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Leave the Ijaws alone

RECENTLY two Ijaws citizens have come under the light of the agents charged with corruption-Mrs. Deziani Allison – Madukwe, and Chief D. S. P Alamieyesiegha. One was arrested in London plushest address at no1 Park lane, another one was being sought out by the British police to answer charges of money laundering.

This piece in no way condones their alleged corrupt practices and no one should read it as such. For the benefit of doubt Mrs. Deziani Allison-Madueke was charged for corruption; the NNPC over which she presided was the Sodom and Gomorrah of corruption and the stories about how allegedly corrupt NNPC was a legion.

As for Governor DSP Alamieyesiegha, he ran away from Nigeria to undergo a tummy tuck operation in Germany, when the warrant for his arrest was issued in Dubai, he ran to London where he was thoroughly watched by the Secret Services of Britain. He left London, according to some sources, with the active connivance of the British authorities, for Cote de Ivorie en route to Nigeria. On arrival to Nigeria he was promptly arrested by EFCC.

But he spent several months in the hospital in Lagos and Abuja before he was released. A couple of years later he was pardoned by President Goodluck Jonathan. About a fourth night ago he was said to be wanted by the British authorities for money laundering. He has not been enjoying good health, although the incessant and unrelenting pursuit by the British and other authorities could not have improved his health. He died soon after.

Let’s go back to the antecedent of Alamieyesiegha’s impeachment.  A good precedent in law is that, although an enthusiastic officer may pursue a case with all due diligence, he may not do so while breaking the law. Alamieyesiegha impeachment was a travesty of the Nigeria constitution. He may have been a thief but the law demands proof in a proper court by the prosecution that the culprit is indeed guilty.

The impeachment provision in our constitution is antithetical to that very constitution which guarantees to every individual the right of justice. Mr. DSP Alamieyesiegha was dragooned into impeachment by over zealous EFCC members, on the order of higher authorities. There are 24 members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly.

The EFCC simply picked up all of them and asked them to account for the one billion Naira constituency project they signed for, they were all locked up at 15 Awolowo road and asked to sign a declaration condemning the government or explain a one billion naira constituency project each received in their states.

This declaration formed the basis of the impeachment, which lasted eight hours from when they returned, to Yenogoa in Bayelsa. The House formed a committee to impeach, asked the Chief Judge to draw up changes and set up an impeachment tribunal which reported to the Chief Judge who rubber stamped this Kangaroo court.

Our constitution although is a legal document, is written in simple English which could be understood even by the near illiterate. Can impeachment, proceed if it does ask for a committee to draw up the charges, it does ask for the intervention of the chief judge but it further asks, as is normal in other cases, for the accused to be informed of the charges against him on both occasions and more importantly that the accused must be given a right of reply within 21days after the charges preferred against him have been published.

None of this was done in Bayelsa. Mr. Goodluck was the Deputy Governor and he saw all these illegalities yet he accepted them so that he may be Governor. When he became President he attempted to right a palpable wrong. He granted Governor Alamieyesiegha a pardon. The impeachment of Alamieyesiegha took all of seven hours from when the assembly men came back to Bayelsa. Does this mean that the Governor was not corrupt? Not at all. But it does mean that our Law enforcement agencies cannot in the pursuit of a particular case commit a plethora of offence and get away with them. Most Nigerians have a simplistic view of matters such as this: but the man was corrupt etc. he should be in jail. Should this be the case then for all the Governors, Presidents, Vice President we have ever had, should on the say so of Nigerians be in jail.

The case against Alamieyesiegha wasn’t proved and can never be proved since he is now dead. Many people would be puzzled as to my stand in this issue clearly; they would say Alamieyesiegha was guilty of corruption. Why waste government’s time and money to prove the clearly evident? You do it because it’s the basis of Democracy- a man is free, innocent until proven guilty. Alamieyesiegha was one of 36 thriving governors, one of thousands thieving politicians; his death in no way or reduces the culpability of the others. Alamieyesiegha was hounded to death because he was a minority.

Deziani’s case is more difficult to defend because so far it is going according to Law. Many Ijaws have complained about her implacable hatred of her fellow ethnic comperes; that her shadow fell far away from the Ijaws: her favour went to many non Ijaws all of whom are lining up to put bigger nails on her coffin.

I am on record of saying that the job was too big for her, just as Jonathan’s job, turned out to be big for him. She inherited a broken NNPC, totally unfit for purpose. She had no one to advise her on what to do; those who advised her became instant enemies. She worked in a kleptocracy and there was no cause for her to distinguish herself in that group except maybe excel in their peculiar calling.

Her appointment confirms a simple fact- the International Oil Companies (IOC) are inherently in an antagonist relationship to NNPC. This is not that bad but one cannot keep going to those one regulates to pick the head of NNPC. Her knowledge of the business was skimpy but does she deserve her present treatment?

To answer such question we have to delve into history. Oil which though no more than 10% of GDP produces over 90% of funds for the federal government which then divides the proceeds among the 36 states. The governors of the nine oil producing states are the super stars of Committee of Governors (COGs). As far back as 2001 when oil prices started to rise the political Mecca of politicians was Port Harcourt, Uyo, Asaba, Bayelsa etc. No political party holds convention anywhere else but in these states and in Abuja where the tab was picked up by the oil producing state Governors. These states had governors who all wished to progress further to be President or Vice President; all were promised such reward for funding the party.

There is nothing in this world simpler than blowing up the ego of an already egotistical governor. The Governors were the building blocks on the tracks to the Presidential race and there was no lack of supporters egging them on.

It was indeed for this reason that made the President refuse to name a minister for oil: instead he named an Adviser who lived in Vienna and come from the north.

Had he been alive Mr. Buhari would have had a fight in his hand to get the nomination. Now, comes Deziani who obviously had no interest to be the president but supremely interested in Mr. Goodluck, if the periodic scream of Patience is to be believed. If she had presidential ambition she hid them very well. But there was no doubt that she was the most powerful minister and to cross her was to lose your job. Her mooring were strong in the presidency and she strengthened them with other familiar relationships.

That Patience was unable to unseat her is an indication of her strength. Every other minister who crossed her had reason to apologize. Her strength was with Mr. Jonathan and once he lost the election she was totally at sea with a host of enemies. She never tried to build a power base or a constituency convinced, as most of her colleagues were, that PDP would win that election. How could they lose with a war chest of trillions? My point, however, is not to defend her but to point out the sorry state of South-South geopolitical area since the demise of Alams and Ibori and Odili. These three were in charge of funding PDP and is coterie of politicians.

They were no more corrupt than all other governors, all politically exposed people who worked a system that was mired in corruption.  If this is so, why the concentration on punishment on people from South-South? Ibori, Alams, Igbinedion, Deziani etc. (Peter was able to act an injunction to stop inquiries into his affairs otherwise he would have been in the soup also). If all of Nigeria was corrupt, why select for opprobrium only those from the South-South? There was a South-South NSA who died an ignoble death. Nearly all the politicians from the area are on flight because no one would protect them. I do not want the mistaken impression that I condone the corruption of South-South politicians, but if the truth be told, they were no worse than their counterparts the nation over.

Indeed if they were to speak about how much help they gave to the PDP then more people would join them in their lonely cells in prison. The South-South lacks political cohesion, political power and political gravitas. They never learnt how to build power structure, seduced as they were by the praise singers who came with Lorries to carry away the loot from South-South. The area remains the least developed in Nigeria, to the shame of all those who held power from the area.

The Ijaws are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria but the weakest, politically. They are larger than the Tivs or Idomas or Igallas all of whom are better politically organized than the Ijaws. The Ijaws suffer from the clear jealousy of other groups who continue to exploit them and their divisions. If one is blessed, as the Ijaws are with oil, then a certain jealousy of that wealth cannot be ignored but look how miserably poor the people are and how despoiled their area has been?

Who is the rich Ijaw man? How many of them have been in the oil business and profited from it? The Federal Government had a policy that all industries established in a state would attract a 10% of ownership for the State housing the Industry. Thus, Anambra got 10% of Anamco. Lagos 10% of Volkswagen (VW) and 30% of Julius Berger (JB). Oyo – 10% of Leyland, Bauchi – 10% of Styr, Kaduna 10% of Peugeot etc.

Does River State have 10% of the fertilizer plant, 10% of Petro Chemicals, and 10% of the Refineries? Does Delta own 10% of the Steel plant, 10% of the Refinery etc? When these questions are asked a perfectly sensible answer is given – the Refinery, the fertilizer plant, Petro Chemical is a product of oil which is 100% Federal Property. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable until you consider the word property?  What does it mean? If you can give Kano, Lagos, Oyo, Anambra etc 10% of a factory – is that not property?

My point is that the sins of a few Ijaw people cannot be used as the explanation of their character. The second point is that they are politically weak and exploited and what other groups get away with the Ijaws somehow cannot get away with the same sins. If all are thieves the Ijaw have stolen no more than others.

Moreover there is more to the Ijaws than the horrible examples those who held office and stole had displayed. There are many Ijaws that have served the Federal and State Governments without descending to the depths of those being charged at the moment. Those Ijaws include W.O. Briggs, Dr. Nabo Graham Douglas, Prof. Tam David West, Prof. Tekena Tamuno, Chief Dappa Biriye, Mr. Ajumogobia, Melford Okilo, and countless many more. Finally the Ijaws condemn with every inch of their being the failures of their own sons and daughters. But they demand, as the Holy Book says, remove the beam in your eyes before you can see the mote in mine.

I have been accused of being like Mark Anthony making a speech after Caesar’s assassination “I come to bury Caesar, and not to praise him.” As far as corruption is concerned Mr. President must use the same broom to sweep it out in both the PDP and the APC. We wait with baited breadth.

The Ijaws are bigger than the Urhobos, the Tiv, the Idomas, the Ibibios yet they lack the power of these groups. The oil that feeds the Federal Government is mainly from Ijaw land and waters. Has anyone thought of how much it would cost to clean these lands and waters? The reality is that when the oil dries up, the IOCs will pick up and leave. This has been the lot of small powerless people the world over – look at what has happened to Southern Liousiana where the blacks and poor whites live.

Less than 30 years ago there was one petrol station in Yenogoa in the whole of Bayelsa. There was none anywhere else: any in Buguma, Tombia, Bakana, Abonnema, Okrika, even Bonny.

None in Brass, Nembe, Oporokuma etc. In all these places till to-day Kerosene, which is their main fuel for cooking, costs more than anywhere else in Nigeria? Children still go to school in canoes and buildings are still on sticks jutting out of the water. There is nowhere in Ijaw land with portable water to drink. We drink from wells.

The toilets are still at the water side, next to where they bathe. This degree of poverty is no excuse for the excesses of our ministers and Governors who obviously have not learnt the art of hiding their wealth. What wealth is there to hide when 80 per cent of the buildings are made of mangrove trees. There is no need to go to Brazil to see how the natives live – just a few miles out of Port Harcourt or Yenagoa or Bomadi or Patani and you are in Ijaw country. The water has the inevitable shine of oil spillages.

The people stand by the waterside and watch their land being drained of its wealth as the service boats and badges speed along to destinations unknown. The Ijaws are a modern misfit; cannot move speedily because the boats cost too much. Cannot keep nurses and doctors in the cottage hospitals built because these people have no after work recreation;  there is no recreation club in any Ijaw town that I know, so no football, tennis, billiards etc.

The people are just emerging from ravages that insect parasites visit on their hairs, their legs and feet – lice, jiggers etc. The men have to go further afield for fishing; the women sell next to nothing. Yet their culture is rich and calls for wealth. The Chiefs are so poor that they are no better than beggars and their Local Government Chairmen know this and treat them with the ignominy beggars deserve. Chiefs go to parties with plastic bags to carry away food and drinks. The elegant chiefs dresses many see when these chiefs go to Abuja, Port Harcourt, Asaba, Yenogoa – are a chimera – a phantom of an age long gone to which they pretend to succeed. No serious Ijaw man stays in his village – to do what?

He may have a decent house in Port Harcourt, Yenegoa, Asaba, Warri and visits home like a holiday maker at the weekends to see what he can get.

If an Ijaw man is president or Governor he will try to sleep with five or six women every two or three hours of the day. He will drink, usually with his friends, with complete abandon. It is not that he does not realize the weight of his office. He does. But it does not matter to his psyche. We drink with one glass out of a basin of home-made spirit.

If it is a woman and she has money she will spend it like water. She will order containers from China that will seat for six years without opening it. If she sees still new things she will order more; she has no recollection what she has ordered or how much. She will beg her husband to kingdom come for more money for more orders. If she is rich enough she will buy houses in almost all cities and may never enter one of them. She will have no idea where her documents are.

All the above is obviously a caricature. Even so, given the resources he so abundantly has, if Nigeria’s law on minerals were different, the Ijaws would react differently.

In conclusion, the Ijaws have to stop being small minded and come together. The Federal Government destroyed an Ijaw town which today remains destroyed. If we apply the same rule, how much of the North East, Niger, Abuja etc would be destroyed, flattened, because of Boko Haram? The Ijaws were being punished for failure to stop an insurgency.

The Ijaws are consumed by small minded jealousies: – Okrika vs Ogoloma vs Bakana; inter chieftaincy fights in Bonny and Finima; Abonnema vs Buguma, Nembe vs Brass and so forth. These divisions’ saps Ijaw power and make them open to exploitation.  Their land is polluted, their rivers are non habitable, their people remain the poorest; the pollution in Ijaw land cannot be ended given decades of pollution by oil and gas; their livelihood is precarious. And now to the rest of Nigeria, the Ijaws are saying that no one has the right to ask an Ijaw man “what have you done with the money we gave to you” When last I checked, you cannot give me what is mine.

Dr. Dele Cole, a former ambassador, wrote from Lagos.


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