"THE MOMENT IS NOW" (1)
THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA
AND THE NEW NIGERIA
Dr. G. G. Darah
But last week also brought happy tidings. Rather than throw off Governor Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu to the dinosaurs of Federal might, all fractious of the Yoruba are closing ranks in defence of the only solid assets they have: their territory and national integrity. The usual temperamental rhetoric and political britbats are yielding place to self-consciousness and sagacity. Yesterday, it was reported that Professor Wole Soyinka urged dialogue on the militant Oodua People’s Congress debacle. The Ooni of Ife and the Awujale of Ijebuland are said to be whispering together to reconcile Obasanjo and Tinubu at a pounded yam session. Once again, the offspring of Oodua are showing off their talents for surviving a war of attrition and propaganda.
More soul-healing news came from the land north of the Niger and Benue rivers. A formidable coalition was cloned from the three ethnic juntas of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) of Justice Mamman Nasir, the Turaki Committee of former President Shehu Shagari and the Unity and Development Foundation (UDF) led by Alhaji Sule Katagun. According to the New Nigeria of last Friday, the merger is to produce "one strong body with an acceptable leadership which would champion the cause of the North". The only whimper of dissent so far came from Alhaji Squealer Wada Nas who was quoted as saying that he does believe in the new forum because its sponsors "have been around for long and have not contributed anything to the growth of the North that they claimed to champion." But unless Wada Nas is not the Abubakar Gumi incarnate we all adore, I can swear his words do not flow from where his heart is.
Now that other regions are being born again in the furnace of struggle for a millennial unity in diversity, what are God’s children of the South-South doing? The answer lies in the winds of change blowing across the Atlantic sea board, the tropical forests, the Savannah grasslands and the fringes of the luminous Sahara Desert. As an old saying goes, even weeping eyes can detect a pathway. The last decade has stirred storms of freedom songs on the lower Niger. The Ogonis who feared they were alone 10 years ago now have sororities of active organisations. The Ijaw whom history favours as pioneers in most of the creeks have since 1997 risen to what Marxist dialectician, Edwin Madunagu refers to as armed politics. The Oron who share the strategic coastline with the Efik, Efut, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Ilaje and Yoruba have unfurled a nationality sail. Even the Itsekiri that we once thought were too insular in ideology now boast militant youth groups capable of issuing threats to gluttonous oil multinationals. The Urhobo, Isoko and Ukwani whose lush tropical territory straddle the northwestern fringe of the troubled Niger Delta are waking up to reinvent the spirit that once put them in the forefront of federalist nationalism. The Ogbia, Ikwerre and Egi on the eastern dry lands are active. So are the Igbo of the Oguta lacustrian corridor who last week showed that it is foolhardy to toy with the private parts of a sleeping lion.
The South-South nations are not important in Nigeria just because their lands host the plenitude of oil and gas. They are a special people in Nigeria because they saved the country from political amargeddon in 1966. After the January 15 coup of comrades Kaduna Nzeogu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Nigeria tottered. On July 29 that year, Northern military officers led by the likes of Gen. Murtala Mohammed, Yakubu Gowon and Theophilus Danjuma staged a revenge coup against Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguyi-Ironsi and killed him together with Col. Adekunle Fajuyi and others. That event was a bloody herald of a secession of the Northern half of the country. It was aptly daubed ARABA (Hausa word for secession. The word is neither Ijaw nor Urhobo nor Yoruba). Authoritative accounts say that officers of Northern extraction had ferried home their families in anticipation of D-Day. After Ironsi’s death the officers went to the Ikeja airport to take their final flight to the safety of their new country. The chroniclers tell us that it was the British who prevailed on them to avoid that suicidal move, warning them that their country would be landlocked like Niger or Chad. The talks lasted three days, after which then Lt. Col. Jackson Yakubu Gowon emerged as a consensus choice for head of state on August 1.
But Nigeria still careered to disintegration. A national constitutional conference was called in September to find an exit out of the turmoil. The delegates of the three-personed god of Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo insisted on going their separate ways or at best settle for a confederation. It was primarily the Mid-Western delegation comprising heavyweights like former Governor Jereton Mariere, Dennis Osadebay and Anthony Enahoro which championed a united, indivisible Nigeria. That saved the day. (Even in the ancestral world, Mariere and Osadebay must now be regretting with exiled Enahoro why they so acted. But they were earnestly nationalistic. However, the three ethnic hegemomists carried their chauvinism to Aburi, Ghana, in 1967 where Gen. Ankrah hosted peace talks. A confederal pact was agreed upon. When Gowon’s government gave a ventriloquist’s interpretation to the Aburi Accord, Odumegwu Ojukwu led Eastern Nigeria into Biafra and the 1967-70 civil war. Nigeria won that war largely because of the oil and advantageous territory of the South-South people. How were they rewarded by victorious Nigeria? A year before the war ended, the Gowon-Awolowo regime enacted the apartheid-like Petroleum Act to seize all oil revenues. Nine years later, the Obasanjo-Yar’Adua administration nailed the coffin of the South-South economic emasculation with the Land Use Act. From the filibustering going on at the National Assembly over the Niger Delta Development Commission, it should be clear to the South-South people that no one will deliver them from bondage except by their relentless struggle.
The routes to this self-determination struggle are littered with blood, martyrs and victims. Where does one start recounting? Those senators and contractors now hustling to lace Obasanjo’s shoes over the hippotamus fats of the NDDC, do they value the sacrifice made by the likes of Adaka Boro, Owonaru, Alex Ibru, Dele Cole, Saliba Mukoro, Col. Nyam, Great Ogboru and Frank Kokori have in the fight for an equitable derivation principle and a fair, balanced federation? Those who are deaf to the chiming signals of freedom always mistake servitude for power. The people of the South-South should hearken to these chiming bells. The Urhobo, Itsekiri, Ijaw and other nations of the regions must show the way. How they will do it will form the sequel to this essay..
CONTINUE WITH "THE MOMENT IS NOW" (2)