The politics of the stomach played in today’s Nigeria has redefined the concept of political correctness. The situation is now such that people with access to power and the media prefer to play safe; many of them who have been classified by certain commentators as rent seekers will rather prefer not to rock the boat. Why would they, and why should they? They wouldn’t want their wells to dry up.
It is now widely accepted that Nigeria is slowly on the march towards a national renaissance, this involves a re-awakening of the consciousness of the citizens towards their responsibilities, and those of the government. These shared senses of responsibilities have led to some of the various reforms initiated by the Obasanjo government, likewise the openness and willingness of Nigerians to adopt and trial these, with the aim of re-invigorating the various socio-economic and political sectors in Nigeria.
Though some of the reforms are yet to start bearing the expected fruits, on the face value, they seem like lofty initiatives. However, to give the people a true sense of belonging in the entity called Nigeria, such that they would actively wish to participate in the vision of a new Nigeria, a sense of equity, justice and fair play must also be felt by all the component units. This does not appear to be happening at the moment.
Amongst the federating units in Nigeria and the over 250 ethic groups, the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa ethnic groups have always dominated national politics. Perhaps, this may be as result of their greater numbers in population, likewise their somewhat active involvement and participation in successive governments since Nigeria achieved colonial independence in 1960. Such domineering presence and control of what Nigerians chose to call the ‘national cake’ has always irked the other ethnic groups who are in the minority. These minority groups feel left out in the scheme of things in Nigeria, a situation that has now bred distrust, fear and a sense of hopelessness; this invariably affects their sense of patriotism, likewise their national identity and psyche
Within the smaller ethnic groups appear to be a rising feeling of sub-nationalism, of a need and desire for the groups to take their own fate into their hands. They question the concept of nationhood in a Nigerian system with less than caring attitude and posture towards issues that affect them.
Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo and his NDPVF militants
The Niger Delta people located in the southern part of Nigeria epitomise this struggle for political and economic emancipation. Years of exploitation of the natural resources which abound plentifully in their region by oil exploration companies, most infamously and notoriously Shell has culminated in a situation of despair for the people, polluted rivers and wickedly environmental degradation.
Successive Niger Delta leaders and opinion leaders have tried in the past to draw the attention of the world to the plight of the region to no avail. Their illustrious son Ken Saro-Wiwa paid the ultimate price in the hands of Sani Abacha’s hangmen, alongside eight members of his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Before him, another Ijaw son in the person of Isaac Adaka Boro had briefly declared independence for an Ijaw state, but his insurgence was quelled by the federal troops in what is now regarded as the 12 Day revolution. . The struggle for an independent Ijaw state, or an Ijaw state to be reckoned with, within a united Nigeria has now entered another phase; that of armed struggles and kidnappings.
Years of failed promises by successive Nigerian governments and oil companies operating in the region has finally snapped the patience of the people. The Ijaws have now risen, and they are taking no prisoners literally. It appears the Nigerian government and the international community are listening and responding to their new wave guerrilla tactics. But their contemporaries in MASSOB, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra are not enjoying similar patronage; some of them that dared kick a football in a symbolic football match were rounded up and jailed in 2005 but they were lucky still, as many have been murdered by federal soldiers and left to die like animals.
Where is the sense of equity in this? Why do young men and women rage? Is it not worth finding out why many seem to want out of the British contraption called Nigeria?
After months of incarceration, the symbol of the new Ijaw nation’s struggle for equity and justice, and a true disciple of Isaac Adaka Boro before him, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo, the founder and leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) was recently granted bail by a federal court, a pre-condition to negotiating a lasting peace in the now volatile Niger Delta region.
The media reported about the extra long convoy that accompanied his return to his beloved Ijaw nation. Over 400 cars, including luxury SUVs followed him in his Hummer Humvie on his triumphant return. He was accorded a hero’s welcome, a folk hero and a battle ready general that understands and speaks the one language the government prefers at the moment. Will such a government in the future wonder where spin-offs are coming?
The same Nigerian government had demonstrated in 2005 its inclination to listen more to young revolutionists like Dokubo, rather than ageing ‘ex-warlords and rebels’ like Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Ikemba). At about the time the Niger Delta struggle was gearing into the now violent phase, it had sent a chartered aircraft to bring Dokubo to Abuja for a parley with the authorities. Ojukwu did not enjoy such privilege and was sent a one way economy class ticket to come to Abuja for interrogation by the sate security services (SSS). The Ikemba refused and the much reported stand-off ensued between him and the Nigerian authorities.
The Ijaws are rejoicing, likewise their fellow Nigerian compatriots. However, in celebrating the release of Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo, one can not but also think about the fate of other Nigerian citizens languishing in various prisons and jails in Nigeria. These prisoners of conscience are victims of an unfair justice and political system in Nigeria. Among this group is Chief Ralph Uwazurike, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) whose belief in the sovereign state of Biafra is not any different from Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo’s armed campaigns for an independent Ijaw nation. Just like Ojukwu, Uwazurike remains committed to a free independent Igbo nation, or an Igbo nation with equal equity alongside other ethic groups in a united Nigeria. Both Ojukwu and Uwazurike have been branded rebels, but not Dokubo.
The difference between Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo and Chief Ralph Uwazurike is that Chief Uwazurike is of the Igbo stock, a people whose attempt to secede from Nigeria in 1967 led to the loss of over 3 million Igbo lives. Unlike Mujahid Dokubo who now has Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to plead his case, Chief Uwazurike has no brethren or kinsman who is the Vice President of Nigeria.
Where as Mujahid Dokubo had people speaking for him, Chief Uwazurike has no body speaking for him as yet. He is not important to anybody. His people (Ndigbo) are inconsequential in Nigeria. They may have oil deposits buried deep in their lands but they are only still deposits, at best part of Nigeria’s crude oil reserves and have not yet started yielding any national income. Chief Uwazurike and his MASSOB group have not yet started kidnapping any expatriates, they have not blown up any oil facilities yet and have no bargaining chips, therefore there case file has since been dumped into the Ajegunle lagoon.
Uwazurike (in red cap) and Ojukwu in 2001
Again I ask, where is the equity and justice in all these? Who speaks for Uwazurike and Ndigbo?
Does President Umar Yar’Adua really want to make a clean start or is it still the same old story? His government, though still new should extend the warm handshake to the Uwazurikes of Nigeria as well, as a gesture of goodwill. This will actually set the tone for a real national reconciliation; anything short of this would alienate Ndigbo further and make them question their stake in the Nigeria of everybody’s dreams. It is for this reason that organisations and websites sympathetic to the plight of Ndigbo are springing up all over the world, worthy of interest is The Good Shepherd Movement, an organisation committed to propagating the Igbo cause.
And for the prominent Igbo women and men, those that traversed the corridors of power in the last 8 years, and those still close to power in Nigeria, shame on them. What were they afraid of, and what are they still afraid of? Associating themselves with Uwazurike does not necessarily make them criminals, neither will identifying with the plight of Ndigbo make them Aso Rock outcasts. If they are in doubt, they should look at the crème of Ijaw society who are now literally eating off Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo’s palms, hosting him at private and public receptions. These Ijaw leaders of thought are also politicians and they know that every politician ultimately falls back on his roots and constituency, but are Igbo leaders of thought aware of this yet?
President Umar Yar’Adua, please free Chief Ralph Uwazurike now!
For images of the massacre of members of MASSOB, click here