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Veteran journalist Braiye Ekiye reflects @ 72

 

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To come of age; when you reach the stage of development at which you are accepted and valued. Thank God, I have crossed the Biblical 70 years bar and still counting. It can only be God. To Him be the glory and adoration. So what does a man of 72 looks and feels like? From my experience, I really don’t see that marked difference in my drive to work, articulation, emotional stability, sex drive. And as a younger journalist, we use to have the hard one-for-the-road after saturating ourselves with booze. Sure with colleagues, we use to take some hard shots, a Tall Shot, in naval parlance in those days. But those days are gone. Now at 72, you have to tread slowly and even abstain.
As you age you now take voluntary leave of some of these social leeches like drinking, sex, etc. but if you do, you now consciously do these things more responsibly and with caution. Yet, I am still as active as ever, age notwithstanding, restless, creative and sensitive to all that is for humanity’s good and health.
Yes, by Saturday, 31st July, 2021, Braeyi shall be 72 years, by His grace. At age 72, what are the things that make me feel uncomfortable living on earth and in midst of humans like you; born to live but for a brief moment and hush-like the burning candle is put off or the foams at the sea shore, troubled by the waves and disappearing into utter nothingness or thin air.
Gone with the wind ! My worries? Man’s inhumanity to man, his penchant to suppress, oppress, particularly when in authority; to covet, the inordinate pursuit for territorial expansion, mutual hypocrisy etc.
Most of all, what worries me at age 72 is the people of the Niger Delta clear lack of focus towards advancing the cause of unity and enlightened leadership to reclaim and reconstruct their history in their own image and likeness and in the process, defend our hard – earned freedom and sustain it for posterity.
Coming closer home, I am reminded of the good and enduring examples of the Rivers Peoples Conference, the Ijaw Union and such unions across ethnic nationalities in the rich Niger Delta region and its lush environment and rich mineral and agricultural resources.
The exploits of the then Ijaw Union based in Port Harcourt, the Rivers Peoples Constitutional Conference held in Ibadan, leading to their participation in the Constitutional Conferences in London in 1953, 1954 and their valuable contributions to the 1957/58 Sir Henry Willink Commission which was appointed to enquire into the fears of Minorities and the means of allaying them, greatly advanced the cause of Minority politics in Nigeria.
The commission’s findings and final report stated clearly and unambiguously that:
“The Niger Delta region (Minorities) remained poor, neglected and backward.” The report therefore went on to recommend that the Niger Delta region be made a ‘Special Federal Territory, for a focused and accelerated socio-economic and infrastructural development of the region.
Sixty three (63) years after, the region still remains poor, neglected and backward, and largely inaccessible with no modern transport facilities. That is what bothers me at age 72 and many inconsistencies in the politics of participation in Nigeria and the uninspiring roles played by our sons and daughters even in our local politics and development of our harsh difficult terrain.
Is it that what the uncommon fighting spirit of our forebears and their exploits that won us political freedom with sweat and blood means nothing to them? I speak to those who were and are now in the commanding heights of leadership, politics and otherswise, including myself.
Are we not piqued that we are still at the mercies of a self-appointed ruling Oligarchy that has held on to power, appropriating our wealth at their pleasure and with total disdain for the owners of the oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta, 63 years after. That, at every turn, when we find ourselves in political leadership positions, we take pleasure in self-seeking and administrative traits, tantamount to self-aggrandizement that leaves our people and their environment impoverished, stripped of honour and dignity in a land of abundance, of plenty, is unpardonable.
No wonder, our late Minority Kingpin and a man with deep personal experience of Nigerian politics from the inside (apologies to Professor Emeritus, E.J. Alagoa, FHSN), lamented: “Minority politics in pre- and post-independence Nigeria has been a paradox of success which is at the same
time undermined by the beneficiaries of that success.” Success, Chief Biriye said, is a phenomenon measured not only by the height attained in a given endeauour but also by the difficulty through which it is attained. “Unfortunately, he said, “in our Nigerian experience, people who did not participate in a given successful struggle quite often snatched the benefits of victory and perverted that success into misery for those who undertook the struggle.”
What else can one say of the plethora of proven cases of administrative mismanagement and unabashed bribery and corruption cases in our region, right in our Government Houses and Parastatals such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), etc. These inconsistencies and paradox of minority politics worries me at age 72.
Or let’s come closer home. Senator Nimi Barigha Amange, in his 2008 book: “Road To Peace in Niger Delta” also lamented in his preamble: “Today, there are feelings of not belonging or not being part of the Federation called Nigeria by the people of the region. By illustration, Brass in Bayelsa State, except for the St. Nicholas River, with land connections where the Nigeria Agip Oil Company has its Oil Terminal, is 860 km from Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
On the other hand, Maiduguri, the Borno State Capital is 918 km from Abuja.”
A person travelling by road from Maiduguri, Sen. Amange states, will make the return journey in about 18 hours while the person travelling by water and road from Brass will make the one-way journey to Abuja in 20 hours.
The distinguished Senator Amange went on to ask: “Where is the sense of belonging the people of Brass have? The land of Brass/Nembe produces more than one billion naira daily to the Federation Account. A road project to link Brass to the main land through Nembe initiated by the Federal Government in 1974 is below 10% of completion, 34 years after (as at 2008), 47 years now!
He revealed that the Bayelsa State government earmarked 2.5 billion naira for the Nembe-Brass road i.e ; a federal government abandoned project as at 2008.
From Senator Amange’s lament, one would have thought our sons and daughters in positions of authority both at state and federal levels would have risen like wounded lions to interrogate or frontally address these injustices to turn the tide around and to lift this burden off our shoulders.However, with the scarce resources that has accrued to Niger Delta states over the years and with interventionist Federal Agencies like, defunct OMPADEC, now sleeping and corrupt child, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) etc, I sincerely believe we should have done better by showcasing massive infrastructural outlay and sustainable socio-economic and industrial growth and development of our region, the goose that lays the golden eggs that has given Nigeria the Giant of Africa stature and the financial and economic muscle that has shot her to recognizable heights in the International community.
Yes, Chief Melford Obiene Okilo, first civilian democratically elected Governor of old Rivers State was right when he said at the historic occasion marking the transition from military to civilian administration in Rivers State on Monday, October I 1979, and I quote:
“Today is not only Nigeria’s National Day but also the Independence Day of the Rivers people. It is our Liberation Day.”
Chief Okilo therefore called on Rivers people and indeed other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region to “rise like one man and defend and project our new freedom, adding that: “We bought this State with sweat and blood and better you were not born if you sabotage the efforts of the people.”
Yet, we have by omission or commission and by mutual agreement betrayed the just cause of our people. We have thrown to the dogs our enlightened fighting spirit, our consummate intellect and our commitment to exemplary leadership. These virtues form the foundation and root from where environmental awareness and good governance can grow and blossom. From where our people can savour the good things of life and stand sure of sustaining ourselves and to enjoy our environment and defend our hard – earned political and economic freedom from the invading locusts.
Can our just struggle or resistance to the tyranny of the majority groups in Nigeria survive when we ourselves are divided and are content with eating the crumbs from the table of our Task Masters?
Why is it that our control of State power and resources have become a curse and a disservice to our existence and development efforts? If the truth must be told, has leadership in this direction been used, over the years, for the benefit of our people and their environment? Has it not been for self-enrichment and to boost their ego and to satisfy their lavish lifestyles at the expense of the people – the owners of Government?
These and many more that cannot be shared in a single write-up bothers me as I age, and God in his infinite mercies and grace, has allowed me the breath of life to live up to seventy two (72) years. To God be the Glory.
It is my hope that we shall all locate ourselves in this excursion to real State and nationhood and sincerely own up our omissions and commissions and make a U-turn by strengthening our resolve to truly lead by example and shun every trace of injustice and corrupt practices inimical to achieving our goals for a peaceful and prosperous society, leveraged on character, industry, creativity, excellence and justice.
The wake-up call should drive us to re-dedicate ourselves to our shared values of integrity ofb character, hard work and industry bequeathed to us by our forebears if we are to be taken seriously.

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