Anioma people are the indigenous Igbo people located primarily in Delta State, Nigeria. They make up about one-third of Delta State and, for administrative purposes, are referred to as “Delta North,” thus contrasting Delta Central and Delta South, areas densely inhabited by the Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri, the other ethnic groups inhabiting Delta State. The Anioma region has a total population of 1,114,055, not including those Anioma communities located outside of Delta State.
The Anioma populace make up small numbers in neighbouring Edo State, specifically in Igbanke (Igbo Akiri), Ozo and Ekpon. The term “Anioma” means “good land” in Igbo and, coincidentally, is also an acronym derived from the four original local government areas, i.e., (A) for Aniocha, (N) for Ndokwa, (I) for Ika and (O) for Oshimili, M and A being common denominators found in the original four local government areas. The coinage was made by the founding father, Chief Dennis Osadebay, in 1951 and has remained the preferred indigenous name by which the people collectively refer to themselves. Sentimentally, there are also Anioma communities in parts of certain towns in Anambra State, namely Onitsha, Ogbaru, Akwukwu Obosi, Ozobulu and Ogidi. They can also be found in the Oguta and Ndoni areas of Imo and Rivers States, respectively. Anioma people, who had one identity prior to the coming of the Europeans, were balkanized after they lost the Ekumeku War against the British imperialism, in 1914, after 31 years of fighting.
The Ekemeku War was the longest resistance against British imperialism in Nigeria.
Anioma is located in the areas of the West Basin of River Niger, south-south within the present Delta state of Nigeria, it encompasses a land mass of about 6,300 km2. In the political matters of the state, Anioma is often referred to as Delta North as against the other peoples known as the Delta South and Delta Central in the same state. Anioma is bounded on the East by Anambra State, south-east by Imo and Rivers States, south Bayelsa State, south-west by Isoko, west by Urhobo people, north-west by Edo State and north by Kogi State. Anioma may therefore be regarded as highly contiguous to very many neighbours ethnic groups. The people have drawn experiences as a result of lying contiguous to numerous other towns, communities and states which characterizes the Anioma as one of the most peaceful regions in the country. (See Kunirum Osia, Anioma Association Inc, USA, May 24, 1997)
The Federal Government of Nigeria makes a distinction between Igbo, Ukwuani and Ika on cultural grounds and delineates them the status of distinct ethnic groups, yet the respective languages form part of what is known as an Igbo language cluster. Nigerians can always refer to the constitution should the need arise. A dialect of the Igbo language, Enuani, and two Igbo or Igboid languages (Ukwuani and Ika) are the primary indigenous languages. There are also small numbers of Olukumi, Ozzara and Igala-speaking communities.
Traditional life and culture
Anioma social structure is dominated by the use of lineages which are based loosely on the concept of uno, eboh', and idumu, which are major blood lineages; while ogbe and obodo are open and much more political. Uno is a small family unit comprising husband, wife, and children. The next lineage was Eboh, which includes the primary or nuclear family, the daughter or son in law, and the grandparents and the grandchildren. The Ogbe is a large structure which allowed non-blood relatives; it comprises the Idumu and some outsiders and it is best classified as a quarter in terms of demographics. The maximal concept is one that looks like a small town; this is the Obodo.
The Biafran war caused disaster for the people of Anioma in several ways. One was the federal recapture of the Midwestern region after it was invaded and occupied by the Biafran troops commanded by Colonel Victor Banjo on August 12, 1967. Here Biafran troops encountered the Nigerian troops attempting to take over Onitsha which also caused disaster for the people of this region. The Federal troops stationed at Umunede on the main Benin-Asaba road and pushing through Isele-Uku, finally took over the Anioma town of Asaba on 8 October 1967. The special Biafran force headed by Colonel Ogbugo Kalu which later grew into the 63 Brigade, from across the Niger moved northwards and westwards to take over other Anioma towns. Ogwashi-Uku, Ibusa and Oku where also reportedly captured with many enemy stores and equipment also found by the Biafran troops, many of these equipment which could not be brought into Biafra were destroyed. However, the Biafran Army was able to re-establish their presence once again in the region.
"Colonel Nwawo was quickly dispatched to assemble whatever troops he could find and organise them into a fighting force. While 2 Division was carrying out massive public execution of all adult males in Asaba..." This region at the time of the Nigerian civil war was invaded and declared the "Republic of Benin" which lasted six weeks (8 August-20 September 1967) In essence, the Anioma region was volatile to both Biafran and Nigerian troops during the Nigerian civil war.
Some of the Biafran war commanders were of Anioma origin but the most famous of them all were Colonel Joseph Oseloka "Hannibal" Achuzie (Retd) and Capt. Anuku, who was the commander of Biafran Navy. Achuzie was a militiaman who played active roles in the invasion of Midwestern region which included his home town, Asaba. Achuzie can again be remembered for the very active roles he played in the defense of Onitsha against series of attacking efforts made by Colonel Murtala Mohammed to take over the city and constitute threat to the Biafran bids. He was often accused of propaganda gem. There was also Colonel (Later Brigadier) Conrad Nwawo another Anioma indigene who was Administrative Officer, Biafran Army Headquarters, former Divisional commander of the Biafran Army and a one time Nigerian Defence Attache in London. Others are Major Ananaba who effectively defended the main Uzuakoli-Umuahia road which was effectively achieved, Colonel Michael Okwechime was another Division commander of the Biafran army and once the Adjutant-General. Colonel Ben Nwajei formerly of the 53 Brigade was the first commander of the 14 Division, as the commander of 53 Brigade he never lost any battle for a relatively short time. He finally captured Oguta for Biafra. He was soon removed from command of 14 Division and all military duties by Colonel Ojukwu after he lost Owerri and told some members of delegates that visited him that it was so because he had no ammunition. Ojukwu accused him of demoralizing the civilians and attached him to Civilian Fuel Directorate. There still numerous numbers of Anioma indigenes who commanded the Biafran Army.
Civil War Genocides
The genocide of Anioma by Gen. Murtala Mohammed and Major Gen. Ibrahim Haruna (Retd), during the Nigerian Civil War started on the 21 of September, 1967 on the recapture of Benin City from the Biafrans sweeping large Anioma towns of Asaba, Ogwashi-Uku, Ibusa, Otutu, Ishiagu, Igbodo, Aboh and Ushisha but the massacres carried out in Asaba remains the most severe and unforgettable in which mostly helpless women, youths and children were killed in rapidity by the federal troops. It has been noted that the massacres were organized and mostly carried out under the supervision of Maj Gen Ibrahim Haruna (Retd) and the reason was that Gen Murtala Muhammed was aggrieved and suspicious of the Anioma as having aided their Igbo kinsmen to invade the Mid west.
Gen. Yakubu Gowon (Retd) the then Head of State would later apologize to the Igbo community, while Major-General Ibrahim Haruna, the General officer Commanding (GOC) Two Division of the Army during the Civil War while testifying at the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission Panel aka Oputa Panel held in 2004, insistently maintained that he had no regret for the Asaba massacres in which the Igbo were killed by his troops since it was motivated by sense of duty to protect the unity of the country, he stated this under cross examination by Ohanaeze Ndiigbo group.
After the independence of Nigeria, few Nigerian groups desired their own identity separate from forced colonial political and social institutions. The Anioma were no exception. As a wave of demand for state creation in the 1970s permeated the Nigerian political landscape, included in this movement was the yearning for Ndi-Anioma, land of the Aniomas as a separate political state for the Anioma people. This agitation gave birth to the demand of Anioma State, which though remains unrealized. In 2007, the National Assembly of Nigeria announced its willingness to allow the creation of one more State for the Igbo people, a committee to adopt a State for the Igbo was set up and led by Chief Emmnauel Iwuanyawu, this committee which failed in adopting any State for the region, threw out Anioma, stating that the creation of Anioma State would amount to an additional State for South-South region of the country. The Anioma people have renewed this agitation once again following another recent announcement by the National Assembly that seven more States may be created in the country to create balance among the various geopolitical regions in the country.Among pro Anioma Activist is Henry Ogochukwu have been promoting the creation of Anioma State through Anioma Peoples Association. Henry Ogochukwu is the President General of Anioma Peoples Association
Anioma in Delta State
Asaba (an Anioma city) has been the capital of Delta State since the creation of the state in August 1991, by the then Military president, Gen Ibrahim B. Babangida (Retd). This development continues to generate criticism from the people of the Delta south notably Professor Itsay Sagay, an Itsekiri, Dr. Temi Akporhonor and Professor Obaro Ikime backed by Urhobo Historical Society. In an article in The Guardian, August 15, 2002 Professor Itsay Sagay openly campaigned for the relocation of the state capital from the Anioma city of Asaba to the town of Warri in Delta south. This was preceded by the reaction of Dr Cyril Uchenna Gwam published in the defunct Post Express Newspaper of June 1999 and several internet forums in reaction to the publication of Obaro Ikime in which he argued amongst others that centrality factor had never been the major criteria for the location of State or Federal capitals. This was also followed by another article be Clem Okonji published in The Guardian, July 8, 2002 in which he maintained that Asaba had come to stay as the capital of Delta State. He further stressed that the peoples constituting the state are all located within the Delta region. Reactions in favour of the stay of Asaba as the capital of the state has since been supported by Henry Ogochukwu, Michael Ozah, Emeka Esogbue, Tony Odiadi, Emma Okocha and others alike. Dr. Temi Akporhonor would call for a political arrangement whereby governorship power would remain with what he termed 'The real Deltan' because according to him the capital of the state is located in the Igbo speaking town of Anioma. (Whither Delta state?, The Guardian, May 23, 2002) The strong resistance of this call has ensured that Asaba remains the state capital. Though all would unilaterally admit that a separate creation of another state from the present Delta State to constitute Anioma with the capital at Asaba, and Delta with state capital at Warri is necessary.
Anioma in Ohanaeze Ndiigbo
On November 29, 2008, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization announced the election of Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, an Anioma indigene as its President-General to pilot its affairs for the next two years. He was nominated by Delta State branch of Ohanaeze as their consensus candidate in a resolution reached at the palace of the Asagba of Asaba after the position was zoned to Anioma, one of the seven units that make up Ohanaeze Ndigbo. But in his acceptance speech, Uwechue expressed gratitude to all and called for unity among Igbo, which is said to possess the talent to and wealth it would take to take to address national issues, while also noting that the position given to him has created confidence that the Igbo from Delta State are accepted as brothers and sisters in Ohanaeze. Finally, he promised not to disappoint Anioma people as the race is for Anioma home and abroad.
Anioma has abundant oil deposits particularly in Ndokwa land, Akumazi, Umunede, Ute-okpu, Ute-erume, Ute-Ogbeje, Ekuku-Agbor, Nsukwa, Olodu, Ewulu, Idumuesah, Ejeme and other Anioma regions. Records also indicate that oil was discovered in Ubulu-Uno and Ubulu-Uku in 1958 by Shell B P Petroleum Company two years after the first discovery was made in Oloibiri now in Bayelsa state, but exploration of the oil was not carried out by the Federal Government. Anioma region is also rich in other mineral resources such as rubber.
Ethnic identity crisis
In recent decades, a significant number of Anioma indigenes have grown resentful towards the wider Igbo community and questioned whether or not they are “truly” Igbo, with many histories of Anioma towns being allegedly re-written to showcase a non-Igbo wave of migration and ethno-linguistic background. Many claim descent from the ancient Benin Kingdom, a movement which has been garnering more and more support following the stigmatisation that followed the Nigerian Civil War. Introspection of the Igbo denial in Delta State, however, may generally reveal that it is strongest in the Ndokwa and Ika territories and weakest among the Enuani, the latter of whom inhabit the Aniocha and Oshimili local government areas. Many theories have been postulated to explain this occurrence. Of particular interest, it has been suggested that the Ika were an aboriginal Igbo clan, with later migrations of settlers from the Benin Kingdom, owing to close proximity. The absorption of Edoid-speaking ethnic groups into Ika territory may have resulted in the attendant strong influence on the aborigines, in cultural and linguistic terms, providing fertile soil for Igbo denial. The same phenomenon may apply to the Ukwuani but, by virtue of less proximity with Edo State, to a lesser extent. Although many Ika and Ukwuani people maintain distinct cultural identities, they yet speak Igbo languages. The term Igbo itself has been conceived by many as a linguistic classification, encompassing all bia-speaking clans and with ethnic identity falling secondary to linguistic designation. As earlier mentioned, they are officially recognised as distinct ethnic groups from the Igbo.
Notable Anioma people
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- Chief. Sonny Iwedike Odogwu, business mogul
- Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum
- Dr. Andrew Azukaego Moemeka
- Dr. Cyril Uchenna Gwam, diplomat, international civil servant and international environmentalist
- Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the current Managing Director of World Bank
- Dr Elizabeth Isichei, prominent historian
- Dr. Isaac Nwaise, epidemiologist and health economist
- Chief Chris Agbobu, former Minister Of State for Defence and Agric/Rural Dev. Ministries
- Air-Marshal Paul Dike, former Chief of Defence Staff of Nigeria
- Professor Augustine Onwuyali Esogbue, scientist, the only African included in NASA
- Professor Buchi Emecheta, London-based author
- Chukwurah Joseph Udeh OFR, former Comptroller-General Nigerian Immigration Service
- Prof Eric Opia, former Governorship candidate of Delta State
- Mr Jim Ovia, M/D Zenith Bank
- Mr. Steve Nezianya, founder Host Media inc
- Prof. Joy Ogwu, former Mangaging Director of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs
- Professor Pat Utomi, Presidential Candidate and Founder of Lagos Business SchoolTony Elumelu, MD of United Bank for Africa
- Chief Philip Asiodu, former Federal Minister
- Obi senator Nosike Ikpo, former Senator of the Federal Republic
- Chief Sabastine Adigwe, former MD, Afribank NIgeria PLC
- Godswill Obielum, former Governorship Aspirant, Delta State
- Peter Okocha, Governorship aspirant, Delta State and Business Mongul
- Eddy Egwuenu, distinguished banker, co-founder Zenith Bank
- Austine "Jay-Jay" Okocha, former Captain of Super Eagles of Nigeria
- Sunday Olise, former Captain of super Eagles of Nigeria
- Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, former Super Eagles captain and Malian National Football Team Coach
- Nduka Ugbade, Nigeria's former football player and the first African to lift the world cup
- Demas Nwoko, prominent Sculptor of Nigeria
- Jude Chukwudi Dike, energy economist and prominent youth leader
- Comrade Henry Ogochukwu, President General, Anioma People's Association and the President Skill and Ideas Development Initiatives
- Dr. Newton Jibunor, famous Sahara traveller
- Nduka Odizor, former Lawn tennis player
- Bonny B. N. Umeadi PhD, Technologist and Inventor of Micro/Nanosensor Devices to monitor oil and gas pipeline system
- Dr Uche Honnah, President of Anioma, USA
- Arc. Kester Ifeadi, Chairman/CEO Contemporary Group and President Organisation For the Advancement of Anioma Culture(OFAAC)
- Engr. Emma Onyekwene, MD/CEO, Coolman Oil Services
- Oga Phillip Ijeh, Shift Manager Apm terminals
- Udeani, Chibueze. Inculturation as Dialogue: Igbo Culture and the Message of Christ. p. 11. ISBN 9042022299.
- Ikime O. (ed). Ground work of Nigerian history. Heineman educational books (Nigeria) PLC, Ibadan, 1980: 89-121.
- Onwuejeogwu MA. Igbo civilization: Nri kingdom and hegemony; London, Ethnographica, 1981.
- Obi Efeizomor II (Obi of Owa). Community development in Owa kingdom – the Nigerian factor. University of Benin press; Benin City-Nigeria; 1994: 303.