Niger Delta as Ijaw Colony: A Word of Caution

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Three developments combined to convince me that one of Ijaw’s agenda is to dominate, rule and colonize the Niger Delta. The first was the discussion I had with a fellow passenger (name withheld because I did not take permission from him to publish his name in this article) on 16th August 2013 when I was travelling from Lagos to Port Harcourt. The topic was on the Jonathan-Amaechi face-off. My passenger-friend, I discovered later hails from Ijaw. In the course of the discussion, he said: “Ijaw is fighting for its own just like every other ethnic group is doing. No group would like to lose in a federation like Nigeria. To the Ijaw, we have Niger Delta. Niger Delta belongs to Ijaw”. I was miffed and I asked: “What about the rest ethnic groups in the Niger Delta?” His response became more fierce: “If the big three (meaning Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba) could dominate and rule Nigeria, Ijaw can do same in the Niger Delta and in fact to me, the key agenda of the Ijaw should be to own the region.”

 Another source of this unwholesome Ijaw agenda to colonize the Niger Delta can be found in an advertorial by the Ijaw National Congress INC (an umbrella organization of the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality) on page 50 of the Vanguard of Tuesday, May 14, 2013. In the advertorial, the INC recommended a political restructuring of Nigeria into ten ethnic-based regions with the entire Niger Delta, excluding Effik/Ibibio, labeled Ijaw. The third source was from the article, “Boro and Jackson: Alliance across the Atlantic” written by Professor G. G. Darah and published in The Guardian of 3rd– 5th June 2013. In me, the article provoked the following issues: the continued glorification of Ijaw imperialistic tendencies and attitudes in the Niger Delta and some lessons from the Ijaw-USA alliance idea.

Before I respond to the implications of these evidences, it is proper to state that, like other minorities in Nigeria, Ijaw’s grouse with Nigeria has been that it suffers marginalization, environmental degradation and development-neglect. These issues created the sentiments that had driven most ethnic agitations in Nigeria like the minorities agitations in the 1950s including the Tiv riots, the agitation for the creation of the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) State, the Isaac Adaka Boro revolt of 1966, the Ogoni Revolution that produced the quintessential Ogoni Bill of Rights in 1990, the Kaiama Declaration of 1998, the Ikwerre Rescue Charter of 1999 etc. Even the big three ethnic groups of Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba are also not happy with Nigeria and this is reflected in the formation of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Biafra/Ohanaze Ndigbo and Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) respectively.

 Ijaw has every right to canvass for the creation of Ijaw Ethnic Region to comprise all Ijaw natives scattered across Nigeria’s Atlantic coastal belt; but it is wrong to call such creation Niger Delta (ND) because ND has been created already and it goes beyond Ijaw. This is where I have a problem with the Ijaw imperial ambition. If Ijaw’s reason for such ambition has been as stated above, then it must be cautious and indeed have a rethink. In the year AD 2013, is Ijaw still marginalized, suffering environmental degradation and development-neglect? This should not be the case given that an  Ijaw son is the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ijaw has got Bayelsa State since 1996. Ijaw’s daughter is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, who should be in the forefront of addressing all neglect and development issues arising from oil and gas business in Ijawland. Ijaw is in charge of over 70% of the amnesty windfall. Ijaw is in charge of the Federal Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is under the control of Ijaw. Put all these together one can say that Ijaw is already enjoying her full resource control! Yet the Ijaw still is canvassing to implement its imperial ambition in the Niger Delta as shown in the three evidences stated earlier.

Let me remind Ijaw that in defining the Niger Delta, it was never meant to be Ijaw hegemony. From 1849 when it was part of the Oil Rivers to 1885 under Oil Rivers Protectorate and later in about 1897 under Niger Coast Protectorate, 1900 under the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, 1906 under the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and Nigeria in 1914, the Niger Delta was never contemplated to be an Ijaw colony. Even the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (PDP) political arrangement of Nigeria into six geo-political zones put Niger Delta in the South-South Zone and it was never carved out as an Ijaw’s exclusive entity. To be sure, even the Isaac Adaka Boro’s secession bid, the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Kaiama Declaration, the Ikwerre Rescue Charter and all other groups’ aspirations in the Niger Delta, none ever envisaged a Niger Delta owned by one ethnic group because they recognized the existence of other ethnic groups.

During the making of Nigeria, the Niger Delta region was not given proper identity because most of its ethnic groups were minorities balkanized into Eastern and Mid-Western regions. Otherwise, the region ought to have constituted Southern Region of Nigeria during the First Republic, at least to complete the orthodox geographical compass of the country. But this was not to be because the three major ethnic groups decided to carve out Nigeria into three for themselves; hence Northern Region for the Hausa-Fulani, Eastern Region for the Igbo and Western Region for the Yoruba before 1963 when Mid-West was carved out of Western Region. Even when later there was need to define what constitutes the Niger Delta region, sentiments politicized it and it became loosely defined to include areas that were not supposed to be there. This was how the Niger Delta Development Commission encompassed nine states instead of six states of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo.

 So, where and who exactly are the Niger Deltans? Niger Delta region of Nigeria can be found in the southernmost part of the country. It has the River Niger tributaries that emptied into the Atlantic Ocean. In emptying into the ocean, rivers, streams and creeks were created. So the Niger Delta region is the tropical space between the tail-head of the River Niger (from where the tributaries originate) and the Atlantic Ocean. Many human groups live on this space including Ikwerre, Ijaw, the children of Akalaka (Ekpeye and Ogba), Ogoni, Effik, Anang, Ibibio, Etche, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Isoko, Edo, etc. In present terms, these groups can be found in the bottom-most part of Southern Nigeria. Niger Delta is Southern Nigeria minus Igbo and Yoruba. The above mentioned INC publication is totally absurd and so insensitive to come from a body like the INC which knows that Ijaw alone does not constitute the Niger Delta and that canvassing for an Ijaw interest in the region must take full cognizance of the presence and interests of other groups, no matter how small they may be. Without consensus, the Ijaw ambition can be strongly resisted by the rest of the Niger Delta. This is why the INC publication is despicable, preposterous, odd, wrong, deceitful and unworkable.

 I found the discussion I had with my passenger-friend interesting because it proved my age-long point that in most federations, it is sentiments that rule. These sentiments permeate the constitutions and other regulatory laws of the federation. The sentiments are there because of the differences in the peoples’ identities, customs and beliefs, geographies, religions, interests, resources and the inability of the federation to reach a consensus on how to manage these critical-factor-differences that determine the true unity and progress of the federalism. The peoples of Nigeria need their peculiar religious rights, nativity rights, resource access rights, fiscal and political arrangements, self determination rights and inter-relationships modus. As long as there is no consensus on these differences, such a federal state cannot exist without huge sentiments driving it. The presence of differences, sentiments and no consensus breeds hatred, suspicion and intolerance which are the producers of ethnic conflicts, killings and destructions that grow from mere demonstrations, petitions, agitations, to revolts, militancy, terrorism and civil wars. This is where Nigeria is today with respect to security of lives and properties. At the end, these sentiments may make or mar Nigeria despite her resource richness and size. So, Niger Delta is also about huge sentiments on key differences among its ethnics. Surely Ijaw ambition to colonize the Niger Delta lacks consensus and can cause a lot of disaffection among the ethnic groups in the Niger Delta. Can Ijaw nation be built under such circumstances?

 One of the implications of the Ijaw hegemonic tendency in the Niger Delta is its attitude of not recognizing efforts by or denials to other ethnic groups for the development of the Niger Delta. For example, Darah’s article carefully snubbed the Ogoni Revolution led by Kenule Saro-Wiwa.  This attitude helps to explain the reluctance of the Ijaw-led Federal Government of Nigeria to implement the UNEP August 2011 Report on Ogoni. In Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State which was dominated by the Ijaw for a very long time, prominent Ijaw sons were remembered, appreciated and honoured like the Isaac Boro Park, Diette-Spiff Civic Centre, Dappa Briye NDDC House, Ada George Road etc; yet King Jaja of Opobo, E.J.A. Oriji , Ken Saro-Wiwa, Obi Wali, Edward Kobani, Nwobidike Nwanodi, Ekpebu etc have not been found worthy of honour by the state. Even when the state made a feeble effort to find out “Who killed Obi Wali”, the then state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, an Ijaw, unimpressively and hurriedly closed the case for lack of evidence.

Ijaw’s colonization ambition also explains why it does not have respect for others and at the same time cunningly or indirectly appropriate the resources and sufferings of others for Ijaw’s interest. As an Ikwerre from Emohua, I know that this Ijaw character abounds in many instances where they would come to settle as free-tenants in small piece of coastal lands given to them by other neighboring communities, only for them (Ijaw) much later, to start actions claiming ownership of those lands. To the average Ijawman, he will do everything bad to forcefully or cunningly take over lands belonging to other non-Ijaw communities and that is why Ijaw is always at war with its upland neighbours over land. This is the origin of the land dispute between Rebisi and Okrika in Port Harcourt, recall the politics of waterfront in Port Harcourt. Before the 20th Century, most of the relationships between Ikwerre and Ijaw for example were based on genuine generous friendship, not on documented agreements. But Ijaw would claim to be owners of such lands knowing that there were no written agreements. It had happened in Apara, Akpor, Emohua etc. Are the Ijaws not benefiting from the 13% special allocation to oil producing states achieved by Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death? How have they appreciated Ken Saro-Wiwa given Ijaw’s exalted position today in Nigeria? Rather, all we hear every day is Boro, Boro… as if it was Boro’s revolution alone that occurred in the Niger Delta.

 Ijaw wants to get the Niger Delta as its region during the tenure of their son as the president of Nigeria. I hope that would not be the reason for the sudden change of mind by Mr. President for the convocation of the National Conference! This goes to address the proposal Darah made in his article that Nigeria must change all the draconian laws that have denied the Ijaw access to her resources. But the laws could be changed without Ijaw having the Niger Delta as its colony. On the other hand, I sympathize with Mr. President because these were the very laws and templates upon which he became the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, I do not know if Jonathan can remove these bad laws of Nigeria and create a Niger Delta colony for his Ijaw people! To succeed, Mr. President needs to wear an extra-ordinary thinking cap, extra-ordinary courage and extra-ordinary commitment to dream, articulate, initiate and prepare those bills Nigeria needs for true liberation of all peoples of Nigeria and not Ijaw alone.

So far, the point has been made that Niger Delta is not Ijaw’s property alone and cannot be. Even  though there would always be the tendency for domination by larger groups in every un-agreed union of different ethnics, it is better to avoid a replay of Sudan or the USSR or the present unacceptable domination by the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria (which led to this odd sentiment in the Ijaw in the first place). Ijaw must be conscious and cautious of history and fully recognize the existence of the rest of Niger Delta groups. Ijaw’s domineering postures had made her always want to lord it over others around her and not caring the consequences. Ijaw must be careful not to incur the wrath of the rest of the  groups in the region in the future. Ijaw must tame her ambition to colonize Niger Delta and should understand that others too have the right to lead the region. This understanding is critical because imperialism and unwholesome domination has led to most of the ethnic crisis that have destroyed federations across the World.

In Nigeria as it stands today, the three dominating ethnic groups (Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba) constitute the main sources of Nigeria’s ethnic abuses. They were the ones who abused ethnicity in 1952/53. They were the ones who masterminded the splitting of Nigerian into three regions (North, West and East as if there was no South) during the First Republic. Despite the existence of Federal Character Commission, quota system, zoning or rotational principles in some laws in Nigeria, they still insist that there are minorities and they are the majorities who must continue to see the rest of the ethnic groups as small peoples that must be suppressed, marginalized, disrespected and dominated even in the affairs of the minorities. It was they who elevated the cheating of the minorities to high havens that led to minorities’ unrests. These arguments led to the requests for the creation of regions, states and local governments. In these creations, no lessons were learnt that once more than one group of people are joined into one political unit, the bigger one would want to dominate and this had been breeding inter-ethnic abuses and conflicts destroying Nigeria.

 The lack of consensus amongst ethnic Nigerians is one of the most fundamental challenges of Nigeria today: all the ethnic groups never sat down to agree on how to live together in one country. This problem had created mutual suspicion, hate and lack of tolerance. It is only consensus that can bring solution to the unceasing Igbo-Nigeria sentiments, Berom-Fulani killings in Jos, Ogoni-Okrika and Rebisi-Okrika wars all in Rivers State, Fulani-Alago and Ombatshe-Assakio conflicts all in Nasarawa State, Fulani-Agatu wars in Benue State, Zango-Kataf crisis in Kaduna State, Umuleri-Aguleri in Anambra, Ife-Modakeke in Osun State, Itshekiri-Ijaw in Delta State etc. These conflicts have claimed millions of Nigerians and properties nobody can estimate. So in an Ijaw-dominated and colonized Niger Delta, would these same scenarios not replicate itself? Has the Ijaw learnt any lesson from the Igbo situation in the former Eastern Region? Ijaw imperialism is no solution to the development of the Niger Delta. Rather it will be fierce struggle among the ethnic groups, sabotage actions against one another, dog-eat-dog situation, kata-kata, trouble, wahala etc. The solution is to create a Niger Delta Region comprising all the different ethnic groups provided they all have reached a consensus on how they would live together. This is surely not what Ijaw alone can determine and impose on the rest. A better solution is to split Nigeria into ethnic states; no state should have two different ethnic groups in it. Different ethnic states can agree to merge into a region. In the case of Niger Delta Region, it should comprise of Ikwerre State, Ijaw State(s), Ogoni State, Effik State, Ibibio State, Ekpeye State, Ogba State, Urhobo State, Itshekiri State, Isoko State, Etche State etc. Every state must depend on its resources and hardwork for survival. Or create an Ijaw Region with many states all belonging to Ijaw.

 By way of lesson from the Boro-Jackson theoretical alliance expounded by Prof. Darah in his article, Ijaw must learn to respect the efforts and resources of her immediate neighbors so that Ijaw would be respected. Otherwise, the Ijaw agenda of ruling and dominating Niger Delta would not succeed. Charity they say must begin at home; Ijaw’s alliance campaign should start and succeed first with her immediate neighbors before stretching across the Atlantic. That is why Africa is the centre of Nigeria’s foreign policy. That was one reason Biafra failed: it refused to respect and take into full cognizance the interests of her small immediate neighbors. The USA is not always interested in fighting its immediate neighbors; rather it is always seeking their cooperation. In our instant case, can Ijaw’s neighbors respect and cooperate with Ijaw if the latter does not respect and recognize the former?  Reciprocity of good relationships sustains better life.

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The author wrote from Abuja.

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