Urhobo Historical Society

The IBOM Peoples’ Independence:
Its True Meaning

An Address to the Ibom Congress at the Akwa Ibom National Convention,
San Francisco, U.S.A., August 10, 2001

By Edemma Udoh
edemmaf@aol.com


Our people have been around for centuries and for thousands of years.  They were happily toiling the soil that God saw it fit to bequeath them, manage the rivers and waters that he blessed them with.  Their immediate neighbours were several  nationalities such as, Efiks, Ogonis,  Ijaws, Edos, Igbos and several others whom they have interrelated with for centuries.

Throughout this period the relationships with our neighbors were developing. There were problems and these were resolved through in-built conflict resolution mechanisms of our social engineering process. In other words, our relationships with others are guided by the need for the protection of mutual interest and our desire to develop along our chosen pace. Our independence was important to us and was well understood and respected by all parties concerned. We did not conquer them and they did not conquer us.

Things were to change when we had those uninvited “visitors” from across the seas.  The Portuguese, the French, the German and the British, remained and overstayed any welcome they may have initially had.   We were to pay a terrible price for these visits. Fundamentally speaking, our cohesive existence as a people, our socio-political and economic relationships with our neighbours got mutated by the political interests and the economic objectives of the invading “visitors”. Ibom collective purpose of existence and the processes of actualising these were re-formulated, re-designed in line with the objectives of the invaders and adulterated with the political / economic expediencies of the surrounding nationalities. These gave rise to certain realities:
 

Firstly, the relationship with some of our neighbours, especially those in the hinterlands changed, due to the compelled integration.

Again, in the coastal areas, the trans-Atlantic slave trade - a noxious business which the European introduced to us - led some to become  merchants and middle men in this inhumane trade in human cargo for forced labour migration of our own people and our hinterland neighbors.’

The re-orientation through lucrative enticement terminated the chosen economic path to development and skills acquisition by other family members, leading to the creation of a new underclass willing to do the policing or to facilitate the obnoxious trade and other associated needs of the invaders; in other words the creation of the human resource base for further aggression on the Ibom community existence.

Furthermore, the character of the degrading trade created a different form of class stratification and values alien to our society: the few heartless wealthy and the soul-brutalized  and defenseless people, with damaging impact on our value system as well as those of many other African communities.

A fifth reality is the off-shoot of the first four, which is the creation of a basis for further social territory mapping with no consideration for the ethnography, topography or the wishes of the indigenous communities.


With the end of the slave trade came another British plot - colonialism.  This again changed not only our status as independent and autonomous peoples, answerable only to our customs and ancestral laws, but redefined our relationship with all our neighbors on all sides.   The British imposed on us, by force, and without consultation membership of a union which was alien to us and of which we could not have foreseen in our wildest dreams.  We became British subjects in the colony of Nigeria. We had lost our independence and were forced into a marriage of convenience with the only “sibling” being the brutal expropriation of our ancestors’ labour and our economic endowments.

For 60 years, the British ruled and pillaged and by 1960 they decided that it was time to now try a newer fashion of socio-economic control,  politically more acceptable to the indigenous elites they created. This is what modern political scientists call neo-colonialism.   For decades they had groomed  in Nigeria those who had been most submissive to them.  These were the people who themselves had had their own empire and culture of domination which they willingly loaned to their British  masters and patrons for the domination of their subject peoples.

In 1960, Nigeria was officially granted a flag of independence. We now know that ours still remained dependent on the whims of governments and politicians in cities outside our homeland.  Is that independence?  Once we were lumped together with others in this new and British designed dispensation the game of numbers began and others who never had any dominion over us could and did dominate our affairs.

From 1960 onwards, there was further centralisation of the decision making process, with little or no consultation with the subject communities. Decisions pertaining to our home land were now being taken in Enugu or Lagos by those with power of numbers and who naturally would have their own interests to furnish.

The civil war saw the main theater of battle in the ethnic minorities' areas. The Federal forces aimed to maintain central control through a slogan of "one nation" and the “Biafra” Republic with its own slogan of "enough of Igbo oppression and killings." Yet both heavily armed contending forces fought the battle on our land, thereby turning them into killing fields. We have heard of figures of 1 million people who died, but has anyone bothered to determine the ethnic composition of the dead victims, bearing in mind the popular aphorisms that when “two elephant fights, it is the grass that suffers”?

The end of the civil war with its heavy toil produced another bizarre logic. The propaganda machine of the victorious Federal Nigeria maintained that the forced unity of Nigeria was not negotiable since the civil war was fought for mechanical unity and political freedom. (sic!!!). The reality is that  we became imprisoned with stronger chains in the Federal Prison of Nigeria.

By 1978, through the Land Use Decree promulgated by the present civilian President, General Olusegun Obasanjo, then the military Head of State, Ibom people lost the rights to our mineral resources, our land and its use, as well as our air through environment-unfriendly flaring of poisonous gas. In other words, we lost the right to be ourselves, stand still, regress or develop in line with our own pace.

Forty  years later, after a civil war, several pogroms and massacres, military coups, our people’s plight has clearly worsened.   Our land is devastated by reckless mineral exploitation; our rivers polluted by the same process; our youths are unemployed.  At the same time, other parts of the country enjoy the proceeds of our lands and those of our neighbors in the Niger Delta with impunity.  When we ask for justice, Unity is preached.  When we ask for self determination, Unity is forced down our throat.  When we ask for respect, we are told that Unity is good for us at any cost.

So why this obsession with unity, whose goals and objects have so far been shown to have nothing in common with socio-economic justice, equity and fair play?  Why this dubious devotion to Unity over which more than 1,000,000 lives were sacrificed?  Why the clamour for the Unity on which our people were never consulted nor given the chance to vote for.  Do not be deceived into thinking that those who preach the mindless maniacal  unity are doing so out of affection for the different nationalities of our people.  No. No.  The attraction is neither you nor your culture, but the proceeds of your land and waters- Oil!  It is this commodity which has defined and determined the value of Nigerian unity to those who impose it upon the nation of so many diverse people without consultation, care or concern for the needs of others.

It is the Oil which has oiled the wheels of  the Nigerian state for decades.  This is the commodity that has paid for the international airports  state houses, presidential palaces, express ways, a new capital city for Northern Nigeria, now called Federal Capital Territory, and for the creation of new States and local governments. It is the Oil that has enabled the killing of over 2000 Ogonis following peaceful clamour for justice and the killing of 500 inhabitants of Odi who were eliminating from the earth's surface under the pretext that a group of youth were responsible for the death of 12 policemen. It is the Oil that powers maintaining peacekeeping missions in other countries, when there is no peace in Nigeria  and other diverse policies irrelevant to our people’s needs.

Let us call a spade a spade.  We should not be against anyone who wishes to remain united in Nigeria or in any pact with the devil, dervishes or despots.  All we should be saying is that we, as a people, without reference to others reserve the right to choose who we should be associated with, when and how.  That is called self determination. Articles 19 and 20 (1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right clearly provides for it. Several countries, including United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada, France, Yugoslavia, Turkey, and others have devised various means of responding to the need for the recognition of the rights of their peoples.  The right to self determination is recognized in International law, and the assertion of indigenous people’s rights provide a reliable alternative to ethnic strife.

Resource control is  the aspiration of our people and should be  organized at the community level for the actual control of the forces and factors of survival. Our dream as a people, is to overcome our deprivations, hunger and want.

We must now encourage supporters of justice in our struggle against dictatorship of the Western economic-interest driven by forced integration, the corporate Abuja PLC represented by Obasanjo et al and , the Nigerian unity experiment benefactors in the national groupings of Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. The three evils managed by the imperial power brought us to our present position of justifiable desperation. That world we dream, that future which we seek is achievable in our life time. The soul of our struggle is beyond a price and beyond partisan politics. Nothing must stop our understanding of our aspirations for freedom. Our salvation lies with our people and us.
 

We must free our minds from the shackles of mental slavery and become mentally and psychologically independent.  We must take the steps that will ensure that our children will hold their heads high, remember us with pride and be respected.  Enough is Enough.  Let us free our minds and free our peoples by any effective means. Our destination remains self-determination and resource control. I ask in the para-phrased words of that South African poet, Kalushi Malhangu “the blood of the fallen Ibom people will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom and liberation”
 

Resource Control

(a) To the communities and peoples of the Niger Delta, resources  are not just "oil and gas".  In fact,  people, land, forests, air and water come out pre-eminently as prime resources by the estimation of our people.

(b) "Control is almost always equated and used interchangeably with ownership.  To this extent we draw the conclusion that communities talk and  mean "ownership and control" in their advocacy for resource control.

(c) There is a burning desire, an almost fierce yearning to regain the use and management of these resources without external control and direction. This is in line with the historical position of the peoples of the region.

(d) The freedom to willingly dispose off or conserve these resources, to negotiate its alienation or extraction without reference to a violent and or an undemocratic controller beyond the seas and oceans or behind the forests and the Savannah.

(e) A belief that these resources be returned to the communities and managed  at the community levels with little or no outside direction.

(f)  "Resource control in the simplest sense means survival”.--- ERA report
 

 Resource Control Must Not Be Adulterated

WE ALL HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO SPELL OUT THE MEANING OF RESOURCE CONTROL TO FRIENDS AND FOES, INCLUDING:

Politicians, politician-scholars, military-politicians, government and non-governmental organizations, corporate executives, contractors, diplomats and several interest groups.

These are the issues and the gargantuan task of self determination, including economic control, confronting us. It is inescapable to talk about emancipating our people, liberating our land without the willingness to articulate the realities of our present day deprivation, want, historical agitation for improvement, with little to show beyond debatable figure of 13% revenue out of the almost 97% revenue generated from the Niger Delta.

My challenge to you all today is to remind you of our historic responsibility to our fallen heroes and parents, our present and the future of our children. The task to take control of our resources can be done through the convocation of a sovereign national conference, where decisions are not based on the established majority votes but the respect of the minority and their rights to decide their own destiny. No group should command any veto over the other. We must not shy away from the word "Sovereign"  to describe the said conference, for sovereignty should belong and reside in the peoples and is not devolved from an illegitimate process. In any case, according to Ledum Mitee of MOSOP, “since Nigeria is being run like business on oil wealth, it might be time we started talking about ONE BARREL, ONE VOTE”. The details of these can be thrashed out at a future seminar.

Therefore, to you all, when are we sensitizing our people to make this the main issue for the next electoral process (irrespective of political camps)? We cannot be immune from the pressures our people live in nor can we afford to stand aloof. If not, we will stand indicted in the words of Frantz Fanon:  “the future will have no pity for those men, who having possessed the exceptional privilege of being able to speak the words of truth, to their oppressors, but have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, mute indifference, and sometimes of cold complicity”

I wish you all well in our deliberations.


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