What Makes Delta People Tick?

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What Makes Delta People Tick?

By Azuka Onwuka

There is a state in Nigeria whose people I find mystifying. That is Delta State in South-South Nigeria. There is something special about the state. One wonders if it is the land that makes the people special or the people that make the land special. For example, even though there are Ijaw in other states of Nigeria, the Ijaw in Delta are unique. And even though it is only the River Niger that separates the Igbo in Anambra and the Igbo in Delta, the Igbo in Delta are unique. There is a daring spirit that a Deltan possesses that may shock or amaze other people.

The Pidgin English expression “Warri no dey carry last” (Warri never comes last) best describes Delta State. Even though Warri is not the capital of Delta State, it is the major city of Delta. Delta is Warri and Warri is Delta. Indeed Delta never lags behind on any issue – whether positive or negative. Put succinctly, Deltans never do things by halves. It is either they do it fully or they don’t do it at all. When you think of Deltans, you think of Texans.

There is hardly any field of endeavour that one can mention in Nigeria and Delta is not among the top 3 in it or at least the top 5. Delta is among the top 3 oil-producing states of Nigeria.  If one dismisses that as the work of nature, then let us move to other sectors. In education, for example, annually Delta is usually among the top 3 states in terms of the highest number of applicants seeking admission into institutions of higher learning in Nigeria. In the exams conducted by National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Examinations Council (WAEC), Delta usually performs well to be among the best.

Delta State has given the world writers like John Pepper Clark, Buchi Emecheta, Ben Okri, Isidore Okpewho; historians like Elizabeth Isichei, artists like Bruce Onobrakpeya, to mention but a few.

In sports and entertainment, Delta rules. The first Nigerian that touched a World Cup in football is a Deltan: Nduka Ugbade. In 1985 he captained Nigerian youths to victory in what was then called FIFA Under-16 World Championship, which was late named the FIFA Under-17   World Cup. The second time Nigeria won the cup in 1993, another Deltan (Wilson Oruma) was the captain of the team. The next year when Nigeria’s Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations, another Deltan (Stephen Keshi) was the captain. Are these feats mere coincidence? Which state can produce the magical skills of Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, or the sprint skills of Blessing Okagbare? A Deltan (Stephen Keshi) just handed over to another Deltan (Sunday Oliseh) as the coach of Nigeria’s Super Eagles. What about Nduka Odizor of the tennis fame?

In acting, can anyone ever forget the thespian skills of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Justus Esiri, Enebeli Elebuwa, Stella Damasus, etc? In production and directing, Deltans hold sway too. What can one say about Zeb Ejiro, Chico Ejiro, Jeta Amata, Fred Amata, Zack Amata, Ruke Amata, Opa Williams, etc?

In music, one remembers Omawumi, Dr Sid, Kefee, Oritsefemi, and the rest.

But the part of entertainment that seems to be tailor-made for the Deltans is comedy. And they have made a killing in it, since Ali Baba turned a field that nobody took seriously into a lucrative profession. Delta people in real life do not look comic or funny. They look every inch serious. They play hard, work hard, love hard, sleep hard. But they can be cheeky. Because of their demonstrative way of speaking, others easily laugh when they speak. Their Pidgin English rolls like music: you always want to hear them speak it. It seems to have been created by them or for them. But why not?


Delta is perhaps the only state where no local language is dominant. Right inside Warri – which is the heartbeat of Delta – the Urhobo, Itsekiri and Ijaw all mingle freely, in addition to other Nigerians and foreigners. If the Urhobo man wants to have fruitful communication with the Itsekiri man, then both of them must speak a neutral language, since none of them would accept that the language of the other is superior. Even though English is Nigeria’s official language, it has many rules that even those with university degrees find difficult to adhere to, which leads to grammatical errors. So Pidgin English became the lingua franca in Delta. Having spoken it for such a long time, the Deltans have personalized it, continuously adding new words and styles to the language.

So when a Deltan handles the microphone and talks without any jokes, the audience find the flow of his words interesting and funny. Because Delta people are very demonstrative, expressive, passionate and daring, their mere use of words, facial expressions and gesticulations make other Nigerians burst into laughter. The Deltans themselves sometimes don’t even understand what has made the people laugh. So comedy comes to them naturally. That is why most jokes in Nigeria today seem to be about Akpos the Warri guy.

If you go into banking and finance, they hold the aces. From Mr Tony Elemelu of the UBA, to Mr Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank, to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the World Bank, to Mr Godwin Emefiele of the Central Bank of Nigeria, to Mrs Cecilia Ibru and to Olorogun O’Tega Emerhor, they stand out.

In business, they are too numerous to name: the Ibru business dynasty (Olorogun Michael Ibru, Sir Alex Ibru, Mr Goodie Ibru), Chief Sonny Odogwu,  Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Senator David Dafinone, Chief Peter Okocha, Chief Newton Jibunoh, etc. In the media business, they are strong: The Guardian by Ibru, Vanguard by Mr Sam Amuka-Pemu, etc.

In pastoring, the Deltans are not missing: from the Most Rev Nicholas Okoh, Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion); to Pastor Ayo Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, founder/Senior Pastor of Word of Life Bible Church; to Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma of the Enugu Diocese; etc

In politics and national prominence, they are visible: Chief Dennis Osadebay, Chief Edwin Clark, Obi (Prof) Chike Edozien, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, Mrs Mariam Babangida, Mr Felix Ibru, Dr Abel Ubeku, Prof Pat Utomi, Chief Philip Asiodu, etc. In the military, they hold sway: Major General David Ejoor, former Chief of Army Staff; Lt. General Alexander Ogomudia, former Chief of Army Staff;  Air Marshal Paul Dike, former Chief of Defence Staff;  Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, former Chief of Naval Staff, etc.

In law, medicine and engineering, like any other field, they shine. The Deltans never lag behind, among Nigerians.

Even though I have no kinship with Delta State, some two decades ago, I noticed the spirit of excellence of the Deltans and took an interest in them. Following them closely revealed that there is something striking about the Deltans. Deltans never get anything on a silver platter, yet they excel wherever they are. No matter how few they are in a group, their impact is easily felt. They are neither timid nor shy. You cannot intimidate them. You cannot easily take them for a ride.

Nigerians need to pay more attention to the Deltans to find out what makes them tick. Is it in their genes? Is it in their land? Is it in the air they breathe or in the water they drink or in the food they eat? Do they grow up in a difficult environment that gives them no other option except to excel or suffer? Nigerians need to copy the Delta spirit, so that like Warri (Delta), people would start to say positively about Nigeria: “Naija no dey carry last!”

Published September 15, 2015


  1. Oduche Azih July 17, 2016 Reply
    • Azuka Onwuka July 17, 2016 Reply

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