By Fidelis Soriwei
IN 2017, when Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, was elected Governor of Ondo State, the people of Arogbo heaved a huge sigh of relief. His emergence inspired so much hope in the minority Arogbo Ijaw Community òf Ese-Odo Local Government Area of the State. First, the people believed that Akeredolu, a former President òf the prestigious Nigeria Bar Association was the desperately needed solution to years of mindless marginalisation of the minority Ijaws of Ondo State.
The expectations were also anchored on the fact that as a lawyer, Akeredolu would most likely deal with compassion on the issue of the protection of minority rights in the predominantly Yoruba state. He was expected to respect the morality and compassion in the letters of justice, equity and fairness which are the pillars of the legal profession.
This glimmer of hope was further strengthened by Akeredolu’s supposed biogenic links to the Ijaw communities which make up the Ese Odo Local Government Area. The people were wild with optimism that Akeredolu whose mother hails from the Ijaw Apoi community of Igbotu would treat them differently from previous administrations which excluded their areas from the developmental agenda of the state governments.
For 44 years, they have existed outside of government priority. They are suffering people. However, after almost four years of hot imploring pleas and blistering expectations, the minority Ijaws have been left with lamentations and violated hopes. Akeredolu government has abandoned the Ijaws òf Ondo State. It is a statement of fact that Akeredolu excluded the Ijaws from all critical committees in Ondo State and stripped them of their sense of belonging in their own state. He ignored repeated entreaties from the disadvantaged minority to get his attention. To their chagrin, he appointed non- indigenes into such positions to their exclusion.
When the lawmaker representing the Ese-Local Government Area in the House òf Assembly, Chief Success Torukerijo, cried out against the worsening marginalisation of the Ijaw minority under Akeredolu’s watch, Akeredolu’s men threatened him with expulsion from the APC and suspension from the Assembly. The lawmaker was further punished when Akeredolu gave cars to Assembly members to his exclusion.
Between 2017 and 2020, Akeredolu has executed four budgetary figures of over N734 billion out of which N320 billion was expended on capital projects.
At the heat of his preparation for the October 10, 2020 gubernatorial elections in the state, Governor Akeredolu presented what his government described as the Ondo State Government map of roads to the exclusion of the Arogbo Ijaws. It is the sad reality that after almost four years of his administration, his supporters cannot point to any project as small as N50 million in the whole of the Arogbo Ijaw community. The only road on display from Ese-Odo is the road linking Sabome to Ajagba, in Irele Local Government Area of the State.
Akeredolu’s neglect of the Arogbo Ijaws has become an albatross to his supporters ahead of the gubernatorial elections. His few die-hard supporters have scavenged unsuccessfully to point to at least a project initiated and executed by Akeredolu’s government to their chagrin.
When confronted by concerned members of the community, they are quick to hold on to a bizzare and incredible tale that Akeredolu entrusted the development of Arogbo Ijaws to his Deputy, Mr. Agboola Ajayi, who, according to them, ‘betrayed’ him. But Nigerians are knowledgeable enough to know that the deputy governor òf a State lacks the capacity to stop the developmental intentions of a governor.
Ondo State has 18 local government areas and Ese-Odo the only Ijaw Local Government Area happens to be one of the two oil producing councils in the state. Ordinarily, it should have attracted attention under a compassionate leader but our sorry state tells it all. Akeredolu is set to commission a N4.1 billion water project in Ilaje Local Government Area. The Akeredolu Government signed a Memorandum òf Understanding with the Niger Delta Development Commission to build the N19.2 billion road to construct a 50 kilometers Araromi-Akodo/Ibegi-Lekki Road designed to connect Ondo with Lagos.
The incontrovertible fact here is that the Ilaje who have the longest coastal bridge running into billions of Naira are Yorubas while the Arogbo Ijaws are deliberately excluded from the developmental plan of the government. It is rather queer and sad that out of two oil producing local government areas in Ondo State, the Ilaje (which is Yoruba) and Ese-Odo, (which is Ijaw,)only, the Ilaje are favoured with the appointment of the Chairman òf the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission and the Commissioner representing Ondo State in the Niger Delta Development Commission. It is interesting to note that this is the first time in 44 years that a medical doctor employed by the Ondo State Government would ever set foot on an Arogbo Ijaw community of hundreds of thousands of people.
This piece is a passionate appeal to the Ondo State Government to treat us like citizens and not rejects of the state. Ondo State Government which cannot build a bridge of one kilometre to link the headquarters of the Ijaw community, Arogbo, with the upland has built long Irele-Okitipupa bridge under Chief Olusegun Agagu, while Akeredolu is constructing a N19.2 billion, 50 kilometer bridge from Ilaje to Epe in Lagos.
Today, I have to park my car in a nearby village called Agadagbaobon to take a canoe to Arogbo. Did God put us under Ondo State map to be victims of such discrimination?