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Amnesty to Niger Delta Militants: An Albatross of the Ijaw nation and bridge to no where

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The Ijaws are the most populous indigenous ethnic group in the Niger Delta. With a population of fourteen million people, the Ijaw nation is the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Domiciled in the tributaries of the River Niger in the Niger Delta and along the

coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, the Ijaw nation is rich in petroleum resources and home to most of the oil and gas facilities dotting the Niger Delta.

In terms of natural resources, the Ijaw nation is inarguably the richest ethnic nation in West Africa. However, the level of poverty and unemployment in the region is the greatest paradox of this age. This is a nation that accounts for more than sixty percent of Nigeria's foreign earnings and host to two oil export terminals and the only LNG plant in West Africa.

The Ijaw nation is a perfect picture of how a tribe can be bruised and battered in a nation where minorities are satanically marginalized and further subjected to regions where ethnic rivalry is the order of the day. Expectedly, the template of leadership is not spared from the dynamics of survival of the craftiest and this is evidently manifested in tribal politics as currently practiced in Nigeria.

The emergence of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe, 'Mainasara, Jonathan (GEAMJ), a son of the Ijaw nation was expected to bring the long awaited breath of fresh air to the Ijaw nation. To the chagrin of most serious minded ijaws, the reverse is the case ad nauseam. It is against this backdrop that the effort to develop the region can be rightly described as cadaverous in contemporary times. 'Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose: the more things change the more they remain the same'.

What is wrong with Ijaw leaders and politicians? It is mind bogging to note that from time immemorial, no Ijaw leader has attracted any mega project and development to the region. Though, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources in Delta State is a product of the blood of young Ijaw men, it is clandestinely cited in Effurun and as I write, no Ijaw man is an academic staff of that institution and it is doubtful if anyone works in the University.

It is the same swan song in most states where Ijaws are balkanized. Their agitations draw attention to the states but they get nothing when the cake is shared. It is amazing that the upland area of Uromi/Irrua in Edo State has more visible presence of the NDDC than the whole of Bomadi, Burutu, Patani and Warri South West combined. All the latter are local government areas wholly populated by Ijaws.

Even though the agitation of the Ijaws influenced the emergence of GEAMJ, his presidency may however be an eternal burden on the Ijaw nation nay the Niger Delta. Take a look at this poser, what will be the legacy of GEAMJ presidency? I am at a loss as to the planned building of 1000 Almajiri model schools when the Ijaw nation with over polluted and grossly exploited environment is not getting any kind of educational development.

At present, the Ijaw nation is the most backward in the Niger Delta. Despite the avalanche of 'ex-generals' and warlords that drive exotic SUV's in Warri and Yenegoa, the level of poverty and unemployment in Ijaw nation has constantly remained the highest in Nigeria since the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorate in 1914. Pointedly, there is nothing like employment in Ijaw nation. This is because recruitments into the oil companies that dot the area are done outside the region.  

Since the commencement of amnesty, none of the over publicized projects have taken off. In short the pace of construction activities on the East-West road has dropped since the advent GEAMJ's presidency. During the recently organized ministerial platform, it was shocking to hear the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, himself a son of the soil, say that lack of fund is affecting the East - West Road. Did I hear paucity fund?

At the moment, an NNPC floating petroleum products station anchored near the shore of Burutu Island is lying fallow and rapidly rusting away, this is made worse by the corrosive nature of the salty sea water of Burutu River. The station was hurriedly towed to the area to deceive the unsuspecting public that the area is getting the attention of the government.

The station has never dispensed products since it was anchored. Why will there not be illegal refineries? No Ijaw riverine community has a petrol dispensing station yet the lives of the Ijaws are hugely dependent on petrol. This is inconformity of the maxim '' necessity is the mother of all inventions''. Illegal refining has come to stay with us. The nation has midwifed a 'mutant'. The Nigerian nation has created a situation that can only be stopped if the policy of neglect and underdevelopment of the area is reversed.

Ironically, when it is the business of exploration and production of oil and gas, the terrain becomes that of stakeholders. I strongly believe that the word 'stakeholders' is usually misapplied when Ijaws are included in it. The truth is that Ijaws are not stakeholders but spectators and on lookers. Maybe it is the illegal oil bunkerers that are called stakeholders. Certainly, it cannot be the Ijaws.

The expectation of most Ijaws was that amnesty was going to reverse the cycle of satanic neglect and initiate an era of development. Rather, it has turned out to be a media jamboree for the avant-gardes whose concern for the development of the region is questionable. How many Ijaws are beneficiaries of the ridiculous skill acquisition scheme? If this was all they fought for, the blood of the young men who died from militancy was shed in vain. I guess their bones will be turning and whining in despair as they await the scotching heat of hell.

The amnesty is nothing short of an insult and ridicule of the Ijaw intelligentsia. Are all youths in Ijaw nation uneducated and unskillful?   What are the key performance indicators of the policy? The government people are quick to point to increased oil production from 800Mbpd to 2.4Mbpd. Their focus is always oil. What can the Ijaw nation point at? What else, if not at polluted rivers, high infant mortality, cataclysmic flood, joblessness and unfulfilled expectations?

Frankly speaking, the amnesty has not brought any remarkable gain to the Ijaw nation. There are no developmental activities as envisaged. It should be a thing of worry to elected and appointed Ijaw politicians that irrespective of the number of choice cars allocated to them in Abuja and state capitals, none can be driven to their hometowns? This is an odious situation that should make any sane person be conscious of attracting speedy development to the region.

Can this gloomy and ill-omened cloud be dispelled? Yes, but the Ijaw nation must consciously chart a course for the development of the region. To achieve this, clannish barriers must be removed and the 'okusu otu' spirirt promoted across Ijaw nation. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Government should desist from paying lip service to the development of the region. The cupidity prevalent in Ijaw nation is highly condemnable.

Any attempt by any politician or leader to trade the development of the region for political patronage should be roundly condemned by all a sundry. Ijaws must rise against leaders who sell the birthright of the nation for porridge in the same manner they vented their hunger-ignited militancy on the oil companies. This is the panacea to the underdevelopment of the region. 'Na rat wey dey house dey bring another rat from outside'

With amnesty and GEAMJ presidency, the Ijaws are complacent. My mind tells me that the Ijaws are playing cool because they don't want to rock the boat being captained by their son. This strategy will fail because of the dilatory nature of GEAMJ. Firstly, he is not a 'bullfighter'. Next, Nigeria is not a structured country where things work based on logic and reasoning. This is why all the lieutenants of the president who are Ijaws should hit the ground and running - influence mega projects to the region.

This piece will not be complete without the mention of the name of the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori (the Odidigboigboi of Africa). For, he, singularly for the first time, constructed a bridge to the often branded difficult terrain of Western Ijaw. With the construction of Bomadi Bridge, the myth that the area is a difficult terrain and as such cannot be developed was broken by the visionary governor.

Even though James Ibori is being vilified by most Nigerians, he left a remarkable legacy in Oghara nay Urhobo nation. What the former governor did in his hometown will make anybody from Otuoke nay Ijaw nation weep for the kind of attention the Ijaw nation is presently getting. GEAMJ should take a cue from the ex-convict governor who is presently serving twelve years prison sentence for money laundering. Despite his predicament, he is highly revered by the Urhobos because he re-invented their history. Charity begins at home.

The selfish, 'it is my turn' syndrome prevalent in most Ijaw communities must be discarded before any significant development can happen in Ijaw nation. This is my grouse with Jonathan. The mantra of his tenure should be 'It is our turn'. Inotherwords, every effort must be channeled to ventures and projects that will serve as a lasting legacy for future generations. What legacy will an Ijaw child that is born today in Cocodiagbene see in twenty years from now? Wasted opportunity? God forbid. Jonathan! Jonathan!! Jonathan!!! A word is enough for the wise.

Sokore Collin Erebi
Founder/Chief Knowledge Officer
Scholars without borders