Strategic Factors and Options: The Credibility of the Ijaw Nation

by Priye Torulagha

Unfortunately, in the oil-producing states, including Bayelsa, there is no such thing as a legislative oversight of the executive branch. The governors collect the funds, make the budgets and spend the funds at their own discretion. The legislators wait in anticipation of being rewarded financially for not impeding the governors. The governors use the funds to manipulate the behavior of the legislators. This is why the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha, spent most of his official time in overseas. Former governor Dr. Peter Odili of Rivers State was so generous dishing out Rivers State money to others throughout the country as if he was a Santa Claus. He even bought a plane supposedly for medical care without incurring the wrath of the Rivers State legislature. Now, Chief James Ibori, the former governor of Delta State and Chief Lucky Igbinedion, the former governor of Edo State are being compelled to account for their tenure in office. If the legislators in Bayelsa, Delta and Edo States had done their jobs, the embarrassment that the people of the Niger Delta states are now facing would not have taken place. The legislators in Bayelsa would have given Chief Alamieyeseigha an ultimatum, “either you stay at home and develop Baylesa State or we transfer power to another person.” If the legislators in Delta State had done their jobs, the EFCC would not have been doing their jobs for them now. The same goes for the legislators in Edo State. Where were the state legislators when the governors were literally privatizing the wealth of their states? Soon or later, the EFCC would have to go after Dr. Peter Odili and or Sir Celestine Omehia.

As can be seen, it is not far-fetched to say that government is defective in Ijawland. Between 1999 and 2007, particularly, in Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, and Rivers States, it is very difficult to say that the Ijaw masses have seen any progressive change in their lives. Only those who are connected to those in power, contractors and civil servants in the accounting departments that can say with any degree of certainty that their lives have been improved. The rest of the Ijaw population lives at the mercy of God and the ancestors.

In Rivers State, not only are the Ijaw masses deprived, they are also under the constant threat of being annihilated by political thugs hired by the politicians to keep the people under control. Throughout Ijawland, there are some youth groups who are willing to become hired hands for political incumbents to prevent the political opposition from winning any election. After participating in such dishonorable activities, they openly demand compensation. It is the need to be compensated for blocking the democratic process that is leading to the kidnapping of individuals who are associated or related to the politicians. The politicians made promises to the hired-hands and then renegade when it is time to pay for the service. The youths react by kidnapping those associated with the politicians who made the secret deals with them.

The youths who are engaging in this dishonorable political business do not realize that by serving as political storm troopers to corrupt politicians, they are actually depriving themselves, their off-springs and relatives of a better future because they help to put and perpetuate oligarchs in power who do not really care about them. After clamoring for political and economic rights for decades, it is very difficult to fathom the idea that Ijaw politicians and some youth groups would actually engage themselves in activities designed to prevent their people from exercising political rights.

If one were to compare the period 1970-1980 with 1999-2007, the former period beats the later period at all levels of comparison with the exception of corruption. This means that Chief Diete Spiff, Col. Samuel Ogbemudia and Col. Samuel Essuene did wonders for Rivers, Bendel, and Southeastern States than the crops of PDP governors that have paraded themselves as the leaders of the oil-producing states. The amazing thing is that Spiff, Ogbemudia and Esuene were military governors and the PDP governors are supposed to have been elected by the people to represent them, theoretically

Due to lack of performance by public officials in the oil producing region, Nigerians from the non-oil producing regions are insisting that there should be no additional increase in the revenues of the oil-producing states since their leaders are unable to effectively manage the current levels of allocation that accrue to them.

11. In reviewing various websites with a view of determining the rate of Ijaw utilization of various means of communication, the impression is created that the Ijaws are still not comfortable utilizing internet technology to communicate. Whether the search engine is google or yahoo or any other, information about various aspects of Ijaw culture, traditions, and existence is very limited. There are no major pictures of Ijaw dances, masquerades, artefacts, towns, villages, costumes, festivals etc. Of all the festivals that take place in Ijawland, only Odi Ogori Uge has pictures, thanks to the effort of Mr. Francis Udisi. Even pictures of the destruction of Odi, Odiama, Obuama, Okrika etc, are rarely seen. The Ijaw websites, with the exception of Ijawnation and United Ijaw States are non-interactive. In other words, they are very stale. This is also the case for the Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States websites. These governmental websites look more like students’ projects. They are not updated regularly and they do not offer much information. In fact, both the Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture and the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture need to have their own websites, apart from being mentioned in the state websites. Likewise, the Niger Delta University needs to have a very interactive website.

In examining Nigerian pictures of various groups, it was very difficult to get Ijaw pictures. It was much easier to get pictures of smaller ethnic groups based in the North than that of the Ijaws. The Okrika Adumu (Odumu) festival and Ogwein masquerade appeared in little pictures. Only one Opobo masquerade appeared much larger. Some Kalabari pictures appeared through the effort of Sokari Douglas Camp.

The implication is that the Ijaws still do not seem to realize the fact that a picture speaks a thousand words. Thus, the Ijaws have an extensive work to do in order to inform the world about their existence in pictures As stated in an article earlier, the Ijaws must document their existence, using every available communication technology.

12. A new approach is needed in dealing with territorial disputes. Instead of going for a war option, a very simple traditional method could be very effective in deescalating such conflicts. For instance, in the ongoing Ijaw-Urhobo territorial dispute involving Aladja, why not call on both sides to swear in honor of their ancestors? If the Ijaws are convinced that the land is theirs, then why not swear by Egbesu or some other ancestral deity to the effect and let the consequence takes its course? In fact, some Ikwerre families applied this method in the early 1970s when some people presented fake property documents to claim land in their territory. The Ikwerre families simply told those who came with such documents to swear by their ancestors that they actually purchased the lands that they were claiming on the documents. Most of those claimants never returned as soon as the idea of swearing in the name of the ancestors was suggested.

This option is even more effective than the courts since it is generally believed in traditional African cultures that it is an abomination to swear falsehood in the name of the ancestors. It should be reminded that the Secretary of the Ondo State Government, Mr. Isaac Kekemeke suggested this method for determining truth when some Ijaw youths demanded payments from the governor and government of Ondo State. He said that the youths should swear by Egbesu.

Many people would find this suggestion indigestible due to their socialization and religious orientation. Nevertheless, something has to happen, otherwise, the Ijaws might end up constantly fighting wars with themselves and their neighbors over territorial ownership. Already, the impression is being propounded by Ijaw detractors painting them as a ‘bunch of troublemakers and war-mongers’. Territorial disputes would get worse in the future as people realize the importance of building resorts near the sea and move downwards.

13. The Ijaws should realize that sooner or later, the significance of petroleum in the world economy would diminish as the industrialized countries search for alternative fuels. Already, Brazil is leading the world in using sugar to produce fuel. If countries like the United States, Japan, China, and India join the bandwagon for alternative fuel, Ijawland would cease to become a strategic territory. If that happens, Nigeria will ignore and abandon Ijawland. Other Nigerians would laugh at the Ijaws for their inability to develop their territory.

Finally, it is crucial for Ijaw leaders to focus their energies in developing Ijawland infrastructurally, economically and otherwise now, before it is too late. There is no more time for extravagant spending in the ethnic nation by public officials. The Ijawnation cannot afford to have its credibility tarnished due to lack of performance.

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