Power Game SERIES
From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Shortly before the 2011 general elections, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, then a House of Representatives member locked in a political struggle with his predecessor, Timipre Sylva over his bid to return to the Green Chamber took a decision that intrigued many.
In what he said was for the higher interest of the Ijaw nation, Dickson relegated to the background his ambition to remain a House of Representatives member. He rather embraced the controversial state executive of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a tactical and strategic move to close ranks in Bayelsa PDP and secure the support of Sylva ahead of the 2011 PDP presidential primaries.
Generally regarded as a student of power whose strength lies in fighting from the trenches, Dickson since assuming office as governor has left no one in doubt on where he stands on issues concerning the Ijaw nation. While Sylva’s critics would say the style and body language of the former governor was not too comfortable to build a home base support for Jonathan, Ijaw enthusiasts are already applauding Dickson on what they insist is the re-invigoration of the Ijaw nation. From his appointment of an Ijaw son from Delta State as Commissioner to his provision of 50 secondary school scholarships to Ijaws in Edo, Ondo, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom, Dickson, they contend is rallying the support of the entire Ijaw nation.
However, his spearheading the establishment of a flag, anthem and a Coat of Arms for Bayelsa State and by extension the Ijaw nation is being viewed with suspicion from certain vested political interests. The hoisting of the flag and unveiling of the Coat of Arms on October 1st, the 16th anniversary of the creation of Bayelsa, popularly called the Jerusalem of the Ijaw nation has raised the stakes in the search of identity for the Ijaws in the political equation of Nigeria.
The rebirth of the Ijaw nation through an umbrella body should go to the trio of Chiefs Harold Dappa- Biriye, George Weikezi and F.H.E Brisibe who convened a meeting under the aegis of Ijaw Peoples Union in October 1991. Subsequent meetings held laid the foundation of what is today known as the Ijaw National Congress (INC).
Many argue that while its first President, Chief Joshua Fumudoh performed well in raising the banner of the Ijaw nation through the INC, eternal credit must go to Prof Kimse Okoko for actively putting the Ijaws on the political map of Nigeria.
Before Okoko’s tenure, it was not fashionable for the INC to be invited to meetings that involved the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Arewa Consultative Forum. But under Okoko through his fearless views on the Nigeria nation, the INC became a regular participant at the meetings, and the Ijaws were formally recognized as the fourth largest ethnic group even though many would still argue that they should be in the first three.
The golden moment came for the Ijaws during the National Political Reform Conference convened by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Okoko, a Professor of Political Science was among those who led others to walk out of the Conference when there were signs that some vested interests were bent on taking decisions inimical to the interest of the Ijaw nation.
Many Ijaws believed that the fate that befell former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha popularly referred to as the Governor- General of the Ijaw nation towards the end of 2005 was unconnected with the actions of the Ijaw during the failed conference and plans to cow the Ijaws. The real litmus test for the Ijaws came in 2011 at the height of the illness of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and the crisis triggered by the inability of Jonathan, an Ijaw son to take over the reins of government.
Between Sylva and Dickson
It was common knowledge before Yar’Adua’s illness and long absence came to the fore that Jonathan and Sylva did not enjoy the best of relationships even though the duo attempted to hoodwink the public by taking pictures together with smiles pasted on their lips. As the then governor of Bayelsa, when some certain elements in the Nigeria Governors Forum were frustrating the formal taking over of government by Jonathan, many Ijaws had expected Sylva to rise up to the occasion and stand shoulder to shoulder with Jonathan at the crucial time and ensure the Ijaws take a stand. While some political observers would argue that Sylva did not abandon Ijaw interest but adopted another form of engagement with other political interests on the best way out of the problem, many are however of the view that his body language gave him away and provided ammunition for those who serially accused him of being one of the stumbling blocks to the emergence of Jonathan as the then Acting- President.
Political pundits would argued that when many Ijaws looked up to Sylva to speak eloquently of the Ijaw interest while providing the direction as the governor of the capital of the Ijaw nation, he blew away the chance and chose another route.
Dickson on the other hand is a product of the Ijaw struggle. A former National Legal Adviser of the INC, Dickson has a clearer grasp of the issues germane to the Ijaw nation. It is therefore not surprising some of the steps he has taken to fill the void which he and other Ijaw activists believe Sylva did not fill.
At a recent meeting in Yenagoa, some Ijaw leaders expressed displeasure with the former administration of Sylva for not providing a rally point for Ijaws to support President Goodluck Jonathan.
Alabo Graham Douglas noted that the Ijaws had desired a common platform to articulate their thoughts and support Jonathan who is an Ijaw in his programmes for the country.
Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha rued what he called the dislocation that occurred during the administration of Sylva, stressing that the Ijaw nation is now pleased that they have a focused leader in the person of Dickson.
His words: “One major responsibility of a leader is to make sure that those taking over from you are credible people and have the capacity to continue with your programmes. There was a dislocation, but I am glad to say that with the coming into office by Dickson, I am pleased and the whole Ijaw nation is pleased that we have gotten a focused leader who will take the Ijaw nation to the next level”.
Fumodoh believes the Ijaws are now happy that they have a rallying point to support Jonathan which was missing before. According to him, with this rallying point, we can support the president more than ever before.
Quest for identity
Since the issue of the Flag, Coat of Arms and Anthem for Bayelsa and by extension the Ijaw nation was announced, some vested political interests had picked more than a passing interest on the issue. Dickson who was not clearly prepared for the controversy the issue generated has however tried to explain that there is no ulterior motive in the action the Ijaws have taken so far in asking for resource control and proper restructuring of the country.
Speaking at the formal opening of the International headquarters of the INC in Yenagoa, he stated that the Ijaw struggle which does not mean any harm is aimed at building a more united, just, egalitarian and equitable Nigeria, where no section of the country will be oppressed. According to him, President Goodluck Jonathan as a worthy Ijaw son has continued to provide purposeful leadership in the face of daunting challenges no president has ever encountered in the history of the country.
And President Jonathan who was represented by his Special Adviser Research, Documentation and Strategy, Oronto Douglas, told the Ijaws that time is ripe to change tactics in the engagement with other ethnic nationalities in the country. He said the aspiration of a better Nigeria being championed by the Ijaw nation should be pursued without breeding mutual suspicion in the country.
His words: “My point is that the strong unity and fraternity which are the hallmarks and foundation of the INC should be utilized with extreme responsibility and realistic application. We must constructively and robustly engage ourselves and others along practicable and peaceful modalities. Whatever misgivings, grievances we bear or corrections we seek should be presented and pursued with a high sense of inclusivity in a way and manner that encourages appreciation and visions and not in any way that increases mutual suspicion, encourages strife and further complicates inter-relationships and alienates acceptable platforms for solutions.
“We can be firm without fury, resolute without revolt and wittingly and tactfully effective without compromising our position or losing ground. Not much progress is made in an atmosphere of rancour, though there might be much noise and upheaval. So much time and even lives of vibrant youths have been lost in the journey to the present and we can no longer afford any more losses”.
He added: “On this great occasion, let me use the opportunity of our gathering, united under the strong umbrella of the INC to suggest the adoption of renewed strategies of effective engagement and propagation of applying our best in human and material resources to design and achieve what is realistically best for all Ijaws in harmony with the best interests and collective will of our country Nigeria.
“For indeed our fate as a nation, expressed through a better defined constitution or through stronger federalism, whatever we as a nation decide as best cannot be effected in isolation but by the understanding, mutual respect and in cooperation of all within this great country of ours”.
What other speakers failed to mention was that the Ijaw nation must avoid politics of exclusion among its people and banish politicization of the affairs of the INC as they consolidate their position in the politics of Nigeria.
Fortunately, Dickson has started on a good note but that is not enough to say like some people are already arguing that those before him were lesser Ijaw than him. Political observers believe that actions such as attempting to obliterate the contributions of Sylva no matter how modest to the growth of Ijaw nation should not be encouraged by Dickson.
In 2010 and 2011 when Jonathan took over from Yar Adua and contested the Presidential elections, the belief was that it would be the only challenge; however, meeting the governance needs of Nigerians has proved to be the main challenge. Buffeted from all sides with criticisms of poor performance and deteriorating security situation, many argue that internal crisis is not what the Ijaw nation needs now.
The thinking is that Dickson who has shown he is prepared to show the light must not falter as all eyes are on him. As a consensus builder, he must ensure all cracks within the political elites of the Ijaw nation are mended. On the home front, his dream to make Bayelsa the hub of the Ijaw nation, must not wane and be compromised.
The Ijaws have shown that they are prepared to take their rightful position in the affairs of Nigeria and Dickson being the governor of the only Ijaw state is in the driving seat and cannot afford to slip.