Etete Enideneze, a media practitioner and public affairs analyst, writes on the need for special consideration to be given Epie/Atissa in Yengoa local government area in the political calculations for the governorship position in Bayelsa State.
Epie/Atissa in Yengoa Local Government Area, core host of the Bayelsa State Capital is marginalized in the state’s power sharing equation. Since democracy began in 1999, and in the 23 years of existence of Bayelsa, Epie/Atissa has not held governorship office in the state, despite its vantage position as host. This is tantamount to a political curse on the people who have made huge sacrifices for the state.
But, the Ijaw speaking ethnic group in the state, precisely, Southern Ijaw and Sagbama subgroups have had opportunity to occupy governorship position twice each in substantive capacities.
Ogbia and Brass ethnic nationalities, with distinct languages from the Ijaw and Epie speaking groups, have similarly held governorship positions substantively.
Also, the Ijaw speaking areas of Ekeremor and Aleibiri and the Nembe speaking group, have equally occupied deputy governorship position at various times. The just mentioned subgroups have equally held speakership and deputy speakership positions, respectively.
Yet, Epie/Atissa that is not only host of the State Capital, but also a major group with distinct language, descent and geographical location, chosen by the Abacha Junta as the best for the state capital, though a part of the Ijaw larger tribe, has not been empathized in the sharing of the power ‘booty’ which is a major benefit from creation of the state.
Even in the recent sharing of power in the State House of Assembly, Epie/Atissa was not given any of the top positions. Perhaps, it is because the area has just one seat in the state legislature. Again, politics they say is a game of number, so the one-man representing Epie/Atissa, is perhaps perceived as having no political value to be given an important legislative position.
Well, no blames for any person other than one leader from the area whose apolitical and unprogressive argument at the time Houses of Assembly Constituencies were being created in the old River State in the Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s era, was that dividing Epie/Atissa into separate state constituencies would create disunity. The leader was sociologically right, but politically wrong in his submission which caused Epie/Atisaa a lone seat in the state legislature.
Epie/Atissa and other ethnic groups such as Okordia; Zarama; Biseni; Isoko; Gbarain; Ekpetiama; Kolokuma and Opokuma, almost share similar plight of political exclusion. However, among these groups, most of which have distinct but similar languages, Ekpetiama; Kolokuma and Opokuma have even had it better than the other clans just listed, in the allotment of state power.
For instance, recently, a son of Kolokuma emerged as Speaker of the House of Assembly. And in the past a son of Opokuma held deputy speakership position in the House of Assembly. Similarly, a son of Gbarain has served as speaker, deputy governor and acting governor, variously.
Indeed, the unending exclusion of Epie/Atissa from the power game has compelled its indigenes and non-indigenes alike to wag their tongues against the unpleasant treatment. Of course, the murmuring against non-inclusion of the host of the capital in the executive and legislative power base of the state is not misplaced.
Thus, the call today, is on political parties, politicians, the-powers-that-be and other ethnic groups to give Epie/Atissa a chance to get governorship ticket to contest this year’s gubernatorial election, and win with the support of the other areas it had supported in the past.
Otherwise, it could take another whole eight years for Epie/Atissa to get its slot. If that happens, the sentiments of exclusion, despite the pivotal position and sacrifice Epie/Atissa people have made for the take off and development of the state, might continue to disenchant them.
This call is imperative on many grounds such as the fact of Epie/Atissa making the highest sacrifice with its lands and other resources to peacefully and hospitably host the entire state, with the attendant negative social and economic impacts, not even properly mitigated.
Politicians and the electorate in Epie/Atissa have since 1999 to date, also being instrumental to the victory of the political blocs of Ijaw, Ogbia and Brass that hold sway in the state’s gubernatorial politics. Hence, in this dispensation, it is only natural to empathize and give a chance to the ‘beautiful bride’ usually wooed by the powerful blocs as ‘suitors’ to achieve political desires, but usually dumped after victory.
Epie/Atissa does not have ‘beautiful brides’ alone to be wooed it also has ‘handsome grooms’ to be wooed for successful political alliances. It has an array of resourceful men and women, who could be selected to provide effective political leadership needed for the overall widespread development of the state, hence should be tried this time around.
By its vantage position of being state capital, the population of Epie/Atissa, Yenagoa City and by extension its neighboring ethnic groups in Yenagoa Local Government Area, indigenes and non-indigenes has beefed up the numerical strength of the area for political advantage.
Thus, political parties and political leaders ought to take advantage of this development to project an Epie/Atissa son or daughter for the August party primary elections and even for the November 16, 2019 general election.
Elections over the years have been peaceful and hitch-free in Epie/Atissa, Yenagoa City and Yenagoa Local Government Area as a whole. Therefore, an Epie/Atissa governorship candidate from any of the political parties, preferably the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has conventional zoning arrangement, and dominates in the state but now has the All Progressives Congress (APC) to contend with, could be the potent winning strategy for that party.
More so, the development strides of Yenagoa State Capital and Bayelsa State as whole ought not to go on without an Epie/Atissa governor taking turn to make a mark for history to record.
A school of thought asserts that an Epie/Atissa person as governor could give Yenagoa, the State Capital a better facelift as well as also spread projects evenly to all parts of the state.
The school of thought expatiates that the Epie/Atissa person if allowed to be governor would see the State Capital as his home town and will develop it for the benefit of his people, Bayelsans and Non-Bayelsans alike, else earn a stigma that a son of the soil could not turn Yenagoa Captial and the state around.
Besides, a detribalised and exposed Epie/Atissa man or woman as governor, would carry every part of the state along in the distribution and implementation of people-oriented projects, through an agreed development plan,, to reciprocate past governors’ development gestures for Yenagoa. He or she would also be fair to all areas of the state, because elevation to the throne would have been achieved mostly with the support of other areas or ethnic groups, and above all God Almighty.
Three common perceptions persist against the people. One: that Epie/Atissa has got the biggest opportunity of hosting the state capital, which has brought development to the area more than other places, hence do not governorship power. This is a wrong notion because hosting a state capital does not take away a peoples’ right to rule.
Two: that governorship position is not given as appointment but obtained through rigorous political efforts, financial and numerical strength, thus Epie/Atissa should not expect it gratis.
Three: that the issue of who is to be governor of the state, should not ‘ethnicized’ because that could polarize the homogenous state, and also enthrone mediocrity.
These arguments do not seem to hold water, given that such fine points are waived aside when the big groups are sharing power in the supposed homogenous state that even has glaring language, historical and somewhat geographical or topographical divides that should be taking into cognizance.
Truly, there are impediments to an Epie/Atissa governorship project. But the facts marshaled out earlier in addition to the call for empathy from other areas and power-brokers, could reduce emphasis on the supposed obstacles to an Epie/Atissan emerging as governor of the state in this dispensation.
Weren’t there huge rocks on Ijaws’ and Niger Delta’s way to Aso Rock? There were! No one had even dreamt that one of our own will rule the country as President. Yet, it happened by God’s grace and with the sympathy and carnal orchestrations of the PDP and former President OLusegun Obasanjo who anointed Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for Vice Presidential slot, from which the Ijaw man of Ogbia extraction turned president of the country.
That was equally the outcome of the wailings by the Ijaws, Niger Delta and the South-South zone, against political and economic marginalization in the hands of the Fulani-Hausa Oligarchy in connivance with the Yorubas who alternate power with them to expropriate revenues from the crude oil and gas in our region. In fact, the Izon-presidency in Nigeria was a palliative to assuage the angry and impoverished oil rich region, despite lack of strengths of all kinds to win elections into such national positions.
Therefore, the Ijaws, Bayelsa State, its local government areas and political parties, should justify their rationales for crying out unabated against injustices meted against them by external forces in the Nigerian contraption, by being fair to others in their own enclave. They should do unto their brothers what they wish should be done to them, without which there will no longer be any moral justifications to cry against external political and economic marginalization of the Ijaws by the Nigerian elements.
The best way to do so is to give the sidelined people of Epie/Atissa a chance, and support them to produce the next governor for 2020, as they are bearing the greatest burden of hosting the capital, and as they have supported the main power blocs to win and rule the state.
That way, the other parts of the state will be seen as good brothers who appreciate the huge sacrifice of the Epie/Atissa people. And Bayelsa State will surely be more united for the internal and external challenges facing her.
The time to act righteously is now!
*Enideneze is a media practitioner and public affairs analyst.