By Dr. Dumbi Osani
Some time ago, I wrote a short article on the wrong continued use of the expired acronym ‘Ndokwa’ and cautioned against the plot to decimate the Ukwuani ethnic identity by some people who are determined to surreptitiously substitute our ancestral name, Ukwuani, with the (now irrelevant) appellation, ‘Ndokwa.’ I carefully explained the specific administrative purpose for which Chief Christopher Enuenwosu suggested the acronym. I also explained that since the local government given the name no longer exists, the name has automatically ceased to be relevant. I advised that it would be ridiculous for anybody or any group of people to invent a new ethnic group, or a new name for an existing ethnic group, in the 21st century. I emphatically pointed out that there are ethnic groups in Delta State and elsewhere that have very strong socio-political affinity without having to change their separate, ancestral ethnic names. I stated that people’s achievements are not necessarily dependent on their population. I mentioned the ubiquity of natural resources in Nigeria and opined that everybody would benefit from the resources of his native land with good governance. Finally, I mentioned some of how we could make progress as a people.
I did not intend to write anything further on this unnecessary issue of “Ndokwa,” the confusion it generates, and the absurdity it represents. This was because I thought I was sufficiently explicit in what I wrote and that my people would listen. I also did not want to join issues with anybody because I loathe arguments for the sake of arguments. However, I have found it necessary to provide further classifications on the issue because of the reckless ways one or two people reacted to my article. Besides, I have read some social media write-ups, inaccuracies, distortions, and fallacies that need to be corrected because they are intolerable and misleading.
I appreciate many people’s sensible reactions to my article as they evidenced remarkable thoughtfulness, objectivity, and understanding. Going further, as I believe that intellectual and moral honesty is desirable in whatever we do or say, I am compelled to react in some detail to Gideon Ishiekwene’s skewed response to my article to set the records straight. He began by saying that despite my long journey through the history of Ndokwa from Aboh division to date’, I ‘ended up unsuccessful in my ‘attempt to prove that “Ndokwa’’ has, indeed, expired.’ He concluded that one of my suggestions in which I stated that the three local governments in our constituency could be named Ukwuani West, Ukwuani East, and Ndosumili L.G.A, ‘invalidates’ my ‘claim’ that “Ndokwa is an expired acronym.” He also faulted my suggestion that our constituency could be named Ukwuani/Ndosumili Federal Constituency. Elsewhere, he said I had contradicted myself.
The statements that I was ‘unsuccessful’ in my ‘attempt to prove’ my ‘claim’ that “Ndokwa” is an expired acronym, and that I had contradicted myself are both woefully erroneous. In the first place, I did not ‘attempt to prove’ anything. Secondly, the word “Ndokwa” has expired is not a ‘claim.’ It is a reality that can be seen by any rational person. Part of what I did in my article was to draw attention to historical, linguistic, and cultural certainties that some people have failed to understand or chosen to ignore.
Much of the flaws in Gideon Ishiekwene’s arguments, and in those of some other people, is brought about by their inability, or unwillingness, to examine the exact meaning of the word, “Ndokwa” as determined by the contingencies that prompted its invention, and the purpose that it was designed to serve. Besides, on this absurd issue of “Ndokwa,” it seems that some people are eternally swayed by consuming sentiments and not by reason. There is no pre-existing word known as “Ndokwa” in the Ukwuani lexicon or the lexicon of any other known language. It was coined in other to solve administrative problems at a time in the past. As a name, it is expected to function as a label for a specific entity, refer to a person, place, thing, animal or institution, etc. As an acronym, it has no referent other than the one assigned to it by its inventors. So, when people say (Ndo) stands for Ndosumili, the pertinent question is, Ndosumili, what? Is it the Ndosumili people or the Ndosumili language? It is none of these. When they say (Kwa) stands for Ukwuani; the question is also, Ukwuani what? Is it the Ukwuani people or the Ukwuani language? It is none of these.
To know the actual referent of ‘Ndokwa,’ it is imperative to understand the seminal statements of those who coined and suggested the acronym. Below are the words of Chief L. G. C. Asibelue, in an interview he granted to Vanguard newspaper, which was published on Saturday, 5th April 2008:
I gave the name Ndokwa … There was a lot of bickering and acrimony within the native authorities regarding the continued use of the Aboh division. Their grouse was that Obi Oputa II of Aboh was high handed and overbearing. The Ukwuani native authority was more vocal in the denunciation, and as the problem was almost getting out of control, the Resident, Delta Province Mr. R.J.M Curwen had to summon a meeting of all the native authorities at Kwale … After the meeting, the Resident told me that this was a test for me … He said I should find a solution to the problem. I at once put on my thinking cap, and the name came out of the blues. The N stands for Ndoni, Do for Ndoshimili, and Kwa for Ukwuani is NDOKWA …after the war; however, when the military was creating states and Local Governments, the name Ndokwa Local Government surfaced, encompassing the three former native authorities. I was pleased [sic] that day. Now, However, Ndoni is in Rivers State (underlining, mine).
In my earlier article, I did not bother to dwell on Chief Asibelue’s part of the history of ‘Ndokwa’ because the name was never used for the purpose he intended since the old administrative system at the local level ended after the Civil War. However, it must be pointed out that the ‘bickering and acrimony within the native authorities’ was not about Aboh people or the language they spoke; but about the name ‘Aboh Division.’ Chief Asibelue certainly suggested a change of the name, Aboh Division in such a way that ‘Aboh’ would be replaced with ‘Ndokwa,’ a new name that would cover the existing native authorities: Ukwuani District Native authority, Ndosumili District Native Authority, and Ndoni Native Authority. It has to be emphasized that it was the name of an administrative unit that was to be changed, not the names of the ethnic groups in the area. Since the colonial system of ‘Division’ became out-dated after the Civil War, the name ‘Ndokwa’ could not become lexically functional because the entity that was intended to be its referent did not materialize. Even at that point, the name automatically expired. That was why Chief Asibelue rightly used the word ‘surfaced’ when the acronym reappeared as the name of a local government – Ndokwa Local Government, which comprised ‘the three former native authorities.’
A careful look at Chief Christopher Enuenwosu’s own words reveals what the word ‘Ndokwa’ was intended to refer to. In an article titled, “Why Aboh division was not split into local governments in 1976”, published in Ndokwa Vanguard in January 2014, he stated as follows:
As part of the Local Government Reforms, the names of some Divisions were changed. The name of our local government was also examined. The government was aware of the controversy surrounding the name, ‘Aboh Division,’ and the spate of agitation for change since the colonial time when it was adopted in 1938…. Before then, the area was known and called ‘Kwale.’ But rather than go back to the former name of ‘Kwale’ …. And spark off another form of agitation, I was asked to suggest a new appropriate name. My suggestion of ‘Ndokwa’ an acronym of the names of the two districts, Ndosumili and Ukwuani, was approved without hesitation, and so the local government was christened Ndokwa local government (underlining, mine).
Thus, like Pa Asibelue, Chief Enuenwosu did not change the name of the Ukwuani ethnic group or the language; neither did he change the Ndosumili people’s name or their language. Both Patriarchs, in their wisdom, did not invent a new ethnic name for the people of the old Aboh Division, neither did they seek to create an ethnic amalgamation in the area. ‘Ndokwa’ is an acronym coined with syllables from the existing administrative units’ names in the region. First, they were called District Native Authorities; later, the names became District Councils. At the time that Chief Enuenwosu suggested the name ‘Ndokwa,’ there were two district councils in the area: Ndosumili District Council and Ukwuani District Council. So, the acronym (Ndo) stands for Ndosumili District Council, not Ndosumili people or language; while (Kwa) stands for Ukwuani District Council, not Ukwuani people or language. Since the district authorities from which the name ‘Ndokwa’ was first coined and the local government council, which was later to become its referent, have all become defunct, that the acronym has expired is incontrovertible.
Acronyms are in most cases ‘ad-hoc’ coinages. Once their referents cease to exist, they cease to have any lexical meaning. For instance, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is an acronym. Once the agency ceases to exist, the name automatically expires, even though each of the constituent words remains meaningful on its own. Similarly, SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) is an acronym. With the reported scrapping of the unit from the national police force, the name has ceased to be relevant, except if it is cited retrospectively.
There is a huge difference between a people, their language, and the administrative authorities that govern them. This is why, for example, we can talk about the government and people of Delta State, or the government and people of Nigeria, or the government and people of Bomadi Local Government. In my article, I did not say that Ndosumili as a people has expired; I did not say that Ukwuani as a people or a language has expired. My suggestion that our local governments could be named Ukwuani West, Ukwuani East, and Ndosumili L.G.A. does not invalidate the statement that ‘Ndokwa’ has expired. I have already shown that the acronym ‘Ndokwa’ is a combination of the names Ndosumili District Council and Ukwuani District Council. It is the district councils and their name that have expired, not the people.
In my suggested names, Ukwuani West and Ukwuani East L.G.A. mean local governments named after the Ukwuani ethnic group (not district council); while Ndosumili L.G.A means a local government named after Ndosumili ethnic group (not district council). This suggestion is inline with my position that instead of igniting identity chaos by insisting on imposing ‘Ndokwa’ on the people, the two related ethnic groups should uphold their separate identities, while maintaining a strong sociopolitical unity predicated, especially on the fact that they are both in the same federal constituency.
Finally, I meant well when I suggested that our own constituency could be named Ukwuani/Ndosumili Federal Constituency. But Gideon Ishiekwene thought that this was self-contradictory, and therefore concluded as follows: ‘As we all know, Ndokwa is the acronym for Ndosumili (DO) and Ukwuani (Kwa). Therefore any retention of the compound name Ukwuani/Ndosumili invalidates any claim that “Ndokwa” is an expired acronym’. This hasty conclusion is faulty because it is based on the wrong premise. Secondly, he glossed over the nuances of words and the intricacies of language. First of all, in the name “Ndokwa,” it is certain that he did not care to find out what (Ndo) and (Kwa) specifically refer to as determined by the inventors of the acronym. If he did, he would have known that neither the Ukwuani ethnic group nor Ndusumili ethnic group is synonymous with ‘Ndokwa.’ I have already explained the difference.
As I said before, there is no pre-existing word as ‘Ndokwa’ in the Ukwuani lexicon. There is also no linguistic rule that stipulates that they must automatically translate to an acronym whenever two or more words co-occur in any context. The close occurrence of the two words, Ndosumili and Ukwuani, in any context, does not mean ‘Ndokwa.’ The expression Ukwuani/Ndosumili is not a compound name (the slash or slant is used for separating items and not for compounding). The expression consists of two separate words with the same referent. It is not synonymous with ‘Ndokwa.’ Thus, Ukwuani/Ndosumili Federal Constituency means a constituency that comprises two local governments named after Ukwuani ethnic group and one local government named after Ndosumili ethnic group. I did not contradict myself in my write-up. I have taken pains to provide the above details so that people would avoid pitfalls on this farcical issue of ‘Ndokwa.’
- Refusal to See the Facts
Many Ukwuani patriots have been objecting to the continued promotion of the word “Ndokwa” for very justifiable reasons. Still, Gideon Ishiekwene does not want to listen to other people’s opinions except those that support the creation of an artificial ethnic group. This is why he could state, in one of his responses, that, “Using the fear of our cultural identity as a reason for objection is not only fraudulent but also cannot stand any scrutiny?” I was shocked that he could make such an uncharitable statement even when it is obvious that there are genuine reasons to fear. Is it not true that a “Ndokwa language foundation” was said to have been set up to harmonize the Ukwuani language? The language is spoken in the Ndosumili area to produce a common language known as ‘Ndokwa’? (Steve Okecha, ‘Ndokwa: A Language?’ Ndokwa Vanguard April 2014, P.19). Is it also not true that some people were once engaged in ‘commenting vehemently’ on Ndokwa history when there is no ethnic group with that name? (Steve Okecha “History of a Non-Existent Ethnic Group?”. The Investigator, October 2016, P.5). Is it a lie that there is an ongoing project to produce a “Ndokwa Bible” written in the Ukwuani language? What about the sinister plot to rename all our local government councils and our constituency by removing the name Ukwuani and replacing it with “Ndokwa” so that, with time, our ethnic name will fade into oblivion? No ‘scrutiny’ is needed to show that the patriots are right. It is also not difficult to know who is or are ‘fraudulent’ and mischievous. The subterfuge is clear.
- Open Deceit:
To my other suggestion that the local governments should be renamed Ukwuani West, Ukwuani Central, and Ukwuani East LGA, the response was, “It is no news that our Ndosumili siblings will not accept a change from Ndokwa East to Ukwuani East LGA for now. Hopefully, and with more hard work to convince them of our oneness, and the advantage of a united “Ukwuani nation, they may come around to accept the change in the future.” What a wise counsel! We, the Ukwuani, should throw our identity into the jungle and accept a new one that is a nonentity; so that, perhaps in the next century, if “our Ndosumili siblings” are thoroughly convinced, and they “come around to accept the advantage of a united Ukwuani nation”, then we would all go deep into the jungle to Search for, and retrieve our discarded identity. Who we are, we are; and we do not need to convince anybody to be part of us. We are Ukwuani people and will not shed our identity period.
My other suggestion was that if our Ndosumili brothers insist that they are not Ukwuani, the LGAs and the constituency should be named Ukwuani West, Ukwuani East, Ndosumili LGA; and Ukwuani/Ndosumili Federal Constituency. This option was also dismissed in preference for adopting the word “Ndokwa” for all the LGAs and the Constituency. To my suggested name of our constituency, the direct response was this: “Instead of Ukwuani/Ndosumili, why not Ndokwa? Not only does it unify the names of the three LGAs, it is also shorter and easier to pronounce”.
The reasons given for the preferred names are puerile. Shortness, uniformity, and ease of pronunciation are certainly not requirements for the naming of LGAs and Constituencies. The general pattern is that names of Federal Constituencies (FC) comprise the names of constituent LGAs. A few examples are provided below:
Delta State: Bomadi/Patani FC, Okpe/Sapele/Uvwie FC, Isoko North/South FC, Ughelli North/South/Udu FC.
Edo State: Egor/Ikpoba-Okha FC, Esan Central/Esan West/Igueben FC, Esan North-East/Esan South-East FC.
Anambra State: Anaocha/Njikoka/Dumukofia FC, Nnewi North/ South/Ekwusiogo FC, Oyi/Ayamelum FC.
Rivers State: Degema/Bonny FC, Okrika/Ogu-Bolo FC, Khana/Gokana FC, Ahoada West/Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni FC.
Ondo State: Akoko North-East/Akoko North-West FC, Akoko South-East/Akoko South-West FC, Akure North/Akure South FC.
Oyo State: Ona-Ara/Egbeda FC, Iseyin/Kajola/Iwajowa/Itesiwaju FC, Olorunsogo/Orelope/Irepo FC.
Benue State: Vandeikya/Konshisha FC, Apa/Aguta FC, Ado/Ogbadigba/Okpokwu FC.
Kaduna State: Birnin-Gwari/Giwa FC, Zangon-Kotaf/Jaba FC, Chikun/Kajuru FC, Makarfi/Kudan FC.
Yobe State: Gulani/Gujba/Damaturu/Tamuwa FC, Bursari/Geldam/ Yienusari FC, Nangere/Potiscum FC.
Adamawa State: Demsa/Numan/Lamurde FC, Jada/Ganye/ Mayo Belwa/Toungo FC.
Sokoto State: Sokoto North/Sokoto South FC, Binji/Silame FC, Bodinga/Dange – Shuni/Tureta FC, Kware/Wamako FC. The above examples speak for themselves. No further comments are needed to reveal the untruths that are told in their efforts to degrade the Ukwuani ethnic group.
- ‘Ndokwa’ Is Not An Ethnic Group:
The pro-Ndokwa apostles have been told that Ndokwa is not an ethnic group, but they insist that this is “wrong and cannot be supported by empirical evidence.” What evidence do they mean? ‘Ndokwa’ is not listed as an ethnic group anywhere in the world. Ethnicity is defined from the tribal, national, or racial perspective. From the tribal perspective, ethnic groups have distinct languages; the Yorubas speak Yoruba, the Urhobos speak Urhobo, the Itsekiris speak Itsekiri, the Esans speak Esan, the Ukwuanis speak Ukwuani. What language does the ‘Ndokwan’ speak? I have already shown that Pa Asibelue and Chief Enuenwosu coined and used the word as a name for an administrative unit, not an ethnic group. Since ‘Ndokwa’ is not an ethnic group, it is meaningless to say ‘Ndokwa people.’ Some people also frequently use the expression, ‘Ndokwa nation’. This is embarrassing; educated people should be careful what they say. Since ‘Ndokwa’ is not an ethnic group, there cannot be a ‘Ndokwa nation.’ Ethnic nationalities are not created overnight. Their origin is concurrent with the genesis of the tribe or race. One can talk about the Ukwuani nation or Ndosumili nation. Let us all be realistic.
- Not a Geopolitical Expression:
In order to cajole people into accepting a nonexistent identity, the pro – Ndokwa enthusiasts keep saying, ‘Ndokwa is a geopolitical expression.’ But the truth, however, is that ‘Ndokwa’ is not a geopolitical expression. A geopolitical region or zone, or ‘expression,’ may be defined as a legally delineated space within which political activities and the earth’s physical features are interrelated. It must have a specific constitutionally recognized identity. Usually, the word ‘geopolitical’ is used about countries, but this can be extended to include states, counties or local governments, and cities. Nigeria is a geopolitical region. The name refers to a country. Delta State is a geopolitical region; it is a state of the Federation. What is Ndokwa’s legal identity? It is not a country, not a state, not a local government, not a city. Yes, it was a geopolitical region from 1976 to 1987, but not so today.
- The absurdity of Ethnic Invention:
Instead of considering my advice that it would be ridiculous to attempt the invention of a new ethnic group in the 21st century, they dismissed it offhandedly, citing cases of immigrant communities in the U.K and the U.S. I expected them to cite, at least, one example from anywhere in Nigeria or Africa. Racial or ethnic communities in cosmopolitan centers worldwide should not be compared to indigenous, primeval ethnic groups in Africa or elsewhere. However, even in the U.K., the U.S, or other multiracial countries, the various immigrant groups in those places retain their umbilical cord links with their national, ethnic, or racial origins in their native lands. They do not invent new and separate identities for themselves. No doubt, there can be cases of ethnic amalgamation in the world. But that is another matter. The Ukwuani people and the Ndosumili people are not immigrants. They are indigenous to the regions they inhabit.
- Identity Crisis?
Not so long ago, an article titled, ‘Ndokwa and the Identity Crisis’ appeared on social media. There is nothing like ‘Ndokwa’ now, so there can be no identity crisis question. Even when ‘Ndokwa existed from 1976 to 1987, and there was no identity crisis because it was the name of a local government, not the people. Today there is no identity crisis in Ukwuani, and people should stop trying to create it.
7.The language you speak does not make your identity?
We were surprised to read their statement: “The language you speak does not make your identity. The Australians, Canadians, and Americans speak English, but that does not make them English” I do not need to explain the context of this statement. Those who read the article in which it appeared can recall it. First of all, I don’t think it is apt to compare language situations in multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural countries to a situation in one or two tiny ethnic groups. In Australia, Canada, and America, there are levels of identity. English (with French in the case of Canada) is the most commonly used language in those countries, and it expresses national identities only. Beyond the English language, there are hundreds of other languages (including aboriginal languages) that express the ethnic and racial identities of the native speakers within those countries. Analogously, in Nigeria, English is our official language; it is a second language and marks only our national identity. Beyond English, several hundreds of indigenous languages are indicators of the various ethnic groups in the country. The language that one speaks ‘makes’ his identity – national, racial, or ethnic. At the ethnic level, language is the core feature of identity because it is both an element and a vehicle of culture.
- We are all Ndokwa People?
We also read: “we must get used to the fact that we are all Ndokwa people, and our language is Ukwuani.” Fortunately, there is no “Ndokwa” today. If there were, then the cited statement would have been a magnificent piece of incongruity. We are Ukwuani people, and our language is Ukwuani.
- Wrong Interpretation
We have also seen: “The foresight of our forebearers who coined the name “Ndokwa” should be appreciated, instead of attempting to blame them.” The author of this statement seems to like the acronym “Ndokwa” so much. There is nothing wrong with that, but he needs to understand what the coinage really meant.
10.No Strength in Artificial Ethnic Creation
They have often repeated the slogan, ‘We are stronger together,’ but I do not know the kind of togetherness they mean. The Ukwuani people and the Ndosumili people have always been together. We were in the same Division in the past; we are in the same Constituency today. In addition to other positive factors, the fact that we are in the same federal constituency is enough for unity and strength. The politicians in the region can work closely together. Besides, facilities in Ukwuani land and Ndosumili land can be of mutual benefit to people in both localities, irrespective of their separate but related ethnic names. There is no need for anybody or any group of people to nurse a hegemonic ambition.
Just as it is not right to impose our Ukwuani identity on anybody else, so will we not (under any circumstance), change our identity to ‘carry along’ anybody, or for the misplaced search for an illusory political strength. Who told them that the development of a place is necessarily dependent on the population? Who told them that in Delta State, there is a contest of ethnic populations on which every development depends?
We, the Ukwuani, have come a long way. Even though we have not achieved much so far, there are significant marks of the progress we have made as a people over the years; there is no need to list them. The same thing can be said of the Ndosumili people. To change our ethnic name from Ukwuani to any other name, for whatever reason, would be the total loss of our identity. It would be the loss of our history, our folklore, our culture, our philosophy, our cosmology, and everything we were and are. It will be the burning of all books, all articles, and all our.
people’s stories about us and others. Our predecessors did not tamper with our identity; to do so now would be a criminal disservice to their memory and our people’s present and future generations. We are Ukwuani people, and we are proud to be so.
Our people’s marginalization has little to do with our population but more to do with several other factors. To think that ‘Ndokwa’ is the solution is absolutely laughable. As a matter of fact, where was ‘Ndokwa’ when a women teacher training college sited at Obiaruku was removed to Isiokolo in the early 80s? Where was ‘Ndokwa’ when a federal girl’s college to be sited at Obinomba was taken to Igbuzor? Where was Ndokwa when the opportunity to have a federal polytechnic at Kwale slipped through our fingers? A state government polytechnic approved for Aboh has apparently not yet taken off. Where is Ndokwa? It is not the name or the population that matters, but the people. Both the Ukwuani people and the Ndosumili people should return to the status quo and then build a unity based on mutual respect, mutual trust, and sincere co-operation.
The Right Way to Go
The Ukwuani people are not as united as they ought to be. They should re-examine themselves and work towards a change of attitude. It is time to do away with the syndrome of mutual distrust and hatred and inter and intra-communal acrimonies and feuds and come together as one united ethnic family. That is how we can make progress together.
The political class has a load of problems too. They seem to be far removed from the people, and they play politics for the self instead of politics for the common good. They are also guilty of disunity. Even when they belong to the same political party, most of them owe mini-allegiances to self-serving camps. At crucial moments they are incapable of collective action in the interest of the people. They are also known to always back the wrong horse at decisive moments.
Politicians should, please, not fiddle with matters of cultural identity in Ukwuani. They should show respect to our traditional institutions and consult thoroughly (not on social media platforms) with the people in matters of fundamental concern, and avoid ‘acting smart.’ Our political forefathers avoided sowing the seeds of crisis in the old Aboh Division by not tampering with our ancestral names. The present generation of politicians should follow in their footsteps. They should focus on attracting economic, educational, and social facilities to our fatherland instead of getting involved in unproductive maneuvers. Finally, they should broaden their political terrain by forming strategic alliances with neighbors because in Nigerian politics, no person or group, no matter how big or strong, is an island.
The task of developing our region is, however, not for the politicians alone. Everybody should be involved. Our entrepreneurs, wherever they may be, should look back and think of what they can do to open up our area. A few industries, big or small, can improve the lives of the people, such that instead of traveling to distant places in search of jobs that may not even be available, they would be happy working at home.
Together, and with God on our side, we can make our ani eze a good place to live in.