Being the text of the address of Prof Benjamin Okaba, President of the ljaw National Congress [lNC] on the occasion of the 2022 IJAW NATIONAL DAY/THANKS GIVING SERVICE held across the INC zones and chapters on the 21st and 23rd February, 2022
- This year’s celebration, coming soon after our collective re-enactment of the SELF-DETERMINATION goal on December 4, 2021, today therefore, marks a watershed in our history as a people, as we commit to the pursuit of this goal within the ambit of all legitimate, civil and legal protocols under the purview of international statutes and As we once again come together to celebrate our common history, identity, rich culture and heritage, let us not forget our salient impregnable place in Nigeria’s socioeconomic dynamics and politics, which God has blessed us to the chagrin of the feudal hegemonic rulers. It is on this note I welcome our distinguished leaders, eminent royal majesties and highnesses, our fathers and mothers and the most vibrant Ijaw youths to the 2022 celebrations of the Ijaw National Day/Thanksgiving service.
- We have adopted the theme “Taking Ijaw quest for Freedom Beyond Rhetoric” for this year’s celebration of the Ijaw National Day to express our commitment to continue the struggle for Self Determination which our progenitor and liberation icon of blessed memory Major Isaac Jasper AdakaBoro championed. Angered by the oppressive rule of the Nigerian state against the Ijaw people and other minorities of the Niger Delta region, Isaac Boro and his brave young men launched the 12day revolution on February 23rd 1966 an armed liberation movement to free the entire Niger Delta region from the shackles of oppression and marginalization, questioning the basis of the stark abandonment and neglect in all socioeconomic spheres despite the rich resource endowments of the region. A day which has since become epochal and adopted by Ijaw National Congress as Ijaw National Day. It was a day the Ijaw history was redefined, away from the urbane diplomatic persuasions of our first generation activists which, both, the colonial imperialists and Nigeria’s ruling hegemonic class refused acquiescing.
- Permit me distinguished leaders, sons and daughters of the Ijaw nation to pay special tribute to the vision of our forebears, from those who championed the struggle for regional autonomy in pre-independent Nigeria, stating our marginalized and oppressed circumstances unambiguously in the various constitutional conferences leading to Nigeria’s independence; to the irrepressible voices of some of our living legends who have continued to decry and condemn the convulsing practices of the Nigerian state that elects inequity, nepotism, injustice and primordialism as pristine epithets of governance; to our latter day heroes (living and dead) of the struggle who defied all odds at the risk of their blood to catapult our inglorious plight to national and international attention that eventually led to engraving the Ijaw name in the cenotaph of national leadership. These brave Ijaw young men and women that followed the footprints of our iconic leader, Isaac Jasper AdakaBoro to express their angst against the grave injustices and marginalisation suffered by the Ijaws and other minorities in the hands of the feudal hegemony, in the language the world then understood, have engraved their names in the sand of time. Their remarkable selfless sacrifices would continue to be adored and feted by the entire Ijaws yesterday, today and tomorrow.
- As brilliant as our previous actions and strides have tended to upscale the struggle, the approaches (except those that were anchored on advocacy) have invited more negative reprisals than contemplated, resulting in massive destructions, extermination of lives and property and occasional dehumanising annihilation of communities, rendering people homeless. The traumatic outcomes which have not been commensurate with the expected goals of self- determination and freedom are better imagined. We therefore need to rejig our strategies; to move away from the old path of violent advocacy to non-violent methodologies, employing the tools of intellectual engagements based on our established rights and privileges and non-violent resistance – tools that were effectively used by Mahatma Gandhi to gain independence for India in 1947.
- Like what the iconic Nelson Mandela, a man whose towering global image outlives his existence on the physical realm said, “a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”, the Nigerian state and its feudal hegemonic have relentlessly treated the minorities as feudal slaves, with no right to ownership and peaceful existence. Today, the Ijaw nation has become an occupied territory with choke hold policies that deny us our inalienable rights to our own resources. What they give to the minorities with the left hand they collect back with their right hands through their cronies and apologists.
- The Ijaw nation had endured these stultifying circumstances for too many decades, since the birth of the so-called Nigerian nation. Despite our benevolent contributions towards supporting a country to survive, our rewards are reprobation, insults and denigration. We are sick of being part of such an unappreciative clowns in the garb of leaders. This is the reason the decision of the All Ijaw Summit on 4th December, 2021 that Ijaws shall seek SELF DETERMINATION and employ the tools of non-violent resistance to actualize it remains SACROSANCT.
- Interestingly, the development of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace is one of the anchoring pillars of the United Nations as contained in Article 1 of its enabling Charter. Thus, the right to self-determination of peoples is recognized in many other international and regional instruments, including the Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1970; the Helsinki Final Act adopted by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in 1975; the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981; the CSCE Charter of Paris for a New Europe adopted in 1990, and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993 amongst a litany of others.
- The Ijaw nation is therefore on the right trajectory in this regard. Our resolution at the All Ijaw summit to “seek self-determination” is the first and most fundamental step in this regard. This is in addition to other ancillary actions NEC is fully engaged in. The Ijaw struggle for self-determination, powered by ennobling and enabling international laws and statutes shall remain the cornerstone of our actions and engagements.
- As we pursue the actualization of this noble goal, we must critically appraise the dialectic of self-determination and come to terms with the realism that unless our house is firmly built and beds well laid, we may not have buy-ins. It is how we brand and garnish our products that could entice customers. It is therefore imperative to ask the following salient questions. Where do we stand in a free Ijaw nation in terms of our commercial and economic relationship? Where will the traditional agrarian culture of the self-fending Ijaw man and woman be and how do we build on that traditional prowess to create a new vista of self- sufficient economy to serve as an alternate revenue hub for a self-determined Ijaw nation? What can we do differently with our very rich aquatic life and marine assets? What about the bubbling and budding energies of our teeming youths – shall a free Ijaw nation continue to import artisans and other skills or we have to be proactive to marshal appropriate policies to engage them to make a truly self-sufficient Ijaw nation? How about industries that can tap into our rich resource endowment, beyond the predominant oil and gas? What exploratory frameworks do we put in place for an independent Ijaw nation?
- To this end, Congress shall vigorously pursue, employing the diverse intellectual endowment of the Ijaw people in various fields, to prepare us to be fully and dutifully engaged in commerce and industry. We have to commence the preparation of blue prints and marshal-plans that shall deliver an inward looking, robust and concentric economy for a free Ijaw nation. These are the critical pillars a self-determined Ijaw nation shall rest upon. That is the new focus, that is the primary goal of Congress as we march towards actualizing our resolve for a free Ijaw nation. Congress shall, without further delay, activate the various specialized committees provided for in the Constitution to assist NEC develop these fundamental frameworks.
- It was Nelson Mandela that once said that, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. That our right to freedom has not been respected by the Nigerian state which has used draconian laws (laws made without debate) to expropriate our right to resource ownership, control and management is not in contest. It underlies our commitment to seek international support to drive through global recognition to be free indigenous people. Accordingly, we charge all Zonal, Chapter and Clan executive committees to bring to the attention of all Ijaw people through heads of communities & community development committees, schools, centres of worship and public institutions all over ijaw land that the Ijaw People have decided to seek self-determination through peaceful means of non-violent resistance. We shall at the appropriate time send signal to the appropriate quarters of our preparedness to take our DESTINY in our hands and all Ijaws regardless of their persuasion are expected to oblige the clarion call.
- In paraphrasing the iconic words of Nelson Mandela, “during my (our) tenure and possibly lifetime I(We) shall dedicate myself(ourselves) to this struggle for self-determination for the Ijaw people. I(We) shall continue to champion the fight against inequality, inequity, oppression, deprivation and domination of the Ijaw people anywhere. We have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which the Ijaw people shall live together in harmony and treat their neighbours with utmost respect and humility. It is an ideal which we hope to live for and to achieve.
- Finally, it is also imperative that we collectively appreciate the Almighty God for his ever sufficient mercies without which the Ijaw race would have been wiped out of existence. Thanking God for where we had been, where we are and where we are heading to is sine qua non to the successes we are trusting God for.
Long live Ijaw National Congress
Long live Ijaw Nation.
Prof. B.O. Okaba
President INC- Worldwide