Some Ijaw communities in Ondo State recently lamented marginalisation of their people in the state, which is dominated by Yoruba people. An Ijaw community leader and member of the Ondo State House of Assembly, representing Ese-Odo State Constituency, Mr Success Torhukerhijo, tells PETER DADA about the alleged marginalisation of his people
Recently, you wrote a letter, on behalf of your constituents, to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu that your people were being marginalised in the state, what did you mean by that? What is the problem?
The truth is that in Ondo State, we have two tribes. We have the Yoruba, which is the majority and there is no contention about it, and we also have the Ijaw, who are in the minority in the state. Right from when Ondo State was created or even before the creation of the present Ondo State, while we were with the Ekiti people, the first civilian governor of the state, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, recognised our minority status. As a result of that, he gave us an Area Council at that time so as to address the peculiarities of the Ijaw people of Ondo State as a different people with peculiar culture and tradition.
What do you think makes Ijaw people peculiar?
The peculiarities have to do with our culture and language. We speak a different language which is Ijaw language as against the Yoruba language that is spoken by the majority of people in Ondo. The other has to do with our settlement. Most of our settlements are in the riverine areas. Our major occupation is fishing and tapping of palm trees (to harvest palm wine). All these are peculiar to the Ijaw people of Ondo State.
You said Ajasin recognised your minority status and considered you in his administration’s policies, how would you rate subsequent democratic administrations in terms of how Ijaw people have been carried along?
Like I said, it is in the bid to carry us along that the first civilian governor of the state in the person of the late Chief Ajasin gave us an Area Council at that time. Aside from the Area Council, in government activities, our involvement was assured. At that time in the traditional council, I don’t think we had up to 12 Obas in the first-class category.
But because of our peculiarities, our Obas have been enjoying that status right from that time. And we were given what we deserved in the state, including when we had military administrations. Our people were given representations across the board. We were enjoying that minority status but suddenly, with the administration of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, we saw a twist of events; the Ijaw gradually started losing confidence in the state because of their continuous marginalisation. And this marginalisation is tormenting our people.
For instance, he (Akeredolu) set up a committee to look into the creation of Local Council Development Areas and we thought as a minority group in the state, our people would be included so that the issues that concern us could be addressed but we were marginalised. It is a case of marginalisation and continuous marginalisation. We were not in that committee. Our people agitated (for a change) but we told them to be patient and urged them to give him more chances but we have seen that the governor is not changing. Nothing has changed.
Also, our people were excluded from the recently constituted Palliatives Committee occasioned by the COVID-19. It is the same for the (Coronavirus) Response Fund Committee that was also constituted; our people were also not included. That is the way our people are being treated by this administration.
Do you consider the exclusion of people in the various committees as a deliberate action or an oversight?
The recent addition of two names (to the committee) has worsened the apprehension of our people. We expected that even if it was only one name that would be added, it should be an Ijaw person. And we see names of people who are not from Ondo State on the list and we, who are indigenous people of the state, are not there; it is absolutely unfair.
What do you think could be responsible for this?
Maybe the man has some inexplicable aversion to our people or hatred for us. I can’t understand it because of all the governors we have been had in the state, this is the first time we would have this kind of experience. Yes, it is true that there is a commissioner from Ese-Odo but regarding other appointments, our people are marginalised.
But the deputy governor (Agboola Ajayi) is from the local government, what is he doing about this matter? Have you complained to him?
Yes, of course. The deputy governor is from that area but it is also clear that the deputy governor has also made efforts to ensure that we are carried along, and I’m aware of that. But he is not the person at the helm; the man at the helm will show the direction that the vehicle will go.
What steps do you plan to take now?
Well, our people are seriously agitated to see changes and they are worried. If not for COVID-19 and the sit-at-home order, the Governor’s Office would have received thousands of our people who would be there to protest against the government because they no longer feel secure in Ondo State. And when somebody is insecure, that is a breach of peace. So, our people are not happy, they are ready to express it in so many ways, including through a massive protest.
If there is going to be a protest, are you planning to lead the protest as the political representative of your people?
Of course, I’m one of the people. I’ll not reject my people. I’ll always stand by my people.
But you belong to the All Progressives Congress, the same party with the governor; don’t you think your action may be regarded as a revolt against the leader of your party in the state?
No, it is not a revolt. I’m a member of the APC which gave me the platform to occupy the position I occupy today. I represent people, a peculiar people. Before the people voted for me, they knew I had the capability to represent them, which was why they cast their votes for me. This is not an APC issue; it is beyond the APC. It is affecting my people. Anybody that is doing anything against those people is not trying to be friendly with me. I would expect the governor to also reason with me as an APC member; the person who held this position before me was in the Peoples Democratic Party.
But since we are in the same party, he should realise that we are in the same boat. But since the reverse is the case, I think I have to cry out so that my people will not continue to suffer.
Have you made any attempt to meet with the governor personally to discuss the matter?
Yes, I have made several attempts. I have been to the Governor’s Office several times to say I want to see him, but the response I get is either that he is busy or not even available for me to see. It is not so easy to see the governor.
The state governorship election is coming up in the next few months, don’t you think this development will affect your party’s chances of winning in your area?
Well, my people are not happy, that is just it. The man signed a social contract with them and I’m advising him (Akeredolu) that he still has the opportunity to do the needful for the people now.
How popular is the APC in Ese-Odo Local Government Area?
The APC is the party that is on the ground there but the activities of the governor and the neglect and rejection of the people do not give them a sense of belonging again.
Don’t you nurse the fear that the APC might lose in that area should such agitations continue?
Well, as I said, the governor needs to do the needful. Our people there are highly sensitive and politically sophisticated. So, if a particular government is not doing their bidding and nothing is done for them, in terms of development, then I’m afraid. To every action, there is an equal opposing reaction.
How many developmental projects has the present administration in the state put in your area?
It is saddening and highly worrisome that in the whole of Ijaw land, you cannot point to a government project worth N50m done within the last three years of the Akeredolu administration. Projects that were embarked on by the former administration were abandoned; new ones are not being initiated, so there is nothing to show the presence of government in this place in the past three years.
In the House of Assembly, how many bills have you moved towards the development of your area?
Well, before I came in, I had planned (to sponsor) a bill for the categorical minority policy for the Ijaw-speaking people of Ondo State, which I feel will better address this issue. But as someone in the minority, one out of 26 lawmakers in the House, these things take time. I have a draft of that bill already and I also made attempts (to push it) but politics, lobbying and footwork have to be properly done. One of these days, the bill will surface.
We also have a bill on environmental sanitation which is also there and that bill is to address the inadequacies of the cleanliness of our environment in Ondo State. Before now, we had people we called ‘Wole-Wole’ (environmental officers). Now we have discovered that Ondo State, which used to be a very clean state, particularly Akure, the state capital, is gradually losing that. So, we have decided to push this bill, which is going to make it mandatory for the government to review the activities of the environmental officers who are not being properly utilised in the state. There is gross shortage of personnel and with the Public Private Partnership arrangement being used; most activities are contracted out to contractors. This has denied the environmental officers their traditional functions; that is why we can see the negative effects around us. However, we have proposed a bill that is going to address that, which is called the Environmental Sanitation Bill.