The State of Affairs In The Ijaw Nation

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In the not too distant future, when all non-renewable resources such as oil and gas have been depleted, Ijaw land may become barren, desolate, isolated and forsaken. With that in mind, the time to start planning for such an eventuality is now. But unfortunately, the Ijaw themselves are not thinking of such a time — a time when their lands and waterways may no longer be of use, or be of any consequence to the Nigerian and international political economy. For five decades or more, and in spite of its geopolitical and socio-economic importance, the Ijaw land has been an afterthought in Nigeria’s political conversation. If is it bad now, they should wait until the inevitable happens. But why wait when they have the means and the wherewithal to steer the hand of providence.

The Ijaw are waiting because, for the most part, they do not have a credible leader to give voice to their hope and aspiration; hence, articulating the Ijaw narrative and the Ijaw nation’s vision and agenda has been somewhat difficult. And in times when they have had one, he or she has not been universally accepted. And even when he or she is accepted across the board, fringe elements within the land has been able to circumvent, betray, and or gang up against such a leader. Of all the major groups in Nigeria, the Ijaw are the least unified, most liberal and very open to outside influence — whether or not such influences are dangerous and inimical to their wellbeing.

Again, of all the major groups in Nigeria, the Ijaw elite have, for the most part, been the least useful to their own people. And in fact, account of their uselessness is very common within the Ijaw community. For instance, it is not uncommon to find an Ijaw military officer, general manager of a bank, permanent secretary in the federal ministry, police commissioner, ambassador, or head-of-department in a university who have never (since assuming such a position) been a ladder, a shoulder, a guide or an anchor to a fellow Ijaw man or woman. For whatever reason, the typical Ijaw elite would rather forget where he or she came from, and will even forget “the son of whom they are.” They cannot wait to shed their Ijawness once they assume position of authority or position of influence.

The next time you are at it, check who the Hausa/Fulani/Tiv Minister surrounds him or herself with? The next time you walk into a bank or any financial institution headed by an Ndiigbo, check who the majority of his underlings are. Go to any Nigerian university or institutions of higher learning where the head-of-department, the vice chancellor, the dean or admissions officer is a Yoruba and tell me if such a man or woman is not ringed by his ethnic compatriots. All the groups — all the groups — but the Ijaw understand ethnic politics, they are their “brothers keeper.” Within the Niger Delta region, the Itsekiri are the masters of the game. In spite of their small number (about one-tenth of the Ijaw population), they seem to dominate the Niger Delta, and have greater influence within the Nigerian political and economic estate.

To say the vast majority of the Ijaw elite are useless and clothed in low self-esteem is an understatement. To say the Ijaw elite have never really looked out for the welfare of the common Ijaw man is also an understatement. And even when they went to Dodan Barracks, or go to the Presidency to speak for, or bargain on behalf of their people, they have mostly concerned themselves with their individual pockets and bank accounts. But of course, there are the occasional beacons, the occasional genuine heroes and heroines, the occasional honest fighters for the Ijaw cause; but mostly, the Ijaw elites have been the primary cause as to why the people and the land is still backward, underdeveloped, and disparaged by other groups within Nigeria.

From 1999 until now — except for a few exceptions — all the state and federal legislators, commissioners, special advisers, local government chairs, head of agencies, ministers and governors from Bayelsa State have been indolent, crooked, incompetent and disgustingly useless. They may be useful to themselves and their proxies, but not to the people. They talk and walk around as though they are not accountable to anyone, not even to God. As if synchronized and calculated, they incite and manipulate the people to turn against others — as though they themselves are blameless. Simply put: most Ijaw leaders have been their people’s greatest enemies, they are the primary reasons why the Ijaw nation is backward and in the dark.

The Ijaw are indigenous to six or more southern states (and have had a significant presence in Lagos since the 1940s); they are the fourth largest group in the country; occupy some of the most fertile agricultural land in the region; been exposed to, and have been engaged in commercial activities with the Europeans since at least the 19th century; and own some of the richest oil and gas fields in the world. Yet, their land, until recently, lacked federal presence, and could not boast of a single university or other notable institution of higher learning. What in the world were Ijaw elites doing when others were running circles around them, cheating them, appropriating their lands, writing laws and public policies that disenfranchised their own people?

You think of the aforesaid and you begin to understand why the Ijaw Youths have been at the vanguard of recent political agitations. From the Great Isaac Adaka Boro to Dr. Felix Tuodolo to Mujahid Dokubo Asari, it is the youths who have given voice and direction to the struggle. While one is pained by the missteps and the vacillations of the Ijaw National Congress, the opposite is the case with the Ijaw Youth Council. Left to the caprice and desire of the Ijaw elites, the Ijaw nation will continue to roll in a culvert of nothingness. A Congress that should have laid the foundation for, and strengthened Ijaw nation, turned out to be an empty shell engaged in corruption, self-aggrandizement and licentiousness.

Although the immediate future does not look good, good and great things can still be done. We still can right most of the wrongs; we still can maneuver our collective destiny for the sake of posterity. What’s the way forward, how can the Ijaw nation turn things around? While this commentator does not claim monopoly of knowledge and or solutions, several suggestions are germane — amongst these are education, good governance, and the pursuit of the United Nations basic human needs. First, education…

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