Individually, some members of the Ijaw ethnic group in the Niger Delta region are doing well. In fact, some are doing exceptionally well. Collectively however, we are in a rut. We the Ijaws, even by Nigerian standard, are in political, social, and economic rut. The saddest part of our collective condition is that we brought it upon ourselves. It may be hip to blame the outsiders – and indeed they are to be held responsible for the atrocities they have committed against us – but, when it is all said and done; the blame rest squarely with us. We allowed it.
We closed our eyes to the injustice the outsiders dish out to us. Some of us acquiesced to the stealing, misappropriations, misadministration and exploitation. For instance: if non-Ijaws were in charge of all the three tiers of government in Bayelsa State – wouldn’t we have shouted, rebelled, and attempt to instigate a Tbilisi or a Sucre? But because they are fellow Ijaws, we close our eyes and blunt our conscience and go along hoping that 2007 would be better. Oh no! Come 2007, others will simply perfect the “art of stealing and bad leadership.”
There are four policies that would have made a significant difference in our state (Bayelsa) and in the lives of our people if we had paid attention, beginning in 1999: (1) Quality Education; (2) Expansion of the economic base and diversification of the economy; (3) Improvement in our political institutions; and (4) Improvement in our public infrastructures. But instead, we have public servants traversing the globe; accumulating posh cars, fine wines, houses and mistresses. I wonder how much frequent-flier miles some of these nefarious public officials have amassed since 1999?
I have no empirical data to support my next assertion; but still, I would suggest that poor or lack of formal education is hindering our development and have adversely affected our worldview. This defect is a contributory factor to our understandable rage and fury.
Politics is a game. But it is not a game for neophytes and greenhorns. This game is mostly about power (political, economic and military); and is also about influence and reward for being a member of an alliance. You go into a political-game because you want to win. You play because you want to be victorious. There are rules to this game; but your primary concern must be “self-interest, self-preservation and self perpetuation” only because victory is not a public good; it is not like the wind that blows every which way. It comes to those who cultivate it and is mostly dependent on the combination of three factors: our disposition; our ability and willingness to genuinely work hard for it; and knowing what to do with it once we’ve achieved it. Once you have all three elements, then, you look for proven-allies to be there for you in “rainy moments.” And then you consult with God!
The Pope prays; but also plays politics – same for Paris, Abuja, Accra, Lisbon, Canberra, London and others. Why should it be any different for the Ijaws who are wont to leave everything for God and are wont to do every thing in the name of God?
Our enemies are right there in our midst. Beyond those that are in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and in the towers of those oil and multinational corporations operating on our land — our “number one” enemies are the Ijaw elites. NOT all Ijaw elites; but a significant number of them are. They work against our interest. They collude with the government and other ethnies to exploit us, encourage strife, lawlessness, and stagnation.
What is the level of “federal presence” in Ijaw land? How many colleges of education, polytechnics, colleges of arts & science, roads, hospitals and clinics, bridges, highways, and the likes do we have? And to think that for its economic survival, Nigeria is riding on our back and shoulder?
What are our so-called elites doing about this fetid and appalling condition? Granted the state and federal government can’t do everything for us; but still, they should provide the foundation and the infrastructure for us to “take off.” In our situation – we neither have the foundation; the infrastructures and other wherewithal to enable us pull ourselves up by the bootstrap! And so: of what use is the federal and state government?
Allow me, at this junction, to reiterate and rephrase all the salient points you made:
· One of the challenges facing the Niger Delta is how to keep our people (especially the youths) politically awake so that the struggle for resource control, infrastructural development and modernization is not sidetracked;
· Those from the non-oil producing areas would never allow any Ijaw political leader to assume position of power for fear that such would change the dynamics of who controls what;
· Ijaws must eschew peace and peaceful-coexistence; otherwise, our detractors would use moments of strife to sow seeds of violence, destruction and destabilization;
· Ijaw land need an economic and educational base to help in the speedy emancipation and development of the region;
· That Nigerian politics is very Machiavellian in nature; therefore all those who venture into the political arena must be well prepared for all eventualities; and finally
· It is in the “national security interest” of ALL IJAWS to desist from selling lands to outsiders. All lands must remain in our strict possession.
Now, where do we go from here? We can either (1) allow things to remain the way they are and gracefully suffer in silence; (2) get involved in the political process which, hopefully, would enable us make changes within the system; or (3) form “think-tanks” that would enable us reshape, dice, shake, slice and remold our destiny. No matter what — the time has come for us to rethink our relationship with Nigeria, with our elites and with ourselves.
Mr. Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
April 23, 2004