By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
For the Ijaws, the fourth largest ethnic nationality in the Nigerian federation, Wednesday signing into law of the Bayelsa symbols and seal by Governor Seriake Dickson was a welcome development.
Though the decision which was taken last Monday at the 7th meeting of the Bayelsa State Executive Council has sparked fresh controversies especially with the growing voices of secession across the country and escalating violence in the North, however the majority of the people of the state did not see anything wrong with the action of Governor Seriake Dickson, who incidentally is a lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives.
Surprisingly, when most analysts had thought the state government would jettison the plan given the stormy debate it generated in some of quarters that it was a secessionist ploy, Hon. Seriake Dickson Wednesday went ahead to create a new identity, coat of arms and anthem for the state by signing the bill into Law.
The bill known as the Bayelsa State Flag, Coat of Arms and Anthem Law 2012 which was among the eight bills passed by the State House of Assembly has not only awaken old passion but ignited fresh hopes for the Ijaw nation the fourth largest ethnic nationality.
Bayelsa State to the Ijaw nation whose people are scattered as minorities in Ondo, Edo, Akwa Ibom and Delta states is regarded as their ‘Jerusalem,’ hence the new state flag with four colours (white, blue, red and green) and three stars represent the hope and aspirations of the people.
A source told Saturday Vanguard, “the white colour represents purity, honour and trustfulness of the people and their quest for justice while the blue represents the abundance of waters and their inherent resources; the red colour symbolizes blood of our martyrs while the green colour signifies the rich vegetation and the stars, the hopes and aspirations of the Ijaw nation.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, in a statement issued after the signing of the bill into Law said the new law will provide a unique opportunity for government to make a clear pronouncement on the real intendment of the law as follows:
“That Bayelsa State is a federating unit in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, created and recognized in the constitution with rights, powers and obligations. That all structures, organs and officials of the state operate under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That our decision to have state symbols and songs, are as a result of our belief in true federalism as a cardinal cornerstone of Nigerian nationhood and it is in exercise of our inalienable rights as a federating unit.
“This is a right, which we cannot be denied of since several other states with the same rights have equally exercised. That the decision taken by our government in this regard is also as a result of our commitment to the propagation of Ijaw culture, language, history and ideals. That this decision also creates a platform for us as a government to rally our people for positive development within the context of a united, egalitarian and democratic Nigeria.”
Commenting on the controversy generated by the law, Hon. Seriake Dickson at an interactive session with newsmen at the Government House Tuesday night said though the intention of the state was misconstrued by some politicians, such fear of secession is misplaced and the law be viewed from the need for the state to create a new identity for itself in the interest of tourism.
Dickson said, “This is just a question of federalism and national identity. If you go to Lagos State, the crest behind the Governor is the crest of Lagos not the Federal Republic. Unfortunately, this is the Nigeria of today. People sensationalize.
“Other states have done it long ago. Now, I want to do it and they are screaming. We want to promote tourism and if visitors come in, we will present them with a plaque and it denotes our identity. I know people will understand and you know that I am a politician of conviction and not convenience.”
Also the President of Conference of Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta (CENND) Prof Kimse Okoko defended the Bayelsa State government action which he described as legitimate in a federal setting.
The immediate past President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) who lampooned the quasi federalism being practiced in the country queried, “What is wrong with the action? The state has the right to its own anthem and flag. It is long overdue and I support what the state government has done.”
The state Commissioner for Culture and Ijaw National Affairs, Felix Tuodolo in his reaction said the Bayelsa State flag, coat of arms and anthem was in tandem with the vision of the founding fathers of the state and the administration’s stand on Ijaw mobilization and integration.
“This decision also underscores government’s belief that this state, like any other state is where the Ijaws, the fourth largest ethnic nationality, has as its home. Bayelsa is home to all Ijaws both at home and abroad. The emblem therefore, will help serve as a unifying force and rallying point for all our people. It says a lot about the preservation of our culture, our essential values as a people and as a race,” he said.
The symbol he further explained was not in any way aimed at undermining the country’s unity. He declared, “the point must be made clear that the steps taken by our government to announce the proposed launch of a state owned flag, anthem and coat of arms is not in any way different from what other states in the federation have done.
“It is common knowledge that virtually all the states in the South Western region such as Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti have since launched theirs. The most recent was the North Central state of Kwara. In the South South, Cross River and Rivers States are the only two states in the region that have embraced this noble concept. In the case of Rivers, it was done since the 1970s.
“We believe that Bayelsa State, being the only state that can be considered as the home state of the Ijaw race, deserves even much more to blaze this trail than any other state in the federation, given its uniqueness. This much is true because of the emphasis we place on the propagation of the Ijaw ideals and what we stand for as a people, the Ijaw ideology. More importantly, as a government,we view the decision as critical to our development and it matches our drive to project Bayelsa State as a world class tourist destination, the frontier for eco tourism and an investment haven.”
For Alagoa Morris, a renowned environmental/human rights activist, “it is gratifying to note that this whole issue of anthem and coat of arm is in connection to a state and not individuals; a state in which the governor is not only a lawyer by profession but a former lawmaker of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and former policeman.
“We have been calling for true federalism for too long a time now and, if in a secular federating state like Nigeria we have some states having Sharia as official religion and we recently heard of Islamic banking system, what is the confusion or hullabaloo about Bayelsa coming up with its own anthem and coat? Or are we treating some sections of this country as first class citizens and others second and third class folks?
“As a federating unit, I see practically nothing wrong with a people having something tangible as a unifying factor just as the Ijaws have Haaaaaaaaaan Izon, Aaaaaan Izon. Why hasn’t the government questioned the Ijaws about Aaaaaan Izon? Besides, the fact that we also have the Isoko people as part of Bayelsa State, Izons or Ijaws should have a more unifying structure that will galvanize the people to greater heights. I am also not concerned about what others may say on the issue because people are free to differ in views. Again, like the recent declaration by Ogoni, all human beings are free to chose for themselves; even self determination.”
Another Bayelsan, John Idumange described as uncalled for the hallabaloo over Bayelsa’s adoption of her own coat of arm, flag and anthem citing the practice in the United States of America which is also a federal state.
“It only demonstrates that Bayelsa has come of age as a state within Nigerian federation”.
Under a federal system of government, component states are allowed to have their own flag, coat of arm and anthem except printing their own currency or own armed forces. In the United States of America which is riveting model of federalism, all states; California, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, New Mexico, Florida among others have their flags flown along with the American national flag,” he said.
Saturday Vanguard investigation however revealed that the Bayelsa State Flag, Coat of Arms and Anthem Bill 2012 stipulates fine for any person or group of persons who flies or exhibits the state flag or coat of arms with addition or alterations or adds to, deface and or willfully destroys the state coat of arms and or flag; or adds to or alters the wordings of the state anthem shall be guilty of an offence under this law and shall upon conviction be sentenced to 6 months imprisonment with an option of N100,000.00 fine or both.
The offences under this law the bill added shall be triable by a Chief Magistrate in the state.