BY SOLA EBISENI
Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe, the Senate Minority Leader, is a politician of Ndigbo extraction who do not mind giving all he has in the defence of the Igbo. Last week he proudly donned a T-shirt branded THE DOT NATION, in apparent reaction to the derisive description of the South East by President Muhammadu Buhari as a dot in a circle on the Nigerian map.
The Nwadiohanma Ngwa was only in his usual elements. In 2007, he led protests at the Federal High Court Lagos for the release of Ralph Uwazuruike, the Leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. Abaribe is also only on bail for failure to produce Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the more dreaded Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, for whom he stood surety on a charge of treason.
Unfortunately the South East is not the only boil on the nose of the Federal Government; its scrotum is sore red from the bites of scorpions in the North West, so devastating it has displaced the North East and even Boko Haram on the headlines.
The situation is so worrisome that prominent emirs and governors in the North West, including President Buhari’s Katsina, have called on citizens to rise in their own defence as even the military praised the roles of local hunters in the war efforts. This is a prelude to the imperative of state police, composed of indigenous elements fully knowledgeable in the geography, philosophy and etymology of the crime environment and the criminal elements.
The president curiously exposed the weakness of government’s plans by confessing that his strength lies in the assurances given by the youths and elders of the Niger Delta that their region would not be available for secessionist realisation. The Niger Delta truly holds the aces, not in terms of territorial access, but the jugular of a nation, so lazy to have persisted as an oil-dependent mono-cultural economy since the military incursion into the nation’s political life.
The president just gave the needed impetus. Interestingly, while the president’s patronising comment was yet to sink, some devil’s descendants issued a statement giving Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State a week ultimatum to rescind his commitment to banning open grazing of cattle or face a jihadist attack on the state. Not in the mood to even verify the source and authenticity of this cheap war mongering statement, the ordinarily volcanic region literally erupted.
The first to face the fire was a veritable leader of the region, Godswill Akpabio, Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs who, without invitation, sought the attention of the people at the Court of the invisible GOC at Gbaramatu. Akpabio panickly promised the end of June deadline for the constitution of the board of the NDDC, without clearance from his boss.
As a continuous effort to deny the DOT nation strategic access or alliance, the President was quick to meet, without usual protocols, the recently inaugurated Executive of the Ijaw National Congress, INC, under the leadership of Prof. Benjamin Okaba and some other prominent Ijaw leaders, including traditional rulers. Pa Edwin Clark, most visible Ijaw leader, was not at the meeting, understandably because of his wider mandate as the Leader of both the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum.
The shopping list contained in his 19-paragraph address is not new and in fact shrouded in restructuring which the President finds ordinarily loathsome. For effect, the President’s guests reminded him that they too were not strange to armed struggles for self-determination which they pioneered through Major Isaac Adaka Boro, even before Ojukwu’s Biafra.
They could not understand, thus demanded that “in the manner that gold and other solid mineral resource discovered in Zamfara and other states are allowed to be freely exploited by the owner state, the oil and gas exploited in our territory should be allowed to be managed by our people for the development of our area”.
While the Nigerian state treated killer terrorist herdsmen with kid gloves and enjoined their victims to seek peace with their assailants, the Ijaw complained that “the incessant attacks and destruction of our coastline communities at the slightest provocation by the military forces have created a siege mentality and resulted in displacement of lives and properties, noting that “due to the level of frustration and disillusionment that has become wide – spread in our land as a result of mass poverty, neglect and underdevelopment, the consciousness of Ijaw nationalism has been reawakened and the cries for self-actualization reignited.
Without outright condemnation but strategic foreboding suspense, the President was told “ as we speak, the Ijaws have no secessionist agenda and should the need arise, we are prepared to legally and peacefully negotiate that, but also as a distinct IJAW PEOPLE. The lifeline given is that their quest and resolve is for a just and justifiable reward for their resources and sacrifices with the strong belief that this is achievable and shall be of mutual benefit to the state, the Ijaw people and the generality of Nigerians.
Restructuring might just be the magic wand that could turn things around for a more prosperous, united and stable Nigeria. The president made not a single implementable promise to his guests, who he simply asked to find their bearings within the labyrinth of impossible political cul-de-sac.
On restructuring, he sent them to the National Assembly, knowing fully well that the fraction of legislative constituencies allocated the Ijaw nation by this crooked federation is not enough to even table a fundamental motion not to talk of having any significant effect on constitutional amendment. The same President Buhari once praised the 1999 Constitution for its fairness in giving the Ijaw State of Bayelsa three senators, even with just eight local government, while Kano also has three senators with 44 local governments.
The 27 local governments allotted Jigawa State, which was carved out of Kano, is more than the total number of local governments controlled by the Ijaw throughout their existence in Nigeria. Whatever the Ijaw nation benefits as derivation for God’s given oil resources is rubbished by the allocation of revenue from the federation account to local governments which were arbitrarily awarded by the military.
In a true and just federation, local governments are not listed in the central constitution but a residual matter to be created by the constituent states according to need and funding capabilities.
On the quest for participation in the oil industry as the Zamfarans allegedly enjoy uninhibitedly in gold fields, there would be no preference for the Niger Delta land owners who must go through the rigours of marginal fields license bidding which costs millions in dollars, otherwise the indigenes should await the mercy of non- indigenous operators in considering them for nebulous local content peanuts.
Even the simplest demands of constituting the board of the NDDC would await the completion, submission and acceptance of the indeterminate forensic audit. The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, which met last week deliberately exaggerated the security situation in the Southeast, saying that it had received reports of Northerners being bullied, beaten and even killed and urged Southeast leaders to stop the bullying and harassment of Northerners eking a living in the Southeast.
They assured Ndigbo that “all Igbo who are living in the North are guaranteed their personal security; sometimes they enjoy the security which even Northerners do not enjoy.”
While regions or zones have the responsibility to ensure the security of all residents, the impression that the ordinary Northerner is being bullied in the East while the Easterners enjoy, in the North the security even the Northerners do not enjoy is capable of diverse implications any mischief makers might take advantage of.
It is interesting to find out in which capacity it was talking down to the Igbo leaders when ACF “expressed the satisfaction that the Igbo elders have finally disowned the agitators and called on the elders to take concrete measures to ensure that such agitations come to an end.”
It is instructive that in its self-assumed paternalistic status, the ACF had no word against the ethnic herdsmen which terrorist killings are at the root of the insecurity in the Southeast and all over Nigeria. Rather, “the forum is not happy with the scant attention paid to animal husbandry by states and the Federal Government”, and that herders too are victims of cattle rustling, kidnapping and killing as if those crimes were committed against them in the South.
In contrast, in his earlier statements personally signed by him, Chief Audu Ogbe, while supporting the Southern Governors banning open grazing said: The ACF does not see any reason to object to a decision taken in the best interest of all”, adding that: “The fact of the matter is that the crisis emanates from the belief by most herdsmen that they are free to enter any farm, eat up the crops and rape or kill any one raising objections.
“Nobody or society can accept that. The current high price of garri is one obvious reason of this behavior. Few cassava farms cannot grow to maturity before it is harvested by the farmers. So, food security is already being threatened”.
Obviously, there is a difference between Idoma nationalism and Arewa politics, the reason the Middle Belt Forum asserts its own identity and are not listed among the groups ACF plans to meet. Nigeria, we hail thee.
*Ebiseni is Secretary General of Afenifere