AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE IJAW NATIONAL CONGRESS (INC) PROF BENJAMIN OKABA, ON BEHALF OF IJAW LEADERS AND TRADITIONAL RULERS, ON THE OCCASION OF THE OFFICIAL VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI (GCON) AT THE PRESIDENTIAL VILLA ABUJA ON THURSDAY, 24TH JUNE 2021.
His Excellency, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. (GCON)
His Excellency, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Prof. Yemi Osibanjo.
The Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria, Mr. Boss Mustapha
Honourable Ministers present.
Distinguished Senators Present
His Royal Majesties.
The Delegation of the Ijaw National Congress.
Other Important Dignitaries present
Gentlemen of the Press
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
2. The Ijaw Nation wish to thank Mr. President for this rare privilege, that affords us the opportunity to rub minds with you on pressing existential concerns and challenges of the Ijaw ethnic nationality and some salient issues on the front burner of our national discourse. By this special audience you have shown positive disposition to peaceful dialogue, negotiation and constructive engagement as the best option to address the worries, concerns and yearnings of Nigerians, practically at this auspicious moment of our nationhood
3. The Ijaws with a population of approximately twenty seven million people are the predominant ethnic nationality in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. They are the fourth largest ethno linguistic group in the country. With regards to administrative spread, the Ijaws are found in six states, namely; Bayelsa , Delta, Rivers, Edo, Ondo , Akwa Ibom. Aboriginal Ijaws are also found in Abia. Many are found as migrant fishermen in camps as far West as Sierra Leone and as far East as Gabon.
4. The contributions and sacrifices of the Ijaws in the struggle against Western domination, to pre and post-independence intellectual capital development, independence struggle and press freedom, promoting and protecting the unity and solidarity of this country during its most trying moments (e.g. Nigerian Civil War) and to democratic consolidation are well documented and need not be undermined. Since colonial times, our resources from palm oil and abundant aquatic and maritime resources, as owners of the major seaports in the country are worthy of note. Since oil was discovered, exploited and exported in commercial quantity from Nigeria’s number one oil well located at Oloibiri in Bayelsa state, the Ijaws have remained the main producers of the oil and gas that has become the main stay of the Nigeria economy and sustainable development.
The 4 major Oil and gas export terminals that is Quaboe (Ibeno) , Bonny, Forcados and Excravos are all in Ijaw territory and non is accessible by road. The local Ijaw communities where this facilities are democide lack electricity, pipe bore water, functional Hospitals and other basic amenities. The water ways are on unsafe due to the activities of sea pirates and other criminal elements in and around these facilities.
5. Despite the huge sacrifices the Ijaw people have made and are still making to the birth and sustenance of this country, we have never been fairly treated by the Nigeria nation. In order to whittle our influence because of our resource endowment, successive governments in Nigeria since precolonial times have employed a deliberate policy of balkanization whereby Ijaw people are split into different states and Local Government Areas where they now parade the unfortunate appellation of perpetual minorities. The minority status culminating from the crude balkanization in the hands of Nigeria’s political leadership has denied our people the voice and shrinked the political space in their respective states except the only homogeneous Ijaw state, Bayelsa.
6. The Ijaws have been victims of uncountable spate of oil spills, uncontrolled gas flaring, indiscriminate canalization, flooding, coastal erosion, deforestation etc. The operations of the multinational oil companies have created additional problems to the indigenous economy and socio-political institutions of our people leading the loss of arable land (and aquatic resources), health hazards, youth restiveness, intra and inter communal conflicts, etc. The incessant attacks and destruction of our coastline communities at the slightest provocation by the military forces have created a siege mentality and resulted in displacement of lives and properties. The internally displaced persons (IDP) are hardly noticed or cared for as it is practiced elsewhere nationally and internationally.
7. Suffice to note that, it was the struggle to draw the attention of the insensitive administrations in the First Republic to the despicable plight of the Ijaw people, whose resources were mindlessly pillaged and environment despoiled, yet denied basic amenities, that led to the declaration of the Niger Delta Republic by late Major Isaac Adaka Boro in 1966. The Late Isaac Boro simply restated through arms struggle what the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference, led by late Chief Harold Dappa Biriye feared when they agitated for, in the 1958 London Constitutional Conference, a separate region for the Ijaws from the Colonial administration. Whereas the now much referenced Henry Willinks Commission report was a product of the Conference, the Niger Delta region still remains despicable, poor, abandoned and grossly underdeveloped.
8. Mr. President Sir, the Ijaws are indeed tired and weary of the continued exploitation of our oil and gas resources without commensurate remediation and reward. We find it appalling that because of our revenue endowment, the State has continued to expropriate our right to legitimate ownership and control of our oil and gas resources through obnoxious statutes. In the manner that gold and other solid mineral resource discovered in Zamfara and other states are allowed to be freely exploited by the owner state, the oil and gas exploited in our territory should be allowed to be managed by our people for the development of our area.
9. Mr President, our plight are becoming unbearable. Our story is that of a people well blessed. It is an history of a people well blessed within their natural habitat and aboriginal locations but paradoxically we have been so dislocated politically, economically and socially. We have been intentionally deprived the space to prosper and soar as a people, we have been made refugees in our aboriginal lands while our wealth has been taken to give an asylum of opulence to the rest of Nigeria.
10. From the days of Late Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, to Late Major Isaac Adaka Boro and the formation of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) to the collegiate uprisings of the Ijaw Youth Council in Kaiama, the advocacy of the Ijaw Nation has been birthed within civil language and peaceful actions, all directed at finding a befitting political space for the Ijaws within the confines of a functional Nigerian state. These past actions and sacrifices of our great men and women has led notably to the Willinks Commission, the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Niger Delta Ministry and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, as ad-hoc interventions mutually understandable, were only devised as a window of opportunity and an architectural groundwork for peace and to serve as the springboard on which the critical issues affecting the Ijaws would be tackled and progress made manifest.
11. The Ijaw agenda of self-actualization is predicated on Resource Justice. Our quest and resolve is for a just and justifiable reward for our resources and sacrifices. We believe very strongly that this is achievable and shall be of mutual benefit to the state, the Ijaw people and the generality of Nigerians. Restructuring might just be the magic wand that could turn things around for a more prosperous, united and stable Nigeria. We are only seeking the re-enactment of the once viable and accepted old order of derivation that would allow us own, manage and control our God given resource (that we directly bear the multiple brunt of exploitation), as it was practiced in this country when the Yorubas had cocoa, the Ibos had palm oil, and Housa Fuani produce and paid prescribed taxes to government.
12. We support the cleaning up of the Augean stable in the NDDC but not through managerial procedures that are susceptible to individual manipulation, alien to the NDDC Act itself and negates organizational best practices. There is no known precedence in Nigeria or elsewhere where Sole Administration is employed while carrying out an organizational audit. This is a gross abuse of the process of transparency and public accountability. A substantive board should be inaugurated forthwith and can seamlessly function with the audit exercise.
13. Mr. President, as great patriots of this country, we seek the urgent repositioning of the above mentioned interventionist agencies to deliver on their mandate by urging you to recalibrate and fast-tract/implement the Niger Delta Recovery Plan intended to serve as a basket of incentives and opportunities to effectively address the grievances of marginalization, neglect and environmental degradation in Ijaw land. We strongly believe that if the state sincerely supports the Amnesty Programme with adequate funds and proper supervision and direct the Ministry of Petroleum to redistribute oil and gas assets with guarantee for host community participation in the oil business, including indigenous ownership of marginal oil fields and the deliberate engagement of the locals in the oil industry, substantive progress in dealing with the Ijaw quest for expansion of their socio-economic well-being would be attained.
To this end, it is imperative that the FGN compels all Oil and Gas companies in Nigeria to contribute 3% of their annual budget to funding the NDDC as prescribed in laws of the land. In the same vain, if the Ministry of Environment is directed by the Presidency to conduct immediate remediation of the massively despoiled Ijaw terrain and ensure strict compliance to international best practices in the operations of the IOCs, the issues of flagrant abuse of human and environmental rights of the people would have been addressed.
14. An All-Ijaw summit is planned to hold soon to evaluate our unsavory treatments and crude exploitations over the years, the resolve to continue the stranglehold on the Ijaw people through more obnoxious laws (the water resources bill), and the continuous sacrifice as burden bearers, and to what extent the Nigerian nation has appreciated our sacrifices.
Due to The level of frustration and disillusionment that has become wide – spread in our land as a result of mass poverty , neglect and underdevelopment, the consciousness of Ijaw nationalism has been reawakened and the cries for self-actualization reignited . As we speak, the Ijaws have no secessionist agenda and should the need arise, we are prepared to legally and peacefully negotiate that, but also as a distinct IJAW PEOPLE with ethno-linguistic, cultural affinity and geographic contiguity and not in part or full of any secessionist agenda. From Ibono, Oron through Bonny, Abua-Odual via the entire Bayelsa to Gele-Gele, Olodiama to Patani, Ogbe -Ijaw to Apoi, we are one indivisible Ijaw nation. Never conquered and by the special grace of God will remain unconquered.
15. We have strong faith in the overall and mutual benefits of True Federalism and Resource control to the prosperity and stability of Nigeria. We seek the support of Mr. President in the restoration of Ijaw territory as a non-balkanized political and administrative federating unit(s) with the creation of two additional homogeneous Ijaw states: OIL RIVERS STATE and TORU-EBE STATE. The repeal of all obnoxious and discriminatory human and environmental (land and petroleum resources) policies and laws shall remain minimum prerequisite for our continuous commitment to the Nigerian project.
16. Mr. President Sir, in the same manner that you directed the relocation of the Head Office of the Department of Petroleum Resources from Lagos to Abuja we seek your help to mandate the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to direct the relocation of the Head Quarters of all Oil companies to their operational basis in Ijaw Land and the Niger Delta region. The excuse of insecurity is no longer tenable for its common knowledge that nowhere in Nigeria is safer than the other. Secondly, the revamping of the major ports at Onne, Warri, Port Hracourt, Bonny etc will accelerate economic growth and reduce joblessness and youth criminality and contribute to National Unity and Stability
We also call on the FGN to fulfill its promise to the Ijaws to assist in their ownership and modular refineries as replacement for the ancillary refineries that will not only crate wealth and job but also bring about economic emancipation of the people.
The East West Road project, that serves as the only link across the Niger Delta and conveys petroleum products from its main sources to other parts of the country have been ongoing for 15 years Mr. President Sir, we ask you to devote special funds and attention, like you did and still doing for the railways, second Niger Delta bridge, the Lagos Ibadan Express way all funded from Oil and Gas resources derived from our environment.
Mr. President while appreciating you for this audience and your notable interventions we will appreciate if you keep open these lines of strategic engagement that will foster a greater and better Nigeria and Ijaw nation.
Thanks once more and God bless you.
Long live The Federal Republic of Nigeria
Long live Ijaw Nation
Prof. Benjamin Okaba
On Behalf of the Ijaw National Congress