Ijaw Nation And South-South/South-East Politics

by Ossie Ezeaku

In Igbo parlance, It is said that someone’s neighbour could be more of a brother. The saying is hinged on the fact that the proximity associated with neighbourliness promotes mutual understanding and empathy. The Ijaw and her neighbours, including the Igbo, have known one another for thousands of years pre-dating the famous Hausa-Fulani relationship.

The pre-Nigerian history of the Ijaw and the Igbo in particular, was indeed a peaceful one, filled with significant legacies. One of them was the formidable rise of an Igbo slave boy, who later became one of the most respected African kings. King Jaja as he was known, was equally revered during his reign by the British Royal House of Windsor. He was shrewd in business, as well as savvy in politics. The slave boy from Amaigbo, in the present Imo state, later founded Opobo Kingdom and established the Jaja dynasty that runs till date.

The history of the Ijaw and the Igbo in respect of the origins of Opobo and Bonny (Umu-Ubani), vis avis the intermingling of the two peoples, have actually produced a hybrid race. The two communities today are bi-lingual. The Igbo dialect of Opobo known as “Igbani”, was favourably chosen as one of the Igbo dialects by the colonial Bible translation committee. This was In total exclusion of Nri/Awka and Onitsha dialects for that matter. It could rightly be said that the Igbo version of the Holy Bible is a testimony of the real Igboworld.It is not uncommon to hear Igbo family names such as ‘Ubani’, referring to the town of Bonny. But the post civil war politics has twisted Bonny and Opobo, and made them sound far distant lands from the rest of the Igbo.

Events preceding the Nigerian civil war, and the part played by some Ijaw leaders at the time, and immediately after the war, especially in Port-Harcourt, have come to define the modern Ijaw political philosophy. A propaganda philosophy that could be said to be rooted in the fear of Igbo vendetta. Fear, which this writer and many Igbos thought was un-called for. The systematic indoctrination of innocent new generation of the Ijaws with such Igbophobia was strategically of no value.

I should stress that there was a leaf to be borrowed from the Late Chief Ken Saro-Wiwa’s uninvited appearance at one Ohaneze meeting 1994. There and then, Chief Saro-Wiwa to the amazement of everyone, asked his fellow Igbo neighbours to lend their voices in his struggle for the self-determination of his Ogoni people. It was indeed a milestone. To many Igbos, he was simply a “saboteur”. And moreover, a man who used his newspaper column in the 70s to humiliate them on a weekly basis. To see him come to them on a mission to revive an agitation that he actually helped to stifle was all too amazing. However, his appearance at that Ohaneze meeting would mark the first time any Southern minority leader, would sit in an Ohaneze meeting with their Igbo brothers after the civil war.

It is instructive to mention that It was at the same meeting, that the Late elder statesman Chief Sam Mbakwe reminded the audience of something else. For the first time, most of the attendees learnt from Chief Mbakwe that while Easterners were searching for a name to be given to the new nation which was about to emerge, It was an Ijaw, the late Frank Opugo, that suggested the name Biafra. A name synonymous with the Igbo today, and whose youths are proudly dying for.On the other hand, Ken Saro Wiwa, however, was warmly received at the meeting in a true brotherly re-union. It was really an emotional situation.

Currently, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark is the Ijaw national “leader”. He equally serves as the intermediary of the Ijaw rebels and Nigeria’s federal government. In recent years, the name Edwin Clark has been synonymous with all what Ijaw stands for–freedom, self-determination, fiscal federalism, political federalism, states creation, resource control, separate Ijaw region and so on and so forth. If this is an aversion of the ignoble roles played by this man in the period preceding the civil war, it is yet to be seen.

One of his contemporaries Chief Anthony Enahoro has since turned a new political leaf.Though at the dawn of his political life, Chief Enahoro has thrown away the material lures of Nigerian politics in place of ideology. He is apparently keen on how he would be remembered by the ever-growing assertive Southern politics. He is a regular face at the Ethnic-Nationalities Forum meetings, which sometimes are held under the auspices of Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a former political adversary. It will be recalled that Chief Anthony Enahoro was the Nigerian Government’s ‘Joseph Goebels’ during the war years.

On the other hand, Chief Edwin Clark appear not to have been politically redeemed. He was one of the arrow-heads that engineered the Nigerian government to reject the Aburi Accord of 1967. An agreement that granted Eastern Nigeria (including part of his Ijaw nation) confederate status within the Nigerian nation. His anti-Igbo rhetoric, plans and actions have rather increased in recent times. Clark’s legacies vis a vis his “Ijaw-nation” were not more than his selfish interests. Such was manifest when he accepted a ministerial position at the expense of the confederate status granted to Eastern Nigeria. Which he is today fighting for crumbs of the same agreement under different terminologies–13%, 17%, 25% derivation etc.

Despite his unmitigated malice to the Igbo, the latter have not relented in her goodwill towards the Ijaw people and their aspirations. Clark is currently a leading voice in the South-South. A zone that was created at the instance of the former Vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.What is happening now is the use of the South-South people’s assembly (SSPA) platform to subtly discredit any Igbo-speakingpresidential candidate; and the South-South/South East joint presidential candidacy.The latest moves might not be unconnected to recent verbal attacks on the Rivers state Governor, Dr. Peter Odili by Prof. Tam David West. West had on several occasions been confronted by Nigerian journalists on his anti-Igbo antecedents.

Some Ijaw leaders have severally accused the Rivers state Governor of leaning toOhaneze, and had on one occasion asked him to confirm or deny being Igbo. He has for reason(s) that I thought were not wise kept mute on this particular issue. Not too long ago, a group that called themselves Niger-Delta Coastal Guerrillas said that Gov. Odili is even from Anambra and won’t be allowed to represent the South-South. To further press home their message, there have been paid newspaper campaigns warning of the perils of an Odili presidency.

One would not fail to question the meaning to all these bravado. Does the Nigerian constitution stipulate that an ethnic Igbo shouldn’t vie for the office of the presidency? Talking to the Vanguard on Feb.26 on the joint South-East/South-South presidency, Clark said,

” We will not accept it. If it is our turn to present a presidential candidate, that presidential candidate must be from the South-South, not somebody who has double loyalty”

He was referring to no other person than Gov. Odili, or any Igbo speaking South-South candidate. It is important to mention that Ijaws from other hamlets outside Bayelsa state assert their Ijaw purity without intimidation.The Apoi of Ondo state are equally regarded as their own, even though the Apoi have for centuries past adopted the language and manners of their Yoruba neighbours.Why should an ethnic Igbo-speaking Governor’s case be different? More spurious when juxtaposed with the fact that the Igboid language group of Rivers state–Umuetche, Obigbo, Ikwerre, Ahoada, Omoku and Ndoni constitutes a superor majority over the Ijaw group.

The Igbo wants the Ijaw to succeed. A prosperous Ijaw neighbour mindful of her territorial limits will more than anything else be in the interest of her Igbo neighbour. To trivialize the presence of native Igbo-speaking communities in the Niger-delta is a travesty of history and an open aggression on the ge

neral psyche of the Igbo-speaking people.

Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo couldn’t be lying when he talked to CNN April this year, he said,”…..there are other groups in the Niger-Delta alongside the Ijaws, there are the Urhobos, Ogonis, Igbos, Itshekiris, Efiks and so on”

I would also like to reiterate that Gov. Odili’s current travails in the hands of some Ijaw leaders and groups, should serve as an eye opener to some native Igbo communities in the South-South who are hell bent to disfigure their identities. For when the chips are down, those who find it politically expedient to accept and support their Igbo denial, will remind them that they are true Igbos. Odili is currently in that quagmire. He was ‘Rivers man’all the 15 years he’s been in the Rivers state politics. And now that he has aspired to be Nigeria’s president, the minority Ijaw leaders have found out that he is an Igboman. Same will happen if It were to be a candidate from any of the communities such as Ukwuani, Ika, Ikwerre,Ekpeye and so on. And in Rivers state, the situation will equally not change If It were people like Prince Chibudom Nwuche, Austin Opara or Chibuike Amechi in Odili’s situation..

It is a dilemma for the Governor. The politics have shifted from that of Rivers state to the gigantic national politics. The Igbos, I believe will vote for him. But any attempt to deny his Igbo identity will cost him the over 40 million Igbo population support in Nigeria. He’s smart; he’s aware of It.After the Nigerian civil war, some Igbo communities in the present South-South adopted the names of their ‘local governments’and ‘clans’ as their ‘ethnic nationalities’ to escape the deprivations that visited the Igbo race.Odili’s native Ndoni was not an exception, though forcefully ceded to Rivers state together with Obigbo In 1976 by the then Mamman Nasir Boundary adjustment commission.

There are several Ijaw demands that includes states creation which this writer equally support. States can no longer be created by military decrees as was done in the past. We have seen the powers of democracy from the botched “third term”.As democracy and Its intensive horse-trading takes root in Nigeria, the Ijaw and the Igbo will need each other’s help. Definitely the Ijaw will need the Igbo more than the Igbo will need her, because of the latter’s numerical standing and tripodal status. .

Alhaji Umaru Dikko had in the Sunday Punch of 25th June, threatened the Ijaw rebels to learn from the hard lessons of their more experienced, big Igbo neighbours. I am not saying that he was right in his threat. But a politically united Southern Nigeria can quickly wither this kind of arrogant threat and bravado. It is time the new generation of the Ijaw sent their untiring, and faceless retired politicians home. Edwin Clark should go home with his malicious politics; It is high time the Ijaw fashioned a new PR.

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GODFREY METUANGHAN December 12, 2008 - 3:26 pm

I am surprised the writer refers to Bonny and Opobo as Igbo people. May be he is confusing the rebelious ex-slave jaja whowas bought from Igbo land as slave to draw his conclusion. Is there any elder statesman like chief EK Clark in Igbo land who would not accept bribe to betray thier cause. Ndigbo is a problem onto itself. Every Iboman feels the Ijaw is his problem. May god give you people the wisdom of unity

Anonymous July 7, 2006 - 5:47 pm

You cannot refer to the Bonny or Opobo languages as Igbo dialects.That would be a very wrong translation of history.

Amaechi Johnson July 7, 2006 - 2:18 pm

Interesting and revealing!


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