By Anthonia Onwuka
Â Controversy rages in some parts of Delta State over the return bid of some lawmakers to parliament.
Â Uneasy calm pervades the threeÂ Â Ijaw local government areas ofÂ Delta State. This time, the tensed atmosphere in Burutu, Bomadi and Patani Local Government Areas has nothing to do with youth restiveness in Ijaw section of the Niger Delta, highly acknowledged for militant activities.
The discontent borders on the desirability or otherwise of returning some incumbent members of parliament, both at the state and natural levels, from the LGAs in the 2011 polls. It all started when the lawmakers from the local government areas, viz: Mr. Nicholas Mutu, representing Bomadi\Patani Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999; Mr. Tam Brisibe, representing Burutu Federal Constituency also in the House on the platform of the PDP since 2003 as well as Mr. Reginald Dombraye, Mr. Basil Ganagara, Mr. Solomon Funkekeme and Mr. Farank Enekonogba, who have held the forte as representatives of Bomadi, Patani, Burutu South and North respectively in the Delta Assembly since 1999, signalled their intentions to seek re-election.
The discontent against the aspirations of the lawmakers was ignited by many groups in the area, including the Izon Okosu-Otu, a council of Ijaw elders in Delta State, coordinated by Chief Bare Etolor and the Ijaw Youth Council.
Etolor did an open letter to antagonise the lawmakers return bid. In the letter entitled, â€œWhy we are opposed to Delta State Ijaw lawmakers fourth term/further terms bids to the State/National Assembly, the Ijaw leader alleged that the lawmakers no longer offer effective representation to be constituents having overstayed in their different positions.
Besides, he canvassed that opportunity should be given to other constituencies in the area to produce lawmakers. In other words, the impression Etolor was trying to create is that the lawmakers should renounce their aspiration to return to parliament in 2011.
â€œWhile there are several reasons advanced herein for the groundswell of opposition against the Ijaw lawmakers, it is important to hint that inadequate performance by some and unavailable rights to equal political space are the chief grouses and impediments to peace and stability,â€ the Ijaw leader said.
â€œBefore concluding that the present crop of legislators should give way for fresh hands with reasons herein, the Izon Okosu_Otu was confronted with serious complaints from the Ijaw nation across Delta State . We accordingly made wide consultations, even with the lawmakers complained about by the people and came to the conclusion that the lawmakers should drop their ambitions for fourth/further terms in office in the interest of peace and stability of the area.â€
But hardly had Etolorâ€™s open letter been published when some members of the Ijaw eldersâ€™ council,Â notably the traditional rulers, disowned him, saying he acted unilaterally. The open letter allegedly sparked controversy as some members argued that his position was not debated let alone agreed upon by the group.
Consequently, some Ijaw traditional rulers were said to haveÂ met with Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, in Warri, and denounced what they described as the effrontery of Etolor who they said was not representing their interests and that government and the Peoples Democratic Party should keep him at an armâ€™s length.
Members of the group in opposition to Etolor said thatÂ socio-cultural groups had no business in determining the candidates of the political parties for elections and advised leaders of Ijaw socio-cultural groups willing to take part in partisan politics to quit such positions and join political associations of their choice in order to enable them to influence political direction of the Ijaw people.
Â Ethnic leaders in the area,Â according to them, shouldÂ follow the example of contemporaries elsewhere by sticking to the natural duties of protecting the cultural heritage and serve as mouth-piece of their people at national and international levels instead of engaging in local politics.
Meanwhile,Â the lawmakers associates have joined the fray, sayingÂ it was their principalsâ€™ constitutional rights to seek re-election for as many terms as they desired. They asked that the lawmakersâ€™ political future should be left to the leadership of their political parties and the electorate to decide. They argued that any attempt to shut the legislators out of the 2011 polls would amount to an infringement of their rights, pointing out that legislators in advanced democracies were allowed to serve as many terms as possible leading to their becoming authorities in law-making.
The Niger Delta Human Resources Development and Investment Centre has, in the meantime, joined the controversy as itÂ said Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution backed the legislators for unrestricted tenure.
According to the group, in a statement by its leaders, Mr. Ebikeme Binaebe and Clarke Peretiemo, â€œIf this (1999 Constitution) has deemed it fit to restrict the tenure of the executive arm of government and not that of the legislature, why do we out selfishness or ignorance lead our great Ijaw people into acting otherwise?
â€œWe must be mindful of those who speak for themselves and yet claiming to speak for all. It must be noted that functional Ijaw groups and youth bodies (with due respect),while they are not political entities are meant to guide and protect our cultures, rights and heritage and also to project the Ijaw man in good lights all over the world.â€
Joining issues with those claimingÂ that the legislators performed below the expectations of their people, NDHRC disclosed that Mutu, who is the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta, for instance, has attracted development, beyond imagination, to his constituency.
The lawmaker, according to the group,facilitated the award of Gbaregolor_Akugbene_Ogulagha road project, solar water projects at Bomadi, Toru_Angiama and Akugbene towns, solar light projects at Bulu_Angiama, Patani and Bomadi towns, construction of Bulu_Angiama_Amatebe concrete road project and Adobo_Odorubu road as well as concrete road to Boys Model School, Patani, among other development initiatives he embarked upon.
Â â€œSection 35 of the 1999 Constitution remains supreme since it is not inconsistent with any other law of the federation, the electorate should be allowed to exercise their franchise and hence their rights to vote and determine their leaders and more importantly, the Ijaw race will be better-off with experienced and tested hands in positions of reckoning in this our nascent democracy,â€ the NDHRC explained.
Â Also speaking on the issue,Â Â Â the Amananawei of Odorubu, Chief Patrick Avwoke, Chief Paul Ekoh, Mr. Agboro Edwin and a youth leader, Mr. Umukoro Felix, all from Bomadi/Patani Federal Constituency, alleged that some politicians were instigating some people in Patani LGA to publish articles in the media to discredit Mutu and Ganagana ahead of 2011 elections.
Their words, â€œThe said publications were sponsored by some mischievous politicians who have the ambition to contest the 2011 polls, to blackmail our representatives, especially Mr. Basil Ganagana and Nicholas Mutu, despite the pace of development they have brought to the areas.
â€œThe truth is that Patani Local Government Area comprises three clans, namely Kambowei, Kumbowei and Tarakiri. There was never a time the elders and chiefs of the three clans came together and agreed on such publication to rubbish our representatives in the Delta State and National Assemblies.
â€œWe therefore warn that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not specify tenure for lawmakers and by so doing no individual or group of persons have the right to stop Mr. Basil Ganagana and Mr. Nicholas Mutu, from contesting the 2011 polls.â€
Amid the controversial bid of the Ijaw legislators to return to parliament via the 2011 polls, it is only politically expedient that the matter is amicably resolved as this is the only way to guarantee peace in the area in the countdown to the polls. Nevertheless, the right of the lawmakersâ€™ to vie or not to vie in the elections remain legitimate. The sole determinants of their fate are their party, the PDP, and the electorate.