Some children are bound to destroy what their fathers have built. But let’s take it as only a matter of bad luck that the Rivers Ijaw quest for equity and by extension the Ijaw project was dealt a devastating blow by an Ijaw son.
What is the Ijaw project? The Ijaw, concentrated in Bayelsa and Rivers States, but also spread across other states of Nigeria are to be found in Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo and Ondo States. Mainly, it is the Ijaw that occupy the Niger Delta. The Ijaw constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, to be counted immediately after the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Ibo. But this kind of thought usually escapes Nigerians.
Aware of the problems associated with their terrain, the Ijaw were already making issue of their need for independence and self-actualization. When the British called the Lancaster House Conferences to discuss Nigeria’s independence, the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference, sent the late Chief (Dr.) Harold Dappa-Biriye to London, on May 23, 1957 to “do and perform all proper acts, matters and things which may be desirable or necessary for the promotion of our cause of a separate Rivers nation…and for the promotion of our Treaty Rights”.
While independence was not separately granted to the Niger Delta, the Lancaster House Conferences noted that the treaties entered into between the kings of the Niger Delta and the British crown “were of a special nature and differed from the treaties made with other chiefs inland. The British crown undertook to provide and deal with foreign powers, but the treaties did not provide that the Chiefs should render to the British government a sovereignty which could be transferred to any other authority.”
The Lancaster House Conference was also“impressed by the arguments indicating that the needs of those who lived in the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta are very different from those of the interior. We agree it is not easy for a government or legislature operating from far inland to concern itself with, or even fully understand the problems of a territory where communication problems are so difficult, buildings so expensive and education so scarce.”
After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Chief Dappa-Biriye assiduously pursued autonomy for the Niger Delta people within Nigeria. Isaac Adaka Boro, Captain Owunaro and other young men took up arms to challenge the might of the Nigerian Government in pursuit of the Ijaw project.
When, with the expedience of civil war, General Yakubu Gowon, then Head of State, was to create what was to be called COR (Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers) State, Chief Dappa-Biriye wrote to the Head of State thus: “Ojukwu should be dealt with as secessionist without hurriedly creating a type of state that may not be likeable to the vast majority of Rivers people. There would be no objection, however, if a proper Rivers State were created and not just a makeshift for the purpose of policing secessionists. One can interpret Your Excellency’s statement to mean that if Ojukwu and his tribal group agree to stay in Nigeria you are prepared to abandon the claims for creating states for minority peoples in Eastern Nigeria as an appeasement to Ojukwu. This construction could be supported by the fact that the Federal Government had appeared to Rivers people to be completely indifferent to their suffering, victimization, arrests and detentions.”
The Ijaw project is a movement by the Ijaw to not submit anymore to over lordship by other peoples; to live in unity and peace amongst the various clans that make up the Ijaw tribe and harmoniously with all other Nigerians. The fathers of the Ijaw project understood the need for unity and peace amongst the various clans in the Ijaw tribe and the peaceful co-existence with other ethnic nationalities. They worked for social harmony in the region.
In Rivers State, Ijaw leaders understood the geography of the area, of which especially relevant for unity, peace and harmony, is the recognition of the natural upland/riverine delineation. So, in their social spaces and politics they maintained an unwritten yet solidly entrenched recognition of this natural delineation and lived by it. They voluntarily allowed power to rotate to the upland in 1999 and the beneficiaries of that act reneged but in 2015, the Rivers Ijaw felt it was enough.
Then, an Ijaw son, for whom all Ijaw people fought with their hearts to become president, for the first time in Nigerian history, and as the culmination of all the struggles of the Niger Delta people, decided he did not give a damn about the unity, peace and harmony of the Rivers people. The first Ijaw president of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, actively supported a situation wherein the current political situation, the upland part of the Rivers State would rule for an unbroken period of twenty-four years, from Dr. Peter Odili, through Barrister Celestine Omehia, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi to Chief Nyesom Wike.
President Jonathan sponsored Chief Wike, an Ikwerre man, to become the governor of Rivers State, to take over from Rt. Hon. Amaechi, an Ikwerre man, who himself took over from Barrister Omehia, another Ikwerre man.
President Jonathan installed a type of governor not likeable to the vast majority of Rivers people. President Jonathan, because of what his wife publicly claims Wike did for them, was prepared to abandon the claim of the Rivers Ijaw and the Ogoni to the rulership of the state and the unity and harmony of its peoples. President Jonathan was completely indifferent to the aspirations of the Rivers people, their anxieties about how the electoral processes were being handled and their fears of unrest in the future by insisting on a Wike governorship.
President Jonathan’s mouthpieces, amongst them his talkative wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, adduced two reasons why the president preferred to plant Chief Wike as governor of Rivers State: “Wike fought Rotimi Amaechi when that one was abusing President Jonathan, no Ijaw person came out to defend President Jonathan; Chief Wike was the only person who could beat Mr. Amaechi in the 2015 elections and secure Rivers State for President Jonathan”.
In effect, President Jonathan, his wife and advisers put trivial politics above the genuine interest of the Rivers people for peace and unity. First, it is a blatant lie to say that no Rivers Ijaw person stood up to defend President Jonathan under Governor Amaechi’s attacks. Rivers Ijaw people did not only cover the back of President Jonathan in that episode, but stood by him and defended him since the days before the ‘doctrine of necessity’.
Later, even with Jonathan’s blatant disregard for Ijaw traditional rulers, chiefs, elders and people, they still defended him. But it was only Chief Wike that Jonathan and his wife chose to empower to ‘fight’ Governor Amaechi, not any Rivers Ijaw man or woman. And it must be mentioned that Chief Wike failed woefully in achieving any of the objectives of that so-called fight.
As weak as the reason was for supporting Wike, the point is that the late Chief (Dr.) Harold Dappa-Biriye fought for the whole of the Niger Delta and for Rivers State; the late Major Isaac Adaka Boro fought for the Niger Delta and the Rivers people, and the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and others fought for the Ogoni and Rivers people; they fought for the rights and interests of the Rivers people. Did they seek, or were they compensated with the governorship of Rivers State? No!
The second postulation is equally lousy. Chief Wike did not and could not beat Governor Amaechi in the 2015 elections to secure Rivers State for President Jonathan. Governor Amaechi was not contesting the 2015 elections against Chief Wike or any other candidate. The governorship election was between Nyesom Wike, an Ikwerre man against Dakuku Peterside, a Rivers Ijaw man.
While his spokespeople were giving miserable explanations and Mrs. Patience Jonathan was sermonising publicly and canvassing support for Chief Wike, President Jonathan paid deaf ears to the advice to support a Rivers Ijaw candidate given to him by prominent Ijaw leaders like Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Rufus Ada-George, Chief A.K. Horsfall and Chief Bekinbo Soberekon. Jonathan insisted that there was no alternative to Nyesom Wike.
There was no need to enquire into what ‘there is no alternative to Wike’ meant. The arrogance President Jonathan displayed, was that in over ten Rivers Ijaw local government areas in Rivers State, he did not see anyone as fit as Nyesom Wike to be governor of Rivers State. Better educated, actually civilized persons, persons he as president had appointed and who had worked with him were found less fit than Wike to run the affairs of Rivers State.
The suggestion that Chief Nyesom Wike was the only person who could win the elections for the PDP in the Rivers State was as silly as it was insulting to the people of the state. There was also no truth whatsoever in it. Rather, the general opinion was that President Jonathan and the PDP thought that the only way they could win the governorship election in the state was through rigging and violence and they chose the person who was most capable of delivering that.
Former president Jonathan scuttled the Rivers Ijaw dream. President Jonathan meant that, so long as his presidency was concerned and the Peoples Democratic Party was concerned, Rivers Ijaw did not matter in Rivers State. Jonathan took Rivers Ijaw and by extension Rivers people for granted.
Treated with such disrespect, Rivers Ijaw, the Ogoni, all fair-minded Ikwerre and other upland areas ought to show how indignant they feel come 2019. Jonathan is no longer there, his bid for the presidency, for which he made Rivers people sacrificial lambs, failed; Jonathan no longer wields power with the federal might in his hands. Come 2019, Rivers people ought to correct the great error and bring back the state to its studied path of peace and harmony.