Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
On the 11th of December 1998, one of the most important events in the history of the oil-rich Niger Delta region happened. The location was the small town of Kaiama, just half an hour away from Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state. Present were the most educated youths in the Izon nation (the Ijaw ethnic group) and some of their kinsmen who were on the other side of the academic spectrum.
Also among those present were representatives of 25 civil organizations in the diaspora and five hundred communities from the over 40 clans within the structure of the Izon nation and scattered across six states in Nigeria – Delta, Edo, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Rivers. The reason for the venue was strategic – it was the hometown of Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro, the revolutionary who had seceded the region from Nigeria in 1966 for a twelve-day period.
By the end of the event, everyone present at the gathering had agreed to a communique which was signed by two people – Felix Tuodolo and Timi Kaiser-Wilhelm Ogoriba on behalf of everyone else present.
Another outcome of that process was the the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) formed to, as its motto bluntly states, agitate for “resource control and self-determination by any means necessary”. The council made it a priority to agitate for interests of its people and “ensure the continuous survival of the indigenous peoples of the Ijaw ethnic nationality of the Niger Delta within the Nigerian state.”
It’s pioneer president and vice-president were Dr. Felix Tuodolor and Asari Dokubo respectively. While the one was an intellectual fashioned in the mould of Ken Saro-Wiwa, another role model for all gathered, the other was a warrior like Adaka Boro, before him. Their inclinations were symbolic as it was an atomisation of the constitution of the group they led. While others like Dr. Chris Ekiyor favoured dialogue, Dokubo and his associates like Government Ekpemupolo preferred combat.
Some of those who would come to be part of the IYC had played a pivotal role in defending their people in the 1997 Warri Crisis that saw the Itsekiris pitted against the Ijaws in a squabble that was directly the fault of General Sani Abacha.
The IYC has always rallied support for its own from its formation till now under the leadership of Comrade Udengs Eradiri. Despite publicly claiming that he IYC is not a wing of the People Democratic Party, the body was unsurprisingly partisan during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. At some point, it even threatened to defend the mandate of their brother from Bayelsa by any means necessary. “President Goodluck Jonathan is our own and we will be mobilizing support for his re-election”, Eradiri once said.
40-year old Eradiri was mentored by Ekiyor, who was president of the student union government at the University of Benin at the same time that the younger man was head of the engineering students’ union at the same institution. His grip on the council has seen him re-elected for a second term, even in the face of complaints of his high-handedness from some of the IYC members.
By 30th December when the Kaiama Declaration officially became binding to all who had signed it, the IYC had already taken off as a movement, attracting the best and the dregs of the Ijaw ethnic group.
Till date, that has not changed one bit.