By Ogaga Ifowodo
OKOWA’S running mate: Clark, Manager, Tompolo in a fierce battle,” so screamed the headline (Vanguard, 20 December 2014). I saw at once the chronicle of another humiliation foretold: of the three personalities mentioned, none is Isoko. But one should not deduce the facts of a newspaper story from its headline. So to the story I went but before another word,the context for my conclusion. I had recently come to the view that the Isoko people are poorly served by their leaders and expressed it openly on April 7 when I declared my intention (aborted precisely eight months later on December 7 at the APC primaries) to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.
Here is what I said in my declaration statement, published as “Isokoland deserves [a] better deal” in The Guardian April 8, 2014): “It is true that all of Nigeria suffers as much as we do, all except the treasury looters and their immediate circles of family and friends . . . Yet, the agony of Isokoland is special, being a major oil and gas producing part of the Niger Delta whose natural wealth alone bakes and re-bakes the so-called ‘National Cake’ which the rest of Nigeria shares among its corrupt power elite without as much as a crumb ever falling to us. . . . Other than a few post offices, successive Nigerian governments . . . have not thought Isokoland deserving of a single act of acknowledgement that we are part of the nation. None of us, man or woman, has been deemed worthy of a ministerial or ambassadorial position, chairmanship of a governing board, headship of a federal ministry, department or agency (even of those specifically set up to address the marginalisation and ecological devastation of the Niger Delta). In short, to the Nigerian state, Isokoland is a ‘dark region,’ void of people save its oil, and its gas some of which is still flared today to further pollute their air and water!But part of the fault is ours. For too long the Isokos have been content to suffer in silence. While others, even those who have ruled and ruined Nigeria before and after independence, scream at the rooftop about their alleged marginalisation, the Isokos weep into their hands or cry themselves to sleep.”
I came to this unflattering self-criticism by way of two simple questions: “Who speaks for the Isokos? Who is willing to act on their behalf?” Selflessly, I might have added. I answered thus: “Too often, those who purport to speak or act say and do just enough to be noticed and settled.” Throughout this painful inward look, Cassius’s words to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar buzzed in my head: “The fault is not in our stars but in us that we are underlings.” I restated this view of “the appalling state of the Isoko nation” in my tribute to the late Dr. Abel Ubeku (Vanguard, 18 June 2014), lamenting that since the death of the immortal James Ekpre Otobo, the Isokos have lacked a true leader of stature, and hence their “extreme and spiteful marginalisation to the point of ostracisation from Nigeria.”
And, consequently, their failure to get due respect and recognition even in their own state, never mind the nation at large. Either due to a crippling case of what might be called”minority complex” or a communal temperament more attuned to peaceful co-existence than aggressive self-interest,the Isokos seem to lack ambition. How else, for instance, can it be explained that none of its self-vaunted political office holders who love to boast of their power and connections (one in particular is fond of telling tales of his closeness to President Jonathan) ever thinks of running for Governor?Even in a year when there wasn’t enough space along the highways or at roundabouts for the billboards of aspirants to Government House, Asaba?
So I read the “Isoko nation kicks” section of the report with keen interest. And there I learnt that Isoko “elders and leaders of PDP” expected the deputy governorship to be given to them as a prize for good-neighbourliness. Because since 2003 they had”continuously conceded” the Delta South senatorial seat to their Ijaw brothers. And “generously conceded the governorship to our Itsekiri brothers” in 2007. Therefore, “the position of Deputy Governor should be reciprocally ceded to the Isoko nation.”Hardly fighting words. It fell to the Isoko Development Union to make a more assertive claim. Through Major-General Paul Omu (retd), its president, IDU declared that “only the political party that appoints an Isoko son or daughter as deputy governor will have the vote of our people,” adding for emphasis that “The consequence of this should not be lost to any discerning mind.”
For a people who boast the second oil field after Oloibiri (Uzere in 1959), and who contribute20 percent of Delta State’s quota of the oil and gas that fund the profligacy of Nigeria, being reduced to begging for their rights speaks volumes about their politics. And now that they have been overlooked yet again by not having the deputy governorship “conceded” to them, perhaps they will begin to take themselves more seriously and resolve to end their unending humiliation.The consequences of quiet acquiescence after being placated with one or two second- and third-tier state or even federal appointments should not be lost on any discerning mind among them.