From Simeon Nwakaudu, Makurdi
ONE of the most passionate calls for the creation of new states in this dispensation is coming from Benue South Senatorial District, which is predominantly occupied by the Idoma, Igede, Ufia and Akweya ethnic groups in. The call for the creation of Apa State has been on for 28years, with the leaders of the community insisting that they could only develop if the state was created.
And of that period, the appeal reached its crescendo during the late General Sani Abacha regime, when the state was almost created due to the pressure mounted by the leaders. However, for yet to be identified reasons, the move failed, despite coming second in the list drawn by the Committee on State Creation. And in place of the state the people agitated for, they got three local councils.
The driving force for the agitation for Apa State has been the allegation of marginalization and perceived attempts to destroy the opportunity of the people of Benue South to develop.
Leaders of the Benue South have refused to rest on their oars as regards the campaign. Of recent, the agitation has taken a higher tempo, with the formation of the Movement for the Creation of Apa State with over 100 members to mobilize efforts and contacts for the creation of the state.
The Secretary General of the movement, Chief Benson Abounu, told The Guardian that two issues drive the people’s crusading. The first point is the quest to develop the area, which he complained has been neglected by successive Benue State Governments. The second point is the entrenchment of the marginalization of the Idoma people by the Tiv-led government in the state.
Early this year, a Tiv leader and traditional titleholder in the Tiv Area Traditional Council, Chief Abu King Shuluwa, started a conflict that almost consumed the state.
Shuluwa had claimed that the Federal Government was assisting the Idoma to marginalize the Tiv as regards federal appointments. The Idoma people saw the allegation as a plan by the Tiv people to take their alleged marginalization in the state to a new level.
Therefore, the Movement for the Creation of Apa State stepped up its activities, claiming that the Tiv people were simply voicing their utter hatred for the Idoma neighbours and their plans to further deny them of their rights in the state.
According to Abounu, the call for the creation of Apa State is not rooted in sentiments, since the area possesses the population and economic viability to stand as a state. Besides, he said the landmass and the mineral resources of the present Benue South were far more than what most states in the country possess today.
He said that the 1963 census put the Idoma population at 493,000 while the 1994 estimates stood at 1.3 million people, with the present 2009 estimates placed at 2.6 million people sub-divided into nine local government councils that are contiguous. The councils are Ado, Agatu, Apa, Obi, Ogbadibo, Ohimini, Oju, Okpokwu and Otukpo.
Abounu noted that the people of Benue South were eager for self-actualization and development, which, he said, could not be achieved under the Benue State due to glaring differences between the Idoma and Tiv people.
A document released by the Idoma Elite Forum – another group seeking the creation of Apa State – insists that of the 19 companies that exist in the state, only two are located in Idomaland. But none of the two is functional, while the state government has seemingly abandoned the construction of the Igumale cement factory in preference for the Mbatiav cement factory in Tivland.
The group also said that out of the 14 tertiary institutions in the state, only two are in Idomaland. They claimed that even the two in Idomaland were poorly funded, with no attractions to technocrats.
In a position paper for the creation of Apa State signed by its leader, Sunday Och’Otukpo, the forum said the marginalization of the Idoma people had taken the form of denying the people admission into the Benue State University. The group said that the 2008/2009 admission list released by the university indicated that out of 3,600 admissions granted, only 600 were from Benue South.
The group also alleged that since it complained about the actions of the university, the school has embarked on secret admissions on the second list, which is now only seen at the office of the respective heads of departments.
As the forum noted: “Under the present situation in Benue State, with admissions in Benue State University only available to Tiv people, only the creation of Apa State will salvage the Idoma people from the political and educational grave dug for them by the Tiv. We solemnly seek Apa State to develop our area as we see no hope in the present Benue State.”
In a similar vein, the Okela K’Idoma, a youth group agitating for the creation of Apa State, claims that the marriage between the Idoma and Tiv people in Benue State had collapsed irretrievably and the only way for peace to reign in the old Benuewas for Apa State to be created, so that the Tiv people could take full control of Benue State alone.
In an interview with The Guardian, President of Okela K’Idoma, Charles Okoh, regretted that even the has continued to allow itself to be manipulated against the development of Idomaland as a result of politics and marginalization.
He said that the same House that voted for the excision of Idomaland from Benue State on August 21, 1992, has again taken up the fight against Idoma people in the present dispensation.
Okoh said: “In the present Benue State, the state Governor at the moment is Tiv, the Speaker is Tiv, the Chief Judge is Tiv and the ministerial slot for the state is also occupied by a Tiv man. We Idomas are not complaining anyway.
“Any debate on marginalization in Benue must also take note of employment and recruitment into the State Civil Service or State Government Parastatals where Idoma people are grossly under represented (and) TIV language is the lingua franca in the State Secretariat because more than 85 percent of the state workers are Tivs.”
The group said that the collective psyche of Idomas had been brutalized in Benue State over the last 33 years, insisting that only the creation of Apa State would assist the Idoma people to rise above the moment of deliberate pain that had been inflicted on them.
Nonetheless, owing to the high level of mobilization by the Idoma people for the creation of Apa State, the movement has received endorsements from two prominent Tiv leaders. Governor Gabriel Suswam, while receiving the movement in his office, said that he was in support of the agitation. He, however, advised the Idoma people not to be provocative in their agitation.
Also, the Speaker of the State Assembly, Terseer Tsumba, considered in Idomaland to be leading the House to attack Idoma interests, last week shocked everybody at Otukpo when he declared his support for the creation of Apa State.
But the question on the minds of analysts remains if the proposed Apa is viable and ready as a state. Its proponents insist that at present there are facilities scattered across the area to support the take-off of as a state.
Interestingly, the creation of Apa State was the most prominent campaign promise of Senate President, David Mark, an indigene of Benue South, who is representing them at the National Assembly.