By Omeiza Ajayi
Wabiye Idoniboyeobu, a political activist, is one of the leaders of the youths of Ijaw Nation. He says the Ijaw have not had a fair deal in the Nigerian federation, having been left to lick their wounds due to the exploitation of their oil resources. In this interview, he speaks on how to reverse the trend and the role the Ijaw Youth Congress, IYC, can play in that regard.
Ijaws are spread beyond the Niger Delta to even riverine areas of South-West. Why does it seem difficult to forge a united front?
The easiest way to promote unity is to develop a common goal. A goal that will benefit everyone. Unity is two ways: something has to attract the unity and someone has to be attracted to unity.
The only way to do this is to focus more on what unites us. The Ijaw people are unique people and wherever we are found, from the creeks of Arogbo in Ondo State to the Olodiama Kingdom in Edo State, we are one and the same. Our rich cultural heritage is one of our major similarities. Focus on this and centre attractive ideas around it and Ijaw from all corners will key in without sentiments.
There was this accusation that former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan turned a national mandate to serve the narrow interests of the Ijaw nation. What is your take?
President Johnathan was a nationalist. As good as this may sound, it haunts him till date. We must understand that the Nigerian state has so many interests and as a Nigerian president you immediately cease to be an Ijaw man. This, President Jonathan did. I remember when the former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, was squaring up to the then-president. Many used it for their political gains but at the end, both men agreed to disagree. As brothers, we must learn to work together, accept criticisms and be committed to join hands with like minds to move the Ijaw nation forward.
As a Kalabari man, I am in the race to lead the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, because I want to push the Ijaw nation forward, not the Kalabari clan. The successful growth of the Ijaws will, in turn, reflect on my Kalabari people. This applies to the country at large. Jonathan focused on the mandate given to him, but the previous years of neglect and oppression meted on the Ijaw people made us blind to reality and we overwhelmed the former president with our expectations. If he did what you are claiming, we would have completed the East-West Road, and a fully functional Kalabari link road by now. None of these is here
Do you share the view that an agency like NDDC has lost focus in addressing the needs of oil-producing states?
For me, I don’t think the problem has to do with the focus of the agency. I believe it is our focus as a people that needs questioning. Within the last two decades, the NDDC has been run by various leaderships. These individuals and their advisers are picked from within us. If after years of reshuffling and trying various options, the NDDC is still proud of 1km roads, Water Hyacinth jobs and stranded students in oversea institutions; that is the misplaced focus of us as a people. The choices and ideas came from within us. Leadership is a reflection of the people. As a people, we have to start this purge from within. There lies the problem and the solution.
Why are you in the race for the leadership of the IYC?
The real question should be, why shouldn’t I be in the race? For clarity, I will start by reminding you that the Ijaw Youth Council, as the name implies is a pressure group of Ijaw youths from around the world. The group was set up to coordinate the struggle of the Ijaw people for self- determination and justice. This has been the driving force of the group for years. Though we have achieved a lot since the group’s inception in 1998, a lot more could have been achieved if we put a little more focus on our intellectual strength. If properly nurtured and managed the IYC could rise to be a global voice.
The Ijaw Nation has been blessed beyond comprehension. Not just with oil, but with fertile lands, rich aquatic life and most important of all, a strong and resourceful people. Most of our resources have been bastardized due to the nation’s over-dependence on our oil. This has broken us in pieces, economically, politically and even socially. It is time to remind the world that the Ijaw nation has much more than oil.
This is what motivated me to join the race. I believe we, the Ijaw Youths have not started harnessing our potentials. We have so many intellectual resources at our disposal, but we choose to be used as political pawns. It is time to change that. I want to join the thousands of Ijaw Youths, who want a refined, organized representation to fight for it. I not only want to fight for it, but I also want to be part of it.
There are so many of you in the race. What is your unique selling point?
There were 78 presidential candidates in the 2019 general elections. About 12 out of the millions of Ijaw Youths out there are in the race and to me, this is not ‘so many’. I have studied all the candidates, some of who are my friends and can tell you that we all have plans and the passion to pilot the affairs of the IYC. This is a fact.
But the reality is that only capacity can bring a good plan to life. The IYC has gradually lost relevance and this I believe was a political strategy to weaken us. I did a survey on how people perceive the IYC and more than 70% of the responses were negative.
The world doesn’t see the successful Ijaw son that is in the top ranks of the Nigerian banking industry. The world is blinded to those of us breaking records in the entertainment industry. What they see is our brothers and sisters mounting a roadblock at the Mbiama Junction or picketing defaulting companies.
That doesn’t define us, but that’s what the world sees. The problem is communication. How we make our points, how we sell our ideas and how we lay our complaints are very important in maintaining a good image.
The IYC needs a new face, someone who can change the current perception. That is the only way we can get our voice back.
By the grace of God, I have built capacity in the field of communications. I can bring out the good sides. I can tell the world the Ijaw story and bring the much-needed attention to the resources that matter. By understanding Leadership Communications through the Harvard University and Persuasive Communications from MIT, I have not only understood how to communicate at various levels and through vigorous circumstances, I have also understood how to speak the global language. That’s what the IYC needs right now. This is 2020; if we must stand up to current issues, we must be able to match current realities and take our place in the world.
There is a lot to be done. We have to focus on Human Capital Development, Strategic Communication with Governments and other establishments, harnessing our tourism potentials and the Entertainment Industry. In summary, our focus would be on grooming and projecting other resources of the Ijaw Nation along side standing firm with the declarations made at Kiama in December 1998.
Having turned itself to an influential group, politicians court the IYC and ultimately, the platform isn’t about service but to court favour of the government. How do you react to this?
It is true the IYC has occasionally been politically manoeuvred, but so have all other groups in the country at some point in their existence. Politicians even take their gimmicks into religious bodies. That is a problem Nigeria is still trying to solve. A leadership that is focused on the welfare and uplifting of its people, will never derail.
Though I am perceived to be an underdog, with no political feathers, my nest is full of feathers gotten from my cordial relationships, self-development and personal achievements, no matter how little. I don’t see winning the presidency of the IYC as a personal achievement; I see it as a task to help write history. The IYC shouldn’t be a platform to build for future political ambitions. If it is, then every decision of the president would be political and self- serving. This will take the president higher but leave the Ijaw Nation stagnant. That is not me. I am here to serve my people and that I will do without fear or favour.