… says Ijaw self-determination will be by negotiation
ODAHIEKWU OGUNDE, Yenagoa
The President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Professor Benjamin Okaba says the Ijaw leaders that met with President Muhammadu Buhari stood by the agenda and agitations of the Ijaw nation.
Okaba, who dispelled insinuations in some quarters that they allegedly betrayed the Ijaw cause, noted that their agitations for true federalism, justice, equity and fairness in the country could not be compromised.
Okaba, who made the assertion on Saturday in an interview in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, said during their meeting with President Buhari, they gave him the minimum conditions that could guarantee their continued existence in Nigeria.
The INC president spoke against the backdrop of insinuations by some aggrieved Ijaw leaders, including a prominent activist, Ms Annkio Briggs, that the INC executives that visited Buhari betrayed and misrepresented the Ijaw cause.
Okaba stated: “I would not want to take issues with Ankio Briggs. She has been a comrade in the struggle. I would rather say there was a little gap in communication. The reality is that we spoke the Ijaw cause and Ijaw agenda, which is self-determination. Our speech was fully published on that. I challenge anybody to go through it.
“The whole insinuation is a clear issue of misunderstanding by some persons. Maybe by the time Briggs made the press statement, she had not read the speech or maybe she only relied on an extract that was made public by the media to the Federal Government. Thereafter, we have been able to address the issues and I think we are on the same page.”
He also said they made it clear at the meeting that if they were pushed to the wall by denying their demands, the declaration of Ijaw Republic would be inevitable.
Okaba said the meeting with the president was fruitful, noting that it afforded them the opportunity to present their positions on the Nigeria project and the conditions to guarantee peaceful coexistence.
Okaba noted: “We did not betray the Ijaw cause, we have never betrayed the Ijaw cause and we are still on course to make sure that the Ijaw agenda is perfectly actualised in good time. Strategically, we don’t want to turn the Ijaw nation prematurely into a war zone. That is why we emphasize strategy and peace.
“We know what is happening in other tribes. The majority of the Ijaw believe that the way to go now is to go through negotiation. That is why we are placing emphasis on peaceful and legal strategies to self-determination.
“We gave minimum conditions to Mr President that until the conditions of true federalism, non-balkanisation of Ijaw nation and the creation of additional states and others are met, we no longer feel safe and happy with the Nigeria project.
“And that if we are pushed to the wall, the Ijaw Republic will be declared. We used that expression pointedly. We also said that we can never be a part of any other Republic that has been declared.
“We respect the integrity, the interests of other people, we sympathise with many persons that wish to do so but don’t make Ijaw part of it.”