"THE MOMENT IS NOW" (2)
THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA
AND THE NEW NIGERIA
Dr. G. G. Darah
Let me affirm that, like in most inter-ethnic relations in other parts of Nigeria, the divisions amongst the five groups are largely contrived and artificial. Those who profit from these antagonisms and rancour are an extension of the obstacles to be moved aside for our masses to benefit from the wonderous changes of the 21st century. Let me warn, too, that those who used to mock us saying the old Bendel (Delta and Edo) was a microcosm of Nigeria where tribes and tongues differ in chaos lied because the stereotype suited their scheme of divide-and-dominate. The old Bendel never had more than a dozen languages; only about half of these are in Delta State. Taraba and Adamawa each has over 50. The former Bauchi and Plateau states had about 60 each. Even Kaduna and Niger states host no less than 20 linguistic groups respectively. The fault, therefore, is not in our plurality of cultures but in our failure to organise in fraternities of families.
The historical and sociological antecedents support amalgamation of purposes. Besides neighbourhood strifes and skirmishes, history furnishes no account of inter-ethnic wars of conquest and expansion, not even with the Edos of the west and north nor Igbos of the north-east. And the marital and mercantile bonds that nourish the relationships are legion. Many Itsekiri men and women of substance have tinctures of Urhobo blood coursing through their veins - Nana Olomu, Sam Edah Okotie-Eboh, the Rewane brothers, Arthur Prest, Justice F. Atake. A similar genetic trend is discernible in prominent Urhobo families - the indomitable Okumagbas, the Ukolis, the Oteris. Versions of Warri Agbarha history claim that the mother of the first Itsekiri Olu (King) Prince Iginuwa of Benin was an Agbarha (Urhobo) married to the Benin monarch. As I mention these names, I can hear a twang in the body music of Governor James Onanefe Ibori! Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark has never shied away from his Itsekiri maternal roots. And there are others in this pedigree.
If these eminents once felt that they could not dip their ivory-decorated hands into one pot of understanding, they should now know that the Arabs and Palestinians, the English and the Scots and Welsh have broken that taboo of political enmity. Urhobo-Ijaw familial relations date back beyond half a millennium. The Urhobo polities of Ughievwen, Eghwu, Udu, Ughelli, Effurun (hinterland and marine) share ancestral roots with various Ijaw sub-groups. Those who seek to interrogate these anthropological clues further are advised to attempt a cross-cultural analysis of festival drama and masquerade idioms in the border communities. The hearth of these kinships can be rekindled to refurbish a new alliance of solidarity and community in struggle. What is said here applies ipso facto to Ijaw-Isoko relations as the late George Wekeze of Patani used to admonish us. In fact, the swamps of the Asaba-Ase and Niger-Nun rivers host a high rate of Isoko-Ijaw inter-marriage and inter-breeding. The “go ye and multiply” command of these twin linguistic groups stretches to Bayelsa and parts of Imo State.
If the Urhobo have difficulty in communicating with their
Ukwani northern neighbours, let them engage the bilingual services of their
Orogun and, perhaps, Abraka groups. In several popular travellers’ joints
in Ukwani like Obiaruku and Umutu, one sometimes feels Urhobo is the lingua
franca of commerce and love. My generation grew up to adore the likes of
Chief Dafe, the lion of Ukwani nationalism, mount campaign platforms with
Urhobo notables like Chiefs Oweh, Ogbodu,
Mowoe, Mariere, Adogbeji Salubi, Yamu Numa, James Obahor, J. Okpodu, C.N. Ugen, Aya (Aladja) and Demas Akpore in the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC). The social networks generated by these Experiences are still available for purposeful exploitation. What is missing is the right calibre of leadership with the right historical focus to harness the cultural assets.
The croocked wood, they say, tests the ingenuity of the gifted sculptor. We cannot invent new human beings, so, we have to deal with the ones we have. That is where the governments of the six South-South states come into the picture. History has placed on their shoulders a monumental challenge. They assumed office after nearly 20 years of military despotism and rapacious plunder of the region’s resources. No less than ONE TRILLION dollars have been earned from oil. The bulk of this amount was either looted by kleptocratic rulers or simply wasted on perishables. Thus, the six governments are confronted with gigantic problems of insolvency, unemployment, social upheavals, youth revolts and strangulating poverty. For now, the governors appear overwhelmed, but they should not be. They have behind them vast reservoirs of industrious people, globally famous technocrats and, above all, a politically conscious and mobilised populace comparable to the one post-apartheid South Africa inherited in 1994.
Why are the governors not reaching out adequately to this diverse pool of energy and wisdom? The six governors of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) are not doing a wonderful job yet of governance. But they meet frequently and the events send out appropriate political signals of cohesion and purpose. All the six South-South governors are in one party - the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which also has the President. This gives them a regional leverage over others. The governors ought to exploit this to more advantage than we are seeing so far. When Bayelsa State was under Federal boardment, they never said a word of protest. When soldiers harassed Ijaw communities in Delta State and six communities lost vital lands to Shell’s fire, others kept mute.
Allegations of rape of Choba women rent the air and there were bloody ethnic feuds in Rivers State, no solidarity was expressed. Akwa Ibom and Cross River are squaring up for a diversionary fight over disputed Bakassi and mediatory initiative has come from the governors. The Presidency and the National Assembly are playing politics with Niger Delta Development Commission bill but our usually exquisitely dressed governors do not act in concert in defence of the people who elected them. Governor James Ibori of Delta seems to be shouting in the wilderness over the unconstitutional delay in implementation of the 13 per cent derivation provision from May, 1999. The six governors ought to join forces to wage the campaign to liberate these funds from the clutches of an avaricious Federal Government.
With the South-South governors held hostage by insatiable contractor-politicians, the task of co-ordinating the region’s struggles devolves heavily on national platforms and youth organisations. In this respect, the Urhobo are Ijaw who are the most populous in the core Delta must take the lead. The Ijaw National Congress is fairly coherent in ideology and tactics. The Urhobo who are the most endowed with the paraphernalia of modern self-determination struggle are not. The squabbling factions of the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) should be prepared to reconcile, shape up or ship out, else, from their ancestral abode, Mukoro Mowoe (Oyivwin) and T.E.A. Salubi (Okpan) will wield their legendary walking sticks to shave their skulls. These intransigent elders should know that the UPU founded in 1931 once shared visibility status with the African National Congress of South Africa as cultural institutions of emancipation from domination. If the antelope cannot endure the race, let her yield place to the tortoise.
The time has come for the youth who make up 70 per cent of the Niger Delta population to give an ultimatum to the quarrelsome elders to justify the respect they have enjoyed so far. The Niger Delta masses have mighty battles ahead. These battles concern burning issues such as a just and balanced federation, fundamental power shift to marginalised sections and groups, a derivation principle of no less than 50 per cent, substantial federal infrastructure, appointments into strategic establishments and institutions, etc. The youths and masses of the region should no longer tolerate being divided by their leaders who seem not to appreciate that our people are in an emergency. History will not judge us mildly if we fail to seize the moment.
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