The article, “Okpe People Are Okpe People, Insists Professor Natufe,” by Professor Tony Afejuku, which appeared on The Guardian’s opinion page on September 10, 2021, was a very interesting read. . This raises the question of true ethnic consciousness and identity among the indigenous peoples, in this case, the Okpe speaking people of the Delta State.
As a teenager who grew up in Sapele in the early 1980s, I had always wondered why the Okpe people with a distinct language appeared ethnically subsumed under the Urhobo umbrella when their Isoko parents would not agree to be labeled other. thing that Isoko.
Professor Afejuku commends Professor Natufe for championing the cause of his Okpe people whose Okpeness is inherent in their native spoken language, which he described as the true power of the human beings who make up the Okpe people.
During his article, however, Professor Afejuku did a terrible disservice to the Ukwuani people whom he ethnically called Ndokwa while listing all of the other ethnic nationalities in Delta State. I am sure that Professor Afejuku did not know any Ndokwa ethnic group when he was a high school student because there were none and there still are not. Perhaps he will be pardoned for having fallen into this abyss of Ndokwa dug by some of our elites and ill-informed politicians. Ndokwa is the name of certain areas of local government, not an ethnicity or language.
The ethnic or indigenous inhabitants of these local government areas are Ukwuani and only Ukwuani. The name Ukwuani is of immemorial origin with an etymological meaning in our language, unlike Ndokwa which is a recent currency devoid of meaning, except that it is an acronym for the two administrative districts that made up the former division of Aboh.
Ndokwa was coined when agitations against the continued use of the name Aboh to refer to the division were championed by the Ukwuani district. The influence of the Obi of Aboh was becoming dominant and fears grew that the continued use of the name Aboh to denote the division would create the mistaken impression that the Obi had suzerainty over all clans in the administrative division.
A similar fear was raised by some ethnic nationalities in Warri province led by the Urhobo who demanded that the change of designation of Olu from Itsekiri to Olu from Warri would create the false impression that the Olu exercised suzerainty over all peoples of the province of Warri. The unrest led to the renaming of the province of Warri in the province of Delta. Against the Obi of Aboh, the unrest of the 1950s escalated from many angles led by clans in the Ukwuani district.
The Ashaka, Efor and Ossissa clans have asked at one time or another to be transferred from Aboh district to Ukwuani district. Ultimately, Aboh district was renamed Ndosimil district as a result of these unrest. This was around the time when the name Ndokwa came into being, coined as an acronym of the names Ndosimili and Ukwuani – the two districts included in the administrative division of Aboh in the mid-1950s, but it did not become the official name of the division only in 1976, following local government reforms that year. All the while, residents of Aboh Division, which then became the Ndokwa Local Government Area, identified themselves ethnically as Ukwuani and spoke the Ukwuani language. It is in this light that I see recent references to the people even in official circles like Ndokwa as an aberration and an absurdity.
It was by affirming their Ukwuaniness that the people formed the Ukwuani Foundation Union, UFU, around 1937 as their supreme socio-cultural body. This body was very effective in protecting the interests and identity of the Ukwuani people during the tumultuous period of the civil war. UF.U. provided leadership that sparked the Ukwuani ethnic spirit throughout the division.
On July 26, 1974, traditional chiefs, representatives and political leaders from Ukwuani and Ndosimili districts of Aboh Division gathered in Kwale town to affirm and reaffirm their membership in Ukwuani, noting that ‘they are Ukwuani and speak the Ukwuani language throughout the division.
Unfortunately, since the invention of the name Ndokwa, especially since its official use as a local government name, many people have confused it with the ethnic name of the Ukwuani. Even the so-called elite class is most to blame for this mistake. Even the Ukwuani Earthen Church is wrong. I have heard that the Bible is about to be translated into the Ndokwa language or the Ukwuani-Ndosumili language.
Luke’s book, as a test case, was translated into “Ndokwa”. A Ukwuani-Ndosumili dictionary is also in preparation. There is a group called Ukwuani-Ndosimil Language Development Group. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther translated the Bible into Yoruba, a known language spoken by an existing ethnic group of the same name. Why should our case be any different? If God asked us what language we speak as an ethnic people, can we in all honesty tell him that we speak Ukwuani-Ndosimil? At the same time, the eastern half of the former Aboh division, which evolved into the local government of Ndokwa East, now sees itself more ethnically Ndosimil than Ukwuani. But ask them what language they speak and you get answers like Aboh, Ndosimil, Ukwuani, Ndokwa or their respective clan names. Political balkanization has put a knife to the things that hold our Ukwuanity together.
About ten years ago, the Ukwuani Foundation Union split and from there was born the Ndosimil Development Union. Then also emerged the National Union of Ndokwa which later became the Union of Ndokwa Neku and claims to be the supreme socio-cultural body of the Ndokwa people on the same pedestal as the National Ijaw Congress, the Development Union of ‘Isoko, the Union of Progress of Urhobo, Afenifere, Ohaneze or Arewa. But I don’t see how the Ndokwa Neku Union can be the apex socio-cultural body of a non-existent ethnic people. There is no ethnicity or language known as Ndokwa. Ndokwa is a nomenclature for a modern administrative unit, not an indigenous and indigenous people or ethnic tribe. Its roots go back to the 1950s and 1970s. Ukwuani predates this, is indigenous, indigenous and God-given. The Ndokwa Neku Union therefore operates on a non-existent platform. All the ethno-socio-cultural organizations listed above are attached to known ethnic peoples, and not to a government creation like Ndokwa. Why should I belong to an “ethnic” group that my father and my ancestors did not belong to?
The continued reference to our people and our homeland as Ndokwa by some of our ill-informed elites, politicians and governments does a disservice to our true identity. Ndokwa never intended to supplant our identity as Ukwuani. History does not tell us. Ndokwa, an acronym like Bendel, will one day die, and when it does, what will become of us as indigenous people? In fact, one of the three local governments proudly returned to Ukwuani.
I call on all well-meaning Ukwuani sons and daughters to pass on our Ukwuani heritage. All ethnic associations bearing the name Ndokwa should immediately abandon this name for Ukwuani, our true identity. There is no Ndokwa language, people, or culture. Only the local government of Ndokwa. But the Ukwuani language, people, culture and history have been around since time immemorial. Ukwuani bu ani eze.
Ozah, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.