In the past few days, there has been a debate on social media on the Anioma people of Delta state, Nigeria, being Igbo or not.
Many Nigerians, especially young folks expressed their views on the issue, with most of them going with the argument that the Anioma people are not Igbo and they will identify as one.
Prominent Nigerians like the former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Delta billionaire, Ned Nwoko are both from Anioma.
Okonjo-Iweala in particular identifies as Igbo and this makes one to question if the Anioma people are truly Igbo people or not.
A particular user on the platform identified as @Chxta who is a historian gave an expository explanation on why an Anioma man is Igbo.
Last year I took my friend and partner, @TundeLeye
to my homestead. In going to that area, we did not cross the Niger River (Oshimmiri in my native dialect) the way most people cross it these days. Rather, we went the old way.
We took a boat from Cable Point (Ikpele Nmili) in Asaba, and 12 minutes later, we were sharing a beer with some of my acquaintances at Onicha Marine.
You see, for those who know the history, Asaba and Onitsha, prior to the building of the bridge, were quite closeknit.
The Igbo people came from different parts of what is today’s #Nigeria, and settled in the area that they now call home.
This, centuries worth of migration, mixing and consolidation, was anything but harmonious or planned.
However further research has shown me that some of what I wrote then was incomplete, but I will refrain from saying “wrong”, because I am unfit to untie Elizabeth Isichei’s shoelaces, and it was from her 1976 work, A History of the Igbo People, that I drew heavily for that piece.
In the last few days there has been a lot of argument on Twitter about whether the Igbo speaking people of Delta State in #Nigeria are Igbo, or something called Anioma.
Some people from this area have pointed out that they have been victims of taunts by some Igbos from the East of the Niger, who have themselves said that Delta Igbos are not Igbo.
Both sides of this argument are right, but one tweet I saw was an outright lie.
There is no one from the East who will call a native Anioma person “Onye ofe mmanụ. That slur is reserved for Yoruba people as the stereotype is that Yoruba can’t cook, so drown their soups in oil and pepper to cover the lack of culinary skills.
The words used for the various peoples of the former Bendel are: Ndị Ika to describe Delta Igbos; Ndị Idu to describe the Bini people; Ndị ohu (a slur) to describe Esans (and the history of this is actually linked to Benin); Ndị Usobo to describe those in the “proper Delta”.
Now, the problem with most of #Nigeria, is that we don’t know where we are coming from, so it’s kinda hard to know we’re going to.
Too many Igbo people both East and West of the Niger, do not know where they are coming from.
Referring back to the piece I highlighted earlier, I pointed out that, “The Anioma sub-group is divided into two, Enuani and Ukwuani. Enuani and Onitsha people migrated from Igala along with Ishan.”
In the intervening years, I’ve had discussions with older men in Onitsha, Idumuje-Ogboko, Onicha Ugbo, Atani, Obosi, Issele Azagba and Ibusa, and built a more complete profile.
Yes, some Onitsha people indeed came from the Igala area, but most claim their ancestry from around Benin (possibly from what is now called Igbanke), who fled East sometime in the 16th Century to escape the wrath of Oba Esigie.
Eze Chima’s crew founded a number of towns along the way - Ọnicha Ugbo, Ọnicha Ọlọna, Issele Uku, Issele Azagba, and then some crossed the great river and settled at Ọnicha Mmiri, today known as Ọnicha, or as British colonists 3 centuries later transcribed it, Onitsha.
Now, to cross to what became Onitsha, the ụmụ Eze Chima must have crossed the river at the point where the water is calmest. The area was called Ikpele Nmili but was rechristened Cable Point by the British when they set up their communications soon after decimating Asaba.
These Ụmụ Eze Chima were helped to cross by the locals who had themselves settled there two generations earlier under the leadership of Nnebisi, who had himself left his hometown, Nteje in today’s Anambra State.
Nteje itself has Igala origins, and I have an appointment with the Eje of Ankpa in today’s Kogi state, to discuss this relationship (note the title of their traditional ruler - Eje, and then relate it to Nteje)
According to Dennis Osadebey in the book, Building A Nation, Nnebisi was the son of an Nteje woman, Diaba, who had gotten pregnant for an Igala man, Ojobo.
Nnebisi grew up in Nteje thinking he was of the kindred, but one day, after a quarrel, he was told that his father was not from there, so he could not take part in land sharing. He thus left Nteje with his followers, and followed a route which brought him to the great river.
If you look at a map of those areas, it is quite easy to trace the route taken by Nnebisi, which must hae taken him through Nsugbe, and then along the Anambra River (Ọma Mbala), and then to the point where the Anambra River joins the Niger River.
That precise point where the Anambra River joins the Niger River, is coincidentally, the precise point where you can take an eight minute boat ride and land at Cable Point in Asaba.
Nnebisi and his people crossed, landed at Ikpele Nmili and decided to plant their crops there for the year. A year later, after a great harvest was (of course the area is rich in alluvial soils brought from upstream by the river), they decided to settle there.
Nnebisi called the place Ani Ahaba (We have settled in this land), and four hundred years later, some white chap hearing the name that the natives called their land, wrote Asaba in his map, and not Ahaba.
That man was Carlo Zappa, an Italian priest who was appointed Prefect of the Upper Niger by the Catholic Church. Zappa spent a lot of time converting the natives in both Asaba and Onitsha, and all the way to Ojoto, East of the Niger, and Agbor, West of the Niger.
A look through Catholic records during the Ekumeku resistance will show that at the turn of the century, most of the Catholic priests in what is now the Diocese of Issele Uku in Delta State, came from the Onitsha area, as they were all under the same ecclesiastical province.
A look at the roll call of the dead from the Aba Women’s affair of 1929, shows that the wife of the Sanitary headman in Opobo was from Asaba, which kind of tells you the direction in which people went before the split of Southern Nigeria into East and West in 1954.
Up until that point in 1954, many from the Igbo speaking areas just west of the Niger River, found it easier to cross the river to do their business. And why not?
The distance between Asaba and Owerri is just 102km.
Asaba to Enugu is 125km, while Asaba to Umuahia is 142km.
All of these places are closer to Asaba than Warri, which in modern Nigerian geopolitics is in the same state as Asaba.
Warri is 176km from Asaba.
The Asaba man, when he arrives in either of Enugu, Owerri or Umuahia, speaks the same language as the people in those places, barring the normal dialectal differences that occur in languages that are spread over large geographical areas