The Ijaws: Lonely, Hopeless, Forgotten

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In a previous venue, this was how I described Nigeria: “…it cannot keep its house in order. Nigeria as a country is gradually becoming a failed state. Though not yet Somalia, Liberia, or the Sierra Leone of recent past; still, consider what has been happening in recent years: stagnant economy and fetid environmental conditions; general mayhem and increase in the level of lawlessness and anarchy; unbridled political assassinations; ubiquitous ethnic, religious and sectional violence; deep-seated corruption and general malaise; private and public sector ineptitude; decayed infrastructures; and an acute lack of vision at all levels of leadership.” It sounds gloomy; but, it is an accurate picture.

As a nation, and as a people, we are used to seeing Nigeria in its totality; this, in spite of the fact that the majority of Nigerians consider themselves first as Igbo, Yoruba, Kanuri, Tiv, Hausa or Ibibio before thinking of themselves as Nigerians. We see and know ourselves and our ethnic brethrens; but we are blind to the plight of other ethnic groups within the nation-state. It is this blindness, this deafness, this ignorance, and this I-don’t-care attitude that bothers me. No one who has traversed the length and breath of Nigeria could claim ignorance, or be blind to the inhumane condition in which the Ijaws (generally considered the fourth largest ethnic group) in Nigeria lives. It is horrible. It is pathetic. It is pitiful. It is tears-inducing!

I have been to Oweri, Oshogbo, Ede, Jos, Aba, Kafancha, Warri, Bauchi, Ibadan, Ikenne, Ilorin, and Port Harcourt. I have been to Mushin, Idioro, Ajegunle, Inalende, Obalende, and Kulende; and I have been to a million-and-one other places in, and outside of Nigeria. Yet, nothing compares to the subhuman conditions in Ijawland – the same land from which the country milks about eighty-percent of its resources. Without sounding melodramatic, and without resorting to hyperbolism, this is the reality in Ijawland (for about ninety-percent of the people): No tap water. No sewage system. No tar roads. No hospitals and clinics. The farmlands, rivers, streams and creeks are extremely polluted. Educational and other public infrastructures are pitiable and laughable. Women and children are dying of malnutrition and hunger; they are dying of malaria, kwashiorkor and air-borne diseases. However, the greatest killer in that part of the country is emptiness and hopelessness.

Most of us are familiar with River Niger and River Benue; but are we familiar with River Nun? Well, fellow Nigerians, River Nun threads much of Ijawland. It is the river from which our fellow Nigerians bathe, drink, and do their laundry. And if they have bowel movement, they go to the same river to defecate. From the same river! Rivers are for swimming, and fishing, and to be used as a mode of transportation – not for “shitting-shaving-bathing-and drinking.” Sad, isn’t it? But, that is the stark reality of the lives of the Ijaws in Nigeria. How could we, as a nation and as a people let this happen? We milk their land, we milk all their resources and then abandon and throw them in the gutter (with their face down). Where is the justice? Where is the equity? Where is the compassion we are supposed to show our fellow humans and fellow Nigerians? Where is our humanity? I am outraged!

My indignation is also directed at the Ijaws in the Diaspora who find safe haven abroad and forgot about the deplorable conditions of their homeland; the multinational corporations that fosters an atmosphere of greed, exploitation, wanton destruction of the land and of the natives’ culture. In addition, I am also livid at successive state and federal governments whom I hold responsible for all the ills that had befallen and continue to pin these people. And unless measurable and significant actions are taken to ameliorate the entrenched squalid and rotten economic, environmental and political conditions that are pervasive in Ijawland – I foresee intra-ethnic conflicts, kidnappings, wars, secessionist movements, and the burning of oil fields. And why not; for what is a life without hope? These people have no tomorrow. They have nothing to look forward to!

The culpability for the sorry conditions of Ijawland is not the government’s and the government alone: Izon political and traditional leaders should also be held to task. These so-called leaders have betrayed, and continue to betray their constituency. They steal. They collude with the outsiders to cart away the region’s resources. These malevolent and maleficent leaders in Yenagoa, Port Harcourt, Lagos, and Abuja assist with bastardizing their own land and people. What a pity! The amount of corruption, ineptitude, and personal aggrandizement (amongst the elites in Ijawland is staggering). All I see is chaos, carelessness and impending doom. All I see is the constant infighting; a jungle-like situation where everyman/woman is for him/herself. All I see is “you chop and I chop” mentality – all to the detriment of the lowly farmers, fishermen, bricklayers and other poor souls.

Not too long ago, Chief Benjamin Akinyemi Akinyele posited that, “It seems to me that the further away you are from where the resources of this country are produced, the better you profit from it. The people who are nearer, who are proximate to the source of the resource are poor…I shuddered to see the depravity of the people in the oil producing areas.” He was right. He is right. The amount of mystery, deprivation, and abject poverty in that region of the country is mind boggling. The unbridled callousness on the part of the government is to say the least, a cardinal sin! And to thin the Ijaw leaders acquiesce to this immorality is shameful.

Still, it is not too late for a turn-around on the part of Ijaw leaders; it is not too late for the state and federal government to come forth with measurable plan of action to alleviate the prevailing madness, neglect, exploitation and abandonment of the Ijaws and Ijawland. The entrenched situation is not just of local concerns; it has international implications, too. In fact, the Nigerian government should treat this as a national and international security concern. Nobody wants political instability. Nobody wants a return to the1966-70 era. Or, do we?

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inemo October 6, 2006 - 7:26 am


Anonymous April 29, 2005 - 7:23 pm

Mr sabella in as much as i accomodate your furstrations about the ijaw people, i think it is misdirectded.Charity they say begins at home, where is the local goverment in all this? where is the state fund? Ajegunle,mushin etc all had somehead to run things there.


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