How government’s indiscretion led to Odi’s destruction—HRM King Okpoitari Diongoli
The ancient kingdom of Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State is made up of two divisions. One of these is Kolokuma and the other is known as Opokuma. The indigenes of Opokuma, which, according to local folks, is the older of the two, are mainly farmers, fishermen and women, feller of wood and local gin brewers known as “Apeteshi-Ogogoro.”
Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) contractors recently completed test-running $2.5b oil and gas facilities made up of oil-well heads in the Kolokuma/Opokuma area, in preparation for its full operations. There is also a huge deposit of gas in the kingdom, and required facilities have been installed and tested, even though operation is yet to commence.
One peculiar thing about Kolokuma/Opokuma is that they are the unofficial headquarters of Niger Delta agitations. It is the birthplace of Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, the 30-year-old, military Major, who was killed in controversial circumstances 49 years ago.
Boro had led an insurrection against the country over what he perceived as injustice in the Niger Delta Region. And in his honour, the Niger Delta people now celebrate May 16 of every year as Boro Day in Kaiama.
Kolokuma/Opokuma was also where the Kaiama was made for the agitation and struggle for the rights of Niger Delta people in 1998. It is also where Odi community is located.
The senior of the two kings in these kingdoms is 52-year-old King Okpoitari Diongoli (Opokuma IV) Ibedaowei of ancient Opokuma Kingdom in the Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
Palace Watch recently had an interview with King Okpoitari Diongoli (Opokuma IV).
Your Majesty, when will all the agitations in the Niger Delta Region stop? Are efforts by various governments not enough to pacify your people?
For several years now, the Nigerian system has been deliberately skewed to not favour my people and people from this region. This cannot continue forever. Once you are from the Niger Delta Region, you are naturally disadvantaged. For how long can the Nigerian government continue to suppress a people? This is the next question. Do not forget that Boro started this struggle in the late 60s. What the youths of this region are doing now is not much different from what Boro started. However, we as traditional rulers and some elites from this region are beginning to say, ‘look, this struggle should not be all about arms any longer, as it should henceforth be intellectual and we should begin to introduce innovations on how to achieve our corporate objectives.’
I am saying this, because the arm struggle has not actually helped us. When the Kaiama occurred in 1998, something happened on top of the Kaiama Bridge. An incident there led to gunshot exchange between our boys, some elements known as militants and some soldiers. Consequently, the military descended on Kaiama town. That occurrence led to the death of the immediate past king of Kaiama. It also resulted in the burning of several houses, properties and the death of so many people in the town. It was a colossal loss. But while we were still struggling to recover from that incident, the 1999 destruction of Odi made the Kaiama incident look like child’s play.
While the 1998 incident happened during a military regime, the 1999 destruction of Odi was during a civilian government. The magnitude of that ugly incident was unimaginable. And with that, we now began to take a second look at our approach. Must we continue with the arm struggle? Have we been able to make any remarkable progress with this arm struggle? If we have not, is there any better way to do it? Can we achieve our aims through dialogue? Can we achieve our aims and objectives through intellectual contributions, so that it is not just arm or youth wings, as it were?
So, principally, injustice, marginalisation, oppression, deprivation, exclusion from all facets of life, whether political, economic or social have been our lot. Perhaps what we have as a people, and which is exclusive to us is our preoccupation and social life. These are the only things the authority cannot or have not been able to take away from us. Segregation and what have you are some of the reasons why our people go into arm struggle.
Take for instance, the distribution of oil blocs, the modular refineries and all the rest of them. You can see the absence of people from the Niger Delta Region in all of this. It is so obvious that anyone can see it. So, you can understand why the anger in this part of the country is so intense.
But in all honesty, would you say what your people did at the time of Odi incident was right? Was it not your people’s intransigence that forced the then government to take that particular action?
The elders and the intellectuals in Odi, whom you accuse of refusing to cooperate with the government of the day, by refusing to hand over the youths involved in the crime to the relevant authority, were not in any way in the position to do what you wanted them to do. Although the incident took place in Odi, the principal actors were not just from Odi, they were from other communities in the region. Is it possible for civilians, whether elders or intellectuals, to attempt to apprehend armed youths and turned them over to relevant authority? I will say NO.
Now let us rewind a little bit. If we want to do a critical analysis of it, how did we get to the state that resulted in the killing of those policemen? It was the same issue of marginalisation, oppression, injustice and the rest of it. From reports available then, the youths of this region were allegedly gathering in Odi en-route to Lagos State, where members of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) were alleged to be killing and fighting Ijaw people resident there. The point I am trying to make is: At the height of this crisis, was it right for police authority then to send a Yoruba police officer to lead his men to the place, where these youths were gathering?
The then Area Commander, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who happened to be a Yoruba man, was made to lead this team. This was an obvious act of indiscretion on the part of police authority. They shouldn’t have sent that Yoruba police officer, no matter his rank. That is my thinking. I do not in any way or circumstance encourage tribal killing. It was the indiscretion on the part of Police that ignited that incident, which led to the total destruction of Odi and its people. Are we saying police authority does not know when to apply common senses? It was wrong to send a Yoruba officer with tribal marks to the place.
For several years now, there have been agitations and arm struggle in this part of the country. How has this impacted on the general well-being of the people here?
I must confess that our years of agitation and arm struggle has led to no impact in lives of the people and well-being. It is so sad, but this is the fact of the situation we are facing. Boro started the struggle for self-determination, economic liberation and the great emancipation of Niger Delta people in the late 60s. Boro is from Kaiama. Kolokuma is the cradle of the struggle for emancipation of Ijaw man across the Niger Delta Region. Yet, there is no Kolokuma/Opokuma son or daughter that is either a General or Generale in Amnesty office or programme. No Kolokuma/Opokuma son or daughter is benefiting from the Amnesty programme.
Last year, I attended a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a very good man at Aso Rock in Abuja. Before we went into that meeting, there was another meeting of elders of Niger Delta Region. And what were the issues? The implementation of the Amnesty programme from initial conception was skewed somehow. It has not followed the original principles. We say include some more persons, maybe for the third phase. On my part, I said look, “if we are talking about the third phase of Amnesty programme, the first place government should look at is Kolokuma/Opokuma, because people from this area of Niger Delta started this struggle. Two, in 1998, Kaiama was destroyed by the military after the Kaiama Declaration. That document has remained the only authentic document that represents the collective yearning and aspiration of our people till date.
While we were yet to recover from the 1998 incident, the 1999 Odi destruction happened again, yet no one person from this area is captured in the Amnesty programme of the Federal Government. This is part of the problems we are having. The authorities have not been sincere about the issues of economic and human capacity development. They have equally not been sincere in the issue of infrastructures in this part of the country.
For example, what amount of consultations did they do, when they unilaterally relocated the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja? What consultation did they do, when they appropriated all the money for Abuja development?
But that was during a military regime…
I agree. But it was when our boys went to Abuja, during the late General Sani Abacha’s one-million-man March, that the scale fell off their eyes and the narrative changed. The boys realised that the money being made from their areas was being used for massive development of Abuja, while they were back home suffering, and no access to their homes. That is why we are asking Federal Government to have the same political will to develop the Niger Delta Region. All they need do or say is that we do not need national legislation to develop this region. The Niger Delta Region is a critical sector of this country. Projects in these areas can be put under national security interest and it will fly. And then declare it as was done in the London conference of 1957, when the Niger Delta Region was declared a special area under national interest. After which you can now go into proper negotiation with such companies as Julius Berger and other companies to commence the massive development of this region. All they need do is just tell these companies, ‘We are going to give you X quantities of crude oil, just begin the construction and development of this region.’ And that will be it.