By Uchenna Gwam
I am writing in response to Prof Obaro Ikime's article titled "Nomination for Ministerial Appointment from Delta State: A Slap on Core Delta Peoples", which was published in the Post Express of 16 June, 1999. My household and I could not believe that a highly respected historian could put pen on paper to turn out such a shoddy piece laced with dangerous insinuations and faulty assumptions. The article was not only ahistorical but was full of divisiveness to the extent that the word "core Delta" was used eight times in reference to a state that is currently grappling with an ethnic crisis. Obaro Ikime should have spared us another preachment of ethnic dichotomy.
In his hurriedly put up article, he raised many issues with far reaching implications. They include the centrality arguments for the citing of capitals in respect of Asaba and Abuja; the IBB factor in the citing of the capital of Delta State in Asaba; that Patani and Forcados, just like Asaba are not suitable to be made state capitals because of their fringe locations; that the ministerial nominee for Delta state should have come from his so called "core Delta area"; that the Deltans in Bayelsa and Rivers States had always upstaged his "core Delta people" in previous petroleum ministerial appointments; that the current crisis in Warri could be linked to the current ministerial nominations/appointments; that ministers should necessarily come from those areas that overwhelmingly voted for the President; and that the ministerial list contained names of people of questionable character and unproven integrity, without naming them. It could therefore be seen that the learned Professor used the pretext of ministerial appointments to vent his pent up anger against the system that failed to nominate him as a minister or make him realize his long standing ambition of becoming a Vice Chancellor of a Federal University. No wonder his household and himself are still in a state of "great pain, horror and shock".
On the centrality argument, the learned Prof maintained that the Federal Capital of Nigeria was moved from Lagos to Abuja solely for its centrality. This is not true. Amongst the centrality factor, the Federal capital was moved as a result of over-congestion, over-population and security considerations. The learned Professor should be kind to history by picking up the Justice Aguda's Panel report on this issue. He went further to argue that if Abuja became the federal capital because of its centrality, then Asaba should not have become the capital of Delta state because it is not centrally located. What a spurious argument. Is he saying that the 36 state capitals in Nigeria were so cited solely because of their centrality? Of course not. There are so many other considerations for citing state capitals which are well known to the learned history Professor and which he deliberately refused to acknowledge in his eagerness to score cheap political points. Is he calling for all the state capitals in Nigeria that are not centrally located to be relocated to central points acceptable to him and his household?
On the IBB factor and the "fringeness" of Asaba in respect of the capital of Delta State, the learned Professor deliberately lost a sense of history. He forgot that Asaba had always enjoyed a pride of place in the political, economic, religious and social development of Nigeria. For the avoidance of doubt, as far back as 1884, the British Treaty of Friendship and Peace was signed with Asaba kings and queens. In 1886 the Royal Niger Company established a Government in Nigeria with the capital at Asaba. The territories stretched from Southern to Northern Nigeria. On 1 January 1900, when the Government of the Royal Niger Company came to an end, Sir Frederick Lugard hoisted the Union Jack in Lokoja as the Military headquarters, while Sir Moore hoisted the Union Jack in Asaba as the civil headquarters.
In the religious realm, Asaba was also significant. In 1875 the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) established Christianity in Asaba while in 1889 the first central mosque in Southern Nigeria was established in Asaba. These facts predated the IBB era. It is therefore amazing that the learned Professor of history deliberately lost a sense of history out of mischief and self-serving interest. No wonder Warri is burning because of people like him.
In his eagerness to cause the President to replace the present ministerial nominee from Delta State with one from his "core Delta", he forgot that all key appointments, both Federal and States should reflect the federal and ethnic character of the nation in the interest of peace, harmony, equity and social justice. Our dear Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori and the Speaker of the Delta state House of Assembly are already from Professor's "core Delta area". The Secretary to Government is also from his "core Delta area". Haba Professor. You should realize that our Midwest Region operated on a tripod as a result of the ethnic complexity of the state. For instance, when Chief Dennis Osadebey (Ibo) in 1963 was appointed the Administrator of the new region, Chief Humphrey Omo-Osagie (Edo) and Chief James Otobo (Urhobo) were appointed Deputy Administrators respectively. When Chief Dennis Osadebey became the first Premier of Midwest Region, following the victory of the NCNC in the 1963 elections, Chief Mariere (Urhobo) was made the first Governor and Benin City became the first regional capital. Why? In order to reflect the ethnic composition of the region at the time. So what is happening today is not novel.
On the allegation that his core Delta people had always being upstaged by the people of Bayelsa and Rivers States in the appointments of Petroleum Ministers in the past, we understand his frustrations. We gathered that he has been lobbying to be made the next Petroleum Minister which we do not grudge him as a Nigerian. He should, however, not use the excuse of lampooning the ministerial nominee from his fringe Delta to advance his case.
Concerning the linkage of ministerial nominations/appointments to the current crisis in Warri and its environs, the learned Professor once again missed the point. While we all agree that the basic problem of the Niger Delta could be traceable to past and present neglect of the area by different administrations, ministerial nominations cannot be synonymous to the development of the area or lack of it. The problem of the Niger Delta has been on-going, even when a number of "adequate Deltans" had served in Federal cabinets, civilian or military. The learned Professor should therefore stop threatening the President who has already demonstrated his interest in adequately addressing the problems of the Niger Delta area. Our learned Professor is calling for justice with dirty hands, where as it is already settled that those who visit equity must do so with clean hands.
With reference to his argument that ministers should necessarily come from those areas that overwhelmingly voted for the President, our learned Professor has once again deliberately forgotten the clarion call for a broad based Government which the President and all right thinking Nigerians have already accepted. As a history Professor, he should know better that after election people think less and less about parties but more and more about the nation. This explains why President Clinton, a Democrat, named a Republican Senator to the strategic post of Defense Secretary. This is also why President Obasanjo has submitted to the Senate ministerial nominees that are not from his party (PDP), and who did not as much vote for him. This is what clean and mature politics are all about. Not the "bad politics" that the learned Professor is preaching.
The learned Professor should have had the courage of his conviction to come out openly to name the persons of "questionable character" and "unproven integrity" in the ministerial list. It is at least on record that Mr Chris Agbobu, the nominee from Professor's "fringe Delta" was not among those that worked against democracy in Nigeria, at any time or form. He was not a beneficiary of Abacha's "contractoracy" government. He was never found guilty of either greed or graft. He was never a latter-day public commentator. And certainly, never lobbied to be in the ministerial list. The Mr Chris Agbobu we know is young, vibrant and well read with a compelling presence and can never be intimidated by any person. He graduated from the University of Benin with a 2nd class (Hons) upper division. He was a student union activist, the political activism which he later took to the grassroots in Delta State, where he made his mark as a politician of note. It is a pity that Prof. Ikime, who for long was so ensconced at the University of Ibadan, did not know what was happening in Delta State. For the benefit of doubt, the learned Professor knows as much that his so called fringe Deltans can also "hold their own against the very best that any part of Nigeria can produce in every field of human endeavor". In spite of this known fact, the right thinking people of Delta State are not complaining about Mr Agbobu's nomination because of their believe that all qualified Deltans should be given a fair chance.
The Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, probably has people like Professor Ikime in mind when he stated, in his maiden briefing to State House reporters, on 17 June 1999 in Abuja that he thinks "the President has the discretion to nominate any person, anywhere with or without consultation". He added that "the list before the senate is made up of seasoned and competent persons with proven records. The nominees, too, are ...not recycled names in the sense that out of the 49 only 6 are former Federal ministers". He went further "let me on behalf of the President assure all Nigerians that the ministerial nomination is not another case of finding job for the boys". We cannot agree more with the Vice President who was certainly speaking the minds of majority of Nigerians.
With the benefit and privilege of having been a former Head of State, President Obasanjo knows a lobbyist when he sees one. He knows an ethnocentrist when he sees one. He knows mischief makers when he sees them. He knows apostles of hatred and enemies of peace when he sees them. Above all, he has the courage of his convictions. We should therefore continue to pray for him so that he will continue to do the right thing which he has already started. He should not let the Ikimes of this world distract him from his chosen path.
Prof Obaro Ikime should come out openly and tell us what he wants for himself and his household or keep quite. We expect him, given his intellectual standing in the society to join hands with the leaders of thought in Delta State and elsewhere who are trying to find a lasting solution to the endemic ethnic crisis in the Niger Delta region so that our Delta State will continue to be a cynosure of peace, ethnic harmony and development.
Our dear Governor, His Excellency Chief James Ibori should also not allow people like Prof. Ikime to distract him from the onerous tasks of finding a lasting and durable solution to the needless ethnic crisis in Warri and its environs. He should not allow the likes of Prof. Ikime to create new zones of ethnic conflict in the state. He should rather bear in mind that having been elected as Governor of the State, the whole of Delta State has become his constituency. He should therefore not be persuaded by Prof. Ikime's ethnic, divisive and brinkmanship politics.
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18 June 1999