.Twenty years of mourning

EVERY year on January 4, my ethnic group celebrates Ogoni Day.

Our super-chatty Governor, Nyesom Wike, attended this year’s event two weeks ago and seized this opportunity to tell today’s Ogoni leaders off for being disunited, selling out, blaming others for our collective misfortunes and not being focused on problem-solving.

“You even use Ogoni Day to make money and God will never forgive you!” he exclaimed indignantly, adding that he would “never be a party to make blood money”…and urging Ogonis to “check your conscience” and quit being traitors who allow themselves to be used by malignant divide-and-rule-motivated Federal Government agents (I paraphrase) who do not have Ogoni interests at heart.

Within minutes of Wike uttering the above rebukes and advice, the video recording of his speech had gone viral and was being widely shared on countless social media platforms.

Many people hailed him for being refreshingly honest and for boldly dishing out criticism they felt was deserved and constructive.

But I must confess that I am annoyed because though I share Wike’s dim view of the poisonous shenanigans that some Ogoni leaders inflict on their constituents, it was unfair of him to give the world the impression that Ogoni doesn’t have any worthy leaders.

Let us also not forget that bad eggs exist all over Nigeria…and that Wike’s own tribe – Ikwerre – is full of dodgy dudes who specialise in betrayal, who have no consciences, who join outsiders to undermine their home turf, who know all about blood money and so on. And on.

Then there’s the never-ending fight that has been raging since the two foremost Ikwerre leaders – Wike (PDP) and his predecessor, former governor and current Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi (APC) – quit being buddies and became implacable enemies.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Ogoni scene has, in the past, been uniquely toxic. No other Nigerian tribe has, to the best of my knowledge, been through the kind of violent power struggles that culminated in the tragic execution and assassinations of Ken Saro Wiwa, his main opponents – Edward Kobani, Albert Badey, Theophilus and Samuel Orage – and several of their respective supporters.

But things have changed.

Yes, leadership crises still abound in Ogoniland. But most Ogoni quarrels nowadays are, though undoubtedly destructive, like mere playground squabbles compared to the corrosive and sometimes deadly Wike/Amaechi melodrama that kicked off circa 2013……and has cost Rivers State so much in terms of psychological trauma, lost Federal development opportunities and gallons of innocent blood spilled during the 2015 and 2019 electoral battles.

To be fair, Wike also noted that lack of unity also prevails in the Niger Delta as a whole because governors, legislators, etc, rarely work together to achieve positive objectives. But it was only Ogonis he named when he was complaining about this kind of delinquency.

Long story short: Wike should heal the humongous festering injuries in the body politic of his own ethnic group and stop patronisingly and sanctimoniously singling Ogonis out for lacerating opprobrium. It is the height of disingenuousness to carry on as if his peeps are smart saints while my peeps are a bunch of daft demons!

Ogoni is the only major ethnic group in Rivers State that has never produced a governor. And I hope that Wike is not slyly building up a case, loudly and publicly, for depriving us of our turn in 2023!

In the 55 years since our state was founded, Ogoni has not even produced a deputy governor, State House of Assembly Speaker or Chief Judge. And I hope that Wike’s utterances are not about giving a dog a bad name so he can concoct an excuse for hanging it.

This week, Dr. Bennett Birabi, an Ogoni former Minister and Senator, issued a statement that briefly outlined our political history and expressed the concerns of many of his kinsmen and women.

“…Every government in Rivers State…has continued to water the seed of disunity and disinformation to keep Ogoni in perpetual subjugation almost to the level of political slavery. We don’t even decide who should represent us in any election or speak for us in our internal issues.

Perpetual subjugation

Government decides. And to make matters worse, the present government has unwittingly further widened the divide by taking sides with one faction and turning around to blame the entire race for not uniting when in fact the government is fuelling the disunity.

“…[Lack of] unity has become the excuse for our marginalisation. This is mischievous and unfair and borders on wickedness.”

Birabi reminded Wike that Ikwerres were given a chance to run Rivers State at a time when they were far from united.

Birabi also pointed out that “…at the national level, following the annulment of Abiola’s election and his subsequent death, the Federal Government conceded the presidency to the Yorubas and both [of the main] parties had to choose a candidate from the [South] West amidst the obvious disunity in the [South] West…it was not done because the Yorubas were united…but because it was expedient.”

Since Wike himself has admitted that it was an Ogoni man who came to his rescue when he ran his first-ever (local government) election in 1999 and had been deserted by his fellow Ikwerres, Birabi urged Wike to return the favour and choose “someone among his minions from Ogoni that he can trust to continue the works he has started”.

Birabi also appealed to Amaechi (who has also displayed an epic reluctance to be fair to Ogonis) to reciprocate the immense loyalty he has enjoyed from various Ogoni acolytes by enabling one of the acolytes to become the APC’s gubernatorial flag-bearer in 2023.

That way, whether APC or PDP coasts to victory next year, we will finally get a governor and justice will finally have been done.

Is this too much to ask?

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