There are over one million of them spread across four local government areas of Benue State. You can find them in Ado, Oju, Okpoku and Obi, all in Benue State. They are ethnic Igbos. Before the Nigerian civil war, they lived a happy and meaningful life, mingling freely with their kith and kin in the state. But today, things have fallen apart. Instead of the joyful songs, they were used to, they now sing dirges.
The Benue Igbos who are called by the name Umuezeokoha are not happy that they have been neglected for a long time now by successive governments, federal, state or local, and they are blaming this on their ethnic origin and the fact that they are in the wrong state. Interestingly, the people share the same Benue South Senatorial Constituency with Senate President, David Mark. Though Igbos , the Umuezeokoha Community, due perhaps to accident of history, are found in Benue State instead of Ebonyi State , being the closest Igbo state where their kinsmen, the Ezza Ezekuna kindred are found.
According to the President, Benue Igbo Union, Mr. Nweke Cedrick Ifeanyi, his people are wallowing in poverty and neglect and are often denied democracy dividends, including obtaining local government identification letters for employment in and outside the state.
Historical background of Igbos in Benue
Mr. Nweke said the Igbos in Benue State, particularly those in Ado, Oju, Okpoku and Obi Local Government Areas were in existence before the advent of Christianity in Nigeria. But since then, he lamented, they have not been recognized by successive governments both at the state and federal levels in both Ebonyi and Benue states.
â€œAlthough before the independence and the Nigerian civil war, which lasted for about three years, we used to experience government attention to the extent that the missionaries then established one local primary school at Umuezeokoha community which comprises over 300 villages of Igbo speaking areas that time. The school was generally accepted by our elders then and we did witness medical attention.
â€œBut since after the civil war, we in the entire 300 Igbo-speaking villages in Benue State have been dumped by the Nigerian government. It is worse for those in Benue South Senatorial District. We have never experienced any government attention, let alone a project from the local, state and federal governments up till date.â€
The Igbo Union President also disclosed that a place with a population of over one million people has no designated political ward, no councillorship representative at the local government level nor at the state government level despite their voting population. He said even Senator David Mark and Governor Gabriel Suswan have been winning all their elections in the area.
Mr. Nweke also narrated how their children die in their large numbers because of lack of immunization, which he said they have never witnessed since the return of democracy. He also painted a gory picture of how they were swindled of N6,000 each for insecticide treated mosquito nets, which were given free to neighbouring communities by the federal government.
â€œWe are lacking so many things, including a health centre, political ward, good roads, good water, electricity. There is no salary earner in our place to the extent that the mosquito treated insecticide nets given freely by the federal government was sold to us at the rate of N6,000 each, some even paid without claiming it till date,â€ Nweke said.
â€œAll our roads are narrow; we do not have any motorable road in our area at all, last time when we visited the local government chairmen and complained about the issue of selling mosquito nets to us, what they said was that the era of mosquito nets had come and gone. This attracted exchange of gazes, and the question weather we are still a part of this country. Imagine as we are in this dry season, we hardly see water to drink, wash and cook, talk less of taking bath. Before we see water to do something, one has to trek up to 30 kilometres to a place where there is an unpurified dam water, but in this place, you must queue up in a line before it will get to your turn,â€ he said.
Another member of the community, Chief John Nwali also narrated the ordeal of the people in the hands of successive governments in the state, adding, â€œsometimes we do lament whether we are different from other human beings created by God. Some of them that claim to be natives of the state mock us by telling us to wait to benefit from government only when the Biafran nation which we fought for comes into reality.â€
â€œAt times we nurse the idea of belonging to another country. In fact, if we are close to another country, we could have declared our intention to become their citizens, but this one we are in the midst of Nigeria, we speak Nigerian language, practice Nigerian culture and religion, in every election we vote and still we are treated with great scorn and neglect as if we are not existing. Yet, we have somebody like the Senate President, living in Abuja with our mandate.
â€œEven in the last 2011 general election, I was the PDP Campaign Coordinator for Benue Igbo branch, but since that time till now, we are still in the same condition. We have been regarded as slaves in the country of our own. Even the only primary school that was built by the missionary before Independence is no more attracting government attention. The school is now in a sorry state. The only secondary school we have as of now is one at Saint Charles Catholic Church at Apa Ogbozu community, which was initiated by one Reverend Father.â€
â€œWe do not have anybody in the Benue State Government cabinet both in the local, state and in federal levels. We are all confused on what to do and where to go because we do not know when this indefinite discrimination will come to an end because even to the extent that the local government identification letters are no more being given to us any longer as Nigerian citizens.â€
Chief Nwali also said that during rainy season, their people get drowned in water and disclosed that none of the streams, rivers and lakes has any bridge and lamented that during the last flood incident, they lost almost all their farm lands and every other thing they had laboured for.
â€œThe political oppression which we have been subjected to is very serious. Even one of the biggest rivers we have has not attracted government attention, just to build a bridge across it. Last year, more than 20 people died while trying to cross the river for their normal daily business. We have made so many efforts to visit our Governor, Gabriel Suswan and our Senator, David Mark, to table our problem before them, but all to no avail.â€
An octogenarian, Pa Nwankwo Alo said: â€œOur children have not been immunized over the years, let alone polio eradication programme. Our women do not even know what is hospital when they are pregnant because there are no hospitals to attend and yet we have up to 32 polling units. We have even called for more polling units because we are more than the present one but the government refused even as this national confab draws nearer, there is nobody to speak for us.â€