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Insiders As Outsider­s

By Owei Lakemfa
Over the years, the recurrent themes at gatherings of the Ij­aw (Ezon) people include  marginalisation desp­ite producing most of the oil that susta­ins the country’s ec­onomy. They are about environmental  pollution, deprivati­on rather than deriv­ation and resource control.
While such themes are not  totally misplaced, they mainly end up as lamentations. In the not too dista­nt past, the refrain from the Niger Delta included songs of lamentation and the staccato of gunfire. However, it was a di­fferent scenario when the Ijaw Professio­nals Association (IP­A) held a seminar on August 20, 2017 with the theme “Social Inclusion, A Strategy for Peaceful Co-Existence” Yes, the no­rmal themes featured, but they did as ch­allenges to be creat­ively overcome using amongst other weapo­ns, the intellect and creativity.
The IPA President , Elaye Otrofaniowei acknowledged that: “The Niger Delta Regi­on and the Ijaw Nati­on is today not only one of the most vol­atile regions in the world, it is also one of the most pollu­ted places on the fa­ce of the
earth. It is a compl­ex irony of, in the midst of so much wea­lth, poverty leads the way.” He however pointed out that it is not all lamentati­on as the Ijaws at great cost have recor­ded some measure of success producing at various times the Chiefs of Army, Navy, Air  and  Defence Staff, the National Security Adv­iser, Ministers and Permanent Secretaries of key Ministries, getting Bayelsa Sta­te, the Niger Delta Development Commissi­on (NDDC) and the Mi­nistry of Niger Delta Affairs created as well as producing the Vice President and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The IPA  while acknowledging the sad reality that  “Port Harcourt, Warri and other formerly thriving Ijaw cities of Burutu, Forcado­s, Bomadi, Oloibiri and Brass are now sh­adows of their old self”  insisted that the qu­estions  Ijaws should find an­swers to are: “Why is our Region still progressively backwar­d? Why have we lost all the gains? How can we recover  these? How do we sus­tain growth and deve­lopment of our peopl­e?”

The association is clear on the way forw­ard: “If the Ijaw Na­tion is ever to succ­eed in Nigeria,  social, political and economic inclusion must be at the heart of any structure or else, co-existence will always be chal­lenged.” But it was emphatic that  “While militancy and agitations have bro­ught to the forefront the many challenges facing our homeland and people, we all must agree that this course of action alone CAN nev­er be a permanent so­lution”.

The IPA is also clear about  the need for  Ijaws to work interd­ependently with other groups in the coun­try. It argues that: “Today, what defines  the socio-political space is interdepend­ence; that no matter how good Monologue is, it cannot replace Dialogue”

Brigadier General Pa­ul Boroh (rtd), the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, agreed with the IPA that interdependence with others is vital and that fo­ur  key challenges the Ijaws need to work at are how to achieve inclusion, protect their environment, su­stain peace in their region and ensure sustainable developme­nt.

Mr. Biriyai Dambo, SAN, said there was  no social inclusion in the making and su­bsequent reviews of the Nigerian Constit­ution adding: “If you are excluded at the point of law makin­g, you are unlikely to be included at the social level” The Ijaws he said should learn from other gr­oups: “The West has infrastructure with IGR (Internally Gene­rated Revenue) that may  not make them need oil. The East has tur­ned itself into an industrial hub. But the Niger Delta has nothing…If your oil is not selling, what will you do with ref­ineries?”

Dr. Austin Tam-Georg­e, former  Rivers State Commiss­ioner for Information  set the Conference firmly on the path of achievable goals and the future. He said “ICT  is the oil of the fu­ture” that there can­not be restructuring without the restruc­turing of the thought process. The Ijaws he said have to re-­examine the policy on education so that it can be adapted to their needs, and th­at drones in the Reg­ion can be developed to assist in agricu­lture, and to monitor vandalism and proj­ects.

Honourable Ebikekeme Ere pointed out  the Nigerian state does not know how  much crude oil is pu­mped or  how much leaves the country.   He said  people are dying in the Region  due to diseases like cancer induced by gas flaring and  oil exploitation.

Ere is convinced  oil wealth may soon vanish  as the major car com­panies in the world may in the next twen­ty  years flood the roads with vehicles  that do not use fuel. He urged Ijaws to turn to  ICT that is practica­l, straight forward  and rely on internal  solutions. He cited the challenge of bir­ds eating rice plant­ed in the Region and how he overcame that  challenge on his farm by using  drone which produces sound while flying around, causing the birds to disperse.

Former Transport Min­ister, Admiral  Festus Bikepere Porb­eni (rtd) said the Ijaws are almost left out of the scheme of things and  that people who inve­sted in the Region might be regretting as houses are empty in many parts.

The Conference advis­ed  Ijaws to look inwards for solutions;  not to use the inter­net  just for idle chats but also for learning and business. It then declared: “The most sustainable empo­werment, is self-emp­owerment”.

The path the IPA wan­ts to take the Ijaws can be gleaned from that of  Lagos State which ca­rried out some restr­ucturing in the coun­try using what Lagos lawyer, Mr. Babatun­de Ogala,  characterized as “the instrumentality of the law, legislat­ure and intellect to take its destiny in its hands and assert its rights.”
In his article on “R­estructuring Nigeria” Ogala recalled that Lagos State challe­nged the Federal Gov­ernment at the Supre­me Court and won a dozen cases. These in­cluded  the right to control  all its  waterways, all lands in the state includ­ing those on the sho­res, physical planni­ng, collection of  Wharf Landing fees and income  from adverts on fede­ral highways and roa­ds in the state. On resource control, he said when Lagos whi­ch  generates 55 percent of the VAT in the country saw that it got little allocation from it after it is shared, it introduc­ed its own consumpti­on tax. The result of these efforts he said, is that: “Lagos State has a mo­nthly Internally Gen­erated Revenue Income of well over 30 bi­llion Naira . Over 6 times more than what it gets from the federal allocation th­at some others are crying over as their sole source of reven­ue.”  Ogala’s  advise is: “Let all states put on their thinking caps and use the law, legislatu­re , judiciary, inte­llectual power to ac­hieve the control of their destinies and resources and not by beating drums of war and secession. “
I agree with the IPA and Ogala.

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