REVELLING A BIOGRAPHICAL CORPUS
OF ICONIC IJAW HEROES AND HEROINES
Title: Heroes Of The Ijo (Ijaw) Nation: A Biographical Encyclopaedia
Author: Heroes of Ijaw Nation Research Centre
Publisher: Gesikeme and Sons Integrated Services
Place of publication: Printed and bound in Nigeria.
Year of Publication: 2018
Cover Design: Goldvision Printing Press
Edition: Revised edition
Price: Amount not stated
Date of Review: 26th November 2020
Venue: Ijaw House, Sani Abacha Express Way, Yenagoa Bayelsa State.
Reviewer: Ben Binebai, BA. (Hons). M.A, PhD, University of Ibadan., Msonta, Former Head, Department of Theatre Arts; Current Orator, Niger Delta University; Playwright, literary Critic, Subaltern Postcolonial Scholar, Public Affairs Analyst and Professor of Drama, Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Niger Delta University, Bayelsa State, Nigeria.
We are gathered here on the prompting of destiny, this historic day, to make public, Heroes of Ijo (Ijaw) Nation: A Biographical Encyclopedia, a novelty history book which celebrates authors, heroes and heroines of the Ijaw Nation. A book gestated from the intellectual womb of a team of nationalistic researchers headed by Gesikeme Akparakata, President of Heroes of Ijaw Nation Research Centre (HINREC), and a group of drilled thinkers whose creative stimulus is dribbled by the craving to add value to Ijaw history, Ijaw political struggle and illumination. These researchers are: Munene Wilson, Eyinimi Omorozi, Ebelegi, K. Newton, Alfred Adonye Allison, Preye Konghakede, Tubokeyei Warri, Gideon Okorobia, Fred Brisibe, Eniye Mitin and Henry Etorlomo. This day confluences makers of history. We have historical authors who write, historical readers who read, historical hearers or narratee who hear, that are here. I am here as an historical reader, as an interpreter- narrator to share my thoughts with the narratee audience.
As this book is about heroes, let me begin by asking a fundamental question: Who do we call heroes and heroines in our society? A conceptual framing of the term will justify the heroism of the heroes and heroines we are gathered for. According to the Riverside Webster’s New College Dictionary, ‘hero is a man noted for courageous act of nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his life: a man who is noted for special achievements in a particular field” (517). Heroes/heroines in Ijaw society are inspired by the needs and problems of their people, not their own. They are not terrorists. There could be an assumption that some heroes and heroines are terrorists. This calls for evidence. We find this claim receiving backing from the 19 page Inaugural Lecture of Professor JP Clark delivered on Tuesday, 19th of January, 1978 at the University of Lagos. The title of the lecture is “The Hero as a Villain”. The Ozidi character, the eponymous hero in Ozidi Saga and Ozidi the drama, is a clear example of a hero who is also a terrorist or villain. Real heroes and heroines are people who fight to salvage their societies from oppression to establish freedom. They die, suffer or remain alive in their struggle to better the lives of others. They are bold, fearless, decisive, magnetic, and public-spirited. They have clear sense of justice, fear and respect for their societies. The Ijaw heroes and heroines have virtuosity, they embrace sacrifice, determination, focus, humility, patience, care, compassion and perseverance. They are defenders of the Ijaw heritage and combatants of the dragon of doom. They are not limited to the warriors of Egbesu. They are not only the genuine gun carrying fighters. They are also mortal pen gods who bear the restorative and prosperity pen. They are politicians or political actors who defend the Ijaw society even at great risk. They are carriers of the promethean fire taken from the sun for the survival of mankind. The Ijaw hero or heroine can also be one person that has contributed greatly to the greatness and glory of the Ijaw Nation.
Heroes of Ijaw Nation… is a book written about one hundred and thirty eight distinct and distinguished heroes and heroines–124 males and 14 females of Ijaw Nation, in 345 printed silky pages with good printed matter wrapped in a hard and beautiful binding. It has good typography and striking layout. The subject is adequately dealt with because its scope is properly and widely covered. Though I have my reservations. The book cover, I observe, is subtextually pregnant with meanings. It has a blue sky, the sun and footprints. In Hinduism and Buddhism, “foot prints signify the divine presence”; aside that, they represent the path our heroes and heroines have taken and it also implies the impact created by our heroes/heroines. The sun is a representation of power, strength and firmness of the Ijaw Nation. It also embodies the impeccable soul of the Ijaw Nation. While the blue sky embodies happiness and peace offered by the heroes and heroines of Ijaw, the gold colour in the cover page is an illumination of love, compassion, courage, passion, wisdom, grandeur, prosperity and glamour of Ijaw Nation offered by the gone-by and present heroes and heroines. The dominant black colour signifies authority, elegance, strength, gravity, grief, despair and darkness experienced by the Ijaw Nation. The cover and its colours speak strongly and vividly to the subject matter, themes, mission, philosophy and focus of this book.
The book has no conventional chapter by chapter format but is divided into two major headings captured as “Bravery of Ijaw Nation against Pre-Colonial Oppression” and “Historical Periods that Produced the Nationalists, Freedom Fighters , the Achievers and the Famous” Ijaw sons and daughters. Implicitly, Heoes of Ijaw Nation.. is constructed around Pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial heroes, nationalists, freedom fighters, achievers and famous Ijaw sons and daughters who have laid a clear path for Ijaw Nation. They have given happiness, peace, dignity, power, strength, firmness, courage, authority and gravity to Ijaws in Nigeria. Clearly, Heroes of Ijo (Ijaw) Nation… is a biography which is an independent genre of history and it belongs to a class of history that passes for legacy writing.
The book classifies Kings William Dappa- Pepple, Ibanchuka of Okrika, Jaja of Opobo and Frederick William Koko of Nembe as the brave ancient heroes that fought against pre-colonial oppression. While in no particular order of eminence, Harold, Dappa Biriye, Goerge Weikezi, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Chief Hausa Brisibe, His Royal Majesty King Alfred Diete Spiff, Professor Christopher Dime, Chief Joshua Fumudoh, Professor Kimse Okoko, Dr. Amba Ambaowei, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Chief Timipre Sylva, Hon. Seriake Dickson, Admiral Festus Porbeni, Melford Okilo, Frank Opigo, Captain George Amangala, Senator Douye Diri, Dr. Ambassador Godknows Bolade Igali, Justice Francis Fedode Tabai, Chief F. J. Williams, Chief Anthony Francis Oladipo Engurube, King Austine Perekeme, Barrister Oronto Douglas, etcetera, are classified as Ijaw Nationalists. The book is also clear on the categorisation of Isaac Boro, Sam Timinipre Owonaru, Captain Nottingham Dick, Elder Kaiser-Wilhem Ogoriba, Felix Tuodolo, Ankio Briggs, Comrade Joseph Evah, High Chief Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo, and Kingsley Burutu Otuaro as nationalists who are also freedom fighters. It further presents Gabriel Okara, Professor JP Clark, Professor Ola Rotimi, Professor E.J. Alagoa who are men of letters, King Isaac Thikan, Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, Chief Lulu Briggs, Dame (Hon,) Mercy Alagoa, Dr. Timiebi Agary, Professor Ayibaemi Ibuteme Spiff, Agbani Darego, King Robert Ebizimo and a host of others as achievers in their fields of endeavour as famous Ijaw sons and daughters. The authors weave a narrative that transports the departed heroes and heroines back to life in the present. The massive understanding of the book of 345 pages flames specifics of every knowable moments of the heroes. The biography sheds unprecedented light upon the heroes in question.
Chief Dr. Tony Tebekaemi, in his foreword to this book captures the burden of the Ijaw heroes and heroines thus “which Ijaw hero or heroine had the luxury of a sound sleep, while the Ijaw Nation remained oppressed? Nobody could sleep again. Everybody joined the struggle in whatever manner they understood” (iv) Heroes of Ijaw Nation… celebrates these Ijaw heroes and heroines strongly as defenders and combatants. We encounter the story of their gallantry, wisdom, dedication, patriotism, nationalism, betrayal, danger; their political, educational and economic struggles with absorbed attention. They fought their battles with wisdom, power, passion and courage, enduring and dominating the temperature of conflicts and audacious explosions, to ensure the liberation of the Ijaw Nation held captive by dark forces. Heroes of Ijaw Nation… is an intellectual action in cold print that helps to make Ijaw history of struggle accessible and available. The book defends, maintains and supports the continued existence of Ijaw historical and archival past. It clamours for Ijaw regeneration by connecting the past and the present to the future. It provides background, structure and the method of inferential scrutiny for the construction of the individual histories.
Great authors, writers and historians do not descend from the sky, they are born by humans and live amongst us, and they are mortals whose stars shine brightly through the supremacy of dialectical contemplation and inventive genius. In Bayelsa State, we have met and read great historians like Professor E. J. Alagoa, Professor C.M. Sorgwe, Ambassador Dr. Godknows Bolade Igali, Dr. Ibiba Sasime, Professors Henchard Erezene, Bena Odogu, Dr. Stephen Temegha Olali, etcetera. Now we have Gesikeme Akparakata and his team of writers of biographical history. The magnitude of the book lies in its clinical profundity of documentation of selected Ijaw heroes across geography, profession, historical periods and age. Visibly, the personal histories are constructed and positioned within socio-political, economic and historical backgrounds. The personalities in question are drawn from monarchy, the academia, religion, pageantry, the military, business world, the space of literature, freedom fighting, technocrats, politics, nationalism, security, legal luminaries, judges, ambassadors, musicians and sculptural artists. Some of these heroes and heroines have nested identities.
Heroes of Ijaw Nation… has great exploits of good syntactic structure and vivid appropriation of engaging and enchanting style of writing. The language is pure, accessible and conveys formal dialectal spirit, far from sneaky positioning of words, which offer it a clear bearing. Not only is it revealing but also perceptive. The book offers a narrative twist driven by fascinating depictions. This gives it a true writer’s colour and flavour. The photos arrayed by the writers offer an amazing energy of narrative expression. They speak brightly to the title, theme, temper, taste and temperature of the work. This is a narrative form that deploys the dual complementary methodology of prose narration and pictorial narratology through the approach of personal interviews, secondary materials, photographs and wealth of personal knowledge. Rebecca Wright and Collins Pooley note that “we cannot escape the past. It is always with us in our memories, in the physical landscape and environment that endures”. The authors display deep knowledge of Historiography and writing subtlety. The photographs themselves make the book refreshing, penetrating, gushing, authoritative, preservative, balancing and logically nourishing. It is a book that could wedge readers’ imagination and fires them up about the pedigree of Ijaw heroes and heroines. The book has the capacity and magnetism to connect our young ones to the concept of true heroism in line with the transformation of our dear Ijaw Nation.
The writing of this book is based on the great man theory, a 19th century theory of history propounded by Thomas Carlyle. A theory which holds that “the world’s history is a collection of biographies”. Furthermore, deploying the apparatus and strength of deconstruction, a postcolonial reading theory, this book holds a critical bond with thermodynamics principles–principles that embody the fundamental laws of nature. The principles are conservation, entropy, speed and balance, expressed in the human mind as protection, freedom and balance and referred to as the triangles of justice excluding speed. According to David Jasper Boro, a UK-trained Applied Biologist who specialises in pharmacology, radiobiology, toxicology; a multidisciplinary scholar, freelance journalist, a laboratory technologist and author. “When energy recycles, it is being preserved”. This is the fundamental concern and nature of the thermodynamics principle of conservation. I must confess that the researchers, even if by accident or deliberate appropriation, are patrons and disciples of the thermodynamics theory. Heroes of Ijaw Nation Research Team brings back to life heroes and heroines of Ijaw Nation not known to many of us from 1816, beginning from King Ibanchuka of Okrika to Agbani Darego in 1982. The past history of Ijaw heroes and heroines that was forgotten and lost in some ways has been resurrected and preserved in this book. The book’s power to recall the glorious past of the heroes and heroines has strong memory because it brings back what was lost. The book Heroes of Ijaw Nation reminds us of a duty to remember the past and suggests lucidly that memory is an inevitable feature of the Historiographic landscape of the Ijaw Nation.
This book is therefore intersectional because it deploys the knowledge of history and science. It transmits evidence of pictures, actions, thoughts and liberation cultures from the past to the present. Fundamentally, it feeds our imagination with a subject that remains part of our individual and collective memory. In form and content, Heroes of Ijaw Nation…, carries the principles of conservation and cyclical process and possesses the potential of revealing the historical past. It commands an imagistic power that defines the aestheticization of history.
Heroes of Ijaw Nation… is a biography of biographies, a cold print world that preserves and brings back to the present a past world powered by the reality of history and contextual objectivity. It emanates from the intellectual womb of an ethnic nationality in Nigeria subalternised and trapped by the webs of endo-colonialism, oil and political vulturine. We may see it as a mere biographical lettering, but it is replete with subtext and meta-messages. The subtext is the terrain where metaphors and the writers’ intentions are unfolded, the intellectual jurisdiction where truth and reality reside and manifests in form of unvoiced messages and most times, a semiotic stockroom. If you ask me about the subtext of this book, I will waste no time to tell you that it is a book about good leadership and the need for good leaders; it is about love and the need for more love; about nationalism and the need for stronger sense and practice of nationalism; it is about unity and the need for an unassailable united front of the Ijaw Nation. It is about respect and love for our heroes and the need to respect and celebrate our leaders. It is about subaltern speakability and the need to own voice, a book about Ijaw visibility and the imperative of constant visibility. It is also about sacrifices the Ijaw Nation has offered to keep Nigeria united and illuminated economically and politically. The book is a salutation to Ijaw heroism. It points to strong men and women who made and make a strong Ijaw nation. It reminds us of some major battles fought but are yet to be won, and it is a demonstration of the maxim that a rough sea does not break the flippers of a swimming fish just as a bad weather does not break the feathers of a flying bird. It is a book that reminds us of one leader at a time, not the mass leadership we are experiencing today. The millipede has many legs, yet cannot run faster than the cat with four legs. This is a book that markets Ijaw struggle for self-determination from the pre-colonial through the colonial epoch to this era of post-colonialism to the rest of the world. The book transports the legacies of the past to the present and establishes agency and autonomy of the Ijaw self as the idea of this collective biography is a mirror of Ijaw identity.
One outstanding result of the research findings of this book is that a great nationalist, who fought for the independence of this country with Ernest Ikoli, Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, the Owele-Osowa- Anya of Onitsha, first Nigerian governor-general in 1960 and first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, father of Nigerian Nationalism, was adventurously avowed an Ijaw man from Agbere. The claim of the book is categorical; Nnamdi Azikiwe has Lewis Apam, an Ijaw of Agbere in present day Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa West Senatorial district as his biological father. This is counter history that has come to challenge and change the established genetic narrative of the statesman.
However, the book is not without some blemishes. It has few grammatical, typographical and omission errors. Frankly, the book has no place of publication. Where in Nigeria was this book published? A book of this nature and magnitude deserves full publication identity. Moreover, as a liberal feminist scholar, I wish to state categorically too that the title of this book did not achieve gender balance. Fourteen (14) women occupy spaces of heroism in the book under review, yet they are underrepresented/ declared invisible, subordinated and silenced in the title. Gender balance or gender parity would have been successfully achieved in the title if it were to be “Heroes and Heroines of the Ijaw Nation”. Ijaw Nation may be founded on Patriarchal culture and this may have affected the titling of the book. But in this age of globalisation where cultures die for the growth of stronger cultures, or are improved upon to become stronger, women’s voice of identity seems to have gained global attention; I also note that the classification of the heroes in question is not graphically visible as some of the categories are not arranged in sequential order. For instance, the African scholars and literary icons of Ijaw stock came up in pages 192 with Gabriel Okara, followed by Professor JP Clark on pages 195 to 197 and Professor E. J. Alagoa on pages 198 to 200. Ola Rotimi who walked along same path with the first two literati came only after Chief (Dr.) Mofia Tonjo Akobo on page 230. There is also obvious font size and spacing variations. It is also clear that there is no proper citation of the works referred. This research has not covered the 1888 heroes of the Forcados areas like Chief Taiyan Of Oborotu, the Ondukus and Agias of Ayakoromo who fought Mack Tanger, imperial representative of Sir Goerge Taubman Goldie in the Forcados district, Chief Ambakederemo of Kiagbodo, Pastor P.Z Aginighan, the daring and cerebral FNDIC President, Chief (Dr.) Oboko Bello and a host of other first rate heroes and heroines who were also active participants in this heroic history of Ijaw Nation.
The book is a documentation of the Ijaw struggle in all its many margins in personal histories; it highlights the saga of indomitable courage, unflinching determination and shining record of unflagging valour in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The Opobos under king Jaja, the Nembes under King Frederick Williams Koko Mingi VIII, fondly called Ofrimalekeleke. Remarkably, the authors have infectious love for great men of our Ijaw Nation. They wrote with audaciously realistic deportment packed and powered with objective emotions and truth, a book that points to extraordinary successes. The general disposition offered by Heroes of Ijaw Nation… glows strongly and sets your soul up. It is a fetching throwback compendium of Ijaw idols written with absolute commitment and historical appetite which presents round and resounding facts with scientific exactitude. Gesikeme and his team of researchers show their competence as masters of details and historical veracity in tall comprehensible style. They demonstrate evidently that they are masters of the classified virgin stories of heroes and heroines of Ijaw Nation.
I would like to thank Akparakata and his team for giving me the rare privilege and honour to review this book in a prestigious gathering of this magnitude made of the cream dela cream. This is a book for all Ijaws who can read. It is a book that should fly far and fly higher beyond the shores of Nigeria. It is a book the authors should be financially empowered to publish massively in reputable national or international publishing companies, and it should be a collector’s item in private and public libraries in Ijawland. I commend the authors for constructing the road for the documentation of Ijaw heroes and heroines. More kudos await them for bringing our heroes and heroines sharply, profoundly and closer to Ijaw people, people of Nigeria and the world at large.
Akparakata, Gesikeme et.al. Heroes of Ijaw Nation: A biographical Encyclopedia. Gesikeme and sons integrated services, 2018
Binebai, Benedict. “Thermodynamics in the world of Cinematic imagination”, in Alarinjo. Journal of theatre and media studies Federal University Oye Ekiti, Vol.2.N0.12018.
Boro, David Jasper Natural Law for Successful Living. Yenagoa: Dathel Publishers, 2013
Riverside Webster’s New College Dictionary. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995