It is no longer news that Ondo State has adopted an indigenous anthem which is expected to be recited immediately after the national anthem. The state government had, in March 2021, ordered that the recitation of the anthem be done in all public and private primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the state.
The directive to this effect was contained in a circular dated 1st March, 2021, which was signed by the Permanent Secretary in the state’s Ministry of Education, Mr. Akin Asaniyan.
The state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, had also disclosed shortly before the dissolution of the Executive Council in February that governors in the region will soon meet to ensure that other states in the South-West that are yet to adopt the anthem are also encouraged to follow the path of Osun and Ondo.
The governor explained that the adoption of the anthem, which was coined and composed by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as a cultural symbol of the Yoruba at home and abroad and as a call to reawaken their hearts to the rich values of the tribe, is revisited by the state to project the virtues, tradition and culture of the Yoruba tribe.
The state government had later clarified, in May 2021, that the anthem isn’t the Oodua Anthem, but an indigenous anthem for the state.
However, the non-Yoruba speaking ethnic group in the state, the Ijaw, has raised eyebrows over the state government’s adoption of the indigenous anthem. They have called on the state government to put the adoption of the anthem on hold and confer with Ijaw leaders to come up with an Ijaw version of the anthem, if it must be sung in public places.
The Ijaw ethnic nationalities have been part of the state from as long as many residents can remember, and they live in the coastal area. Although the Ijaw can be found in other areas of the South-South, they have long lived in locations near many sea trade routes, and it is said that wherever there is a river, an Ijaw born is not far off.
In Ondo state, the Ijaw have one out of the 18 local government areas in the state. The Ese-Odo Local Government Area is inhabited by the Ijaw, and happens to be one of the two oil-producing councils in Ondo state.
Speaking on the adoption of the anthem, the Ijaw have accused the governor of running the state without considering its pluralistic nature, and described the action as provocative, and a deliberate affront to the peace-loving Ijaw of Ondo State.
Government Should Be All-inclusive, Says Lawmaker
The representative of the Ijaw community in the state’s House of Assembly, Hon. Success Torhukerhijo, representing Ese-Odo constituency, said it was out of place to adopt an anthem for the state in Yoruba language without thinking of the concern of the Ijaw, knowing that the state has two ethnic nationalities – the majority Yoruba, and the minority Ijaw.
Torhukerhijo, in a statement in Akure, said it was a ploy to relegate the Ijaw from the history of Ondo state, and urged Governor Akeredolu to toe the path of his predecessors who created a subordinate area council, which enjoyed almost equal status with other local governments in the state in 1981.
The lawmaker, while citing other references to actions in which he said the Ijaw had been relegated, said the adoption of the anthem reflects the lack of social equality and an antithesis to a united, just and free society.
Torhukerhijo said: “It is perplexing that the governor, in spite of his pedigree, does not possess the political will for an all-inclusive government, and the Ijaw of Ondo State have been subjected to neglect and abandonment on issues of state by his executive and administrative actions.”
“It is pitiable that the Ijaw with a lot of qualified manpower do not have a permanent secretary, no judge in the state’s High Court, and we are short-changed in every facet of the state public service by Governor Akeredolu’s executive and administrative actions.
“It is pathetic that we have only one magistrates’ court in the whole of over 250 communities in Ijaw land and no magistrate is posted to the place.
“The governor is beckoned to strive to run an all-inclusive government by considering the interest of the Ijaw in Ondo State in his administrative and executive actions and in all aspects of governance.This is intolerable and is rejected by the Ijaw ethnic nationality.”
Torhukerhijo, the only Ijaw lawmaker among the 25 Yoruba-speaking parliamentarians, also presented the concerns of his people at the House of Assembly, and urged the state government to immediately put on hold the adoption of the indigenous anthem.
He noted that while the people of the state have always accommodated the Ijaw ethnic group, the Ijaw were not taken into consideration before the adoption of the indigenous anthem.
Buttressing his claim, Torhukerhijo referred to Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which states that “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person(s) be subjected either expressly by, or in practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restriction to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups and places of origin, sex, religions, or political opinions.”
‘Ondo Isn’t A Wholly Yoruba-speaking State’
Also expressing displeasure over the newly introduced indigenous anthem in Ondo, a leader of the Ijaw community in the state, Patrick Sorewei, said the people are not happy about the development, describing the action as a threat to the Ijaw identity.
Sorewei said: “For the fact that we are in Ondo State by virtue of geographical classification does not mean we are Yoruba because our culture, tradition and language differ from Yoruba.
“The Ijaw is the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria and the state government should consider that Ondo is not a wholly Yoruba-speaking state, and should not enforce the anthem on the Ijaw ethnic group.”
‘We Can’t Sing What We Don’t Know’
Also speaking, Suffy Ugorji, a politician in Ondo State, said the disposition of an average Ijaw is that “we are not Yoruba but a distinct people with different cultural background”, adding that “we don’t understand the language and can’t sing what we don’t know.”
Ugorji, who said the state government has always been recognised by the ijaw people in the past, said the people of the local government area should be excused from reciting the anthem.
“We are not against it and we are not for it, but we should not be coerced to recite or observe it,” he said.
He appealed to the governor to address years of marginalisation of the minority Ijaw of Ondo State, saying the Ijaw have been excluded from all critical committees, and have been “stripped of a sense of belonging in their own state”.
However, an official of the state who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Ijaw have nothing to worry about over the adoption of the indigenous anthem, and said they should be exempted from observing or reciting the anthem.
The official noted that, despite being the minority, the present administration in the state has been identifying with the Ijaw, adding that the current Commissioner for Information and Orientation in the state is not only from the minority but also one of the strongest and most recognised personalities in Akeredolu’s cabinet.
The official, however, said the Ijaw should not feel threatened by the anthem, saying everyone understands their position and an issue should not be made out of nothing.
The official said: “This does not deny the fact that they are still and will always be citizens and part of this state, despite the difference in culture, tradition and customs. This should not be a controversial issue to cause division among the people of the state.”