By Wale Adedayo
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan wants the world to believe that leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Henry Okah, is a mindless criminal. Following the recent bomb blast in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Jonathan’s media team has embarked on an unprecedented propaganda campaign against Okah in a dubious effort to compromise the just agitation of a few principled people for equity and justice in the Niger Delta.
Last week, reports from major Western news agencies were generously used by the local media in Nigeria to justify the arrest and ongoing trial of Okah in South Africa, where he lives with his family. One of the laughable media charges against him was a claim of being a gun runner because of an invoice from a Chinese arms supplier found in his house.
But contrary to journalism ethics, not one of the reports gave a background explanation that Okah is a licensed arms dealer, who is legally allowed to transact such businesses. A picture was painted of a criminal engaged in illegal arms trafficking. Right now, indirect censorship is being introduced in Nigeria with the National Communication Commission (NCC) ‘advising against’ the use of materials that can affect ‘national security’.
Let’s even agree for a moment that the ‘incriminating documents’ found in Okah’s South African home are genuine. This presupposes that we also believe in the propaganda about his being an illegal arms merchant. What we should then ask Nigeria’s Aso Rock spin doctors is: Why are those he bought the illegal arms for being celebrated by Jonathan?
Without Okah, there would have been no MEND in its fiery effectiveness, which is why the current propaganda campaign against the man needs to be seriously considered. If Okah is to be prosecuted for offences committed alongside others who are currently ‘chopping the lives of their heads’ in Abuja, courtesy of Jonathan, commonsense demands that the Nigerian Government has no solid evidence against the MEND leader.
It is the same thing with the spurious claims of a ‘personal war’ with Jonathan. Sponsored feature length articles have appeared in at least eight Nigerian newspapers with fictitious claims about inside story on why Okah is ‘fighting’ Jonathan. The stories, obviously written by media aides of Jonathan, thus the byline, ‘By Our Correspondent’, used by almost all the newspapers, claimed Okah is fighting a proxy battle on behalf of former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieseigha, because both men hail from the same town.
Interestingly enough, it did not occur to the newspaper Editors who gave the stories generous editorial space to educate their readers about the current relationship between Jonathan and his former boss. Of course, if they had done that it would have been clear a smear campaign was being done against Okah by placing him on the same table with Alamieseigha. Readers would have also discovered that the relationship between Jonathan and his former boss remains very cordial.
But beyond Okah, there are bigger issues, which the undiscerning may not be aware of. The Yoruba Nation has also been where the Niger Delta is today. And just as Jonathan and his politically myopic supporters are doing, our leaders fell for the bait of temporary gains instead of standing on principles in order to secure the future through long term political calculations. 1966 and 1967 were decisive years
Because some key Yoruba leaders at the time were more interested in immediate gains, the opportunity to give Oduduwa descendants enough room to fully actualise their potentials as a race was lost. Instead of supporting the defunct Eastern Nigeria in its just agitation for an immediate return to genuine federalism or a confederal system of government, Yoruba leaders settled for Vice President under Gen. Yakubu Gowon.
Most, if not all, we are fighting against in Nigeria today were instituted during the period the late Asiwaju of Yorubaland, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, fell for that Hausa-Fulani Oligarchy scheming. Although he resigned some years later, apparently after discovering what the oligarchy was up to. It was a few years too late. Awolowo had already being used by the oligarchy who wanted the support of the Yorubas against Biafra at the time.
The short term gain of being vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council remains, till date, the biggest blot in an otherwise brilliant political career by Awolowo. Had the Yoruba Nation refused to join the Hausa-Fulani war against Biafra, the component ethnic groups in Nigeria would have negotiated and agreed on a better constitution as it was being arranged by Ghana in Aburi at the time.
Fast forward to 1999: The Yoruba Leadership lost it again, just as it did in 1966/67. A better prepared oligarchy threw the bait of presidential candidate to the Yoruba Nation (not the South as it is being claimed today). This came at a time the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference that would have led to a genuine constitution, thus true federalism, was at its zenith among the Yoruba.
Instead of refusing to be part of the charade called the 1999 elections as directed by the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), our leaders proved that the myopic political spirit of 1966/67 was still alive and well in them. They naively embraced the political transition programme arranged by the oligarchy and their foreign collaborators after Bashorun MKO Abiola had been conveniently murdered in detention.
As Jonathan and his short-sighted crowd want us to believe today, it was as if a Yoruba man becoming Nigerian President would correct the institutional imbalances in the Nigerian ‘federation’ in 1999. Of course, after eight years of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo being in office as President and Commander-in-Chief, they now know better. What is the big deal about Jonathan becoming president in 2011 fr him to want to sacrifice MEND and the genuine agitation of the Niger Delta? What benefit did Obasanjo’s eight years offer the Yoruba Nation?
The hard fact is that agitation for resource control and true federalism will take a back seat with a Jonathan presidency. Agitation for a restructured polity lost steam among the Yoruba after the sham 1999 general elections through the in-fighting within the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Afenifere and the Alliance for Democracy(AD).
An Ijaw as president will NEVER alter the structural imbalances in Nigeria and our flawed constitution. I firmly agree with Okah that it is the men of straw in the Niger Delta struggle who are being lavished with money and other enticements in the name of a comical amnesty.
The principled men of steel are usually few in any society. But come what may, once such people do not waiver in their commitments, they have always determined the direction of ANY polity. Why did Isaac Adaka Boro took up arms? Why did they kill Ken Saro-Wiwa? Why did those boys who dared the almighty Nigerian Armed Forces died in the creeks of the Niger Delta? Was it for some people to get political appointments, oil allocations or security contracts?
I submit that the Jonathan Administration is treating the symptoms and not the cause of the renewed arms struggle in the Niger Delta. Those who said he should not contest the 2011 elections might have a valid point afterall – Jonathan should face some specific problems and solve them once and for all during his short term so that a new President can start on a clean slate without fear of political backlash. And the Number One should be a restructuring of the Nigerian ‘Federation’ so that we have a genuine federal structure without which issues like MEND, Boko Haram, etc will persist.
Right now, personal political interest is the driving force of the anti-Okah propaganda campaign. And it is not a campaign against Okah. It is a campaign against the long term interest of the Niger Delta. Jonathan’s handlers believe Okah is the engine room of MEND, which till date has remained the most principled of all the groups in the Niger Delta. He has to deliver this soul of the Niger Delta to the oligarchy for him to be rewarded with The Presidency. And that is nothing but political myopia!
* This article was first published on 17 October 2010.