By Tony Momoh
Someone called me at noon on Tuesday October 12. He told me his name which I first thought was a title. After he had lectured me for the better part of 15 minutes on the Niger Delta and the distraction the bombs of October 1 seem to be causing, and after I had wanted to explain a point or two but he would not let me, insisting that as someone who writes for people to know what is happening, I had to listen to him, I told him no one imposes their views on me.
If he was going to do all the talking and would not listen to what I had to say, I would not hesitate to cut the line. He did not seem to be impressed by my threat to cut the line. He said the country ought to be alarmed by the bombs that were exploded at the venue of the celebration of our 50 years of “regulated neglect of the Niger Delta”.
Instead of seriously settling down to look at the causes and doing something about the problem to prevent or lessen worse situations occurring in future, the country and its leadership were debating whether or not MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) did it. I asked, “Did MEND do it and are you part of the MEND?”
He ignored the question and said I seemed to be joining the group that would not appreciate that a place had been bombed and find out why the bombing took place. My concern should be less who did the bombing than that there was a bombing. If I decide to be as “shameless” and “senseless” as those arguing about who bombed instead of working for how to prevent more bombs exploding, you bunch (meaning my humble self and all others who plead that there is a country we must all unite to save) will be shocked.
He would not even want to listen to the three options I wanted to say Nigerians can look at to live together. He broke in at least three times to say we shall meet at the United Nations, that Lugard caused the trouble and the people of the Niger Delta would lead in resolving it. He went on and on. I engaged him to know whether someone was just bluffing.
First, is he Niger Deltan and if he is, where in the gathering of the groups would he belong? I know the voice of a Niger Deltan when I hear one. Just as I know when a Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa speaks. The one who spoke was a million per cent Niger Deltan. I am telling this story because we seem to be more comfortable ignoring warnings, waving off tips.
My mind went back more than 40 years when I was editor of Spear Magazine, and also much later when I was in Calabar at a gathering of Niger Delta nationality groups in October 2001. I told my caller the stories because I wanted him to know that I have as much stake in the Niger Delta as he may claim to have, and also as much concern about the problems there as any other.
I told him I have known about the Niger Delta struggle for longer than he may think. I knew Adaka Boro (he sounded relieved and listened more), and I published exclusively the experiences he documented when he went to Ghana to train for the revolt that led to his seizing power there and declaring a Rivers Republic.
He was overpowered in three days and charged to court for treason and jailed. He was released to be part of the Rivers Battalion that formed the core of troops that liberated the Rivers State from Biafran control.
He was to die under circumstances that were suspect after the liberation of his home state. With the coming of more turbulent and sustained resistance to the deprivations that the Niger Delta people suffered, many more groups, more desperate and deadly, emerged. In a piece I wrote in the Vanguard of Sunday, October 28, 2001, I referred to a force emerging in the Niger Delta which those who love this country should monitor with understanding.
I had been at Calabar from October 18 to 20 to give a paper at the Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Conference whose theme was “Union of Niger Delta – A movement for the political and economic emancipation of our people through resource control and true federalism”. There were presentations from the Middle Belt, and I heard someone deliver a message of solidarity from the Oodua Peoples Congress.
One young man said he was the former “defence minister” of the Ijaw national youth council. His roaring speech shook the assembly. He picked his words, chewed them thoroughly and spat them into the audience.
At the end of his speech, he apologized to the elders for his mannerisms. But he said he had raised questions which needed answers. He was in support of a national conference. He wanted to know what happened to the 13 per cent derivation money being paid to the governments of the Niger Delta. He wanted his elders to tell the youth when the conference of ethnic nationalities in the country would be held.
In other words, he was not part of the debate about whether a conference would be held or not. He wanted to know when because tempers had begun to rise in the area and the people would not be held back forever! The caller on my line on October 12 is not interested in any talks. With his utterances, the stakes are upped.
In the 60s, the people pleaded for attention. By 2001, they were asking for talks for control of their resources. Now, someone is telling me we will meet at the United Nations. He is not interested in three areas of possible restructure of Nigeria I mentioned – unitary government, federal government and confederation.
He said what they want is separation. This may well be rubbish to some of us who believe they have more answers than others. But to those who know what war games involve, that nothing is left to chance, they would look at all the scenarios and know what to do if any come comes to become. I am worried that in the recent history of our country, there is more divisive talk than any other time I can recall.
We are packaging ourselves into ethnic closets the same time that we assert claims to rule at the centre. The stakes are getting higher and, unknown to those who are angling for the cake, the determination not to be controlled by other groups is assuming a force all its own. We are planning to conduct elections in a country that we are working hard enough not to make secure for elections.
And when we make it ungovernable the way we are going, we will not have to call on any doctrine of necessity to put off the elections and the date of handing over because the constitution already provides for what to do when the country is at war. And who says we are not at war when there is no visible attempt to provide an enabling environment for elections to be held!