Nengi Josef Ilagha, popularly known as Pope Pen The First, President of the Pen Pushers Talking Front, PPTF, has worked as a journalist, broadcaster and public relations consultant. Born in Nembe, Bayelsa State, on December 18, 1963, he took a degree in English & Literary Studies from the University of Port Harcourt. A one-time editor of The Tide On Sunday Nengi Josef Ilagha was Speech Writer to the Governor of Bayelsa State. He was later elevated to Special Adviser on Research & Documentation to the same government on account of his robust intellectual input to the resource control debate. His latest book, Goodluck To Bayelsa, a collection of speeches in honour of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, has been highly commended for putting the political records straight in Bayelsa and for speaking up eloquently for peace in the Niger Delta region. January Gestures, his new book of poems, was among the nine books in the race for the 2009 edition of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by NLNG. In this revealing interview just before the event, the poet bares his mind.
What does it feel like to be shortlisted for the 2009 Nigeria Prize for Literature?
I am suitably gratified to have made it through to this point. Without doubt, Nigeria is blessed with a good number of poets, and the evidence was there for the panel of judges to see. To be in the first nine out of 163 poets, therefore, is indeed a remarkable feat. I am grateful that professional judgement has been given fairly, and that I have not fallen foul of the rules of poetic engagement so far. My entry for the competition, January Gestures, begins with a word of faith to the effect that I feel obliged to God for the life I live, and that I would dedicate my breath to praising the almightiness of my Maker, from day to day, for as long as I live. To be named in the shortlist, therefore, is like receiving a word of endorsement from above that my fervent prayers are being answered.
Do you have previous commendations and awards?
Yes, indeed. Mantids, my first book of poems, won the Association of Nigerian Authors poetry prize in 1995, in manuscript. That was my opening glee, so to speak. That was the first time I received public confirmation that I was on the path of my true calling, and the assurance that I had not been wasting time scratching my feelings out on paper. After that, I took bolder steps towards poetry, and poetry practically took greater strides towards me. In 1998, I entered a collection of 54 fresh poems under the title, Apples & Serpents, and received honourable mention in the first edition of the Christopher Okigbo Prize for African Literature, endowed by Wole Soyinka. And then I went on a long sabbatical, writing speeches in the corridors of Creek Haven, and on the fringes of government.
How many of your poetry collections have been published? Name them.
So far, I have four collections of poetry in print. After Mantids, I went back to work on Apples & Serpents, to explore the subject to the fullest possible limits, before publishing it. Today, it’s a much more sizeable book than it was in 1998, something far more satisfactory, and I’m proud to present it to the world the way it is. But I knew that I hadn’t quite exhausted myself. As a matter of fact, I was just taking the first tentative steps, like a chicken caught in the passage, on one leg standing, contemplating the long odyssey into the labyrinth of poetry. With the dawn of 2007, I embarked upon a more ambitious project, determined to write a book of poems dedicated to each month of the year, a rigorous labour of love undertaken from day to day, week after week, from January to December, stretching out like an interminable diary of pain. That’s how I began A Calendar of Faith, which is the composite title for the entire project. January Gestures is in print, and so is February Fabrics. The other ten months, March to December, are pending. That is to say, I have finished writing all twelve books of poetry, but I am awaiting funds from the IMF and the World Bank to have them published.
In your opinion, what are the attributes of a good poem?
In the first place, a good poem should be able to communicate the feelings embodied in it. A poem is a poem because it seeks to express the feelings of the poet, its primary composer. It seeks to convey a message, to pass on a felt experience in a special way. That special way by which the message is conveyed is your style. It is your individuality. It cannot be taken from you. Content is everyone’s free party. It is how you say what everyone else can feel or say that marks you out from the crowd. The primary tool for doing that is imagery. Every good poem works with imagery, which is an all-embracing word for figures of speech.
For me, a poem is dry and arid if it does not leave me with an image that impresses itself on my mind sufficiently for me to want to go back to see exactly how the poet put it. In other words, an image must insist on being reckoned with. Every good poem deserves a second reading, and yet another, until the experience becomes a part of me. If I think of J.P. Clark’s “Ibadan,” for instance, the overriding image that I’m left with is “broken china in the sun.” Every other word in that poem builds up teasingly to that image. A truly gifted poet can harness a series of images in a single poem, line after line, without bungling his metaphors and without losing the admiration of the reader. I appreciate such poets.
When did you start writing poems?
I have always been fascinated by words for as long as I can remember. My venerable father, King Joseph Aye Ilagha, was widely recognised as the grammarian of the entire Nembe clan for several generations. He was fond of words, explosive in his use of words, and I was always ready to listen to him speak. As his first son, he took me everywhere he went, so I became his permanent audience. He also had a wonderful and majestic handwriting, and I wanted to be like him, so I started writing. But I consciously began crafting verse in form five, my last year at Nembe National Grammar School. That was in 1980. I was fascinated, in particular, by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It overwhelmed my senses with mental pictures whenever I flipped through the pages, and I had a great teacher at that time, a youth corps member named Hassan Hassan, who dramatized it all for me in class. So, before long, I set out to recreate my own experiences on paper, attempting to sound like Shakespeare. I failed woefully, of course, but I’m glad to say that I didn’t give up. Thankfully, my love for words endures till this day, and this is just how far the excursion with my father has taken me.
Do you write any other genre apart from poetry?
Yes, I tried working with every genre that was introduced to me in class. I sketched some dialogue in the name of writing plays. I began a novel or two to test my capacity for endurance, and didn’t get far enough. Now, I’m much more at home with the short fiction medium because I have to deal with just a slice of life at a time. A Birthday Delight, my first collection of short stories, is already in print, and so is I Want To Be A Senator, my first collection of essays gathered from my years in journalism. I find the essay useful as an art form because, like the short story, it captures my opinion and gives it amplitude within a short spell of time, so to speak. But my favourite medium for self expression is the poem. It enables me to condense so much into a few words, if I want to. I just roll from image to image, and do well to keep my roller-coaster ride under control. I am the driver in every one of my poems. I am always at the steering wheel, conscious of the fact that if I don’t control my words, I stand the risk of crashing out of relevance, and I can’t afford to do that. So, I grab the first word and let it lead me to the very last word.
Can you mention five foreign poets that you love to read? What makes them peculiar?
Frankly, I have never been comfortable with questions like this. I wish you would take one particular poet, one particular work, and ask my opinion. Then I would be more definite. I studied Literature in English at the University of Port Harcourt in the first half of the 80s, which is to say that I was obliged to read widely, and intensively too. And, in the course of that, I came across a whole lot of enchanting poets. To pick five of them is to be unfair to the lot who have had a composite influence on the body of world literature, through the ages and through time. I was engrossed with the narrative verse of Geoffrey Chaucer as with the sonnets of William Shakespeare. I identify with the lyrics of Lord George Gordon Byron as with the poems of Alexander Pushkin or Rabindranath Tagore or Jean-Joseph Rabiarivelo. I can locate common grounds in the poetry of Pablo Neruda or T.S. Eliot or Edgar Allan Poe in much the same way that I am at home with the poetry of Dennis Brutus or Augustino Neto. In all, I am grateful for every quirk of composition that I learnt from these poets, and I believe I have already counted beyond five.
Well, can you mention five Nigerian poets that you love to read?
Yes, I can. In 1986, I moulded my opinion on the poetry of Gabriel Okara into what turned out to be my undergraduate project, drawing a linguistic continuum between his poetry, as embodied in The Fisherman’s Invocation and the quaint prose of his only novel, The Voice. I have come to the conclusion that it is not enough to say, for instance, that I like Okigbo’s poetry and leave it at that. Indeed I love to read Christopher Okigbo for his delicate imagery, his winning lines, so much so that I am currently undertaking a written appreciation of his poetry in a long essay entitled “Tiger Mask & Nude Spear.” Such an exhaustive study, self-imposed as it is and conducted outside of the ivory tower, would enable me to understand why I like Okigbo’s poetry. I have to get to the root of the matter. Frankly, I should do that for every poet I enjoy reading.
The poetry of Odia Ofeimun equally opened my soul to another kind of poetic temperament, namely the poet as a social warrior out to question every infelicity in governance, and I speak with particular reference to The Poet Lied. And then, of course, there is Niyi Osundare, the most prolific Nigerian poet to date, and the most daring in terms of sheer stylistic impetus. He parades a variegated sensibility that many of his admirers wish they could inherit. What’s more, among my contemporaries, I admire the poetic talents of Esiaba Irobi, Afam Akeh, Chiedu Ezeanah, Ogaga Ifowodo and Chijioke Amu-Nnadi. These are poets who deserve to be studied in their own rights, poets with a high-grade sensitivity of their own. I believe it is high time we began an exhaustive critical appreciation of these poets for the sake of our national literature, and I have resolved to do my part of this large assignment. If there are no critics of current Nigerian literature, as Professor Charles Nnolim maintains, perhaps it will not be out of place for the writers themselves to become their own critics so long as it serves the end of literature.
Can you please outline your daily activities…?
I’m afraid I can’t do that. I will not do that. No one day is the same as the other, and that’s what I have tried to explore in A Calendar of Faith. Every day is a genuine gift from God. Between sleep and waking, so much happens that isn’t the same, from day to day, week after week, month after month.
It is my duty to take the lessons of each day in my stride, to consciously make the most of that gift, if I am to qualify as a better human being tomorrow, one aspiring to be worthy of redemption in the eyes of God. In short, I don’t see life as routine. If it were so, it would be boring. There is always something unique about each day, and I always look out for that unique element, and do well to date it. For instance, if you were to give me this same assignment tomorrow, expecting me to outline my activities, I’m not likely to use these same words. So, I take every day as it comes, and do well to be in charge of it. The poem I write on the first day of the year cannot possibly be the same as the poem I write in the middle of the year or on the last day of the year, because each day comes with its own challenges, its own blessings, its own promises, its own disappointments, its own sheer variety.
Q.X. Is the ability to write poetry innate in every human being?
I believe it is. We all have access to breath. Poetry is breath, free utterance captured on paper. You are at liberty to express yourself, or else to deny yourself self-expression by hiding the plain images, the unadorned words that come to you, under an obscurantist bushel. If you feel pain, do well to express it in your own words, in clear terms appreciable to your neighbour. If you fall in love, nobody expresses it for you. It is up to you to dig deep into yourself to shore up the best possible choice of words that can tell the listening ear that you are in love. Isn’t it?
In short, you can be a poet if you want to. All you need do is summon the required presence of mind, pull up a chair, sit your butt down before a desk, place a blank sheet of paper before you, hold a pen, and write out the next poem that comes to your mind to the best of your ability. The duty of a writer is to write. I believe that’s what you call discipline. If you can take that position when you set out to write a letter, you can do the same for a poem. Or, this being the age of the computer, type out your feelings on your laptop. To a large extent, a poem is a letter you write to yourself, a personal experience you share with yourself, and if someone gets to read it and is affected by it, you have scored a bull’s eye.
I suppose that’s what William Wordsworth meant when he defined poetry as an act of self confession, confessing yourself to yourself. In much the same way, I believe that’s what Niyi Osundare meant when he defined a poem as “man meaning to man.” So long as you employ the tools of poetry, the figurative use of language to express your feelings, you can persuade the reader to relate with that experience from your own point of view. To varying degrees, therefore, every human being is a poet. As Vincent Egbuson would put it, “a poet is a man.” By extension, for that matter, a poet may jolly well be a woman.
Q.XI. If you were to win the coveted NLNG poetry prize for 2009, what would you invest in?
I doubt if I would have problems with investing the prize money wisely. I have seen enough of this wicked world to know that there is an open market out there, waiting for the best ideas to transform lives. There is a whole range of hungry commitments just waiting for funds to meet them. Beyond the immediate celebration, however, I am consumed by the idea of setting up a credible private media outfit that would help to streamline the thinking of the militants in the Niger Delta for the best. As Obasanjo would say, the problem with Nigeria is the problem of the Niger Delta. Yet, after serving three terms as the number one citizen of Nigeria, first as military Head of State, and twice as civilian President within a twenty-year period, he failed to resolve the problem. If you were to ask Obasanjo afresh what the problem with Nigeria is today, he would probably say the same thing. Blame it on the Niger Delta.
In my humble opinion, as a creative writer and as an illustrious son of the Niger Delta, the militants in question have not been able to express themselves fully, in intellectual terms, to the understanding of their neighbours in other parts of the country. And I say this advisedly. They are yet to compel the attention of the world with graphic descriptions of conditions in the swamp. They are yet to evoke the sympathy of the men and women of good conscience with the kind of rousing rhetoric typical of an Obama. Ultimately, I don’t think the option of the gun and the bayonet is the best. It only depletes our ranks. It only ends up wasting our useable manpower. It was an option that Isaac Boro himself had already jettisoned, as anyone familiar with his book, The 12-Day Revolution, will attest to. If Boro were alive today, he would be a man of peace, not a man of war. To resort to violence in this day and age is to suffer from what Wole Soyinka calls “idiom closure,” the inability to develop an argument beyond the moment. I dare say that dialogue answers all things. A well-reasoned response is the best answer to a foolish question. Put simply, peace is the answer to all the problems of Nigeria. Ask Jesus Christ.
In short, the pen is mightier than the gun. So, I would like to invest in the pen. I would rather start a writing school, so that every militant in the Niger Delta will be sufficiently equipped to express themselves. I would reach out to every militant worth his name, and give each one of them ample space to explain why they felt compelled to carry a gun and to cover their faces like Mau Mau photographers until President Umar Yar’Adua persuaded them to lay down their weapons, and Governor Timipre Sylva brought them out into the open, on national television. On my honour, I would do well to let them know from the start how forbidden it is to shed blood in the open sight of God. These are the concerns of my forthcoming book entitled, The Militant Writes Back, a body of poems expressing what it feels like to live in a militant environment such as the Niger Delta. Take note. I am a militant in my own right, but nobody is negotiating with me. And that is because the pen is my weapon.
Q.XII. When you say you want to establish a private press that would put the Niger Delta struggle in better perspective, what do you mean? And what’s this talk of a writing school? Could you please explain further?
Sure. What I mean is this. I have worked as a journalist for the better part of my adult life. I have been a reporter in the best sense of the word, a foot-soldier in the news gathering business. I also served as editor of a state newspaper for four years, and I am a tried and tested broadcaster, on radio and television. It doesn’t quite matter that, today, I am banned from practicing journalism in my own state. I am banned from the state radio, banned from the state television, banned from revamping the state newspaper, even in my capacity as General Manager. And all this because I told the incumbent head of the media machinery in the state, the Commissioner for Information, no less, that he was the wrong man for the job, because he doesn’t know what it means to harness all three arms of the media to work in the larger interest of the state and of the Sylva government. I told him at point-blank range that nobody knows Asara A. Asara in the Nigerian media industry, even if he parades three As in his name, and that he would be better off as a manager of his hotel business or simply remain a professional fisherman. Rather than reason with me in a mature and civilized manner, the man took offence and opted to send my pen on suspension. But, as Esiaba Irobi would ask, how do you pin down a cloud?
But all that is just by the way. In December 2006, I made a public presentation of my first four books all at once to mark my 43rd birthday, and the Bayelsa State Government (under Dr Goodluck Jonathan at that time) made a heart-warming promise to provide me with a digital press on account of the commendable feat I had accomplished, so that I would be even more productive. The four books in question are Mantids, A Birthday Delight, I Want To Be A Senator, and Apples & Serpents. As may be expected, I was overjoyed at that public pronouncement. It’s a good sign when a prophet is accepted in his own backyard. But three years after that event, the promise is yet to be redeemed. So, in the light of all this, I would like to set up a press that would serve the public interest, a medium that would specifically help to correct the erroneous impressions held by some people about the Niger Delta, if I have the wherewithal so to do. That is because, to quote Obasanjo again, if the problem of the Niger Delta region is resolved, then the problem of Nigeria is as good as solved.
Now, to the last part of your question. Once upon a time, I conceived the idea of establishing a writing school with the modest funds at my disposal. It is called Shalom School of Scripture, SSS. It advocates peace as its motto. I actually bought a small parcel of land in Yenagoa, laid the foundation stone on December 2, 2004, with a few close friends as witness, and built it up to a certain point. It is still awaiting completion. That is a project idea that I consider worthwhile, and I don’t mind going back to it, if I have funds. As you know, there is no formal school of writing in Nigeria. Mamman Vatsa’s dream is yet to materialize, in Abuja or outside Abuja. This private initiative would admit Nigerian writers into a residency programme for as long as they see fit, in the heart of the Niger Delta, in Bayelsa precisely, so that our creative writers can be better enlightened about the motives that led the ex-militants to become militants in the first place.
Take it from me. Bayelsa is a nice, quiet and peaceful land where any writer in the world can concentrate his talents and write twelve books in one year, just as I have done. Bayelsa is the glory of all lands. There is no disputing that. If Jesus Christ is to come suddenly upon the world, he would arise from Bayelsa, and step out like a tell-tale thief in the deep night of the world’s ignorance, like a weaverbird spelling judgment upon the sins of the world with the very breath of poetry. I hope that answers your question.
Discovering Your Life’s Purpose
What is Purpose?
Discovering one’s purpose is discovering what one needs in life. Discovering what you are meant to be in life. Not what you want to be but what God wants you to be in life. You can never discover your purpose without the help of God.
Ask Yourself Some Questions
You can discover your purpose when you start asking yourself some questions and give answers to such as “what do I need in life?” (Your purpose in life) by finding your purpose, you will know what you need in life and life will be easy for you. Sometimes, we want every good thing in life but what really matters is not what you want but what you need in life. People respect you when you discover your purpose and start making serious decisions. God is your creator and what he needs from you is your purpose. Discovering your purpose on time makes you more successful in life, you need to focus on the present, look forward, think big, do what you love, stay positive, be persistent, get the job done, fight for something you believe in. To be a successful being in life, you also need to manage your time effectively.
Sometimes, people find themselves doing or studying what they don’t need. Your potentials determine your purpose in life, don’t feel bad on yourself because, with the right information, your purpose is sure. You will get to a place in life and these things will be very useful to you.
Nothing happens as a mistake; they all have their purpose to fulfill in life. Spend at least one hour or thirty minutes every day to do what you have passion for.
Time management has a very big role to play in discovering one’s purpose in life. Why most people suffer a lot in life is because they waste too much of their time doing nothing. We sleep too much; we rest too much; let’s make every moment to be useful. Sleeping too much won’t do us any good. Push yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. The fact that you are not where you want to be should be enough motivation.
Life without purpose is time without meaning. It is useless to keep ample time if there is no end towards which we are moving. God calls you in this world for you to discover your purpose and work towards it. Your plans cannot change God’s purpose. What God calls for, he provides for.
Sometimes people will say I want to be rich in life. If you said so, fine, then learn how to manage your time and discover your purpose in life. Most times, our parents do destroy our destiny by forcing us to study what we are not meant to just because they had a dream of studying it but were not opportuned to. Parents should ask knowledge from God so as to know what their children need in life.
Procrastination can damage you from going far in life. To be successful and fulfill your purpose in life, you need not to postpone what should be done now. Procrastination is a grave in which opportunities are buried. In life, many people have missed their chance of success because of postponement.
All the pain of yesterday can be forgotten tomorrow if we know how to manage our time effectively and discover our purpose in life. For your management of time not to be in vain, you need to concentrate on one thing such as what you love to do, because it is no good to do everything at the same time (he who is everywhere is nowhere).
Everybody wants to go to school, have their certificates, and be a hard worker in life. But is that all there is in life? Imagine if everyone in the universe goes to school, have their good certificates and work in very good places in life, then who will be the cleaner? Who will be the security guard? Who will be the house maid? How you see life is much more than you think. Purpose is only found in the mind of the creator. Only God knows the purpose for your life.
Now you can see why everybody cannot be rich in this life; neither will everyone be poor in life. The term rich would not exist if there are not poor people existing in this world. The terms rich and poor are given because people have and people lack.
You can never change how you have been created and what you have been created for no matter what. You being a cleaner is because there must always be someone dusting up the place. If there is a man to dust, there will always be a man to clean up also. If your purpose is to be a cleaner, be the best cleaner ever. Cleaning is not just ordinary, you can achieve excellence in cleaning. Excellence in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.
Every product is produced by purpose, for a purpose, and all things begin and end with purpose. Your existence is an evidence that this generation needs something that your life contains.
The reason why you exist in your family is because there is something that has to be done in your family and it’s only you that can do it; no one else. If you are born into a poor family it’s not your fault, but it will only be your fault if you remain there, because you have been born in to a family to make great things happen by managing your time and discovering your purpose in life.
You can start by having a time table in your house such as time to study, time to do what you love, what you have passion for. And in the process of studying, anything you seem not to understand, you do well to ask someone that knows it more than you. Don’t feel shy to ask because no one knows everything but everyone knows something.
You can also help others to discover their purpose by changing your mindset, especially with the way you think and the way you communicate with them. Let people see you as a person that really knows your purpose in life. Let people see your good lifestyle and try to build theirs also.
Always do things at the right time. Or better do something even if it is late than not to do it at all. Conclusively, a man can’t exist without having a purpose in life, your existence is an evidence that God has a purpose in you and this purpose can be discovered with the help of God, and also by management of time. I know we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone. We can change the world by fulfilling our purpose in life. Nothing is impossible.
By: Endurance Osadebe
Osadebe wrote in from Eastern Polytechnic, Port Harcourt.
Re: Wike, Combat And Cant: Negative Criticism Taken Too Far
Our attention has been drawn to the article published in the “Hardball” column of The Nation Newspaper on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, titled: “Wike, Combat and Cant” and we cannot help but laugh once again at the manic obsessiveness, which the author of this particular ‘Hardball’ segment, has with everything that has to do with Governor Nyesom Wike.
However, what is rather very disturbing in this constant display of professional mercantilism and the unrestrained effort to mislead the people and misinterpret every action and comment of Governor Wike.
One must say, it is rather shameful for a journalist to resort to the penchant of subtle, yet crude and dangerous slander, to attack anybody who dares to challenge the status quo.
Governor Wike’s remarks at the Interdenominational Thanksgiving Service in commemoration of the Nation’s 61st Independence Anniversary, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Diobu, Port Harcourt, on Sunday, September 26, 2021, represents the heart cry of every patriotic Nigerian.
Those who listened to his comments, will also agree that the summary of what Governor Wike said was that enemity, hatred, division have become the definining indices of Nigeria today at 61 years.
He said Nigeria is a dysfunctional nation, where the judiciary has been intimidated, children are not in schools and doctors not in hospitals as a result of endless strikes. According to him, credible elections cannot be conducted and the National Assembly has become a place where anything goes in favour of the government in power, even if it is not in the interest of the people.
Sadly, only Nigerians who are feeding fat from such a country and indeed journalists like the author with his obvious anti-libertarian counter progressive propaganda, which promote and protect the interest of these individuals, will disagree with Governor Wike’s observations and even go ahead to cast puerile aspersion with pedestrian examples on his comments.
Suffice it to say that at a time when majority of Nigerians have been numbed into a development hiatus by the overwhelming suffocation of poverty, censorship, insecurity, nepotism, administrative ineptitude and a certain form of political autocracy which have all been elevated dangerously to statecraft and existential norm, a journalist who should professionally serve as the voice and conscience of the people has become the very instrument to justify these anti-development onslaught on the people.
What is even more worrisome is the realization that the author, rather than raise alarm over the deliberate polarization of the country along all the major incendiary fault lines of ethnicity, religion, partisan seclusion, intimidation and persecution, selective inquisitions and all the divisive tendencies which have sadly reversed all the gains made over 61 years, has now embraced the fifth column business of hounding those who speak up against these ills.
To even describe Governor Wike’s comments during that interdenominational church service, as “combat and cant’ as the writer did with misplaced elitist authority, is so unfortunate that it shamelessly exposed the real hypocrisy of a journalist and his sponsors, who are not only living in regrettable, unpardonable denial, but are the very dangerous ilk who are constantly and deliberately subverting national consciousness and turning the glaring truth of what Nigeria has become, on its head.
It is indeed a crying shame that we have in the last six years, transformed quite pathetically, into a nation where for example, state Governors, whose voices ought to be resonating loudly against the impunity that undermines our democratic federalism, have been brow-beaten into a complicit silence, as we watch in helpless horror, the systematic regression and overhaul of a nation’s development garnered painstakingly over 61 years.
Nigeria has never been more divided at any time in its 61 years history than it is today. The country is presently in a dangerous connundrum of identity crises stoked and fuelled by the continued endorsement and justification of leadership impunity and docility by the likes of the writer. Is it any wonder therefore that Governor Wike’s voice is the only one resonating loudly, clearly and independently against these manifestation, as we celebrate the auspicious occasion of our independence as a country that is 61 years old?
Ironically, even many of the leaders who have chosen to couch these desperate times in hopeful platitudes, celebrate the reversal of national essence with choice phrases and pretend with motivational innuendos that a nation which totters precariously on the brink of self implosion and immolation, is making progress, know deep down in their hearts that they are lying to their people.
Governor Wike has proven time and again that he is a courageous, bold, focused and determined leader, who will say a thing like it is and not address it by any other name, just to sound politically correct and please some people.
By the way, at the end of his exhortation, Governor Wike called on the congregation, with the permission of the Church, to join him and the choir to sing the first and last stanzas of the Hymn, SSS 577: “I need Thee Every Hour”. This was indeed quite apt and poignant, to capture the mood and state of affairs in our country today.
There’s definitely no doubt whatsoever that Nigeria needs help at this time in our nation’s evolution, as we celebrate 61 years of Independence.
Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State.
Soot: Can N’Delta Escape Doomsday?
A popular saying in Nigeria’s ‘Pidgin’ English states: ‘Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’. It simply means that while the monkey (which is usually smaller in size than the baboon) is working very hard to eke out a living for itself, the baboon uses its larger figure to intimidate the monkey and survive from the proceeds of the monkey’s efforts. This, in a nutshell, explains the plight of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The import of this popular saying in the context of this discourse is that while the Niger Delta Region produces the crude oil, which has been the mainstay of the country for over sixty years, and also bears the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation activities, the northern part of the country, which views leadership of the country as its birthright, enjoys more from the proceeds of crude oil.
Much have been said and written by different people, including scholars, about the plight of the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, such that at some point, one may easily feel saturated, and possibly irritated, out of a feeling of over-information that now sounds hackneyed.
But the truth is that, from the point at which crude oil was first found in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, in present-day Bayelsa State, in Nigeria, till today, the life of the people in the Niger Delta region has never been the same. Rather than be a source of development to the people in all spheres as it is with the advanced climes, some of which do not have the quality of crude oil the region has, it has been a source of clear dehumanisation of the people.
The apparent euphoria that greeted the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta region of the country in anticipation of its implication in terms of what the people stand to benefit as host communities, at inception, soon gave way to nostalgic chronic acrimonious feelings as the days turned to weeks, months, years and now decades.
Perhaps what would amount to an inkling of what is now the fate of the people of the region today was the February 23, 1966 declaration of the Niger Delta Republic in what has become known as The Twelve-Day Revolution’ by the late Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, nicknamed Boro.
Boro’s grouse was the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta areas which benefited mainly the Federal Government of Nigeria and, at the time, the Eastern Region with capital in Enugu, while nothing was given to the Niger Delta people. He believed that the people of the Niger Delta deserved a larger share of proceeds from the oil wealth.
Consequently, he formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), an armed militia with members consisting mainly of his fellow Ijaw ethnic group. They declared the Niger Delta Republic on that day and fought with Federal forces for twelve days before being defeated. Boro and his comrades were jailed for treason.
They were, however, granted amnesty by the Federal regime of General Yakubu Gowon on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War in May 1967 on the condition that they fight for the Federal Government against the Biafrans. Boro, and some of his comrades, most prominently Owunaro, his second in command in the NDVF, subsequently enlisted in the Nigerian Army.
Boro was commissioned as a Major in the Nigerian Army. He fought on the side of the Federal Government, but was killed under mysterious circumstances in active service in 1968 at Ogu (Okrika) in Rivers State.
But the struggle Boro started has taken different dimensions in the Niger Delta ever since, with seemingly less impact as far as the Federal Government’s response to the demands of the region is concerned. It’s such that after over sixty years of oil exploration and exploitation in the region, all the people have to show is what amounts to deliberate and planned, but gradual destruction of their sources of livelihood, leading to a life of penury, underdevelopment, and currently a possible end to their lives through endemic illnesses such as cancer and like ailments warranted by their exposure to the ravaging soot in the region.
Soot is a mixture of very fine black or brown particles created by the product of incomplete combustion. It is primarily made up of carbon, but it can also contain trace amounts of metals, dust, and chemicals. It is different from charcoal and other by-products of combustion because it is so fine. These tiny particles may be under 2.5 micrometers in diameter which is smaller than dust, mold, and dirt particles.
Beyond artisanal refining, possible causes of the soot also include emissions from asphalt factories, indiscriminate burning of mixed waste, burning of tyres and vehicular emissions, according to a Report by a technical team set up by the Rivers State Government in 2019, to generate preliminary air quality data in Port Harcourt. However, none of these has so infested the region’s cloud with soot as illegal oil bunkering.
Experts say that the small size of soot is what makes it so dangerous for humans and pets, because it can easily be breathed deep into the small passageways of the lungs, which is why repeated exposure to soot is linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer. Soot is, therefore, more than just an unsightly nuisance. It is a danger that cannot be left in the home or environment.
In 2017, a reporter, Yomi Kazeem, wrote, “Across Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger-Delta region, environmental pollution has long been a part of daily lives. But while residents have become used to multiple oil spills which have damaged livelihoods and farmlands, they currently face a new kind of danger: rising black soot particles in the air. Since November, residents of oil industry hub city, Port Harcourt, are complaining about increased soot residue on surfaces in and out of their homes”.
Back then, Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment declared an air pollution emergency in the affected areas. The Ministry claimed that preliminary test samples of the soot indicated it was caused by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons as well as asphalt processing and illegal artisanal refinery operations.
In a bid to curb the pollution, Kazeem stated, the Ministry shut down an asphalt processing plant operating in the area. The State Government has also sealed off a Chinese company in the city for what it tagged ‘aggravated air pollution, and breach of environmental laws’.
On their part, residents petitioned the United Nations Environment Programme to intervene by investigating the problem while they subtly protested the increased pollution on social media, through the “#StopTheSoothashtag”.
Since then, the best that has been heard about addressing the issue of soot in the Niger Delta had been what can be easily dismissed as subtle complaints on social media by few concerned individuals and organisations involved in environmental health pursuits. Thus, the quantity of particles forming soot that is emitted into the air on a daily basis has increased almost unabated.
For the Federal and State Governments, their efforts so far had been at best mere media hypes in a make-belief establishment of modular refineries in the Niger Delta, which the Federal Government also wants established in the north that does not produce oil, like it did in building refinery in Kaduna State, an act widely viewed as misplacement of priority as far as establishment of modular refineries as a solution to soot is concerned.
In 2013, scientists found out that dirty air caused more premature deaths than unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and malnutrition in Africa. The obvious implication is that if the Niger Delta is increasingly infested with soot and genuine necessary steps are not taken to check it, the region will most likely go extinct in years to come. The form this will take, and how soon it will manifest are the questions that currently prop up in critical analyses.
During one of such analyses, an environmental toxicologist with the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Dr. Emmanuel Oriakpona, hinted that the most likely consequence of unchecked increase in soot infestation in the Niger Delta is loss of the region’s ecosystem and human health.
“We shall experience loss of our ecosystem and loss of our health. This is the summary of what will happen to us: major loss in our ecosystem. If you go to the mangroves and see the devastation by crude oil, and you also go and see what the people actually carrying out the refining process are going through, you’ll appreciate this better,” he said.
According to Dr. Oriakpona, the situation is worsened by the fact that there is an obvious collaboration between those involved in artisanal refining of crude oil and authorities vested with the responsibility of stopping it. The reason is that such authorities are rewarded with huge financial benefits accruable from the business. This is further buttressed by some key players in the illegal oil refining business whose locally made boats and products were at some points burnt by security agents who felt that their exploitation of the people involved in the illegal trade was challenged.
By: Soibi Max-Alalibo
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