Chigachi EkeWednesday, November 28, 2012
Port Harcourt, Nigeria




set out to write on the leadership qualities of Goodluck Jonathan. Along the line I decided to leave Jonathan alone and concentrate, instead, on those he leads. I have my strong reason. Jonathan’s leadership in its present form and content is not his envisioned manifesto. His dealings this past year are more a concerted response than political marksmanship.

Believing since April 2011 the challenge was no longer a dearth of leadership but crisis of followership, in my random reading I have kept an open mind for meaningful solution. No political commentator so impressed me like the statesman who sees an investment in people as necessary step in development. His pro-populi approach, I am convinced, is original and home based. It is also common sense in situ, for which reason I notated it after its exponent as “Esoetok Ikpong Etteh’s Theorem on African Development.”

An Obolo Ijaw, Esoetok Ikpong Etteh snatched an early Western education distinguishing himself as an architect and a reference point in the built environment. In response to the bitter experience of his people at the hands of the military he sacrificed a lucrative practice to join organized resistance in the ‘90s. His political creed is salvation for minorities of the Niger Delta- Ekets, Ikwerres, Effiks, Orons, Ogonis, Ijaws, Annangs, Ekpeyes, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Edos and, so forth.

Ijaw nationalism flowered early in the Third Republic. Etteh, EK Clark, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, Atuboyedia Obianime, Joseph Evah, Oboko Bello, etc, were total in their rejection of Igbos for the Hausa/Fulani. It was a predictable alliance facilitated from the other side by the boring face of Yakubu Gowon who moved his Yakubu Gowon Foundation to the oil capital Port Harcourt. Today, the Ijaw-powered North is a serious menace to the only Ijaw man to rule this country. Of Gowon and his Foundation, there is no trace in Ijaws’ hour of need. From hated Igbos, of all people, comes the much needed succor. Wise Evah is actively building alliance with the Igbo community in Lagos who rejected the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and voted for Jonathan. Igbo communities in Uyo, Port Harcourt and Warri are waiting with crossed hands to know if Etteh and Clark, in particular, would acknowledge Igbo support for Jonathan.

In “Understanding Rivers Politics” Dason Nemieboka thinks Ndigbo support Ijaws only because the latter is the new beautiful bride- an attractive political ally. I completely disagree. But for 1939 Eastern Region creation which wrongfully placed Ijaw territories under Igbo administration in line with colonial divide and rule system, majority Hutu were also brought under minority Tutsi by French colonialism in Rwanda and we know the bitter outcome, pre-colonial Ijaw trading partners were not the Hausa/Fulani but Igbos. And if the river were allowed to follow its natural course, Ndigbo and Ndijaw will work together as they have been doing for thousands of years.

For the rustics to call him father means Etteh was their provider. The unemployed, widows, Oil War casualties, poor fishermen, struggle veterans, young people and families reeling from the economic shock of multiple births all went to him. But no sooner did he empower an indigent indigene than the same face returned to his gates with another mournful story more fantastic than the last. Beneficiaries who managed to set up businesses ran them badly and his people remained as redundant in the petro-dollar economy as ever.

Besides, the excessive violence registered during and after the armed struggle appalled him. Amnesty harvested militants from the creeks but society was no safer. Infrastructures were sabotaged in peace time under a civilian population as in war. The South-South won the Oil War but not the peace as value suffered. Even the gains of armed militancy were not effectively harnessed. Indigenes became complacent as if the world owed them favour. Clearly the injury was now self-inflicted.

We often come out of friendship, career or war with a different emotion from the one we entered them. By the time Etteh handed over the leadership of Ijaw National Congress, INC, Eastern Obolo, and moved to higher office as the Executive Director Project, EDP, in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, he knew that development in the Niger Delta needed a different approach. He had reached that point, so to say, where your accumulated experience must guide your feet against past pitfalls. Yes, the military and big business decimated Ijawland. But it is also true that Ijaws were no less vandals in this orgy of destruction.

Whatever experience this revolutionary had serving his people that produced a different mindset in him may never be fully known. But he underwent a profound change as what he saw sufficiently convinced him that the number one problem of Niger Delta was no longer material but man, not the lack of means but its poor management. People’s inability to manage what little was in place was a clog in the wheel of development, simple. Human failings can no longer be excused.

Greater tomorrow remains elusive if people fail to consolidate on today’s gain. Succeeding generation must build on the ideological and structural foundations left by the preceding, than on tabula rasa. In short, development must be reduced to conservation to be meaningful. Having put the jig-saw together he summed his new approach in very simple terms:

I see architecture as not just a tool for designing
physical structures, but a tool for designing and
shaping the lives of the masses. This is very
important because if we develop structures
and fail to develop the people, these people
would destroy these structures we so much value.

Etteh’s thesis gives extended meaning to what we know as development. Man takes precedence, as in the creation story, over and above the environment. Post-colonial Nigeria deeply steeped in Eurocentric materialism is alienating to the African coming from a culture that unconditionally recognizes man for being man. African culture is man-oriented. If development negates the mores of the people nothing stops an intended beneficiary from kicking against such alien contraption. This is why “development” projects like family planning continues to register 100% failure in Africa.

Secondly, you no longer automatically qualify for infrastructures just because you live in the Niger Delta. For every demand made the burden is on the maker to prove his ability to transcend such demand. This is a shift away from the build-build approach. The end result is quality service delivery as both provider and receiver have complementary roles to play; I shy from using the holistic cliché. My exception to this provider/receiver joint approach, however, is that the beneficiary is never consulted when projects are planned and executed. The beneficiary also has no say in the choice of service provider. This becomes an issue as most infrastructures built in rural Africa are sub-standard.

Intrinsic to this ability-for-development is training beyond formal tutelage. If people were to manage modern infrastructures they must be educated enough to know how to use them. But the very notion of people’s involvement in maintenance also means a given infrastructure must be customized to reflect the local environment, including writing the owner’s manual in African language, to make it user friendly. Equally so, ability-for-development must be liberally read as a host community’s “willingness” rather than “competency.”

Finally, Etteh sees the lumpen masses rather than leadership as site for power and accountability and I couldn’t agree more. Between the powerful center and the weak periphery the scale is traditionally in favour of the former anywhere and anytime in Africa. This can no longer be so if the mighty is now forced to negotiate its exclusive list with the meek. Configure this subversion as the triumph of minority discourse.

Chigachi Eke is an Igbo Rights Activist.