We can’t breath, Itsekiri cry out to Tinubu over exclusion

Rights groups say Itsekiri suffer historic exclusion

By Ogunsona Samuel and Ologeh Joseph Chibu

President Bola Tinubu has been asked to address the persistent exclusion of Itsekiri people since 1960 when Nigeria attained independence from British rule.

The Nigerian Human Rights Community, NIHRCO which addressed a World Press conference on behalf of the ethnic group in Lagos on Thursday called on the Federal Government to listen to the oil producing community before it is too late.

At the conference were several leaders of civil rights and community based groups.

NIHRCO alleged that the historic exclusion has been faced by the Itsekiri for over half a century since Nigeria gained her independence.

The Nigerian Human Rights Community, NIRCO is a coalition of 121 Civil Society and community based group across Nigeria.

Speaking at the event, leaders of NIHRCO and the Itsekiri groups said they expected a paradigm shift since President Tinubu came to power but that is yet to be seen.

Hundreds of people attended the event

The theme of the Conference was “The Historic Exclusion of Itsekiri from the Nigerian Political Economy”.

The presentation was signed by NIHRCO officials Mr. Tunde Adeleke, Chief Are Kunle Oshodi and Prince Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh.

They are calling on the attention of President Bola Tinubu on various cases of marginalization against the Itsekiri people from the Nigerian Political Economy.

The press conference painted a vivid picture of the historical journey of the Itsekiri ethnic group, a journey intertwined with Nigeria’s emergence as a nation. Itsekiri’s contributions to the nation’s oil wealth were staggering—accounting for over 30 percent of the Nigerian oil output.

“Yet, since Nigeria gained independen
ce in 1960, successive governments seemed to have turned a blind eye to their plight” the group said.

Chief Kunle Oshodi said “The Itsekiri were the first people in Nigeria to establish diplomatic contact with the Europeans, the Portuguese who were exploring the West African coast.”

The group said further “From the 1950s, the Itsekiri have stood firmly supporting progressive political movements. They have made sacrifices for Nigeria including paying the maximum price of death. In 1966, during the coup, Chief Okotieboh was murdered in cold blood. In November 1995, Pa Alfred Rewane was shot and killed in Lagos being one of the main financiers of the National Democratic Coalition, (NADECO).”

“Pa Rewane alongside others fought for the democracy of today without which there would be no today’s elected leaders.”

The coalition highlighted the impact of this exclusion. The Itsekiri, despite their significant contribution to the nation’s economy, were subjected to degrading economic and political conditions. They had never engaged in armed uprisings or sabotaged oil infrastructure, yet their voices were silenced, and their potential squandered.

“Over the years, in the midst of armed insurrection by some ethnic groups in the Niger-Delta, the Itsekiri have never been involved in armed uprising neither are they involved in oil theft or destruction of oil pipelines.”

They drew attention to the political landscape, underscoring the alarming lack of representation of the Itsekiri people in key government positions. Ministerial appointments since 1999 showcased an alarming pattern—continuous denial of Itsekiri representation. The coalition provided a detailed breakdown of appointments, revealing an alarming trend of sidelining the Itsekiri ethnic group.

“The Itsekiri produced the first Federal Minister of Finance (Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh) who was killed during the military putsch of 1966.”

“It was not until the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that an Itsekiri (Dr. Roland Oritsejafor) had a stint with a ministerial position which lasted for less than two years.”

“Ministers are usually picked on state basis, but find below how ministerial positions have rotated within the trio-senatorial districts and the respective ethnic groups from 2011 – 2023,” the statement read.

“2011 – 2015, Elder Godsday Orubebe (Ijaw) from Delta-South was Minister of Niger Delta; 2015 – 2019, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu from Delta-North (Igbo) was Minister for Petroleum; 2019 – 2023, Festus Keyamo (Urhobo) from Delta Central was Minister for Labour and Productivity.”

Furthermore it stated, “Clearly, there has been Itsekiri brazen exclusion from Ministerial appointments by the Federal Government since 1999. Even though each state in Nigeria is expected to produce at least one Minister, the Itsekiri have been continuously denied this opportunity either in Delta or in Edo State.”

Even in the oil industry—the lifeblood of Nigeria’s economy—the Itsekiri faced barriers to entry. Despite their high education levels and proximity to oil resources, top positions in oil companies remained elusive. The coalition painted a bleak picture of the situation, highlighting a clear contrast between the Itsekiri’s contributions and the opportunities they were denied.

“Marginalization of Itsekiri in oil related ventures since 1959. This finds expression in the form of denial of top positions like the Managing Director or NIMASA, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Niger-Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), Nigerian Ports Authority, (NPA) etc.”

Delta State, home to the Itsekiri, was also a site of unaddressed injustice. The distribution of government positions in the state disproportionately favored other ethnic groups, leaving the Itsekiri without influential representation in key roles. The pain of this exclusion was palpable, a reality that the coalition aimed to bring to the forefront of public consciousness.

“Monopoly of top positions in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and exclusion of Itsekiri despite the fact that the positions of the Managing Director is expected to be rotated among the oil producing communities.”

“Since the existence of the NDDC, no Itsekiri person has been appointed to the positions of Chairman, or Managing Director, despite the quantum of oil and gas that the Federal Government extracts from Itsekiri land.”

“Equally to be noted is that since the position of Adviser on Presidential Amnesty was established, only persons of Ijaw extraction have always been appointed, even though Itsekiris have equally been involved in the amnesty program.”

Amidst the sea of injustice, the coalition looked towards President Bola Tinubu, known for his advocacy for democracy and justice. The coalition pleaded for his intervention, urging him to lend his voice to the Itsekiri cause and work towards restoring justice and equity.

“It is alarming, embarrassing and humiliating to discover that no Itsekiri person was fortunate to make the ministerial list, Special Adviser and Assistants to the President of Nigeria”

As the press conference concluded, the story of the Itsekiri people reverberated across Nigeria. The coalition’s call for justice and equity transcended the confines of a press statement, becoming a rallying cry for those who believed in a fair and just Nigeria.

The story of the Itsekiri struggle for equity was no longer confined to the past; it was a call to action for the present and a vision for a more inclusive future. The press statement had sparked a dialogue that had the potential to rewrite the history of a marginalized people and reshape the destiny of a nation.

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