Strategic Factors and Options: Thinking and Acting Intelligently While
By Priye S. Torulagha
Two areas of concern are the focus of discussion here. The first involves environmental
adaptability, natural disasters, and survivability, and the second area of
concern involves the issue of internal unity.
A possible third area of focus deals with strategies.
Ijaws Ways, Natural Disasters, and Survivability
1. The Ijaw people
should develop special interest in recent natural disasters: the Tsunami in
Southeast Asia and Hurricane Katrina in the United States. It is crucial to pay attention, due to the
similarity of Ijaw topography to the coastal areas of Asia and the US Gulf
A lesson from the two natural disasters is that the Ijaws
should never forget who they are. By
nature, they are aquatic. Therefore, an
Ijaw should feel comfortable around water.
Any Ijaw who does not feel comfortable being around water should learn to
develop the affinity because Ijaw life and culture are built around water.
Through life experiences, the ancestors have developed a
social system that makes the Ijaw feel comfortable being around water. It is not unusual for Ijaw children,
especially those born or raised at home, as young as four, to become expert
swimmers and divers. By the time they
reach ten years old, most have become prolific swimmers.
Knowing how to swim is an essential rite of passage for an
Ijaw, in case of an emergency. For
instance, during the civil war, thousands of Nigerian troops died when they
attacked Onitsha and Biafra counterattacked.
Most of the soldiers who did not die were Ijaws and others from the
riverine areas. The reason most Ijaw
soldiers survived was due to the fact that they knew how to swim. Apart from that, their aquatic life had
enabled them to study water movements.
Many non-Ijaw soldiers died, including those who knew how to swim because
they did not know how water moves. They
tried to swim against the fast moving current, got exhausted and drowned. The Ijaws knew that they had to swim with the
direction of the flow of the water. They
also knew that in order to conserve energy while swimming across a wide river,
certain swimming styles had to be adopted.
They did those things and survived.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of Ijaw adults and
children today are not capable of swimming or diving. A vast majority of those who do not have
aquatic skills grew up in urban areas.
This means that in actuality, they do not have the skills necessary to
enable them to survive in case a conflict erupts. It is very important for Ijaw parents to
encourage their children to develop swimming skills, wherever they may be, so
that they do not be afraid of the water.
Similarly, an increasing number of Ijaw adults and youths do not have
traditional skills and cannot fend for themselves in the water or forest. Thus, as the oil situation hits up, if a
conflict erupts, many people will suffer due to inability to swim or fend for
themselves in an emergency situation.
In analyzing the Congolese civil war, a report was issued
which claimed that a majority of the people who died in the conflict were
urbanites who did not have the skills necessary to survive in the forest. Those who knew how to fend for themselves in
the forest survived while hiding in the forest.
If the Ijaws are serious about achieving resource control and
self-determination, they must be prepared for any eventuality. It takes special skills to survive in the
water or in the forest. No amount of
modern education can prepare someone for that.
2. The Ijaws are
fiercely independent. One major reason
why the Ijaws are fiercely independent is due to the canoe and the paddle. The canoe and the paddle represent the
ultimate symbols of freedom and independence.
As can be seen, the Ijaws spread far and wide, from their home bases,
using the canoe. The canoe is
user-friendly and environmentally compatible.
It does not disturb the natural order of things. It does not pollute the environment. Although very slow when operated manually
with the paddle, yet, it can take you far, in a slow and steady manner. The canoe helped to equalize the classes
since any adult could afford to get one.
Thus, as the Ijaws struggle to develop and modernize, there
is a temptation to get rid of the canoe and the paddle and opt for motorized
boats and automobiles. The Ijaw ability
to travel to Calabar, Lagos, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome,
Liberia etc. were initially done through the canoe. Getting rid of the canoe will take away Ijaw
sense of independence and freedom and make them beholden to financiers who will
then dictate the direction of Ijaw economic life. In war, the canoe is an excellent device to
go places or escape without being detected.
In many parts of Ijawland during the civil war, many youths escaped from
capture by using the canoe to glide across the river in the middle of the night
or hide in the creeks.
The Ijaw can tell quite easily who is an Ijaw and who is not
by observing the manner in which a person paddles the canoe. Thus, the ability to detect paddling
techniques is a skill that must be fine-tuned in case of conflict.
3. Due to an aquatic
lifestyle, the Ijaws have through the centuries developed a sense of knowledge
that cannot be acquired through books.
Thus, in times of danger, such knowledge can become very essential for
survival. The knowledge acquired in
the understanding of the marine
environment which helped many ethnic groups in Southeast Asia to survive the
Tsunami without losing anyone among them.
For example, the Mogen Ethnic group that inhabits parts of Myanmar
(Burma) and Thailand, are regarded as marine nomads because they spend most of
their time in the water, fishing and trading.
They literally live on the water.
Despite their lack of modern education, in the Western sense, not a
single member of the ethnic group died from the Tsunami disaster. Their elders were able to detect that
something terrible was about to happen when the water level receded far into the
sea. The elders were also able to
realize that all the animals had disappeared from the vulnerable areas of the
coast. Based on their observations of
the situation, the elders ordered their members to flee before the disaster
struck. However, the youths initially
refused to run for higher grounds, accusing the elders of lying and spreading
superstition. It took a while before the
youths finally agreed to run for their lives.
As soon as the youths joined the rest in running away to higher grounds
or putting out to sea, the Tsunami struck. Those who could not run to higher grounds put
to the sea. They knew that the tsunami
could be felt more at the coast than in the sea. You see, those who claimed to be educated,
civilized and sophisticated died in thousands and those who studied nature and
lived according to the dictates of nature survived. In war situations, these
kinds of knowledge are necessary to survive and win.
4. Hurricane Katrina
devastated the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Most inhabitants of the region were automatically rendered helpless after
the devastating storm passed. In
particular, the floods almost swallowed up New Orleans. One can recollect that before the Kainji Dam
was built, many Ijaw communities used to be flooded during the rainy
season. It was not unusual for people to
literally tie their canoes by their houses as the houses were surrounded by
flood waters. Instead of panicking, the
people learned to live with the floods, hence, no one ever died. In fact, some Ijaw people actually craved the
floods because they provided abundant fish and wild life. I can vividly recollect people literally
fishing from the front porches of their houses.
Thus, the Ijaws have been able to live well by adjusting and
living in harmony with nature and not trying to conquer or dominate it. The lesson being that as the Ijaws struggle
to develop, they should not rush to conquer or dominate nature in the name of
development, but, instead, develop in harmony with nature. For example, it is not always necessary to
dredge or fill in lakes or creeks in order to make land available for
development. Instead, the creeks or
lakes can be included as part of the development package. This suggestion is prompted by the fact that
throughout the areas of the world in which efforts have been made to conquer or
dominate nature, the end results have tended to be very destructive when nature
reacts. The Ijaw ecosystem is fragile,
therefore, development must be designed to accommodate the fragility. In fact, the Dutch, whose topography is
similar to the Ijaws, are studying the American disaster with a view of
improving their survivability.
B. Internal Unity
The second part of this report deals with internal
unity. Since the failure to achieve a
25% increase in resource control in the National Political Reform Conference
(NPRC), some Ijaw youth leaders and elders have been disagreeing openly. As a result, some have called for cessation
of negotiations and the commencement of an arm struggle. Similarly, verbal abuse among Ijaw people is
getting out of control on the Ijaw website,
The developments are worrisome for a number of reasons:
1. The open
expression of disappointment over the fact that at least 25% resource control
was not achieved showed that many Ijaws continue to view politics in moral terms
and ignore the power factor. In
politics, victory is won incrementally because it involves a change in power
relations. If the non-oil producing
states give in totally to what the oil-producing states want, then, they would
end up with no bargaining power at all.
Similarly, if the oil-producing states end up with nothing, then the
frustration can lead to war. On the
other hand, if the oil-producing states win everything, the frustration on the
part of the non-oil producing states too can also lead to war. War is indicative of the failure of
politics. Moreover, just as South-South
leaders want to impress upon their people that they are working hard to achieve
the goals of the region, leaders from other regions too are working hard to show
their own people that they are not giving in to the South-South. It is necessary to view the process as a
chess game rather than as a zero sum game.
2. Playing politics
means having patience since the process involves negotiations. Both sides play the game by giving very
little until a point of mutual interest is reached. Another way to explain this is to cite the
African pricing technique. When a person
goes to the market, he/she intentionally undervalues the real worth of the
product he or she wants to buy in the hope of getting the most for a very little
amount. On the other hand, the seller
always gives the highest possible price for the product in the hope of getting
the most money for a very little of the product. Thus, both sides go back and forth in
negotiations until they both get to a point where a price is fixed or set. The buyer then buys the product and the
seller sells the product. They both
developed respect for each other and become future customers. If the price of the product is too high or
too low, then both sides will call off the bargaining. In the market, a failure to settle does not
result in a major conflict. In politics, failure to agree can lead to war.
Instead of being disappointed for gaining only 17% resource
control, the strategy should be to use the 17% as a hopeful sign that more could
be obtained by playing the political game further. By lashing out and disagreeing openly, the
Ijaws are sending a message to the other side that they are frustrated and
angry. That is exactly what the other
side wants from the Ijaws. They want the
Ijaws to be frustrated and angry so that they will end up making irrational
decisions that would result in their total defeat.
3. Thus, any major
disagreement within Ijaw ranks actually plays into the strategic advantage of
the North and the West. The disagreement
would inhibit Ijaw unity, thereby, forcing some members of the ethnic group to
agree with the North and the West while others are forced to adopt Ijaw
positions. If the Ijaws are split, in a war, the Ijaws will not be able to
withstand the onslaught of an integrated force, coming from all directions.
The Ijaws should know that there are many forces waiting for
the opportunity to hit at them. There
are those who want total control of the area so that oil could be obtained
without any opposition.
4. Instead of
attacking and condemning each other, Ijaw elders should continue to negotiate
with elders from the North, West and the South-East while the youths should do
the same with youth leaders in the North, West, and the South-East. There is nothing wrong asking for 100% and
reducing it incrementally to 50%, then 30%, and finally reaching 25%. It should be noted that Northern and Western
states are afraid that if too much is given to the oil-producing states, their
economies would collapse for lack of funding.
The Ijaw strategy should be to assure them that Ijaw intention is not to
destroy their economic base but work with them to achieve a greater good for
5. In these days of
internet, rushing to war without exhausting diplomatic channels can result in a
military disaster. To win a war in
modern times, it is also necessary to win the hearts and minds of various
stakeholders. Failure to do so can
easily escalate a conflict and result in defeat. One can argue that the Biafrans fought
bravely, however, they were not able to win the hearts and minds of the minority
stakeholders and that made a difference in the outcome of the war. Merely fighting is not enough to win modern
warfare. Iraq and Afghanistan are
showing that even the mightiest military force cannot win quite easily if the
battle for the hearts and minds of the people are not won.
6. Engaging in a war
without exhausting all possible diplomatic, political and legal options can lead
to lack of international recognition, thereby, prolonging the agony in any
war. Diplomatic recognition is necessary
to get supplies, food, medicine, money, and psychological support. To rush without exhausting those peaceful
options would play into Nigeria’s strategic plan. It would definitely mount an effective
propaganda to portray the Ijaws as a bunch of troublemakers who do not know what
they want apart from creating trouble all over the place. The international community would accept the
Nigerian side of the story and reject the Ijaw side and calling them
7. It is not
politically wise to shun negotiations in any conflict, no matter how complicated
or slow is the process. If the Ijaws
shun negotiations entirely, they will destroy the political, legal, and moral
high grounds upon which they have made their claims. Right now, the game is in their favor. However, if the Ijaws were to shun
negotiations, they will shoot themselves on the foot and destroy their image
8. Increasingly, Ijaw
people are attacking each other as if they are fighting a world war on the Ijaw
website. This is unfortunate because it
causes distraction by compelling people to focus their energies and attention on
matters that are not too relevant. At
this rate of internal attacks, it would be suicidal if the ethnic group were to
be engulfed in an arms confrontation. In
such a case, brothers will be turning the guns against their own brothers in
order to score political points.
Already, the intra-ethnic feuds in Port Harcourt among armed elements
show what might likely happen in case of a major armed confrontation as brothers
kill their brothers, cousins, and uncles.
I guess, people are not conscious of the precarious position in which the
Ijaws are in today in Nigeria following the struggle for resource control.
Political Options to Continue the Struggle
1. As part of the
strategy to gain resource control, the Ijaws should encourage and or put
pressure on the federal government to put more money for oil exploration in the
North and the West. Likewise, they
should encourage the federal government to deemphasize oil as the core of the
economy through investment in other resources and minerals. These are confidence building strategies that
can yield an increase in resource control without resorting to war. The logic being that oil discovery in the
North and or in the West, will reduce dependence on the Niger Delta, thereby,
enabling the federal government to let go.
2. At the same time,
the Ijaws and other ethnic groups need to put pressure on the federal government
to apply the same standard to all minerals in the country. This means that if oil is subjected to the
Land Use Decrees, all other minerals too must go through the same standard. If land owners in the oil-producing states
are not allowed to make independent investments that benefit them most, then
Nigerians who live in the gold and diamond belts too should not be allowed to
benefit from those resources without going through the federal government. The oil-producing states have tended to
ignore this strategy. If they can make
all Nigerians feel the pain of various laws and decrees, then the argument for
change will become much easier to comprehend.
If this does not work, then sue the federal government for discriminating
and violating the economic and political rights of the oil-producing states for
treating them differently by not applying the law equally throughout the
3. Another political
weapon in the political arsenals of the Ijaw is the colonial agreement reached
before the Ijaws were instituted as part of Nigeria. Mr. Orubebe alluded to the fact when he said
that an agreement was reached which says that after 30 years, if the Ijaws are
dissatisfied, they can leave. The Ijaws
need to get a hold of the document and publish it in Nigerian newspapers. Nigerians need to know some of the special
arrangements that were made to put Nigeria together. Apart from publishing it, they should send
copies to the president, the National Assembly, ECOWAS, African Union, the
European Union, the United States, Britain and the United Nations.
4. The Ijaws can put
pressure on the federal government by challenging decrees that were passed
without their consent. Basically, since
most of the decrees that strangulate the Niger Delta were passed during the
military era, the Land Use decrees can be challenged. The Ijaws need to sue claiming damages for
expropriation of land and oil revenue without permission. Similarly, calculate the accrued interest
from 40 years of forced expropriation of land and resources. There are international lawyers who will be
willing to join this case.
5. Finally, the Ijaws
should seize every opportunity to show that they are a positive force for
development and peaceful coexistence internationally and not merely scream about
discrimination or marginalization. In
this regard, the Ijaws can escalate their diplomatic effort by sending a message
of condolence over the Katrina disaster in the United States. The INC or IYC should draft a letter and send
it to the United States government through its embassy in Nigeria. As suggested by brother Francis Udisi, such
message should be published in Nigerian and US newspapers. Basically, the Ijaws would say that as a
riverine based ethnic nation that has experienced numerous floods, the Ijaws
identify and empathize with people of the Gulf Coast who suffered tremendously
when the hurricane struck. After doing
so, send some donation to the victims through the International Red Cross.
Think deeply and be smart.
Do not allow emotions to cloud the goals and objectives of the struggle
for self-determination and resource control.
Do not play into the hands of your detractors. Think strategically and see the big picture
as you pursue the small fish in the pond.