*Says silence not cowardice, calls for Ijaw self-determination
The President of Ijaw National Congress (INC)Worldwide, Prof Benjamin Okaba has warned against the current decline in the country, he said the Ijaw nation has watched “with deep consternation the gradual decline of the Nigeria state to the precipice, as it embarks upon a rudderless mission to self-implosion.”
He said the situation in the country has led to rising tension owing to insecurity, mass poverty, disillusionment and the unbridled atrocities perpetrated by well known and unknown actors. He deplored what he calls comments by some notable and equally influential political and ethno-religious leaders who issue inflammatory and divisive statements.
In a comprehensive statement at the weekend, the INC leader said, “It may be apposite to infer that, if the current unrestrained orgy of violence unleashed on the country, is not urgently and squarely checked by those with responsibility to do so, the end of Nigeria as a united nation might just be irredeemable. One major reason for this detestable situation is the heightened injustice and marginalisation of Nigerians, particularly of the minorities (including the Ijaw ethnic nationality) who have endured for too long. By omission or commission, Nigeria has been operating like one country, many nations, one people too many divergent interests, with two different sets of policies and rules; one (with most liberal conditions) for the so-called favoured and the other (with draconian conditions) given to the rest of us. Annoyingly, all the opportunities and power play are funded from the oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta, predominantly on the soil of the Ijaw ethnic nationality.”
He pointed out that despite the huge sacrifices the Ijaw people have made and are still making to the birth and sustenance of the country, they have never been fairly treated by the nation. According to him, all these are being done as a way to whittle the influence of the Ijaw nation because of their resource endowment, he regrets that the Nigerian state continues to employ a deliberate policy of balkanization whereby Ijaw people are split into different states and Local Government Areas where they now parade the unfortunate appellation of perpetual minorities, despite being the fourth largest ethnic nationality in the country.
Prof Okaba while commenting on President Buhari’s June 12 brpoadcast to the nation said, “The present scenario in reality makes Mr. President’s recent Democracy Day proclamation ‘as a celebration of freedom and victory for one county and one nation…desire to reach a goal of a mature democracy, a strong, evolved, and integrated nation state to be reckoned with globally’ a mere illusion
“Suffice to remind Nigerians that it was the struggle to draw the attention of the insensitive administrations in the first republic to the despicable plight of the Ijaw people, whose resources were mindlessly pillaged and environment despoiled, yet denied basic amenities, that led to the declaration of the Niger Delta Republic by late Major Isaac Adaka Boro in 1966. The late Isaac Boro merely restated through arms struggle what the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference, led by the late Chief Harold Dappa Biriye feared when they agitated for, in the 1958 London Constitutional Conference, a separate region for the Ijaws from the Colonial administration. Whereas the now much referenced Henry Willinks Commission report was a product of the Conference, the Niger Delta region still remains despicable, poor, abandoned and grossly underdeveloped.”
He described as unacceptable the fact that for over 15 years the major East-West road has been under construction and remained uncompleted saying, “Whereas the Buhari administration could conveniently spend $1.5billion, sums earned from oil and gas resources exploited from this abandoned Niger Delta territory, to construct rail lines to Niger Republic because of blood ties to relatives in that country, those who toil and sacrifice to feed the country are perpetually dehumanized, undermined and others in the name of blood ties are feted at our expense. We condemn and will continue to resist the plans and activities of some rascals whose terrorist tendencies and actions have the protection and endorsement of their leaders and elders, including highly placed persons in government to continuously harass and threaten, kill and maim our people.”
The statement added, “As an ethnic nationality we wish to state that the Ijaw people are getting sick and tired of the incessant nepotism and lopsidedness which has become sign post of the present administration. We are indeed tired of the continued exploitation of our oil and gas resources without commensurate remediation and reward.” It faulted the idea of allowing other states to control the mining of mineral resources in their states while the Niger Delta is not allowed to control the oil resources at its disposal.
According to Prof Okaba, the Ijaw nation also “find it extremely unacceptable that in a country where we all are supposed to be equal, some persons are being treated as more equal than others. What defence has the National leadership in perpetually giving cover and protection to the marauding herdsmen who commit banditry, killing and maiming innocent Nigerians? Yet, innocent Ijaw people who detest these atrocities are gagged and lives invaded, emasculated and killed. Our Ijaw communities have become occupied territories by the Nigerian armed forces with no exercise of freedom. This has given fillip to the claims that there is a premeditated plan, well hatched and choreographed to overrun Nigeria. This appears to be the source of confidence and effrontery that embolden some folks to issue 72 hours threat to the Delta State Governor for daring to ban open grazing, a decision taken by all the Southern governors. Could it be true that because this offensive public declaration has the implicit support of the leadership of this country, no national leader nor senior government official has condemned such virulent statement?”
It deplores what it calls the basis of the country’s forced unity saying it appears to have outlived its usefulness observing that “Nobody negotiated with our forebears for the Ijaws to be part of this union called Nigeria. We were merely conscripted into the Nigeria union without the consent of our forebears. Fortunately, the historical truth is that we, Ijaw people, have never been conquered by anybody. And we shall NOT be. Since the fragile unity that was predicated on the pillars of justice, equity and fairness has been completely jettisoned, and the leaders of the country rather than pacify those agitating for justice and equity, feel comfortable resorting to threats like “we know what to do” the Ijaws have become reprehensive and afraid of being part of an unworkable union.
“Having endured the unsavory treatments and crude exploitations over the years, and the noted resolve of the present- day leaders to continue their stranglehold on the Ijaw people through more obnoxious laws (the water resources bill sponsored by the Buhari administration) our faith in the Nigerian union has been grossly eroded.
“The Ijaw nation, conscious of our desire to live in a country where our rights to live peacefully and apply our God endowed talents and resources for our collective improvement and wellbeing, no longer feel safe to be part of a country where inequality, inequity and nepotism and impunity have become defining principles of governance.
“Rather than continue to sacrifice and carry the burdens of an unappreciative Nigeria nation, we wish to state without equivocation our resolve for self-determination. We are prepared to legally and peacefully negotiate our exit like other aggrieved ethnic nationalities but also as a distinct IJAW REPUBLIC with ethno-linguistic, cultural affinity and geographic contiguity and not in part or full of any other secessionist agenda.
“This address also serves as an advance notice to all IJAW people, our neighbours, particularly in the Niger Delta region, others oppressed and deprived and the Nigerian State, preparatory to the convocation of an all IJAW summit that will ultimately decide on the way forward in very specific terms.
“Our current resolve for self-determination and self-actualization can only be reversed if urgent steps are taken by the powers that be to urgently and sincerely address the minimum conditions precedent to guarantee the continues commitment of the IJAWS to the Nigerian project. These include:
* The restoration of true federalism under a new constitution enacted by the people wherein a lean exclusive legislative list is prescribed for the federal tier of government.
* The restoration of IJAW territory as non-balkanized administrative and political federating unit(s) for reassurance of the IJAW development pursuit.
* The repeal of all obnoxious and discriminatory laws and policies that have continuously undermine our fundamental human and environmental rights as indigenous people of Nigeria.”
It regrets the fact that “ IJAW land and the Niger-Delta region is the only place in the entire world where oil and gas is produced but have remained impoverished, neglected and underdeveloped. Our retreat from militancy to meaningful and constructive engagement should not be undermined for cowardice.”