Igboland and its hidden tributaries to the Atlantic
It’s often said that a lie told so many times, if unchallenged, may – in the course of time and generations – begin to pass for the truth. One of such is the terrible lie and brazen propaganda, institutionally purveyed (against the Igbo) since the end of the Civil War, to the effect that Igboland is landlocked or has no access to the Atlantic Ocean.
The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to rebut this fat lie with some simple historical, geographical and topographical evidence that are in plain view, if you care to dig into the archives or conduct some basic physical explorations of your own. In the same vein, those that mock the Igbo on this account might as well imbibe the truth and pedal back to reason and reality.
Suffice it to say that it is a profound tragedy that entire generations of the immediate post-Civil War Igbos never bordered to check but seemingly swallowed this brazen institutional falsehood, line, hook and sinker. They never reckoned that it is aimed at frustrating the merchant spirit of the Igbo. A few older Igbos that knew it to be false just didn’t care anymore, having been weighed down by the debacle of the Civil War fought by their generation.
What also unwittingly enabled this lie to persist to this day is that most people don’t take physical Geography (or even adventure) that serious anymore, otherwise they would have easily discovered that Abia, Imo and Anambra States have varying short-distance paths to the Atlantic through Imo, Azumiri, Niger and Urashi Rivers. Igbani Island, a diaspora Igbo enclave, corrupted to Bonny by the British.
It’s not really rocket science, as you can easily confirm this if you know how to read Google Earth or you conquer your fear of swamp snakes and walk through these areas on foot. If you try, you will discover that there are many hardly explored waterways and slithering tributaries, including the remote reaches of Oguta Lake and Urashi rivers (at Oseakwa, Anambra State) that meandered through Igbo-delta wetlands to the Southeastern beginnings of the Atlantic waterfront or beachhead.
These rivers have varying lengths of short navigational paths to the Atlantic and in some cases, are far shorter, nautically (and even on footpath) than the Portharcourt, Calabar and Ibaka seaports are to their sides of the Atlantic. Many of these pathways, including particularly the ones from the outer reaches of Imo and Azumiri Rivers terminate at the Atlantic at no more than 15 to 30 Nautical miles to the beachhead. To put it in lay language, one nautical mile equals 1.8 kilometers. So, all you need is some old-fashioned dredging that the colonialists did without a whimper generations ago. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Thus, the contiguity of Southeast (not even the greater Igboland) to the Atlantic is nautically less in distance than the Atlantic is to the dredged seaports in Calabar, Onne, Ibaka, Lagos and Portharcourt. If you discount the territories unfairly excised from Igboland during State creations and the damnable boundary adjustments that followed, it will be far less. During his tenure as Governor of Imo State, Dr Ikedi Ohakim singularly did so much to spotlight this matter in a bid to galvanize the Federal authorities to build a seaport that abuts core Igboland. For avoidance of doubt, seaports are in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution and therefore outside the legislative reach of the States.
To be sure, Ikwerre land or Igweocha which bears the greater portions of the Portharcourt seaport was dredged up to 50 miles to the Atlantic front through the Bonny River. Onne seaport was dredged up to 60 miles to the Atlantic and Calabar seaport was partially dredged some 45 nautical miles to the Atlantic. Ibaka seaport is about 30 nautical miles to the Atlantic and the Lagos seaports dredged up to about 50 nautical miles to the Atlantic. This is not to say that some dredging was not easier or harder than the other.
Compare all these to Obuaku in Abia State, which is only 25 nautical miles to the Atlantic from the confluence of Imo and Azumiri Rivers, of which Azumiri, on its separate merits, lies not more than 30 nautical miles to the Atlantic beachfront. The less obvious one is the little-known Oseakwa (Urashi) in Ihiala, Anambra State which is mere 18 nautical miles to the Atlantic, all with its 65 feet of natural depth, arguably incomparable to no other River in Nigeria.
Additionally, what is geopolitically known as Igboland today is far smaller than what it was and constitutionally supposed to be. As far back as 1856, William Balfour Baikie – one of the earliest and credible Geographers of ancient Nigeria, had this to say: “Igbo homeland, extends east and west, from the Old Kalabar river to the banks of the Kwora, Niger River, and possesses also some territory at Aboh, an Igbo clan, to the west-ward of the latter stream. On the north it borders on Igara, Igala and A’kpoto, and it is separated from the sea only by petty tribes, all of which trace their origin to this great race”. If you’re in doubt, google it.
But with that infamous post-War abandoned property policy and the egregious institutional injustices in the subsequent boundary adjustments, coupled with the widespread anti-Igbo gerrymandering, Igbos physically (and even psychologically) lost geopolitical hold of the delta lands that had vested in their ancestors for generations. It was such natural contiguity of Igboland to the Atlantic that enabled Igbo ancestors to behold the Atlantic Ocean and, in wonderment, they named it Oshimiri – The Great Sea or the Infinite Sea.
The post-Civil War psychological beat-down and gang-up against the Igbo got so bad and institutionalized to the extent that some of the descendants of these Igbo ancestors (nearest to the Atlantic and now geopolitically lying outside Southeast) are no longer sure whether they are Igbo or not. This is how the notion of Igboland being landlocked quickly gained traction and became a weapon used to mock Ndigbo and down their merchant spirit.
The most brazen injustice was in 1976 when the Justice Nasir Boundary Adjustment Commission made a deliberate business of carving out some core Igboland territories into some neighboring States of the South-South. But they didn’t quite make an absolute success of it. They (luckily for the Igbo) missed the southernmost Southeast lands that possess rivers and tributaries that meandered through slices of Igboid or Igbo-speaking South-South territories and terminated at the Atlantic.
For avoidance of doubt, there’s particularly the Obuaku confluence in Ukwa West (Abia State) that flows through greater Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State (which has slices of Igbo communities) before expanding out and washing into the near-reaches of the Atlantic. You can also reckon with the River Niger which remotely washed into the Atlantic through a vast network of hardly explored delta creeks and mangrove swamps that abut the Bight of Biafra, now officially corrupted to Bight of Bonny (that is: Igbani), after the Civil War. To be sure, Igbani or Bonny is Igbo, whether you deny it or not.
On a side note and in conclusion, it is pertinent to make it crystal clear that the persistent taunts, mockery and ‘ntoor’ that Ndigbo are hopelessly trapped in Nigeria because their native land is landlocked (Buhari called it a ‘dot’), coupled with the misguided refusal to build a seaport into core Igboland are some of the major factors that have justifiably agitated the average Igbo to the point of seeking an alternative to Nigeria.