By Ray Ekpu
A couple of weeks ago a faction of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) based in Abuja invaded the office of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio and disrupted the normal flow of work there. They were saying with placards that they do not want a Sole Administrator for the NDDC. What they want is for the Board to be put in place. Why they went to Akpabio’s office is baffling because such decisions are taken only by the President, not the Minister.
The Minister can make recommendations; he can have his say but the President will have his way. Perhaps they were subscribing to the African prescriptive proverb that the best way to talk to the deaf is to talk to his brother. The inbuilt wisdom here is that the brother knows the formula for getting the message to him despite his deafness. But the issue of putting a board in place for the NDDC is not new and the IYC members are not the first to raise it. It is a legitimate issue on which all of us are on the same page.
The Senate which screened the board’s nominees, civil society groups and all those who wish to see good governance and propriety in the NDDC have all queued behind the idea. Obviously, President Muhammadu Buhari wants it too but he prefers, as he has repeatedly said, the forensic audit completed before the inauguration of the board.
Don’t forget that it is the Governors of the oil producing states who went to Buhari and asked for the sanitisation of the NDDC and the repositioning of the Commission for an efficient actualisation of its mandate. Since 2015 the President has appointed four interim Managing Directors for the Commission. Two of them are from Rivers State (Ibim Seminetari and Joi Nunieh) and two from Bayelsa (Professors Brambaifa and Pondei). Recently the Federal Government appointed a chartered accountant and lawyer from Akwa Ibom State, Mr Effiong Akwa as the Sole Administrator. Akwa was the immediate past Executive Director in charge of Finance and Administration at the Commission and had apparently discharged his functions meritoriously in the eyes of the presidency to deserve being given higher responsibilities. The faction of the IYC that went to harass the Minister a couple of weeks ago have threatened to block the headquarters of the Commission soon. That will be rabble-rousing because what they are asking for, though genuine, will never be achieved that way. From the information available in the public space, this protest does not receive the blessing and support of the IYC President Mr Peter Timothy Igbifa and some of the Ijaw youths.
It is allegedly being organised by the zonal leaders of the group. Mr Igbifa feels that the protest against Akwa’s appointment will damage the sense of brotherhood that exists or ought to exist among Niger Deltans. Various groups have opposed the obvious partisanship of the IYC faction who did nothing to disrupt the tenure of the past four interim Managing Directors of the Commission, but consider it meet and proper to harass Mr Akwa who is from Akwa Ibom, the state that produces the biggest quantity of crude oil today (31.4%). Various groups in Akwa Ibom State have risen in solidarity with Akwa.
The Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Council of Chiefs, Dr Solomon Daniel Etuk and the President of Oro Progressive Movement Mr Ken Bassey have both spoken of the brotherhood bond that ties Niger Deltans together. Dr Etuk described the action of opposing Akwa’s appointment as “illogical, selfish and uncalled for.” Outside of Akwa Ibom a coalition of 12 rights groups in the region have called on the protesters to desist from their gambit especially because the region is made up of various ethnic groups and no single ethnic group is superior or inferior to the other.
Another group, a coalition of ex-militant leaders called the Leadership Peace and Cultural Development Initiative (LPCDI) has joined the fray. This group is made up of AK-47 ex-generals, the real warriors in the Niger Delta creeks who put their lives on the line for Niger Delta. In a statement signed by their President Chief Reuben Clifford Wilson, Secretary Mr Nature D Kieghe and Spokeman Mr Joshua Opia, they assured Akwa of their unflinching support and asked the partisan protesters to give peace a chance. If you want to hear the truth this is it.
The Ijaw youths have a bloated sense of entitlement garnished by pride and prejudice on the NDDC. They are quick to tell anyone who cares to listen that the NDDC is an Ijaw outfit, that oil was first discovered in Oloibiri in Bayelsa and that Isaac Adaka Boro, an Ijaw man from Bayelsa started the fight for the liberation of the region from the oppressors. So they carry on with a swagger ignoring the fact that the fight for justice to the Niger Delta has been long, hard and multi-dimensional. The war has been waged by politicians, lawyers, civil society groups, women, environmentalists and journalists from different parts of the region. Many of them were not even Niger Deltans but people who thought a stable Niger Delta would bring peace, stability and dollars to Nigeria and also give the Niger Deltans a sense of belonging and a feeling of being treated fairly.
This crazy, full throated shrieking by a section of the Ijaw youth council seems like a casual acceptance of conflict as a problem-solver. Or do they have a vested interest in chaos? Niger Delta which has a surface area of 112, 110 sq kilometres is occupied by people who come from 40 different ethnic groups who speak about 250 languages and dialects. The ethnic groups include Ibibio, Annang, Efik, Ijaw, Ogoni, Ikwerre, Etche, Ekpeye, Ogba, Engenne, Obolo, Isoko, Nember, Okrika, Kalabari, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Igbo, Ika-Igbo, Ndoni, Oron, Ibeno, Yoruba, Bekwarra, Bini etc. By the 2005 population projection of GTZ International the region boasted a population of about 30 million. Today, it is probably close to 50 million. So the Ijaw youths appear to have a sense of entitlement in a region where there are many ethnic groups that have contributed more substantially to the offers of the government than the Ijaw nation as the oil production figures can indicate. So it is wise to ask them to keep their pride and prejudice aside and work for the betterment of a region that had been oppressed over the years.
For emphasis, let it be stated again that the fight for justice in the Niger Delta was fought by many people of various ethnic groups and walks of life. I too have some bragging rights on the Niger Delta struggle. In the last forty something years I have written hundreds of articles on the struggle for justice and fairness in the region. I started in 1974 as a young reporter in the Nigerian Chronicle to develop interest in and to write regularly on oil politics and the neglect of the Niger Delta region. I didn’t carry arms but over the years I have armed myself with the knowledge of Niger Delta issues and written many articles on the neglect of the region, oil spillage, gas flaring, environmental pollution, resource utilisation, oil majors, onshore/offshore dichotomy, Ogoni clean-up, rights of oil bearing communities etc.
As a Board member of the National Human Rights Commission, I was made the Special Rapporteur on Environment and the Niger Delta. I travelled to many states marketing the environmental issues in the Niger Delta and seeking for their resolution. At Newswatch we covered the region and its problems extensively. We also organised a colloquium on oil politics which attracted eminent speakers and excellent coverage. During the Abacha era there was a conference called The Azikiwe-Gowon conference at which I was the Special Rapporteur. Obong Victor Attah who later became Governor of Akwa Ibom State came to the conference and spoke eloquently on resource control. Oppressors of Niger Delta people were unhappy because I reflected his views appropriately in the communiqué. They rejected that portion of the communiqué and asked me to redo it and to take it to General Yakubu Gowon later for his signature before release to the press.
I was also a member of the 2014 National Conference in which resource control was a major and controversial issue. I worked vigorously with all the Niger Deltans to contain the opposition from the other side on resource control and utilisation. Many other Niger Deltans from various ethnic groups also did their duty as appropriate.
There are allegations that the factions of the Ijaw youths that are pushing the anti-Akwa agenda are sponsored probably by people who have an agenda that is either hidden or not quite hidden. That allegation is unsubstantiated so it remains at the level of an unsubstantiated allegation. If they are sponsored they can only succeed in causing avoidable confusion which will not lead us to the paradise that we seek in the Niger Delta. It will only succeed in causing disunity in the region. As minorities we are weak but when united we can become strong. The Ijaw youths should not let prejudice be their master because prejudice is just a few steps away from barbarism. The NDDC has been an unhappy recipient of bad news broadcasts and write-ups for the past few years. Such issues as abandoned projects, non-payment of contractors, duplication of projects, corruption, bloated and reckless expenditure have marked it out as an institution in need of redemption and rehabilitation. The Commission does not need any distraction now. Distractions bring negativity and weaken the resolve to do what needs to be done. There are still many unresolved issues in the region. They include gas flaring, Ogoni clean-up, East-West road, relocation of oil companies to the region, the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the fate of oil bearing communities and the unexecuted 16-point shopping list submitted by PANDEF to Buhari some years ago. At the last count the Federal Government was owing NDDC more than one trillion naira of funds budgeted but not released.
So what is needed in the region is unity, not disunity, consensus not conflict on the way forward. I appeal to the Ijaw faction that is angling for a fight not to behave like the tortoise. The tortoise fell into a pit and for six days nobody came to rescue it; on the seventh day a helper came and on seeing the helper the tortoise shouted “Take me out of here, I am dying.” For six days when no helper came it did not die. At the point of his rescue he is dying. No Sole Administrator is going to run NDDC forever. Once the forensic audit is completed Buhari will have no reason to delay the board’s inauguration. So to the Ijaw activists I say: “take it easy and give peace a chance.”
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