By Samuel Oyadongha
It promised to be a memorable event. At the end, it not only awakened old passions and pains but also ignited fresh hope. For the first time since the return to civil rule, Ijaw sons and daughters, drawn from all walks of life and led by former President Goodluck Jonathan, converged on Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, on Wednesday, to fashion out a roadmap for a credible governorship election due to hold in the state later this year, as well as chart a new course for Bayelsa which had witnessed bloody polls in recent times.
The programme, organised by the Ijaw Elders Forum, Lagos, in collaboration with Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA), Ijaw Nation Forum (INF), Ijaw Women Connect (IWC) and G-24 Embasara Foundation, was to build a consensus and ensure that no life was lost in the run up to and throughout the November 16 governorship election in the state.
It was also designed to change the trajectory of unaccountable leadership, leading to the production of the Ijaw Charter and the Code of Ethics, Leadership and Governance, which overall intent is to entrench the fundamentals of good, accountable, transparent and participatory governance to engender peace, security, social inclusion and justice for sustainable economic growth and development in Bayelsa.
Jonathan, while speaking at the occasion, admonished the political class to shun violence if the state must catch up with the rest of the civilised world.
His words, “We must play down violence in politics. There is no nation in the world that developed through violence. When we look at the most developed countries in the world, those are the most peaceful.
“So if Bayelsa must develop, there must be peace in this state and we must start from the political process because most of the criminal gangs that have emerged in this state grew through political activities. We politicians use them as boys and thugs and, at the end of election, it becomes a problem to manage them.
“So, for those who wants to rule, they must try as much as they can to play down violence.
“If God wants you to be our governor or hold any office in government, it is not because of the gun you carried. Don’t be deceived that it is because of the arms you carried; it is the will of God.
“Ijaw Elders’ Forum and others should encourage us to meet from time to time, so that it gets to a time that we shall stand and tell anyone who wants to govern us that we can’t accept this structure.
“If people must come here to invest, then Bayelsa must be peaceful. I appreciate what the government of this state is doing especially in the area of education. Educating our youth is even more important than road because if we don’t educate them, some of them will become criminals.
“What you leave behind sometimes is not about the big houses you built or the money you had but how creative you were, what innovation you brought to government. As long as you can influence another person, you are a leader. You don’t need to be a president or governor before you are a leader.
“Politically, we should start at the local government level because if our local governments are not functioning in such a way to clean and cut ordinary grass, they are waiting for the state governor to do it, then we are not getting it right.
“Immediately the candidates are well defined, I think we should have a forum where they will tell us they will not engage in violence during the election because nobody expects us to praise him as governor of Bayelsa State if one person dies.”
In his remarks, Governor Dickson, who was represented by his deputy, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah (ret.), enumerated the achievements of his administration in all sectors and called on the incoming administration to push for restructuring.
The next government must push for restructuring where the federal government collects taxes from the resources in the Niger Delta. One person cannot be a leader; it is a collective role that should be played by everyone”, Dickson said.
“The essence of government is to provide service to the people and anyone coming should build on the foundation that they have seen”.
Also speaking, Chief Timi Alaibe, a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), whose speech like that of Jonathan hinged on peace, said the coming together as a people to discuss and take a common position on the leadership of the state and building consensus on peaceful conduct of the forth-coming governorship election was a demonstration of wisdom and foresight by the elders.
Alaibe, who seized the opportunity to explain why he jettisoned his governorship ambition in the past at the middle of the contest, said it was borne out of his desire to avoid bloodshed.
His words: “You will recall that since 2002 when I stepped into the political arena in Bayelsa State, I have had to pull back a few times in the middle of the contest – not out of timidity, weakness or lack of support base to win elections. Far from it!
“I have always taken such a decision when it became clear that for me to achieve my goal, I will have to swim in the blood of fellow citizens – by matching violence with violence. Instead of this, I have always chosen the path of peace at the risk of my political career.
“Why should I create orphans and widows just because I want political power? In the words of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan: is my personal ambition worth the blood of a fellow Ijaw man? The answer is no.
“My position has always been that politics or election is not worth dying and killing for. It is not war. Seeking election to public office does not mean we should kill anyone who stands in our way.
“Seeking election to public office means convincing opposing elements with superior arguments. We must not kill the electorate to win election. We can only persuade the electorate to have their votes”.
Alaibe argued that one of the factors that determined credibility of an election was non-violence during the campaigns and the actual voting, adding that elections would be devoid of violence with the enthronement of right leaders.
He said: “The question is: Why should a true Ijaw man murder a fellow Ijaw man just because he wants to win an election? Why should anyone procure arms and train people to kill their fellow human beings so as to pave way for their rise to power? Why would anyone desire to swim in the blood of fellow Ijaw men and women so as to attain exalted political offices? This is not just an abomination but an aberration.
“From our recent history, we have witnessed detonation of explosives at political campaign grounds, campaign offices and homes of political leaders and perceived political opponents. You are aware that I was, more than once, a victim of such senseless attack.
“The bloodshed and killings in the last elections were another example of disgraceful acts of violence. It must never happen again. “We must decide today to be decent in our campaigns, voting and in our reaction to the final election results.
“Election to public offices must be based on acceptability by the electorate. That acceptability is a product of popularity of ideas. Election must not be contested and won based on superiority of violence but on superiority of ideas. Ideas speak to the heart of the people. Ideas generate transformation. Violence brings about torture and death. The result of violence is bloodshed and tears.
“Election must not be contested and won based on the much-touted federal might. It must be contested and won based on the freewill of the voters. Every politics is local. Voters must not be intimidated by threat of violence. We must resolve today to depart from this path. Every democratic society is tailored after the ideological concept of freedom, welfare, equality, solidarity and progress”.
He added: “One way to stop election violence is to conceive an appropriate technology to support the human effort. Our lawmakers must come up with required legislations to ensure that voters buy into modern methods of electoral activities devoid of human errors. “When this happens, rigging will be eliminated. Undue human involvement in electoral processes will be reduced. Violence will be minimised.
“Our people must not be killed because they want to elect leaders of their choice by exercising their constitutional rights. We as politicians must learn from the errors of the past. Enough is enough. I am on the side of free and fair elections in November 2019. I am on the side of election without violence in November 2019.”
Participants, in a communiqué at the end of the meeting, noted that the recourse to violence during elections offers far-reaching negative consequences for development as it puts to question the critical essence of leadership in Bayelsa.
“A government of inclusivity and accountability requires the enthronement of transformational leadership that upholds meritocracy, capacity, competence, vision and drive”, the communiqué said.
“Every person aspiring to provide leadership, to be the governor of Bayelsa State must eschew violence at all times; we must not seek to be elected through the use of guns.
“The process of sensitizing all elders, senior citizens and aspirants being initiated by the Ijaw Elders Forum should be sustained,
“As enlightened people, we should seek transformational leadership that is integrative and complementary; leadership should not be by one person alone but must necessarily be complementary.
“Education is the most important weapon every leader should focus upon to advance a people-driven government. All aspirants for the office of governor of Bayelsa State must subscribe to the conduct of peaceful elections. No aspirant should seek to provide leadership and governance on the blood of fellow Bayelsans.
“Bayelsans must reject any candidate who employs violence, provides guns to kill fellow Ijaw men and women to gain ascendancy to the seat of power as governor of Bayelsa.”
Also present at the occasion were Gen. Paul Alaowei Toun, Chairman, BoT, Ijaw Professionals Association, Arc. Amagbe Denzil Kentebe, Chairman, BoT, G24 Embasara Foundation and former Executive Secretary, Nigeria Content Development Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Chief Atamuno Atamuno, Vice Chairman, Ijaw Elders Forum, Lagos, King Amalate Johnnie Turner, Dr. Erepamo F. Osaisai, Chief Timi Alaibe and Mrs Ebizi Ndiomu-Brown amongst others.