UNVEILING AKOKO EDO TO THE WORLD: THE OLDEST, LARGEST AND MOST MARGINALISED LGA IN NIGERIA
by Omowumi Olabode Ekundayo (PhD)
Today, Akoko Edo is unarguably the oldest LGA in Nigeria and arguably the largest LGA in terms of clusters of villages and land mass. It is a miniature Nigeria comprising 43 sprawling towns and villages bordering Ondo to the west, Kogi to the north and Etsako to the south.
In the colonial era, Akoko Edo was administered as part of the Kaba Province and later as an integral of the Afemai/Kukuruku Division. It was renamed Akoko Edo in 1963 out of the former Kukuruku/Afemai Division as one of the defunct Mid-West and Bendel LGAs created to protect minority peoples’ interests. Akoko Edo has roughly thirteen (13) sub-ethnic groups and languages, the largest being Okpameri who have twenty-five (25) towns and villages, Uneme (five villages), and then such monolingual settlements as Enwan, Ososo, Etono-Igarra, Sasaro, Atte, Ikpeshi-Egbigere, Okpe-Ijaja, Oloma, Akuku and Kakumo-Anyaran, in addition to English, Pidgin and Yoruba used as lingua franca. Apart from Etono-Igarra and Anyaran-Kakumo, all the others are Edoid languages, which share a lot of similarities of vocabularies and structures, but they share no mutual understanding. Kakumo-Anyanran is Yoruboid while Etuno-Igarra is a variety of the Egbira language predominantly used in Kogi State. Beside Etono-Igarra, which migrated from Kogi up north, all the other villages trace their origin to the ancient Benin Empire, Ife and some other Yoruba ancient civilisations. Hence, the tag Akoko Edo. Akoko Edo breath-taking sierras are beauties of tourism to behold, lying there untapped by Government and its easy-going natives, particularly around Somorika, Ososo, Ogugu, Onumu, Ojah, Akiosu, Damgbala, Erhunrun and Osi-Aiyegunle. These areas also have some of the largest deposits of solid minerals in Africa.
Even a cursory observation and hurried excursion across Akoko Edo by anyone will quickly reveal that it is a dilapidated, most marginalised and abandoned zone in terms of local-government-area creation and splitting since 1960, in resource allocation, employment and substantial government presence.
While all the local government areas created since colonial and post-colonial times have been split to several areas, it has been Akoko-Edo the same yesterday, the same today and, we hope it will not be, the same forever.
The defunct Mid-West, which was created following a fairly conducted referendum in June 1963 and renamed Bendel State in 1976, had nineteen (19) LGAs of which the Benin region, beginning from Benin City down to Akoko Edo, had eight (8) LGAs and three (3) nearly equal senatorial districts. The first is Edo South (Edo-Benin) with (a) Oredo LGA (Benin City), (b) Orhionmwon (Abudu) and (c) Ovia (Iguobazuwa). Second, we had Edo Central (Esan/Ishan) with (a) Agbazilo (Ubiaja) and (b) Okpebholo (Ekpoma). Third was Edo North (consisting of the multilingual Owan, Akoko Edo and Etsako people) with (a) Akoko-Edo (Igarra), (b) Etsako (Auchi) and (c) Owan (Afuze).
So, Edo South had three local areas as well as Edo North while Edo Central, the smallest then in both land mass and population, had two LGAs. Equitably in that era, all the State fingers, though not equal in sizes, had equal access to employment, allocation of resources and positions. Where Edo South produced three Commissioners, Edo North had three as well and Edo Central had two. The same equity applied to employment and allocation of resources at that time.
Fast forward from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to 1991 when General Ibrahim Babaginda split Bendel State into Edo and Delta States. The old Benin Province retained its three Senatorial Districts, but more local areas were then created, giving Edo South six, Edo Central four and Edo North four. Etsako was divided into two: Etsako West and Easy. Akoko Edo and Owan were not touched.
Subsequently, Abacha added more LGAs in 1996. Edo South now has seven, Edo Central five, Etsako, three and Owan now two. Akoko Edo remains one! ONE SPRAWLING LGA! Welcome, flagrant marginalisation and inequity in Federal and State employment and appointment!
Just a wink away from Lamkpese, Imoga and Bekuma, a distance of less than two kilometres, are Mangogo and Ogori, two monolingual villages Akoko Edo’s neighbours who have been cut to Kogi State. Ogori-Mangogo is one local government area. The two villages combined are not up to one town in Akoko Edo, for example Ososo, Igarra, Enwan, Ibillo, Ojirami, Ikpeshi-Egbigere, Atte, etc. Daily, Akoko Edo people envy Ogori-Mangogo Local Government Area beside them. If we should follow the parameter of Ogori-Mangogo and the pattern of local government areas in Northern Nigeria, then Akoko Edo should have a minimum of ten local government areas. Oh yes, indeed!
Local government creation or splitting DOES affect all the areas of our life. The implications of creating more LGAs are not far-fetched. Let us look at a simple cabinet sitting scenario in the Government House for instance. The ratio is often seven Edo Commissioners versus five Esan, three Etsako, two Owan and one Akoko Edo! And assuming the Federal or State Government is employing graduates for the Civil Service on a ratio of two workers per LGA, where the Edo nation gets 14, Esan will have 10, Etsako 6, Owan 4, Akoko Edo 2! Invariably, the two for Akoko will be dragged and torn to pieces by the contending sub groups in the area: Okpameri versus Uneme, Etono versus Ososo, Enwan versus Ikpeshi, etc. This is one of the major causes of perpetual disunity and ethnic suspicion in Akoko Edo. Once the rest of Edo people take the lion share of the kill and throw ugboloko (bone) to Akoko Edo, the indigenes fight one another to the finish, like famished dogs, to possess the bone thrown at them. The battles for very limited positions and employment often tend to be fierce and life-threatening in Akoko Edo, as again displayed in the recent general elections of 2023.
Federal and State Government presence in Akoko Edo is nothing to make a song and dance about. The highest Federal presence here is the quiet Federal Government College at Ibillo and the highest of State Government presence is the Local Government Training Centre at Bekuma. In Edo South, we have University of Benin, Benin City, College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi, if it still exists, Edo Polytechnic, Usen, College of Education, Ekiadolor, now upgraded to Federal University of Education. Why was this Federal University of Education not located in Akoko Edo or Owan? In Edo Central is Ambrose Alli University, which opens up Ekpoma, turning it a promising cosmopolitan city, and the College of Education at Igueben. There is the Specialist Teaching Hospital at Irrua and the National Institute of Construction Technology at Uromi. So, Edo Central is fully open up for socio-educational advancement. Owan manages to host the College of Physical Education, whatever be its state at present. Etsako has several Federal and State institutions, most prominent among them are the popular Auchi Polytechnic and Edo University, Iyamo sited in the same vicinity some five or so kilometres apart. Recently, the Otaru of Auchi stated that Auchi Polytechnic would soon be upgraded to a university, hopefully. However, NONE, NONE, NONE whatsoever in Akoko Edo! Yet, they say Edo, Okpa ma khin : Edo people are one. Are we really ONE?
In appointments to Federal and State Government top positions, the marginalisation of Akoko Edo has become institutionalised. Akoko Edo remains the only LGA that has never produced a Governor or Deputy and never a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Never! Not even a Speaker of the House of Assembly, until Hon. Kabiru Adjoto bulldozed his way through sheer determination and radicalism to that seat towards the end of his tenure that elapsed in 2019. Edo South people have produced several Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Some of them are Prof Emmanuel Emovon in Babangida’s regime, Chief Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia during Abacha and Dr Osagie Ehanire, Health Minister at present. The Esan people have had several ministerial appointments as well; for example, Chief Tony Anenih, the late ‘Mr Fix It’, Chief Tom Ikimi and Engr. Mike Onolenmenmen, not to mention Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, Babaginda’s Deputy Head of State. The Etsako people have had Chief Tony Momoh and now Hon. Clement Agba. We cannot forget the towering influence of the late Admiral Mike Akhigbe who created Etsako Central Local Government for his people and locate the headquarters at Fugar, his home.
Do you know that Rear Admiral Akhigbe came to the burial of Rear Admiral Victor Oduaye at Bekuma in the early 1990s, stating that he was once a ‘boy’ and ADC to the late Rear Admiral Oduaye? He promised in his funeral oration for Admiral Oduaye that he would ensure that another LGA was carved out of Akoko Edo to honour and remember Oduaye. But when it came, he took it to Fugar, his home! We do not begrudge him though, as Nigerians would say in this circumstance, if na you nkor? May their souls rest in peace!
The fact is that all the others we have mentioned here ensured that new local government areas were created for their people and the headquarters located in their villages in addition to their influencing huge allocations of resources and infrastructure to their areas. Chief Tom Ikimi achieved that for Igueben, so did Chief Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, just as Major General Innih and other illustrious Etsako people influenced the upgrading of Auchi Technical College founded in 1963 to a Federal Polytechnic in 1973 while our own Igarra Technical College is now verandahs and leaking roofs for dangerous reptiles, resting goats and other mammals chewing their cuds. In the same vein, Governor Ambrose Alli located Ambrose Alli Unversity in Ekpoma, constructed and tarred major roads in the area. Comrade Oshiomhole sited Edo University in Iyamo, his village, and constructed all major roads in Etsako. Again, we may quip: If na you nkor? Unfortunately, Akoko-Edo had no such heavy weights in power to turn the tables of final decision making and execution in favour of Akoko Edo people.
The worst network of roads in Edo State abound in Akoko Edo. Some roads in the area such as the ones from Ibillo to Ikiran-Ile, Imoga to Kakumo, Ikiran-Oke to Anyaran and Kakumo, Imoga to Aduge, Imoga to Lamkpese, Imoga to Okengwe, Ekepedo to Ojirami and Ojirami to Erhunrun, Ibillo to Ogugu, Onumu, Oyan-oza and Ojirami and Igarra to Somorika have never ever been bitten by the teeth of any road construction caterpillar. Movements around Akoko Edo on motor cycles are expensive, bumpy, stressful and sickening rides across road pits, gullies and sinkhole quagmires in rainy season and blinding dust causing cough and catarrh in dry season.
The pattern is also established in the emergence of State Governors, as if Akoko Edo does not exist at all. From 1967-1975, it was Samuel Ogbemudia from Edo South. From 1975 to 1976, it was Major General Agbazika Innih from Etsako. From 1979 to 1983, we had Prof Ambrose Alli from Ekpoma, Esan. In September 1983, Brig. General Samuel Ogbemudia was elected as Civilian Governor but General Buhari’s coup overthrew that Republic in December 1983. The military held sway from 1983 till the early 1990s when Chief Odigie Oyegun (Edo South) became Governor and Rev. Peter Obadan (Oke-Ora in Owan) his Deputy. Unfortunately, the emergence of General Sanni Abacha as Head of State again truncated that budding Republic of the early 1990s. Then in 1999, Chief Lucky Igbinedion (Edo South) became Governor and Chief Mike Ogiadomhe (from Fugar Etsako) his Deputy. From 2007 to 2008, we had Prof Oserhieme Osunbor (from Iruekpen, Esan) with Lucky Imasuen (Edo South) as his Deputy. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was Governor from 2008 to 2016, Chief Mike Odubu (Edo South) his Deputy. At present, Mr Godwin Obaseki has been Governor since 2016, and Comrade Philip Shaibu (Etsako) his Deputy.
The frequencies for each district and local area are given here. The Edo Benin nation have had five Governorship tenures and two Deputies. The Esan nation have had two Governors. Etsako have had two Governorship tenures and two Deputies. Owan have had one Deputy. However, Akoko Edo heterogeneous people have had none: No Minister, no Governor, no Deputy Governor, hardly any Federal or State Permanent Secretary and no top-ranking military officers to perform developmental miracles for the area.
In all, we should appreciate the government of Mr Godwin Obaseki who quietly demonstrated that Akoko is a marginalised area that needs to be de-marginalised. He commendably experimented with appointing two commissioners from Akoko Edo even though he picked them from one community where we have over forty communities giraffing at political power and positions. Truly, Governor Obaseki deserves commendation for some kind of special attention his government has accorded Akoko Edo. We recall that in the beginning of his government in 2016, he appointed three Akoko Edo experts in their various fields as Chief of Staff, Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Assistant on Writing, Research and Documentation respectively, an Owan lady as Private Personal Secretary (PPS) and Professor Ihonvbere as Head of Strategic Planning Unit in addition to Comrade Philip Shaibu, the Deputy Governor. Shortly, they faced untold personal and official challenges, as other senatorial districts started kicking and remonstrating that it was an all-Edo-North affairs in Government House. Subsequently, the COS, Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Assistant had to resign for various reasons. The first PPS was reposted and replaced with another PPS of Etsako provenance. In Mr Obaseki’s administration too, Akoko Edo produced a Speaker in Hon. Kabiru Adjoto and later a Deputy Speaker in Hon. Yekini Idaye. Therefore, we may assert to this extent that Governor Obaseki Government did not grossly marginalise Akoko Edo and Owan. May be as a result of some daunting socio-political and economic challenges and dynamics, Akoko Edo and Owan could not sustain the tempo and leverage?
Based on this summary and insight, the big question is who should take over from Mr G.N. Obaseki? Which Senatorial District should produce the next Edo Governor and his or her Deputy, if we apply the ethics and principles of zoning and power sharing? The Esan people believe and are canvassing that it is the turn of Esan to produce the next Edo State Governor. In other words, after Oshiomhole from Etsako in Edo North and Obaseki from Benin in Edo South, it is Esan’s turn in that order and, as you know, these three nations are homogeneous in language, history and culture. They speak the same language of many varieties, unlike the Tower of Babel we have in Akoko Edo: thirteen languages spoken in 43 communities and thus thirteen lines of divide. In the area christened Afemai/North Senatorial District, Akoko Edo is the first underdog and Owan the second. Unlike the other two districts, Akoko Edo and Owan are configurations of divergent sub ethnic groups and languages.
Well, we recognise individual’s and group’s fundamental rights to their political aspirations and advancement continuously or continually. All considered, nobody is physically preventing Akoko Edo and Owan people from aspiring and jostling for power. Power is not a birthday gift, or is it? Furthermore, some may argue that there is no formal State-wide pact stipulating that state leadership at the helm should be rotational. But has rotation and zoning not been the established slogan and practice in Nigeria popular politics? Also, it may be argued that politics is a game of numbers and the survival of the fittest, the most tactical, united, unrelenting and often, in Nigeria, the most Machiavellian and wildly mean. We do hope that Akoko Edo and Owan will embrace the reality that power is not stretched to a beneficiary like a birthday gift. We jostle for power. The kingdom of God suffereth symbolic ‘violence’ and… Given the background depicted above, we recommend that one, the in-coming President from any of the three contending parties should appoint two Ministers from Edo State, one from Akoko Edo and the other from Owan. Two, Governor Godwin Obaseki should appoint three Commissioners from Akoko Edo, as he experimented with two commissioners recently. Three, Akoko Edo and Owan people should form a strong political alliance or strengthen any existing one to form a strong power bloc. Four, we are using this medium to touch the conscience of Edo South, Edo Central and Etsako people to remember Akoko-Edo and Owan. As our native proverb says, the broken piece of earthen-ware pot from which cocks and hens take water is the same from which Pigeons drink water. Five, we urge Akoko Edo and Owan people to brace up. If Edo Benin, Edo Esan and Edo Etsako can do it several times over in all arms and tiers of government, what stops Akoko-Edo and Edo Owan from achieving it? Where there is a will, there is always a way, so sings Bob Marley. If Akoko Edo or Owan produces a formidable aspirant, the other senatorial districts will give him or her serious audience and consideration, or will they not? It is the dawn of a new era. Who will go for Akoko Edo or Owan?
The 1963 occurrence.
The present Edo state had four Divisions: Benin Division, Ishan Division, Etsako Division (present Etsako and Owan) and Akoko Edo Division.
In the then Bendel House of Assembly , Benin Division had 4 representatives. Ishan Division had 4 representatives. Afenmai Division (Etsako and Owan) had 4 representatives, and Akoko Edo Division had 4 representatives. Each representative represented a State Constituency.
Today, Benin Division has seven Local governments. Ishan Division has five Local governments. Afenmai Division (Etsako and Owan), has five Local Governments. Akoko Edo has remained one Local government Area!! These have implications for state constituencies. Out of guilt feeling, they gave Akoko Edo, with one Local government, two state constituencies.
Now, what do we do with this article? I suggest we should print it into pamphlets and give it state-wide distribution. No one with a conscience would read it and sleep well, especially those in authority.
The other thing they did to us was the deliberate suppression of our population during the various censuses. I mean deliberate suppression.
Omowumi Bode Ekundayo is a public speaker, writer and the National Coordinator of Movement for the Advancement of Akoko Edo People MAAP, established since 2016.