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Earth Rights Institute Co-Directors' visit to Odi Ecovillage and Niger Delta - June 2007

My Visit to Bayelsa State, Niger Delta University and Peace-Talks in the Creeks

June 2007

by Francis Udisi

After the meetings earlier of the members of Earth Right Institute which took place in the beautiful Saturday in June 2007 at Scotland, Pennsylvania, I finally planned my trip for Nigeria reroute to Yenagoa in Bayelsa State to engage the state officials on concerning about the anticipated projects/programs initiatives our organization is having with the government and the people of the state.

I left home on the afternoon of the 15th of June to travel but at the airport after all things were checked-in and had all security clearance to board the plane, only to be delayed for more than 5 hours on the run-way at the Philadelphia International Airport. The airline officials at last attributed prolonged delay to persistent inclement weather on the path of the first leg of our flight to Memphis, Tennessee which was to be our connecting city to Amsterdam in Europe.

After about 5 hours sitting in the plane parked on the runway, the pilot finally announced that it were both too late to continue the flight and also that pilots are not permitted to fly more than 10 hours within a given day and that they've clocked more than 10 hours for that day to continue this flight therefore everyone have to disembark.

We were all returned back to the terminal to pick up our sets of luggage and make alternate arrangement for our travels. I then immediately requested to be re-routed through the next available flight out of Philadelphia that will take me to Nigeria the next day. Most of those said to be available were in a week's time and I then asked to be put on any airline other than KLM, my originally booked airline.

I got a British Airways which was to leave the next morning at 8: 00 am fro Newark International Airport. I booked and got a confirmed ticket. This gave me the peace of mind to hire a vehicle at the airport to go back to home in Philadelphia, where I had only a 4 hours sleep to leave very early in the morning at about 5: 00 am to Newark Airport arriving at about 7: 00 am to take the flight to Abuja with a transit in London's Heathrow Airport.

Left London at midnight to arrive Abuja at about 6: 00 a.m. early in the next morning.

Spent 2 days at Abuja before proceeding to Port Harcourt through Owerri Airport and I then traveled by road for 2 hours before arriving at Port Harcourt in Rivers State at about 7:00 PM. Sad, one of the house-helps to my host in Port Harcourt went out to purchase mosquito fumigators to enable me have a good night sleep but was attacked and stabbed on the chest buy groups of boys who attested to rob him. I had to spend some extra fund to assist him his medical treatment.

The next day, I booked appointment to pay a visit and have a meeting with Mr. Ndutimi Alaibi, the new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC]. NDDC is the main regional development agency setup by the Nigeria federal government to help solve the developmental problems of the Niger delta region. Met with him and had fruitful discussions on having partnering of new initiative. Mr. Alaibi requested that I put any proposal our organizations have in mind in writing and submit to him for consideration.

Arrived Yenagoa 2 days later and after a day exploring the city, went to Creek Haven, the Government House and submitted the congratulatory letter from ERI to the Governor through Pastor Baralayon Theophilus, the Governors then Principal Secretary who is now the Permanent Secretary in the Government House. Response is to the letter is yet to be received. Pastor Theophilus advised that to see the Governor one must books appointment days in advance. Consequently, was not able to directly meet with Governor.

That evening came back to my hotel, and in the hallway overheard some individuals, notably from my home-town Odi talking about a proposed meeting that very evening with Dr. [Mrs.] Bolere Ketebu-Nwokeafor, the present Secretary to the State Government. I went over to the group and requested to be included as a group member of the meeting which they gladly obliged and later in the evening we all attended the first meeting which accorded me the opportunity to submit the letter of congratulation from ERI to the Secretary to the State Government, which she gladly accepted. Again, we are yet to receive any response to the letter. At the meeting, introductions were made and I was introduced as a son of Odi who is resident abroad and is here to make my own positive contributions to the development of the state, and who has also through our organization, ERI made many contributions to the state government.

During the meeting, just about everyone in attendant made various contributions which mostly amounted to or bordered on personal requests for either office positions or developments of their various neighborhood, villages or the local government area. These aberrations made me to make a request so as to point out this glaring observation. I observed that everyone here is merely making demands or requests that will be passed on to the Governor or the state government but no one so far has made or is making any personal meaningful contribution that will help to uplift the state. What I observed was people or individual simply standing to take away from the state the little that it presently has but sadly enough no one is making any contribution[s] to the state.

I also used the forum to inform the SSG that ERI and its team would partner with her to project her as one of the best performing and proficient SSG the state has ever had.

I therefore call that we should all think or ask of what we can do for our state government not ask what the state government should or can do for each one us. The Secretary to the State Government and all others roundly welcomed the development and she also added that as the Secretary of the Government present in all the courtesy calls so far made to the Governor and the government, there is yet any group or person that has made any statement as to what they will contribute to the state government but are all asking what they can receive from the Governor and the government.

I was at this point asked to be one of the team members to work with the speech writers that would be made to the governor during the courtesy call being proposed. That I did and added programs /projects that ERI would contribute to help partner with the state. The government is presently reviewing some of these project/programs initiatives that were sent to the Governor through the Secretary to the state government, was as a result of this meeting. Series of similar meetings at the instance of the SSG took place thereafter.

On the second week of my arrival, Gordon Abiama and I took a trip from Yenagoa to Wilberforce Island at Amassoma, the main campus of the Niger Delta University [NDU] to inspect the ERI donated books as received the institution.

First, we went directly to pay a courtesy call on Mr. Chris O. Ikporukpo, the Vice Chancellor who expressed profound gratitude to both Earth Right Institute [ERI] and it members for the kind and generous donations of the numerous college text books.

After which we also a courtesy visit to see Rev. Charles Otuturu, the Chief Library and after a meeting at his office where he expressed profound gratitude for the books, he then took us around on a grand tour of the main Library where we noted books all over the places, most which are presently been catalogued and indexed. Two rooms especially were noted filled up to the ceilings with brand new text books as there no more library space to display the books for student uses. Books were every where, notably on the floors and stacked on top of each, pile sky high. Rev Otuturu remarked that these books will keep his worker absolutely very busy, indexing and cataloging for the next one or two years. That is how many books they have received for ERI

We further paid a courtesy call on Prof. Akintunde Emiola, KSC, PhD, who is the present Dean of the Faculty of Law, a former Dean of the Faculty of Law at University of Ife who had retired but called to duty by the VC of NDU, and after a long meeting with him on how to positively partner together. His request hinged of the request for lecturers and books for the Faculty of Law to enable the faculty obtain appropriate regional academic accreditations. We promised to take his request to ERI to enable the organization make request for collaboration. After which Prof Akintunde, then took Gordon and I to the Law Faculty Library and we equally observed important milestone in that many of the law books donated by ERI which were received from both LA county and University of California Los Angeles [UCLA] campus were been put in good uses. We took photos together inside the Faculty Library

The next day Gordon and I then paid a courtesy visit on Prof. Raphael S. Oruamabo, MD., the Provost of the College of Health Sciences who along with Mrs. Emilian, the College's Liberian gave us an impromptu impressive reception at his office.

Also equally most impressive site at the College of Health Sciences Library were the large volumes of brand new medical text books received from ERI made possible through the kind donations by both Charles Drew/ Martin Luther King, Jr Medical University and UCLA noted and also the many students observed making practical uses and observed reading of the medical books, at the time of the visit. Both the Provost and Librarian of the College of Health Science openly expressed their profound gratitude to ERI donated books. Further partnership request were immediately made by both the Provost and College's Liberian to the ERI team present and a letter was subsequently issued the next day to make the request effective. The main goal of the letter was for the partnership to seek assistance from ERI to enable the College of Health Sciences secure early accreditation from the Nigerian accreditation body, through donations of more medical text books, medical journals, request for sending medical doctors on lecture trips to the college and setting up of internet or web-based library system linked to medical universities in advanced nations, such as UCLA and Charles Drew/ Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical University in Los Angeles. The letter was forwarded to Anne Geoke for urgent action. Anne has long responded but we are yet to get a response from the Provost.

On a follow-up visit later to NDU at Amassoma I got a phone call from a group of NGO seeking partnership with ERI. They caught up with me at the main Library of the university where I was on ground reviewing the donated books to NDU and the group decided to meet with me there and accompanied me in a tour of the library.

We then all proceeded on a grand tour of the library and to continue the inspections and review of ERI donated books. The group expressed amazement and equally heightened interest as a result of what they came to witness and pledged to therefore partners with ERI within Nigeria, so as to make coordination of activities of ERI activities much more practical in Nigeria. On my arrival in Nigeria, I got former request from the group to ERI requesting for collaborative partnership. Their letter is yet to be answered. Many other organizations Gordon and I made contacts in Nigeria have also made similar requests.

On the last weekend of July on 13th, I was informed that there was going to be some important peace meeting organized by the Nigeria federal government under the leadership of the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, PhD, the current Vice President of the federal government of Nigeria organized by the Ijaw militants in the creeks. We commenced on the trip on Saturday, July 14, in the company of other peace-seeking Ijaws as observers we left for the creeks where the meeting was specifically called at the instance of the Ijaw Militants deep in the creeks to find ways and measures to find lasting and sustainable solutions to the problems of the Niger delta region and work with the federal government in peaceful ways. I was formally invited and I therefore take on a trip of about 3 hours with a dingy outboard boat through uncharted and meandering creeks and wide seas to attend the meetings on a beautiful Saturday night. The meeting included varying factions of the Ijaw militants fighting against the Nigeria government for the glaringly injustice, indifferences and arrested development but most importantly the oil wealth located mostly in Ijaw land.

In the meeting, it was first resolved that all hostilities by any faction or group against the federal government must cease forthwith, with immediate effect. A ceasefire was therefore put in effect by the militants. This unanimous call for peace by the leading militants was most reassuring. It was also unanimously adopted that no more persons either foreigners or Nigerians will be kept against their wills by any one groups in the creeks. The leaders of each faction agreed to enforce this position in their various domains. It was agreed that dialogue should thenceforth be employed.

The call was made first because of the fact that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, PhD, the present Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and General Owoye Andrew Azazi, the Present Chief of Defense Staff are both Ijaws sons and most importantly both are equally from Bayelsa State. The peace moratorium was to give the federal government lay the proper frame work for enabling platform for peace and infrastructural and social development of the Niger Delta region. The meeting equally appreciated the role the present federal government under the leader of Alhaji. Musa Yar'dua has played in the release of Mr. Asari Dokubo from his 2 years incarceration and at the time of this meeting the impending release of Chief DSP Alameiyeseigha, the formerly impeached governor of Bayelsa state, also from incarceration. Chief DSP Alameiyeseigha was eventually released and is now back to Bayelsa State.

The militants among others resolved in the meeting to thenceforth take to peaceful dialogues than to militancy in resolving issues with the federal government. A delegation was composed to send back the solution of the meeting to the federal government through the Office of the Vice President. The federal government is equally reciprocating in-kind by looking into and addressing the perceived grievances of the Ijaw militants in particular and Ijaw ethnic groups in generals. The meetings ended in harmonious note and the next day Sunday July 15, both the observers and militants all departed to our various destinations

On the 28th of July, I made it known that it was time to leave, met with Gordon to bide a painful farewell at my hotel and left Yenagoa with a chartered taxi to through to Port Harcourt local airport then with a flight first to Lagos and then from Lagos to Abuja arriving at about 7:00 PM same day to take my direct flight with KLM from Abuja to Amsterdam and with which I arrived back to the United States on the 29 of July through Detroit International, finally arriving Philadelphia at about 5:00 PM and then at home to the welcoming arms of my children and wife who no doubt missed me dearly, particularly my youngest Sarah, a 3 year old who said that she don't want to go back again to Africa.

I will add the trip was a success because we have established that donated goods made to most deserving and needy people in Africa and most especially in the Niger Delta region are graciously well received and appreciated by the recipient government. I equally anticipate some positive outcomes from many of those collaborative partnerships requests either with the government at various level or the NGOs.

In the last 2 weeks of August, I have received more than 2 telephone calls from government officials back in Bayelsa state harping on my need to come back to Yenagoa to deliberate and consult further with them on some of the initiatives that have passed through the Secretary to the State Government and officially endorsed by the State Governor which were sent back to the various Ministries for further considerations, so as to initiate further talks. I informed the government officials that I will come back based on the condition that the government will be responsible for my travel logistics this time around.

Gordon Abiama facing away from camera, Prof. Akintunde Emiola, PhD. The dean of Law School at Niger Delta University and Francis Kabiowei Udisi at the law faculty Library. More law books are currently been sorted out and catalogued/indexed to be sent to this library.

Facing the camera is the Dean of the Law Faculty making a point.

Law student utilizing the new books in the Law Faculty library

Mr. Gordon Abiama, Prof. Raphael Oruamabo, the Provost of College of Health Sciences of the Niger Delta University [ NDU] and Francis Kabiowei Udisi at the Office of the Provost.

Administrative buildings near the football pitch at Niger Delta University campus.

Some students of Niger Delta University during a visit at the university July 2007

Student around the NDU campus during the visit.

Trip to the creeks for Peace talks

Our boat pilot meandering through the creeks, while passing by an oil gathering substation with fully equipped house boat.

Trip through the creeks.

Trip to the creeks.

Trip to the creeks.

Oil well head in the middle of the creeks.

Another oil well head in different location in the same creek

Abandon oil gathering substation in the creeks.

Front-piloted tug with a barge on their through the creeks.