By Ebele Orakpo
Renowned writer, emeritus Prof. J.P. Clark; the first woman Vice-Chancellor in Nigeria, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams; entertainment guru and governorship aspirant, Mr Ben Murray-Bruce; renowned journalist and Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr Sam Amuka; former Niger-Development Commission, NDDC, Executive Director, Pastor Power Ziakede Aginighan and frontline Niger-Delta activist, Ms Ann Kio-Briggs were some of the notable faces at the just-concluded fourth biennial convention of the National Association of Ijaw Female Students, NAIFS, held at the National Theatre, Iganmu Lagos at the weekend.
In her address, Prof. Alele-Williams, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, harped on the need for transparency and accountability on the part of the leaders, saying that is the only way the ugly monster called corruption can be stamped out.
She said: “Transparency and accountability are two principal components of public service all over the world and when these cardinal elements are missing, society suffers stagnation. There is a general mistrust about public office holders in Nigeria because of the scandalous and unedifying antecedents of many individuals who often face corruption charges after leaving office.
“These trends seem to be undermining the credibility of the few exemplary individuals, who have maintained sufficient moral rectitude in discharging their public responsibilities.” The Professor of mathematics who was the mother of the day, advised the students never to give up on their dreams, saying that although the Nigerian environment could be frustrating, but if they don’t give up, they will always achieve their dreams.
Strength of purpose
“You have to have knowledge, go ahead and look for it. You have to have purpose. Women have strength of purpose. When you achieve success, people will look for you.”
Addressing the audience, the father of the day, Prof. John Pepper-Clark noted that in order to stem corruption, the public has a role to play, which is to keep public office holders on their toes by constantly assessing them and holding them accountable to the people they are supposed to be serving.
“The general public has a role to play in ensuring that corruption is eradicated in the society; they should not just celebrate people because they are in public office; it is their right to assess public office holders when they are in office and not to run after them with awards they do not deserve in the first place.”
Delivering a lecture titled: The Manifestation of Ijaw Glory: The Role of Women, Ms. Kio-Briggs, said the lecture was dedicated to the late Mr. Emmanuel Victor, “a 25-year-old man murdered on October 16, 2011 by the police at a checkpoint in Yenagoa for speaking out against extortion of money from innocent, hardworking Niger-Deltans by the police”, saying his death will not be in vain.
“Ijaw glory has always been there for as long as Ijaws have existed which has been hundreds and hundreds of years. Women have always played very strong and effective roles in the defence, love and development of Ijaw nation. Ijaw women have stood along their fathers, husbands and sons to fight for Ijaw land and we must succeed in this role.
Unfortunately, women have always found themselves fighting a cause within a cause. We have always found ourselves in a struggle within a struggle – to be recognised, to be appreciated and respected by our men folk when the contributions we have made are just as good as the men and sometimes, even better. This is not to say we are competing with men,“ she stated.
Briggs stressed that as women: Our role is to uphold the truth and save the Ijaw nation from the mess, confusion and disunity. Our role is to build a unified nation where our glory and the glory of the Ijaw nation will truly manifest.
“Today, we are fighting the oppression, lies, neglect and abuses of not only strangers, but of our own people. It is true that if we are to survive and manifest our glory as a people, we must fight our own Ijaw people who are bent on destroying Ijaw nation and are willing to sell Ijaw nation. We must protect Ijaw nation from the greedy, selfish, lying and stealing Ijaws as we fight any other type of oppression from anywhere,” Briggs said.
“As a woman, am I satisfied with the condition of the Ijaw nation in Nigeria? Ijaws pay the piper, the piper is the man who plays the tune, yet the piper plays what he likes and forbids us to even watch the dance, not to even talk of partaking in the dance.
We have all the ingredients, we bake the cake in our oven and we are not allowed to even smell the cake not to talk of cutting and eating even a piece of the cake. Ijaws are expected to beg for the crumbs of our own cake. As women, our role is to stand up with boldness, with authority, and with power of determination to against our oppression as we speak against our own that deceive us and lie to and against the Ijaw nation.
Inspiration and direction
As women, we have to be fearless in speaking the truth. Our role is to determine our goal and chart the path for our breakthrough; to find our inspiration and direction, if indeed we must find hope. We must have to develop the Ijaw nation and our success is dependent on our confidence in ourselves as a people.
“Our role is to boldly as women, insist on social, economic, infrastructural and human capacity development to come to our communities as nothing good has so far come to Ijaw land except bombs, soldiers and their boots marching across our land.
“Our role as women is to speak fearlessly against prostitution, drugs and alcoholism. These vices are destroying our future and that of Ijaw nation. Our role is to be the think-tank of Ijaw nation, the guardian angels, the protectors, defenders and developers of Ijaw nation. This is the role of women and this is the role of NAIFS,” she said amidst thunderous ovation.
Also speaking, the chairman of the occasion, Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce used the occasion to tell the gathering what he has in store for his people if elected into office as governor of Bayelsa State, come February next year. He said Bayelsa has a N2 trillion economy, one of the highest in Africa, yet it has the highest infant and maternal mortality rate in the world and the highest misery index. All these, he hopes to correct if given the chance, adding that education will be made free and compulsory as that is the best way to empower the people.
Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, advised the students to put to use all the pieces of advice they have received so that they can become great in their chosen fields.
During the convention which witnessed the attendance of over 5,000 Ijaw female students from various tertiary institutions across Nigeria, some Niger-Delta sons and daughters who have done the region proud received awards from NAIFS. The awardees include Prof. Alele-Williams, Prof. J. P. Clark, Ms. Briggs, Mr. Sam Amuka, Pastor Power Aginighan, Prof. (Mrs.) Clark, Ambassador Godknows Igali and many others.
The president of NAIFS in her address, thanked the grand patron, Comrade Joseph Evah, for empowering the Ijaw female students as they believe that when you educate the women, you build the nation.