Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s write up titled “ We Remember Differently: Tribute to Chinua Achebe @ 82” posted in Saharareporters on 24th November 2012 and published in The Guardian of Sunday, November 25, 2012 on pages 34- 35 was a good effort.
In the said write up, Chimamanda did well in bringing out more meanings and interpretations of the issues raised by Prof. Chinua Achebe in his latest book titled “There was a Country…” especially as they concern late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the civil war starvation strategy. She also made an interesting point to an unreading nation that “… we must hear one another’s stories”, therefore there was need to discuss Biafra and related issues people suffered or enjoyed differently during the 1967-1970 civil war. I will come back to this later.
Two of such issues, Chimamanda wrote, were the abandoned properties issue and the changing of Igbo names all in Port Harcourt. She said: “Abandoned property cases remain unresolved today in Port Harcourt, a city whose Igbo names were changed after the war, creating ‘Rumu’ from ‘Umu’”. Take note that Rumu is an Ikwerre word for children and was not created from the Igbo word Umu. Also, Port Harcourt is the political and oil city of the Ikwerre people. So the two issues were directed at the Ikwerre people. Ikwerre is an ethnic group in Rivers State and was under the Eastern Region during the regional government era in Nigeria, between 1951 and 1967. The then Eastern Region government was under the total domination and control of the Igbo; just like the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani did in Western and Northern regions respectively.
As Ikwerre, I understand the old misunderstood argument by the Igbo that Ikwerre people, after the civil war, changed their Igbo names to Ikwerre names. Also, the Igbo claimed that Ikwerre did this to deny being Igbo. These incorrect claims by the Igbo must be corrected.
Let me educate Chimamanda that Ikwerre names were first changed by the Igbos when the latter colonized the former under the Eastern Regional Government. During this time, Ikwerre was under total social, economic and political control of the Igbo, hence it was extremely difficult then to challenge the changing of Ikwerre names by the Igbo. Who was Ikwerre to challenge Igbo maximum leadership actions in Ikwerreland? We know the indignities suffered by late Chief E. J. A. Oriji in the Eastern House of Assembly and indeed in the hands of the Eastern Region government by insisting that Ikwerre is not Igbo.
Another means through which Igbo names came into existence in Ikwerre was via other interactions between the Ikwerre and the Igbo. But note that these interactions were initially with mutual respect but later became one between a stronger culture (Igbo) and a weaker culture (Ikwerre) within a new rampaging political regime that favoured the Igbo culture aimed at becoming an absolute dominant culture in the region. For example there were names like Port Azikiwe (Igbo name) for Port Harcourt; Igirita (Igbo name) for Igwuruta; Amaweke (Igbo name) for Rumuokwuta; Obinna (Igbo name) for Ovundah; Onyemaechi (Igbo name) for Yelemaekhile etc. Take note that the non-Igbo names were there before they were changed by the Igbo into Igbo names. Natuarally, the Ikwerre did not like the changing of such names; but Ikwerre could not challenge these local colonizers.
Also recall that during the Eastern Regional Government, Igbo language was the second official language used to teach in schools throughout the region, to worship in churches and used in offices. Some Ikwerre who dared to use Ikwerre language in the church for example were punished by the Igbo who were in charge of the churches in the first place (see page 145 in my book titled: The Challenge of Ikwerre Development in Nigeria 2011).
It was in these circumstances that, especially after the creation of Rivers State, Ikwerre people got relieved and encouraged enough to change some of the Igbo-imposed names back to their original Ikwerre names. It was this second change of names that Chimamanda and indeed most Igbos see as Ikwerre’s effort at denying being Igbo. That is not true! The real reason for the second change of names was to return the names to their true and authentic Ikwerre names.
Notwithstanding this second-change-effort, Igbo names still exist in Ikwerre as relics of Ikwerre history, just like Nigerians still bear English and Arabic names. Is a Nigerian bearing David Mark an English or German? So far, researches on Ikwerre origin do not overwhelmingly suggest that Ikwerre is Igbo. But long time lopsided relationship between Igbo and Ikwerre had led to the semblance of Ikwerre as Igbo. This has led to Ikwerre being stampeded in Nigeria as a minority ethnic group and Ikwerre had suffered all kinds of humiliation, marginalization and denials within an unbrotherly Federal Republic of Nigeria. Do you know what it means to live between two enemies? Ikwerre live between the Igbo whose aim remains to own the areas up till the Atlantic Ocean and have a port there for her businesses; while the Ijaw will not allow that to happen. But Igbo cannot get to the coast without passing through Ikwerre and other lands which do not belong to them. And Ijaw needs some land to claim true ownership of the coast and adjoin land areas. This is why Port Harcourt had remained essentially an economic and political issue between the Igbo and the Ijaw: hence, you hear the Igbo insisting that Ikwerre is Igbo and Ijaw saying Ikwerre is Igbo so that they can claim Port Harcourt. So for the Ikwerre, it has been a tug of war to sustain her identity in this heavy acrimony.
Now, let us go back to the issue of discussing Nigeria’s past that had planted hate, intolerance, indiscipline, corruption and ultimately underdevelopment in Nigeria. Those issues to be discussed should include the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates on January 1, 1914; Bakassi Island; the creation of Nigeria into three regions that appeared like sharing out Nigeria to the so-called majority ethnic groups of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani; the ethnic minorities second class status in Nigeria; the election and denial of Nnamdi Azikiwe into the Western House; the sacking of Prof. Ita Eyo by Azikiwe from the Eastern House; the imprisonment of Obafemi Awolowo; the Weti; the 15th January 1966 coup; the 1966 genocide against the Igbos across Northern Nigeria; the 29th July 1966 Danjuma coup; Biafra; the Gideon Orka coup in April 1990; Dele Giwa; the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election; the killing of MKO Abiola; Kenule Saro-Wiwa etc. The success of this discussion may mark the beginning of the true healing process of Nigeria’s hateful past because these are the key issues that had embittered Nigerians against themselves and indeed Nigeria. May I suggest that if this discussion is ever allowed to hold and it succeeds, it must naturally lead to a national conference for the making of the Nigerian peoples’ constitution? Nigeria cannot succeed with its peoples having deep hurt and spite in their hearts, while fickle selfish unprogressive minds in politics and business pretend that all is well. Never mind, the Nigerian revolution will take care of them!
Therefore, if there is any ethnic group that desires to participate in the discussion Chimamanda suggested in her article, that ethnic nationality is the Ikwerre who is still leaking her unhealed and festering wounds inflicted on her by her serial colonizers: the Igbo, Ijaw, Britain and Nigeria.