By Our Reporter
Dr. Boma Douglas, INC UK, a moderator
of the INC pre election Debate
Eight years of hanging in suspended animation, without the guiding hand of its often highly influential apex socio-cultural organisation ended for the Ijaw ethnic nationality Friday, April 30, 2021 when delegates in states across Nigeria and the Diaspora cast their vote for the aspirants for the powerful position of President, Ijaw National Congress, INC. A professor of sociology, Federal University Otuoke, Benjamin Ogele Okaba beat three other contestants ,Dr. Chris Ekiyor, Fredrick Owotorufa and Wing Commander Peter Y Biakpara (rtd) to emerge winner.
On Friday May 14, 2021, Okaba was sworn in as the 8th President of the INC and received his staff of office, a symbolic paddle adorned in the Ijaw national colours of blue, green, red and white. Okaba received his staff of office from HRM Pere Luke Kalanama VIII, Pere of Akugbene Mein supported by members of Committee of Ijaw Traditional Rulers and Elders, CITRE including HRM King Alfred Diete Spiff, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass. Also sworn in were three Vice Presidents among them Mr. Atamuno Atamuno, First Vice President representing Eastern Zone, Alabo Nengi James Vice President, Central zone and High Francis Williams Western zone. Other members of the NEC include Engr. Ebipamowei Wodu National Secretary, Samson Uroupa Assistant National Secretary, Chief Kennedy Odiowei National Financial Scretary, Ezonebi Oyakemeagbagba National Publicity Secretary, Engr. Onengiyeofoi Fenibo National Organising Secretary, High Chief Phillip Brown Agu, National Treasurer, Barr. Bomo Tons Fetepigi Obhe National Legal Adviser. Other officers are High Chief Tamara – Emi Abisagba, National Auditor, Mrs Peremo Isenah-Opiah National
Dr. Young Fiabem, Member INC US and Moderator, INC Election Debate
Welfare Secretary and Mrs. Alali Danagogo National Women Affairs Secretary.
Weeks after the INC election and inauguration of the NEC, the sweet aftertaste of the 2021 elections linger for many, who had watched hearts pounding for dark clouds, a heightened sense of foreboding for disrupted elections or some other evil design, haunted by the chaos, disruption and disrespect to Ijaw people that the unfortunate messy end that the 2019 elections turned out to be.
Perspectives from the Ijaw Diaspora.
Members of the Ijaw Diaspora who participated fully in meetings, drove the debates which held April 25th and 26, by zoom, were truly elated by the success recorded this round of elections, the emergence of leaders and voice for Ijaw people, possibilities for internal cohesion, security and stability for Ijaw people in the face of Nigeria wide instability.
Warisenibo Shedrack Fubara Coordinator of the INC Election Debate Commission which held April 25th and 26th, 2021 by zoom.
Warisenibo Fubara at the end of the two day debate which took place virtually, thanked all the Candidates for presenting themselves to Ijaw Nation to be asked tough questions during the debate. He advise the candidates to see this as a call to service urging them both winners and losers to come together to reposition the INC and Ijaw Nation to enable her take her pride of place in contemporary Nigeria
Ibiba DonPedro – Moderator Nigeria
He stated further that Ijaw Nation has set a standard of global best practice by being the first ethnic nationality in Nigeria to organised virtual debate for the candidates contesting to lead and by adopting the Evoting system which enabled Ijaws around the world to vote electronically. Fubara who is a member and delegate of INC North America Chapter, revealed that the debate afforded the candidates and Ijaws around the world a point of convergence to distil the core issues affecting the ethnic nationality and its homeland spread across the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Having heard from all the candidates contesting for various positions, to lead Ijaws around the world, he urged the delegates to vote their conscience so that at the end of the exercise, the best candidates will be elected to represent Ijaws through the Ijaw National Congress.
‘It was a remarkable show of decorum to the glory of our Ijaw nation as a whole’- Dr. May Banigo, Publicity Secretary, INC North America.
‘Ijaw nation has proven to the world that despite all the detractions from the usual election rigging and ballot box snatching actors we were able to securely Navigate the cyberspace to deliver credible electronic votes and
Warisenibo Shedrack Fubara, Coordinator- INC Election Debate Commission), a project of INC North America & Europe Chapters
conclude a worldwide election. The esteemed electoral commission marshaled out a plan which was followed carefully. The nominations of worldwide delegates were done in the usual manner and the various zonal and chapter lists were submitted to Eleco for publication. Then our two brilliant diaspora chapters from Europe and the United States swung into action to organize an epic zoom debate and manifesto show case of all contestants.
As a preamble to the debates, candidates were encouraged to campaign to Ijaw people by all available means including the internet. Manifestos were delivered on all Ijaw fora by candidates. These provided the means and obvious exposure of the characteristics of all the candidates ranging from the old school, the raw and to the polished. Thus the delegates were readily able to make informed decisions as to the fitness of the candidates to hold the exalted offices of the Ijaw National Congress worldwide. Some candidates who were not ready for prime time in the modern era were left behind as they exposed themselves on the fora and consequently felt too incompetent to show up for the debates. The failure to participate in the debates proved to be a self eliminating effort of such a candidate. The two day debates featured electrifying performances by all candidates from their various worldwide locations. The zoom chat rooms were buzzing with entertainment value comments from various observers and delegates. The electoral commission stayed ahead of the plans of the usual hoodlums to destroy the elections as was the case in 2019. The great wisdom of the electoral commission led to the delay to issue the E-voting PIN numbers to thwart the plans to rig and hack the system. So when some candidates and their agents arrived at the Ijaw House in Yenagoa on the morning of the elections and demanded that all delegates must arrive at the physical location to cast their ballots as a last ditch effort to rig the elections, they were only humored for awhile, though they caused a definite delay in e-voting PIN delivery to delegates. We the officials of the INC-NAC through my humble self as the publicity secretary bombarded the eleco with our unequivocal public demands to ignore the defiant candidates and issue all e-voting pins to all delegates. We never stopped until eleco confirmed that all numbers had been delivered to all delegates. E-voting was particularly easy as a click on the link that came with the pins opened up the voting portal either by facial recognition, thumb print or old fashioned login. Our internet challenged delegates who came to the Yenagoa house, Ijaw Wari were helped by our internet savvy young Ijaw men and women. Results of the E-voting continued to drop on the wide projector screen for all to see in real time thus making collation as transparent as can be. The final results at the end of the allocated voting period were announced as seen on the screen, thereby eliminating any room for manipulation of results. These events were all streamed live on all Ijaw social media platforms worldwide, courtesy of our generous brethren from the election site. The victorious candidates streamed videos of jubilations with dances as congratulatory messages flooded the internet media platforms worldwide. Concession speeches poured from all corners in written form by all the gracious losers. It was a remarkable show of decorum to the glory of our Ijaw nation as a whole’.
Nyengiebi Akamande Chair INC US-Ably leading Ijaws in the American Diaspora, passionate about the Motherland
The inauguration was a picturesque event to behold as all the attendees appeared in their various traditional regalia. The speeches were hopeful and stern. The camaraderie was commendable.
Important lessons learnt from the debates is that we cannot decide on candidates for any posts without hearing from them directly as to why they think they are qualified, how and what they intend to do for the voters if they win. The burden of proof lies on the candidates because the debates exposes them with all their personality traits for all to see. The debates relinquish the days of intimidation, bullying and assault on the voters. Even when an unscrupulous candidate offers a bribe too good to resist, voters must vote their own conscience because the voting process is a private one. The candidates should be discouraged by the notorious rejection and losses after spending so much money on bribery. E-voting is convenient, cheap, free in some cases, healthy because it is stress free, increases voluntary participation, deceases voter disenfranchisement and results in massive turnout with fair and credible real time results. Other lessons learnt from the successful electronic voting of Ijaw nation is that we can achieve all our great objectives if we can collectively rebuff the miscreants at all times. We cannot let them have their evil ways else we become accomplices to their crimes resulting in a decadent society.
Dr. Steve Benamaisia Chairman
INC Europe Chapter
Some challenges and Prospects for Credible Elections in Ijaw land
Some of the aspirants were unable to connect to zoom in order to participate. A new technology with which many Ijaws including some of the elderly aspirants and delegates themselves were unfamiliar, some aspirants were unable to participate and present themselves for both delegates and observers to evaluate during the debates. It is hoped that in subsequent elections, these flaws will be corrected to imbue more integrity into the INC Elections.
Taking a retrospective, but hopeful view, Dr. Banigo asserts that,’ ‘Important lessons learnt from the debates is that we cannot decide on candidates for any posts without hearing from them directly as to why they think they are qualified, how and what they intend to do for the voters if they win. The burden of proof lies on the candidates because the debates exposes them with all their personality traits for all to see. The debates relinquish the days of intimidation, bullying and assault on the voters. Even when an unscrupulous candidate offers a bribe too good to resist, voters must vote their own conscience because the voting process is a private one. The candidates should be discouraged by the notorious rejection and losses after spending so much money on bribery. E-voting is convenient, cheap, free in some cases, healthy because it is stress free, increases voluntary participation, decreases voter disenfranchisement and results in massive turnout with fair and credible real time results. Other lessons learnt from the successful electronic voting of Ijaw nation is that we can achieve all our great objectives if we can collectively rebuff the miscreants at all times. We cannot let them have their evil ways else, we become accomplices to their crimes resulting in a decadent society’.
Kudos: To the management of CINFORES and EDSPARE, who provided the digital infrastructure that made the Evoting possible and the interactions, live stream processes a reality.
Repositioning The Ijaw National Congress
A meeting of critical stakeholders of the Ijaw Nation, comprising traditional rulers, elders, leaders of thought, and prominent figures associated with the Ijaw National Congress (INC), was held on January 19, 2021 at Government House, Yenagoa, at the instance of His Excellency, Distinguished Senator Douye Diri, Governor of Bayelsa State. The main subject was how to resolve lingering disputes that had made it impossible to have a National Executive Council (NEC) for the INC. A conflict resolution committee was constituted under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Justice Francis Tabai.
On February 11 2021, another meeting was held at the secretariat of the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council, Yenagoa, for the same purpose. This meeting was at the instance of the Conference of Ijaw Traditional Rulers and Elders (CITRE). The State Governor and Deputy Governor, His Excellency, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, attended the opening ceremony.
Outstanding issues, particularly court cases were reviewed. The meeting discussed the contents of the Justice Tabai Committee Report exhaustively. More time was given to the committee to fine-tune its report. Members were to reach out to litigants to extract written commitments on withdrawal of court cases.
On March 16, 2021, a second meeting was held at the same venue at the instance of CITRE. The Justice Tabai Committee reported back that it had met with all litigants and that they had provided the required written commitments. An 11-member Electoral Committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Emeritus Professor Dagogo M. J. Fubara, and with Professor Samuel Edoumiekumo, as Secretary. The Committee had meetings that produced a time-table toward election.
Interested aspirants for various positions applied. They had a debate organized by Ijaws in the diaspora under an umbrella organisation known as Debate Commission of INC, North America and Europe Chapters. They were subsequently screened. Election (by electronic voting) was held on April 30, 2021. Swearing-in by CITRE Chairman King Alfred Diete-Spiff, and witnessed by His Excellency, Governor Douye Diri and the Deputy Governor of Delta State, His Excellency, Barr. Kingsley Burutu Otuaro, took place on 14th May, 2021. The new INC NEC has Professor Benjamin Okaba as President.
The Bayelsa State Government, in concert with CITRE, has played its part by having INC back on its feet, with a NEC.
His Excellency, Governor Douye Diri, gave the required leadership and material support, without any interference in the processes. It is our expectation that the Ijaw Nation will be able to speak with one voice, under the INC.
It is our expectation, too, that all Ijaws would give the INC NEC all the cooperation it needs to succeed.