The Ijaw Elders Forum (IEF), Lagos, wishes to express outrage over the President's letter dated November 10, 1999, to our illustrious Governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, threatening the declaration of a State of Emergency in Bayelsa State. Our outrage, and indeed the outrage of the entire Ijaw Nation over the aforesaid letter, stems from its impunity, lack of civility, bias, and outright mis-representation of facts.
It is instructive, as it is curious, that the gruesome and cruel killings of Ijaws in Lagos by members of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), to which Mr. President has not said a word till date, predates the events in Odi which led to the writing of Mr. President's letter. Mr. President is well aware, as it is widely documented locally and internationally, that far too many men, women, youths and even children of Ijaw nationality have been killed across the entire Niger Delta by security agents. We have in an earlier publication condemned the killing of Policemen in Odi. While we maintain our position on condemnation of the killings of the Policemen in Odi, we are un-impressed by the President's apparent lack of reaction to similar incidents in other troubled spots of the country, like Lagos, Ife/Modakeke, Sagamu, Kano, Umuleri, Aguleri, etc. just to name a few. Though we are in agreement with the Federal Government on the condemnation of the Odi killings, we equally condemn the recent action of the Federal Government which has only on Saturday, November 20, 1999, dispatched 50 truck loads of soldiers to Shell and kill every living soul found in Odi. This is the second declaration and execution of war, since after the Biafra war, against citizens of this country by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The two declarations of war by the Federal Government have so far been against the Ijaws of Bayelsa State, whose oil-rich land fuel the prosperity of the other parts of the country. We are equally outraged by this act of cruelty and oppression by the Federal Government against defenceless citizens of this country.
Decades of marginalization and oppression of the Ijaw people, the history of wanton killings, rape of Ijaw women by security agents in Kaiama and elsewhere, and the recent killing of Ijaws in Lagos by the OPC; all of which attracted no reaction from any past or present President, when viewed against the reaction of President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Odi killings, portray unjustifiable bias against the Ijaw people.
It is unconscionable, much as it is inexplicable, how Mr. President expects the safety of policemen who are in possession of implements of violence, to lie in the hands of an unarmed civilian Governor. How on earth does Mr. President expect an unarmed Civilian Governor, and not the police, to effect the arrest of the persons involved in the killing of the policemen in Odi.
Mr. President noted in his letter to the Bayelsa State Governor thus, ."I note with disgust and shock the reported incident of rape in your state by military personnel." This statement in Mr. President's letter, is a gross mis-representation of facts concerning the location of Choba, and is unforgivable. We note with boundless grief, that neither Mr. President nor his retinue of Advisers and Aides seem to know that part of the country. We are concerned that Mr. President, who lived in Port Harcourt long enough to wed his wife there, does not know that Choba is a community in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and not Bayelsa State. How can we then ever imagine, that those who do not know the simple geography of that part of the country, can understand and appreciate the complicated problems of the Niger Delta, as to develop it. Not surprisingly, the Chief of Army Staff had, in a desperate bid to pass the buck, insinuated earlier that the rape incidents in Choba were carried out by Egbesu Boys. This again portrays gross ignorance as the Chobas are of Ikwerre nationality, and not Ijaw nationality who are solely associated with the Egbesu. The Ikwerres of upland Niger Delta, and the Ijaws of riverine Niger Delta, have no language or cultural commonality. Therefore, one cannot be mistaken for the other.
Mr. President also wrote in his letter to the Governor of Bayelsa State.. "I know that no soldier would be so beastly as to commit such a criminal act in the full glare of cameramen". If soldiers are indeed innocent of the Choba rape case, then they are innocent; SIMPLICITA. Their innocence will stem from the fact they were not involved in the Choba case, and not from mere assumptions that they are not expected to be so beastly. In any case, which soldiers are we talking about? Is it not the same stock that plundered and looted this nation for 20 years with unparalleled bestiality? Is it not the same stock of soldiers among whom some are currently standing trial for the brutal murder of defenceless and innocent citizens? Is it not the stock of soldiers among whom some have now even confessed to the killing of innocent citizens for ritual purposes? Yet these are only the few known and heard cases. Haba! does Mr. President need to go so far as to put down the starving, neglected, marginalized, oppressed and exploited people of the Niger Delta? While the National Assembly was at least making efforts to investigate the Choba matter, the President judged and dismissed the case because he desires to use it as an excuse to stigmatize the Ijaws in Bayelsa State. In the light of this outright mis-representations, to demean Chief Alamieyeseigha on the Choba matter, which had nothing to do with Bayelsa State, it would only be fair and honourable that Mr. President should apologize to the People of Bayelsa State, and give his apology as much publicity as his letter to the Governor.
We wish to draw the attention of the Nigerian public to our publication in the Guardian Newspapers of 16 August, 1999, where we expressed conviction that the Administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, like all previous administrations since independence, will also marginalize the people of the Niger Delta. We wish to re-affirm that view again today, as we also affirm the disappointment and embarrassment of the generality of Nigerians to the brazen lopsided leadership of president Olusegun Obasanjo. We have watched the government of Mr. President move swiftly to salvage the sea encroachment at the bar beach with billions of Naira of oil money, without the necessity to establish a COMMISSION first. N1.6 billion is earmarked for the bar beach encroachment in Lagos, while N5.4 billion has been voted for shoreline protection also in Lagos. Mr. President has doled out robust donations to flood victims of the North; and at the same time remained completely aloof when whole communities in Rivers and Delta States were submerged by floods. We have watched Mr. President dole out billions of Naira of oil money to Chief Bola Ige to improve power supply in areas that suffer intermittent power outages, without the necessity to establish a COMMISSION first. Meanwhile Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State Capital, which is not connected to the national grid at all, reels under total power outage for over six (6) months without the intervention of the Federal Government. Governor Alamieyeseigha's request to the Federal Government for a grant to repair a gas turbine generator (the only source of power supply to the State) met a rebuff from the President. The President offered to make some money available only if it was taken as a loan, repayable within twelve (12) months. We have watched Mr. President propose and secure the approval of tens of billions of Naira of oil money for the improvement and expansion of existing roads in the country, without the necessity to establish a COMMISSION first. Meanwhile this administration has hardly given any thought to Bayelsa State and much of the Niger Delta where there are no roads to start with. The entire State of Bayelsa has only one road, of just 28 kilometers long. Today, Bayelsa State remains the most backward State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have watched this administration halt and paralyze all developmental efforts of the existing Oil Minerals Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), under the cover and pretext of a bill awaiting approval by the National Assembly, for the creation of another COMMISSION. It is saddening that even the deductions being made by this administration from budgetary allocations in favour of OMPADEC are being withheld by this same administration from being disbursed to OMPADEC. This prompted Senator Udo Udoma to table a bill recently at the National Assembly to try to force the Federal Government to disburse the funds to OMPADEC. We have watched this administration withhold the disbursement of the thirteen (13) percent derivation funds entrenched in the 1999 Constitution, on a flimsy excuse that an Appropriation Bill had not been passed by the Senate. When the Senate eventually passed the Appropriation Bill, the Presidency contemptuously ignored the tenets of the bill, and continued to withhold disbursement of the thirteen (13) percent derivation funds. The primary casualties of this deliberate act of financial starvation by Mr. President, are the Ijaws of the Niger Delta. We have also watched Mr. President give matching orders to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA) to return from Abuja to Lagos (his tribal area), because according to him, these establishments have no business in Abuja. But Mr. President says nothing of the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which should also rightly get matching orders to move to either Port Harcourt, or Yenagoa or Warri, because it also has no business in Abuja. We are in no doubt whatsoever, that if Lagos, Ibadan or Abeokuta were oil producing areas, Mr. President would have issued an order on NNPC, along with the NPA and NMA.
Even if a new COMMISSION is needed for development of the Niger Delta Area; a view we contest very strongly, we wonder if the mere proposal of a COMMISSION should automatically make it impossible to allocate funds via the budgetary process, and undertake some meaningful development projects in the interim with or without a COMMISSION? The problem with past military administrations, and the current civilian administration, is that the leadership fail to appreciate the intelligence of the average Nigerian. The result is that the leadership of this country always believes that all Nigerians outside of government are fools, and therefore cannot understand the antics of government. Certainly, Ijaws are not fools. We have merely been patient.
It is clear that Mr. President has a pre-set agenda. This last move in the President's agenda is a gambit to set the stage of giving a dog (a historically oppressed and marginalized underdog) a bad name so as to hang it. This of course is not new, as the same strategy was applied to late Ken Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots. The recent invasion of Odi on Saturday, 20th November, 1999 and the massacre of several defenceless citizens, bear us out on the President's pre-set agenda. We see this move as a plan by Mr. President to orchestrate the declaration of a State of Emergency, and take direct control of Bayelsa State; and possibly other parts of the Niger Delta, to ensure continuous sucking of the crude oil to support the fancies of the majority tribes, rather than concede any part of the oil wealth to give the host communities any sense of belonging, and thus generate natural lasting peace. What is being witnessed in the Niger Delta today is the manifestation of the protracted frustration of a people who are now approaching a total loss of confidence in a political arrangement that only creates OLOIBIRIS - suck out all the oil, flare gas fragrantly, ruin farmlands, spill oil from time to time to ruin fishing habitats and devastate traditional sources of livelihood, and then move on to the next oil well, leaving the host communities worse off than before. This is the lot of Oloibiri today in Bayelsa State where oil was first drilled in commercial quantities. This is the lot of Ogoni land; and indeed the entire Niger Delta. Besides the obvious lukewarm attitude towards concrete action to develop the Niger Delta, we are alarmed by the President's obvious actual interest in crushing it under the slightest opportunity, as indicated firstly by the President's letter to Governor of Bayelsa State, and secondly by the declaration of war in Odi.
This, in our view Mr. President, is the last straw. If Mr. President withdraws his troops from Odi, and takes meaningful steps to quickly restore hope and a sense of belonging, and not pretend or pay lip service by folding his arms under cover of a pending bill, then he can douse the tension more effectively than employing or applying threats. If indeed Mr. President has accepted Christ and has really submitted his life to God as we hear he has done, then we implore him to sincerely seek the guidance of God in solving the problems of the Niger Delta. God will fill him with compassion, and help him to do unto the Ijaw Governor of Bayelsa State, as he would do unto the Yoruba Governor of Lagos State. Deuteronomy 16:19 enjoins rulers not to pervert justice or show partiality (tribalism), while Proverbs 8:15 tells us that Godly wisdom produces justice. If the President does not heed our advise, and decides instead to continue to oppress and kill the Ijaws as he is doing now, and as other past leaders have done, we fear that the last straw may snap.
In closing, we wish to state the following:
1. That all soldiers recently deployed to Bayelsa State including those that occupied Odi on the 20th of November be withdrawn immediately. Indeed soldiers should be withdrawn completely from the entire Niger Delta.
2. That the Ijaw nation is totally and completely behind the Governor of Bayelsa State, and will employ every force of constitutionality to resist the imposition of a State of Emergency, or the current State of war, in Bayelsa State or anywhere else in the Niger Delta.
3. That the Ijaw Nation may be compelled to engage in direct dialogue and communication with the United Nations and the International Community, if the killing of Ijaw citizens continues, and our pleas and cries on our plight continue to fall on deaf ears.
CHIEF PIUS EZONEGBERI
for: IJAW ELDERS FORUM, LAGOS
c/o P.O. Box 2046, GPO, Marina Lagos
24 November, 1999