Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Drums of Secession Sound From Niger Delta - Yakassai, Others Challenge Jonathan

Kano — "What will happen is unimaginable in the history of the world. I feel pained because I am a Muslim. I know the north will suffer because not only oil, we will cut them off totally from the cost. No food will go in..."

These were part of the threatening utterances from the leader of the Niger Delta People'sVolunteer Force, Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, who warned that should the current trend of insecurity degenerate a war, the South-South will cut off the north from both food and weapon supplies at press conference in Abuja on Monday last week.

The threat is coming just as the Ogoni and Bakassi people in the Niger Delta have also declared their independence within an interval of seven days.

Bayelsa State, which is the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan, has seemingly followed suit as it is considering an approval for a state emblem, anthem and coat of arms to mark and strengthen a sense of identity for the people of the state in line with what the governor's media aide called the vision of the founding fathers of the state and the state's stand on Ijaw mobilisation, Ijaw integration and the need to promote Ijaw fundamental interests.

Secession threats and verbal attacks on key political figures from Northern Nigeria by persons from the South-South geo-political zone have dominated topical issues on newspaper pages as well as radio and television programmes in the last two weeks.

The first salvo came from prominent Ijaw leader Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, while delivering the Second State-of-the-Federation Lecture organised by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) in Abuja, challenged former military President Ibrahim Babangida and former Head of State retired General Muhammadu Buhari to be more vocal in condemning the activities of the dreaded Boko Haram group.

The Ogoni declaration

Goodluck Diigbo, factional leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) last Thursday August 2 declared independence for the Ogoni ethnic group in Rivers State.

Justifying the reason for the action, Diigbo stated in a statement that Ogoni people's rights had been tampered with for long, adding that the new approach would afford Ogoni people access to how they were governed and who governed them.

"The urgency behind the declaration is that self-government for Ogoni is overdue in view of many important issues bordering on indigenous rights of the Ogoni people being tampered with now. The non-implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)'s Ogoni report is one out of many," Diigbo explained.

A look at MOSOP's website showed that it is an Ogoni-based non-governmental, non-political apex organisation of the Ogoni ethnic minority people founded in 1990 with the mandate to campaign non-violently to: promote democratic awareness; protect the environment of the Ogoni people; seek social, economic and physical development for the region; protect the cultural rights and practices of the Ogoni people; and seek appropriate rights of self-determination for the Ogoni people.

The Ogoni Bill of Rights, which called for political autonomy, right to control and use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, adequate representations in all Nigerian national institutions, and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation among others, was presented to the Federal Government by MOSOP in 1990 before the execution of nine of its activists, including the playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Federal Government on charges of 'incitement to murder' on November 10, 1995

Bakassi Self-Determination Front's (BSDF)

Barely one week after the self-determination declaration by Ogoni people under the leadership of Dr Diigbo, the Bakassi people also declared their independence. The declaration which was spearheaded by the Bakassi Self Determination Front (BSDF) witnessed the hoisting of the Blue, White, Red official flag with eleven stars on the blue and launching of a radio station called 'Dayspring'.

The grouse of the Bakassi people stemmed from the 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling which gave the oil-rich Bakassi to Cameroun. The people prefer to remain as citizens of Nigeria to Cameroun.

The 2005 Green Tree Agreement (GTA) between Nigeria and Cameroun is, however, expected to be finalised by October this year if there is no call for a review from any of the parties involved in the conflict over Bakassi region.

The Commander-General of the BSDF, Ekpe Ekpenyong Oku, in his maiden broadcast, pointed out that arrangements had been concluded with some international liberation groups to assist the Bakassi natives in the battle ahead.

"We call on men of goodwill, individuals, human rights organisations and the indigenous people of Bakassi to join hands in resisting and fighting the present international conspiracy," Oku said in anticipation of fierce opposition that the group will face from the government of Cameroun whose soldiers are believed to have started re-mobilisation in the area.

The public relation officer of 13 Brigade of the Nigerian Army in Cross River Captain Joseph James, who said the army authorities are not aware of the secession threat, said the army authorities will launch an investigation into the development.

Capt. James also said that the allegation, that Cameroun was beefing up their troops and armaments should Bakassi people carry out their threat to attack them, had not been reported to them.

Last Wednesday August 8, Bayelsa State government also announced another suspicious plan to have state-owned flag, coat of arms and anthem.

In a statement signed by Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State Governor Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the said the decision was taken at the end of the 7th meeting of the State Executive Council held on Monday August 6, 2012 to reflect the colours and symbols of the Ijaw nation.

The statement stated that it will be put to use as soon as Governor Henry Seriake Dickson gives his accent to the law which has just been passed by the State House of Assembly.

Reactions to declarations

Elder statesman Alhaji Tanko Yakasai said the recent comments by Ijaw leader Chief Clark against the north and some of its leaders have the capacity to embarrass President Jonathan as such remarks may be interpreted to be having President's blessings if the presidency does not come out to distance itself from them.

Yakasai said he was surprised that Clark, whom he regarded as a close friend and a gentleman, can stoop too low to make utterances that can destroy Nigeria's unity, cautioning the Ijaw leader to respect his age and remain a gentleman.

He said Clark had on several occasions professed his unflinching support for the unity of the country, especially against the background of the contributions he made during 3-year civil war in the late 1960s.

The elder statesman, however, noted that since the Ijaw leader has now been beating the drums of war, it is left for President Jonathan to act quickly by dissociating himself from his statements, especially because of his closeness to the presidency.

Similarly, with regards to threats by Asari Dokubo of cutting off the north in the event of a civil war, Yakasai noted that the former militant's words were laced with stark ignorance of Nigeria's reality, adding that contrary to Asari's thinking, the north does not need the south to survive. He said Asari is still a rebel who is yet to lay down his arms.

"Asari Dokubo has clearly demonstrated his ignorance about Nigeria. It is not the south that is supplying food to the north; it is the north that is supplying food to the south.

"The north produces 85% of all the grains produce in Nigeria, it also produce 95% of all the livestock produce in Nigeria. Therefore, for any reason, if it were to be possible for the south to cut off from Nigeria, it will be the south that will cut itself," he explained.

He said, "It is a challenge to President Jonathan, because he swore to protect the unity and territorial integrity of Nigeria. Therefore, anybody who is ceding from Nigeria unconstitutionally, it is a challenge to him to honour his oath of office to defend the territorial integrity of the country."

Yakassai said, "you can have coat of arms, we had it in Kano before. Anybody can compose a song for himself, any local government or any state can do that. What is important is whether they have seceded from Nigeria. As long as they don't make any declaration contrary to their being part and parcel of Nigeria, it is ok. Only if they do it with the intention of seceding, it will be a challenge not to anybody but to the president, whose responsibility is to defend the territorial integrity of the country. It is for him to take action to honour his oath of office."

Nigeria on the cliff

Malam Shehu Sani is the president of the Civil Rights Congress, a human rights organisation. Sani said Nigeria has never witnessed threat to its unity like what it is now under President Jonathan.

"...Goodluck is perilously steering us to the cliff. Before Goodluck, Nigeria is beleaguered, under Goodluck we are bewildered. The impunity of the fouling utterances of imps like Dokubo and deranged old vultures like Clark is indicative of the moral descent of the leadership in the country.

"Clark's attack against IBB and Buhari for not condemning the Boko Haram is arrant nonsense. How many times has Clark ever condemned the killings, bombings and kidnapping in the Niger Delta. Clark is a coward who choose to be silent during military rule and now has found his voice with an Ijaw man as a president," Sani said.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), through its national publicity secretary Anthony Sani, said all hands must be on deck for the unity of Nigeria.

Mr Sani, who called for caution, advised groups who embark on 'fissiparous tendencies' to stop forthwith.

He, however, noted that 'the enactment of an act providing for anthem, code of arms and flag for Bayelsa State by the state House of Assembly is not a healthy development in the national polity.

Niger Delta activists and youth leaders in the Niger Delta region have urged Chief Edwin Clark and Asari Dokubo not to personalise or tribalise the Presidency for their selfish interest.

Calep Ajagba, a Niger Delta activist and the National Coordinator of Integrity and Transparency Promotion Initiative (ITPI), a civil society organization called on Clark to see the current security challenge as a failure from the present ruling class rather than from ethnic sentiment.

"The Presidency should not be personalised, tribalised or trivialised. The thinking that Boko Haram is attacking because a northerner is not ruling is wrong. It is rather a clear reflection of frustration in a society where poverty is so high. People, whether Boko Haram or Niger Delta militants or Area boys, have the tendency to react," Ajagba also said.

Also reacting in a chat with Sunday Trust, the African Representative of the World Assembly of Youths Marvin Yobana said the recent statement by Clark and Dokubo was unnecessary and uncalled for.

"They should be cautious in their choice of words so that they don't overheat the polity. They should also know that the younger generations of youths are watching them," Yobana, who is also the President of the National Youth Council in the South South, added.

One Ogoni Youth leader in the Ogoni communities in Rivers State has disassociated youths of the area from the recent declaration of autonomy by MOSOP factional leader Diigbo.

The Youth President in Gokhana, Vopnu Rogers, told Sunday Trust that, 'the declaration by Diigbo is not valid' because 'Gokhana remains a local government in Rivers State'.

Written by Muideen Olaniyi; Bashiru Abdulllahi, Eyo Charles, Calabar; Isa SA'idu and Lawan Danjuma Adamu

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