By Iteveh Ekpokpobe
That Nigeria, a country, tied by colonial strings of the British Empire since 1914 and presented to the world as an independent entity in 1960 has survived this long, has verily been a subject of wonderment in the lens of political watchtowers is nothing new in circles of intelligentsia. Hence it did not also come as a surprise that almost 57 years of independence and over 100 years down the line of amalgamation, the need for stakeholders to discuss on issues bordering on terms of cohesion and national identity has taken the fore.
This need copulated the 2014 National Conference, tagged 2014 CONFAB which submitted some recommendations on how Nigeria can be restructured to achieve greater success as a cohesive entity; touching virtually all aspects of the socio-economic and political challenges besetting the country such as resource control, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, creation of states, forms of government, revenue allocation, ethnic nationalities and minority question, resolution of the herdsmen and farmers’ crisis and many more searching for answers.
Evident of the non-cumulative nature of the system of governance in Nigeria, the recommendations could not see the light of day. And typical of problems not solved or set aside for later dates, the issues re-emerged stronger and conventional solution resistant. It is in view of these that the ongoing debate on restructuring becomes an even more necessary action.
But then as it stands, obviously too, these calls for restructuring have been sabotaged by some power mongers on grounds of ethnic and religious sentiments thus relegating to an abysmal spot, the nagging fundamental issues which require requisite attention pushing one – anyone, especially those on the side of the mind’s right frame – to askance if truly the questions of the workability of Nigeria’s polity is the true focus of this current drive, and so on.
As far as the restructuring clamour has gone, it will not be wrong to say that the on-going, almost sealed constitutional amendment is but a sham to douse tension on the cry for restructuring, especially as policies that sought to rearrange governance process for good and to bring succor directly to the common man had received jaded attention. If not why would local government autonomy be granted in both chambers while votes are against devolution of powers from federal to state. This is not only an aberration, but is tantamount to contradiction.
In the same vein, the bill to enforce relocation of International Oil Companies (IOCs) which was squashed on notice like a proverbial fallen pebble by the National Assembly further demonstrated crass insensitivity to the plight and yearnings of some stakeholders in the country; the people of the Niger Delta region under whose umbrella Isoko Nationality is demographically sheltered. These and many other issues informs the pain in the hearts of other minority stakeholders whose interest seem not to be effectively represented.
Most worthy of note is the fact that while, other ethnic nationalities within the Niger Delta have at one time or the other, violently and radically addressed issues confronting their welfare in a country funded by the resources they (these nationalities) squirt, Isoko nationality have been quite mum, not because as a people they know not the necessary step to take, but because as intelligentsia they identified the fundamental questions and are at best considering the best angle to tackle them.
The time is ripe and it is not too late; thus as the country digs deep into the restructuring question in its bid to proffer possible solution in accordance with world best practices, the charge is now on the Federal Government to redirect its beam light towards addressing the questions as to why Isoko Nation have been, for aeons subjected to the shackles of marginalization especially in the areas that will be properly highlighted.
Isoko Marginalization Index
Let me begin on a grim note. Gory tales of how it has been. In the wee hours of June 13, 2016 a pipeline explosion rocked the peaceful community of Idheze in Isoko South Local Government Area. According to residents who witnessed it, pandemonium was let loose as sons, daughters, fathers and mothers could not remember family affiliations as they ran helter skelter triggered by survival instincts. The explosion resulted in a fire outbreak which was doused without a casualty. But till date, neither remedial effort nor viable compensation has sufficed to tackle the spillage and most especially to address the well-being of the residents.
Uzere, an oil producing community of Isoko South Local Government Area with a total of 43 oil wells producing about 53, 000 barrels per day, and has grown to become one of the largest oil producing community in Nigeria currently languish in the perfect picture of integrated dearth. The situation is the same with Olomoro, Oleh, Irri, Ozoro, Igbide, Owhe, Emevor and the list is endless.
Research has it, that Isoko land is one of the most densely populated areas in Nigeria, with about 500 people per square kilometer compared with the average of 198 for Delta State and 130 for Nigeria. The consequence has been a shortage of farmland which is accentuated by oil exploration activities in the region. Many of the (estimated) over 475,000 Isoko people incessantly migrate to other parts of the country, finding abode in Ughelli, Warri, Sapele, Benin, Ijebu Ode, Ondo, Lagos and Kano just like every other ethnic group in Nigeria and predominately in the rural agricultural land areas of Benin, Ondo and Ijebu-Ode. Also, some 300,000 Isoko people are permanent indigenes of Ndokwa East of Delta State and Sagbama local government area of Bayelsa state.
Going by records of population census, Isoko – with two Local Government Areas, Isoko North (headquartered at Ozoro) and Isoko South (headquartered at Oleh) – which occupies an area of about 1,200 square kilometers, with a residual population of approximately two million has 19 clans with several villages, hamlets and towns while some are located in Ndokwa east, Ndokwa West, Bayelsa State and others.
Food crop production has declined rapidly recently. This could largely be attributed to soil damage resulting from frequent crude oil exploration and spills from pipelines belonging to some of the major oil producing companies, whose pipeline network transverse the landscape which has led to large-scale frustrations and has resulted in skirmishes.
Against the backdrop of these petty economic activities, massive unemployment of youths remains very high; the quality of life is low and below the standard of living recommended by the United Nations Development Organization.
According to statistics from the National Flow Chart, Isoko region provides 28 percent of crude oil and gas to the Nigerian economy yet no visible infrastructural developments are sited except few ones. Is It not a known fact that the only federal presence in the Isoko territories are the two police stations in Oleh and Ozoro?
Most notable is the fact that in the heat of militancy which resulted in the down turn of the country’s economic fortunes, it was the incessant flow of crude oil from Isoko region – host to eight oil fields in oml 26 and 30 and Nigeria’s highest onshore crude oil producer – which sustained the country. But today, those who took up arms against the government are better treated than the Isokos who were peaceful.
Beyond the economic and infrastructural deficit it is also noteworthy that since the advent of democratic rule, nobody from the Isoko land both in Delta and Bayelsa state has enjoyed the honor or privilege to serve in the Federal Executive Council. Thus, we have been absent for 18 years, critical decisions making process on issues that concerns Nigeria.
From all indications, it will amount to a crime of over emphasis to state that Isoko nation have been relegated to the background in the country’s scheme of things, but it is a crime we are willing to commit; as agitations for sustainable development remains about the only road map to chart.
Road Map To Uhuru
It is in view of these monumental lag in infrastructural development amid political neglect and economic marginalisation, the the membership and leadership of Isoko Youth Agenda, took the bull by the horn to declare their grief. With the available evidence, they stated that Isoko nation have been termed inconsequential in the country’s scheme of things and it is only natural that they must pick offence.
In a chat with the Pointer, the National President, Isoko Youth Agenda, Comrade Sebastine Agbefe who spoke the mind of the group said they have also deduced that the only language the Federal Government seems to give an ear to is that of violence hinged on the fact that those who revolted have benefitted immensely through the Federal Government amnesty programme and other empowerment and development programmes through intervention agencies.
They said it was on this note that the Isoko Youth Agenda (IYA) therefore categorically state that while they applaud and embrace the restructuring move and constitution amendment bids of the Federal government, our terms must and should be viably considered and given attention to avert unforeseen avoidable circumstances even as he Marshalled out four strong questions for the Federal Government to answer.
1. On Relocation of International Oil Companies (IOCs)
He said the actions of members of the National Assembly in stepping down the bill for the enforcement of the order for relocation of IOC to their operational base did not only come to them as a surprise but clearly shows that the legislators are only out to frustrate the ongoing peace moves between the Federal Government and the people of the Niger Delta region.
They said they believe that the directive to relocate the headquarters of oil companies back to their operational bases in the region has become very necessary at this critical period of peace building between the Federal Government and the people for the purpose of fast tracking both human capital and infrastructural development of the area.
“Hence, we hereby call on the Federal Government to reinforce the relocation of IOC back to their operational base and to extend this to Isoko axis of the Niger Delta, being the highest onshore oil producing area in West Africa.”
2. On Licensing, Establishment and Operation Of Modular Refineries
The group said they do not entertain an iota of doubt, that the idea of building modular refineries across the region as originally conceived by the NNPC and Ministry of Petroleum was genuine, very practicable, and demonstratively a true paradigm shift for the good and that it is part of measures by the Federal Government to pacify the agitating people of the region. And that as a matter of fact, they welcome the MR currently sited in Ellu, in Isoko North Local Government.
However, they have observed that the project has since been hijacked and distorted beyond recognition and that the manner in which the initiative is being executed is only aimed at creating a new crop of billionaires without addressing the infrastructure development issues at the core of the Isoko region.
“Allowing modular refineries to the extent that we may not even know where their head offices are will be detrimental to our economic viability and we cannot continue to suffer. In terms of human capital, we need resources that will see to the gainful employment of our people. We, therefore, that the headquarters of the refineries be sited in Isoko.”
3. On Isoko Not Being Part Of Biafra
“Whereas article 1(2) of the United Nations Charter recognizes the “principle of self-determination of peoples”, this clearly does not grant any group the right to arbitrarily usurp the self-determination rights of other groups.”
“The inclusion of the Isoko territories in the Biafran map without the courtesy of consulting with the Isoko people is in itself a violation of the section of that charter that so empowers them (south easterners) to seek secession.”
The IYA thereby stated categorically that Isokos were not Biafrans and were not contemplating to join them. “However, this is not to suggest that we are very comfortable in the Nigerian state where we are grossly marginalized irrespective of our heavy contributions to the nation’s treasury.”
“We also stress the fact that as much as we believe in the unity of Nigeria, we will not continue to entertain relegation and marginalization in any form as we have exhausted our patience. Isokos’ believe in the unity of Nigeria is not a yardstick for claims on the invisibility indissolubility of the country.”
In a nutshell, the IYA charged the Federal Government to give heed to the plight of a peaceful people who have contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria and must henceforth learn to incorporate the Isoko people in her everyday activity like she does to those restive ethnic nations otherwise we will resort to other strategies to earn our recognition as we are bigger than over 40 Independent countries in the world in terms of population, land mass and resources.
All rights reserved. Permission to use this publication is granted subject to appropriate credit given to Author – Iteveh Ekpokpobe.