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Tuesday 12 December 2017
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Swim Together or Drown Together: A Discourse on the Rights of Ijaws to Speak about Issues that affect Ijaw Nation — By Priye S. Torulagha

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Swim Together or Drown Together: A Discourse on the Rights of Ijaws to Speak about Issues that affect Ijaw Nation — By Priye S. Torulagha

In this regard, the plan to create a grazing land in Bayelsa Palm would have been communicated to the entire Ijaw nation and allow time for people to analyze the situation before deciding whether to approve or not approve the decision. Both the governor and the Minister of information would have consulted Ijaw leaders and people in other parts of the Niger Delta to get their feelings before actually making the decision. The reason is that land is a very rare and critical commodity anywhere in the world. Moreover, in the event of an interethnic war over land, all Ijaws would be drawn to the conflict. Additionally, due to the strategic significance of Ijawland as a result of the availability of oil and gas, the Ijaws cannot and should not create any excuse for an outside entity to claim any right to land ownership in Ijawland. Bayelsan officials should have used the Warri situation as an example to not encourage any outside entity to settle in Ijawland.

This write up is motivated by the flare-up which took place between Sister Annkio Briggs and Brother Africanus Ukparasia, otherwise known as Gen. Africa. Ms. Briggs expressed serious concern about the decision of the governor of Bayelsa State to allocate 1200 hectares of land in Bayelsa Palm for cattle grazing. In response to Ms. Briggs opposition to the decision, Mr. Ukparasia insisted that Ms. Briggs should not intervene in the affairs of Bayelsa State, and instead, focus her attention on matters affecting Rivers State.

The Purpose of Study
Therefore, the purpose of this write-up is to accomplish two main goals: 1) explore the question of whether Ijaws in one state can speak on matters affecting Ijaws in other states and 2) determine whether issues affecting Ijaws in one state can affect Ijaws in other states, thereby, warranting the need to secure the national security of the Ijaw nation by all Ijaws.
1. Can Ijaws in one state speak about matters affecting Ijaws in other states?
First of all, it is necessary to indicate that the Ijaws are located in six states of Nigeria. The states are: Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers State. Of the six states, Bayelsa contains the largest number of Ijaws, hence, could be referred to as the only Ijaw state in Nigeria. On the other hand, the Ijaws share the other five states with other ethnic groups. Generally, they tend to be marginalized in other states.
Secondly, in order to determine the central point of the question, it is necessary to briefly trace the Ijaw effort to establish a political niche in Nigeria. Although highly decentralized both geographically and politically, the Ijaws have always joined forces to tackle political issues dealing with the rights and place of the Ijaw nation in Nigeria. There are many examples to show the fact.
a. Willink’s Commission Hearing
The clearest case of Ijaws joining together to demand the creation of states in Nigeria was the active participation of an Ijaw delegation led by Chief Dappa Biriye during the Willink’s Commission Hearings in 1957-58. The Ijaw group, like other minority groups demanded the creation of states in Nigeria before the British contemplated granting independence to the country. Although, no state was created, nevertheless, the Niger Delta region was treated as a Special Area for development.
b. Struggle for State Creation
It is a fact that Ijaw political leaders and public figures have always stood together to fight for the creation of an Ijaw-based states in Nigeria. It was very common in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s for Ijaw public figures and activists to meet in various locations in Port Harcourt, Warri, and Lagos to develop strategies and lobbying tactics to put pressure on the Federal Government of Nigeria to create states for the Ijaws.
c. The Creation of Twelve States
Prior to the civil war, Ijaws, probably led by Chief Dappa Biriye, was instrumental in the creation of twelve states in Nigeria by Gen. Yakubu Gowon on June 27, 1967. Although no Ijaw state was created, Rivers State provided a major avenue for the Ijaws to exercise their political rights. To bring the entire ethnic group together, the Ijaws in Rivers State and those in Bendel State fought very hard to bring Western Ijawland into Rivers State. Of course, the effort did not succeed, hence, Western Ijawland is part of Edo, Delta and Ondo States today.
d. The Creation of Bayelsa State
Obviously, the creation of Rivers State in June 27, 1967 by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, after being persuaded by Chief Dappa Biriye and others, laid the foundation for the eventual creation of Bayelsa State by Gen. Sani Abacha in 1996. Thus, Bayelsa State is a product of a collective effort by Ijaw leaders from Eastern, Central and Western Ijawland. It would be misleading to infer that only Ijaws from Central Ijawland fought for the establishment of Bayelsa State. As a result, there is no exclusivity to the ownership of Bayelsa State among the Ijaws.
Due to the recognition that Bayelsa State is a product of the political struggle of all Ijaws, it is obligated at all times to take the interest of Eastern and Western Ijawlands into consideration when making decisions that affect the state and the ethnic group. Thus, the governor of Bayelsa State cannot only make decisions concerning Bayelsa without critically looking at how such decisions could affect Ijaws in Eastern and Western Ijawlands.
e. Governor General of Ijawland
Due to the totality of the Ijaw effort to create Bayelsa State, the governor of Bayelsa State supposed to act like the Governor General of Ijawland, not just Bayelsa. Evidently, as a governor-general, the Bayelsan governor should possess qualities that are characteristics of Plato’s stage or level of actualization. According to the Greek philosopher, peoples’ stages of knowledge can be broken down into two kinds (physical and abstractive), which are further broken down into two, thereby ending in four levels. They include 1) the cave dwellers whose level of knowledge is so shallow that they only see shadows of reality; 2) those whose level of knowledge is characterized by excessive physicality with very little ability to reason; 3) those who are capable of reasoning and rationalizing in an abstract manner and 4) those who have superior knowledge and are capable of reasoning at a very high level. This is known as the level of actualization where the individual becomes selfless and is driven by high principles to serve humanity.
Thus, the Bayelsa governor must be conscious of the fact that whatever action or decision he takes or makes will impact other Ijaws one way or another, therefore, he must take other Ijaws into consideration before making certain decisions because Bayelsa State is a product of the struggle of all Ijaw people. The governor must consult the leaders and people of Eastern and Western Ijawlands before taking any action that is likely to affect the national security of Ijaw nation.
Likewise, in terms of security, he must look at the entirety of Ijawland to ensure that Ijaw people are protected from harm. Hence, as a governor-general, he would have met with Bonny and Opobo people to make sure that there is security in the Bonny River since Rivers State is not proactive on this matter. Similarly, he must make sure that the Ijaws of Warri are protected. He is expected to be at the forefront of the effort to establish the Maritime University in Okerenkoko. On the other hand, he cannot and should not threaten the existence of the Niger Delta University by attempting to create another university in the state through a private-sector consortium while serving as a governor of the state. He is free to establish a private university when he leaves office..
In terms of development, he must make sure that certain projects are located in different parts of the ethnic group. For instance, by now, branches of the Niger Delta University would have been set up in Eastern and Western Ijawlands with the hope that the branches would eventually metamorphose into full-fledged universities in the nearest future. Similarly, the Bayelsa Center for Arts and Culture should not only focus attention in promoting Ijaw culture in Bayelsa State but extend the effort to Eastern and Western Ijawland. Additionally, the effort to establish an Ijaw language project in schools must be geared towards all Ijawland, not just Bayelsa State. Thus, Bayelsa State needs an individual who has actualized and is able to look at things from both short and long-term perspectives.
In this regard, the plan to create a grazing land in Bayelsa Palm would have been communicated to the entire Ijaw nation and allow time for people to analyze the situation before deciding whether to approve or not approve the decision. Both the governor and the Minister of information would have consulted Ijaw leaders and people in other parts of the Niger Delta to get their feelings before actually making the decision. The reason is that land is a very rare and critical commodity anywhere in the world. Moreover, in the event of an interethnic war over land, all Ijaws would be drawn to the conflict. Additionally, due to the strategic significance of Ijawland as a result of the availability of oil and gas, the Ijaws cannot and should not create any excuse for an outside entity to claim any right to land ownership in Ijawland. Bayelsan officials should have used the Warri situation as an example to not encourage any outside entity to settle in Ijawland.
It should further be noted that due to the critical nature of land ownership, the Kolokuma people, especially the Odi, Sampou and Kaiama indigenes had once allowed outsiders to settle and develop farms. The outside farmers really wanted to remain in the area and continue their farming. Sensing the possibility of land dispute in the future, the contract was not renewed and the outsiders had to vacate the area. It should also be noted that sometimes ago, some purported business people arrived from Lagos to buy land in Buseni territory. Threatened by the possibility of foregoing their lands, the Buseni people refused to make a deal. Thirdly, when the Monkey Town area of Bonny was opened for settlement by outsiders seeking work in the oil industry, the community was threatened.
Obviously, land is a major focus of the national security of the Ijaw nation. As a result, any issue involving land must be discussed by all Ijaws, regardless of the state of origin. Thus, non-Bayelsan Ijaws have a right to speak about the grazing land issue in the state because they have a stake to protect the territorial integrity of Ijawland.
f. Ijaws are Ijaws Regardless of their states of origin
The fact that the Ijaws are scattered into six states of Nigeria does not take away the fact that they are members of the same nation and have a right to speak about issues that affect any Ijaw group, regardless of the state of origin. This fact cannot be discounted. It might be necessary to demonstrate the reason why an Ijaw is an Ijaw person, regardless of the state of origin, in the event of a conflict:
1. When the Maj. Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s military coup resulted in the lopsided deaths of top military officers and politicians from the Northern and the Southwestern regions of Nigeria, northern mobs reacted. The result was the killing of thousands of Southern Nigerians, particularly Igbos in the North. Some estimate put the figures of those killed about 30,000 to 40,000 people. The northern mob did not differentiate Mid-West Igbos from Eastern Nigeria Igbos, even though Nzeogwu was an Igbo from the Mid-West. They killed any Igbo that could not escape the mayhem.
2. When the Maj. Gideon Orkar’s military coup against Gen. Ibrahim Babangida failed in April 22, 1990, many Ijaw military officers were forced to retire, even though they had nothing to do with the military coup. They were victimized by the fact that some Ijaw army officers had taken part in the abortive military coup. As a result of the forced retirement, the Ijaw nation lost an important opportunity to produce many generals in the Nigerian Army.
3. When the Hutu mobs decided to massacre the Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus, they did not differentiate one Tutsi from another. They killed any Tutsi that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hence, over 800,000 people lost their lives in Rwanda.
4. So, if there is trouble in Nigeria against the Ijaws, those wanting Ijaw blood are not going to differentiate Ijaws from Rivers State from those from Bayelsa or Akwa Ibom or Ondo or Edo or Delta State. They will launch attacks against any Ijaw person who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
5. In the recent flare-up between the Ogbe – Ijohs and Aladje Urhobos, Ijaws who lived in the Aladje area had to flee to escape possible death.
Therefore, the notion that one Ijaw is different from another Ijaw due to state of origin does not make any sense, in terms of Nigerian and African politics.
2) Determining whether issues affecting Ijaws in one state can affect Ijaws in other states, thereby, warranting the need to secure the national security of Ijaw nation by all Ijaws.
Indeed, it is obvious that issues affecting Ijaws in one state can and do affect Ijaws in other states, thereby, warranting the need to secure the national security of Ijaw nation by all Ijaws. There are many circumstances to cite from to buttress the view:
a. The national security of the Ijaw nation is the core foundation for the existence of the Ijaws.
b. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every Ijaw person to ensure the territorial, cultural and political integrity of the Ijaw nation, at all times. As a result, if creating a grazing land in Bayelsa State is considered a threat to the national security of the Ijaw nations, the Ijaws are obligated to speak about the matter in order to raise awareness of the potential consequences of the decision in the future.
c. Evidently, any action taken by any Ijaw person, whether the individual is a governor or an elected or appointed official or a public figure, that is perceived to threaten the national security of the Ijaw nation, other Ijaws, regardless of the states of origin, must not only speak but take appropriate action to make sure that the threat is neutralized. Thus, there are many Ijaws who believe that the granting of a grazing land is a threat to the territorial integrity of the Ijaw nation, hence, they are speaking out.
d. As far as the national security of the Ijaw nation is concerned, no individual should be considered as greater than the whole nation. This means that no matter how powerful or wealthy an individual might be, the ijaws must talk sense into the person and bring him or her down to earth.
e. Every Ijaw person has a right to speak on matters that affect the Ijaw nation because if trouble erupts, it will affect the entire nation, not just the state in which the trouble is likely to take place. Consequently, if there is trouble in Bayelsa State, the Ijaws in Eastern and Western Ijawlands will be affected also. Similarly, if there is trouble in Rivers State, the Ijaws in Bayelsa and Western Ijawlands would become restless. Similarly, if there is trouble in Western Ijawland, the Ijaws in Bayelsa and Eastern Ijawlands would be restless. Examples of the interlocking nature of the Ijaws can be cited from past experiences.
1. Immediately before the Nigerian civil war, there was concern that an interethnic conflict might take place between the Ijaws and the Igbos in Port Harcourt. To minimize the danger, Ijaw leaders worked together to develop an evacuation plan. Due to the plan, Niger Delta Development Board boats were made available for the Ijaws and non-Ijaws residing in Port Harcourt to evacuate the city. Apart from the NDDB boats, the Kalabari and Okrika people mobilized large canoes that could maneuver through the creeks around Port Harcourt to evacuate people. These noiseless boats were important to minimize the possibility of the security forces detecting the evacuation plan.
2. When the Warri War erupted, all Ijaws were psychologically affected. This was why many Ijaw youths from Bayelsa and Rivers States joined their Delta State counterparts to mobilize themselves for the war.
3. When the Port Harcourt Waterside issue erupted as the Rivers State governor attempted to drive away residents of the area, the entire Ijaw nation was affected. Ijaw leaders had to intervene and negotiate the matter.
4. When Tombia (East), Finima, Owuama, Alakiri, Gbaramatu and Ayakoromo were attacked by the military, the entire Ijaw nation was affected.
5. When Odi and Odiama were devastated by the Nigerian military, it incensed all Ijaws. This contributed to the desire by Ijaw youths to return fire-with-fire. The youths came from all regions and corners of the Ijaw nation.
6. In particular, it is very crucial strategically for Ijaws to speak on matters that affect other parts of Ijaw nation, other than issues that affect only their own states. The reason is that even though Nigeria currently claims to be a democratic system, actually, the system is authoritarian. Both national and state governments tend to operate as authoritarian systems. This is why constructive criticism is not appreciated. It appears that in almost every state in Nigeria, government critics are threatened with arrest and violence. In a state like Bayelsa, many citizens are afraid to express their political views for fear that thugs could be unleashed against them by those in power. Therefore, it is necessary for Ijaws in Eastern and Western Ijawlands to speak regularly on matters affecting Bayelsa State in order to inform the world about what is happening. Similarly, it is important for the Ijaws of Bayelsa (Central Ijawland) to speak loudly about issues in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta and Ondo States since the Ijaws in those states could be threatened for speaking out. In this case, it was appropriate for Sister Annkio Briggs and others to speak loudly and inform the world about the danger of allocating grazing land in Bayelsa State. It is left to the Bayelsan Government to allay the fears expressed by holding press conferences to explain to the Ijaw people the reason for approving such a plan.
f. Where to Flee to in Times of Crisis?
Although for administrative and political purposes, Ijawland is carved into six states, the Ijaws cannot allow such artificial territorial impediments to thwart their ability to act as members of the same nation. If the Ijaws allow themselves to think that they belong to Akwa Ibom or Bayelsa or Delta or Edo or Ondo or Rivers States, instead of thinking comprehensively as members of the same ethnic group, then they might play into the hands of those who do not wish them well.
Thinking collectively provides a more suitable strategic option than thinking compartmentally based on the artificial division of Ijawland into states and local government districts. This is particularly important in times of crisis. There are many examples to cite from in order to demonstrate the significance of swimming together.
1. During the Nigerian Civil War, to escape death, those who felt threatened in their own communities had to flew to other Ijaw communities in order to hide from being arrested and possibly killed.
2. In the Opia, Odi, Odiama, Tombia, Alakiri, Okrika, Agge, Ogboinbiri, Gbaramatu and Ayakoromo military attacks during the oil war, the people fled to the surrounding communities to escape death and detention. The fact that one originated from Bayelsa or Rivers or Delta or Edo or Ondo or Akwa Ibom State did not matter. The need to survive meant that people had to flee to other Ijaw and non-Ijaw communities. If the Ijaws were to follow the rule that they can only speak about matters that involve their states of origin, then, in times of conflict, they would be stuck in their states of origin and perish.
3. During the massive floods of 2012, many Ijaw communities were inundated. As a result, people evacuated to other communities and cities. Thus, many Bayelsans ended up in Rivers State. On the other hand, many Deltans ended up in Warri and other ethnic areas in Delta State.
The National Security of Ijaw Nation
Based on the discussion so far, it is obvious that the Ijaws must work together at all times in order to overcome obstacles that are constantly thrown in their path. Working together is absolutely critical for the survival of the Ijaw nation for the following reasons:
1. The Ijaws occupy almost two-third of Nigeria’s coastline. This gives the ethnic group a tremendous strategic advantage, in terms of shipping and access to the interior of the country through the sea.
2. Ijawland has a lot of petroleum and gas. This means that the territory is constantly under threat by forces that want to exploit the resources. Indeed, Ijawland is like the Congo basin and every oil consuming nation wants a foothold in the territory. Thus, by implication, the Ijaw nation is under pressure at all times.
3. The desire to control the oil wealth means that Ijaw political leaders are highly pressured to be corrupted so that easy accessibility could be gained by those who desire the wealth. It is not by coincident that elected Ijaw public officials rarely speak out on regional and national issues. They feel more comfortable not saying anything even when their communities are being threatened. It is also not surprising that Bayelsa State which is far removed from the cow-meat eating regions of the country is one of the first states to approve the allocation of public land for cattle grazing.
4. Due to the strategic value of Ijawland, the Ijaws are intentionally deprived of the right to have two or more states in Nigeria. No group in Nigeria has fought so hard to have a state in its territory. Yet, time after time, the ethnic group is denied and deprived. The reason for the refusal to create additional Ijaw states is the fear that the Ijaws might become too powerful.
5. Due to the strategic value of Ijawland, Bayelsa State is tactically controlled. As a result, the citizens of the state always have to be careful in expressing their political views. Apparently, the attack on peaceful demonstrators who protested against the allocation of grazing land for herders on February 14, 2017, clearly shows that it is risky to protest against government policy or action. There are elements who are willing to use violence to quell any criticism or opposition.
6. Regardless of the state of origin, there are issues that impinges on the national security of the Ijaw nation. Cattle grazing rights is one of such issues and the Ijaw people have a right to express their views on the matter unequivocally. Other issues that affects the national security of the Ijaw nation include: land ownership, selling of lands to outsiders, oil exploration, local content, revenue sharing, state creation, cleaning of the environment, infrastructural development, employment, payment of retirement benefit, health care, good drinking water, and so on so forth. These issues border on the territorial integrity of the Ijaw nation. Consequently, the Ijaws must speak openly and fearlessly about them.
Conclusion
Indeed, issues affecting Ijaws in one state can and do affect Ijaws in other states, thereby, warranting them to speak out on such matters, regardless of their states of origin. The fact that some Ijaws are in Bayelsa, while others are in Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Ondo and Rivers States does not disqualify them from speaking on matters that affect or might affect the territorial, cultural, and political integrity of the ethnic group. Apparently, the Ijaws must swim together or drown together. There is no two way about it. Political leaders, whether traditional or elected or appointed that wish to take actions that might affect the territorial integrity of the ethnic group must allow Ijaw public to discuss such matters before making decisions that could end up affecting the entire ethnic group. Again, no single individual can be greater than the whole Ijaw nation. Consequently, the Ijaws have a right to challenge any public policy decision that threatens the national security of the Ijaw nation.
Indeed, the Ijaws must swim together or drown together.


SAYELBA TIMES is an independent news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing all Niger Delta States including other parts of the world. Our contents are positive, creative, truthful and relevant.


What do you think?

One thought on “Swim Together or Drown Together: A Discourse on the Rights of Ijaws to Speak about Issues that affect Ijaw Nation — By Priye S. Torulagha

  1. Gbenizibe Amachree

    Very well researched written piece. God bless you and give you the enabling resources and opportunity to make meaningful development in Ijawland.

    Reply

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