Jonathan, Dickson and the Growing Ijaw Discontent

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It’s been over two years since Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan left office as Nigeria’s leader, yet his performance or the lack of it during his tenure continues to elicit somewhat emotive reactions any time the issue is up for discussion. Emmanuel Addeh examines the recent outburst of Jonathan’s kinsmen vis-a-vis the “wasted six years ljaw presidency” remarks attributed to the Bayelsa State Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, predicting that the seeming discontent with the only Ijaw man to have occupied the presidency will grow even more as the politics of 2019 ramps up

It could probably pass as one very touchy issue yet on the social media by his kinsmen. But given the huge interest it generates each time an appraisal of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s six years in Aso Rock is put up for debate among his people, all hell is usually let loose, literally.

While some of the former president’s critics, especially those from his immediate clan in Ogbia, might have personal axe to grind with him, what has largely distilled from the back and forth argument is that there are those who genuinely believe that Jonathan should have done a lot better for his people.
Following Governor Dickson’s veiled jibes against the ex-President from his home state in Bayelsa, many loyalists of Jonathan had come for the governor’s jugular, insisting that he could not publicly pillory Jonathan since he (Jonathan) made him.

That again remains a controversial issue for another day as many of Dickson’s loyalists will argue that the relationship between the governor and Jonathan has never been that of superior and subordinate but between two political allies, who have at different times in their separate political careers dating back to almost two decades, assisted each other to defeat the opposition at different times.

That aside, recent uncurbed verbal eruptions even by his close allies may have opened a new vista of discourse as to the propriety or otherwise of Mr. Dickson’s comments, though he insists he never specifically mentioned Jonathan in his comments, but stood by the remarks he made during the last Isaac Boroh day festivities.
However, as the race to who takes over from the current governor intensifies and each camp begins to take positions, exposing the underbelly of each of the personalities involved directly or indirectly in the shaping of the politics of 2019/2020, is likely to become more aggressive.

From Chief Richard Kpodoh, a passionately vocal Ijaw man, who has consistently put Jonathan on the spot in terms of the value (or the lack of it) he added to the life of the average Ijaw man as President to Senator Clever Ikisipo, formerly a strong Jonathan ally, and even the traditional ruler of Jonathan’s town, Ogbia, who was somewhat cautious and royally in his comments on the Jonathan presidency, the cry of disappointment has been in torrents.
These not so complimentary remarks have also brought to the fore as to whether Dickson’s purported comments on the wasted six years of the Ijaw presidency was justified by any standard. Recent events may indeed be leading in that direction.

In some of his most scathing criticisms, Kpodoh had variously described the administration of the former President as the “worst in the history of Nigeria”, with nothing for the Ijaw people to show that any of their kin ever ascended Nigeria’s most coveted political position.

In fact, in a piece that sparked public debate recently, Kpodoh said Jonathan’s period of reign were to the Ijaw man, “years of the locust.” He said the former president “short-changed” the people of the region in his six years in power.
How altruistic these harsh words for the ex-President are could be argued, however, there are also those who believe that Jonathan could have collaborated with leaders at the state level in Bayelsa at the time to implement big ticket projects that were capable of changing the Niger Delta narrative.

Projects like the development of the Deep Seaport in Agge, the multibillion naira Brass LNG project, Brass Fertiliser and Petrochemical Company Limited, fulfillment of the federal government’s contract with Bayelsa to partly fund the airport project on the outskirts of Yenagoa and even the completion of the now deadly East-West road, perhaps the only one that connects the South-south region with the rest of Nigeria.

For instance, 12 years after former President Olusegun Obasanjo conceived the Brass LNG project, designed to produce 10 million metric tonnes of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) per annum, the project remains stalled even with a president from the state who spent six years in Abuja. In effect, many believe that the transformational effects of these life-changing projects would have helped empower a huge chunk of the youths, who are today back in the creeks blowing up pipelines.

Ikisipo was not sparing in his appraisal of the Jonathan presidency and what the former president could have done to lift his people from poverty and empower the youths who are still agitating today.
“I want to tell you some bitter truth”, he said while receiving an award from students of his senatorial zone. “There is an adage that says, ‘before you remove the speck in someone’s eyes, first remove the log in your own eyes’”, in apparent reference to the upbraiding of the Muhammadu Buhari government by youths of the area, who accuse him of not doing enough for the region.

He continued: ‘’God gave us an elephant but we allowed the elephant to get rotten.” Some may not get the adage perhaps. God gave us an elephant but we allowed the elephant to get rotten”, he repeated for full effect.
“If we had judiciously used that elephant properly, I think by now, Bayelsa East would have become a ‘small Dubai. But we misused the opportunity. Through that opportunity, we could not get oil blocks; through that opportunity, we could not get even modular refineries in Bayelsa East.

“Bayelsa East is the first place to produce crude oil in Nigeria, but go to where they call Oloibiri, where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity, the place is a thick forest, where you can kill the biggest animal on earth. Is it supposed to be so?
“When I entered the House of Representatives, the first position given to me was deputy chairman, House Committee on Appropriation. The former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan, was our chairman. I told him in our first budget meetings that what I wanted was the Yenegwe-Okaki-Kolo-Nembe-Brass Road.

“When we met with the Budget Office, they asked if the road was a federal government road. I said yes. And they said, go and bring documents. We got the documents at Federal Ministry of Works and presented them. That was a project that was started during Melford Okilo’s administration, but was abandoned and it went into oblivion.
“Today, the project has been forsaken. Like I said, we were given an elephant, if the elephant that we were given had used the opportunity very well, that road would have moved up to Brass today. Today, an Ogbia man, Dr. Eruani Azibapu, has been given a licence to build a private refinery. We had an opportunity given to the people of Ogbia, Nembe and Brass to own oil blocks in the past, did we get any? No.

“If the refinery is built today, it will take not less than 10,000 workers. Will Brass, Ogbia and Nembe, not get up to 3,000 workers there? Then, would you not be empowered? The oil block we could not get is to be given to one of us. If oil block is given to an Ogbia, Nembe or Brass person, then are we not going to get one of the Alakijas? Are we not going to get one of the Danjumas? Oil block is one of the things that make those people billionaires. Today, Danjuma can give somebody N2bn without batting an eyelid”.

‘’A minister from Bayelsa then would use $80m, approximately (N28bn) to buy a yacht for her personal enjoyment alone. That amount, N28bn can dualise a road from Ogbia to Brass. Those were the kinds of aides that we had that were supervising the money coming into Bayelsa. Instead of them to use the money to benefit you and I, they used the money to buy a yacht. What is a yacht?”

If Ikisipo’s comments were caustic, his Royal Majesty, Owaba Charles, the Obhanoban Of Ogbia Kingdom, Bayelsa State, the community Jonathan hails from, appeared to be more cautious and less critical in his remarks on the Jonathan presidency, though it appeared his position was largely influenced by his position as the father of all, including the good, the bad and the ugly.
Asked recently by a journalist what the Ogbia kingdom benefitted from the Jonathan presidency, he said the greatest contribution of the former number one man was not something tangible or can be touched.

“His presidency made my people to be very conscious of government activities, both at the state and federal levels. My people are now much more aware of the happenings around them. This cannot be quantified in terms of money”, he said, adding that “Even though we had a president from here, these areas of the country are still very backward in terms of infrastructure development. Oloibiri, where oil was first discovered in Nigeria is in my kingdom.
“The crude oil money made it possible for many areas of the country to be developed today. The oil wealth from these areas also made it possible for people across the country to send their children and relatives to good schools in and outside the country.

“So, it is just and proper that people from my kingdom are given proper treatment. Part of the treatment we are asking for are good infrastructure. Oil companies and the government at the centre should make it a point of duty to come and develop this part of the country. Once this is done, we will not complain.”
But like many others, the King had a reason Jonathan could not change the narrative of the state and indeed his region.

“If I must put it straight, even while Jonathan was still in government, there were so many things we could not get, just because he was a president from a minority tribe in Nigeria”.
His majesty believes that despite the flaks received by Jonathan for allegedly not developing his people and his land, the former president did a few things that are commendable.

“As you know, no matter his efforts, you don’t expect everybody to be pleased with him”, he concluded.
Another kinsman of the ex-President, Chief Samuel Ogbuku, also sharply disagrees with politicians from the area, who criticise Jonathan’s performance in office as very underwhelming.

Ogbuku, himself from Ogbia area of Bayelsa State, insisted that the former president meritoriously served the nation as president to all and therefore could not have acted as a sectional leader.

“We need to remind Kpodo and those beating the shameless drum for him to dance that President Jonathan was a President to all Nigerians and not a president of Ogbia or Bayelsa State”, Ogbuku retorted in response to the barrage of criticisms that have trailed the former president since he left office.

Whatever it is worth, the argument on whether Jonathan will be judged rightly or wrongly by posterity based on his service to his people as President and the sentiments that those discussions induce, will not end soon.
Given that the former president remains active in politics and is not ready to quit soon, how well he served his people in the position many believe was made possible by supernatural forces, which might not repeat themselves in decades to come, remains a controversial conversation anytime, any day.