The Tragedy of Greed and Corruption: The Pain and Grievances of the Ijaws

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

“…unless measurable and significant actions are taken to ameliorate the entrenched squalid and rotten economic and environmental conditions that are pervasive in Ijawland — I foresee intra-ethnic conflicts, kidnappings, wars, secessionist movements, and the burning of oil fields… 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 the 1966-70 era. Or, do we?” (Sabella Abidde, March 2003).

The current impasse between the government of Nigeria, the oil companies and the Mujahid Dokubo-Asari group is just the sign of things to come. This is the sign of things to come in a country ruled by the grossly incompetent, parasitically corrupt, and a greedy and irresponsive band of oligarchies. It is a shame that a country with such human and natural resources is living well below its potentials; moreover, it is shameful and immoral what succeeding Nigerian governments have put their citizens through. And in the case of the Ijaws, the amount of abuse and maltreatment they have suffered is simply mind-boggling. And so for those who wonder why there is incessant imbroglio in the Niger Delta, well, the answer lies and has its roots in the manner succeeding Nigerian governments have treated the Ijaws.

What the government of Nigeria and other stakeholders in Nigeria has done, and continues to do to the Ijawnation is, to say the least, sinful: it is immoral, unethical and unlawful and wrong. You cannot subjugate a people for this long! You don’t treat people this way.

The ongoing commotion is not a resource war, it is not an insurgency, it is not secessionist or separatist in design; and neither is it the design of a demented rogue. Not at all! Mr. Mujahid Dokubo-Asari has simply given voice, face and soul to the collective wishes and aspirations of the Ijawnation. He is expressing legitimate grievances. What is happening in the Niger Delta is the product of several decades of neglect and abandonment, of institutional and systemic corruption, of failure in leadership and of a country and a government that would not listen to the cries and pleas of a thoroughly marginalized people. For four decades, successive Nigerian governments, together with the oil companies, happily fostered an atmosphere of greed, corruption and exploitation.

And if care is not taken, the current conflict has the potential of degenerating into a countrywide gluttonous violence. As is the custom of the Nigerian government and her agents — Asari may be jailed or killed; but that will not put an end to the rightful aspiration of the vast majority of the Ijawnation. In fact, there are thousands of Asari within and outside of the Ijawland. What we have now cannot be quashed; and if visited with military force, it will metastasize and take a new form of expression until justice is done and felt. And so there should be no illusion on the part of the Nigerian government that her extrajudicial actions would result in the silencing of voices and spirit. The human spirit does not readily yield to savage forces.

In fact, the government of the federal republic of Nigeria and her agents should note that any extralegal action that lead to the maiming or loss of life and or liberty of Mr. Dokubo-Asari and his associates will be met in kind.

Come to think of it: did the federal government, the oil companies and others in Nigeria think the Ijaws would continue being passive and fatalistic? Did greater Nigeria think the Ijaw ethnic group will not awake from their slumber? Oh heavens, we will not yield to this terror. And neither will we go back to the old and tired ways of Nigerian politics.

For too long, the Ijawnation has been a region enveloped by criminal neglect. It was and still is a place awash with fetid environmental conditions; it is a land reeling with unemployment; it is a place not fit for human habitation. The government has been aware of these subhuman conditions for well over four decades; and so do the oil companies. Yet nothing was done to uplift the living standard of the people. And because of the precedent set by the government, the oil companies have been thumbing their noses at the natives. Well, the time has come for the government and the oil companies to pay for all their shortcomings and for their failures and for the crimes they committed against the Ijaws. At the very least, it is time they make amends and pay attention to the decadence and the illegalities that are taking place in the Niger Delta.

Should any good accrue to the Ijawnation — it would be due, in large part, to the bravery, courage and vision of a budding nationalist and his compatriots. We the Ijaws owe Mr. Dokubo-Asari and our other brothers and sisters a world of gratitude. These men and women follow in the giant footsteps of our beloved Isaac Adaka Boro.

Since independence in 1960, the North, West and Eastern Nigeria and others have been busy looting our resources and trampling upon our fundamental and inalienable human rights. They have belittled and disparage us; they relate to us as though we are not humans and point to us as a people not worthy of economic and human development. My God! They should have known that these repugnant and repulsive attitudes would not last for eternity. And so with the help and under the leadership of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the world is now becoming aware of the heart-wrenching plight of my people, the Ijaws.

We are not a people to be ignored. We are not a people to be disrespected. We are not a people to be used and abused and then discard like a broken piece of glass.

We are the Ijaws. We are the people that have inhabited that part of the world for thousands of years! We are God’s chosen children! We are a people whose land, waterways, mangroves and forest God, in his infinite grace and wisdom, endowed with oil and other natural resources. The Niger Delta is our land. The oil and other gifts are ours. It is the land from which Nigeria milks about eighty percent of what it uses to sustain other federating states of the country. Yet, we the Ijaws live mostly in abject poverty and in inhumane condition with no potable water, no hospitals and clinics, sewage system and tarred roads. Moreover, our farmlands, rivers, streams and creeks are extremely polluted causing unimaginable illnesses. Educational and other public infrastructures are pitiful and laughable where present. In most cases however, there is nothing to show for all billions and billions of dollars we have given Nigeria and the oil companies.

Our women and children are dying of malnutrition and hunger; they are dying of malaria, kwashiorkor and water-borne diseases. In a land that is this well endowed, the natives live in abject poverty! In a land this endowed, spaces are filled with hopelessness and emptiness; hearts are full of headache, heartaches and sorrow.

How cruel and appalling is the condition in Ijawnation? Well, here is another truth: River Nun threads much of Ijawland. It is the river from which my people bathe, drink, and do their laundry. And when they have bowel movement, they go to the same river to defecate. From the same river! Rivers are for swimming, fishing and for other activities — not for “shitting-shaving-bathing-and drinking.” Sad, isn’t it? But, that is the stark reality of the Ijaw life. That is the stark reality of the life of my people! How could Nigeria and Nigerians allow these to happen? How could they, as humans, allow these to happen to fellow human beings?

The culpability for the sorry condition in the Ijawnation is not the government and the government alone: most Ijaw political and traditional leaders should also be held accountable for their sinful acts and inactions. These so-called leaders have betrayed, and continue to betray their constituency. They steal and collude with outsiders in carting away the region’s resources. These malevolent and maleficent leaders in Yenagoa, Port Harcourt, Warri, Creek Haven, Lagos, and Abuja assist with bastardizing their own land and heritage. What a pity! The amount of corruption, ineptitude, and personal aggrandizement (amongst the elites in Ijawnation is staggering). Some Ijaw elites are satisfied fighting over the spoils of war all to the detriment of the lowly farmers, fishermen, bricklayers and other poor souls.

As things stand, my belief is that the Rubicon has not been crossed. Therefore, this potentially deadly standoff between the predator and the aggrieved can still be diffused and amicably settled. However, the greater part of the onus falls on the Nigerian government and on the oil companies. Indeed, the government of Nigeria and the oil companies still have time to right most of the wrongs they have wrought on my people. There is still time to salvage the situation. There is still time to do the right things for the Ijaw land for the Ijaw people. Otherwise, continued rascality on the part of the government will lead to war which will ultimately threaten the very existence of Nigeria.

Secession is a viable option. And why not? The Igbos want out of Nigeria anyway. We the Ijaws are not there yet, but would be foolish not to grab the chance to get out of such a fruitless company when the opportunity presents itself. We all know about the “mistake of 1914” — don’t we? And so Nigeria, redeem your soul by doing the right things!

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