As we approach the 50 years anniversary of the creation of the defunct South Eastern State (present Akwa Ibom and Cross River States) and Rivers State out of the defunct Eastern Region, I intend in this essay to give an historical genesis of the defunct Calabar Ogoja Rivers State Movement which championed the creation of another region for the Eastern Minorities in the old Eastern Region of Nigeria.
The present Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers State were formerly provinces in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria which was created in 1945 with the coming into force of the Richard Constitution.
The Richard Constitution came into force on 1st January 1946. One of the hall marks of the Richard Constitution was the division of the Federation of Nigeria into three Regions namely Northern, Western and Eastern!
Before then ( in 1939) the Governor General, Sir Hugh Clifford had divided the country was divided into the Southern province into Western and Eastern Provinces.
Recall that on 1st January 1914 the amalgamation of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. However, while the Southern province was severed, the Northern Province was left intact till 1975 when it became Northern Region.
The defunct Eastern Nigeria was composed of twelve provinces namely Abakaliki, Uyo, Owerri, Aba, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Ogoja, Calabar, Enugu, Okigwe, Bende and Degema.
The United Nigeria Independence Party was formed by Dr. Okoi Arikpo (SAN); Chief I.I Murphy; Professor Eni Njoku; Wenike Briggs ; Justice Udo Udoma , Prince Takon of Ikom, etc. after the crisis that erupted in the Eastern Region House of Assembly following the forced resignation of the Leader of Government in the Eastern Region House of Assembly, Professor Eyo Ita.
After the forced resignation of Professor Eyo Ita, his position was taken over by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. This incensed the minorities of the East in the Eastern Region House of Assembly. Professor Eni Njoku was from Arochukwu.
The Aros are part of the Cross River Igbo. Others are Ohafia and Abiriba. These Cross River Igbo group are culturally, historically and anthropologically related to the Ejagham (Ekoi) and Efik people of the Cross River Region.
Indeed the founder of Arochukwu (in present Abia State) was an Ejagham Prince known as OSIM from Ejagham Kingdom of Akamkpa . One of the cultural traits the Cross River Igbo share with the Ejagham (Ekoi) and the Efik is the revered and prestigious Mgbe society .
Note the Efik calls it Ekpe. The Cross River Igbo traced their ancestry to the Ejagham (Ekoi) ancient Kingdom known as Akpa. So in the fight in the Eastern House of Assembly in 1963 between the Igbo and the Minorities, Professor Eni Njoku unexpectedly supported his kith and kin from Calabar and Ogoja to the consternation of the Igbo.
The name ” Eni” is a typical name of the Ejagham/Efik people. My maternal grandmother was called ” Eni”. She graciously named one of my younger sisters ” Eni”.
The Ibibio/Anang people version of ” Eni” is “Ini”. These minorities legislators came together to form the United Nigeria Independence Party to champion the cause of the Eastern Minorities.
This was the genesis of the agitation of the Eastern Minorities for the creation of the Calabar Ogoja Rivers State.
The President of the Calabar Ogoja Rivers State Movement was Justice Udo Udoma and the Secretary General was Dr. Okoi Arikpo.
The United Nigeria Independence Party quickly allied with the Action Group to continue to clamour for the creation of the Calabar Ogoja Rivers State.
The COR State was greatly assisted by Chief Awolowo. The delegates that attended the London Constitutional Conference from the Eastern Minorities were mostly from the United Independence Party.
They were also delegates from the minorities that attended the London Constitutional Conference who were sponsored by the NCNC.
For example, Chief Neil Ubi Ofem, Member of the British Empire( MBE) of Ugep, Chief Ofem was a prominent NCNC leader from the old Obubra Division. He was a First Class in the Eastern Region House of Chiefs representing Abakaliki province.
There was 12 First Chiefs in the Eastern Nigeria House of Chiefs representing the region 12 provinces.
The following were members of the Eastern Region House of Chiefs : Chief N.U Ofem (Abakaliki); S.A Essien (Annang); Ika Ika Oqua 11 (Calabar), Sampson A. Adoki (Degema) ; Ako Okwoli II (Enugu) ; J. O. Okudare (Ogoja); N. N. Anyika (Onitsha); Johnson Osuji Njemanze (Owerri); J. Mpi (Port Harcourt); J. N. Wachukwu (Umuahia); Eket Inyang-Udo (Uyo) and Zumoh. V. Efeke (Yenagoa).
Administratively the old Obubra Division has variously been part of Ogoja and Abakaliki provinces respectively in the old Eastern Region.
The Civil War broke out on the 29th July 1967 when Colonel Ojukwu announced the breakaway of the old Eastern Region from Nigeria to form the Republic of Biafra in protest against the killing of people from the Eastern Region in the North.
However some of the leaders from Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers (Bayelsa; Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers States) such as Justice Udo Udoma; Dr. Okoi Arikpo; Wenike Briggs; Chief I.I Murphy etc were not comfortable with their people being part of Biafra.
They quickly formed a lobby known as the “Federalist” and declared that Nigeria must remain one and threw their weight behind , the then Federal Military Government under the young General Yakubu Gowon.
In a remarkable gesture of reciprocity and a mastermind stroke to break Eastern Nigeria solidarity, General Gowon on the 27th May 1967 answered the age long prayers of the Calabar Ogoja Rivers people for their autonomy and State by creating the defunct South Eastern State (now Akwa Ibom and Cross River States) and Rivers State (now Bayelsa and Rivers State).
Dr. Okoi Arikpo was appointed Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Trade while Chief Wenike Briggs was appointed Federal Commissioner for Social Welfare in the Federal Executive Council constituted by General Gowon.
Brigadier General Jacob Udoaka Esuene was appointed Military Governor of the South Eastern State.
Brigadier General Esuene was then a young Lt Colonel in the Nigerian Air force that was founded in 1963.
Navy Commander Spiff was appointed Military Governor of Rivers State. So the minority people have come a long way.
He was a young dashing Naval officer who made history when he was appointed at the age of 24 years old!
By Okoi Obono-Obla