FEATURE ARTICLE

Monday, April 26, 2021
uokwukwu@yahoo.com

IJAW NATIONAL CONGRESS (INC) 2021: THE EKIYOR CHALLENGE

Dr Chris Ekiyor

Introduction

he Ijaw will elect a new National Executive Council, NEC, of the Ijaw National Congress, INC, on 30th April. That the INC is still in existence means it has performed credibly well as some organisations that came into existence at the same time with it have all fizzled out. As a major player in the Niger Delta, the socio-cultural body has worked for the entire region so that when it speaks other nationalities appear to have spoken with one voice.

Expectations are high. Ijaws, like Ndigbo and other regional groups, are in perilous times with insecurity and youth who think of getting rich without hard work staring at them in the face. We have reduced ourselves to a laughing stock abandoning industry that took us to the pinnacle of post-colonial Nigeria.

It logically means to get it right we must go back to what this part of the world was when we produced the JP Clarks, Chinua Achebes and Elechi Amadis. We must rediscover the mindset that propelled to limelight the Edward Kobanis, Gabriel Onyiukes, Nabo Graham-Douglases, EJ Alagoas and Tekena Tamunos. Of utmost interest to us was the social condition that made it possible for Sam Mbata to emerge foremost African merchant and Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu the first African to successfully graduate from Harvard in 1960 at 25.

Our dilemma is not just that we have ceased producing great men and women, we are also buffeted by crisis of succession, defined as our inability to groom a successor to manage the cultural values, estates and associations we built. Ogonis, Ikwerres, Ijaws, Urhobo, Effiks, Ibibios, Igbos, etc, all have the problem of transferring legacies from one generation to another. This often leads to internal upheavals. For instance, at the town union level litigation is often the order of the day on who becomes the next traditional ruler. The same problem is even more pronounced in socio-cultural associations when it comes to who becomes the next president. Succession hazards are always there.

Crisis of succession, in other words, leadership problem, is both vertical and horizontal. Vertically, we fiercely resist women from leading the INC as enshrined in its constitution, for instance. And horizontally, competent young men are also resisted from leadership position on one pretext or another. We are progress-resistant when our young sons and daughters cannot be elected President of Nigeria, governor, Igwe, Obong or Amanyanabo; even though we congratulate American Vice President Kamala Harris.

A society unwilling to be led by its very best on account of their young age will soon be retired by other progressive entities. China led the ancient world with a centralized administration under an emperor. But it made the mistake of shutting out young professionals with new ideas. That was how it lost the initiative to pro-young Europe in the race for Industrial Revolution. The young navigator called Christopher Columbus was given the support to make his voyage of discovery. The wealth he hauled back fueled researches in science and technology. The rest is history.

So we are getting it wrong shutting out intrepid young minds whose bright ideas could change the Niger Delta. What is the virtue expending billions training our professionals only to deny them mantle of leadership? Why treat them with suspicion not minding their best intentions? But the best hands to steer our affairs this 21st Century are our young professionals quick in responding to the changing world outlook.

Dr Chris Ekiyor is the youngest contender for the INC presidency in the April 30th election. But certain Ijaws, mainly in their 50s, are hostile to his candidacy. Their attitude is that 49-year-old Ekiyor must wait for 20 years more to develop the wisdom needed to lead the INC. Clearly, something is deeply wrong if Ijaw elders are positively disposed to Ekiyor’s candidacy while his peers and fellow comrades are not.

Ijaws must get it right. The world was interested when High Chief Chidi Ibe was elected President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide on 9th January 2021. It is still interested in what leadership emerges in the INC election.

Who is Ekiyor?

Dr Chris Ekiyor, physician, community leader and philanthropist, is of Ijaw parentage from Bomadi in Delta State. A product of University of Benin, he is the founder and Chief Medical Officer of Rahi Hospital, Port Harcourt. His Integration Summit Group Nigeria, ISG-N, is a veritable vehicle for national cohesion.

Five Ijaw statesmen command a lot of respect in Igboland. They are Alhaji Asari Dokubo, Dr Felix Tuodolo, Sgt Weri Digifa, Engr Udengs Eradiri and Ekiyor. For their genuine love for Ndigbo, they are celebrated in Enugu, Port Harcourt, Umuahia, Abakaliki, etc. When the going gets tough, you find them standing up for us. Other reputable Ijaws positively cited in Igboland include Frank Opigo, Sylvanus Cookey, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Dame Patience Jonathan.

Ekiyor is no stranger to us. Between 2017 and 2011, he was constantly in the news as one of the leading voices against militancy in the Niger Delta. As president of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Ekiyor worked with us in safeguarding critical oil infrastructures in the region at a time the Federal Government appeared helpless. His weapon was the Kingian Non-Violence Approach to Social Change, taught him by the Allen Onyema-led Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN.

Hand in hand with great ideologues like Alhaji Dokubo, Tuodolo, Oyeinfe Jonjon, TK Ogoriba, Dan Ekpebide, Mike Wenebowei, Sgt Weri Digifa, Udengs Eradiri, Timi Alaibe, etc, Ekiyor negotiated the Niger Delta into the 2009 Presidential Amnesty. He achieved this against great opposition that almost led to his assassination at the hands of Ijaw men-of-war who saw amnesty as an undesirable setback in a winnable Oil War.

Ekiyor is one of few respected leaders who can stand and tell Ijaws, “My brothers and sisters, please send every Ijaw child to school” and his advice is heeded. A serious character who earns a living through private practice, he cannot be neglected in any discussion involving Ijaw culture and the black world as his understanding of modern Africa is commendable. A role model to struggling Ijaws, his efforts building bridges between Ijawland and the outside world has translated to better ethnic harmony. If indeed Ekiyor is educated, experienced, and a defender of Ijaw culture, why the opposition to his candidacy?

But is He Qualified?

The constitution of Nigeria is very clear on minimum age for holders of public offices. To be governor one has to be 35 years and president 40 years. In terms of age, therefore, Ekiyor is qualified to vie for the highest office in Nigeria.

Equally so, the 2019 Reviewed Constitution of the Ijaw National Congress qualifies Ekiyor to contest for INC presidency. Article 21 covers “ELECTIONS AND APPOINTMENTS INTO ORGANS OF CONGRESS.” Section (A) on “Qualification” states: (1) He/ She have not been officially adjudged to be bankrupt. (2) He/ She have not been convicted for an offence involving dishonesty by a court of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria and abroad. (3) He/ She has not been removed from office by the National Convention. (4) He/ She is not insane. (5) In addition, he/ she shall fulfil the following conditions:

Article 21, (A) (a) specifically laid down the qualifications for any Ijaw standing for election into the NEC. Such person (i) Must have been a participating member of Congress for at least twelve (12) calendar months before election. (ii) Must be sponsored by the zone or Chapter where he/she is a registered member. (iii) Must be presented for election by at least thirty (30) members from each zone. (iv) Must have had Senior Secondary Certificate or its equivalent. (v) Must fulfil all other requirements laid down by the National Electoral Committee of Congress. Ekiyor credibly satisfies Article 21 (A) (a). He is constitutionally qualified to run for the INC presidency.

Constitutional requirements aside, our sterner argument is that the INC and Nigeria need men and women of integrity, character and vision as leaders. We need clear headed leaders with deep love for the people; leaders who can defend what is right, fair and equitable. Nigeria needs compassionate leaders who can do justice to all men without regards to their gender, tribe, race, language and belief. The gentle Ekiyor is such a leader.

The Ekiyor Challenge

For decades we have worked with Alhaji Asari, Ekiyor, Eradiri, Digifa, and Tuodolo; we are also confident they can say same about us. Without exception, they all have deep-seated respect for the Ijaw elders, leaders, chiefs and kings. They are also versed in Ijaw culture; no doubt about that. It inspires us that from this crop of intrepid Ijaws has emerged a leading candidate for INC presidency.

Ekiyor’s candidacy, no doubt, has shaken the very foundation of his society. But it shouldn’t be so. He means well. Against the weak argument that he’s too young to lead the INC, mainstream opinion in Ijawland still favours generational change, made manifest in his candidacy, for greater Ijaw. In this shrinking and technologically driven world, a 70-year-old man may not get it right where a young man of 35 got it.

Big degree and age should never be barriers to capable leadership. How old was Barack Obama when he became the president of one of the biggest democracies? How old was Murtala Ramat Mohammed when he became Head of State in 1975? How old was Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo when he also became Head of State in 1976? Muhammadu Buhari became Head of State on 31st December 1983, how old was he? How old was Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff when he became the military governor of old Rivers State in 1967? He was only 26 but performed exceptionally well even in cultural matters.

The Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Ogbakor Ikwere, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, etc, in our estimation, would gladly negotiate with the youthful Ekiyor as INC president. How old was Harold Dappa-Biriye when he negotiated Ijaws into an alliance with the Sir Ahmadu Bello-led Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, in 1959? The world will gladly negotiate with a Chris Ekiyor-led INC whether in Yenagoa, Ibadan, Enugu, Kaduna, Beijing or London. Besides, his young age means he can remain on the road for weeks with little harm to his health.

All over the world, the emerging trend is entrusting leadership into the hands of young patriots willing to adapt. At 40 Emmanuel Macron was voted into power as President of France. Oba Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi Ojaja II, the cultural head of the Odua race, was only 41 when the progress-prone Yorubas crowned him the Ooni of Ife. The young Ojaja II broke all records when he appeared in the White House side by side with American President Barack Obama to negotiate the Yoruba interests. We could go on. Gani Adams was 47 when Yorubas crowned him the Aare Ona Kakanfo.

Under highly creative, flexible, adaptive and young leaders, the Yoruba culture is resuscitated and vibrant today. Even food production is exponentially increased as the Ooni of Ife, a university graduate, acquires and distributes millions of improved seedlings to Yoruba farmers every farming season.

So we must get it right. The INC leadership to emerge at the end of this month must work with other progressive organisations in and outside Nigeria. Africa is becoming a small village and we are facing the same challenges, namely, diseases, hunger, insecurity, etc. There must be collaboration across board if we must address these problems.

African problems are externally induced as no African produces bullets. The weapons we use in killing ourselves are from outside and that is a very important point we must avert our minds to. Africans must be ready to fight against externally-induced violence that exacerbates poverty that pushes our best minds to Europe and America where they develop their economies.

Productive minds do not like unstable environment. Our very best will migrate if war breaks out leaving us with our Second Eleven. Ijaw doctors, pharmacists, engineers, etc, will all escape to stable countries if Ijawland descends into another Oil War.

A number of variables aligned to produce Macron, Ojaja II and Adams. If times and circumstances did not favour their emergence, none would have heard about them. Here in the Niger Delta, series of tragedies, setbacks and losses combined to create in the heart of the Ijaw the zeal to change things and survive. Hence, Ekiyor’s candidacy. Our ability to identify and take advantage of the conditions that converged to produce him is the challenge before us.

Conclusion

The Ohanaeze sees Ekiyor as a broad minded patriot and nationalist. We’ll be pleased to have him as leader of the INC. Ndigbo would be thankful to the larger Ijaw nation if they consider Ekiyor worthy to lead their organisation as we are very desirous to develop a synergy with Ijaws now and in future. We see him as one who would be useful in this direction.

We know Ekiyor as a great Ijaw statesman with the larger interests of his people at heart. He’s a grassroots man who committed private funds attending to the medical and educational needs of rural Ijaws. His Rahi Medical Outreach takes positive steps to uplift the welfare and wellbeing of women, children and the aged.

The Ekiyor we know, like the Asari, Eradiri, Tuodolo and Digifa we know, is a man of character and integrity. We urge delegates to vote according to the dictates of their conscience without yielding to external pressures. We believe the outcome will favour Ekiyor.

This election is crucial for the survival of Ijaws as Nigeria goes into a major transition. The NEC it will produce will determine the destiny of all Ijaws when push comes to shove in 2023. Nigeria is in crisis. We urge voting delegates to first consider the Ijaw interests before personal interests.

We urge the Asaris, Digifas, Tuodolos, Eradiris and others who played major role in bringing peace to Ijawland to support Ekiyor who is their own comrade-in-arms. Ndigbo would also backed any of them in Ekiyor’s shoes. Ekiyor wants to address climate change, environmental pollution, mass poverty, illiteracy and food insecurity through an expanded definition of the socio-cultural list. Once these matters are attended to the Ijaw would have excelled. He cannot achieve his goal without your strong support.

Finally, it is in the collective interests of Ndigbo, Itshekiri, Urhobo, Ibibio, Ogoni, Bini, Yoruba, etc, to rally round Ekiyor to win this election. His victory will send direct message that his achievement can be repeated elsewhere in stopping external forces from determining who leads our socio-cultural organisations. It will convince the world that indigenous peoples can assert themselves without recourse to external forces.

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