RESEARCH: Ibibio Nation Shall Likely Outlive Nigeria

A few years ago, prior to Covid-19, I came up with the summary of the book, “The Story of the Ibibio Union” by Sir Udo Udoma. By the time I was done reading the book, I became so proud of my Ibibioness and especially the Ibibio men of that era addressed in the book. The forthrightness, their courage, compassion, and above all, their dream for Ibibio nation greatness were something for Guinness Book of World Record.

An attack on one Ibibio man was attack on all as in the case of victimization of Prof. Eyo Ita; a major event that led to the call for the establishment of COR State. It didn’t stop there. When it was time to dump dominant NCNC, they established their own political party called National Independence Party of Nigeria. When Dr. Antia-Obong, one of the Union scholars, had a problem in the discharge of his medical profession, the Union got involve. They went as far as meeting the Queen’s Representative in Nigeria, a position similar to that of Nigerian President, to plead for leniency. The establishment of Ibibio State College became a symbol of progress and forward-thinking people. Ibibio then was first among the equals. The award of scholarships to six students in 1937 became a monumental factor that changed not only Nigeria, but the world.

Folks, above preamble is meant to lead us into the main crux of this article on Ibibio. About a decade and a half ago, one gentleman in 2004 using Ibom forum which I established posted an article suggesting a “need to establish a shared and lasting identity” in Akwa Ibom State. Expectedly, this individual is not from Ibibio as we know it today. I and one Dr. Uko Okpok of blessed memory kicked against such suggestion. We informed him that we already have Identity and that creation of new Identity was unnecessary. He knew why I did not furnish him with cogent rationale as to why creation of such an Identity was unnecessary and a waste of time. I did promise him that at a later time I would give my complete response and would say what our identity is. And I suspected that he knew where I was going with my exchange. I was of the view that the silent majority who participated in the discussions knew this as well. I then disclosed that the identity of Akwa Ibom as a people was and is Ibibio. I drew my analogy from state like Edo which is the language of the Bini people and yet there are other ethnic groups like Edo, Yoruba, Owan, Etuno, Etsako, Esan, Afemai, Etsako, Akoko Edo, Ake-Ievbu and Okpamheri.who gladly bear the name Edo. Why is ours different?

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In Akwa Ibom we have one dominant group and language, and that is IBIBIO. The rest as listed below are dialects which are variants of Ibibio. These are:

  1. Annang – Abak, Essien Udim, Ikot Ekpene, Oruk Anam, Ukanafun LGA
  2. Ebughu – Mbo, Oron LGAs
  3. Efai – Mbo LGA
  4. Efik – Uruan, Okobo, Oron LGAs
  5. Ekit – Uquo, Eket LGAs
  6. Etebi – Uquo-Ibeno LGA
  7. Ibibio – Itu, Uyo, Etinan, Ikot Abasi, Ikono, Ekpe Atai, Ibesikpo Asutan,
    Uruan, ONNA, Nsit Ibom, Nsit Ubium, Mkpat Enin, Ini LGA
  8. Ibuno – Ibeno LGAs
  9. Ibuoro – Itu, Ikono LGAs
  10. Idere – Itu LGA
  11. Iko – Eastern Obolo LGA
  12. Ilue – Oron LGA
  13. Itu Mbon Uzo – Ikono LGA
  14. Obodom – Ikot Abasi LGA
  15. Okobo – Okobo LGA
  16. Oron – Oron LGA
  17. Uda – Mbo LGA

In view of the above, Ibibio can be that common identity as it was in the 1920s through middle of 1960s. In spite of the dialects above, most Akwa Ibomites bear the same names and understand each other. My understand is that about the last two or three years, members of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly did pass a Resolution making Ibibio the primary language of discussion in the Assembly after English.

Back to the exchange with regard to the identity issue as proposed by the gentleman, when he realized nobody was interested, he came up with a name he coined “Okop Usem” and set up a forum with that name. I ignored his move because it had become quite apparent the hatred some ethnic groups harbor against Ibibio. He had since become a mouthpiece to a man whose objective was to make sure Ibibio was extinct by the end of his administration. To accomplish this goal, he tried (Again, this is a subject for another day).

When a few years ago, I Shared the “The Story of the Ibibio Union”, some folks wanted to know about books on Ibibio. I have been able to assemble many references on Ibibio. Anyone who is interested in knowing about Ibibio, there is no other collection better than these. Few of these references were furnished to help the Okop Usem person and, indeed, our other brothers and sisters who may wish to conduct research into our history and affirm our encompassing identity. Presently, this very individual has come up with what he calls Abasi Nation. It is very likely, some of us in this forum are members, and possibly, patronizing that group without knowing the ulterior motive behind the move.

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Books on Ibibio Subjects

1) Who are The Ibibio. Edet A. Udo, Onitsha,1983
2) The Story of The Ibibio Union, Sir Udo Udoma, Ibadan,1987
3) The Ibo and Ibibio Speaking Peoples of South-Eastern Nigeria. Daryl Ford and G. I. Jones, Oxford,1950
4) Old Calabar and Notes On The Ibibio Language M. D. W. Jeffreys, Calabar,1935
5) A comparative Study Of Bantu and Semi Bantu Languages. Johnston, H. Oxford,1922
6) The Bantu Languages Of Africa Werner, A. London, 1925
7) A Grammar Of The Ibibio Language, Okon Essien, Ibadan,1990
8) Religion and Cultural identity. Udo Etuk, Ibadan, 2002
9) Religion and Change Among the Annang and Ibibio 1846-1930, Clayton Udo
10) Issues In African Languages and Linguistics. E. Nolue Emenanjo et al, Nigerian National Institute of Languages, Aba,1995
11) The Ibibio: An Introduction To The Land, The People and Their Culture
Monday B. Abasiatai, Calabar,1991
12) The Peoples of Southern Nigeria.Vol.1-IV; Percy A.Talbot, London,1926
13) Tribes of Niger Delta. P.A.Talbot, London,1932
14) The Land Of The Ibibios. P.A.Talbot,Oxford,1914
15) Life In Southern Nigeria, The magic, Beliefs and Customs Of the Ibibio Tribe
P. A. Talbot, London,1923
16) The Ibibios of Southern Nigeria. Woman’s Mysteries of a primitive people
P. A. Talbot,London,1915.
17) Ibibio Language and Customs, Anietie Akpabio,Uyo,1980
18) Saying Of the Wise, Anietie Akpabio, Etinan,1977
19) Nke Ibibio: Iko Ifiok Eset Mme Ete Nnyin, Efiong T.Inyang,Uyo,1985
20) Ibibio Dictionary, Elaine Marlowe Kaufman,
21) The Statesman’s Year Book: The politics, Culture and Economics Of The World, Barry Turner. London, New York,2004.

Above is just a short but not exhaustive references to help those of us who have very limited knowledge of our Identity, or who may not have met or spoken to our elders.

What is really Identity? Webster defines Identity thus: “The collective aspect of the characteristics by which a thing is distinctly recognizable or known …” I would simply say in a layman’s language that our Identity is consisted in the way we, specifically the elders, are related to our various traditions through her messengers, how we govern ourselves, cultivate our land, harvest our crops, initiates our male children into many cultures such as Nka, Ekpo, Ekpe, Obon societies; and female children into Ebre society, and all those traits and traditions that make us different than other peoples or nations.

I think it is fair to look at some of the encompassing identities of some other nations within Nigeria to appreciate those perspectives about our identity. Another important element that towers above every other nation in Nigeria is our food. Those who come to know or taste our food usually would choose to come back. In fact, we’ve been known as the Chinese of Nigeria when it comes to food. However, the irony is that as in many other areas when food is presented in international exhibition, our food is nowhere to be found. What is often displayed are primarily Yoruba’s Amala and Ewedu.

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One would notice that nearly all the Nigerian nations are heterogeneous; for instance the Igbo have more than twenty dialectical tribes and most are not discernible to one another. That is why they speak Union Igbo. The Ijaws are equally heterogeneous not only in language/dialects, but also in other traditions.

Talking about the Ijaws, here is Chief G. Amakri Yellow, an Ijaw King and even Ibos said: “We regard Ibibio people as the first ever made by God. Therefore, they know more than other races of ancient knowledge concerning the making of the world, the coming of the first men and the secrets of the Gods” (13.pp.102-103; A.p.8).

I must admit that Chief Amakri Yellow and the Igbos are referring to pre-Christian and pre -Colonial Ibibio. The purpose of this write up is not really about the history of who was created first and who did or did not abandon their god, but to reaffirm that Ibibio has enviable Identity.

The question that bothers me most often is, Where really is Ibibio today? I do not mean the geographical location. If you traverse north to south, east to west of the entire African continent, you will not find a family, a village, or a clan known as Ibibio. In the politics of Nigeria today, Ibibio with estimated population of 9 million people, is virtually non-existent. Again, the question begging for answer is still, Where is Ibibio? Why were the men of Ibibio Union more of Ibibio than Ibibio men of today? Could this apparent weakness or lackluster be the reason the young man sought for another identity? Could it also be the reason Ibibio were cowardly slaughtered less than a decade ago and not a finger raised?

(This topic is very broad. I want to stop here for now. Other segments will follow as time permits).

By Akparawa (Dr.) Tom Mbeke-Ekanem
Beyond the Execution (Understanding the Ethnic and Military Politics in Nigeria)