Last week, the leadership of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the foremost umbrella body of the Ijaw ethnic nationality, paid a visit to the President and Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, the nation’s capital city.
The high power delegation was led by the national president of the INC, Prof. Benjamin Ogele Okaba alongside former president Goodluck Jonathan, elder statesman, Pa Edwin Clerk, some first class monarchs and other distinguished ljaw sons.
It was the maiden official visit of the newly inaugurated 8th executive council of the pan-ljaw apex decision making body to the presidency. The visit received accolades from all parts of the ljaw nation as it presented an ample opportunity for the people of the fourth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria to voice out their grievances so as to enable the federal government take necessary action.
During the visit, the ljaws took their time to put forward very pertinent issues bothering on the development of not only the ljaw extraction but the Niger Delta region. Their demands were crafted in a well worded ten-point statement which was handed to the president for urgent attention.
Top on the list of their demands was the need for them to control their God given natural resources including crude oil and other aquatic resources as it is being done in other parts of the country where natural resources are controlled by the aboriginal dwellers. Also of front burner in their demands is the creation of two additional Ijaw homogeneous states to be named as Oil River and Toru-Ebe states.
Other important demands made by the Ijaw leaders include legalization of modular refineries and issuance of licenses to operators, relocation of oil companies head offices to areas where oil exploration and exploitation occur. They also demanded for the completion of the East/West Road without further delay as well as constitution of a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Another salient demand made by the delegation was for the national assembly to repeal all obnoxious laws that had balkanized the Ijaw people over the years and robbed them of their fundamental rights. As Prof. Benjamin Ogele Okaba rightly puts it, “our plights are becoming unbearable. Our story is that of a people well blessed. It is an history of a people well blessed within their natural habitat and aboriginal locations but paradoxically, we have been so dislocated politically, economically and socially. We have been intentionally deprived the space to prosper and soar as a people, we have been made refugees in our aboriginal lands while our wealth has been taken to give an asylum of opulence to the rest of Nigeria.”
Moreso, the delegation demanded that the International Oil Companies should contribute 3% of their annual budget to the NDDC for proper funding of its projects. They also declared that though they are cooperating with the federal government to ensure peace and development in the Niger Delta and the country at large, and have no secessionist plan, they won’t hesitate to do so if need be. The Ijaws reiterated calls by different parts of the country for the restructuring of the Nigerian state to give room for true federalism. They equally intimated the president that the pan-ljaw sociocultural group was planning an All ljaw Summit to evaluate their unsavory treatment by the Nigerian state over the years.
We commend the INC for the proactive move to reposition and rewrite the ugly story of the ljaw nation. This goes to show that the Okaba led INC executive council has the development of the ljaw people and the Niger Delta at heart. We are also completely on the same page with the INC on all the demands made during the visit.
We therefore call on president Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to do the needful and on time too. All the issues raised during the visit of the INC to president Buhari are germane to the peace and development of the Ijaw people and Niger Delta in general and should be handled with ebullient attention.