Random Thoughts on Niger Delta Militancy
statement by INAA 2008 Service and Devotion Award Honoree
invitation I received
from INAA was to give a keynote address at Boro Day 2003. Today, INAA
has invited me to receive its prestigious award for Service and
Devotion. My wife, Dame Mercy Alagoa and I, are most grateful to INAA
for this invitation and this honour. This is, without
an occasion of great joy. In my home in Nembe, we recognize gradations
of happiness and response to happiness. You smile or laugh; and dance
in grades of ecstasy from ebiki to pegele. On this occasion, INAA has
pushed me to the final stage of happiness where I should be doing
double acrobatic pegele dances, if I had been a younger man.
I appreciate the
great work INAA is doing. I thank the Executive and
entire membership of INAA for this great honour, which I hope
to work to deserve.
I am also grateful
to the Acting Governor of Bayelsa State, Right Honourable Werinipre
Seibarugu, for financial support.
In my 2003 address
characterized the Niger Delta as a region plagued with violence
generated by the political class. Today, that violence has gone out of
the control of the political class into a militancy putting
future of the entire Nigerian nation in jeopardy. I see the roots of
militancy very deeply embedded in Niger Delta society, but it has taken
wings beyond the region, and those of you in the diaspora, representing
the wings of that militancy, must play your part in the search for
militancy has had
an internal and external dimension since the nineteenth century. King
William Dappa Pepple of Bonny had carried the struggle for resource
control to the United Kingdom in the 1850s, and King Jaja of Opobo to
the West Indies in the last decade of the century. King William Koko of
Nembe carried war to the British Royal Niger Company at its base in
Akassa in 1895. The signature of Isaac Adaka Boro is to be found in
virtually every militant activity in recent times, and even the
externally focused militancy of Ken Saro Wiwa had to measure itself
against the struggle waged by Isaac Adaka Boro.
We see continuity
in the course
of change in the character of Niger Delta militancy. I observe from the
growing commitment of those of you in the diaspora to connect with all
manner of players from the home front, that you already understand that
the roots and wings of the struggle must eventually work together in
unity. You in the diaspora must mobilize the intellectual resources of
the nationalities to tease out ideas for sorting out the down side and
the upside of militancy in the Niger Delta. Sustained intensive
discourse must eventually lead to the discovery of a stable middle
ground between militancy and enduring peaceful accommodation.
By the downside of
mean the consequences of militancy which result in immediate and
long-term damage to the welfare of the masses. We need to observe the
long term damage to the environment caused by destruction of pipelines
and bunkering. We have to pay attention to the damage to the economy
and development caused by kidnapping and hostage- taking which drive
away road construction companies and halt major development projects.
We need to keep the limited structures that exist in the Niger Delta,
rather than destroy them in the course of militant activity. We need to
discuss these issues and confront their consequences for the future of
From my reading of
and discussions with Sam Owonaro, these patriots took these downside
consequences of militancy very much to heart. They were willing to give
themselves up rather than put the welfare of the people in jeopardy.
Some scholars have questioned Boro₼ s later service with the Federal
forces as a contradiction of his earlier struggle. I see it as an
extension of his devotion to serve the interests of the nationalities
of the Niger Delta as he saw them. The least we can do is to discuss
these issues dispassionately and clarify our thoughts.
There is, of
course, an upside
to militancy. That is why militants are heroes, and are protected by
the people. Militancy becomes a necessity in a situation where the
holders of power are deaf to reasonable appeal, and can only be called
to attention by the sound of guns; and refuse to see reason until their
vital interests are visibly threatened.
Adaka Boro and his
were driven to militancy by just such factors. Violent action appeared
to be the last hope. Our current militants have beendriven by similar
circumstances of despair of the national political system.
Their struggle has
resulted in some gain which we are yet to utilize to our maximum
benefit. And each new day reveals some new grounds for discontent with
the system; but also hopeful signs for the future. The question is,
where do we draw the line, and when do we draw a balance sheet and
devise a new blue print?
Our elders say
Kumbubo fieye / Biotugu. What the short person says / Stops at chest
militancy has made
us stand tall, and able to talk directly into every relevant ear, and
gain visibility. What do we do with our heightened profile? If we look
through hindsight into the future, we realize that the dividends of
militancy can only be gained through peaceful actions of peacemakers.
In Northern Ireland , a political party negotiated and received the
credits of militancy. In South Africa , a political movement
transformed itself into a militant organization and into a political
party through time and circumstance.
Can we transform
the INC and
IYC or any other emerging organizations into a
reliable negotiating and planning organ for gathering in the
harvest of militancy?
The lesson of
militancy in other lands is, that the struggle must, at some point,
transcend militancy, and embrace intellectual and political struggle.
I thank you for
recognition of an award for Service and Devotion. The service must come
from my scholarly output as a historian. The devotion must come from
the questions that I have continued to raise in my writing.
I pray that you in
seek answers to questions and create ideas on wings to grow plants with
deep roots in the Niger Delta of our dreams and struggle.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa
Emeritus Professor of History
University of Port Harcourt.