A CASE FOR A GOVERNOR OF IJAW EXTRACTION COME 2023. AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR IFEANYI OKOWA OF DELTA STATE
BY SAIBAKUMO, AHMED ENIYEKETON
5th October, 2020
Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa,
Executive Governor of Delta State,
Government House, Off Anwai Road, Asaba,
Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Without an individual, there is no community, without community, there can be no tribe, without tribe, there can be no nation. It takes individuals to form a tribe. It takes tribes to form a nation.” (Zik of Africa)
Your Excellency, I am compelled to route this open letter to you. I congratulate you on your landmark achievements as the Executive Governor of Delta State from 2015 to date. You indeed fulfilled your mandate as overwhelmingly given to you by the people of Delta State in your two tenures running. Your enduring legacies of over 55 trunk roads constructed which so far has measured 148km; and 113km of concrete lined drainage pavements are no mean feat. Your job creations/youth empowerments which have impacted on many youth through the skills training entrepreneurship and Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP); ensuring security and peace among multinational oil companies, host communities during your tenure shall be written on the marble of history in Delta State. Moreso, these achievements were attained amidst dwindling revenue of the state, huge wage bills, and overbounding debt burden. These accomplishments earned you the sobriquets, “The Ekwueme” (meaning ‘Talk and Do’); “The Road Master”. It is therefore, a fact of history that politics is your calling, and practicing medicine is your career.
Your Excellency, as you are aware, the media in all fronts are overheated over agitations, arguments, outbursts, recriminations about which zone or ethnic group should be given the mandate to produce the next executive governor of Delta State, come 2023. Sectional chauvinists and bigots who have found their ways into the corridors of power and have also forgotten their ends had made statements which threatened the very existence of Delta State. And because most of these jingoists are dry of facts, exhausted of invented or fabricated lies; and the law of natural justice has rejected them; they resorted to void, futile except desperate barking. I want to state this loud and clear. Politics has built resourceful empires; it has also led to decimation of millions of lives. The gluttony of a select few can lead to the massacre of a mass of the population.
Your Excellency Sir, I am not writing you this letter as the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State but as the “de jureand de facto” sitting governor of that state. You wield the highest command and control and could exert obedience and harmony for the hope of the state. There is no success without a successful successor. Delta State is among the five top richest states in Nigeria by the National Bureau of Statistics and Poverty Ratings. The economic mainstay of that state is crude oil accruals from federal allocations. The Ijaw nation there, as you are aware produce the major chunk of that (over 50%) revenue from Western Region to Delta State. May I also remind you the fact that Delta State is ethnically an explosive state. It is also implied, an economic instability in the state could disrupt the micro- and macro-economics of Nigeria. The conflagration that exploded in Warri in the early 1990s was not caused by a mere relocation of local government headquarters. It was a detonation of age-long, bottled-up reactions to the whipping enslavement from the advent of colonial rule in Nigeria.
I am an Ijaw man and being fruit of the soil, I understand the sensibilities of the Ijaws. Never push them to the wall. There is a passionate religion that their allegiance and sacrifices to the peoples of Delta province from Midwestern Region to Delta State was an unremittable and unjustifiable mistake.
Your Excellency Sir, political science without history cannot bear fruit and a writer without history is a mechanic. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, founding President of Nigeria also mentioned, “History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future.” This letter would dwell on the historical precedents of Delta province; the union yesterday, today and tomorrow. This is beyond the emotions, hysteria, political demagoguery. It is a matter that would touch the raw cord of the state. Let us try and awake reason rather than sending reason to sleep. No nation-state achieves civilization by accident. Your position or action can speak louder than you after decades of your tenure. Never be in love with sycophants and praise-singers. This is because most leaders are always blinded by the eye-servants of their flock. It is also an African axiom, the beautiful bride who was cautious of choosing her suitor ended up with the boa constrictor. You may ignore the messenger, Your Excellency, please never turn a blind eye to this message.
DELTA STATE: HISTORICAL PREAMBLE
History may go to sleep but memory can surely wake it up. Delta State is an offspring of the fourth region of Nigeria called Midwestern Region created on 27th May, 1963; later renamed Bendel State on 17th March, 1976. Bendel State as the name connoted was an amalgamation of Benin and Delta provinces with Headquarters at Benin-City. The Benin province had the constituents of the Benins, Afemais (Kukuruku) and the Ishan sub-tribes while the Delta Province had the Anioma (Ika-Igbos and Ukwuanis); Urhobos; Ijaws; Isokos and Itsekiris. On August 27, 1991 the Nigeria Military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida proclaimed the creation of Delta State. A state created from the Delta province of the defunct Bendel state of over five million indigenous people with a capital at Asaba located at the northern end of the state.
As usual, the history of creation of states in Nigeria is concerned; it has been dogged with bad faith. There has been no room for referendum. Therefore, Delta State itself was a child of military fiat. Delta State is principally made of the northern Aboh and Asaba divisions of the Ika-Igbos and the Ukwuanis while the southern tribes of Ijaw, Isoko, Itsekiri and the Urhobos occupy the central and extreme southern axis of the state. The various linguistic groups in the state remains Edoid, Igboid and the Ijoid. In spite of the fact that the people who constituted the state made various agitations for autonomous states; such as the Ika-Igbos and the Ukwuanis preferred Anioma state with a capital at Asaba while the the southern tribes demanded for a True Delta State with capital at Warri. The Ijaws harmonized and further presented a case for creation of Toru-Ibe State for all Ijaws in the Western Niger Delta. Some ethnic units even rejected Warri as the capital of the “concensus juris” called the Delta State for fears of losing their “homeland.” Therefore, the Federal Military Government had no choice than to site the capital at Asaba. The same Federal Military juntas of Nigeria had earlier unilaterally excised over 300 western Ijaws to Rivers State by the State creation/boundary adjustment action of 1976. Those merged Ijaws of the Delta province now constitute Ekeremor and Sagbama Local Government Areas of current Bayelsa State.
Therefore, when Delta State was pronounced a statutory state on August, 27 1991 with a capital at the northern end, Asaba; there was palpable grudge from the present Delta Central and South Senatorial zones. There was that unwritten tacit conspiracy by the southern tribes to deny the northern tribes executive power. Sentiments were whipped up and almost all tribes at the southern end danced to that tune; hook, line and sinker. The pervasive idiosyncrasy was that the Delta North should be contented with their state capital and should resist any temptation of assuming political or executive power of the state. All accusing fingers were on Mrs. Mariam Babangida of blessed memory who was a daughter of Delta North. It would be deduced, that was the reason the pioneer Chief Executive Officers of the new Delta state were from the Central tribe. As usual, politics has been about fears, interests, polarization of thoughts and ideological differences/orientations mostly very fake.
I stand to be corrected. The only reasonable basis for creation of state or local government authority has been linguistic and historical background. Any deviation from these criteria amounts to a pseudo-union. We cannot ignore the hard truth that tribes are united by tongue, custom and respect for common genre. We answer our names by our linguistic vocabulary, culture, clothes, tribal marks, accents etc. Hence we promote primordial sympathies and even resort to self-help (agitations). The politics of a people can never transcend above the language with which they articulate their fears and feelings. After all, what is anarchism? It is hostility against the state provoked by lack of faith in the representative government. This is most tragic when people are denied of their fundamental human rights and self-worth in a union. The term ‘land’ of every tribe in Delta State has its economic, social and political significance. The truth must be said, Delta State is a collection of diverse tribes bound in same geopolitical area with no common heritage among the racial and kinship groups. Yes, unity in diversity is very possible if political power is freely and evenly dispersed among the tribal constituents in the state. The verdict of the people must be sought and a panacea be proactively encouraged by any responsible leader.
It is patently obvious, from 1963 when Midwestern Region was created till date; a war of indemnity has been imposed on the Ijaws of the Delta province. This is the reality! Your emergence as the executive governor twice from the Anioma district is a pointer to the fact that a new Delta State is founded. Deltans have resolved to put their past behind them. By your charisma and character, drive the state to that dynamic equilibrium and collective agenda. By the grace of God, Deltans have realized the need to build Government House annex at Warri during the tenure of the able leadership of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. With your exemplary performance, you have the mandate, move on!
WOES OF POLITICAL AND INFRASTRUCTURAL DEPRIVATION AGAINST IJAWS OF DELTA PROVINCE/STATE
By the letters and spirit of any autonomous polity should anybody or member of that union be denied political leadership because of his/her descent, race, sex and religion. Let there be no standing order that Delta State is a satellite state of any ethnic unit based on populational gravity. The sensibilities and psycho-cultural disposition of the Ijaws from the Western Region to Delta State should not be insulted any further. No Ijaw of Delta State descent had held state executive position since the evolution of Midwestern Region/State till this day. A period of over five decades! The only Ijaws who held sway from Bendel to Delta State were Col. John Ewerekumoh Yeri and Navy Captain Walter Feghabo from Asemabiri (Sagbama LGA) and Ogbolomabiri (Nembe LGA) communities in Bayelsa State respectively. Both of them spent barely one and half year in office. They were not indigenous people of Delta State. To that end, the Ijaws of Delta State have been deprived of biocentric equality. This is against the moral order of modern societies that politics should be married to ethical best possibility. The message here is that we should not pretend over the ethnographical creed. The reign of civilized societies among the nations in developing states in Africa and beyond is what you bring to the table. The Ijaws of Delta State have, by all ramifications paid their dues. And because they were politically docile by all examination and evaluation, their rights were ridden off roughshod over decades. Consequently, they now fall into the poverty trap. This is the provocation of this letter.
From Midwestern Region/State to Delta State, let me illustrate the dynasty of political rulership among the ethnic nations that constitute the Delta Province/State.
Rulership Tenure Ethnic Ijaw Nation
(1) Chief Jereton Marierie
Governor, Midwestern Region (1964-1966)
(2) Chief Dennis Chukude Osadebay
Premier Midwestern Region (1964-1966)
(3) Lt. Col. David Ejoor
Midwestern State (1966-1967)
(4) Chief Demas Onoliobakpovba Akpore
(First elected Deputy Governor representing Delta Province in Bendel State under Prof. Ambrose Alli as Governor (1979-1983)
(5) Olorogun Felix Ovudoroye Ibru
First Executive Governor of Delta State (1992-1993)
(6) Chief James Onanefe Ibori
Executive Governor of Delta State
(7)Chief James Onanefe Ibori
Executive Governor of Delta State
(8) Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan
Executive Governor of Delta State
(9)Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan
Executive Governor of Delta State
(10) Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa
Executive Governor of Delta State
(11) Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa
Executive Governor of Delta State
From the above statistical analysis among the indigenous people of Delta Province/State, the Ijaws/Isokos are naked! There is neither fairness, nor equity in the governance of that state. The Ijaws and the Isokos have declared their absenteeism in the governance of that Region/State from 1963 till date; while some ethnic groups have displayed their absoluteness. THIS IS NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE. The Ijaws of Delta State have played enough of the underdog. They offered maximum support to all the above leaders without any disobedient act. Let me recall, even during the regime of Chief Jereton Marierie/Senator Dennis Osadebay in Midwestern politics, the Western Ijaw Division with Headquarters at Bomadi was under the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) led by Chief Ninetry Ezonbodo of Agbere, present Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State); Chief L.S.T Fufeyin and Hon. Harris Ozeke from Ojobo; Hon. Peter Bietebeyei Nieketien of Tuomo and my beloved late father, Chief Saibakumo Enefugha of Ayakoromo. They collectively delivered that territory to that party.
We would ask, why is it that those who breached the gentlemanly agreement most earnestly and desperately want it back as watertight? Zoning as I understand is unspoken gentleman agreement. A pseudo-arrangement out of the exigencies and contingencies of that time which the position of governor shall oscillate among the senatorial zones and tribes. The sanctity of that agreement has been severally violated in deeds by ethnic units. Political agreements are temporary and are so vulnerable to the viscilitudes of the time. Such covenants are unwritten maxims. The sentiments of the political actors dictate it. Change is the law of life in accordance to the dictates of the moment. No ethnic group should be disenfranchised or exiled from the governance of the state for too long. It would surely lead to unnecessary bloodshed. And politics in Nigeria has a history of horse trading or deep bargaining. So many ethnic nations especially the Isokos, Ukwuanis and Ijaws have been betrayed over the years. My callow advice is “we should avoid bad politics.” That I feel will grant sense of belonging, and dignity to all tribes in that state.
It is reminiscent in fact; the history of state creation in Nigeria cannot be divorced from its foundation of ethnic and minority agitations. Those expressions of fears of potential underdevelopment and political marginalization by major ethnic groups led to the inauguration of Sir Henry Willink Minorities Commission by the British Colonial authority in 1957. The Commission was mandated to ascertain the facts and recommend measures of allaying the fears of the minorities. The British government rejected the quest for creation of states before proclamation of Nigeria as autonomous sovereign state. They went ahead and declared Nigeria independence in October 1, 1960. The Ijaws West and East of the Niger earlier had made a case for a Nigeria Delta State through Pa Harold Dappa-Biriye the patriarch/advocate of the Niger Delta Minority Right Struggle.
Shortly after independence these availed fears manifested themselves in various horrible manners! The upland politicians declared the riverine communities as “undevelopable difficult terrain.” They inquired, how can the roads, hospitals and the schools be built on water? Today, Delta State has become a model exemplified in the woes of Niger Delta struggle among the Ijaws.
The social contract of any statehood has been security, welfare or social equality. There should be equity and fairness in social stratification in the affairs of the state. The inequalities of power, education, privilege development ought be eliminated else neo-servitude is encouraged. The Ijaws are worst hit by the devastating ecocide perennially. Communities, residential buildings and farmlands are destroyed yearly by gas flaring and oil pollution. The various indigenous governments lacked the political will to take the bull by the horn for a lasting remedial action. As I write this, the Ijaw communities are habitable only about half of the year. As such, they are refugees in neighbouring towns/cities resulting in massive rural-urban consequential drift. It took the rare courage of Governor James Onanefe Ibori with Chief (Senator) James Manager as Commissioner of Works of Delta State to construct and deliver the Bomadi bridge across River Forcados. It was a bridge of 612m total length completed by SETRACO in 2005 within four years. We have witnessed visible exponential development among communities in the humid creeks along Forcados River since the accomplishment of that project. The viable Ayakoromo bridge which was started by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has been shrouded in political semantics since he left office. The Ijaws have no doubt than to come to terms with the fact that the war of attrition and aggression has been executed against them faithfully till this day! The Ijaws cannot continue to beg for a mouthful of food by picking among the teeth of her neighbouring tribes. The new song of this centurial age has been “he who pays the piper dictates the tune! This is not the equilibrium even as advanced by Keynesian theory.
A deputy governor is a spare tire by the recent vocabulary of politics in Nigeria. A senator or member of the National Assembly is a mere law-maker as you are aware. A Personal Assistant to an Executive Governor would be more proactive and resourceful than a deputy governor. The Ijaws have come to the reality that they can no longer sow seeds for others to harvest. They can no longer be half-starved and ill-clad! Why must they kneel on the neck of Ijaws to execute their ethnic agenda with impunity? Delta Province/State from ab nitio has track-record of deep-rooted nepotism and ethnic favouritism which has turned the dream of True Delta State a nightmare to some of the tribes. Let me make another illustration of some of the state and federal owned infrastructural institutions to indicate the depth of purposeful under- development inflicted on the Ijaws of Delta State.
(1) Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurum
(2)Delta State University, Abraka
(3)Delta State Polytechnic, Oghara
(4) Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-uku
(5) Delta State University, Anwai, Asaba
(6) Delta State University, Oleh Campus
(7) College of Education, Agbor
(8) Federal College of Education (Technical), Asaba
(9) College of Education, Mosogar
(10) College of Health Technology, Ufuoma
(11) Petroleum Training Institute, Effurum
(12) National Open University Study Centre, Asaba
(13) National Open University Study Centre, Emevor Campus
(14) National Open University Study Centre, Owhrode (Udu) Campus
(15) College of Education, Warri
(16)Delta State School of Marine Technology (DESOMATECH), Burutu
(17) Delta State School of Marine Technology (DESOMATECH), Kwale Campus
(18) Delta State School of Marine Technology (DESOMATECH), Gbaregolor Campus
(19) School of Nursing, Warri
(20) School of Midwifery, Asaba
(21)School of Nursing, Agbor
(22)Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko
(23) Admiralty University of Nigeria (PPP) Ibusa,
(24)Admiralty University of Nigeria (PPP), Sapele Campus
(25)Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro
From the above analysis, the Ijaws of Delta State are naked in a frustrated marriage upon their major economic contributions to the establishment and development of these infrastructures and institutions in the state. In the history of Nigeria, no University has so far been created was more controversial than the Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko. Even the Delta State School of Marine Technology (DESOMATECH), Burutu has been a caricature of itself. The Ijaw nation in Delta State presents a horrible representation of a conquered terrain. There has been an open abuse of non-appeasement and concession. These can result to belligerency. It could cause sedition as the Ijaws and Isokos who contribute more than 70% of the economy of Delta State would be forced to cause disability in the state.
As the Ijaws would cite, how many Secretaries to the State Government (SSG), Assembly Speakers, Chief Justices have they produced? It could be less than 5%! Are the Ijaws really part of the Delta Province/State? Their representatives at the stratum at the executive, judicial, and civil service in Ministries present have disastrous results.
There are pathetic tears in the eyes of the Ijaws. Your Excellency, even your widely acclaimed sobriquet as “Road Master” as accorded you by Silverbird communications has never impacted on Ijawland. Where are the rivercrafts, the unity bridges, the reclamations of land in Ijawland? Therefore, it would amount to the greatest travesty of justice for you to deny Ijaws of the executive governorship of Delta State come 2023. All state owned major establishments have been denied the Ijaws. This has been a consistent display of inequity.
The Ijaws as I have known them are just like the scorpions which can hold it breath up to six days and can survive a whole six years without food, can climb any surface and still can glow under ultra-violet light. The Ijaws I know would never beg for what they can earn. They have resolved to think, believe, dream and dare! That is the reality of today. The implosion of Delta State should be avoided by your wise leadership of today. We, as intellectuals would advise, but when the guns are forced to speak, we are duty-bound to guide the guns for the common good. This is the import and the thrust of my letter to you, Your Excellency.
DELTA: RE-EXAMINATION AND ADMONITION
Your Excellency, it is my humble advice that we should resist any temptation of laying foundation for self-help options. The reality of the day could be that anyone can own the knife, yet no yam available. From Midwestern Region of 1963 to Bendel State of 1967 to Delta State of August 27, 1991, the Ijaws of that Province have been denied of very strategic positions at the centre. What is the raission d’état of Delta State without overriding utility factor as all ethnic constituents preserve their self-protective interests? The political philosophy of that state has become abstract and non-normative in the real sense. This is unfair and provocative especially against the backdrop that over 50% of the 316,000 barrels per day crude oil production from Delta State are pumped out of the veins of Ijaws. The provocation is unbearable and uncontrollable. These could lead to abominable conflict and severe instability in the Niger Delta, nay Nigeria. According to the former editor of Newswatch Newspaper magazine Mr. Ray Ekpu, “when a state is in crisis, heroic leaders emerge.” The Delta State I see cannot absorb the imperialism of any ethnic unit. The common good of the state must be advanced and prevailed upon the people. All Deltans of good conscience and justice should stand by the popular choice and justice; and push the moving train forward. Nature, inherently would find equilibrium in the balance of power or else all of us would be victims of our internal divide and rule contrivance. Delta State is under your watchship. The liberty of state should not be biased. This implies the machinery of state should mobilize objectively and dispassionately to the advantage of ethnic unions that constitute the state. As a statesman, endeavour to avoid advancing to the brink of collective collapse for the sake of public spirit. Try and put your ears to the refrain “The voice of the people”. All self-servicing motives must be discouraged. Now that these dichotomy of Northern and Southern Delta have been abolished, it is a clarion call for a passive revolution; to create a formidable foundation for peaceful co-existence among the indigenous nations that constitute Delta State.
The state being a human union cannot be conceived without the people as Philosopher Leacock put it “The unhabited portion of the earth taken in itself, cannot form a state.” By the structural formation of Delta state; no ethnic nation can boast, “I am the state”. Your Excellency, never bow to the whims and caprices of a select self-serving few. Your wise leadership or judgment would count at this trying moment of the state. Delta State is enough for everybody’s need. It is not sufficient for anybody’s greed. The ultimate measure of a man as a viable leader is where you stand in times of great challenges or controversies; not in the period of comfort. Violence can never bring enduring reform but winning the minds. I urge you to kickstart and execute the machinery of dialogue as the leader of the state. By the ‘Moses’ rod of prayers all Deltans can meticulously triumph. Justice brings forth peace, unity and love.
As governor of the state, try and balance the equality through tolerance, popular consultation and activate the dialetics of the state. Your Excellency Sir, bring Deltans to the peace table.
Democracy is all about cross-fertilization of thoughts and opinions. Every constituent is guided by what we call self-preservation. Feel the pulse and the heartbeat of the state. Leadership as I was taught has been a process of moving your subjects in a planned direction through non-compulsive means. As a leader, create vision and move towards fulfilling it through rational strategies. Our local primordial sentiments could be buried at the cemetery for public interest.
A word is enough for our wisdom and may God Most Gracious guide all your undertakings in the remaining years of your tenure, my principal.
Saibakumo, Ahmed Eniyeketon
is an Ijaw Nationalist and Niger Delta Intellectualist.