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HomeEditorialOpinionREDRESSING CLAN IMBALANCE IN AKWA IBOM

REDRESSING CLAN IMBALANCE IN AKWA IBOM

IME OKON (2)Impelled by the Ibiono Ibom representative, Ime Okon, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passes a resolution for a holistic review of existing clans in the state but the legislature may imperil this laudable initiative if it goes ahead with a public hearing that could engender unwieldy agitations and tension in the state

By Inemesit Ina

Governor Udom Emmanuel’s creation of three new clans in the state, last month, might have brought joy to the beneficiaries but it has also brought the issue of clan creation back to the front burner of political discourse in the state after a seven-year hiatus. It was predictable. Clan creation has always been a sensitive and an emotional issue.

The Member representing Ibiono Ibom State Constituency in the House of Assembly, Barr. Ime Okon, did not waste time in seizing the opportunity to redress the anomaly in his constituency. On Tuesday, last week, he brought a motion to the floor of the House for a holistic review of existing clans in the state with particular reference to Ibiono Ibom. Two days later, the House adopted the motion, passing it as a resolution to the Governor.

But by going further to plan a public hearing on the matter, the House might have unwittingly invited suffocating public pressure on itself and provoked unmanageable agitations which could possibly cause tension in the state, make the exercise unwieldy and even jeopardize it.

Clan Distribution in the State
With nine clans, Oruk Anam Local Government Area (LGA) boasts of the highest number of recognized clans in the state, followed by Essien Udim with eight clans and Okobo with seven. Next in line are Mbo and Urue Offong/Oruko with six clans each.

Others include Abak (five), Ikot Abasi (five), Itu (five), Nsit Atai (five), Ukanafun (five), Eket (four), Etim Ekpo (four), Ikono (four), Ini (four), Mkpat Enin (four), ONNA (four), Oron (four), Uruan (four), Uyo (four), Ika (three) and Obot Akara (three).

The LGAs with the least number of clans are Etinan (one), Ibeno (one), Nsit Ibom (one), Eastern Obolo (two), Esit Eket (two), Ibesikpo Asutan (two), Ibiono Ibom (two), Ikot Ekpene (two), Nsit Ubium (two) and Udung Uko (two).

The Three New Clans
Section 4 (3) of the Traditional Rulers’ Law Cap 134 Laws of Akwa Ibom State, 2000, gives the Governor absolute power on the creation of clans without recourse to the legislature.

It states: “Where the Governor is satisfied that there is an error in schedule 1 to this law or that it is right and proper to create new Clans or modify any or all of the provisions thereof he may, by order published in the Gazette, rectify the error or create new Clans or modify such provisions as the case may be and such modifications may be by way of addition, alteration or omission.”

In exercise of this power, the Governor approved the creation of three additional clans with effect from March 24, 2016, one each for Essien Udim, ONNA and Uruan LGAs.

In Essien Udim, Ukana Clan, the home clan of the Akpabios, was split into two along the line of the already informally existing Ukana West (two wards) and Ukana East (one ward) divides of the clan.

Similarly, Southern Uruan Clan, which boasted of six of the 11 wards in Uruan LGA, was divided into South-East and South-South Clans, with three wards each. The two new clans were already existent as two of the four geo-political zones in Uruan, the others being North (two wards) and Central (three wards) which hosts the Local Government Headquarters at Idu.

Awa Iman Clan, the home clan of the Governor which constitutes four of the 12 wards in ONNA, was also split into two.

Is Government Planning Creation of More Clans?
In its wisdom, the State Government might have acted to redress the clan imbalance in the three benefitting LGAs. So is Government planning to go the whole hog and redress similar or even more pressing imbalance in other LGAs by creating more clans? “Not to the best of my knowledge,” says the Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Victor Antai. He draws this writer’s attention to the financial implication of creating several more clans with the attendant payment of emoluments and provision of vehicles to more Clan Heads.

His Justice counterpart, Barr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, acknowledges that there are several demands for creation of more clans but states that approvals are yet to be given. Nwoko, who doubles as the State Attorney-General, promises to embark on a review of the laws of the state as directed by the House, pointing out that the review was long overdue since it was last done in 2000.

Ime Okon’s Crusade
Ime Okon, a former Chairman of Ibiono Ibom Local Government Transition Committee and Secretary of the Paramount Ruler’s Palace Council, appears so passionate about the cause for more clans in Ibiono Ibom.

He spoke of the frustration of his constituents in his motion: “Whereas since the announcement of the creation of these additional Clans, Ibiono Ibom people have at various fora, through calls, letters and personal contacts expressed to me their disenchantment, frustration and disappointment for being left out of the exercise in spite of many years of consistent and persistent demand for the creation of at least eight (8) additional Clans in the Council Area. Indeed, my people are dejected, wondering why they have not benefitted from the latest exercise.”

Next he made a case for Ibiono Ibom: “Whereas Akwa Ibom State presently has 2,664 recognized villages for statutory functions, out of which Ibiono Ibom alone has (221) two hundred and twenty-one, the highest in the State. In terms of population, we are ranked the 3rd most populated Council Area after Uyo and Essien Udim Local Government Areas, with a population of 188,605 going by the 2006 census figures. In land mass and in size, Ibiono Ibom is one of the largest Local Government Areas in the state, but regrettably with only two (2) recognized Clans viz: Ibiono and Ikpanya Clans. Please see Annexure ‘A’ to to this motion. Going by the figures as disclosed by the Annexure, it is conclusive that there is no justice and equity in the distribution of Clans in the state especially as it relates to Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area. Where lies the justice when less than ten villages in some Local Government Areas constitute a Clan while 221 villages have only 2 Clans? Certainly, it is lopsidedly distributed and is devoid of any logical explanation. Armed with their rich natural and human resources, Ibiono Ibom People have been contributing significantly to the overall growth and development of the State and have always been loyal and supportive of the Government of the day.”

And then his appeal: “And whereas, this injustice has been in existence over the years unattended but we are consoled that our Governor is a listening father who is always desirous of correcting any wrongs or injustice on his people duly brought to his attention.”

The House’s Resolution
When the motion came up for debate on Thursday, every Member that spoke supported it, understandably with an eye for his constituency as a would-be beneficiary.

In a unanimous vote, the House passed a resolution “urging His Excellency, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, to take a holistic look at the existing Clans in the state with a view to reviewing it to address, on merit, the interest of not only Ibiono Ibom but those of other Local Government Areas who may have suffered similar deprivation, for the interest of justice, fair play and peaceful co-existence.”

Instructively, the prayer in the Ibiono Ibom representative’s motion was adopted as the House’s resolution without amendment.

The Speaker, Barr. Onofiok Luke, directed the Clerk, Mrs. Mandu Umoren, to send the resolution to the executive. He also called on the State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice to commence efforts in reviewing the laws of the state.

The Speaker further directed the House Committee on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, chaired by Prince Idongesit Ntekpere, himself a former Obot Akara Local Government Chairman and son of the late Paramount Ruler of Ikot Ekpene and later Obot Akara LGAs, Okuku Etim Udo Ntekpere, to take further action on the matter by way of public hearing and report back to the House in three weeks’ time.

Public Hearing as a Dangerous Gamble
Perhaps if the House had stopped at passing the resolution, it might have played safe given that only the Governor has the power to create clans. Quietly lobbying the executive for the creation could have done the magic. By going further to plan a public hearing, the House Members may be playing with fire. Their motive may actually be germane. It is certainly populist, granted that public hearing is meant to gauge public opinion. But relying on public opinion to take tough decisions could sometimes be counter-productive. In any case, it is inconceivable what the Members hope to achieve with the public hearing after passing a resolution urging the Governor to take a holistic look at the same issue.

What the Members may end up achieving, inadvertently, may be to open themselves up for severe pressure by their constituents, re-open old wounds and acrimony, create tension in the state and endanger their political future. As it happened in 2009 in the life of the Fourth Assembly, every Tom, Dick and Harry, both the deserving and the undeserving, will agitate for a clan. The Members may find it difficult to cope or may even be overwhelmed with the volume of demands.

Worse still for them, the Members, most of who are certain to seek re-election in 2019, may find their tenure defined by the creation or non-creation of clans in their constituencies. If they go ahead with the public hearing, they may unwittingly put their political future at risk as their expectant constituents may refuse to understand that they had no power to create clans especially if the Governor creates some clans in some areas without their constituencies benefitting. By opting for public hearing, the Members seem to be giving the impression, perhaps unknown to them, that they have the power to create. And their constituents are sure to place so much faith in the exercise. It is a dangerous political gamble the Members may live to regret as it is capable of exploding in their faces.

Ime Okon, who chairs the House Committee on Information, however, sees nothing wrong in the public hearing: “There is nothing wrong with the public hearing. It is just an avenue for stakeholders and other interested persons to make inputs on how the clans should be created.”

Should it be Creation of Clans or Recognition of Omitted Clans?
The Members of the Fourth Assembly, who tried and abandoned a similar exercise seven years ago due to pressure, styled their own effort, “Recognition of omitted clans and villages.” They did not talk of creation.

And they had a point. Many of the omitted clans and villages are bound by cultural affinity and actually exist though not formally recognized by Government.

If the Members of this Sixth Assembly also talk of recognition and not creation during their public hearing and specifically recommend such omitted natural clans to the Governor for recognition, it will save them a whole lot of trouble. It will save them from their constituents seeking creation of artificial clans as those constituents will certainly see the futility of their agitations.

The Most Pressing Cases
If the House proceeds with the public hearing, they may find the most pressing cases in Ibiono Ibom, Itu, Ikono, Ini, Etinan, Nsit Ibom and Ikot Ekpene.

Ibiono Ibom: Seeking an Increase from Two to Nine Clans
Ime Okon is seeking an increase of the number of clans in Ibiono Ibom LGA from two to nine. In his proposal, Ikpanya Clan, with five villages, will remain intact while Ibiono Ibom Clan, which presently boasts of 216 villages, will be split into eight clans, namely Ibiono Southern, Ibiono Iyere, Ibiono Western, Ibiono Central, Ibiono Northern, Idoro, Okopedi Ibiono and Ididep.

Itu: One Big Clan with Eight Wards And Four Small Clans with Two Wards
Itu LGA has a peculiar configuration. The majority clan, Itam, boasts of eight of the 10 wards. The remaining two wards are shared by four minority clans – Oku Iboku, Itu, Mbiabo and Ayadehe. Itu and Mbiabo Clans are Efik-speaking while Oku Iboku and Ayadehe Clans, like Itam Clan, speak Ibibio.

Due to the disproportionate nature of the clans, political sharing is done on the basis of zones or blocs and not clans. In time past, there were three generally-accepted zones: East Itam (five wards), West Itam (three wards) and Itu OMA (two wards). Because of their size, East Itam people and some politicians in the other two zones now believe in four zones: East Itam Northern (two wards), East Itam Southern (three wards), West Itam (three wards) and Itu OMA (two wards). But some politicians in West Itam and Itu OMA (OMA is acronym for Oku, Mbiabo and Ayadehe) still insist on the three-zone arrangement.

Formally dividing Itam into East and West Clans seems the right thing to do.

With a population of 127,856 spread in 108 villages, Itu is the 14th most populous LGA in the state.

Etinan: One Clan LGA with Two Natural Divides
Though it ranks sixth in the state with a population of 168,924, Etinan, with 76 villages, is one of the two LGAs in the state that has only one clan: Iman Ibom. The natural divides, caused by the Ekpene Ukpa River, into Iman North (six wards) and Iman South (five wards) are known to the locals and not to Government officially.

Clan creation on the basis of these divides will be ideal.

The people of Etinan LGA are of the same Iman stock as neighbouring Awa Clan in ONNA LGA.

Nsit Ibom: Another LGA with One Clan that is Even Shared with the Mother LGA
Nsit Ibom, a granddaughter of Etinan, also has one clan despite her population figure of 108,095, spread in 60 villages, which makes her the 19th most populous in the state.

Traditionally, Nsit Ibom is divided into two “Court Areas” – Mbiaso and Asang with five wards each. As in Etinan, it will be easy to turn these two divides into clans.

That is where the similarity with Etinan ends. Nsit Ibom shares a lot with her mother LGA, Nsit Ubium, including even a clan. The same Western Nsit Clan (Nsit Atai LGA is known as Eastern Nsit) exists in both Nsit Ibom and Nsit Ubium. For unclear reason, Nsit Ibom’s Western Nsit Clan has not been renamed 25 years after creation of the LGA from Nsit Ubium. That became an issue in Nsit Ubium, six years ago, when some politicians from Ubium Clan (six wards) taunted their Western Nsit (four wards) counterparts that their clan was in Nsit Ibom.

Ikot Ekpene: Huge in Population but Small in Number of Clans
With a population of 141,408, spread in 65 villages, Ikot Ekpene ranks ninth in the state. But she ranks among the least in terms of clans. She has just two clans: Urban (six wards) and Amanyam (five wards).

Ikot Ekpene has a solid case for more clans.

Ikono: Sub-clans Big Enough to be Full Clans
Ikono LGA also has a clear-cut case for recognition of more clans. The dominant clan is Ikono which boasts of seven of the 11 wards. Ediene, the second largest clan, has two wards while the other two clans, Itak and Ndiya, have a ward each.

Within Ikono Clan there are large groups of villages like Nkwot (two wards) and Ukpom (one ward) in Ikono South zone as well as other groups of villages in Ikono Middle zone (four wards) that qualify for clanship.

Ikono LGA has a population of 131,673, spread in 166 villages, which makes her the 13th most populous in the state.

Ini: A Clan Head Without a Clan
Ini LGA is divided into two blocs: Ini Proper and Odoro Ikono/Ukwok communities with five wards each. Ini Proper boasts of four clans: Ikpe with two wards and Itu Mbonuso, Nkari and Iwere with one ward each. The other bloc- Odoro Ikono (three wards) and Ukwok (two wards) have no clan. Odoro Ikono or Ikono North is still an extension of Ikono Clan in Ikono LGA.

Given this awkward situation, the people of Odoro Ikono and Ukwok communities have long yearned for clans but to no avail. Ever optimistic, the Odoro Ikono people have selected a Clan Head-elect – Chief Etim Akpakpan, a former Ini Local Government Caretaker Committee Chairman, even when their clan is yet to be recognized by Government.

Ini is the 23rd most populous LGA in the state with a population of 99,084 spread in 100 villages.

Considering the possibility that a public hearing by the House could generate acrimony and reopen old wounds, it may be safe for the executive to quietly redress the most glaring cases of clan imbalance and save everyone, including itself, the trouble.

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