Abuja — The new calls for self-determination resurrected again on August 2, 2012 when Goodluck Diigbo, factional leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) declared independence for the Ogoni ethnic group in Rivers State. Diigbo, in a radio broadcast, declared political autonomy. He said, "By this declaration of political autonomy, we, the Ogoni people are determined to enforce the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, without fear or retreat.
"Now, therefore, acting on the General Assembly mandate on the questions relating to the Political Autonomy of Ogoni in southern Nigeria, and in the spirit of the General Assembly motion DPA/001/2012, and its resolutions DPA/002/2012 and DPA/003/2012 adopted and approved on July 31, 2012; in accordance with the wishes of the Ogoni people contained in the Ogoni Bill of Rights of 26 August, 1990 as revised on the 26th of August 1991; expressing the collective will of the good people of Ogoni in the referendum of 2010 and the second referendum of 2011, obeying the command by the Ogoni people and their elected representatives from 33 district councils, comprising over 272 village councils, living in the six kingdoms of Ogoni, namely: Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Kenkhana, Nyokhana and Tai and two administrative units: Ban Goi and the Bori National Territory; conducting this solemn affair in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 13, 2007, guided by the purposes and principles of international law in accordance with the United Nations Charter, I, Dr Goodluck Diigbo, hereby make this historic statement, to announce the proclamation of this General Assembly Declaration of Political Autonomy for the Self-determination or Self-government of the Ogoni people within Nigeria, today, the 2nd Day of August, 2012. So declared, and so be it; for the advancement of liberty in freedom and the preservation of the ancestral heritage of the Ogoni people."
Barely one week after, the Bakassi people in the Niger Delta, under the guardianship of the Bakassi Self Determination Front (BSDF), also declared their intention to become an independent nation.
In what looks like a pre-planned procession, Bayelsa State, which is the home state of President Jonathan, on Wednesday August 8 announced its intention to approve 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.
In a statement signed by Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State Governor Daniel Iworiso-Markson, it was explained that 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.
As a sign of commitment, a week after, Governor Dickson signed into law the bill to create a new identity, Coat of Arms and anthem known as the Bayelsa State Symbols and Songs Law 2012.
Another statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor said, "Bayelsa State is a federating unit in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, created and recognised in the constitution with rights, powers and obligations. That all structures, organs and officials of the state operate under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That our decision to have state symbols and songs, are as a result of our belief in true federalism as a cardinal cornerstone of Nigerian nationhood and it is in exercise of our inalienable rights as a federating unit.
"This is a right, which we cannot be denied of since several other states with the same rights have equally exercised. That the decision taken by our government in this regard is also as a result of our commitment to the propagation of Ijaw culture, language, history and ideals. That this decision also creates a platform for us as a government to rally our people for positive development within the context of a united, egalitarian and democratic Nigeria."
The announcements coming from the government of Bayelsa State as well as those emanating from the Ogoni and Bakassi people have continued to generate heated arguments among different stakeholders in the society, especially the ceaseless drums of secession.
NIGER DELTA SHOULD TAKE BLAME FOR ITS PLIGHT
Commenting on the issues, the 2011 Enugu State Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) governorship candidate Mr Osita Okechukwu said the latest events and developments in the Niger Delta cannot be called self-determination but 'protest against self'.
Okechukwu said, "Permit me to point out that the posturing in the Niger Delta as evidenced by declaration of self- autonomy in Ogoni land, Bakassi and recent carving of flags, coat of arms and composition of state anthems in Bayelsa State, in my own assessment cannot be dubbed self- determination, but protest against self.
"Protest against self, in the sense that it can be likened to the blame game many Nigerians want to play whenever the issues of our under-development is being analyzed. Many Nigerians will tell you without mincing words, that the British underdeveloped Nigeria and when you asked them how can the British be culpable 50 years after independence? They answer that the people of Southern and Northern Nigeria were not consulted before the amalgamation.
"If you want to further probe whether there is any nation state in existence today which all the people that habit are of the same ancestry or was not united in one way or the other? They will shout at you, without introspection.
"As many Nigerians play the blame game of the British, even when the opportunity to transform the country is under their palm, with unprecedented human and natural resources; one is prone to locate a similarity of blame game with my brothers in the Niger Delta. This is not to say that there are no ancient grudges in Ogoni land nor in Bakassi, definitely there is, but one has thought that a Daniel has come to judgment.
"Many in the Niger Delta and in the south play the blame game that the under-development of Nigeria is as a result of years of Northern leadership of the country, sometimes dubbed Northern hegemony. Any attempt to concur half way with them, that yes we can trace some of the fault lines, but if you remind them that since our return to civil rule in 1999, that Southerners have been in charge and in this instance a Niger Deltan, they will shout at you. Many who claim that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his first tenure as military head of state was controlled by the top military bras made up of Northerners cannot say that the Owu Chief was a surrogate of anybody between 1999 and 2007.
"The problem with Nigeria, as our renowned professor Chinua Achebe said, is leadership, with vision, transparency and focus. We as a people have to embark on introspection, soul searching and deep reflection to design our route to development. We cannot advance as a country through self- denial, scape-goat syndrome and self- delusion.
"When you carefully navigate this route, you will locate what one terms protest against self. For is it not paradoxical that our brothers in the Niger Delta are yet to reconcile the truism that they are in charge of the country today? They seem to forget that they are in a position to use our human and natural resources to transform their region and indeed the entire country."
He added, "When President Jonathan met over $10 billion in our Excess Crude Account on 6 May 2010, did anybody prevent him to award contract for new refineries in Bayelsa, Delta or embark on environmental cleaning of the Ogoni? These projects can still be done, before his tenure expires.
"This is what makes the declaration of the Ogoni and the insult the Bayelsa State government added to the injury disheartening. One can pardon the people of Bakassi for they were injured by the recklessness of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who because of his penchant for international recognition was hasty and less than patriotic in implementing the International Court of Justice at Hague, judgment.
"On the Bayelsa State rigmarole, whether the Flags and Coat of Arms Act of 2004 cited by the government gives constitutional backing to their action or not; it is unconscionable and indeed crass ingratitude to Nigerians who voted for their son. For is it not paradoxical that the brothers of the chairman of our town union are advancing the centrifugal forces rather than the centripetal forces.
"In an advertorial posted in major national dailies, the Bayelsa State Government said, 'In line with the vision of the founding fathers of our dearly beloved state and given this administration's stand on Ijaw mobilization, Ijaw integration and the need to promote Ijaw fundamental interests, which clearly is not subordinate to any other interests...'
"Is the government of Bayelsa saying that Ijaw national interest is superior to Nigerian interest? No it cannot be and therefore the falsehood being peddled is meant to oppress the Ijaw people in Bayelsa. It is meant to keep them busy with the opium of local nationalism, so as not to query the governance profile on the ground, but to view the Nigeria state as the enemy.
"We must admit that Nigeria is not the only country with diverse religions and multi-cultural people, Nigeria is not too big to develop and Nigeria unlike insinuations is not going to break. It is therefore in our interest to look inwards and identity the fault lines hindering our development.
"Monumental corruption is the greatest bane of our development; it is the greatest impediment to our development and no country no matter how small it may be will develop under monumental corruption. Many Nigerians under the guise and cover of ethnicity spiced with religion rape our economy for their selfish interest. This is the greatest threat to our survival as a people.
"In the late 19th Century in a joke an Austrian envoy told his Italian colleague that Italy is not a country, but a mere geographical expression which will soon disintegrate into different countries in no time. Today, Italy has remained a country and Austria has disintegrated into six countries. As it is with Italy so will it be with Nigeria.
"...the 1914 Amalgamation which gave birth to Nigeria is a merger of the great people of Nigeria and not a loose agreement with a clause for separation after 100 years. The enemies of Nigeria should come out of their delusion as Nigeria will remain united, indissoluble and stronger in spite of centrifugal forces."
Also speaking on the issues, a former deputy governor in Kebbi State, Alhaji Suleiman Muhammed Argungu said that it is unthinkable and unfortunate for any particular section of the country to embark on a secession bid for whatever reason at this particular time in the life of Nigeria.
Alhaji Argungu who spoke to our reporter on phone said, "I think it's most unfortunate for any reasonable and sane Nigerian to either support or encourage secession at this particular time. Maybe they have forgotten that a civil war was fought in this country. Even those who were not born then might have read about the history, the massive destruction it caused to lives and properties, I think nobody will want a reoccurrence of that incident in this country now or even after our death.
"They should know that secession has never been taken on a platter of gold. Anywhere there is a secession there must be fighting, loss of lives and destruction. Perhaps because the Niger-Delta people thought they are rich in oil resources and as well thought it will be that easy for them to walk away like that without any problem from the rest of us. But I think this is most unreasonable for any particular section of the country to think in this direction or embark on secession bid at this material time."
GOVERNMENT'S SILENCE SHOCKING
He condemned government's silence despite what has been said and done, describing the suspicious government lackadaisical attitude as most unfortunate.
He said, "I think it is worrisome and unacceptable. Imagine what happened to the Chechnya separatists from Russia. In Africa here, see what happened between the Northern and Southern Sudan, there was no peace for over a decade now. Even after the secession, there is no peace in that region of Africa. So, anybody who understands the implications of this will not want it to happen in Nigeria because some particular section of the country thinks they are wealthy and they can walk away from other sections of the country.
"Initially, we believed it was Boko-Haram which began its activities from the period of Yar'adua administration but as we can see now, this has been taken over by other groups who are associated with all sorts of unwarranted evil, attacking churches and Mosques, killing innocent people because they want to see Nigeria destroyed for them to get what they wanted by using the name of Boko-Haram. But in the real sense of it, it's not Boko-Haram that is behind all these but the people clamouring for secession. I think this is unnecessary because it will not take us anywhere."
Senator Kabiru Marafa (ANPP, Zamfara Central) viewed the designing of flag, coat of arm and anthem by the Bayelsa State government as well as the purported declaration of the sovereign state of Ogoniland as treasonable and criminal.
Marafa, who is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), said the Bayelsa State government, in particular, should be grateful to Nigerians for electing one of its sons, Jonathan, as president.
According to the senator, the people and government of the state should tell the whole world what their problems are rather than attempt to embark on actions capable of threatening the unity of the country.
Marafa said, "By what they (Bayelsa State and Ogoni) are doing, they are just making things difficult for President Jonathan, especially now that the country is facing security challenges. And even if there are no security challenges, declaring nationhood out of the entity called Nigeria is a treasonable offence. It is criminal as well. They should appreciate what Nigerians have done for them by electing one of them as the incumbent president of the country. It is equally treasonable and criminal for the Bayelsa State government to be talking about its own anthem and flag. There is no provision for such in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If the Ogoni people and the people of Bayelsa State have any problems, they should tell the whole world what the problems are rather than embark on such a treasonable and criminal offence."
Also speaking, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Solomon Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East) described the acclaimed declaration of the independence of Ogoniland as a response to the burning issues of revenue sharing formula and onshore-offshore dichotomy which, according to him, should be urgently arrested to avert another civil war.
Enang, who spoke to our correspondent on phone, said he believed that Bayelsa State Governor Dickson was trying to put the nation's federalism to test through the state's anthem, flag and coat of arm.
The lawmaker, however, said since it is a constitutional matter, the Attorney-General of the Federation, if displeased with the development, could sue either the state government or its commissioner for justice.
He said, "I think what the so-called leaders of Ogoni have done is a response to the issues of the revenue sharing formula and onshore-offshore dichotomy which I think should be arrested as a matter of urgency because it cannot lead the country to anywhere good. It can lead to another civil war. It is not a proper thing to happen in the country. On Bayelsa State, I think Governor Seriake Dickson is trying to put the nation's federalism to test. He is testing the powers of the federating units to do and have certain things on their own. It is a constitutional matter. If the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation feels it is not the right thing, he could take the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Justice or even the state government to court."
'NOTHING WRONG WIbTH OGONI DECLARATION'
The leader of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, Ankio Briggs, says there is nothing wrong with the recent declaration of self government by the factional leader of the MOSOP.
Brigs, who spoke in a telephone interview with Sunday Trust, said what the Ogoni people are demanding is not too different from what the Boko Haram sect is fighting for in other parts of the country.
"The United Nations has a platform that recognizes the rights of indigenous people to show or indicate that they do not want to be part of where they belong to. So the Ogoni people have a bill of right which they have presented to the United Nations. They are saying that they are not happy with the way the Federal Government is treating them.
"I want to say that what the Boko Haram is doing is not that different from what the Ogoni people are demanding. If people are interpreting agitation by MOSOP and Bakassi as plans to keep Jonathan beyond, we can also say that what Boko Haram is doing is to ensure that power returns to the north in 2015. Boko Haram is making the government of Jonathan, who is an Ijaw man and a Christian from the south unstable. They have made their point clear that they don't want a Christian to rule," the activist added.
Commenting on the signing of the bill on new Symbol, Coat Of Arms, Anthem into Law by the Bayelsa State governor, Briggs explained that the constitution allows states to take such decision. "Nigeria is a federating unit made up of 36 units. We have freedom of speech, we have freedom of association and the constitution also allows for what Bayelsa State has done. That does not symbolize break-up.
"The Bayelsa Symbol, Coat of Arms, Anthem do not overtake the Anthem and Coat of Arms of the country and do not mean Bayelsa is a state of its own. People should stop reading meaning and pretending. We are different people with different religions, and different cultural backgrounds," she stated.
INVOKING THE IDEALS OF ISAAC BORO
The decision of Bayelsa government has created a platform for discourse as to whether Dickson's administration is either threatening a secession for the predominantly Ijaw nation or plainly seeking a means to rally his people for positive development within the context of a united, egalitarian and democratic Nigeria.
The concerns raised by Nigerians, no doubt, is not unconnected with the continued struggle for the Ijaw emancipation, to create a world of their own which at first was began by the late Isaac Adaka Boro and carried on by the likes of the ex-militant Leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, who incidentally had been in the news recently for making inflammatory statements considered as threat to the unity of Nigeria.
The worry over the new Bayelsa symbol intended to give a special identity to the Ijaws suggests to the discerning mind that there is more to mere explanation adduced by the Bayelsa government at this point in the history of Nigeria as a country and when the Ijaws are holding sway at the nation's helms of affairs.
Observers think that the development is an intellectual and calculated agenda of the Bayelsa government (an umbrella of the Ijaws) to gradually declare a nation of their own without the use of arms and with the privilege of having in their control power at the centre.
The unfolding events, however, will certainly reveal whether the Bayelsa symbols are mere watershed or reality in disguise just as tongues are beginning to wag about the real intention of Dickson's emergence as a governor to propagate and execute the Ijaw agenda.
Reacting to the recent self-declaration by his people, the paramount ruler of Bakassi local government area of Cross River State HRH Etim Okon Edet said that his people are ready to become an independent sovereign nation in the event that Nigeria is not ready to guarantee their peace and safety.
Edet, who spoke with the House of Representatives committee on Treaties and Agreements led by its chairman Yacoob Bush-Alebiosu in Calabar, said "we do not really have problems with Nigeria but with Cameroun which benefited from an unjust and fraudulent ICJ verdict; but if Nigeria is not ready or willing to care for us and guarantee our peace, we can take our destiny in our own hands".
He stressed that the Bakassi people can withstand the odd of self-determination, citing the instance of South Sudan which struggled for over 25 years before gaining independence last year.
"Look, I am bitter, very bitter. My temper is high; my head has gone haywire. I have lost my patience. In fact, we do not want any more appeal to the ICJ to reverse their unjust decision. There is no need. We will take Bakassi by whatever means. It is our land, our heritage. Bakassi predates Nigeria and Cameroun. For ten years, my people have suffered untold hardship, deprivation, loses of life savings, degradation and inhuman treatment following our displacement," he added.
He blamed former president Obasanjo and former attorney general of the federation Prince Bola Ajibola, who is now a member of UN Mixed Commission that supervises the Bakassi issue, for their plight.
Pleading with the monarch and his chiefs, Bush-Alebiosu appealed to them to exercise more patience because his committee was determined to do a very thorough job on the Bakassi question.
In his remarks over the development, Governor Liyel Imoke, who spoke through his media aide Christian Ita, appealed to the Bakassi people to pursue their grievances and demands through peaceful means and dialogue.
Also reacting in Lagos, Leader of Bakassi Peoples' Assembly (BPA) Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, has said that the assembly dissociated itself from recent declaration of independence by a group from the area.
Ita-Giwa, who said this while speaking with newsmen on Friday, said the BPA "have no intention to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is our view that the issue confronting the Bakassi people is not served by a declaration of independence, but by accelerating the resettlement of our people in the location of our choice".
She said that the assembly aligned itself with the resolution of the House of Representatives calling for a review of the 2002 ICJ judgement, noting that the statute of limitation for such a move will expire on October 10, 2012, barely eight weeks from now.
"So any such action should be accelerated in the light of the numerous violations of provisions of the Green Tree Agreement by Cameroon authorities. We demand the urgent and expeditious development of the unceded parts of Bakassi, known as Day Spring Islands 1 and 2, as well as Kwa Island," she added.
While regretting that the Bakassi indigenes have been roaming since 2006 because of the need for their comprehensive resettlement, Ita-Giwa urged the Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states to look for ways to reach amicable settlement that would be mutually beneficial to all.