Historical Revisionism: The Case of the Annang Nation.
By Tom U. Okure, PH.D
Context and Background
The Annang people are a distinctive cultural group within Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. The Annangs in common with many other tribal groups in Nigeria like to refer to their ethnic grouping as a nation. The word nation is used here to refer to a group of people (Annangs) living in Nigeria and constituting a single political and economic unit. The Annangs are indigenous to Abak, Ikot Ekpene, Ika, Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo, Obot Akara, Essien Udim and Oruk Anam local government in Akwa Ibom State.
A lot has been written about the Annangs, especially during the last 50 years. During the Civil war (the Nigeria/Biafra war) between 1967 through 1970, the Annangs suffered genocide and displacement from their towns and villages and lost a large number of its people and prominent leaders. The war front between the Nigerian army and Biafra stalemated in Ikot Ekpene and for more than two and a half years, many Annangs lived as refugees in their own state facing tremendous hardship and discrimination in the towns and villages they were forced to flee to. The catastrophe that the Annang Nation experienced did not occur in other areas affected by the civil war and has been ignored and misinterpreted in most current thinking and writing. There is a lot of historical revisionism taking place in in the writings about Annang Nation today. In this article, this writer highlights that there is a current tendency among many scholars, policy makers and historical commentators to attempt to revise the major heroic achievements, contributions and sacrifices of Annang past heroes. It is argued that the purposeful omission by scholars, policy makers and historical commentators to reflect the contributions of some Annang past leaders in their writings, speeches and memorials indicates latent bias in favor of some leaders and constitutes a historical distortion of Annang history.
A new generation of social, economic and political elite has ascended to the top echelons of Annang society today and they want to be heard, seen and to be remembered. They also would like to leave a lasting legacy of their contributions to society for the next generation of Annang children. This is a good thing and we should all embrace upward mobility in society, especially because we are in a democratic setting in today’s Nigeria as opposed to the totalitarian and undemocratic environment that we faced during years of Nigerian military rule. Nevertheless, the attainment of a status of historical significance should not mean deliberately omitting, downplaying or down right discrediting the contribution of previous Annang leaders whose story and contribution to Annang political empowerment and social progress also need to be recognized, told and heard by the current generation.
The history of Nigeria and the Annang people is full of events such as the Nigerian civil war that we have to strive to pass on to our children so that they can fully understand and appreciate who we are and what we stand for as a people. There is a phrase by Sir Winston Churchill of Britain which states that “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There are many among us devoted to telling the story of our historical circ***tances and famous leaders and who try to depict the historical truth by thoroughly researching our past. On the other hand, there are many among us who are twisting our history in order to portray a historical past that benefits the quest by those seeking upward social standing among us. Many would like to cover up unfortunate circ***tances in our historical past by suppressing undeniable historical truths. Perhaps some people need to enhance their present favorable political and economic circ***tances by aligning themselves to famous past Annang leaders. Many of these acclaimed past leaders, when placed in proper perspective, lack historical significance as Annang heroes of their time. Whatever may be the motivating factor or underlying rational for this wave of revisionism, one thing is clear; world history is filled with this type of historical revisionism. Most scholars are familiar with the concept of revisionism and the positive and also dysfunctional negative consequences it can play in the interpretation of important world events such as the causes of World War I and II and the cold war between the United States and the former Soviet Union. In some circ***tances, revisionism has its merits. Take for example the idea of Afrocentrism. This methodology to explanation is allegedly racist, reactionary, and also therapeutic. Its objective was to encourage Black Nationalism and ethnic pride as a psychological weapon against the deliberate destructive consequences of worldwide racism. It was a deliberate response of black scholars worldwide against Eurocentric/Orientalist racist attitudes about African people and their historical contributions. Afrocentric writers revisit their history with an African cultural and ideological focus and their writings seek to support the claim that the contributions of various African people have been downplayed or discredited as part of the legacy of colonialism and slavery's pathology of "writing Africans out of history.
Analytic Observations on Annang Revisionism
A review of writings and public comments related to Annang people and their past leaders reveals significant bias in favor of some acclaimed past leaders. There appears to be either a purposeful neglect to mention, or perhaps deliberate omission or downplaying of the contribution of other prominent past Annang dignitaries. It is historical revisionism and a disturbing trend not just for the Annang Nation but for present day Akwa Ibom State as a wh*** when one sees scholars, writers and policy makers show bias in their public pronouncements, adoration and praise of the past contributions of certain Annang historical personalities over others.
Some writers, this author included, have called attention to the purposeful neglect by past and present policy makers to memorialize the death and the contribution of some of our past heroes. Of particular significance among our neglected leaders, who are also Annang martyrs are former Eastern Nigerian Government Minister Affiah of Abak and Commissioner Udo Udo Okure of Ikot Ekpene who were both killed during the Nigeria civil war noted earlier, simply because they were of Annang extraction. These Annang leaders contributed immensely towards the political, social and economic development of the Annang Nation which was a part of the then Eastern Nigeria region. By speaking out and standing up with their fellow colleagues in government against the then Igbo ethnic domination and marginalization of the Efik, Ibibio and Annang ethnic minorities of former Eastern Nigeria, they were able to extract concessions from the government in the form of infrastructural development projects. Examples included paved roads, water projects, electrification of towns, scholarships for indigenes to pursue higher education, employment of indigenes into high governmental positions in Eastern Nigeria government etc. One might point out that in the 1960’s through the early 1970’s before the devastation of the economy of Eastern Nigeria by the civil war, many things worked properly. For example, many older people can relate to the fact in Eastern Nigeria, that the supply of electricity and water and our schools etc functioned relatively well before the complete breakdown and pathology of development that we have been witnessing in Nigeria despite the huge inflow of old revenues.
As a child, this writer witnessed his late father Udo Udo Okure travel frequently overseas in his capacity as Public Service Commissioner of Eastern Nigeria government to Europe and the United States to recruit Eastern Nigerians in the diaspora. Some of these recruits had their relocation expenses back to Nigeria fully paid for by the Eastern Nigeria government and many included prominent Annangs, Ibibios and Efiks who became important policy makers in former South Eastern State which was renamed Cross River State of which today's Akwa Ibom State was excised from. Some of these individuals are still alive and can testify to the fact that it was the tireless advocacy of our vocal minority Annang leaders like Minister Akpabio from Ikot Ekpene, Minister Affiah from Abak and Public Service Commissioner Udo Udo Okure from Ikot Ekpene, echelons in the then Eastern Nigerian governmental structure that paved the way to our statehood which we all today jubilate about. The contributions of these past Annang leaders are enormous and neglect or omission of their sacrifices towards Annang empowerment cannot be overlooked. Let the Annang historical record be set straight and reflect, for instance the fact that it was Udo Udo Okure from Ikot Ekpene, who single handedly organized the diverse families which constituted Ikot Ekpene village to start what is today commonly celebrated annually as Ikot-Ekpene day. Let the record also reflect that in recognition of his outstanding government service to Nigeria and the former British Colonial Government, Queen Elizabeth 11 of England awarded Udo Udo Okure the high honor award of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). The Order of the British Empire recognizes distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organizations of all kinds. One might also point out that Udo Udo Okure significantly contributed towards the translation of the English bible into our native vernacular.
It is a shame that after more than forty five years of the unjustified killings of our heroes like Okure and Affiah and many other prominent Annangs, there has not been a Commission of Inquiry into their death, no legislative proclamations or resolutions remembering their sacrifice or honors highlighting their contributions towards our statehood. These Annang leaders are dead and either by deliberate conspiracy to erase their historical significance from Annang history or by unintentional omission, they are completely forgotten and rarely mentioned in the many revisionist history of Akwa Ibom State and Annang Nation. Instead, what we read about and hear are exaltations for individuals who were unknown in the higher echelons of the then Eastern Nigerian polity. As a people we seem to fail to take stock of our history and do not think it necessary to investigate the crimes that were committed against Annangs as a people and to examine why our heroic leaders like Commissioner Okure and Minister Affiah were murdered.
This article concludes with a question. Does suppressing the names of our heroes from our historical records and public recognitions make sense? Annang martyrs such as Commissioner Okure and Minister Affiah may be dead but they are not forgotten by those who witnessed their sacrifice and cherish their memory and who desire to keep the Annang historical record straight. It is important that the silence be broken for the sake of truth and justice and that we write and speak against the negative trend of Annang historical revisionism for as long as it takes and until the alarm is sounded in the corridors of state power that our forgotten and neglected heroes are important and their contributions towards our current political empowerment and economic wellbeing matters and cannot simply be set aside in favor of revisionist viewpoints of our history.