Being the concluding part of a paper presented by Adagogo Brown of the Humanities Department Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt at a seminar organised by the department, recently.
The sense of loss and enormity of efforts put in generating the goods that are carted away by the Opobo traders, in the name of trading, is captured by Nna Odum Egege in his sarcastic comment:
All day long, in the rain and in the sun, you and your children toil in the bush (demonstrating): cutting, planting or harvesting. You cut, boil, pound and press the palm fruit for the oil; you pot or -calabash, the nuts are left to dry before you crack and basket. (He pauses and looks round). You take the goods yourselves to the market to sell to buyers or exchange them voluntarily for other goods. The work you do, the market you buy, the acceptance of their prices and articles, everything you do, you do willfully, they don’t force you … (p3)
The lamentation of the people of Azumini is an allegory of the exploitation and dispossession of the Niger Delta people of their crude oil by the Nigerian State and their collaborating multi-national oil companies.
More light is shed on the sense of loss and the exploitation of the Azumini people when Chijioke says:
… But today we’ve lost the value of our labour ….
The water people can now come and take our goods and offer us whatever they like …. (p.3).
Chijioke appears not to speak for the Azumini people only, he also speaks for the Niger Delta people whose natural resource is exploited and carted away without consideration for those whose land and environment the resource is taken. In the name of derivation, the Niger Delta people are offered pittance determined by the Nigeria state ever since the exploitation of oil from the Niger Delta, the same way “the water people” offer Azumini people whatever they like for their goods.
When Odum Ogege asks Azumini people in a rhetorical questions:
“Are you not the owners of the oil kernel and foodstuffs that make the peoples of Okoloama and Opuboama wealthy and great?” (p.3) he is indirectly asking the Niger Delta people if they are not the producers of the oil that has made the Nigerian nation wealthy and great. Even Ikechi corroborates the stupendous Azumini wealth that has been lavished in the development of Opuboama and Okoloama when he says:
Only those who have been to Opuboama and Okoloama know how much they’ve robbed us to build those their kingdom. (p.4).
The same is of the reality of the plundering of the Niger Delta oil proceeds which have been deployed by the Government of Nigeria in the development of Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country excluding the Niger Delta.
With the increase in the awareness of the economic exploitation of the Azumini people, Odum Egege, tests his gift of all along been lying dormant.
First, he takes them down memory lane reminding them of the bravery of their forebears. Loaded with inflammatory elements, the speech is designed to spontaneously ginger and spur the people to revolt. Odum Egege queries:
… What has now come upon the brave people of Azumini … ·.? Your forebears were brave men who untiringly fought to protect their children from head-hunters. And you are now afraid of protecting these rights for which they fought and died, those rights without which you cannot ensure the continuity of your race …. (Pause) After eating basa, drinking manya ngwo and Esiriesi, you go about puffing, (demonstrating). I’m an Ndoki man! I’m an Ndoki man! (Pointing) to the water people, you are nothing! (p.5).
This and several other statements, no doubt, awakened the spirit of rebellion and prepared the people of Azumini for the assignment of protecting their economic rights from the invasion of King Jaja and Opuboama.
From knowledge and self-realisation, the play moves to protest and self-preservation. This is the point where the Azumini people, having realized that they have long been cheated and plundered, are ready to take their destiny In their own hands and reverse the trend. Readily, Odum Egege becomes ‘the rallying point of protest and military campaign. He urges the people:
… it is a good thing to recognize one’s rights, but a much better thing to be able to fight and protect them. Yes! Owughi egu a na ete na nkikara mkpuru. For it needs a lion’s strength, a devil’s determination to ask the oppressor to stop oppressing, the exploiter to stop exploiting, and the robber to stop robbing. The dangers are great, although the honour in life and even in death is greater. (p.6).
The role of Odum Egege and other Azumini elders in the pursuit of their right to control their resources can be likened to that of past and present Niger Delta people in agitation to also control their resources. With time, the struggle has gradually shifted from dialogue to arms struggle. In this we see correlation: literary characters and actions literally signifying historical personages and events. The signified personages and events observed since the Niger Delta struggle have remained a recurring decimal. The include Harold Dappa Biriye, Isaac Adako Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa, Edwin Clark, etc.
Before Odum Egege dies, he challenges Alabo Fubara who has come to impose Opoboama trade and protection agreement on Azumini people:
… (To Alabo Fubara) On Okoloama and Opuboama, we’ve never sought to impose our terms, and on us we refuse vehemently their coming to impose theirs. We’ll begin trade with the whites. If you can trade with them, why can’t we? We want to derive full benefits from our labour. (Addressing the elders) Umunna, is it not so? (The elders nodding) (p;49).
The imposition of oil revenue sharing formula and other conditions by the Government on the Niger Delta people is a literal translation of the efforts of King Jaja and Opuboama people to impose their trade terms on Azumini.
The objection of Odum Egege and his men to the imposition of terms of trade, calls for King Jaja’s adoption of a military option in suppressing the Azumini revolt. This same situation plays out in the Niger Delta as the Government considers military option in quailing the protest and agitation of the people for higher percentage of oil revenue derivation or resource control.
Although King Jaja and Opuboama defeat Odum Egege and Azumini, consistently, Odum Egege’s prophetic statement while undergoing torture on his journey of death in the hands of king Jaja’s executioners comes to mind as reported by King Jaja’s messenger.
He said many things. He kept on saying, for example … em, yes! I remember: “for there shall come someone to avenge innocent blood …
as I die for justice others will survive it”. When they come to the mouth, blood spluttered, and his speech become unintelligible … then, in fact, your Majesty, he mentioned, “seeds planted … “ p.l09.
Odum Egege’s last words are full of prophecies of the emancipation and restoration of Azumini rights to the prophecies of the doom of Opuboama for denying others their rights.
Hear Oruogolo: Opuboamapu, moored by divine will, Infested now by human will, The ship stinks and soon Will be tossed
With a hopeless crew
For the hearts’ desire of men
Often block their ears to the voice of the gods
And lead them always to And lead them always to destruction…
Eeee! Eeee! (He turns, skips and smiles)
For nothing but the cleaning of t his land
Can save it from being washed way.
And posterity from agony, disunity
Hunger and death…
(He turns to the king, who is looking blankly
In front of him) Amanyanabo, fromw hat
You have done.
Refusing others’ rights
Yours shall also be denied!
Nature has no better balance… (p.111)
In the concluding part of the statement of Oruogolo, the messenger of the gods, he appears not only to have prophesised but also cursed King Jaja for his unfair treatment of Odum eGege and Azumini people. The full implication of the statement for Nigeria is very obvious. In the manner Oruogolo has assured Opobo and posterity, of agony, disunity, hunger and death, except the land is cleansed, same, including disintegration appears to await the Nigerian State, except the rights of the Niger Delta people are granted.
For me, Oruogolo’s statements of caution or warning of impeding doom to King Jaja is one that the leadership of the Nigerian State should take seriously and learn from, in handling the Niger Delta question.