Strategic Factors and Options: The Credibility of the Ijaw Nation

While Ijaw national agenda is proceeding at an appropriate speed, the internal situation still presents a major challenge. The lack of political responsibility, accountability, transparency, development and performance, in terms of delivering goods and services to the people is leading to questions, both internally and externally, about the capability of Ijaw political leaders to captain the ship of development and modernization. Indeed, as 2008 begins, it is appropriate at this time to note that the Ijawnation is facing credibility problems.

Increasingly, the notion that the Ijawnation stands for truth, justice, honesty, and rights is being contradicted by actions and inactions taken by various Ijaw citizens. Similarly, the notion that the Ijaw ethnic nation is a victim of Nigeria’s political and economic exploitation, marginalization and deprivations is being contradicted by activities of Ijaw elected and appointed public officials. Resultantly, the sympathy and recognition accorded the Ijaws due to the perception that they are victims of exploitation, marginalization and deprivations are evaporating following the inexcusable behaviors of some Ijaw governmental leaders who have persistently demonstrated a lack of creativity and foresight in developing and changing the lives of the people. Thus, it is increasingly sounding hollow when Ijaws say that they stand for truth and justice while their own leaders are exploiting and cheating them by pocketing funds that suppose to improve the Ijaw nation.

As the least developed part of the country, the Ijaw nation would have been leading the nation in terms of creativity, innovation, development and modernization, just as the Arabs in the Persian Gulf Region are turning deserts into very luxurious oases and creating island towns out of the Persian Gulf Sea. The Persian Gulf emirates are building first class medical facilities and six-star hotels. In Bayelsa State, which is the only Ijaw state, it appears that the leaders do not know what to do. Persian Gulf leaders look for the best architectural plans, latest technologies, and the best facilities that money can buy. It is interesting to note that in the annals of embezzlement in Nigeria, other ethnic groups have embezzled funds from other sources to build universities while the Ijaws allowed a situation whereby funds were embezzled from a university project to enrich individuals through fraudulent companies and contracts. This is why the Niger Delta University did not grow as it was expected, in terms of infrastructural development.

1. So far, Ijaw governmental leaders have not done much better than the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba political and military leaders whom the Ijaws have persistently accused of exploiting and marginalizing them. It should be noted that Bayelsa State has continuously been ruled by Ijaw sons since 1999, yet, there is not much to show for the period. The following testify to why not much has been accomplished:

a. For a riverine state, Bayelsa Government has not provided any public transportation system to the Ijawnation. Public transportation includes both land and water means of moving people from one location to another. This means that Ijaw people basically rely on private transportation to go from place to place while the state continues to receive money from the Federation Account on monthly basis. It is indeed very expensive for the average Ijaw citizen to travel from one destination to another due to high cost of transportation and fuel. This is quite different from the days of the Old Rivers, Bendel and Southeastern States. One of the first things the governments of those states did was to establish cost-effective and user-friendly public transportation systems. At one time, Bendel Lines dominated the entire country for providing luxurious public transportation system. Rivers State provided both land and water transportation systems, hence, one was able to travel to Lagos either on land or by water. By providing boats to ply the water ways, Rivers State made it easy for Ijaw traders to move their goods from one destination to another. Today, whether you are a Bayelsan or a Deltan or a Rivers or an Edoan Ijaw, you are on your own if you want to engage in any kind of trade. In other words, there is no realization among government officials that the state must actively participate in generating economic activities in order to ensure progress and tranquility.

b. At one time, Rivers State provided a mobile hospital service to the riverine communities of the state. Bayelsa State has no such scheme to help rural people. Those who cannot go to Yenagoa are doomed. It is unthinkable that a state governed by Ijaw officials would turn its back against the people that have spent almost six decades fighting for justice, political and economic rights.

c. The Rivers State of Diete Spiff created parastatal organizations to provide loans to indigenes to conduct businesses. Bayelsa State does not have a bank. It does not have any financial institution that can provide low-cost loans to help finance business activities in Ijawland. As a result, Ijaw people continue to be mere consumers of other peoples’ goods and services. In fact, during Christmas and other major holidays, when non-indigene traders and business owners leave Yenagoa and other parts of Ijawland for their home towns and villages, business activities are drastically reduced. When that happens, people have to postpone their major business activities until the non-indigenes return after the holidays. In Port Harcourt, the Ijaws are not only mere consumers, but are increasingly looking like political and economic refugees.

2. It appears that most elected Ijaw public officials (both elected and appointed) in Eastern, Central, and Western Ijawland have no clue whatsoever about the concept of strategic planning and development. Similarly, many do not seem to have any experience concerning parliamentary procedures, hence, are mere figure heads.

3. The rate of corruption in Ijawland is incredulously high. It is very disheartening that Ijaw elected officials would turn against their own masses and join the outside forces in fleecing their own people dry. This is most obvious in Bayelsa and Rivers States. The embezzlers are building oversize houses that resemble castles, thereby, clearly informing the onlooker that the houses are products of stolen wealth. Ordinarily, most of these “castle builders” would not have been able to to do so with their hard earned incomes. Of course, the same situation applies in Delta, Edo, Ondo and Akwa Ibom.

4. There is too much concentration of political power and official authority in Ijawland. Elected and appointed public officials, starting from the governor and ending with the most rudimentary level of authority across the breadth of Ijawland seem to think that their official positions are God-given to them. As a result, official functions are highly personalized to the extent that there are no clearly stipulated standard official procedures for conducting official business. Across the Niger Delta states, if a citizen wants to conduct official business with a state or a local government director, access seems to be granted only to those whom the officials know personally or are in business relationship with. Other Ijaws are shut out of the governmental process. In other words, you have to know the minister or director or permanent secretary personally for the person to grant you access to see him or her. It is not uncommon for government officials to make a citizen wait endlessly before granting official access to discuss official business. Concentration of power and authority also affect members of other ethnic groups in various states in the Niger Delta. Again, this is quite different from the days of Diete Spiff, Melford Okello, Samuel Esuene and Samuel Ogbemudia. Even Ada George, the former governor of Rivers State, is shocked by the lack of government interest on providing services to the citizens.

A major reason for the concentration of power could be the need to maximize the ability to exploit the public purse without public awareness of the process. Hence, only very trusted individuals are allowed to gain access to those in power. Those considered to be outsiders are discouraged by every means possible from getting

too close to the scene of action. Common expressions often used to dramatize the concentration of power are “he is my boy or she is my girl, let/him/her come in; without me he/she is nobody; and I made him/her what he/she is today; who are you?.”

5. Elected and appointed Ijaw officials behave as the masters of the people and not as the servants. Judging the mannerism, attitude and behavior of the officials, it appears that both elected and appointed public officials expect to be worshipped by the people. They forget that the government belongs to the people and they are merely temporary caretakers of the government for the people. Unfortunately, they operate more like gang bosses and expect everyone to worship them. Their personal assistants act like personal body guides, instead of as civil servants working for the state. They have a tendency to create obstacles that make it impossible for ordinary citizens to gain access to government officials. This means that Ijaw public officials, across the entire ethnic territory, do not care about public opinion. One could recall that in Rivers State, about two years ago, many helpless Ijaws visited Dokubo Asari instead of state officials to seek help. Likewise, many Ijaws have visited Comrade Joseph Evah, Dr. Felix Tuodulo, Chief E.K. Clark and other public figures to help them resolve matters relating to governmental affairs while government officials avoid public contact.

Written by
Priye Torulagha
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