• Home
  • Features
  • Constitution Review And The Ijaw Struggle For Oil Rivers State & PH South LGA

Constitution Review And The Ijaw Struggle For Oil Rivers State & PH South LGA

That Ijaw heroes played an indispensable role in the struggle that led to the creation of Rivers State in 1967 is stating the obvious. In as much as I don’t intend to over flog the well documented historical struggle, suffice it to say that, when the Ijaws of the Niger Delta could no longer endure the oppression, suppression and asphyxiating conditions meted out to them by the skewed political cum economic structure of the then Eastern Nigeria controlled by a domineering ethnic group, Ijaw patriots like Harold Dappa Biriye, Isaac Adaka Boro and others had no choice than to begin the struggle or agitation for a state that will ensure their freedom and protect the inalienable rights of the Ijaw man nay the Rivers man.
Historically, not known as a tribe that lost a battle, Rivers State was thus created on May 27th 1967 by the Gen Yakubu Gowon administration with some minority Igbo group and the Ogonis as component members of the new state headed by an illustrious and famous Ijaw son Alfred Diette-Spiff. Of course, the landmark achievements of the Diette-Spiff administration in Rivers State remain unparalled till this day.
However, as the social, political and economic contradictions of the Nigerian State got entrenched with each passing military intervention, resulting in further marginalization, deprivation, unemployment, hardship and poverty, it threw up more challenges for the various ethnic groups in the country to begin a process of agitation to project and protect their peculiar interest and survival. Thus we have the OPC, MASSOB, Ijaw militants in South-West, South-East, South-South, and now Boko Haram running amok in the Northern part of Nigeria.
Interestingly, apart from resource control and fiscal federalism, state creation has become the sing song of most of the ethnic groups in Nigeria especially those ones who consider themselves as minorities within majority or minorities within minority. In the midst of the oppression and marginalization, state and local government creation is thus seen by these groups as the panacea or escape route from the suffocating structural imbalances and inequalities they are subjected to by the “big powers”.
With the above scenario, is it surprising that from 12 states in 1967, the country now has 36 states with 774 local government councils? Any wonder why the demand for state and local government area creation has not abated but rather has assumed a frenzy with the unfolding constitution amendment?
It is in this context, one would appreciate the significance of the on going constitution review process and the demand for the creation of Oil Rivers State and Port Harcourt South Local Government Council by the Okrika Ijaws. It should be stressed that the creation of an homogenous Ijaw Oil Rivers State with capital either in Isaka-Bakana or Degema will only serve as a palliative as Okrikans consistently remain at the forefront of the legitimate demand for resource control which is the ultimate goal of the Ijaw struggle for self determination.
Talking about constitution review involving broad based nationwide consultation (unlike previous exercises), many observers see it as a preemptive or tactical move by the National Assembly to pull the rug off the feet of those canvassing for a Sovereign National Conference SNC to holistically address the structural imbalances and myriad of social, ethnic and political problems militating against the development of the country and also fashion out a truly peoples constitution that will ensure harmonious coexistence among the various contending ethnic groups and diverse interests in the country.
On this score, the Ijaws, the 4th largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria have shown that they are pragmatic people as they embraced the opportunity offered by the National Assembly to ventilate their age long demand for an Oil Rivers State made of Ijaws popularly called the riverine people of present Rivers State and their kith and kin in Akwa Ibom State. They are also demanding for an homogenous Toru Ibe State to take care of Ijaws in Ondo State and other parts of the Western axis of Nigeria.
Indeed Oil Rivers has a historical precedent. The British colonial masters having realized the peculiarities of the region established the Oil Rivers Protectorate and sadly, it is one of the remaining few protectorates if not the only one that has not transformed into a state in Nigeria. Thus the current realities of balkanization, cultural erosion, environmental degradation, political marginalization and economic emasculation make the creation of Oil Rivers State not only justifiable/imperative but an unavoidable historical necessity to redress the long years of injustice. This will bring the people together as a distinct and homogenous entity like their kith and kin in Bayelsa State.
Chief Dr. Tari Sekibo (Odo Abaji), Chief Albert Horsefall, Alabo T.O. Graham Douglas, Chief Rufus Ada-George, Prof. Atuboyedia Obianime, Chief Georgewill Oruan, Prof. Bedford Fubara, Ombo Isokariari, Prince Tonye Princewill, Ann kio-Briggs and other patriotic sons and daughters of Ijaw land who have been given the mandate by their people to pursue the noble Oil Rivers State cause to fruition must be commended for their gallantry and tireless sacrifices to fulfill the lofty dream of their people and forefathers.
Again, it should be noted that the Okrika Ijaws in Port Harcourt Local Government Area are also grappling with similar issues of political marginalization over which they have cried their voices hoarse over the years without redress.
For instance, out of the 20 wards that constitute Port Harcourt Local Government Council area, the Okrika Ijaws who inhabit the Southern stretch of the area with an overwhelming population of 212,692 (52% according to 1991 census) have only 4 wards carved out for their political representation as against 16 wards for their less populated Ikwerre neighbours with 194,580. (48%). The disparity in statistics has not changed even in the last census exercise.
This glaring and unacceptable anomaly obviously has been a source of friction between the two neighbouring ethnic groups as they compete for the limited resources of the Local Government Area. However, in order to address the long years of mutual suspicion and gross inequality in resource allocation, the Okrika Ijaws are fervently demanding for the creation of Port Harcourt South Local Government Area with commensurate increase in ward delineation.
Though the Okrika people and Ijaws generally had collectively sent several memoranda on Oil Rivers State creation, they took a step further when they participated actively at the recent nationwide people’s constitution review meeting at the various local government areas.
In Okrika and Port Harcourt Local Government Areas the Okrika Ijaws made strong presentations which articulated their peculiar interest and quest for justice. At Port Harcourt City Council Secretariat venue of Port Harcourt Federal Constituency 1 meeting, they seized the opportunity to reiterate their demand for a Port Harcourt South Local Government Area, presenting logical, convincing and irrefutable argument based on historical and empirical facts in line with current realities. Though they made contributions in other areas of the template for constitution amendment, to the Okrika Ijaws in Port Harcourt, the creation of Port Harcourt South LGA remains their paramount interest and agenda for future survival.
At the Okrika Local Government Council Headquarters, venue of the Okrika/Ogu Bolo Federal Constituency which Hon. Bright Gogo represents, the meeting on Saturday 10th October 2012 was attended by the crème de la crème or the who is who in Okrika Kingdom. The historical event was presided over by no less a person than the charismatic chairman of Okrika Divisional Council of Chiefs (ODCC), Chief Nemi Wisdom Adoki.
Indeed the sheer number of Chiefs attired in their sparkling traditional regalia is a glaring testimony of the popularity of the meeting as a means of articulating and harmonizing their feelings and positions on the vexed national question but more importantly the Oil Rivers State creation.
The host and irrepressible chairman of Okrika Local Government Area Council, Hon. Barr. Tamuno Williams set the tone of the meeting in his welcome address when he described the meeting as very important as it presented the opportunity “to decide on what type of constitution to bestow on ourselves, children and generation unborn”
Describing the constitution as the grund-norm of the society, the enigmatic WALGA boss urged participants to display due diligence and patience as they express their views with the conviction that their representative will take same to Abuja as the views of Okrika Ijaws of Rivers State.
In his opening remarks, the chairman of the occasion Chief Nemi Wisdom Adoki appraised the relevance of the meeting, stating that it presented compelling issues which will shape and impact on the future of the people. He urged participants to take positions that will be in sync with their geopolitical interest.
Chief Adoki posited that, the exercise is about continuity and putting ideas on a document that will endure for years to come saying “we should take note of every line and expression to strengthen our representative to make a proper representation for us so that as a people, we will be very proud to say, we have done our best for the progress of the country”. He called for regular interface between elected representatives and the people to create understanding on burning issues and dispel rumour mongering.
In his goodwill message, a renowned Ijaw activist Prof. Atuboyedia Obianime eloquently articulated the views of Ijaw people in their quest for Oil Rivers State. He revealed that the Oil Rivers State will be constituted by 11 out of the 23 LGAs in Rivers State which will include Abua Odual, Kalabari, Okrika, Andoni, Bonny, Opobo Nkoro and part of Akwa Ibom State thus making a pure riverine Ijaw state.
According to him the Ijaws in Rivers State remain permanent minorities in the present political configuration and cannot produce governor in any of the senatorial districts. The fiery orator lamented the balkanization of Ijaws saying that with an Oil Rivers State “we can decide our affairs and speak with one voice on issues affecting us”.
Continuing he called on all Ijaws to give their unflinching support for the creation of an homogenous Oil Rivers and Toru Ibe States to redress the balkanization and marginalization of the Ijaws stressing that the Ijaws have in abundance what it takes, be it physical, material and intellectual resources to run a viable state.
Also speaking the chairman of Ogu Bolo Council of Chiefs, Chief Jonah Tamuno supported the views expressed by other eminent speakers noting that the event is a determination of the future of the people. He commended the National Assembly for conducting the public forum, saying if properly handled; it will move the nation forward.
Addressing the gathering, the member representing Okrika/Ogu Bolo Federal Constituency Hon. Bright Gogo lauded the people for their large turn out describing the exercise as participatory democracy. He said the exercise was informed by the need to involve the people at the grass roots to take part in decision affecting their welfare.
According to him the House of Representatives wanted to feel the pulse of the people on various issues of national interest as contained in the template assuring that “we shall reflect the opinion of majority of Nigerians in the constitutional amendment”.
The chairman of Ogu Bolo Local Government Area Council Hon. Maureen Tamuno who was visibly elated gave the vote of thanks.
Highlights of the event included presentations of memoranda by Okrika born lawyers represented by Barr. Amglad Imabibo, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Okrika Clan represented by its Vice Chairman Mr. Cornelius Clem-Inifie, Vanguard of Wakirike Progressives (VWP), represented by this writer and others. Issues in the template were also discussed and voted upon.
Remarkably, Okrikans voted in support of issues like state creation, autonomy for local government and House of Assembly, immunity and others while they disapproved of state police, indigene-ship, two term tenure, parliamentary system and others.
Indeed some of the participants who spoke to this writer at the sidelines expressed delight at the opportunity provided by the meeting. According to them the creation of Oil Rivers State and Port Harcourt South Local Government Area is no longer a question of if but when. ####

By Samuel Joseph

Related posts

Is Africa Fated To Be A Metaphor Of Disaster?


Curbing The Menace Of Prostitution In Nigeria’s Tertiary Institutions


Sustaining Cultural Heritage Through Literature (II)