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Published On: Thu, May 22nd, 2014

Goodluck Jonathan Presidency and the Place of the Urhobo Nation (PHOTOS INCLUSIVE)

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Obasiri Ovie Omo-Agege (Centre) arriving at the venue of Isaac Boro public lecture and award eevent at Ughelli Town Hall


By Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege
On Sunday May 18th, 2014, former Secretary to Delta State Government (SSG) and Chairman Urhobo Political Congress (UPC) Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege delivered a lecture at the Annual Major Isaac Adaka Boro Memorial, Public Lecture and Award event held at Ughelli, Delta state. In the event organized Asari Dokubo’s Niger Delta Peoples Salvation Front (NDPSF), Ovie Omo-Agege’s lecture held the audience spell bound when he spoke on the advantages of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformational Agenda, Urhobo continuous support for Goodluck Jonathan, unity against Boko Haram scourge and other burning issues. Oghehekevwe Laba who was there presented the the full detail of his speech for your perusal and photograph of the event
Excerpts
I would like to thank the organizers of this lecture for finding me worthy of sharing my thoughts with you on the subject of “The Goodluck Jonathan Presidency and The Place of The Urhobo Nation,” a sub theme of “THE GOODLUCK PRESIDENCY, THE NATIONAL CONFAB AND THE NIGER DELTA REGION: MATTERS ARISING’’ of this year’s Annual Isaac AdakaBoro Memorial Lecture.
Since the day I accepted your invitation to be the keynote speaker, I have wondered what this celebrated early pacesetter of minority rights, Isaac Boro would have thought and said of the issues confronting our nation if he were alive today.
My dear compatriots, one thing is certain, if Isaac Adaka Boro were alive today, his heart will be as heavy as ours because more than 200 of our precious daughters abducted by terrorists have not yet returned home to their parents. The single goal of these terrorists is to bring the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan down, even if it means taking Nigeria down in the process. I have three daughters. If you do not have a daughter, it will be impossible to understand the indescribable pain of the parents of these abducted girls especially with all the commentaries and opinions in all kinds of media that talks of the girls being sold as slaves, married off to the terrorists, turned into sex slaves and forced to renounce their religion.
These girls and their parents have dreams of what they will be as part of the human community. There is no doubt some of them want to be doctors and nurses to save lives; teachers to impart knowledge and prepare the next generation; engineers to build homes, railways, roads, bridges; law enforcement officers to make our nation safer; get married and have children and become grandmothers and great grandmothers. Under the present circumstances, it is next to impossible for these girls and their parents to hold on to any of these dreams not knowing if they will ever see each other again.
I don’t think I or anyone else including the abducted girls, their parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties have words sufficient to describe their pain and shock, pain and shock that has infected the global community and attracted practical help from nations such as the United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Canada, China, Israel, amongst others. President Goodluck Jonathan has said that the unprecedented international support will lead to the decisive crushing of Boko Haram. I thank the international community for standing shoulder to shoulder with Nigeria at this very difficult time.
From what I know about Islam and from practicing devout Muslims, Boko Haram is not an Islamic terrorist group. Because religion is a very emotive issue, Boko Haram chose to hide behind Islam to be able to recruit people who believe they are fighting for Allah to turn Nigeria into the image of their warped minds. Allah would not have instructed anyone to shed so much blood, cause so much destruction, abduct girls and sell them as slaves or turn them into sex slaves. So every Nigerian, Christian and Muslim, northerner or southerner, irrespective of political party affiliation must unite against this evil plot to destabilise our country.
Ladies and gentlemen, what is going on now are not mere distractions but part of a plan to divide Nigerians along religious lines to bring the government of President Jonathan down and abort the transformation agenda, in order to retain the many ills that bedevil us as a nation. If we let them succeed, we will be setting a dangerous precedent that all it takes is a few unwise and reckless feudalists to conspire and finance terrorists to chase an elected president out of office, hiding behind the facade of religion.
We must therefore all stand up and protect the democratic process and send a strong message that no amount of man-made carnage will make us abandon our President. By standing up and partnering with President Jonathan, we will tell the anarchists in our midst that our minds are transformed to the extent that they can no longer use religion, ethnicity, language or other primordial entanglements to divide us. If we let them succeed, the great promise of Nigeria will die and the blame will be on all of us for not recognizing that when we stand together behind our government, we will defeat any evil aimed at our nation including Boko Haram.
The fact that Nigerians of all ages, economic and social status, all tongues and faiths across our nation welcomed the national conference in the 100th year since amalgamation sends a clear message that all is not well with Nigeria. There is still persistent oppression, massive socio-economic injustice, marginalization and terrorism which together constitutes very clear and present danger to Nigeria’s continuing existence as a nation. With the convening of the national conference, there is absolutely no doubt that President Jonathan is determined to leave Nigeria much better than he met it. I completely support the national conference and made that clear in my advertorial titled – “National Conference is The Urgent Need of Our Time” – carried in Vanguard of March 17, 2014. Given the events of the last few weeks, the two Nyanya bombings and abduction of more than 200 school girls in particular, there is nothing more urgent than determining how we can live in peace and prosperity in a united Nigeria. The Urhobo nation whole heartedly supports the national conference and look forward to an outcome that will usher in a new Nigeria of our collective dreams.
Politically, the Urhobo nation supports President Jonathan and his transformation agenda. Urhobo sons and daughters stood on the constitutional barricades along with patriots from around the nation to demand that the then Vice President Jonathan be sworn in as Acting President when it became obvious that President Yar’Adua was seriously ill. Thereafter, Urhobo gave President Jonathan about 860,000 votes during the 2011 elections.
On the economic front, Urhobo supports the Presidents transformation agenda that is aimed at diversifying our economy. As host to more than 15 oil and gas fields and about 400 oil wells, the highest onshore producer of crude oil in Nigeria, the Urhobo nation stands to benefit tremendously from the transformation of our economy that reduces our dependence on crude oil.
It is expected that about 15 African nations will become oil producers by 2016. What this means is that a lot of additional supply of crude oil will go into the world market with the potential to depress prices and reduce our nation’s revenue. A vibrant petrochemical industry will significantly reduce the impact of expected falling of crude oil prices because the prices of refined petrochemical products fall at a much slower pace. But through inconceivable neglect, we ignored turning the Niger Delta region into the value adding oil and gas hub of Africa, similar to the Gulf Coast in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Iran and others. It is taking a transformative President Jonathan to begin the process with the proposed Petrochemical complex in Ogidigben and the Aliko Dangote led project in Ondo state. Turning the whole of the Niger Delta region into Nigeria’s oil and gas hub through private sector led initiatives should be accelerated to safeguard our nation’s economic well being and create hundreds of thousands of jobs during the construction and beyond.
The transformation of electricity industry directly affects Urhobo nation who are hosts to some critical assets in the electricity value chain and will benefit directly through jobs that will come through new projects and enjoy better quality of life. Is it not mind boggling that there are people who are blowing up gas pipelines that supply gas to electricity generating companies, to sabotage the electricity transformation that will ultimately give us uninterrupted light, power industries and create jobs? Our own part of the transformation agenda is to be eternally vigilant to protect these assets in our different communities to shame those who do not wish our nation well.
It is possible for so many to think that because electricity has not substantially improved, nothing has happened. As was the case in the telecommunications industry, the process of change will be gradual. It took time for the telecommunications infrastructure backbone to be installed and as the companies rolled out and prices of SIM cards, telephone handsets and calls fell, Nigeria moved from less than 500,000 NITEL lines to more than 100 million lines in a little over ten years. The telecommunications revolution changed the way we live and do business. Easy access to the internet, widespread use of ATMs and online shopping,just to mention a few, are all now possible.
Whatever impact we believe the telecommunications industry has brought will be dwarfed by the transformation of the electricity industry. Currently, private generation of electricity adds between 30 and 40 percent to the cost of doing business in Nigeria. It has made Nigerian products more expensive than those made in places like China. It has made it difficult for many companies to expand production and services. It has stopped many small, medium and big investments and businesses from getting off the drawing boards. All of these means that millions of jobs that would have been created were not created.
Once the investments and projects in the electricity industry now in private hands begin to come on stream, we will substantially reduce to a single digit the percentage of the share of the cost of electricity to the total cost of doing business and industrial revolution of Nigeria will take off on the booster rocket of Nigerian entrepreneurial ingenuity long held back by lack of electricity but unshackled by President Jonathan’s transformation. With made in Nigeria products cheaper than imports, many foreign manufacturers who used to export to Nigeria will be compelled to set up manufacturing here in Nigeria and export from here to the rest of Africa and beyond.
The multiplier effect of just the electricity industry revolution will change Nigeria and Nigerians in many ways. The accelerated growth of new businesses and expansion of existing ones will create millions of new jobs. More jobs will enormously reduce all kinds of crime.
President Jonathan is also visibly transforming the agricultural sector in recognition of the fact that it provides not just the North but all of Nigeria the way out of poverty. The agricultural transformation will unleash our capacity to feed all of Africa with food, industrial raw materials and value added products from a vast array of agro based industries located all over Nigeria, creating millions of sustainable jobs because agriculture and its produce and products will never go out of style. Aliko Dangote is also taking admirable steps to key into this part of the transformation agenda. If more individuals and governments of all the states will step up their agriculture policies beyond politically correct statements, Nigeria will become one of the biggest 15 economies in the world within a generation. My own state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan is proudly a key political and economic ally of President Jonathan with a transformational vision captured in the Delta Beyond Oil template worthy of emulation by all the states of Nigeria.
The Boko Haram insurgency poses serious threat to the transformation agenda. No Marshall Plan will take off in any place where mass man-made organized chaos is the norm. During the just ended World Economic Forum Africa, I watched the governor of Katsina state make a genuine and passionate plea for investments in his state to take advantage of cotton grown there but I realized how much easier it would have been if the Boko Haram peril does not exist.
At the height of the agitation for economic empowerment of the Niger Delta which reduced export of crude oil from more than 2 million barrels per day to about 700,000 per day, the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, our revered Daddy and elder statesman, E K Clark who share a proud Urhobo heritage, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and many others went into the creeks to talk with the agitating youths. Their effort led to the amnesty program that enabled our crude oil export to jump to more than 2 million barrels per day. When I wasthe Secretary to Delta State Government during James Ibori’s governorship, I went into the Niger Delta creeks to successfully secure the release of 35 Filipino hostages. As forbidding a place as the creeks were in the days of militancy, leaders who mean well for Nigeria went in there and did what had to be done and today Nigeria is better off for the acts of bravery on the parts of leaders and militants alike.
What Niger Delta leaders collectively did to end militancy should serve as the template for Northern leaders to seek out and end the Boko Haram menace. Northern leaders should lead the process and the fact that none of them can come out to say he engaged Boko Haram in dialogue to accept to negotiate with the Federal government and to accept the offer of amnesty is unacceptable. Living in denial rather than partnering with the Federal government will not defeat the Boko Haram menace. Compelled by unprecedented, united global revulsion, Boko Haram now wants to exchange the abducted Chibok school girls for their men in Nigerian prisons. As vile as their new condition is, it still shows that Boko Haram leaders are not immune to consistent pressure, the kind which if Northern leaders had applied would have long curtailed their evil action.
Urhobo nation is ready to do more politically and economically. In the coming 2015 elections, a strategic partnership between Urhobo and President Jonathan will deliver more than the 860,000 votes President Jonathan got from them in 2011 out of a total of 920,000 registered voters, a figure that will increase when voter registration resumes later this year. Urhobo land remains open to receive and peacefully host Federal institutions and infrastructure commensurate with its economic worth and political contributions. Urhobo nation is also open to foreign direct investments and local investors in the oil and gas sector, year round agriculture and manufacturing and an Export Processing Zone that will use the grossly under-utilized Warri Port to export to the rest of the world. Urhobo sons and daughters will serve the President and Nigeria meritoriously following in the footsteps of so many Urhobos of past generations as agents of President Jonathan’s irrevocable transformation.
Urhobo nation wants a country united by shared interests and shared responsibilities and expects matured understanding from all component units. In this light, the fight by Northern delegates to retain the 13 percent derivation fund paid to oil producing states will leave long lasting bitterness. I recall that the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, the governor of Niger State, BabangidaAliyu was reported by the press in October 2013 to have proposed a hike of between 25 to 30 percent of the derivation fund. So, where did the initial insistence to reduce it to 5 percent and the so called status quo of 13 percent come from when those of us who have lived with the consequences of oil and gas exploitation want at least 50 percent?
Those opposed to more resources to the oil producing areas should understand that Isaac Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa’s struggle for economic, social and political emancipation which inevitably re-incarnated in the Kaiama Declaration of December 1998, made in Boro’s home town of Kaiama, an inspired location and symbol is inevitable given the consequences of oil and gas exploration in the Niger Delta.
Through the long years since oil was first discovered in Oloibiri on January 15, 1956, successive Nigerian governments refused to impose the same standards of operation and environmental protection prevalent and taken for granted in the oil and gas industry in Europe, United States and other nations where the wellbeing of citizens is a top priority. This neglect led to entrenched systematic plundering of the Niger Delta region with oil companies doing what they will not do in their home countries. The Gulf Coast of the United States hosts almost 4,000 oil platforms yet there are no reports of oil spillages. When one spill occurred a few years ago, the reaction of the United States government led by President Barack Obama was focused and overwhelming in holding the oil company accountable. Here in Nigeria, gas is still being flared and oil spills are daily occurrences with devastating consequences.
Long before crude oil was discovered, the Niger Delta communities were and are still agricultural and fishing communities. The process of flaring gas releases tremendous heat that envelops huge swathes of land around where ever they are located, making it impossible to farm around them. The flared gas contains all kinds of chemicals substances which are released into the air to mix with rain and oxygen which then falls back as acid rain on farm lands and rivers covering a much wider area. These acid rains gradually contaminated the land until all farming activities are impossible. Fishes and marine life were also poisoned and killed by this acid rain, destroying fishing as a way of life and subsistence in so many communities, leaving behind severe poverty in the very region that ironically produces the nation’s wealth. The equally wide spread devastation of oil spills into farm lands, rivers, streams and swamps created its own massive problems. The devastation led to a grim harvest of diseases and death and extreme poverty that those who do not live in these areas may never grasp.
It was this extreme, wide spread incidences of ecocide and man’s inhumanity to man that guaranteed the continued agitation. The judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight others did nothing to dampen the rise of Ijaw led fight for economic and social emancipation which began with the Kaiama Declaration.
Even if the oil companies now begin to exploit crude oil responsibly, because irresponsible exploration activities have gone on for almost 60 years, there are many communities that will take decades to recover from ecocide through sustained, organized efforts by the oil companies and government and self-healing. In some locations, destruction of farm lands, streams, rivers and swamps are irreversible.
The unique topography of the Niger Delta which includes water logged terrains caused by vast networks of rivers, streams and swamps and the need for many bridges is another reason why the the agitation is deserving. It costs so much more to construct roads and other facilities in the Niger Delta than it does in Northern Nigeria. Therefore, for the North to fight against increased access to funds derived from crude oil exploration by the states that have exclusively borne its brunt is to say the least extremely mischievous and unpatriotic. Their disingenuous argument that derivation should only be based on activities that involve direct human toil like in farming is designed to defend the 50 percent derivation practiced during the First Republic and to exclude it in this dispensation.
It is also utterly unbelievable that a few Northerners also insinuate that the Niger Delta oil wells were developed with money from Northern. This is a blatant lie being told by people who know that oil exploration in Nigeria was carried out by foreign owned companies beginning from the first oil well in Oloibiri which was discovered by Shell Darcy, the forebears of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
Our brothers from the North should understand that after almost 60 years of environmental despoliation with nothing put back in the Niger Delta, asking for 100 percent derivation by the Niger Delta states will not be asking for too much because even that will not sufficiently compensate them for resources taken from their land and used to develop other parts of Nigeria to their total exclusion. But instead of 100 percent, the Niger Delta states are asking for 50 percent derivation, not just for them but everywhere else where resources are derived. Because of its pan Nigeria nature, 50 percent derivation is the one issue that should easily sail through because it will lead to organized and profitable mining and value adding processing of all the solid minerals found in almost all parts of Nigeria, generating enormous new wealth available to many states and regions and creating massive number of jobs across the nation.
So, news media reports that the National Conference Committee on Devolution of Power has decided to retain the current 13 percent derivationmeans that with Northern maneuvering Nigeria has lost a great opportunity to do the right thing. We should all beshocked that rather than recommend a return to what obtained and served Nigeria well during the First Republic, the committee hinged its decision on the current constitutional provisions that perpetuates economic injustice and deepened stagnation for more than a generation, the same length of time it took Singapore to leapfrog from third world to first world.
If all other committees shirk their heavyresponsibilities and anchor their decisions on current constitutional provisions, then the purpose of setting up the national conference to chart new ways of doing things for the greater good of our nation will be defeated. If anyone will consider retention of the status quo a victory, I want them to know they have set the nation back in what is essentially a pyrrhic victory, a very hollow victory that will not advance the desired economic diversification, creation of massive new wealth and jobs.
It is still my hope that the plenary session will recognize that those who fought so hard to retain the status quo have only secured short term gains for themselves and their regions. The full house should therefore do the right thing and accept 50 percent derivation for the long term sustainable economic rejuvenation of every region of Nigeria, so that in a generation from now, Nigeria will enjoy the Singapore experience with the credit going to the national conference for the courage that set Nigeria on the path for growth.
I have no doubt that if Isaac AdakaBorowere alive today, he would be at the National Conference, protecting the rights of minorities all over the nation, seeking to make the Nigerian union a much better nation. Isaac AdakaBoro is long dead but his ideals and goals are still alive and will continue to live until political, economic and social justice is taken for granted across Nigeria. As his legacy has shown, anyone can kill the body but the truth and ideals live on. The challenge before those of us who picked up the baton where Isaac Boro was forced by death to drop it in 1968, is never to relent in our collective efforts to transform Nigeria to become a truly great and united nation.
In ending, I want to plead that we must continue to pray for the safe return of the abducted girls, strength for their parents and uncommon focus for our armed forces and all those involved in the rescue efforts and for our President.
Finally, there is no doubt that one of the most urgent need of our time is the transformation of our minds. Therefore, I commend to all of us the words of the former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore who said that ‘the future is not for us to predict, but to create,’ because for too long we have only predicted the future based on what we expect to get as allocation every month from Abuja and stopped creating, stopped trying to bake a bigger cake in order to get a bigger share. I invite all our compatriots across the length and breathe of this nation to join hands with President Goodluck Jonathan to jointly transform Nigeria and create a future worthy of the visions and dreams of our founding fathers. So help us God.
Obarisi (Barr) Ovie Omo-Agege, Former Secretary to Delta State Government (SSG) and Chairman Urhobo Political Congress (UPC)

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