They are torn between two worlds. Being of the Igbo stock, their soul is in the South-East, but their bodies and homes are in Benue State, in the North-Central. That is not all. In Benue, where they are quartered, more for political considerations than for cultural reaons, they lament their lack: no roads, no water, hardly any sign of modern life.
They are Igbos of the Ezza, Izzi and Effium stock. Their kith and kin are in other parts of the Southeast, particularly Ebonyi State. They claim they are not fewer than one million scattered in four local governments of Benue State. And for close to 50 years since they were excised from their kinsmen, they have been living primitive lives.
Their pathetic plight is that the authorities in Benue, from the state to the local governments, have not seen them as part of the state ostensibly because they speak Igbo. On the other hand, the Ebonyi State government where they should have rightly belonged is helpless as they are not under its area of administration and authority.
The people allege that since their inclusion into Benue State they have not felt any government presence. None of their people were considered for employment in any of the two tiers of government. Indeed, in their lamentation, they are not in the scheme of things as far as government business is concerned in Benue.
“We have been on our own. No roads, no water, no electricity, no employment. We just wander about to help ourselves in our own way,” an octogenarian, Pa Nwankwo Aloh said, clutching a bucket in search of water.
Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam is said to have acknowledged their existence and concerns, even promising to address them, but that was during his first term in office.
Also, Mr Ogbu Igelega, spokesman of Ado Local Government Area, one of the councils where the Igbos are found in Benue, told our reporter on the telephone that one of the obstacles to the development of the Igbo-speaking areas of the state is their difficult terrain. Igelega said this makes access difficult, adding that the few places which do not present such challenges get government attention.
The spokesman cited the example of Etenyi which has 90 per cent Igbo population, saying the community “is being electrified at the cost of N17m”. He also said the Igbos occupy “important offices” in the council, adding that the assistant head of Revenue Development is Igbo, while the Senior Special Assistant on Inter-ethnic Relations is also Igbo.
The reporter met with the president, Benue Igbo Development Union, Nweke Cedrick Ifeanyi who narrated their ordeal. He said all they want is for the Benue State government to accept them since fate has lumped them together. He is of the view that if they can be given a sense of belonging, they would all wholeheartedly join in the effort to develop the state.
Ifeanyi does not expressly condemn their inclusion in Benue State, be he said if the other ethnic groups do not want them in Benue, the Federal Government should set up a machinery immediately to return them to their kith and kin in the Southeast, particularly Ebonyi State.
He sent a save-or-soul message to the Senate president, David Mark and Governor Suswam to come and save them from “this ignoble plight”, adding: “We are neither here nor there.”
In Nweke’s words: “The Igbos in Benue State particularly those in Ado, Oju, Obi and Okpoku LGAs of the state were in existence before the advent of Christian religion in Nigeria.
The Igbo found in Benue are: Umuezeokoha, Umuezeoka, Oriuzor, Umuoghara, Amaekka and Amaezekwe all in Ezza communities, Izzi, Ezzamgbo and Effium, these are the people who would have been in present-day Ebonyi State but due for the fact that the Nigerian government then carved us into Benue in order to use our population to suppress our Eastern population. Apart from the Ezza-speaking clan, particularly the people of Umuezeokoha that has over 300 villages, if you are to calculate the number of Igbo-speaking villages, you find out that we are more than 600 villages because three of the biggest markets in our area are all in the Igbo-speaking part.
The markets are as follows: Inikiri Ichari, Iddah, Iduokpe.
”But in all these places, we have been facing a lot of deprivation of our fundamental human rights to the extent that we do not have any project attracted by the government, be it local, state or federal. In fact we have become the rejected part of the country because local government identification letters are not given to us any longer.
“Before now we used to witness governmental attention in everything during and after colonial administration but since after the civil war we were dumped by the successive governments just because of our language difference.
“We do not have any drinking water, our source of water here is a dam which Fulani herdsmen do carry their cow to drink at the same place with us because the water is not covered.
“In the process of stopping them from coming to the water with their cow, it later resulted in the loss of five lives.
“We have no representative in local, state and federal levels. Mosquito nets that were given free of charge to roll back malaria have been sold to our people at the sum of N6,000 each. We have become slaves to our brothers because of language difference. No hospital, let alone health centre, we are seeing hell here in Benue State because of our language. I do not know whether it is a curse for someone to have fallen under a particular tribe like Ezza, Izzi, Ezzamgbo and Effium.
“Our women are dying every day during labour. Also our children are dying for lack of polio immunisation programme and other medical treatment needed to be given to a child at a tender age.
“Our roads are not passable. We have contributed so much not only to the development of Benue State but Nigeria at large. At least a place with over one million people in population has no primary school. We are therefore as a matter of urgency calling on federal government, our Southeastern brothers and any other corporate bodies to rush to our aid before water will come to our neck.
It is obvious that if we are speaking the same language with them we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this forbidden and undeserved situation like this one we are now.
An area with over 50 polling units, but we are benefiting nothing even on every of our market days they do come and sell their ticket (tax). We have been regarded as slaves in the country of our birth and our fore-fathers, we are also calling on our able president of the senate David mark to come to our help because after God we also contributed in making him what he is today and even Gabriel Suswan.
We can never regret why we are Igbos or deny being Igbo people before we are recognized in the country of our fore-fathers.” (Oblong Media)