We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
- Martin Luther King, Jr
As Nigeria turns 50, the London-based Nigerian poet, journalist and broadcaster, Nengi Josef Ilagha, calls on the Federal Government to relocate the Federal Capital Territory to the Niger Delta, if it truly means to develop the oil-rich region. In a 223-page book entitled The Militant Writes Back, dedicated to the memory of late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, the author projects this proposition as the ultimate guarantee for peace and stability in a new Nigeria. Published by Treasure Books, Nigeria, The Militant Writes Back begins with a candid word of hope and encouragement for President Goodluck Jonathan.
Epistle To President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta Matters
By His Majesty
Josef Ilagha, Mingi XII
Amanyanabo of Nembe, Bayelsa State, Nigeria
LLOW ME TO register on paper the joy I felt in my heart when I received news to the effect that you have finally been sworn in as President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria. No news can be more gratifying to the land and people of the Niger Delta. The road to this point of concession has been rugged, and there is no gainsaying that the hand of God has been uppermost in the entire calculations, and will remain so now that equity and fair play have found room at the centre of governance.
But before I proceed to express my heartfelt convictions on what your presidency entails, it is only fit and proper that I extend condolences to you and the entire Nigerian nation over the death of your personal friend, running mate and political associate, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua, to the memory of whom this book is dedicated. The manner of his death in office is without precedent in world history, and therefore is unique in many ways, coming as it does at a critical turning point in the history of our nation.
It must have been very painful for you, especially because you never had a chance to interact with the man at close quarters in his last days, not even before he was flown out of the country for medical treatment on November 23, 2009. The world is witness to the fact that your repeated attempts to reach your boss and sympathize with him over his illness were rebuffed for reasons best known to his wife, Turai, and her clique of pretenders.
But, by virtue of your high office and in keeping with your decent character, you were the first to sympathize with the widow over the loss of her husband, our President of three years. That is the way it should be. Yar’Adua was a good man. He had a personal charm that brought friends his way. He was generous in spirit. He aspired towards a government of national unity, one that made sufficient room for the opposition to feel welcome. Given his large-hearted concern over the militancy question in the Niger Delta, he could even be said to have been his neighbour’s keeper.
Your Excellency, I have every cause to reach out to you at this crucial point in time, if only to lend you a few words of encouragement. There is no doubt that the last six months have been the most hectic of your political career. As Benjamin Disraeli, a one-time British Prime Minister, put it many years ago: “What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens.” In the face of everything that has happened so far, you must keep calm and carry on. Remember that your duty is to your nation and to God, and no one can claim to be more Nigerian than yourself.
We have entered a new era, a season of revival in which many Nigerian families will be only too glad to name their new-born children Goodluck, in outright admiration of what your rise to the highest office in the land means to all men of goodwill. I have no doubt that you know what I mean. After all, you were but an infant at Otuoke when your paternal grandmother called you by the pet name Azikiwe, after the great Zik of Africa, our first home-grown Governor-General and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Today, her dream for you has come to stay. You are at the head of your nation.
It is important, Mr. President, that you know where you hail from. If you do so, as James Baldwin will readily confirm, there is really no limit to where you can go. You spring from a region where every man and woman who is rightly agitated by their circumstance is quickly labeled as a militant. You have been at the helm of affairs in an oil-rich state which is yet to receive its due in progressive terms. You were second in command in the concerted struggle for resource control and self-determination under the Alamieyeseigha government. You know the grain of the crusade as well as Melford Okilo, and therefore you are a principal stakeholder who cannot afford to drag your feet. You are as much a militant as my humble self. I am no more militant than you are.
As for me, I have chosen my weapon. I have chosen the pen in the belief that every militant should be in a position to express their grievances in the most articulate way possible. I believe that the great hurdle on the path of the Niger Delta struggle has been the inability, on the part of the militants themselves, to develop the argument beyond the muzzle of the gun. It is time to break the idiom closure which this symbolizes. It is time to present our plight in graphic terms for every discerning mind to appreciate what it means to live with oil spills, gas flares, acid rain, flooding and erosion.
What is happening to you, Mr. President, is not new. Within eighteen months of your tenure as Governor of Bayelsa State, you left landmarks that have continued to stand as a point of reference. You left your people asking for more, wishing that you could continue. The fact that you were promoted to higher office even without printing a poster advertising your candidacy, can only mean that God has found you worthy to serve those who have expressed such great faith in your abilities as a leader of men and a good manager of the modest resources at your disposal.
Mr. President, every Nigerian looks up to you for exemplary leadership at this point in the history of our nation. For 50 years, the voluble ones have had their say. It is the turn of the voiceless to be heard. Your voice must come out strong, convincing and decisive. There are goals that can only be achieved by you on behalf of your fellow country men and women. For the citizens of the Niger Delta in particular, it is doubly so for reasons that you are all too familiar with. In the first place, the popular sentiment is that only a leader from a minority ethnic group, such as the Ijaw, can effectively resolve the myriad problems that confront our nation. That challenge has come upon us suddenly. You are a minority leader from Ijaw land. You have been sworn in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You must live up to the expectation of your people in every way possible. You can only make the difference if you actually set out to be different.
It is in the nature of our politics that you will be inundated by unsolicited advice from sundry quarters. Give ear, but hearken more to the still small voice of God. When you do so, you will command the sudden and unconditional respect of your fellow men. A ring of sycophants will build a wall around you, but you must break through that ring to access the opinion of the ordinary Nigerian and identify with the circumstance of the lowly. In all things, remember that power belongs to the people, and with the endorsement of God, you will hold it even more securely if you give a tenable account of your stewardship within the twelve months preceding the presidential elections of April 2011. Remember that the constitution of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, is not superior to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and if any kite says the egret should not perch as it does, let the wings of that kite break.
You have a duty to prove the enemies of Nigeria wrong. Only recently, a former self-acclaimed military President made an unfortunate statement to the effect that the youths of today cannot lead this nation to greater achievement. That is the kind of uninspired thinking meant to deflate the morale of this generation of Nigerians about their real potential, and it must be rebuffed. You virtually belong in the vanguard of that youth body. You have a duty to lead aright. You can do it. You can make the difference.
What is more, it is instructive that the first law maker of Nigerian descent in the British parliament emerged with the general elections of May 6, 2010, the same day that you were sworn into office as President. His name is Chuka Umunna. He belongs to our generation of leaders believed to be incapable of vision, and is a strong proof that Nigerian youths can aspire to the highest office in the land and acquit themselves creditably, if the parameters are right. I enjoin you to liaise with young, progressive minds such as Umunna, rather than suffer the foolish counsel of leaders in the mould of Ibrahim Babangida who have obviously exhausted their share of relevance within our borders.
Another former President went so far as to say that not even Jesus Christ can conduct a credible election in Nigeria. That is a clear measure of the farmer’s shallow faith in the Christian religion he confesses. It is yet another unfortunate proclamation from a man whose disrespect for God’s opinion was in evidence for the better part of his eight-year tenure, a hypocrite who made overtures of forsaking corruption, and remained the kingpin of graft in high places. The spirit behind these pronouncements is one of pessimism, and that is hardly the spirit Nigeria and Nigerians need to imbibe in this golden year of our sovereignty as a nation. Do well to keep these two men away from you, lest they poison the health of your mind with their highly suspect claim to wisdom. In point of fact, you have a duty to conclude the investigation into the award of oil blocks carried out during the last days of Obasanjo’s presidency. Do not let the man’s face frighten you. He is not above the laws of the land.
As the first political leader from the southern-most fringes of the nation to rise to the highest office in the land, your place in Nigerian history is unique. It is a great honour indeed, one that must not be tainted by selfish acts of betrayal or underhand compromise. Remember that the expectations of your people are high. Remember that you are setting a precedent in the political life of the humble and law-abiding people among whom you grew up. There are bound to be distractions. There will be detractors. But what God has willed for you and for Nigeria as a whole in this cardinal year of transformation will come to stay. His will alone shall be done, and no man can shut the door that His almighty hand holds open to prosperity.
Do not fret. Remember that you have the support of your people. The militants from your region are militant only because, until you came along, one of their own had not been in high office to represent their interest, to champion their aspirations, to give voice to their dreams. It is worth reiterating that amongst our ranks, and in the minds of discerning Nigerians, there is a well-founded opinion that our nation can only enjoy good governance when a minority personage, acting at all times with a clear conscience, comes to bear upon the mammoth challenges that have beset this nation from the days of independence. It is a strong and abiding belief that takes its inspiration from the story of David, the shepherd boy who brought down the giant Philistine, Goliath, with a pebble in his sling.
Mr. President, there is a great deal that goes with your name, and if anyone doubted that a man’s name sticks to his future, you are the best proof that Nigeria can cite. Bring Nigeria nothing but good luck. Bring us to good fortune. Bring us to a newfound glory. Our prayers are with you. Our hope is that you will indeed make the Ijaw nation proud, that every son and daughter of Ijaw land, at home and abroad, may walk tall. You have our goodwill.
What is more, I have no doubt that your recent meeting with President Barack Hussein Obama of the United States of America made a lasting impression on you. I trust that you drew inspiration from chatting face to face with a minority element at the commanding heights of governance in the most powerful democracy that the world knows. Do well to broaden your diplomatic horizon, and go for no less than gold in this golden year that the Lord God has made for His own almighty purposes. Stand firm and keep the faith, and your reward shall be great.
Indeed I am gratified to know that you have resolved to bring the so-called monster of corruption to full submission. Enough of the lip service. Enough of the runaway imagery. Bear in mind that corruption is not a nameless entity. The Nigerian society is corrupt because there are corrupt fellows amongst us who think themselves above the law. You will root out the menace of corruption, if you root out the taproot of corruption. I say this advisedly. More than any other single act of connivance in the history of our nation, the Halliburton scandal has revealed the nationwide web of corruption that threatens our future. That is a good place to start from.
It is heart-breaking to know that, but for a few respectable names, all those who have been at the helm of affairs in our nation, men and women we had looked upon as our leading lights in the recent past, were involved in this national disgrace. I have no doubt that you have read your copy of Epistle To Maduabebe, the turbo-charged dossier on the unwholesome acts of Dr Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru who constitutes the taproot of moral, political and economic corruption in the Niger Delta, the one man whose treacherous escapades brought the region and its people to the doldrums of subservience in a nation that has readily followed his unholy example.
As I pointed out in that book, corruption is not a hydra-headed monster. Verily, verily, I say corruption thrives because there are corrupt human beings parading themselves as godfathers amongst us. Dr Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru, Nigeria’s first Chief Geologist, is such a godfather. In spite of all his denials, he is Number 11 on the long list of eminent Nigerians who sold their conscience for a pudgy mess of Halliburton porridge. Mr. President, I enjoin you to take a bold step of faith. I charge you to begin from your own back yard. Begin with the geologist who sold out the corporate inheritance of the Niger Delta from the foundation of this country, leading to the pervasive crisis in the region today. Indeed it is gratifying that you have directed that a world-class audit firm be engaged to carry out a full scale investigation into the accounts of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. Bring Maduabebe to book, and you will have done a great service in this matter of redeeming our nation.
As you probably know, Governor Timipre Sylva-Sam, a protégé of Dr Maduabebe Daukoru, gathered every available copy of Epistle To Maduabebe and set them on fire, in spite of the Nigerian flag on display at the back of the book. His excuse is that the book indicts his government. The book remains officially banned in Bayelsa, and I have been hounded out of my beloved state on account of it. As a law-abiding citizen of the Federal Republic of Restoration, the least I can do is to put my dear President on notice as to the injustice of living in a nation where one suffers unnecessary reprisals for forthright views expressed on the altar of posterity, acting in the best interest of our children. I leave the rest to my Father in Heaven who, even now, is bringing down the heavy gavel of judgment upon the heads of the unfaithful denizens of this chosen nation, in this chosen generation.
Even so, as you step into office, be reminded that there is hunger in your home state. Bayelsa has very nearly gone down in Nigerian history as a failed state. The land and people are virtually floundering on the turbulent waters of time, frustration and despair. It is as though the ship of state is without a captain at the steering wheel, without direction, tossed about by every wave that builds up towards its weakening flanks. The fact of the matter, Mr. President, is that the government of Chief Timipre Sylva-Sam has failed, quite in spite of all its bravado. It has done what it ought not to have done, and left undone what it ought to have done. The treasury is in apparent deficit so much so that salaries of civil servants are in suspension, like a fanciful bridge hanging over Ekoli Creek. For a prime oil-producing state with a revenue in-take of 30 million dollars per month, this is unacceptable.
Verily, verily, the spirit of God has fled the Sylva government, and the earliest indication of this was the sudden collapse of the Executive Council Chamber in May 2008, without pressure of any kind on the roof and walls of the structure. Ask anyone on the streets of Yenagoa, the New Jerusalem. I dare say that the hapless citizens and friends of the state stand in dire need of a change for the better. As for future elections, in Bayelsa as in other parts of the country, do not let anyone deceive you into thinking that you need them to win the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It is more than likely that they need you to rig elections for them. Do not give in to them. Demonstrate to them that you come from the land of truth for, as you know, the meaning of Izon is truth.
Don’t let your people down, Mr. President. Do not blame the land and its people for the errors of Sylva’s government. Put aside whatever grudges you may have against your successor, and do something fast, for the sake of the innocent children. We have had enough of the policy of choking. Remember that Bayelsa is the only state in Nigeria without a tangible federal presence. Remember that Bayelsa is still not connected to the national grid yet, the way Abuja is. And, even as I write this, the state is still covered by a thick blanket of darkness. Remember that, today, the cost of fuel is higher in Bayelsa than it is in other parts of Nigeria. Remember that you grew up in Oloibiri where oil was first discovered in saleable quantity within the borders of our country in 1956, a year before you were born.
Come over to Glory Land, and help us.
And while we are still at it, remember that Bayelsa is like a limping lizard, so to speak, like a chicken on one leg standing. There are only eight, instead of a minimum of ten, local government areas as stipulated by the Constitution. You have a duty to correct this anomaly. Remember that, out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives, only 12 are available to our people. Remember that, in a Senate hosting 109 members, only 6 seats belong to the Ijaw.
Remember, Mr. President, that out of the 774 local government councils in Nigeria, the Ijaw do not have more than 24. You are well-nigh familiar with the breakdown: Bayelsa (8), Rivers (9), Delta (4), Ondo (1) and Akwa Ibom (2). In other words, all the Ijaw local government councils put together do not amount to that of one Hausa-Fulani State, Kano, which has 44 local government areas. The discrepancy is too obvious, even to infant politicians. As a formidable stakeholder in the Niger Delta, it is your portion to do all you can to rectify this imbalance. Once upon a time, you used to grumble along with the rest of us. Now, as God would have it, you are in a position to change things for the best.
Your Excellency, let me equally bring to your attention that there are two new films about Nigeria that have brought the country to the fore of international discourse in recent times, both of them produced by the BBC. I am sure you have made out time to watch Welcome To Lagos. This harrowing story of scavengers and layabouts serves as a severe indictment of the opulent minority in our nation. It is a story that certainly puts to the final test a statement credited to Alhaji Umaru Dikko, a Second Republic senator too decades ago, to the effect that Nigeria is not poor because its citizens do not eat from dust bins.
The world now knows that Nigerians feed from dust bins. This is an urgent call on government to harness the vast reserve of our manpower potential to more decent living standards, and to clean up our environment for good. In like manner, Blood & Oil detracts from our image as a nation with its depiction of the horrors of kidnapping and the sheer wickedness that can be unleashed on hostages, when the fight for a just cause goes awry. These pictures present two realistic extremes of the crisis facing our nation today, and give a strong indication as to the direction you must go.
The underlying message of Blood & Oil is that, in spite of the many Boards and Commissions that have been set up to manage the affairs of the region, the Niger Delta territory is still no different from the description given by Sir Henry Willink three years before independence. The territory remains “poor, backward and neglected.” The fishing ports still retain their skeletal character, composed of a huddle of thatch houses built on stilts, surrounded by canoes. The inhabitants still drink of the water into which they pass their waste. In 2010, life is still as nasty and brutish as it was when the Willink Commission captured the scenario for the attention of the Queen of England in 1957, the year in which you were born.
That is why it is important for you to rediscover the grain behind the struggle for independence by the founding fathers of Nigeria, and do well to nourish that grain into fruition. Do well to bring fresh ideas into reckoning. Do well not to recycle politicians who have lost their brilliance and mortgaged their conscience. Do well to forsake exhausted strategists the way you would avoid rotten eggs. Do well to recall all the noble ideas that have visited you in your quiet moments, and distil them for their utility value.
One of the most pessimistic books about Nigeria in the last five decades is entitled This House Has Fallen by Karl Maier. Mr. President, you cannot afford to share the resignation inherent in that vision. If indeed Nigeria has fallen, God has given the special assignment of rebuilding it to none other than the Ijaw man who has sacrificed so much for the sake of Nigeria, and cannot therefore let go at this auspicious point in time. In spite of the grandstanding around you, do not ever lose sight of the fact that you are practically coming from behind to rescue a nation that was only recently on the fringes of perdition. Do not forget that you are God’s instrument of change in a nation that is overdue for overhauling, a nation that could do with its share of optimism. Let the world know that this house remains standing.
Mr. President, allow me to state what you may jolly well know. The spirit of Melford Obiene Okilo is happy with you. The spirit of Harold Dappa-Biriye is proud of you. The spirit of Ken Saro-Wiwa is rejoicing with you. The spirit of Ernest Sisei Ikoli is making merry on your behalf. I say the spirit of Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro is jubilant over your emergence at the top. In their own individual ways, these noble sons of the Niger Delta fought hard to witness this day. They all shared the dream that one day a minority voice will speak out and not be shouted down, or worse, clobbered to death. That day has come.
Let me quickly remind you that oil is a wasting asset and even the geologists are hard put to tell us how many more years are left before this valuable mineral resource dries up completely from the shores of Ijaw land. As you know, the land and people of the region have been victims of repeated oil spills and uncontrolled gas flare for over half a century. In spite of the propaganda of the multinational oil companies, it is now monotonous to say that the effects of their operations have decimated the ecology of the entire region. Allow me, therefore, to recommend that you establish a Reparations Commission for Resettlement of the Niger Delta Peoples. In the spirit of this Commission, it will be well worth your time and effort to recover the sum of 10 Billion Naira, being part of the vote for the rehabilitation of militants who recently gave up their arms in the interest of peace under Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme. It is scandalous to hear that such a fabulous amount of money is being embezzled right under our watchful eyes. That sum could jolly well build ten modern villages answering to the description of Otueke, and enable the ex-militants to earn their pay.
Beyond that, Nigeria has taken delight in the impressive growth of its Federal Capital Territory, built on the resources of the Niger Delta, since Ibrahim Babaginda relocated from Lagos to Abuja in 1992. Mr. President, allow me to observe that rapid development can only come to our region when you relocate the seat of power. In my humble capacity as President of the Pen Pushers Talking Front, PPTF, I suggest that the Niger Delta in its entirety should become the new Federal Capital Territory forthwith, with the Presidency duly situated in the New Jerusalem, as a demonstration of the Federal Government’s commitment to undertake the durable development of the region.
Mr. President, men and women of goodwill from around the world, numbering 2,104 and still growing in membership, have joined ranks in a fresh campaign for economic respite in the Niger Delta. The brunt of the campaign, ahead of the 2010 AGM of the Royal Dutch Shell taking place in London, is couched in the following words set beside a tall glass of crude oil:
While Shell toasts $9.8 Billion profits, people of the Niger Delta are having to drink polluted water. They’re also having to grow crops in polluted soil, to catch fish in polluted rivers, and to raise children in polluted homes. So, if you’ve got shares in Shell, ask the Board to explain themselves when they raise their glasses at today’s AGM. Cheers.
The campaign is in the overall interest of Nigeria. You and I are citizens of the Niger Delta. It is our future they are talking about. We have every reason to hold Shell accountable for its wanton trespasses against international petroleum laws as they apply to our land.
May every thatch roof under which you have slept remind you of your pledge to build befitting estates for the common folk in your primary constituency. May every periwinkle shell you have stepped upon with naked feet remind you that there are foot paths waiting to be constructed into highways. May every canoe you have boarded refresh your memory of the hardship facing the common fisherman in the Niger Delta swamp. May every fish on your plate remind you that the oil companies are yet to live up to their billing, to clean up our creeks and waterways that marine life may bloom afresh.
May God almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, strengthen your foothold in your new office. May He grant you presence of mind to undertake the onerous responsibility of lifting our nation onto higher grounds of achievement. May He grant you wisdom to select a patriotic corps of Nigerians, men and women who will put the interest of the nation above self, to work with you in the days ahead.
luck to you, my brother. Good luck to
Nigeria, my country. From one militant to another, congratulations!