Urhobo Youths Summit and Matters Arising in Niger Delta
By Sunny Awhefeada
LAGOS OCTOBER 26TTH (URHOBOTODAY)-Come Saturday 29 October 2016, Urhobo youths will gather in Warri for the Urhobo youth summit organized by the youth wing of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU). The youths deserve plaudits for holding such a summit. It is hoped that the outcome will galvanize the Urhobo people onto the path of a glorious dawn. One of the issues that should be discussed is the Urhobo nation and the Niger Delta.
Since the creek wars of 2009, the Niger Delta struggle has been misconstrued to be an Ijaw struggle. The climax of that wrong-headed assumption was the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan an Ijaw as Nigeria’s president in 2010 and later in 2011. The political and economic advantage which the Ijaw enjoyed was typical of the kneejerk response for which the Nigerian state is well known.
When the Yar’ Adua government negotiated with Niger Delta militants in 2009, it was hoodwinked into negotiating with only the Ijaw ethnic group which is just one of the many ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta. Other ethnic groups inhabiting the Niger Delta and suffering from the environmental degradation and exploitation that triggered the creek wars were ignored. The Ijaw were privileged because they formed the majority of those who fought in the bloody armed conflict that bled the nation economically. Since Nigerian governments romanticize violence, the Ijaw were heavily patronized with unimaginable economic and political advantages.
Youths of the other ethnic nationalities, especially the Urhobo, became subjects of derision as they were asked what prevented them from doing what Ijaw youths did to earn government attention and largesse. The ongoing militant activities spearheaded by Urhobo gallant fighters under the auspices of the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate (NDGJM) is a direct response to government’s deliberate neglect of the Urhobo nation in the scheme of the Niger Delta crisis and its resolution.
The bone of contention between the Niger Delta and the Nigerian state is the crisis spurned by oil exploration and exploitation. Oil was discovered in Urhoboland in 1957 in Afiesere. Of all the eight local government areas that make up the Urhobo nation, seven produce oil, while Uvwie which does not produce, plays host to a gigantic petrochemical refinery which is one of Nigeria’s biggest assets.
Urhobo is the core and stabilizer of the Niger Delta. Yet, with a population of five million people, it has been plundered by successive ruling elite and oil multinationals and subjected to the worst form of ecocide. The 1998 Jesse pipeline fire that took over one thousand lives is just one of many instances of oil-cide. The Urhobo experience offers a sad picture of a wasteland with a despondent population. This is the gory aftermath of nearly sixty years of oil banditry carried out by the Nigerian state in cahoots with oil majors.
Why then did successive national governments shortchange the Urhobo? The answer is in the peaceful and accommodating nature of the Urhobo people which the federal government mistook for docility. The Urhobo people provided the intellectual and ideological fillip for the Niger Delta struggle through Peter Ekeh, Omafume Onoge, G. G. Darah, Tanure Ojaide and others. Unfortunately, the Nigerian state negates constructive engagement. It only yields to the force of violence. It is for this reason that the intellectual contribution of the Urhobo people to the Niger Delta struggle remained unacknowledged. Urhobo helped in stabilizing the Nigerian economy when it was not possible to drill oil in the creeks and on the high seas because of the armed conflict that made those zones no go areas for exploration activities. It was the oil drilled from Urhoboland and other peaceful zones that sustained the Nigerian economy between 2005 and 2009. Yet, the Urhobo people were given no consideration by way of appeasement for the despoliation of their homeland by many years of oil exploration.
Urhoboland is economically embattled due to loss of means of livelihood. Land and rivers suffer from oil pollution, while the people are endangered human species. Crime arising from youth unemployment is high. Urhobo urban and rural settings are sprawling wastelands. There are no good roads in Urhoboland, no good schools and hospitals. Yet, the people were once very resourceful and happy until the monster of oil exploration ruptured their existence.
When the federal government reached out to the Niger Delta in 2009, it committed a fatal error by not extending the overture to all the ethnic nationalities that make up the region. It reached out to only the Ijaw who appropriated everything. This is what must have instigated a new phase of land militancy spearheaded by the NDGJM as opposed to creek militancy which the Ijaw championed. The NDGJM is an Urhobo armed group which from its press outings, sets out to do for the Urhobo nation what the Ijaw militants are doing for the Ijaw nation. In Cross Rivers State, the Bakassi Strike Force is also in the trenches to champion the cause of the Bakassi people.
The NDGJM’s imperative is to ensure that the federal government creates an all inclusive platform that will be pan-Niger Delta in the final resolution of the Niger Delta conundrum. This rejects the exclusive privileging of one ethnic group over others. Since 2009, the Amnesty Programme and the Pipeline Surveillance contract for the Niger Delta region have been skewed to become Ijaw appeasement projects. This should not be so. All the peoples of the Niger Delta who have been victims of oil exploitation must be factored into Buhari’s agenda for the region. This is the only path to lasting peace.
So far the NDGJM fighters have inflicted some collateral damage on Nigeria’s economic infrastructure with threats to do more. The federal government should meet them at the negotiation table now and prevent the escalation of hostilities. Urhoboland is too central to the survival of the Nigerian economy as it hosts many national economic assets.
The military siege on Urhoboland is another sore point that must be addressed. The soldiers are brutal. They deliberately cause heavy traffic spanning hours as you enter Effurun from Benin, extort money and torment innocent Urhobos in the name of fighting kidnapping and oil bunkering. Many of the soldiers who are of northern Nigerian extraction have greatly denigrated the Urhobo people physically and psychologically. This must stop. Buhari should demilitarise Urhoboland. Urhobo people can secure themselves.
The youth summit must be critical enough to also address how Urhobo leaders also underdeveloped Urhoboland. The youths must call traitorous politicians to order. The youths should reset the Urhobo agenda. Let the summit proclaim a new credo that will instill the traits of Mukoro Mowoe, TEA Salubi, Michael Ibru, Omafume Onoge and Pius Ewherido into our people. I wish the summiteers well. Ighene Urhobo mini wadoooooo …….
Dr. Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.