Ahead of the forthcoming governorship election in Rivers State, CHUKWUDI AKASIKE observes the boiling debate on who takes the next shot between the upland and coastal areas at the Brick House in Port Harcourt
One thing that appears common with the people of Ogoni is the cry against perceived injustice to them through years of neglect by the government. Ogoniland used to be a fertile ground for agriculture and oil exploration, but environmental degradation has been the lot of the people. No year passes without the average Ogoni man remembering the wrongs allegedly done to the people for one pecuniary gain or the other by agents of the government.
From environmental pollution, loss of land to the state government, to the death of “Ogoni 13” and failure of the Federal Government to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme, it is obviously injustice all the way.
Determined to change their despondent and sad situation to a cheery one, these people have decided to take the bull by the horns and also their destiny in their own hands. With a strong belief that getting political power will reduce their agony, the Ogoni have decided to take a shot at the governorship position in 2015. Ogoniland, which is situated in South-East of Rivers State, comprises Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme local government areas.
Having supported and watched other ethnic nationalities or so to speak, senatorial districts occupy the Brick House in Port Harcourt, the Ogoni people are of the view that 2015 remains their time to occupy the government house.
Their thinking is that it will be difficult to fight the injustice afflicting them if they refuse to occupy prominent position of authority. In the last eight months, many Ogoni groups have emerged with only one song: it is time for an Ogoni man or woman to become the governor of the state that prides itself as the Treasure Base of the Nation. Apart from that, non-Ogoni individuals have also expressed sympathy for the longsuffering people of Ogoni, especially for embracing non-violence in agitating for justice.
First class traditional rulers from Khana Local Government Area were some of the people to air their views on the issue which has become the most controversial in the state owing to the far-reaching interest the upland/coastal area of the state has shown in the coveted seat of the governor.
The traditional rulers specifically resolved that the people of Ogoni ethnic nationality should be allowed to produce a successor to Governor Chibuike Amaechi in 2015. Some of the royal fathers, including the Gbenemene of Nyo-Khana Kingdom, King Williams Nzidee, said that the people would not accept any position less than governorship.
Nzidee, who spoke when a group known as the Ogoni Democratic Movement visited the monarch’s palace, recalled that the decision that the people of Ogoni ethnic nationality would produce the governor of Rivers State in 2015 was reached during the tenure of former Governor Peter Odili, adding that nothing would stop an Ogoni man from succeeding Amaechi.
He said, “We agreed that after the tenures of Dr. Peter Odili and Chibuike Amaechi, it will be the turn of Ogoni. So, where is the noise coming from? There is nothing they can do to stop the Ogoni train. The gods of Ogoniland will join us to get our dream achieved.”
Similarly, the apex body of Ogoni indigenes, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, observed that the people were now conscious and prepared to produce the next governor and would support any political party with such consciousness ahead of the 2015 general elections.
MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara, explained that just like the Yoruba produced the President of Nigeria in 1999 to compensate for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the Ogoni people deserved a similar consideration. Apart from that, some of the groups that have supported the agitation for an Ogoni man to succeed Amaechi are the Ikwerre-Etche Peoples Forum, the Rivers Voice, Niger Delta Renaissance, the Council of Orashi Ethnic Nationality, the Kalabari Stakeholders Forum, the Ijaw Justice Forum and the Obolo Consultative Forum.
In all of these, what appears to be the icing on the cake for the Ogoni is the position of the Leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, who insisted that the age-long domination and oppression of the Ogoni people must end in 2015. Asari-Dokubo said it would be unjust and unfair to continue to leave out the Ogoni people in the run for the governorship position in the state.
According to him, the Ogoni are the only people who have never produced a governor. He also observed that the entire Bayelsa that left Rivers were Ijaw people.
“If we are saying there should be justice in Rivers State; if we are crying against domination by others, we should not also oppress other people. The people that morally should be allowed to produce the next governor of Rivers State are the Ogoni cluster made up of the Ogoni proper and the Eleme people,” Asari-Dokubo said.
It should not be forgotten that Most Rev. Mathew Kukah had last year expressed the need for the Ogoni people to be given the opportunity to produce the next governor of the state.
Kukah, who spoke when members of the Ogoni Generation Next visited him in Abuja, said that allowing Ogoni to produce the next governor would increase their confidence in Rivers State and Nigeria.
Kukah, who is the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, urged the people of the area to remain united, peaceful and prayerful.
While Ogoniland remains part of the upland area of Rivers State, the coastal area is insisting that it should have a shot at the governorship seat based on an existing upland and riverine dichotomy.
But a group, representing the Kalabari ethnic nationality known as Se Kalabari declared that it was the turn of the Kalabari people to produce the next governor. This, no doubt, is a departure from the thought of the Ogoni people. The group insisted that Ogoni should forget the idea because a succession deal was entered into by the Kalabari elite in the Peoples Democratic Party in 1999 that a Kalabari indigene would become the governor of Rivers State after the tenure of Dr. Peter Odili who is from Andoni (1999 – 2003), and Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (2007 – 2015), from Ikwerre.
A statement signed by one of the leaders of the group, Teme Comson-Higgwe, said no other group deserved to be the governor of Rivers in 2015 if truth and fairness were to be the gauge to consider. “Our argument is that Rivers State ought to compensate Kalabari. Our position is based on the fact that at inception (1998 – 1999), it was the Kalabaris that weaned, groomed and led the PDP to electoral victory. This is a milestone. It is a feat achieved on zero grounds.”
Comson-Higgwe recalled, “In December 2006, the party published the outcome/result of its governorship primary nomination election. A distinguished Kalabari aspirant, Senator I. S. Martyns-Yellowe emerged second behind Chibuike Amaechi. But Martyns-Yellowe was denied his natural place. In his stead, Celestine Omehia was brought in through the back door. That is cheating: the Kalabari polity was brazenly cheated. The Kalabari group recalled that upon being declared as the authentic governor of Rivers State by the Supreme Court in October 25, 2007, Prince Tonye Princewill, withdrew his electoral petition against the PDP over alleged election fraud.”
He justified the position of his group by calling on the Ogoni to forget the 2015 governorship slot, stating that between Omehia and Amaechi, the Ogoni have had it rosy in terms of dividends.
The office of the Secretary to the State Government, he said, was kept exclusively for the Ogoni, even as he listed Gabriel Pidomsom, Magnus Ngei Abe and George Feyii as beneficiaries of the position. Victor Giadom, an Ogoni son and the State Commissioner for Works, was also listed as one of the benefits the Ogoni enjoyed under the current administration.
On the zoning formula, Comson-Higgwe described the rotation of the governorship position based on senatorial district as a strange song in the zoning tradition of the state, maintaining that the zoning formula has always been on the basis of riverine/upland dichotomy.
“If the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) insists that the governorship rotates among senatorial districts, can MOSOP explain to Rivers people why Rufus Ada-George, Omehia and Amaechi became governors, coming from the same Rivers East senatorial district? That question remains unanswered to this day. The reason is because senatorial district rotation is a strange song in the zoning tradition in the Rivers geo-polity. Everyone knows it has always been on the basis of riverine/upland divide,” he added.
However, it is clear that from the foregoing, the battle for the soul of Rivers State in 2015 will be tough as governorship aspirants from the riverine and upland areas continue to plot their way out of any stumbling block, which the controversy surrounding the rotation of the governorship position in Rivers State may pose.
Posted From iProdigy Group Nigeria(Dabibi Ori-ibim’s Blog).
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