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COUNCIL of IJAW ASSOCIATIONS ABROAD
AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE COUNCIL OF IJAW ASSOCIATIONS ABROAD TO THE PAN IJAW CONFERENCE HELD AT THE ALFRED DIETE-SPIFF CIVIC CENTER IN PORT HARCOURT FROM FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28 THROUGH SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2003
On behalf of the Executive Council members of the Council of Ijaw Associations Abroad (CIAA), I would like to thank the Ijaw National Congress and others for initiating this conference and for giving us the opportunity to participate. The Council of Ijaw Associations Abroad is made up of several Ijaw ethnic organizations abroad. These organizations include the Ijaw Peoples Association of Great Britain & Ireland; the Ijaw National Alliance of the Americas; the Ijaw Forum, Germany; Izonebe Group, Japan; Izon Ebi Association, Washington DC.; Ijaws of Northern California, U.S.; Izon Association of Southern California, U.S.; Ijaw United Fund, Houston, U.S.; Ijaw-American Caucus, Minneapolis/St Paul, U.S; Ijaw International Alliance, Dallas, U.S. plus other independent members in Canada and other parts of the globe. Among the primary reasons for CIAA’s formation is to present a cohesive front when it comes to protecting or advocating Ijaw interest and welfare overseas and elsewhere. Today’s conference, however, is quite distinct in that CIAA’s audience is made up of fellow Ijaws, an internal public, who are also Ijaw advocates by their own rights. We draw this conclusion based on apriori acceptance of the common cultural heritage that we share as a people. Viewed in this context, it seems odd and quite superfluous to “preach” to a supposed “choir”. Nevertheless we are gathered here today to dialogue, engage in serious self-introspection, mend fences, consider going back to the drawing board, and above all get organized. These are preconditions for a lasting unity, peace and stable development in Ijawland whether political circumstances have situated the Ijaw within the boundaries of Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo or Rivers States.
Notwithstanding the schematics of party politics, we are a people bound by a common destiny. A candid and meaningful dialogue, therefore, becomes imperative in this forum if we are to achieve the goal of unity and progress that have been elusive for long. A frank and forthright exchange of ideas is necessary at this time if we are to be effective advocates of our rights and responsibilities as a people, and be relevant in the scheme of things in so far as Nigerian politics is concerned. It is our hope that there will be room for the passionate as well as the objective voice, the visionaries and pragmatists as we evolve strategies, brainstorm and deliberate in this forum. Our political and economic destiny is eternally in our hands. As clichéd as this statement may sound, it is true that whether we collectively succeed or fail as a people will depend on the choices we make and actions we take individually or collectively. It is no secret that issues that threaten Ijaw unity and survival are currently beyond being hypothetical. Indeed, quite a number of our tangible and intangible personal actions and choices effectively negate the basic principles known to foster unity, peace and substantive progress within a community.
Just a few examples:
It is time for every Ijaw to reexamine his or her conscience and make those choices and decisions that would move us forward. Those choices and decisions that would generate true love and trust among us. We must first of all love and trust ourselves before others would love and trust us and ultimately reckon with us as a people. The governors, senators and honorable members, chiefs and elders, local government chairmen and councilors, civil servants and contractors, we must get our acts together!
There is no historical precedent where an unorganized army has ever won any battle, not to talk of winning the war. We must get along if we are to be united and win the battles and the war ultimately. However, we do not have to go along to get along. If we do not support who is doing the right thing because it is not popular, we are going along to get along and will not win the battles and the war. If we compromise our conscience for the sake of the contract obtained or expected, we are going along to get along and this is antithetical to winning the war. If we support policies that inherently pose a threat to our very existence as a people, we are going along to get along, thus placing the right set of circumstances to lose the battles and the war. This will be tragic. Let us, as a people, make conscious efforts to rid ourselves of this going-along-to-get-along syndrome. It epitomizes selfishness, greed and graft, the tripartite evils that provide structures upon which disunity thrives to effectively impede all aspects of a people’s collective development.
Our (Ijaw) ancestors who settled in the Ijaw territories predate Nigeria’s emergence as a British colony by, at least, a decade. Between then and now, we have been fortunate to have pioneers and martyrs like King Jaja, King William Koko, Chief Dappa-Biriye, Major Isaac Adaka Boro. These illustrious Ijaw sons opposed the colonialists and neocolonialists with an uncompromising vigour. Given their status, Kings Jaja of Opobo and William Koko of Akassa could have easily been compromised by the British. Instead, their response to Britain’s illegitimate monopoly on palm oil trade was an unmitigated opposition. The price they paid for their valorous resistance, just like the price Boro paid for his efforts to ensure that we are free, acknowledged and respected, should be a constant reminder for us to eschew selfishness, greed and graft. They never had huge bank accounts but we still honor them and invoke their names because of the sense of hope and courage they evoke. They never had flamboyant homes here, there and everywhere but we still revere and pay tribute to them because they left a legacy of selfless service and honesty. This is the traditional Ijaw spirit. This is the legacy we are expected to leave behind if history should remember us and posterity should forgive us.
When CIAA members were debating the idea to participate in today’s conference, there were few who were naturally skeptical. According to them, it is a waste of time to dialogue with you. They maintained that whether we dialogue in strident voices or stage whispers, we do not have the financial clout to impact you in any meaningful way. We hope that they are wrong. We hope that they are wrong because we believe that the Ijaw National Congress has faith that we can contribute to positively to advance today’s dialogue. Which is why the Congress specifically extended an invitation for us to participate in this conference. We, therefore, seize the opportunity to make few recommendations:
1. We should make serious and genuine
efforts that would yield tangible educational progress in Ijawland.
Elected officials and
civil servants charged with the responsibility for directing and
coordinating educational activities in all Ijaw communities must
be held accountable at every step. Government’s unalloyed
structural support is crucial. Our future survival and relevance
as a people depend on the quality of education given to the young
Perhaps, some may be wondering whether the Council for Ijaw Associations Abroad is not too idealistic for making these suggestions Perhaps you may be thinking, too, that the Council is naïve to advance these proposals and also simple minded about the political and cultural landscape. We are not idealist or naïve. We still believe that there are people of honour and integrity among us who are deeply committed to a slow but deliberate and assured movement towards honestly fixing this house of ours. We are ready to work with them. We still have faith. It would be better, however, if we all joined hands, be true to ourselves and do what is right if only for the sake of our children.
It will be appropriate to conclude this presentation with item #9 on the momentous “Kaiama Declaration”: “We call on all Ijaws to remain true to their Ijawness and to work for the total liberation of our people. You have no other true home but that which is in Ijawland.”
Godfrey Ambakiderimoh Okoro, MBA
Officers: President – GODFREY A. OKORO, Vice President –Dr.
IJAW NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF THE AMERICAS - INAA
IJAW FORUM GERMANY
IZONEBE GROUP - JAPAN
IZON EBI ASSOCIATION - WASHINGTON DC
IJAWS OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA - INCAL
IZON ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
IJAW UNITED FUND - HOUSTON, TEXAS
IJAW AMERICAN CAUCUS - MINNEAPOLIS/ST PAUL
IJAW INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE, DALLAS
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