THE STATE OF NEGLECT AND MARGINALIZATION OF ORO ETHNIC NATIONALITY IN AKWA IBOM STATE, NIGERIA
Time is eternal for no human being or group. Certainly not the Oro people who inhabit a piece of prime real estate strategically situated on the West Bank of the Cross River estuary in the Gulf of Guinea, where Nigeria shares a boundary with Cameroun and Equatorial Guinea on the Atlantic Coast.
We cannot leave for posterity a struggle we must wage and remedy. We must seek now for the redress of the wrongs we suffer today as a people. Moreover, it is often said that great sorrows are suffered in silence. But when your woes become unrelenting and unbearable, stoic silence ceases to be a virtue and patriotic spirit challenges men to resolute remedial action.
We want to use this medium to tell Akwa Ibom people, Nigeria and the world that Oro Ethnic Nationality, the third Largest Ethnic group and the Largest Federal Constituency (with five Local Government Areas, namely: Mbo, Okobo, Udung Uko, Urue Offong/Oruko and Oron) in Akwa Ibom State, has been pushed to the wall!. Oro people have been pitilessly marginalized, wantonly exploited, mercilessly impoverished and humiliatingly discounted in the affairs of Akwa Ibom State in particular and Nigeria in general. In fact, Oro appears to be tolerated as the inconvenient fifth wheel of the wagon, better discarded.
We stridently call on Nigeria to sit up and take notice of the story detailed below on the plight of the Oro people in the face of what is touted as “development” in our State and country. Nigeria should stand up for the weak and the vulnerable, not only as a measure of our claim to be passionately religious and compassionate about society but also as a firewall against the excesses of the majority and the threat of rampaging tyranny at the lower levels of governance.
Akwa Ibom State, at creation was envisioned and acknowledged as standing on an ethnic tripod. The largest ethnic group, Ibibio, is made up of 14 LGAs, followed by the Annangs with 8 LGAs and Oro, along with its ethnic kins in Ekid, Ibeno and Obolo made up 9 LGAs. The concept of ethnic tripod designed to simplify the idea of power rotation and the distribution of practical benefits generally to give a sense of belonging to all sections of the State. Unfortunately, this well thought-out arrangement has been replaced with an unconscionable senatorial politics aimed at keeping Oro and other ethnic minorities in perpetual subjugation. Today, for the Oro man, the thought of being an Akwa Ibomite is increasingly becoming a nightmare owing to serial acts of injustice perpetuated against him by the State and Federal Governments. Indeed, no tangible State or Federal Government project has been sited in Oro since the creation of Akwa Ibom State. Major areas of our grouse against the State and Federal Governments are as highlighted hereunder:
*Dualization of Uyo – Oron Road*
It is pertinent to recall that following the closure of the original Uyo – Oron road to give way for the construction of Ibom International Airport, the State government promised to construct alternative dualized road estimated at twenty-eight (28) kilometres from Uyo to Oron. After several years, on 22nd September, 2015 the State government did a “ground-breaking” to flag off the project. Unlike what obtains in other parts of the State, a certain incompetent and unknown Company called ‘Ronesan’ was first awarded the contract for the dualization of the road. With the clear failure of that company, the contract was terminated by the State Government with the hope that it would be re-awarded to one of the competent multinational construction companies working for the State Government. Regrettably, the government through the Ministry of Works reportedly opted to execute the dualization of such an important economic road through Direct Labour using a certain unknown company, ”Aquatix” as a smokescreen.
As we speak, the road project has been abandoned while Julius Berger, China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), WE and other competent construction companies are working tirelessly on less important roads in other parts of the State. Why are issues affecting Oro always treated with levity? We assert unapologetically that Oro will not be fooled forever! We hereby call on the State Government to immediately terminate the contract and award it to an international company as it is done in other parts of the State.
*Ibaka Deep Seaport Project*
Ibaka Deep Seaport project was conceived 19 years ago as part of the industrialization plans of Akwa Ibom State. It was designed to be sited at Ibaka in Mbo Local Government Area with the deepest nautical depth east of the Niger. Many years after conception, and contrary to the expectation of Oro people in particular and Akwa Ibom State in general, the State government has surreptitiously changed the entire concept of the project to short-change Oro. Information at our disposal shows that the State Government is planning to relocate the Seaport from Ibaka to some other part of the State using a compromised Consultant’s report as the basis.
In this devious scheme, Ibaka which is generally reputed as the only natural harbour in Akwa Ibom State will merely serve as a residential area of the so-called Ibom Industrial City. We hereby urge the State Government to answer the following pertinent questions: (i) Where really is the location of the Harbour of the proposed Deep Seaport? (ii) If it is not in Ibaka as was originally conceived, what gives any other location the edge over Ibaka? (iii) Why are issues pertaining to the Deep Seaport project shrouded in secrecy?
It is regrettable that the proposed Super Highway which is meant to service the Seaport has been disingenuously designed to by-pass Oro Nation whereas the administration of Obong Victor Attah which started the Seaport project always talked about linking the Seaport with the Airport. Of course, this reasoning is both logical and commonsensical.
Oro people hereby call on the State government to reverse its decision to relocate the Seaport, particularly the Harbour from Ibaka. It should demonstrate the political will to actualize the project in line with the original concept in the interest of peace, fairness and overall economic well-being of Akwa Ibom State.
*Enwang – Etebi Road Project*
The Enwang- Etebi Road project was among the first set of roads awarded for construction by the administration of Chief Godswill Akpabio in 2008 to Singoeng Construction Company. While all the roads awarded at the same time and even those awarded subsequently were completed, this road was abandoned by the contractor reportedly for lack of funds. Last year, the present administration promised to complete the project within 18 months. Almost eight months has passed no action has been taken to keep the promise. This is another clear case of half-hearted approach to issues affecting Oro.
*Denial of due benefits to Oro as an Oil Producing Community*
It would be recalled that consequent upon a motion moved by Hon. Robinson Uwak, our House of Representatives member at the time, drawing the attention of the nation to the callous and unconscionable non recognition of Oro as an oil producing community, the House of Representatives sent five of its relevant Committees to Oro in 2014 on a fact finding mission. The delegation led by Hon. Uche Ekwunife deployed boats and helicopters to access our high seas and ascertain the veracity of the claim made by Oro people through Hon. Uwak. To say that members of the delegation were stunned by the number of oil platforms hosted by Oro and the criminal neglect and deprivation suffered by the area is to say the least. They simply couldn’t believe that a part of Nigeria was treated as a conquered territory and raped with such level of impunity. They realized to their chagrin that within the suffering Niger Delta Region, there was a community whose experience was far more pathetic than what the world knew about the Region. At least other parts of the Niger Delta region were recognized owners without commensurate benefits. Ours was a case of absolute subjugation, deprivation, denial and non recognition. Through the recommendations of the Committees, the House of Representatives passed a Resolution urging government to accord recognition to the five Local Government Areas of Oro Nation as Oil Producing. In response, the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim issued a circular urging the Akwa Ibom State Government to give effect to the Resolution.
Till date, no benefit has accrued to any of the five Local Government Areas of Oro Nation as a consequence of that recognition. Sadly, oil exploration and exploitation in Oro have continued unhindered and the suffering has continued unabated. While non oil producing parts of the State are being transformed into modern cities and their indigenes feeding fat on oil money, the community that produces the wealth is being strangulated to death. Why is it impossible for the Akwa Ibom State Government to set up an Oil Producing Area Development Commission as it is done by other oil producing States in Nigeria? We hereby call on the State Government, as a matter of urgency, to set up this all-important Commission to fast-track development of oil bearing communities. We also urge the State Government and oil companies operating in Oro to immediately give us our due if at all they are interested in peace. It is delusional to think that oppression will last forever. In addition to exploring other available options in seeking redress, we will henceforth draw the attention of the world to our plight in the hands of our own government.
*Upgrade of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron*
Oro people observe with dismay that despite the passage by the Senate of the Bill for the establishment of Federal University of Maritime Studies, Oron, on 6th July, 2017, nothing has been heard about the Concurrent passage of the Bill by the House of Representatives eight (8) months after a successful Public Hearing. We are calling on the National Assembly members of Akwa Ibom extraction to work with their colleagues from other parts of the country to ensure an expeditious passage of this all-important Bill. We were witnesses to how the Delta State Government, stakeholders and Federal Lawmakers of Delta extraction ensured the prompt passage of the twin Bill which established the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko in Delta State.
*East – West Road, Section V (Oron-Calabar)*
In 2012, the Federal Government approved the construction of the East West Road, Section V (Oron-Calabar) phase 1 in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. It was widely believed that the extension of the East-West road, will among other things, reduce greatly travel time from Oron town to Calabar from three hours (3) to fifteen (15) minutes. It will also reduce the high level of casualty in the water-ways involving Oro indigenes who travel by speed boat. Furthermore, it will reduce vehicle operating costs, opening up access to various riverine communities and the proposed Ibaka Deep Seaport. In addition, there will be increase in economic activities that will be generated as well as creating employment opportunities for over 2,500 skilled and unskilled workers, including engineers, technicians, and artisans. Up till date, construction has not commenced. We call on the Federal Government to ensure the immediate commencement of work on this critical project given immeasurable value it will add to the economy of the State, the sub-region and the entire nation.
From issues raised above, it is unarguable that Oro Nation is ill-treated by both the State and Federal Government as well as oil companies operating in the area. Our place in Akwa Ibom State is particularly pathetic as there are conscious attempts to deny us our due as the largest oil producing community and the third largest ethnic nationality in the State. Oro Nation contributes at least 80% derivable revenue of oil into the coffers of Akwa Ibom State from statutory allocation.
Having been severely marginalized politically and emasculated economically despite being the single largest contributor to the wealth of the State, the relocation of the Seaport from Ibaka to any other part of the State will never be acceptable by Oro people. If Akwa Ibom State and the Federal Government of Nigeria fail to look into our plight and urgently take necessary steps to correct them, Oro people will have no option than to take their destiny in their hands. Perpetual injustice will inevitably result in restiveness and a longing for self-determination.
Finally, we wish to state that Oro people will no longer tolerate a State in which the “goose that lays the golden egg” is treated as slaves whose people are miserable, poor and underdeveloped.
‘A stitch in time saves nine’
Dr. Monday E Dickson
Oro Think Tank
Mr. Victor B. E. Abia
Oro Think Tank