— I am a Khana. The Khana along with their cousins, the Gokana, Tai and Eleme have, since 1947, been grouped as Ogonis, in the Ogoni Division. Today, the Khana and Gokana are in the Bori Local Government Area, the Tai and Eleme are part of something called Otelga, a hybrid Local Government consisting of the Okrika Ijaws, the Ndoki Igbos and the Tai and Eleme. We belong to Rivers State.
The Ogoni number about 500,000, which makes me an extreme minority in a Nigeria of one hundred million people. The first secondary school in Ogoni country was established one hundred years after the first secondary school in Yorubaland, the CMS Grammar School in Lagos (1858). These two facts alone, in the first instance, establish my pitiable plight. I am unfortunate to be a Nigerian. I would rather not be, but I am doing my level best to be one, and a good one at that. Being a Nigerian means that my brother Nigerian of the Bura ethnic group in Borno State has been told that I am a “Southerner,” equal to the Yoruba or Igbos who are numerous, well-educated and are after the jobs which the “northerner” ought to have. I wander, therefore, through the Federal Civil Service and am lost in the competition between “northern” and “Southern” Nigerians, between the Igbo and the Yoruba, between the various clans and religions of the various peoples of Nigeria, between personal ambition and greed. I am lost. I cannot truly answer the name Nigerian. [, ]
I was a graduate student when the cataclysmic events of 1966 happened. Apart from my revulsion at the needless murders of the innocent, nothing upset me more than Ojukwu’s dishonest formulations and his attempt to kidnap the Ogoni, among others, into his Igbo empire called “biafra.” I knew that he pinned his hopes of the economic viability of “biafra” on the oil of the Ogoni and the Ijaw. I rebelled. I became Secretary of a small committee which met nights in Port Harcourt and issued a communiqué calling on Gowon to create a Rivers State by decree.
When, by sheer quirk of fortune, this happened in 1967, I abandoned family and caution, crossed the fighting lines and found myself in Lagos. There I became a member of something called the Interim Advisory Council of Rivers State and, subsequently, Administrator for Bonny. I returned to the war front and struck up friendships with gentlemen like Sani Bello who comes from Kontagora, Akinrinade from Ife, Obasanjo from Abeokuta, Yakubu Danjuma from Takum, Dan Ato, now deceased, from Bida. I had reason to hope that my nightmare as an Ogoni in Nigeria was about to end.
With the war ended, and as a Commissioner in Rivers State[b], I soon found that the Rivers State for which I had fought did not end my nightmare. In the first place, oil money from Ogoni country (as well as Ijaw country) was being carted away to Lagos, leaving the Ogoni illiterate and backward. This is anti-federalism. Worse still, the Ijaws were taking their frustrations out on the non-Ijaws of the State. For the Ijaws alone number more than the eight other ethnic groups in Rivers State put together. Though historically disunited, the Ijaws find unity when it comes to lording it over the non-Ijaws. The Ijaws will want to perpetuate this. [/b]Today, there is not even a Commission from my Local Government Area in the Rivers State Cabinet such as it is. My dilemma as an Ogoni is not about to end.
Lost in this dreadful nightmare, I went in 1971 to see Chief Awolowo at the Federal Ministry of Finance. There was nothing I told the sage that he was not aware of. He showed me his writings on the issue and bade me seek the mid-Southern State he had proposed in 1966. Thus was the quest for a Port Harcourt State begun. In 1974. When we started, there was no shortage of opponents. To the Ijaws, I became a traitor. [, ] The creation of this State would alleviate my nightmare and show Nigeria how much it has robbed and neglected the Ijaws of the oil-bearing Delta.
So, what do I really want? I want a place where my children can regain the independence which was the Ogoni patrimony before the advent of colonial rule and before Nigeria’s independence consigned them to slavery at the hands of their neighbours. I want the option of CHOICE. And I am not begging for it. I DEMAND it. And I also want that option for Hauwa Madugu, the 21-year old Youth Corper in my office. She is a Jenju from Gongola State. So that we can both be better citizens of Nigeria and end our collective nightmare.