In Response To “Rivers People Are Not Igbos!” By Cindy Tariah– Nnaemeka Oruh

By Ikenga Chronicles January 23, 2017

In Response To “Rivers People Are Not Igbos!” By Cindy Tariah– Nnaemeka Oruh

Ms. Tariah, I just finished reading your very interesting article “Rivers People Are Not Igbos!”. What follows was my attempt to offer a response on your blog, but as I typed on your comments’ box, I realised that it was too long, hence my decision to publish it as a full article.

First of all, your use of Igbo and Biafra interchangeably framed your write up. And since that usage is faulty, the entire write up was doomed from the beginning to be faulty. I will explain.

Biafra is not equal to Igbo. Igbo is a tribe and there are some Igbo speaking tribes in Rivers State (e.g Obigbo, some parts of Ndoni, etc), yet that does not mean that Rivers is Igbo! I do not see any justification for anybody to claim that Rivers is Igbo when we have the Ijaw, the Ogoni, etc.

So while Igbo is a tribe, Biafra was a country comprising of more than one tribe (some of the Ijaw, the Ikwerre, the Efik, Ibibio, Igbo, etc). Using both interchangeably is faulty. Biafra was a country, which comprised ALL of the Eastern region of Nigeria, between 1967-1970 an area that the present Rivers State was a part of when the decision to announce the independence of Biafra was made. That was how Rivers state became a part of Biafra.

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Granted that some people from Rivers state did not want to be part of it, but in truth, there were several people from Rivers who also wanted to be a part of it. One can argue forever about whether or not Rivers people willingly became a part of Biafra, but the simple truth is that the mere fact that Rivers was part of the former Eastern region automatically made it part of the Biafran nation so declared on the 30th of May (the declaration clearly stated that Biafra was the entire territory, land and water formerly known as the Eastern region) The creation of Rivers State three days before the official declaration did not change anything, as the creation was done to cause a division among the people, and derail the secession.

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If you may also know, an East Central State was also created, together with South-Eastern State (where you have Calabar). Now this attempt to split the region into three states was a tactical ploy to weaken the secession, but that is a discussion for another day. What is key is to clarify that the historical fact is that where is today known as Rivers state was part of the territory declared Biafra in 1967. Whether or not the people unanimously agreed to be part of it is inconsequential, after all, the Eastern Consultative Assembly that mandated Ojukwu to declare the Eastern region an independent nation of Biafra during their May 27th meeting (which was why Gowon moved swiftly to divide the region into three the same day) had Rivers chiefs as members. So Rivers people were duly represented when the decision to announce the Eastern region an independent country called Biafra was taken. It is the same way that no matter how much the boy from Umuahia claims that he is not a Nigerian, but a Biafran, the historical truth is that in 2017, Umuahia is Nigeria, whether or not people from there like it, are treated fairly, or not.

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The mistake we make is trying to mix historical facts with emotions, and other sociological colourations. The historical fact is indisputable as it is. When Gowon declared war, he did not say, “I am declaring war on the Igbo”. He first declared “Police actions” against the “Eastern region”, before he declared all out war on the entire region (he didn’t exclude Rivers). He didn’t declare police action or all out war against Lagos or even the Mid-west (the temporary skirmishes in the mid-West late 1967 was only done because Biafran forces went in there, not to annex them to Biafra, but to help them form their own nation). So even in Gowon’s declaration of war resides the fact that Rivers was part of Biafra.

The bitter experiences of the war, and the internal issues the Igbo and the Rivers people had during that period, of course created a lot of bad blood, which most parents pass on to their children, and flippantly say; “we were not part of Biafra”. But every keen scholar should be able to take whatever he or she hears with a pinch of salt, and ask, “historically, what is the truth?” And the truth, as it is, is there for all to objectively grasp.

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Our problem however remains that children of these days have refused to read objectively (and by reading objectively, I mean, read accounts from both sides, and be able to sift out the emotional statements). I have read accounts of the crises by foreigners, Rivers people, Igbo people, etc. As a person, I know when the Igbo story dips its leg into “the history of man’s relationship with the lion, as told by man”. I also know the points at which the Rivers story becomes a fantasy.

I for one do not appreciate all the protests that have led to the loss of so many lives. However, as you rightly pointed out, every citizen has the right to hold protests wherever the person damn well pleases. Provided such protests are peaceful, it is also their rights to have their lives spared. In addition to that, it is also a human rights obligation for us as citizens to respect other people’s agitations, no matter how much we detest it.  We must not join the, or be in support of their actions, but we can at least respectfully and objectively point out to them where they are wrong. It is also pertinent that in trying to critique their agitation that we stay clear eyed, and away from getting emotionally invested. Emotions have a way of colouring the truth, and eventually giving us “alternative facts” as Kellyanne Conway would do.

  • Oruh is on Twitter as @Oruhnc 
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