On Friday April 30, 2021, leaders and stakeholders of the Ijaw nation, gathered in Yenagoa the Bayelsa State capital to elect a new leadership for the Ijaw National Congress (INC), after recent attempts that ended in fiasco.
A prominent university lecturer and Professor of Sociology, Prof. Benjamin Ogele Okaba emerged winner of the election after defeating his main contenders; Fred Owotorufa and Dr. Chris Ekiyor. It was an election adjudged to be free, fair and credible by every standard. Those who lost, were quick to congratulate the winners because of how transparent the excercise was.
The Electoral Committee led by Emeritus Professor Dagogo Fubara must be commended for doing a good job. The use of electronic technology in the voting process was novel and exemplary. It is something that the nation’s electoral umpire can learn from and use in the coming 2023 general elections.
The Conference of Ijaw Traditional Rulers and Elders (CITRE), headed by King Alfred Diete-Spiff, must also be commended for their supervisory role and for providing the needed direction and leadership in the entire process. The involvement of the monarchs no doubt contributed in ensuring that the outcome was satisfactory.
But most importantly, kudos must be given to Senator Douye Diri, the host governor, who spared nothing to create the right environment including providing massive security around the venue to make sure there was no disruption as was the case in 2019 at the same Izon Wari venue.
As the “Jerusalem of the Ijaw Nation”, and the only homogeneous Ijaw state, the role played by Bayelsa State Government was understandable.
More so, Diri himself once served the INC as its National Organising Secretary. It is also on that premise that the charge by the governor to the Okaba led executives was considered spot on. Nothing could have been more apt than his call on them “to protect the interest of the Ijaw nation at all times in order to reposition it among ethnic nationalities in Nigeria”.
The job of Okaba will not be an easy one but it is encouraging to know that he is not new to such responsibilities. He has been around and understands the enormity of his new assignment.
But to remind him, he is now leading the fourth largest ethnic nationality in the country at a time the division among the people has become so deep due to political and economic interests. In the light of this, Okaba must avoid every temptation to be partisan.
The INC as the foremost socio-cultural organisation of the Ijaw people has its membership across all political parties, Okaba must accommodate and unite them.
He must immediately move to reconcile all aggrieved members and stakeholders of the INC and strategically reposition the organization to tackle the various issues bedevilling the people and the Ijaw Nation.
There are leaders who still feel aggrieved because of past events, he must reach out to them, bring them on board and assure them of his loyalty and commitment to right the wrongs of the past and birth a new paradigm shift.
Okaba must not compromise the interest of his people no matter what. It will be despicable to hear that he solicited or accepted a contract or cash reward to close his eyes to a suffocating measure against his own people. He has to by all means resist the lure of filthy lucre. He should always be conscious of those who will come with Greek gifts to persuade him to lower his standards and put the people he now leads to shame.
The demands of the Ijaw people are still the same, ie, resource control, self determination, development, and so on. His voice on these issues should be louder and more resonating. He should never give room for intimidation. From Arugbo in Ondo State to Ibeno in Akwa Ibom State, the expectations are high and Okaba must realize that and get to work immediately.
Prof. Okaba must let the Federal Government of Nigeria know that there is a new sheriff in town. He must hold them accountable to all the pact they have with Ijaw people and at all times demand for equity, justice and fairness. At a time of great insecurity, he must galvanize the people to defend themselves against any form of attack in all Ijaw communities.
Prof. Okaba should join forces with other groups, especially its baby organization, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), to end the culture of impunity going on at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The endless forensic audit must end and a substantive board appointed to run the affairs of the commission. He should also push for the relocation of the headquarters of multinational companies to Ijaw land for the benefit of the people.
As a critical scholar, he must adopt an intellectual approach in his agitation for a better Ijaw Nation. In doing so, he must carry all members of his executives along to avoid any internal crisis. His administration must run a policy of transparency that will restore confidence from all stakeholders.
It is important to note that while so much will be expected of him, the commensurate support should also be given to him so hedoes not fail.
Okaba should not be allowed to go cap in hand begging for funds to run the INC; the governments of states where Ijaws are indigenes and domiciled must financially back him up. He should be seen as the new symbol of the Ijaw struggle and treated as such.