Nigeria — August 21, 2011 at 3:28 PM

From Oloibiri to Otuoke

Otuoke is a community in Ogbia, Bayelsa state, Nigeria. It is here that Nigeria’s first federal university in the heartland of Ijaw is sited. And for that reason Otuoke has gained itself a coveted place in Nigeria’s history. But the location of a federal university at Otuoke is not the only thing that has guaranteed it a spot in Nigeria’s annals. It is also home town to President Goodluck Jonathan.

Oloibiri, like Otuoke, is also a community in Ogbia, Bayelsa state, and located in the heartland of Ijaw. So, geographically both communities (Oloibiri and Otuoke) are similar by reason of their locations and tribal affilation, but that is as far as their similarity go. In other areas such as quality of life and infrastructures the two communities are as far apart as New York and Kabul, Afghanistan. Whereas Otuoke has a lot to celebrate, Oloibiri is suffering from a kwashiorkor of neglect.

It was at Oloibiri that crude oil was first found in commercial quantity in Nigeria. With that discovery Oloibiri lunched Nigeria into the prestigious position it now occupies as a major crude oil exporting country of the world. But Nigeria has not been kind to Oloibiri. The place is a disgrace, judging by the acute disregard is has endured from various governments of Nigeria at federal and state levels.

Following is a speech I gave at Ijaw Foundation Convention and Education Trust Fund Launching in Newark, New Jersey, August 20, 2011, to address the issue. Enjoy.

Good morning distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. We are here mainly to support Ijaw Foundation for a convention and Education Trust Fund launching. The education trust fund launching will benefit Federal university Otuoke, Bayelsa state , Nigeria.

This gathering is a good thing, and I commend Ijaw Foundation for creating this forum where sons and daughters of Ijaw in the Diaspora and at home can come together to support a noble cause. This cause initiated by Ijaw foundation is one of those things in life which leave an indelible print on the sands of time long after the initiators are gone.

Federal University Otuoke is one of nine federal universities created by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in Nigeria. I commend President Jonathan for his foresight in establishing these universities. Good governance rests on certain key indices in society, and the provision of a good educational system is one of those indices. President Jonathan by establishing the nine federal universities has shown that his government is committed to projecting Nigeria into the cloud of highly educated nations of the world.

Unlike before when Ijaws in Nigeria were marginalized in the distribution of federal resources, this time around things have changed for the better. It is no longer business as usual where resources from Ijaw lands were plundered and used to develop the rest of Nigeria while Ijaws stood and looked in misery like a dejected orphan suffering from a wicked uncle’s maltreatment. Thank God for President Jonathan because it took him (Jonathan) for a federal university to be cited in an Ijaw community after fifty years of Nigeria’s independence. Also, thank God for Ijaw heroes, past and present, on whose shoulders President Jonathan stands as testament to the dividend of the Ijaw struggle.

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, even as we celebrate Federal University Otuoke let us pause for a minute and think about Oloibiri. For the benefit of those who don’t know, Oloibiri is the community in Ogbia, Bayelsa state, where crude oil was first found and harvested in commercial quantity in Nigeria.

You see, the issue of Oloibiri is personal to me. And I know that it is also personal to every son and daughter of Ogbia, including non-Ogbians that detest injustice. I was in my early 20s and worked for Quality magazine, a subsidiary ofNewswatch magazine, Nigeria, when I first visited Oloibiri for a story on it. A major reason for my motivation to write the story of Oloibiri was my firm belief that injustice was (and still is) perpetuated there. For how can a place that gave Nigeria its first crude oil in commercial quantity be chronically lacking amidst plenty?

I went to my editor and argued the case of why I should go to Oloibiri and expose the atrocities that the inhabitants endure. Notice that the word “endure” is in the present tense, meaning that even as I speak to you the cruelty and atrocities continue unabated. It is true that conditions at Oloibiri may have improved a little since Jonathan became president of Nigeria, but the place is still hundreds of kilometers away from attaining civilization as we know it today.

My editor saw the newsworthiness of Oloibiri’s plight and approved the story. So, I packed a bag and headed for Oloibiri. I was on a mission. A mission to bring to the world the story of a place that had been raped and left to rot.

What I saw, recorded and brought back to Lagos for publication was heart wrenching: It was the story of a forgotten people; devastated farmlands from years of crude oil drilling, acid rain, no pipe borne water, no road as is the case in civilized societies, no healthcare system or hospital (malaria and water borne diseases abound), and no post office. Simply put: Basic things necessary for a human beings’ comfort were absent.

No, this could not be the Oloibiri I had read about in history books, I thought. It was like my mind was playing a trick on me. I could not fathom why a place considered to be Nigeria’s birth place for its crude oil in commercial quantity should be the way it was. And the conditions there have not significantly changed since my visit.

Recall that it was in 1956 that crude oil was first found at Oloibiri, and Shell Petroleum company was the first oil company to start drilling there in commercial scale. Before 1956, nowhere in Nigeria was crude oil found in commercial magnitude. With that discovery came promises allegedly from Shell that it will develop Oloibiri. But the alleged promises turned out to be lies, and by that act of lying Shell Petroleum Company initiated the first “rape’ on Oloibiri. Shell, however, was not alone. Governments of Nigeria, prior to the Jonathan administration, both at federal and local levels are as guilty as the Shell of 1956, which failed to live up to its promises.

It is now 55 years since crude oil pipes ferociously tore through the soils of Oloibiri and pumped Nigeria’s first crude oil in commercial quantity. Today, 55 years after, some people still refer to Oloibiri as fossil town because there is nothing to show that it opened the door for Nigeria in the international oil market. The only historical relic there is an old signpost marked “Oloibiri Oil Well 1” with over-grown bushes.

This is 55 years of rape, 55 years of betrayal, and 55 years of various governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including state governments (Rivers and Bayelsa) refusing to do anything significant about the Oloibiri situation. How long shall this continue? How long shall the raping of Oloibiri continue while we stand aside and look?

Since this session of the program is titled “Ijaw Foundation Annual Dialogue on Good Governance & Transformational Leadership”, you might be wondering what all this got to do with the title of the session. It has a lot to do with it, and here’s how. The Jonathan administration at the end of its life span cannot claim good governance if it fails to adequately address the issue of Oloibiri. It must be seen to have adequately tried to bring to Oloibiri the good life and infrastructures found in Abuja. After all, the wealth used to build Abuja started from Oloibiri. Not to sufficiently address the issue of Oloibiri before leaving office will constitute a critical lapse in judgment for President Jonathan, but I am hopeful that he will not toe the line of his predecessors.

I challenge Ijaw Foundation to make Oloibiri one of its priority projects. I challenge every son and daughter of Ijaw and and friends of Ijaw to make Oloibiri a priority. You see, first things first. The sin of neglect committed against the people of Niger Delta in Nigeria was first committed against Oloibiri; therefore, the Oloibiri matter must be addresses with a sense of urgency. The time to act is now, not tomorrow.

Consider this. Niger Delta is part of the Ijaw nation; therefore, Oloibiri is an Ijaw matter. You miss the point if you consider Oloibiri as just another Niger Delta issue; it is not. It is said that if you don’t know where you are coming from, you will not know where were you are going. To lump the Oloibiri matter with the other issues of the Niger Delta, or to ignore it entirely, is evidence of not knowing the origin of the the Ijaw struggle. How can the Ijaw struggle reach its destination if members of the struggle don’t know the roots of the struggle? My advice for members of the struggle, including Ijaw Foundation at whose request we are gathered here today, is: Seek ye first the kingdom of Oloibiri and every other of your heart’s desire in your struggle shall be granted by God. Resist the temptation to say, ” I am not from Oloibiri and why should I care or lay more emphasis on it.” Such saying is the product of a misguided thought.

Ladies and gentle men, things must be done right. The Oloibiri plight is injustice of immense proportion. For as Dr. Martin Luther King jnr. put it in his April 16, 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” If Ijaw nation of Nigeria must succeed in its struggles then it must correctly choose the order in which its battles are fought, which is to have Oloibiri as top priority.

To put things in perspective, consider the following: Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, the fifth largest petroleum exporting country in the organization of petroleum exporting countries (OPEC), and the fifth largest oil exporting country to the United States, amounting to about 8% of US crude oil imports. Nigeria produces 30% of the total oil production in the African region. Oil revenues have historically provided about 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and about 85% of federal revenue.

Reaping all these goodies and refusing to give back to the very place it all started from is despicable and a betrayal. I call on President Jonathan, Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa state, members of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representative to right this wrong. Give Oloibiri, at the very least, the following: An oil museum to commemorate its status, hospital to take care of the sick, road networks and industries to provide jobs for the indigenes.

Thank you for your attention.

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