From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The national leadership of Ijaw National Congress (INC) has backed southern governors’ call for the restructuring of the country, declaring that it will correct all anomalies and marginalisation, stressing that Nigeria will not move forward with such reforms.
INC President Professor Benjamin Okaba gave the statement in Abuja when he led INC executives on a visit to elder statesman and Ijaw leader Edwin Clark at his Asokoro residence.
The INC president urged senators to consider voting on restructuring to address marginalisation of some sections of the country.
According to Okaba said, ‘unless this country is restructured, we cannot move forward, we shall continue to tell people that unless we go back to the understanding we had in 1960, unless we go back to the same fiscal federalism, that was practiced when cocoa, groundnut were the mainstay of our economy, we cannot achieve much. We are convinced more than before that the Ijaw agenda is all about survival. We slave in a nation where we should be the chiefs.
‘We have been subjected to all forms of victimisation to the extent that they even threaten us with their rifles, and they are trying to impose a bill, the water resources bill. As if the land use decree is not bad enough. All these are unacceptable. We will pursue our cause further.’
Okaba, who noted that the visit to Clark as the Chairman, Board of Trustees, of the INC, was to introduce formally the newly elected executive council of the INC worldwide, to seek his blessing, as well as celebrate him at 94 years.
He said the members of INC BOT were voted in electronically, adding that the instability that has rocked the body for the past six years has been put to rest.
According to him, ‘what Nigerian government has been funding difficult to adopt was what the Ijaws did, introducing their electronic voting. You have always prayed for a stable Ijaw nation, you have always prayed for a united Ijaw nation as the spokesman of the south-south because if there is trouble at home, what are you doing outside?
‘Today, we have come to present the trophy of that contest, 14 of us holding different positions. We are building consensus very fast. We are giving you the assurance this boat that you started long time ago, we are going to assist you in taking it to greater heights.
‘We are very conscious of your unwavering and uncommon commitment to the Ijaw course and that is the spirit we have come to tap. You have shown it before anybody, your letter to Buhari advising him that all these things that are going on have expiry date, no leader from any part of the country has been able to summon that kind of courage. And that is what we are looking for.
‘You have always fought a selfless fight, you have always placed the Ijaw course ahead of any other consideration.
‘Because of our minority status we have been subjected to slavery. We produce the gas but paradoxically, people who cannot distinguish between groundnut oil, crude oil and palm oil are those that own oil blocs making billions of naira. Even when they seemingly handover power to us they strangulate us to a point whereby we were given empty power. Power without empowerment, power that could not make us build even our local governments.’
In his response, Clark, who noted that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has become a goldmine for other regions outside Ijaw land and the Niger Delta region, observed that amnesty programme that was established for the region has today been taken over by other tribes like the Igbos and northerners, among others.
Clark, who urged the new leadership of the INC to work assiduously in uniting the Ijaw people, said: ‘You were elected to serve your people, to project your people. The Ijaw voice must be heard outside. We have an assignment for the Ijaw people. within the next three, four years, we want to see you protecting the interest of the Ijaw people.
‘When you belong to a team, that team must move together. In every boat, there is only one captain, the captain will have supporters, so carry everyone along in the discharge of your duties. Always remember, what you are leaving behind, what your legacy is, we have tried for sometime now to resuscitate INC, IYMC, God will guide you, protect you, give you the courage, the wisdom, good health to manage the affairs of the Ijaw nation.
‘You were elected to serve your people, to project your people. The Ijaw voice must be heard outside. That NDDC for instance has become the goldmine for other ethnic groups who are not Ijaw people.
‘For example, the NDDC Act says that projects will be determined by the amount of oil you produce in your area. Appointment will be decided by the amount of oil you produce in your area but today they who produce 2 per cent, are more represented in NDDC than those who produce 80 per cent.
‘So, when you share projects and Imo, Ondo and Abia, they have more employees in NDDC than our own people, the Niger Delta people, how do they come in?
‘There has not been anybody, any organisation well established enough to tackle the problem of the Ijaw nation. So that is why we have been fighting for the past eight years, we feel INC has a proper executive to speak for the ijaw people.
‘We have an assignment for the Ijaw people, within the next three, four years, we want to see you protecting the interest of the Ijaw people.
‘The militants remain militants to protect their own interest. The amnesty programme was established for the Ijaws in 2009. Today you go to the office, there are more Kogi people, more Igbos, more northerners than the Ijaw people in that place. We have lost our focus, now you have come to redeem it. You can count on me. You have a lot to do. The Ijaw people will stand by you. God will give you the strength. They have relegated to us to the background.’