Among the several ethnic nationalities that abound in the World today, the Isoko are some of the most unassuming, soft-spoken and urbane. They are hospitable and tolerable to a fault, leading some to think that gentleness in the face of exploitation is tantamount to cowardice and indolence. But that indeed is not true and not so. In fact, the Isoko are egalitarian and very urbane. In we are to reel out a list of the who is who among the Isoko of the Niger Delta, we would find out that their achievements in the fields of science and technology, of the law and politics and the economy remains unparalleled and cannot be ignored.
The land we occupy is a guarantee that the Nigerian enterprise has an assurance of three square meals daily. These are matters and statements of fact. Take for example the fact that one of the communities in Isokoland has the largest petroleum oil producing capacity in Nigeria. According to public figures and statistics, oil exploration started in Isokoland in 1957 and one small town in the Isoko South local government, Uzere, has two oil fields (Uzere West and Uzere East) with a total of 43 oil wells producing about 53,000 barrels per day (8,400 m3/d). None belongs to an Isoko person, living or dead but have been shared out among pseudo-contemporaries of the Nigerian enterprise.
In the extant period, oil spills from petroleum exploration and exploitation have wiped out our rivers, lakes and arable farmland. What we have on ground today are mere burrow pits and artificial lakes, and conditions of life that have persistently held the average Isoko man to ransom. In the face of this, it would have been reasonable to expect that for a people who are custodians of the oil wealth of this country, that there would have been a better bargain either in appointments to federal and state institutions, or that there are reasonable allocations of scholarships and capacity building programmes to sons and daughters of Isokoland.
But over the years, the Nigerian deal and bargain has not favoured sons and daughters of Isokoland. There was a time in the post-colonial past when the Isoko people were the victims of marginalization and exploitation from their immediate neighbours the Urhobo. At the heart of agitations for an all-inclusive representation at both the local, regional and federal levels, the Isoko were eclipsed either by the Urhobo or Itsekiri, groups in the Delta. One name in Isoko land that is synonymous with the struggle for the emancipation of the Isoko at that epoch was James Ekpre Otobo. Isoko people fondly remember Chief Otobo as an astute statesman and grassroots leader who nearly single-handedly wrenched Isokoland from the Urhobo and Itsekiri behemoths.
But today the fight and the struggle is of a different hue and disposition. Isoko people no longer want to be at the periphery of national discourse and political participation and inclusion. We are sick and tired of politics of you-chop-I-chop and politics of exclusivity. And just like the days of Chief James Otobo, one voice which all Isoko people and all Nigerians can identify with as having fought for egalitarianism and justice and politics of inclusion is none other than that of Ogaga Ifowodo. Esq.
A man is great and successful not by the number of cars and houses he has but by the number of people that his life has touched, motivated and influenced for something of value. Such a man is Ogaga Ifowodo. Apart from what you would probably read of this man on the internet, take a listen and hear what a former classmate of his, Sam Kargbo, has to say of him: ‘Ogaga Ifowodo had a leftist inclination all through his stint as a law student in Uniben. He was always at the forefront of constructive criticism against the University’s high-handedness and mishandling of student affairs. While Bamidele Opeyemi was leader of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Ogaga was secretary and easily the most articulate and eloquent in presenting the living as well as academic conditions of the students in Nigeria’. Ogaga was coveted as a dogged fighter and defender of the rights of Nigerians thereafter, and today remains in the vanguard for the promotion of social equality, sustainable development of the grass and the roots of Isokoland.
But the same cannot be vouchsafed concerning the elements that presently represent the collective destiny of the Isoko people in Nigeria. The hopes and dreams of Isoko people have, as individuals and as a group, been consistently shattered on the altars of personal aggrandizement and aloofness. Those who seem to be benefitting from the mere crumbs falling down are fawns and bootlickers who have perfected the unfine art of yesmanism. Let’s put this assertion to the test shall we, and ask – in the entire representation of the incumbent, how much has he collected as constituency allowances in the long period of time the current man has been said to represent us? How many sons and daughters of Isokoland has this ‘representative’ used his representation to procure appointments to key institutions in Nigeria? How much capacity building has ever taken place in Uhei, Ezede, Uweye, Afikioko, Uwhroko, Ekregbesi, Abale, Iwre-Ezede, and Iboro apart from the instruments of indoctrination and campaign that are in very few hands? If there are schools, health centres and social amenities in Uzere, and its vibrant clans and kingdoms, how many of them can be traced to the direct influence of the man currently ‘representing’ us? Indexes of strong representation cannot be calculated in bags of rice and beans and iPod’s in the empowerment of cronies, but by a gross domestic capacity sustained by the empowerment and enablement of all.
The collective mind, body and soul of the Isoko, particularly that of those of us from the Southern fissure is made up. Buoyed by the relentless and unyielding winds of change blowing fast and furious across the land, we express our vote of strong confidence in the ability of Ogaga Ifowodo to be the voice that articulates our need for a better and more robust representation in the affairs of our country. We give him our mandate in a social contract that we are confident that he will execute.