REDEFINING POLITICS AND POLITICAL REPRESENTATION IN EPIE/ATISSA
Epie and Atissa in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State are brothers, with migration traced to Essan in present Edo State. Epie and Atissa, like their Engeni, Zarama and Degema brothers, have language and cultural commonalities. As a result, their languages are classified under the Edoid Group of Languages.
Epie and Atissa , believe in God Almighty but I the past, they revered their ancestors and supplemented their guidance and protection through the ancestral spirit then known as "Inibru", with traditional kingship, to the affairs of men and meted out instant punishment to offenders. However, with the coming of Western religion, they embraced the early missionaries hospitably.
The reception of Christianity brought about rewards. Churches, notably Anglicans, Catholics and the Baptists established themselves. They also established Primary and secondary schools, notably, St. Jude's Girls Secondary School, Amarata and Bishop Dimeari Grammar School, Yenagoa, St. Matthias Primary School, Amarata, St. Luke's Primary School Agudama-Epie, to mention a few were also established by the missionaries.
The early adoption of the Christian Faith, which quickly relegated paganism, drew the people closer to God Almighty. Early western education and linking up of the area with modern road, Mbiama/Yenagoa Road, one of the only areas to have such then, served as catalysts of civilization.
Importantly too, the churches, schools and the road, made the people to become exposed to modernity, respected God and became more hospitable to visitors. Thus, the people became more blessed by God, socially, economically and politically.
The political blessings became manifest, first in the colonial era, when the 17 communities in Epie and Atissa, though brothers, had to split for the sake of benefiting from the then colonial administration. They became recognised as separate clans, and thus qualified to form a district. The split was therefore to create administrative convenience, without compromising the brotherhood.
From this stepping stone, the Epies who were part of the Brass Province, agitated for and got a province known as Yenagoa Province, to themselves. The Onopa Customary Court is another legacy of the enlightened political struggle by the then elites, politicians and elders from the area. Interestingly, the establishment of the Onopa Customary Court, stopped litigants from pulling canoes to Sabagreia as well as overcame the problem of loosing cases due to wrong interpretation of Epie dialect by Ijaw interpreters, trained by the British colonial masters.
With the creation of Bayelsa State on October, 1, 1996 by the Late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Epie/Atissa became blessed again, with the biggest blessing of hosting the State Capital in Yenagoa Local Government, which was an offshoot of the old province.
On creation of the State, the Epies, became stereotyped as a minority ethnic group in the state, lacking intellectuals and politicians and that the area was merely lucky to host the State Capital. These perceptions may have arisen due to the peoples' lack of fuller use of the opportunity of hosting, Bishop Dimiari Grammar School and St. Judges Girls Secondary School, like their counterparts. It may have also arisen from lack of documentation of its social and political history, besides low spirit of brotherhood, lack of organised leadership and sustenance of the early efforts of political elites such as Chief B. W. Mabiton, Francis Kponu, Late King C. B. Agulata, Late Engr. Ben Wilson, King Mala Sasime, Chief F. D. Lot, Okuulovie Obhoo, Chiefs Francis Kokori, G.M. Odumgba, V.K. Lagumo, Fatty Job, V.B. Fabiri, Ebiyefa Torukuru, George Aguda and others.
However, the appointment of Steve Azaiki as Secretary to the State Government, by the D. S.P Alamieyeseigha administration, changed that perception. Subsequent emergence of others on the political and administrative stage as politicians, commissioners in different regimes, from 1999 to 2012 and appointment of Elder Bob Ozaka as Head of Service in the Alamieyeseigha era also changed the perception. Increase in number of educated elites further boosted the image of the ethnic group.
In comparison with the current political dispensation in Bayelsa State and Nigeria as a whole, Epie/Atissa's fortune is even better. This is evidenced from the number of political appointments, for which at a point, Epie/Atissa for the first time had two cabinet commissioners, Information and Science and Technology, respectively.
Also, Epie/Atissa for the first time in Nigerian politics, got a juicy and most coveted ministerial position, Minister of Petroleum, occupied by Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke. Although, her appoint is a boost to the political status of the Kingdoms, some people say more is expected of her, as she is doing to others in the aspects of links for contracts, oil licenses, employments, scholarships and others, even as the tenure winds up.
At the state level too, politics needs to be redefined in Epie/Atissa. The old style of playing politics for the interest of a small clique should be jettisoned for that of promoting and realising the aspiration and common good of the people.
Epie/Atissa has the best opportunity to develop better than any other ethnic group in Bayelsa and even the country. Thus, politics should be seen as a viable tool for development of the area. Democratic politics should be played in line with David Easton's definition which underscores the essence of politics as allocation of public resources for the common good envisaged by Thomas Hobbes, many years ago.
In line with the common good theory, it is important for politicians, especially those seeking elective offices to respect the general wishes, rights and aspirations of the electorate.
Thus, hijacking of the Epie/Atissa peoples' political mandate for ascension onto any elective and appointive positions, by any aspirants from the area, should therefore be avoided intoto.
It should be known that the endorsement of Governor Dickson by the people of Yenagoa Local Government Area was a wide consensus and premised on his development efforts in the State and Yenagoa, the State Capital, which some others treated with levity. The conferment of the Ogbogbo Olotu 1 chieftaincy title and membership of the Epie/Atissa Council of Chiefs before now, further adds to the gesture of the peoples's appreciation.
Hence, our politicians should not cash in on this and other endorsements like those for President Jonathan, to open a floodgate of 'arrangee' endorsements in Epie so as not to make mockery of the peoples' collective wish.
Those who feel they are fit and hold themselves out for political contest, should rather market what they are, what they have done as well as what they have to offer, and face competition at the party level as well as allow rational persuasion to make the electorate vote for them.
The call is important because, slots for political representation to Epie/Atissa are still far from adequate, compared to other ethnic groups. This is worst in the State House of Assembly, where the Ethnic group has just one seat, hence the need for an effective and highly conscienced persons to occupy this and other positions in trust for the people.
Again, the present development efforts in Yenagoa, the State Capital, steered by Governor Seriake Dickson, makes it expedient for Epie/Atissa to be mindful of not allowing their Democratic mandates to be stolen again as was in the past. We therefore, need a credible and people-centred team of political representatives at all levels, to put our case at the front burner of discourse and allocation of resources, so that Yenagoa will develop better.
We also need to use effective representation to make government understand the huge sacrifice of land and other burden of hosting the State Capital, so that more development will come to us as compensation.
It is by being rational and active electorate, that we can have authority over those we make our leaders. This is the only way to protect our common aspiration and attract more development.
The call is further important, given the need for us to take advantage of the position of President Goodluck Jonathan, whose second home is Epie/Atissa in many respects.
The time for Epie/Atissa to shun festival-day and thanksgiving politicians who maraud for endorsements and royal blessings, only to deceive the people is now. This is the defining moment for politics and politicking in Epie/Atissa, as it is presently done in other ethnic groups, states and the country at large.
Once beaten, twice shy. Let rationality and common good reign supreme in the next round of politicking in Epie.
BY ETET ENIDENEZE, ARPA, AIMIM, GNIPR, MEDIA AND PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTITIONER