E.J. Alagoa's In Memory of Heroes: A Contributor to the Niger Delta History

As sugar gets the attention of ants and flies due to its sweetness, the Niger Delta, in the same vain has gotten the attention of many(far and near) since the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State in 1956. Ever since the discovery of oil, the Federal Government had moved its attention to the Niger Delta region with the singular aim of oil exploitation and consequently leaving other sources of revenue generation, abandoned.

Despite the fact that the oil gotten from the Niger Delta region has been the major source of revenue generation for the nation, the people of Niger Delta still suffer negligence, poverty, environmental degradation, hardship, loss of farmland and fishing ground, deprivation of their own resources, leadership crisis etc. These have been part of the history and plight of the Niger Deltans.

E.J Alagoa's book, IN MEMORY OF HEROES which is divided into seven (7) chapters, extensively discusses such history and plight which this article is aimed at pointing out.
In chapter one, Alagoa recounts his Physical journey undertaken across Nigeria (particularly the Niger Delta) for the past sixty years to showcase how the nation has travelled. During his tour, he discovered that most of the system of communication through the waterways have been abandoned and the transport communication systems apparently favoured by the Nigerian government are transportation by air and transportation by road (P.7).The waterways can represent the Niger Delta region and the abandonment of the waterways as a system of communication by the Federal  Government simply depicts the level of negligence the people of the Niger Delta region suffer in the hands of the Federal Government.

Furthermore, the sense of neglect is especially rated in the instance of the building of access road in such a way that the Niger Delta is physically separated from other parts of Nigeria. The case of the access road to the Oil and Gas Terminal of Twon- Brass in Bayelsa State is a classic example of the failure of governance in even development and the evidence of lack of natural policy on communication for nation building. (P.4.)

These plights of the Niger Deltans and the attitude of neglect worn by the government have resulted to youth restiveness - youth being rebellious in order to demand for their rights, demand for resource control, fighting to be recognized in order to establish that national governance and justice, e.g. Militancy in the Niger Delta.

Alagoa in chapter two mentioned the heroes of the struggle for resource control and justice. Some of these heroes are: King Fredrick William Koko who mobilized the Nembe people and their allies along the River Nun to the Royal Niger company in the same manner that recent Izon militants have targeted the multinational oil corporations.(p.17)

Followed suit is Isaac Adaka Boro who organized young men to fight against the military government in 1966 but later mobilized to fight alongside Gen. Gowon’s Federal Government to liberate Rivers state, out of which Bayelsa State was created in 1996.

As a book which showcases the Niger Delta history, Alagwa in chapter three (3) brings to limelight the problems of the Niger Delta region since the discovery of oil. Crude oil exploitation began at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State in 1956 and this became the corner stone of the Nigerian economy. Rather than raise the profile and significance of the Niger Delta, this golden egg of the nation (crude oil) became a curse on the Niger Delta, bringing environmental degradation, loss of farmland and fishing ground, depriving the people of their resources on which their lives is depended. (p.25.) Indeed, the fortune of the Niger Delta communities have generally gone downward since 1960. With independence, the Niger Delta came under the direct control of their more populous neighbours.

Chapter four and five are historically based. Whereas chapter four talks about the reign of Kariboye Abbi The great and how great he was, chapter five gives a clear history of the ijaws/Niger Deltans in terms of their origin and relationship between the Benin people; how some parts of the Niger Delta originated from Benin. For instance, the Bakana Ama in Kalabari of Eastern Niger Delta.

The author in this chapter explicitly discussed the history of the Niger Deltans and their relationship with the Benin people using the geographical or regional approach. Such detailed historical account will no doubt make these people know their ancestors, place of origin and also afford us to test the validity of the idea in early Niger Delta historiography that Benin was the origin of the Ijo people.

In an address delivered to the Ogba Solidarity Association of Omoku, on Thursday, November 12, 2009, the author talks about the leadership crisis in the Niger Delta and this is contained in chapter six of the book. In this chapter, the author discussed the crisis of leadership in the Niger Delta and also proffer sustainable solutions ( solutions that can serve through current and future times) to such crisis.

In his discussion, Alagwa stated that, “The current leadership in the Niger Delta struggle is itself fragmented and separated from the traditional and even the modern political leadership system. It continues to pose critical challenges of leadership to every level of governance in this period of Amnesty in the Niger Delta.”

The solutions proffered by the writer if carried out, will no doubt create a positive impact in the leadership system of the Niger Delta.

Chapter seven which is the last chapter discusses the Ijaw nation as a moral community, stating different levels of awareness of morality found among the Ijaw people. The author uses proverbs to depict the Ijaw nation as a moral community and the explanation of such proverbs portrays the lifestyle and belief of the Ijaw people.

He also uses the deity, Egbesu and the obedience of the people to this deity to depict the Ijaw nation as a moral community as the decision to go to war was taken by the community in the conviction of a morally justified cause. (p.81.) The community members don’t just go to war without seeking or getting a go ahead from the Egbesu deity. All these portray the Ijaw nation as a moral community.

In conclusion, from the aforementioned points and chapter by chapter examination of E.J Alagwa’s IN MEMORY OF HEROES, it is crystal clear that the book is an historical book which discusses in detail, the history of the Niger Delta and as such will suit the ever increasing quest for knowledge and also serve as a guide for modern and traditional rulers in the Niger Delta and the country at large. Furthermore, it will educate angry youth on how to make their plight known to the government; enlighten the Niger Deltans about their origin and serve as a history book for the Niger Deltans. It is indeed a must read for all (especially the Niger Deltans). 

Tamuno Reuben

Those who seek knowledge seek power because the pen is mightier than the sword.

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