By GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE BENIN

TONY AFEJUKU is a Professor of English and Literature in University of Benin. A  former ASUU leader,  Afejuku, in this interview, says he is happy in his “ little world of poverty.” He also speaks on the recent sacking of some Itsekiri villages in Warri North local government area  of Delta State, his perception of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan  and the need for President Goodluck Jonathan to do things rightly.

Excerpts:

You are a man of many parts: poet, critic, scholar, educationist, journalist, activist, trade unionist, mystic, humanist, public intellectual, etc. Why don’t you think of going into politics to help your people and Nigeria? Your experiences in these spheres would be of great benefit to us.

Politics is not my calling. I don’t have talents for intrigues and lies. Every man has his gifts. Intrigues are not part of mine. I am a straight talker, a straight shooter. Bluntness is part of my talents. Betrayal, back-biting, back-stabbing  in order to gain this or that advantage or to scheme a qualified person out of contention or a position he is clearly and eminently qualified for are foreign to my God-given peculiarities.

*Afejuku

I am not Janus-faced. Let me use my present talents to the best of my abilities and to the glory of my Maker. Politics is not the only way to help mankind. Give Caesar his due, and God His. The typical Nigerian politician never says what he means, and never means what he says. Politics, Nigerian type? No way. I am happy in my little world of happy poverty. I can’t be a party to inflated and over-inflated contracts. Obviously, I must therefore be a  danger to the Nigerian politician of the current dispensation. Leave me to be a teacher who never can be bribed with a manor house or  a whole village. I am happy in my little world of poverty.

You are a very loud critic of President Jonathan. What do you have against the President from your region? Do you dislike him because he is Ijaw?

I don’t dislike President Jonathan. By my calling I must say truth to power. He is the first Ph.D holder  to preside over the affairs of Nigeria. He is also the first person from the Niger Delta and the first Ijaw to be in charge of Nigeria’s affairs. We wanted him to correct  the  errors of the past rulers, justly, so that we can nod  in affirmation that a Ph.D holder  like me and a fellow Niger Delta man came on board to teach others who were there before him how  to  do the job.

We wanted him to be the gem Nigeria had been waiting for. We assumed that he would be the EXEMPLARY leader we all clamoured for. He is not and we are still in the woods. The northerners are even saying now that they will never cede power to the South again, all because of the way he is  carrying on.  I don’t dislike him because he is Ijaw. It might you to know that I have Ijaw friends who are equally not happy with his presidential posture.

Recently, some Itsekiri communities in Warri North local government area of Delta State were allegedly  attacked by some Ijaw youths, leaving on their  trail destruction of lives and properties. What is your reaction?

To begin with, the action of the attackers is, to put it mildly, disappointing in the sense that whatever grievances the so-called Egbema youths had should have been resolved in a lawful and orderly manner. But we are in an age of neo-barbarism. The Niger Delta, in fact, Nigeria as a whole is going through transition, the kind of transition that respects no law and order in all frontiers, hence the acts of barbarism we have just witnessed.

The governments at the local, state and federal levels should do everything to  track down the attackers. If they don’t do so now, another wrong signal would be sent and more acts of barbarism would be committed. Nobody should take  government for granted anymore. But do we really have a government? Do we really have an effective government that should really live up to its billing and responsibilities? That being the case,  I would like to commend the way the  Itsekiri, my people, have reacted. They restrained themselves  from making it  a tit-for-tat. I also would commend them for the comments and advertorials in which they have drawn  attention  to the  aggression.

The complaint  of the Ijaws of Warri North has been that elective and appointive positions have been lopsided despite  the fact that the local government is  45 percent  Ijaws and 55 percent  Itsekiris.

Honesty speaking, I don’t understand  what they mean. Their ancestors lived in peace with our ancestors. Why  is it that those complaining  can’t do the same thing now with the Itsekiri in their homeland? Who owns the land? Are the people complaining  saying that Itsekiri should not be in full  control of their God-given homeland of Warri as other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in Nigeria are in control of their respective homelands? In any case, if their complaints are genuine, can’t they seek redress in appropriate quarters like the court of law. Or can’t they engage in  lobbying that will benefit democratic principles and doctrines and their status as citizens of civilized communities?

Now I must commend the representative of Warri Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Daniel Reyenieju, for what he has done so far. I want to believe that through his action, the House of Representatives has taken a very civilized posture on the  on the Itsekiri people. Itsekiris may be a minority people in their territory, but they deserve to live and be in charge of their affairs. I think the House of Reps has endorsed the Itsekiris  right to live unmolested in their homeland when the members unanimously condemned the unprovoked attack on my people.

But some of the Ijaw leaders came out openly to condemn the action  of the youths.

I read some statements issued by some of these Ijaw leaders. But I have not seen any statement, even a mild one, by the big Ijaw leaders denouncing the attack. At least, for this reason I, as an Itsekiri man, will not be foolish to accept everything the Ijaw leaders you referred to said. If they meant what they said, they should help the Itsekiris and the government to fish out the culprits from their dens.

One of the issues raised by the Ijaws in Warri North is the need for a round table conference on how to share the political and elective positions in the area.

There is nothing wrong in that but what are they prepared to give? Must Itsekiris keep meeting the demands of compromise in their homeland? Are they saying that the Itsekiris are not entitled to have people that will govern them rightly or wrongly in their homeland?  What are they bringing to the round table conference they are calling for?

Governor Uduaghan did say, in his reaction  to the crisis, that he will not  take  a  decision on thecrisis based on sentiments.  What is your take in this?

I support the governor. He also said that he will not negotiate under duress.  I endorse fully his submission. But the governor should have gone ahead to ask: Why is it that this only happens in Itsekiri territories? What are the aggresors  trying to prove? In Warri South-west, the havoc against Itsekiris is still very much green in our memories. In Warri South, we also know what Itsekiris are experiencing. As I said before, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

What is the way forward?

The way forward is to preach the gospel of peace that borders on fairness, justice and the doctrine of do-unto-others-as-you-will-be-done-by. Might is not right and it will never be right.  We have a lot to gain by toeing the path of peace that prospers all.  Ijaws should let Itsekiris live  and Itsekiris should let Ijaws live in their respective homelands as worthy neighbours committed to the great ideal of prosperous justice, love, fairness and togetherness. And we need to realize that he who is strong today is strong because who will beat him has not come.

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