However, the demand for an homogenous state for the Ijaws dates back to the pre-independence era when the Willink’s Commission was put in place by the colonial government to look into the fears of the minorities of the Niger Delta in the Nigerian federation, with a view to articulating ways aimed at allaying their fears.
The Commission’s report notwithstanding, the Ijaws were Balkanized in the creation of states by the Federal Government in 1967; 1976 and 1991 by Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed and Ibrahim Babangida as the plight of the people remained deplorable. The area was highly neglected and marginalized in the scheme of infrastructural development and social amenities until the messiah in the person of late General Sani Abacha created the only homogenous Ijaw state (Bayelsa) in 1996. Though, several of her kits and kin are still scattered across some states in the federation.
Bayelsa state which was created out of the old Rivers state derived its name from the acronyms of three former local government areas of Brass, Yenagoa and Sagbama in the then Rivers state. The then Brass local government area consist of the present Brass, Nembe and Ogbia local government areas; while Yenagoa LGA was made of the present Yenagoa, Kolokuma/Opokuma and Southern-Ijaw local government areas, with present Sagbama and Ekeremor making up the then Sagbama.
In the various reminiscences of the founding fathers, this issue of marginalization and quest for development was a recurring concern, hence the need to have an autonomous state that would be a rallying point for the Ijaw nation.
Seventeen years later, the feeling is hardly different, a sense of déjà vu in a lot of ways, the generality of the people are still conscious of their Ijaw identity and the major signpost of that reckoning is the existence of Bayelsa State. Even the current state governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, had cause to name a road after the former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha in appreciation of that singular favour of creating the state and his son, Mohammed ,was invited to grace the occasion. That tells the story better of how much it has been felt among the people of having a state for the Ijaw nation which, we must admit, is a big deal in such a complicated federation like ours.
As we bask in the euphoria of hitting the 17th year mark as a state, it is fit and proper to remember the sacrifices and tireless efforts of the founding fathers and give them the kudos they deserve: from the remarkable and purposeful Leadership of King Alfred Diete Spiff to the dedication and resourcefulness of Chief Thomson Okorotie to the many “coups” carried out by the essential Rear Admiral Festus Porbeni (rtd) to the strategic involvement of Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who took a risky flight in the interest of all to the commitment and intellectual contributions of Professor Kimse Okoko, Senator John Bambafra, Dr. Amba Ambaowei and Chief Lambert Eradiri to the self -denial of the then student activist, Dr. Felix Tuodolo, who experienced arrest and detention as well as many more of such patriots dead or alive. The people of Bayelsa salute your courage.
As small as Bayelsa State is, it is the epicenter of Ijaw civilization and culture and home to all Ijaw people – the fourth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria. Kudos to the Dickson-led administration for projecting the proud identity of the Ijaw race, to the extent that wherever the Ijaw man lives, he espouses the potentials, values and ideals of the new Ijaw nation especially within the context of a united and egalitarian Nigeria.
Taking a peek into the future, Bayelsa has a lot of promise as it is being led by committed leader in the person of Governor Seriake Dickson. He is fired by idealism and his populism transcends the toga of being called a countryman governor in earnest appreciation of his affinity with the grassroots. Governor Dickson is transforming lives. No doubt, what is happening to governance in Bayelsa state today is revolutionary and innovative, matching sheer enterprise with grit and in the process giving birth to a new Bayelsa.
Daniel Iworiso-Markson is the Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa state Governor
He can be reached at email@example.com