brought together by British colonial rule under the aegis of Niger Coast Protectorate in the early 1890s, many years before the British Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was formed in 1900. Their capital, under the Niger Coast Protectorate and  Southern Nigeria -- and later Nigeria -- was Warri. Thus, all five communities not only enjoyed age-old common cultures, but also shared common political institutions during British colonial rule. The boundaries of Warri Province (later Delta Province) were clear. In the north are the Ukwuani (in what the British called Kuale Division). In the south and the Atlantic coast are the Ijaw and Itsekiri divisions. All five ethnic communities shared common courts, colleges, etc. In the mid-1940s, Chief Mukoro Mowoe represented the entire Warri Province in the Western House of Assembly, hence the title of Professor Obaro Ikime's biography of the premier nationalist is "The Member for Warri Province." Similarly, Chief Okotie-Eboh, as Minister of Finance in Abubakar Tafawa Balewa's Government in the 1960s, regarded the entire Delta Province as his constituency.

It was natural, therefore, that when the struggle for the creation of the Mid-West Region was waged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, these five communities were grouped together. When finally the Mid-West was realized in 1963, three cities were considered as candidates for capital. From Delta Province, both Warri -- the old capital of Delta Province -- and Sapele were considered along with Benin City, the capital of Benin Province. Eventually, Benin City was chosen by consensus to be the capital of Midwest Region. The affairs of the Mid-West Region of Nigeria were run on the clear understanding that it was composed of two distinct political divisions, the Old Benin Province and the Old Delta Province. When there was further agitation for the creation of Delta State in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, all these five communities worked together. Their own mantra for this effort was, aptly, "the five fingers of one hand." In canvassing for the Delta State, several suggestions were made as to the proper location of the proposed State's capital, including, always, Warri.

The name Anioma was coined during the late 1970s and early 1980s as part of the efforts of the Western Igbo to govern their own affairs in a state removed from Benin hegemony. Professor Don Ohadike, the chief historian of Anioma, put it thus: "Like many groups in Nigeria, the Western Igbo began to seek a new identity. The name they chose for themselves was ndi Anioma ... a term they coined in the 1970s when they began to agitate for their own state within the entity known as Nigeria" (Don C. Ohadike, Anioma : A Social History of the Western Igbo People. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994,   p. xvi). The core of the newly conceived Anioma was Western Igbo territory in Old Benin Province, including Agbor in its western corner and Asaba in its far  eastern periphery. While the term Anioma was loosely extended as far south as the Ukwuani, it must be emphasized that the Ukwuani have always cherished their own distinct culture, which is securely located in the Old Delta Province, as one of the oldest indigenous cultures in the Niger Delta. In this document, we shall equate Anioma with Western Igbo of the Old Benin Province and shall not extend that usage to the Ukwuani of the Old Delta Province.

The Military and Creation of States in Nigeria

Before the political crisis that brought military rule and civil war to Nigeria, there were four Regions in the country: Northern Nigeria, Western Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, and Midwestern Nigeria -- each with its own Constitution, in addition to the common Federal Constitution. State creation was an artifact of military rule. The country was carved into twelve states in 1967 in response to the imperatives of the secession bid by the Igbo leadership in Eastern Nigeria. Under the military rulership of General Olusegun Obasanjo, there was a further state creation exercise in 1976. It is fair to say that there was some rationale and discernible procedure in these two exercises, with a good amount of consultation and respect for the views of affected communities and their leaders. State capitals were selected largely on account of history and the centrality of the chosen city. By and large, the Abuja rationale -- the doctrine that undergirded the transfer of Nigeria's capital from Lagos to Abuja on the grounds that the new capital was in a central location -- was given some weight in the choice of state capitals under General Yakubu Gowon and General Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1960s and 1970s.

But military rule was afflicted with massive corruption in the 1980s. In the abyss of that corruption, the arbitrariness of military rule begat a new doctrine, namely, that military rulers owned the Nigerian state and that their actions and dictation were final and beyond question and challenge. Nowhere was this type of corruption more manifest than in the matter of state creation exercises in the 1980s and early 1990s. The consultation of communities became a mere formality. Their wishes were overridden at will by military rulers whose personal interests superseded the national interest.

The crass corruption of military rule in the area of state creation erupted into the open in the way Delta State was created. Deltans in the Old Delta Province had made a strong case, based on history and justice, for the creation of Delta State. In doing so, their leaders indicated a number of cities and sites within their areas where the State capital would be located. In all instances, the case for the capital of Delta State was made with reference to the centrality of its location. Western Igbos in the Old Benin Province also made their own case for Anioma State that would be separate from Benin. Neither Deltans nor the advocates of Anioma State asked to be joined together. It was not a matter on which General Ibrahim Babangida, who personally supervised the state creation exercise, consulted the leaders of the Old Delta Province for their consent. In coming to his decisions, neither the national interest nor the regional interest of Deltans from the Old Delta Province influenced General Ibrahim Babangida. Instead, the desires of his wife's relatives swayed his military dictation in two respects.

First, General Ibrahim Babangida's transfer of Anioma from the Old Benin Province to the Old Delta Province has no demonstrable benefit to the national interest. The Benin and other Edos had lived amicably with the Anioma under British rule and thereafter, during civilian and military periods in the post-colonial era. There is no reason on the basis of national interest why Anioma should be transferred to the Delta, away from the Old Benin Province. If the Anioma could live with Deltans, they should also be able to coexist with the Benin and other Edos in the Old Benin Province. Since he was a military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida was never required to give any reason for this unusual action. There are dark suspicions in the Old Delta Province that the transfer of Anioma to the Old Delta Province was done on the suasion that it would dominate Delta State much more easily than it could the Old Benin Province. In the absence of any other explanation for General Babangida's unsolicited transfer of Anioma to the Delta, we must give credence to this belief. Even so, we are confident that Deltans would welcome Anioma into our Delta fold, as long as no one group in the resulting Delta State enjoys privileges and advantages which have been unfairly, unjustly, and egregiously secured for it by a corrupt military dictatorship, to the detriment and disadvantage of its fellow Deltans.

Second, General Ibrahim Babangida's decision to locate Delta State's capital at Asaba was illogical, immoral, and bizarre. There was no historical reason for ignoring Warri, the capital of the Old Delta Province, while favouring Asaba in the location of the capital of Delta State. Aside from its association with the Royal Niger Company in the 1880s, along with several other cities on the Niger River and its tributaries, Asaba never featured for consideration for a capital during colonial rule or during the postcolonial era, before General Babangida's dictatorship. Geographically, Asaba is in the extreme  eastern periphery of the Delta State. We note, for an example, that a reasonable case could be made for Agbor, also in Anioma, as a site for the capital from the point of view of its somewhat central geographical location in Delta State. But not Asaba! The nearest town to Asaba is Onitsha in Anambra State. If we consider space and travel time, as we must logically do in the matter of a state capital, Asaba is closer to most points of Anambra State than to numerous towns and districts in Delta State. When all available rationales have been considered and eliminated, there is only one manifest reason that is left in deciphering and decoding the mystery of the location of Delta State's capital at Asaba. It is this: it was a gift from General Ibrahim Babangida to his wife's hometown. Even the Roman Ceasars were a trifle more circumspect in such circumstances. But such was the depth of the corruption of Nigeria's military governments in the 1980s and 1990s, that they easily instituted public policies which would have bothered even the depraved Roman Emperor, Caligula, as excessively profane and corrupt.

We must repeat that the people of the Old Delta Province have no animosity towards Anioma. We regard them as our brethren. But the corruption that led to the location of Delta State's capital at Asaba must not be allowed to stand. We hope that the good people of Anioma will not wish to be the beneficiaries of such gross corruption. Justice and fair play require that Asaba must not be accepted as Delta State's permanent headquarters.

Constitutional Remedies

An anomaly of Nigeria's political life is that we are currently governed under a 1999 Constitution that was imposed by military rulers. Sadly, President Olusegun Obasanjo's Administration has obstructed every effort to produce new Constitutional formulations that will allow the whole nation to work out a Constitution and that will give room to each State to write its own Constitution. That was how it was before the onset of military rule in 1966. And that is how it is in all truly federal systems of government. We believe that eventually Nigerians will have their way and work out such constitutional arrangements in which they and their representatives will craft constitutional documents that will replace the current Constitution that has been imposed on Nigerians by self-appointed military rulers. We hope that that day is not too far in the future. In the current electoral campaign, we urge Nigerians to demand from each Presidential candidate a commitment to make possible those constitutional reforms that must be made and enacted by the people and their representatives if the country and the states which constitute the Nigerian federation are to be governed under a Constitution that reflects the people's collective will and their hopes and aspirations.

When such an occasion arrives, the current abnormal designation of Asaba as the Capital of Delta State will be revisited and changed according to the wishes of the people of Delta State. We trust that Deltans will have the opportunity to exercise their right to make their own Constitution, including choosing their own Capital and enshrining it in their own Constitution. However, until such changes are made the current Constitution allows legislative processes that will go a long way in the legitimate process of remedying the abnormality of Asaba as the capital of Delta State.

 Legislative Remedies

The Delta State House of Assembly should take seriously its constitutional mandate to make laws. We suggest that its powers include considerations of how the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial affairs of Delta State will be run. We further suggest that in the session of the Delta State House of Assembly that will follow the forthcoming elections, the first order of business should address the location of the Delta State Capital along the following lines of legislation.

A Resolution On A Sense of the People On the Capital of Delta State

A resolution should be presented to the Delta State House of Assembly stating that it is the sense of the representatives of the people and communities of Delta State that they wish to have a say on where their State capital will be located. The resolution should further add that until such determination is made on the decision of the people of Delta State on their State Capital, the representatives of the people will regard and respect Asaba as the Temporary Capital of Delta State. A vote of the House of Assembly should be taken and recorded on such a resolution.

Governor's Official Alternative Residence in Warri or Some Other Central Location in the Old Delta Province

It is abnormal for the people of Delta State to travel long distances in order to see their Governor.  The people's Governor should be available to them without undue hardship which they currently suffer in travelling long distances to Asaba. In order to remedy this unacceptable situation, the House of Assembly should enact a law authorizing the Executive to establish an Official Residence For the Governor in Warri, or some other central location in the Old Delta Province, as an addition to the present Governor's Residence in Asaba.

Judicial Headquarters in Warri or Some Other Location in the Old Delta Province

The judiciary is a crucial arm of the government that deserves to be located in a secure place in its territory of jurisdiction, not subject to intimidation. There is reason to believe that locating the headquarters of the Delta State Judiciary in Asaba is likely to expose it to intimidation through the threat of violence which may spill over from neighbouring communities (not necessarily from the Government) in Anambra State. The best interest of the people of Delta State requires that the headquarters of its Judiciary should be in a secure location in the Old Delta Province, far removed from possible extra-state violence. We therefore urge the Delta State House of Assembly to enact legislation authorizing the relocation of the headquarters of the Judiciary to Warri or some other central location in the Old Delta Province.

Relocation of Key Ministries to the Old Delta Province

Similarly, for the convenience of workers and the people of Delta State, we urge the Delta State House of Assembly to redistribute key ministries to locations in the Old Delta State. We will leave to the Assembly the determination of the specific location of individual ministries.

We wish to add two points of constitutional relevance in these suggestions. First, we believe that such laws are within the powers of the House of Assembly. They address the matter of good governance of the State. Second, dispersal of governmental departments and agencies is common all over the world. A relevant example is South Africa in which the three principal branches of Government are located in several cities. Thus, the Legislature is located in Cape Town; the Executive is in Pretoria and Cape Town; and the Judiciary, represented by the Constitutional Court, is located in Braamfontein-Johannesburg. In the United States, many Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government are located outside Washington, D.C.

Elections and Mandate For Action on  Delta State Capital

The people of Delta State should pay attention to the vital matter of the relocation of Delta State's Capital in the current campaign for the forthcoming elections. Politicians seeking offices should be asked to promise that they will work towards the relocation of the State Capital. Those who refuse to do so deserve to lose in the elections.

Conclusion: An Appeal For Responsible Discussion
On the Relocation of Delta State Capital

We would like to appeal to all concerned in the discussion of this issue of Delta State Capital to avoid rancour and expressions of hatred. In one important sense, we are all victims of the malady of military rule. The people of Asaba and Anioma cannot be happy that they gained the State Capital by way of the rank corruption of a military dictatorship. Nor should the people in the Old Delta Province blame Anioma for receiving from General Ibrahim Babangida the corrupt gift of a Capital. While the capital must be relocated, we all should understand that we are in the same state and that we should work together for the common welfare of the state. We in Urhobo Historical Society firmly believe that Anioma and the Old Delta Province can work together, especially when  the wrong represented by the corrupt, illogical, and unjust location of Delta State's capital at Asaba has been remedied.

Members of the Editorial and Management Committee

Larry Arhagba, M.A.
Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc.
Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.
Edirin Erhiaganoma, M.Sc.
Joseph Inikori, Ph.D.
Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D, J.D.
O. Igho Natufe, Ph.D.
Rev. Fr. Jude Obiunu, B.Th. (Urbaniana Univ., Rome), M. A. (Fordham)
Ukonurhoro Diesode Omenih
Grace Ophori, M.A.
Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.
Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, MD., Ph.D.
September 9, 2002