By Dr. Ben Binebai
Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons…not by those who are oppressed, exploited and unrecognized. It is not the helpless subject to terror, but the violent who with their power create the concrete situation which begets ‘the reject of life’ it is not the tyrannized who initiate despotism, but the tyrant (Paulo Freire1970)
I stand here today to speak with approval from the stars as a guest lecturer on the goodwill of the Editor-in-Chief of GbaramatuVoice, to keep history alive essentially by fanning the embers of the intellectual and political activism in the Ijaw liberation struggle. A struggle predicated on the paradox of Ijaw existence and the continuous condition of Ijaw subalternity in post-colonial Nigeria. I am here to intellectually lament and unearth in my own way, the world’s cruel ambitions that have kept Ijaws generally and generationally broken. it is therefore, a rare privilege to be invited back to base to deliver a lecture on Niger Delta struggle particularly, the role of the media at this auspicious occasion of the internationalization of Gbaramatu.
Theoretical framing of Niger Delta struggle
The Niger Delta struggle can be measured with some related theories. These are: Dislocation of dislocation, Social Thermodynamic theory (Egbesu-based theories). The term dislocation takes its root from biological science. Dislocation occurs when extreme force is put on a ligament, allowing the ends of two connected bones to separate. Ligaments are flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect various bones and cartilage. According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex, dislocation is the displacement of a body part, especially the temporary displacement of a bone from its normal position. And in Chemistry, displacement is an imperfection in the crystal structure of a metal or other solid materials resulting from an absence of an atom or atoms in one or more layers of a crystal.
Dislocation when applied beyond its scientific signification has cultural, political, literary, religious economic and psychological implications. The experience of dislocation paralyses a functioning system. It may be the human anatomical system or the conventional virtues of a society. At the level of the human body and soul, diseases and accidents, spiritual crimes and curses could be deciphered as agents of dislocation. At the societal levels, political, cultural and economic terrorism, marginalization and oppression present themselves lucidly as agents of social dislocation. Dislocation is an unbalancing presence in both human body and society when it is applied negatively. It also functions as a health stabilizing force and a force for social balance when appropriated in a positive sense.
The terms ‘dislocation’ and ‘dislocating’ point to a theoretical praxis in which they can be experienced positively and negatively. The same negative force attracts positive negativism or negative positivism to attain freedom. In essence, when force is applied to set free a force that has dislocated a body it becomes a positive dislocating force. Dislocation theory is the elimination of bad conditions in the body through the same dislocating methodological approach. Dislocating or dislocation of dislocation expresses itself in a literary piece that exposes vice and rendering it powerless. It displaces the evil grip of the tyrant and antagonist and negotiates the location of a better deal. A dislocated society is an unbalanced society, a society in which majority or some of its citizens are denied freedom and protection. The freedom theory of dislocation created from the Ijaw revolutionary proverb, Orukolokolagha, Iyearefugha translated in English means ‘if the gods are not cruel, they will die of hunger and starvation’.
Thermodynamics are fundamental laws of the physical universe. These laws are the law of conservation of energy, the law of entropy: direction and movement of energy, the law of speed: speed and movement of energy and the law of balance: initiator and terminator of movement of energy. When applied to human interpersonal interaction, it becomes social thermodynamics. The thesis of social thermodynamics is built upon the triangle of justice which is used as a logical formula to determine a good or bad law. A good law should produce protection, freedom and balance. Natural law is eternal, universal, supreme and unchangeable. Its supreme properties: freedom, protection and balance are clear keys for a successful human life. These are laws contained in Egbesu. For the deity represent freedom, protection and balance. Thus, Egbesu is conceived as theoretical foundation of the Izon Restorative philosophy which tilts towards the bearing of positive dislocation to dethrone negative dislocation.
Through philosophical rationalization, we have come to realise that Egbesu embodies an art, philosophy, ideology, principles and social instructions with pronounced principles identified as non infringement on the fundamental rights of living things and the question of all things functioning as a whole within the same space and time. Egbesu is a theological myth, an intellectual domain of philosophy which uses no bodily form but contemplates the very essence of God. The legend of Egbesu which is a product and production of spiritual reality is charged with the responsibility of restoring order that faces imbalance. As an intelligible and intelligent super natural being he is posted to rule over the cosmic and natural worlds of order to restore order in the Izon world when natural laws are broken by either internal or external forces. He is therefore the embodiment of freedom, protection, and balance. Thus, in Izon religious and cultural settings, Egbesu is strongly conceived as the divine enforcer of God’s laws. He stands for the restoration of law and order when and where there is a violation. The struggle for a better deal is predicated on these liberation theories and philosophies of justice.
In addition to the above, I wish to adduce that the constant crisis between the Niger Delta and the Nigerian Nation is hinged and powered by the philosophy of moral relativism arising from the secularization of human existence which has no connection with God and religion. The implication is that every action and conduct is justifiable. A notion which makes personal gain more justifiable than anything else. Esiaba Irobi is of the view that in an oppressed society, terrorism is justified. Terrorism is a legitimate tactic of all down trodden people seeking to combat an oppressive government (Hangmen also Die 1989). The nation is thrown into an interminable and vicious ring of retrogression and pain baptized by the flood of moral relativism. While the federal government feels justified to make laws to impoverish and exploit the Niger Delta and sees nothing wrong in the appropriation of violent force to destroy protesting communities, the militants or agitators on the other hand also find it morally admissible to destroy and cripple national economy through pipeline vandalism, kidnapping and other insurgent economic practices.
Historical Background to the Ijaw Struggle in the Niger Delta
To talk about Media and Niger Delta struggle without providing an historical background will be an uninspiring thing to do. Ijaw ethnic nationality has struggled for proper placement in the Nigerian nation-state for a long time now. The same factors that led to the destruction of Ijaw kingdoms in the Niger Delta by the Royal Niger Company in collaboration with the British government during the pre-colonial and colonial epochs have surfaced deathlessly even in post-colonial Nigeria. In all these phases of the struggle, Ijaw towns are destroyed along with their vocal voices of liberation in one form or the other. From the slave trade era through the age of legitimate trade leading to colonialism and post-colonialism, the Niger Delta Ijaws have been struggling for liberation.
These stages have produced four period set of liberation fighters. At about 1888, Mack Tanger, a Royal Niger Company mercantilist resident in Forcados shelled Ayakoromo settlement in Ngbilebiri –Mien kingdom leading to the demise of Agia, my great grandfather, the elder brother of Onduku, the then Ayakoromo warlord, who caused the war. At Oborotu, Chief Tainyan, the Ogungbenowei of the settlement, who shot and paralyzed Tanger’s right hand that led to peaceful settlement, crushed Mack Tanger’s myth of invincibility and destruction. It is interesting to note that commencing from 1895 when King Koko took up arms against the oppressive Royal Niger Company of the British to our present era of the struggle; the Ijaws of the Niger Delta have put in more than century of liberation struggle. The first period of struggle lasted for 45years (1895-1940) the period from Dappa Biriye 1940 to Isaac Boro revolution of 1966 took 26years. From the Boro revolutionary epoch 1966 to 1998-the era of the Ijaw youth’s declaration of freedom at Kaiama up to this time of the avenging avengers (2016), the struggle has recorded another 49years.
The first people who fought for the liberation of the Ijaw nation were the traditional rulers and prominent chiefs of the colonial era. At that time the Ijaws lived in clans and kingdoms. They appropriated armaments for self-defense and liberation when the alien rule became intolerable. The Opobos under king Jaja, the Nembes under King Frederick Williams Ofrimalekeleke Koko, the Oborotus of Iduwini under the military command of Taiyan, Ayakoromo under the Ondukus and Agias and Chief Ambakederemo of Kiagbodo. King Onoru of Yenagoa and king Ibanchuka of Okrika were among the first set of freedom fighters the Ijaw nation produced in the liberation history of the race. The setting of this period in history is the 19th and 20th centuries, precisely, between the early 1880s to the first four decades of the 20th century. These struggles brought nothing but devastation to Ijaw clans and communities.
Educated elites who were Ijaw patriots and nationalists were the second set of people who struggled for the region, prominent among them, Chief Harold Dappa Biriye. Their approach to the struggle was characterized by political representation and intellectual persuasion. This period spanned from the 1940s to the years after independence. The colonialists were educated and political pressure was put forth on them to see and treat Ijaw area as a special area for special developmental attention. The tangible result of this second stage of the struggle is the awareness that the Ijaws in Nigeria are an oppressed nationality in Nigeria. It also witnessed the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board. The Ijaws were first Balkanized into the then Eastern and Western Regions in 1939. There was therefore, the compelling desire for Ijaws to come together to secure for themselves self-determination. The Ijaw leaders especially originated and advanced the practice of stateism as a veritable solution to the Ijaw problem. But unfortunately, stateism, the philosophic firing line of Harold Dappa Biriye, which is an emphasis on state creation in Nigeria, was dramatically appropriated to undo the hopes and aspirations of the Ijaw ethnic nationality.
The third set of the freedom fighters went a step further by applying the force of arms to declare the independence of the Ijaw nation, known in Nigerian history today as Republic of the Niger Delta. This epoch was led by Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro. This era is the most radical and revolutionary of all the phases because it was greatly galvanized by separatism nationalism drive, which was a fertile embodiment of all the cardinal arguments highly developed in the Ijaw freedom struggle. Isaac Boro’s Twelve-Day Revolution gave prominence to minority political struggles in Nigeria. By this time the Niger Delta oil found mostly in Ijawland, had become the main stay of Nigeria’s economy. And the politics to control this economic asset by the Nigerian political hegemonic sinful dancers and their collaborators dominated the centre scene of the nation. The Nigerian civil war exposed the Ijaws as powerful fighters, whose unity could threaten the federation in the voodooist rationalization of the powers that be; consequently, the Federal Government demolished the structure of Regionalism and adopted Stateism which was used as a political sledge hammer to balkanize the Ijaw nation away from its geopolitical unity and self-determination in Nigeria. This period saw the creation of Rivers state in 1967, 7years after independence and Bayelsa state in 1996, 36years after independence.
The fourth phase of the struggle came under the control of Ijaw youths who applied militancy but never declared the political independence of the Ijaw nation. Before this phase of the struggle, there was a period of enlightenment spearheaded by Chief P. Z Aginighan. I was a small boy at Burutu when he came to deliver a printed lecture on oil politics and marginalisation of the Ijaw nation. P.Z who was then an academic at the College of Education, Warri, carried his campaign to many Ijaw towns and kingdoms. The initial freedom fighters of this era saw the inevitable limit to endurance of tyranny. They filled their minds with every waking thought of liberation to destroy the black garment the Ijaw destiny is dressed in Nigeria by the oppressors. This phase which started in 1998 during the Kaiama Declaration showcased both vocal educated elites of Ijaw extraction drawn from various professional disciplines. It was an era of eclectic liberation approach: Political persuasion, revolutionary conscientization of the masses through the mass media are taken along with brave militancy to press for the proper positioning of the Ijaw nation in Nigeria. The argument of this era is predicated on resource control, true federalism and self-determination. This is the unifying demand of the Pan-Ijaw freedom foundations: The Ijaw National Congress (INC), the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), among others. The star result of Ijaw struggle in this epoch is the establishment of the NDDC with its headquarters in Port-Harcourt and the delivery of the office of the Vice President and later the president of the country to the Niger Delta in 2011.
The hard fact to worry about is that Ijaw nation has a permanent problem in Nigeria that cannot be solved with institutions that can be dissolved and high offices that are temporary. The Niger Delta problem is an Ijaw problem. Until the Ijaws in the Niger Delta are properly positioned permanently in Nigeria the Niger Delta will always remain a hotbed of political and economic agitations. The Nigerian government that is willing to genuinely lay to rest the problems in the Niger Delta should consider as a matter of urgency, the arguments of the Ijaw ethnic nationality as presented by the INC. For the Niger Delta as a whole, the strongest demand is resource control. For the Ijaws, it is the question of self-determination in the form of creation of more state for the Ijaws. This is because we are living in a country where we are politically marginalized and cruelly balkanized into various geo-political locality under the political, cultural, economic and cruel psychological hegemony of either major or minor tribes in Nigeria. This is considered a grave danger to the survival of the identity of the Ijaw ethnic nationality.
Bayelsa state now enjoys self-determination. This is because its Ijaws can now draw up a development scheme for themselves. They can enjoy the dividends of resource control if the dream materializes. But the Ijaws who are deliberately scattered into Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State, Edo State, Delta State and Ondo State do not have such a blessing. They cannot control their own wealth in those states. Despite the long years of political gerrymandering, balkanization and oppression, majority of the Ijaws are still inevitable and compulsory minorities in various states of the South-South geopolitical zone. This is in keeping with the recommendations of the Justice Nasir Boundary Adjustment Commission set up by the General Olusegun Obasanjo military Government, quoted in the Ijaw position Paper, titled Exploitation and Neglect:
Adding more oil producing areas to Rivers State already with the largest concentration of oil wells would give that state a preponderance of economic power… Because of past experiences and exigencies of national security, it would be most sensible to put the oil wealth in a number of states rather than concentrate them in one state” (quoted by Dime & Agbegha 1992)
Since then, the Ijaws have been the most affected victims of this oil politics in Nigeria. It is now clear that it is the oil in Ijaw land that has resulted in her balkanization. According to Bruce Walter, “Balkanization refers to the fragmentation of that unhappy quadrant of Europe long oppressed by degenerate Ottoman rulers. The Balkans needed to be Balkanized. The peoples of the Balkans, like the Jews after the Holocaust, understand how possession of a state – however small (Israel is not too big) – allows an ethnic, religious, or racial group to live in peace and freedom.
I noted in When the oil Runs Dry… that
Nigeria provides the worst experience of balkanization in the history of the term. This is the reason it is referred to as criminal. While to the rest of the world balkanization means giving some form of self-determination to warring people within the same geographical setting, in Nigeria it has come to mean to divide (a region or territory) into small, often hostile units to continue wars of acrimony. There is no record of Ijaws in Nigeria’s Niger Delta fighting themselves to warrant any form of separation. (2010)
The Ijaw struggle has produced politicians, human rights activists, environmental rights advocates. It has created poets, dramatists and prose-fiction writers. These writings are not pale; they are flowery as they are pungent and sociologically conditioned. But the Ijaw problems are virtually defying the writers scale. Even the dreaded phenomenon of the oil drying up and lying fallow does not seem to bother the struggle anymore. A very critical watcher of things in this country will note that Nigeria is a country disunited by unity and united by disunity. Oil is the reason for Nigeria’s unity and the reason for Nigeria’s disunity. It is the reason for the development of the nation and the reason for the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. It is the reason for the unity of major ethnic nations and it is the reason for the criminal balkanization of the Ijaws, it is the reason for many forms of violence, political violence, ideological, historical, psychological, geographical and epistemic violence. It is the reason for Ijaw subalternity, the reason for perpetual political domination, economic cannibalism and what Esiaba Irobi called political attackancy in his seminal drama Hangmen also Die.
Forms of struggle in the Niger Delta
Music is a self-motivated and highly stimulating power that affects and embraces philosophy, politics and democracy, economic growth, tradition, globalisation and social criticism. Music contains voice. Voice particularly in music video is a powerful agent for expressing cultural identity and critical comments on the society. The question of agency itself is very germane within the framework of postcolonial art and theory. This is because it concerns itself with issues of reasserting a self-determining identity that has been or is been subjugated by either former or present colonial powers. Poets, novelists and dramatist have from the classical Greek era used their arts to speak for their societies. The Ijaw music scene is populated with many musicians who have come to the clear lens of cultural visibility and accessibility and who use music to voice concerns for the Ijaw ethnic nation. In this direction, Ijaw musicians like late King Robert Ebiziomor, Echo Toikumo Barrister Smooth, Allen Alabor, Kennedy Duduku, Pereama Freetown, Allen Alabor, Allen Otobo, Alfred Izon-ebi and King Pius Alabeni. Pius Alabeni, and others have long used music in the Niger Delta struggle. These musicians like the Niger Delta freedom fighters, denounce the long-lasting darkness forced on the region by the Nigerian colonialists. Young P. Original, in Egberi music video, a hip hop style of music rendition, calls on the Izons to listen to his story. He holds the capitalists’ world responsible for the negligence given to fathers and mothers and the Izon nation. He calls for the unity of the Ijaw people as the Hausas, Yoruba and Ibos are doing. The Niger Delta struggle has also featured writers across generic boundaries and across generations like late Gabriel Okara, Professor JP Clark, Barclays Ayakoroma, Ebi Yeibo, Ben Binebai, Ekanpou Enewaredideke and other social critics like Professor G. G. Darah, etc. The marginal space which the Ijaws occupy is captured by Solomon Dersso in the following words:
The fact cannot be contested that there are certain sections of society in almost all African states who have suffered and continue to suffer various disadvantages, including discrimination and marginalisation. These are groups of people who have so far remained without any voice of their own, and whose rights and interests rarely received any attention at various levels within the states they now live in. (2010,10)
Individual Struggles for Survival
Poverty as a result of deprivation has led the people of the Niger Delta to engage in petro-insurgency culture and dangerous vices to survive in their region. There is no denying the ecological and environmental damage done to aquatic life and plants of the Niger Delta, a situation which has destroyed the traditional economic practices. It is the struggle to negotiate survival that has led to this situation of self-destruction. The express involvement of the people in the name of negotiating survival particularly in the local and illegal oil refining enterprise has resulted in high death of aquatic animals, impairment of human health, loss of biodiversity in breeding grounds, vegetation hazards, loss of portable and industrial water resources, reduction in fishing and farming activities, further poverty and rural underdevelopment. Thus the people who believe they have found their economic fortune are further endangered. There is no doubt that this new found economic culture through the local and unregulated technological practice makes the Niger Delta a place of existential calamity. Apart from the Sea diving traditional practice, all other economic cultures mentioned have bioregional/biocentric and anthropocentric ecological calamity on the people and the environment.
The hydra-headed consequences of the emergent technological economic culture and its implication for the area is that the people who are running away from poverty and misery, people who patronise, mastermind and perfect subversive economic cultures are further entangled in an economic cubicle that takes them back even worse than where they were. The local oil refinery is a valuable, ingenious, economical and available resource for job creation and retention, free enterprise and communal regeneration. It is clearly and passionately seen and taken as a “Silver bullet’’ to shoot down their new economic challenges. But struggle after struggle in the Niger Delta, the face of danger looms large, a clear case of violent neglect. No doubt, the economic cultures socially constructed by the people of the marine region of the Niger Delta are noticeably damaging cultures that threaten the public health of present and future generations of Niger Deltans.
Intellectuals and creative matriarchs and patriarchs in the Niger Delta first created a distinctly regional and national literature. Their literatures were written literature already in the pre-independent era as part of larger engagements for cultural affirmation, political rights, economic struggle and social prominence. Niger Delta literature and its evaluation in literary studies elucidate its neglect. A critically contextualized investigation of both canonical and non canonical writers makes the case that the few well-known writers from the earlier period, JP Clark, Gabriel Okara, Zulu Sofola, Ola Rotimi, Tanure Ojaide, Egbe Ifie, G. G. Darah, Irene Salami, Simon Ambakederemo, Barclays Ayakoroma, Komis Ekiye and of recent Ebi Yeibo, Ben Binebai, Ibiwari Ikriko, Ekanpou Enewaredideke, participated in a larger Niger Delta literary movement that steadfastly contribute to the growth of nationalism in the region. This movement reveals the prominence of oppression, resistance and cultural identity in the formation of national literatures. Niger Delta Literature provides the establishment of identity formation. This is built on a critical and concentrated study of the creative pieces by writers of the region.
Gbaramatu the new Gethsemane and Golgotha of the Niger Delta
Gbaramatu kingdom in less than a decade has suffered organized and harshly perfected state-sponsored persecution and murder on account of the clamour for a fair deal in Nigeria. The kingdom has rapidly become known as the hot bed of freedom and revolutionary headquarters of the Ijaw and by extension Niger Delta after Kaiama in recent oil struggle in Nigeria. It did not host any Ijaw declaration like Kaiama. But its pride and popularity as an African town in Nigeria produced by its extreme capacity to embrace Ijaw and Niger Delta bluster has given international attention to the Ijaw struggle. Gbaramatu has come to represent the spirit of Ijaw struggle in post-colonial Nigeria. That The Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko established by the Goodluck administration in Ijawland has been scrapped or guillotined by the new regime of president Mohammadu Buhari shows how the powers that be love Ijaw as Nigerian people. They say Ijaws are not educated but they are denying us education. We are only good to have oil and take its calamities but we are not good to enjoy the oil wealth. Universities have long been established in almost all states of the federation including non-oil producing states and funded with the oil from the Niger Delta but the one in Ijaw land is condemned as an unmarketable project. The Nigerian Maritime university has passed through all the conditions and procedures of establishment of a university. It met the requirements of the National Universities Commission(NUC). The University already has a Governing Council invested with a Vice Chancellor and other Principal Officers appointed. The university has been given take-off fund in NIMASA 2015 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly. It is a university meant to build the capacity of Nigerians in the maritime industry. If the Late General Sani Abacha could create a state for Ijaw people why is a Federal university too big and expensive to run in Ijaw land. The Nigerian Maritime university Okerenkoko is a dividend of the oil rich Ijaw land in the Niger Delta. The federal government is therefore called upon to show love and face the inevitability of breathing life into the university at Okerenkoko.
Colonial and postcolonial forces have constantly rigged every page of Ijaw existence with sadness and kicked the storm of disaster against Ijaw. Ijaw history in Nigeria has not changed. It is one long monotonous history that manifests in cyclical decimal. Ijaw fought on the side of Nigeria to unite Nigeria during the bloody and devastating Nigerian civil war but they are baptized with balkanization in Nigeria. Ijaw produces 70 percent of oil for Nigeria but they are impoverished by Nigerian laws and policies. The federal government cannot continue to keep violent agitation going on in the Niger Delta. The Ijaw problem need to be properly addressed now. Not with oppressive measures but by identifying the real problem of the Ijaws which is first and foremost criminal balkanization and secondly resource control.
Media struggles across the world
Thomas Jefferson in 1787 made a choice between a government without newspaper and a newspaper without government. And he chose newspaper without government. What this means is that the media is a crucial partner for effective governance and a bastion of social development. -Arthur Miller the American dramatist once said, “A good Newspaper is a nation talking to itself.” The media particularly the independent media like the writer reports poverty, promotes socio-political justice and cultural emancipation. Media particularly the print media is a very powerful instrument for liberation. All over the world, oppressed people either in colonized states or independent nations appropriate media to fight against oppression. In India, journalism emerged in the late 18th century and took central force in the Indian freedom struggle. The likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru were great nationalists who were also frontline journalists leading to the independence of India in 1947. In China, during the reign of Xi Jinping, newspapers and websites were forced to conform to a tedious monotony of writing tilted towards admiration for China’s communist leaders. The administration was intolerable to critical reporting. Despite the crackdown on journalists very powerful investigative reports emerged from the trenches just to resist the silencing of journalism in that country. The journalists were more of nationalists than the national leaders.
In Nigeria violation of human rights, the clamour for self-determination and the creation and application of exploitative laws and policies have been visited upon with the fist of journalism. The Nigerian civil war, the Ogoni uprising, the June 12 imbroglio, the Kaiama declaration, etc. showed the role played by the media. Under the military rule, Journalist have been bombed to death and many others imprisoned for standing up for justice and made poor.
Nigerian media particularly the national newspapers have been reporting the Niger Delta struggle. Broadcast media and the print media especially, beginning from the last lap of the 20th century gave opportunity to the Niger Delta to express exploitation, neglect and demand for a better and fair deal. Professor G. G Darah, Ankio Briggs, the logical and active Oboko Bello, Kingsley Burutu Otuaro. Others are: Joseph Evah, late Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, the leadership offered by IYC and INC and many uncountable Niger Delta patriots made use of the media to state the Ijaw position of exploitation and neglect and all other national matters affecting the Ijaw nation. DSP Alamieyeseigha made use of the Glory Land Radio to voice the concerns of Bayelsa and the Ijaw nation. Professor G.G Darah gave academic weight and power to the Niger Delta struggle through his seminal writings in The Guardian Newspaper until he became known and named as professor of resource control. Nigerian Newspapers particularly, The Guardian, Vanguard, Punch, This Day, the Sun, Daily Trust and others too numerous to mention were used as voicing channels. But I must say that Ijaws paid huge money to pass their messages across the world through these papers.
From politics to education through journalism, literature and cultural projections, ethnicity and, or ethnocentrism is deeply practiced in this country. As we have more ethnic based newspapers and televisions so we have ethnic based broadcast movie channels in DSTV. The ethnic divide is always widened. Some Nigerian papers report correctly, others report to the disadvantage of the people of the Niger Delta and the struggle because of ethnic prejudice. It is for this reason that the oilyfication theory emerged. Whenever there is trouble in the Niger Delta it is reported as trouble due to oil. Consequently. There is no difference between the agitators and sea pirates, between communal clashes and oil protests in the Niger Delta. Again these papers do not clearly state the real demands of the Ijaws except the pages are heavily paid for. Apart from Ernest Ikoli, the father of Nigerian journalism, Ijaw has produced other veterans like Willy Bozimor, Owei Lakemfa, Charles Tambou, Barclays Ayakoroma, Simon Ambakederemo, Steve Waidor- Pregbagba, Patrick brisibe, Murphy Ganagana. How can I forget Bulou Kosin who goes by the ghost name Dimene Egbaimo, veritable Ijaw patriot, a remarkable paper tiger in the Nationalist struggle of the Ijaw nation? Bulou Kosin is a new and vibrant journalistic phenomenon, a tempering influence of journalism in the rancorous politics of contemporary Nigeria. Presidor Ghomorai’s Ijaw News was the first Ijaw Newspaper to be established in the early 90s. the paper spoke strongly through its editorial and features pages on the marginalisation and oppression of the Ijaws in Nigeria. I was a contributor then. I wrote a features article titled “Because Nigeria is not our country”. Alfred Egbegi came up with Izon Link after Ijaw News with fire in the stomach of the paper on the Niger Delta question. Ijaw News and Ezon Link gave opportunity to many young writers to express their views on the Ijaw question in Nigeria.
The creation of Bayelsa State led to the establishment of many local news tabloids. These include: Banner News, the Light Newspaper, Crystal Express, Dialogue, the National Reflector, Izon Apia, The Agenda, Creek News etc. These papers participated in the freedom struggle of the region but they lack national circulation and independence. Their survival depended on financial aid from the government of Bayelsa State. Ijaw needs a National Newspaper in an age of information technology, revolution and globalisation. We need our voices to be heard correctly and protected. Information is power. Information is a storable entity of transformation in this our digital age. It is what keeps the world warm. The world derives benefit from rapider and denser networks of communication that makes it more difficult to cover up human right abuses, exploitation and brutalization.
Gbaramatu voice in an age of globalisation
Now I turn to Gbaramatu Voice tabloid, the subject of our gathering here. Soren Kierkegaard, the existentialist philosopher said, ‘life should be understood backward but must be lived forward’. Informed by the history of the past and present politics, Jacob Abai, Editor and Proprietor of Gbaramatu Voice is persuaded by the fact that voiceless people must secure their voice to gain freedom. He is swayed by the belief that enlightenment is a process of self and social determination, an opening for ideological evaluation, rational self-reflection, and collective autonomy. He is conscious of the fact that the newspaper will afford the Niger Delta people particularly the Gbaramatu people to appreciate their place in history and learn that they are the narrators of their own lives—that they can exercise power as self-determining agents of change. And according to Malone Karen’s view this self-determination is a pre-requisite to empowerment and is both the means and product of developing environmental popular knowledge (1999).
I presume Gbaramatu Voice is the first news tabloid to be established at this end of Western Delta after Izonlink, Ijaw News, Ijaw Voice amongst few others. It is not always about Niger Delta struggle but also about the political and cultural projections of the Gbaramatu people of Delta state. It is a media project that is greatly illuminating. We all here and those not here physically but here in some forms and manifestations have a responsibility to protect his vision, his passion. He should not be led to the middle of the river and abandoned. Let us be proud that we are experiencing the reincarnation from the Sandy beaches and oily swamps of Gbaramatu a new Ernest Sissei Ikoli: An Ijaw and Nigerian politician, seen in some quarters as the father of Nigerian journalism.
To understand the vision of Jacob Abai, it is imperative to invoke the subaltern postcolonial theory to critically direct the flow of this paper. Originally, the subaltern is a junior soldier, but in scholarship today as presented to us from the Asian world subaltern simply means the marginalised, oppressed, voiceless ‘other’ who occupy the silent space in a society. A Calcutta born postcolonial scholar fixed between the socialist ideologies of the national independence movement in India and the inheritance of a colonial tutelage structure, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is one of the greatest dominant figures in current critical philosophy who confronted the legacy of imperialism. Her argument about the subaltern is deeply grounded on the margin which she refers to as the silenced centre. They are people who carry the banner of neglect. Her argument is contained in a seminal essay christened, ‘‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’’ (1988). In this essay Spivak views the fate of the subaltern subject and how it can be marred by the politics of representation. Since representation can be made by only the privileged people in the society, effective representation of the subaltern subject can be a futile venture. This will always keep the subaltern in the terrain of margin, the silent centre, the centre of voicelessness. She further argues that the subalterns cannot be represented by privileged people; they are subjects who should speak for themselves. Landry and Maclean express the point that
Unlearning one’s privilege by considering it as one’s loss constitute a double recognition. Our privileges, whatever they may be in terms of race, class, nationality, gender and the like, may have prevented us from gaining a certain kind of other knowledge; not simply information that we have yet received, but the knowledge that we are not equipped to understand the reason of our social position (199:25)
For the privileged class who must speak for the subaltern, there is the need for the fulfilment of an ethical task. The task of establishing a strong and positive moral relationship with those at the margins. This is the only way occupiers of privileged positions can speak for the subaltern subject. Spivak is therefore of the view that there must be an interaction between privileged class and the subaltern subject to enable subaltern representation by the privileged class. Privileged peoples’ representation results most times in misinformation, disinformation, prevarication and these are calamities suffered by the disadvantaged people.
If you ask Jacob Abai today, why he floated GbaramatuVoice, you will not get any answer beyond voice construction, the creation of a speaking space for his people. And this is a subaltern attitude. Let me cite an example of how oppressed people are further suppressed by privileged representatives in literature. The capturing of the Niger Delta situation in Little Drops… A play by Ahmed Yerima, is not only disingenuous, but also outrageously at variance with the realities on ground. Gbaramatu Kingdom and in fact the Royal Palace was bombarded by Nigerian Soldiers but in Little Drop… it was done by militants. And in the drama the playwright under investigation made the militants to accept the fact that they bombed the palace. This is the highest level of appropriation of art to misinform the public. Again, raping of women in the region actually happened but was it done by the militants against their people? We are aware that women were raped by soldiers at Port-Harcourt. Apart from pipeline vandalism and kidnapping of expatriates, Little Drops… adds the killing of innocent children, husbands, the prince, the king of Gbaramatu, the separation of married couples and the making of women as widows to the list of atrocities committed by the militants. To correct these misinformation, I wrote and published My Life in the Burning Creeks now receiving critical attention in the Nigerian literary scene.
Again in his award winning drama Hard Ground we are confronted with a wretched situation in which literature fails to speak for the progress of a people. The promethean literary flames of liberation are vertically and flatly switched off, leaving the region in darkness and violence. It is a dramatic kind in which the literary streams of survival are starved the struggling people, a play which celebrates a doomed people abandoned with crammed passion. The playwright shies away from his true essence of embracing the promethean guilt. The mask of terrorism the people face, and which the characters carry out is further strengthened by the play’s lack of ideological power to dislocate it. It is a play in which the heart of terrorism pulsates with no power to stop it. Hard Ground neither points to who created the hard ground nor how the hard ground can be transformed into a habitable ground of peace and progress. A writer is a humanist and he should use his privileged position to give voice to the oppressed. There are many writers of books and newspapers who deny the people voice. Jacob Abai’s vision in establishing a newspaper and the website is to restore the voice of the Gbaramatu people and to speak directly to the world.
The young journalist is convinced that newspapers spread faster, wider and farther than books. They are less expensive to produce, buy and circulate. Their messages come out immediately. Like any other print media, Gbaramatu voice serves to inform, educate, act as a surveillance agency to the community, interpret the times and environment, do linkage between buyers and sellers of products through its advertorial pages, it will engineer socialization which is transmission of culture. The website essentially is conceived to present a positive agenda and channel for internationalization of Gbaramatu and Niger Delta matters through international media cultural practices. Gbaramatu Voice is a concrete vision deployed to achieve agenda setting by presenting itself as a central media space for the selection and discussion of fundamental problems of the community. It will provide marketable ideas for discussion, serve as watchdog and gatekeeper and as well mobilise the masses. Today’s event centred around Gbaramatu Voice is very significant because Jacob Abai in his rational contemplation has moved his newspaper forward by hooking up to new trends of media practice, the appropriation of the internet. The use of the internet as a voicing agency for Gbaramatu and the Niger Delta. It is high time we realised that a society in need of liberation needs to struggle from all fronts including intellectual nationalism. Ijaws should look in the direction of empowering the pen soldiers of intellectual nationalism to advance and concretize the dreams of the desired freedom.
The launching of GbaramatuVoice Website by Jacob Abai is a fundamental effort to appropriate the windows and platforms of Globalisation to push his ideas, the ideas of his community and the Niger Delta to the international arena. A website is a collection of Webpages. Webpages on the other hand are documents domiciled in internet accessed for various purposes ranging from information gathering, research and education. A website tells your story, it is a powerful instrument of commerce, gives answers to frequently asked questions, offers clear contact detail, constructs credibility, promotes your services, expands the scope of your readers and creates room for interactive comments. The launching of the Gbaramatu Voice Website is to globalize the newspaper. Conscious of the fact that globalization is a central international arena of competition in politics, economy, socially, educationally and even culturally. It is a concept which encourages participation at the global market with local products or ideas. It is also increasing international trade in cultural products and services, such as movies, music, and publications. Essentially, it deals with projection of cultural identities and nationalism.
Jacob Abai’s GbaramatuVoice and the website that is to be launched today are voicing channels for the subaltern Gbaramatu Kingdom and the Niger Delta. The Military invasion of Gbaramatu kingdom has been reported by the Nigerian and international press and even by creative writers. But the problem is that some of these reports do not give a true account of the realities because the medium of communication of the real story of invasion is not controlled by any media organization from Gbaramatu or even Ijaw media outfits. Privileged reporters were at liberty to write anything thing about the situation. With the emergence of GbaramatuVoice and its website, Gbaramatu has attained direct speakability powers. The newspaper is built to tell the Gbaramatu story from the perspective of the Gbaramatu people. By this project, Jacob Abai is of the view that constructing a Gbaramatu voice in issues affecting the kingdom is more important than narratives put together by privileged representatives. Thus, GbaramatuVoice has become a credible and functional example of a media in struggle in an age of globalisation. The subaltern classes are those individuals or groups that are subjugated by hegemony, subordinated by the dominant world-view, and excluded from having any meaningful position from which to speak. Considering his homestead Gbaramatu as one of the subaltern classes, Abai established his media empire as a literary space to restore the history and sharpen the political, economic and cultural identities of his people. By championing the voices and texts of Ijaw, Abai also challenged some of the dominant ideas of the contemporary Nigeria.
The Ijaw nation should have faith in the fact that human beings are the wagons of history. History moves or gets paralyzed by human choices and as George bush would say history has a visible direction set by liberty. It is the people of a generation who ask and sometimes answer the questions of that generation. Any group of people born into a society at the same time, or who live in a society without worrying about the problems and aspirations of their society, is not only guilty of docility but are also inconsequential. The Ijaw farmland requires a very strong spiritual underpinning to be constantly watered collectively with the dew of educational, cultural, political, economic and historical purity for the triumph of our golden hopes. The success of Gbaramatu and by extension, the Niger Delta, depends on accord just as the concord of various instruments produces a delightful symphony. In Nigeria, political power is a greater wealth than crude oil. Resource control is meaningless to the Ijaws unless we have states exclusively controlled by us. Ijaw freedom fighters should have a moral and political responsibility to carry everyone along. A territory in need of liberation does not need a tower of babel. I conclude this lecture with a call on the Ijaws particularly the Gbaramatu Kingdom to give the needed moral, economic and intellectual support to this great project of Jacob Abai.
BEN BINEBAI, B.A. M.A, PhD (IBADAN)
Being a lecture delivered at GbaramatuVoice Newspaper Website Launch on Tuesday 5th July, 2016 at Okuemi hotel, Warri, Delta State.