It was instructive that Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State had to add that important line in his state broadcast on the sudden demise of Chief Deipreye Alamieyeseigha that people should refrain from politicizing the tragedy.
Since the news of his death became public knowledge on Saturday, October 10, 2015, political comments from individuals, various organisations and institutions conveyed different dimensions to the larger-than-life personality of the first civilian governor of Bayelsa State. Perhaps inevitably there were comments that went against the grain such as the view that “bad politics” hurried him to the grave.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) also had their own differing take on the episode particularly over the purported extradition notice allegedly influenced by the latter. Thus in an environment where nearly everything gets politicized, Alamieyeseigha’s death soon literally got soaked in politics. This is why Dickson’s admonition of non-politicization of a collective grief was timely: interpreted to mean that the Bayelsa State government would not want any untoward incident precipitated by political considerations to foul the air even as he noted that the late Ijaw leader was a man of peace and, as such, the people, especially the youths, should give peace a chance in all matters concerning the death.
That his death has occasioned such political disputations is perhaps also inevitable given Alamieyeseigha’s adventures in the political terrain. Politics was simply his life. And he stood tall whether you liked his politics or not.
From his strategic roles in the birth of Bayelsa State to deep involvement in Ijaw nationalism, to being the first civilian governor of the state, who actually appointed former President Goodluck Jonathan his deputy, to being the acclaimed governor-general of the Ijaw nation and his staunch support for Dickson till this point of his re-election, the late Alamieyeseigha was a political enigma.
No wonder, Dickson said Alamieyeseigha’s death was a “personal loss”. The governor, immediately he received the news of Alamieyeseigha’s death was grief-stricken.
“As you all know, Chief Alamieyeseigha, in his life, apart from serving our nation as a military officer, also dedicated himself to passionate and committed service to Bayelsa State and the entire Ijaw nation, both as our first governor and in other capacities and laid a very solid foundation upon which all subsequent governors continued to build. He was a passionate and committed Ijaw man, an Ijaw nationalist and Nigerian at the same time”, Dickson said in his state broadcast.
To fully understand Dickson’s loss in Alamieyeseigha’s death is to correlate their politics. Far beyond what may be differences in the general notion of development and approaches, both leaders were united on one issue: pan-Ijaw consciousness and development. They were great students of history, idealistic, vocal and deep-rooted to appreciate the importance of localizing their big ideas to liberate their people from ignorance, economic and political subjugation as we have had in the sorry story of the Niger Delta where Oloibiri remains a gaping wound in the nation’s consciousness and a nagging metaphor of a wasted inheritance.
From this standpoint, therefore, Alamieyeseigha’s staunch support for Dickson’s administration, over time and campaign for his re-election, can be understood simply on conviction and the fulfillment of a people’s destiny bound together by a common will and purpose.
It is the same fundamental philosophy that was responsible for Alamieyeseigha’s cult-like following across the Niger Delta where he earned the sobriquet, Governor-General of the Ijaw nation. His politics was far-rooted in the people whose abiding, fundamental interest formed the essence of his leadership. He was ever conscious of his Ijaw blood such that, in whatever he did, the Ijaw interest must be uppermost, appreciated and recognized. Of course, as a good student of our nation’s history with specific attachment to the grave injustice suffered in the Niger Delta over the years, Alamieyeseigha’s sense of logic and the Ijaw affirmation in his politics becomes a study in politics of realism. After all, it is said that all politics is local.
It was the great nationalist, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who famously said that he had to first be a good Yoruba man to be a good Nigerian. This is not to glorify ethnicity but to draw our attention to the need for us to establish such a strong filial bond with our immediate people, appreciating their stories and struggles and being there as a genuine leader to attend to their concerns.
Alamieyesiegha fitted this bill in so many ways and, as such, the title, “Governor-General”, was well deserved. He was a man of the people, which interestingly was extended to the national level as a bridge-builder and a nationalist.
As the Countryman Governor noted: “At his passing, our country has lost a great servant and bridge-builder. Our state and Ijaw nation has lost a foremost statesman and leader per excellence of his generation. Our government has lost a major pillar of support and encouragement. Chief Alamieyeseigha in his lifetime was a good man and he touched a lot of lives. He was amiable, generous and kind. All those who knew him can attest to this, and they have suffered a huge loss as I have done. And I have lost at a personal level a great leader, guide and father. I have suffered a personal loss of monumental proportion”.
In his message of condolence to the family of the deceased, former President Goodluck Jonathan expressed grief over Alamieyeseigha’s demise, describing him as a leader who was committed to the development of his state and his native Ijaw land.
Jonathan, who was deputy governor to Alamieyeseigha, added that he had a vision for the mainstreaming of his people into the national development agenda.
However not all those who commiserated with the family were modest like the former president in their “post-mortem” messages. Many indicated their displeasure over the insinuation that the purported notice, allegedly influenced by the leadership of the APC in Bayelsa State in connivance with some top shots in Abuja, to the effect that Alamieyesegha was to be extradited to the United Kingdom on the request of the Crown Prosecution Service, led to his death. It was argued that the alleged fresh request for his extradition over a case decided ten years ago probably aggravated his health condition and eventual slip into a comma and the sad end.
To them this deadly move by the APC was naked politics which should be condemned in strong words.
This line is not easily dismissed as its purveyors emphasize the rapid sequence of events, of his stay in Dubai and hurried return to Nigeria, the widely reported extradition notice, the sudden deterioration of his health and subsequent death.
Even while calling for calm and peace among the people, Dickson noted the palpable public feeling that Alamieyeseigha’s death had a relationship with the alleged extradition notice from the U.K.
The governor’s intervention was, however, preceded by messages of condemnation by those who felt enraged by the extradition thesis. A socio-cultural organization, Izon Brotherhood in the Diaspora, in its statement issued in Germany but widely distributed to media channels across the world, said the APC should be held responsible for Alamieyeseigha’s sudden death.
Spokesman for the group, Pere Jones, an architect, lambasted the APC for its alleged role in the purported extradition notice and the deteriorated health of the late Ijaw leader.
More condemnations were to follow as other pan-Ijaw groups registered their concerns in different messages to the effect that they felt obliged as Ijaws that their leader was hurried to death through official manipulation and political subterfuge. The common denominator was the extradition claim.
In its statement, the Ijaw Heritage and Cultural Club in the United States said it was shocked beyond words by the news of the sudden death of DSP Alamieteseigha and regretted the circumstances surrounding it.
The statement, signed by Prof. Julius Eteli, said Alamieyeseigha’s death was curious given the fact that he regularly received medical treatment abroad.
It claimed the alleged extradition notice was targeted at witch-hunting the late former governor, asking: “Why wait all these years until now to issue such a notice?”
Similar emotion-laden statement was released by the Izon Diaspora Association in Ireland, expressing disgust over the death of Almieyeisegha. The group said the sad development was a calculated move by the ruling APC government to silence the Ijaw movement, knowing that Alamieyeseigha represented the soul and moving spirit of the Ijaw movement.
“Now that he has been taken out, we Ijaws must fight against this injustice. Now is the time to unite, come together and fight against this calculated and very deadly plot by the APC government to deplete our ranks”, convener and leader of the group, Comrade George Magbisa, stated.
Analysts are of the opinion that this sentiment may play a major role in determining the fortunes of the contenders in the December 5 governorship election in Bayelsa State as the outcome will likely swing in favour of the ruling PDP, a party the late Alamieyeseigha supported with all his might till his death.
Alamieyesigha actually alluded to this feeling during Dickson’s declaration when he said:”PDP is synonymous with the Ijaw nation. We have adopted PDP and this party will continue to rule the state”.
All things considered, Alamieyeseigha’s comments and death may inevitably rouse the consciousness of the Ijaw people to see the APC as unworthy in spite of the need for political pluralism, a position echoed by Asari Dokubo to the effect that the forthcoming election will be more of a pride to the Ijaw people even as effective leadership is key.
The Governor General will surely not be forgotten in a hurry.
*Deinbofa, an environmental activist, lives in Yenagoa