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Interrogating the Politics of Oppression in The Struggle

by California Digital News


Dan: It is the black gold that was given to us by God, and which is the liquid gold—oil—as a result of its discovery in Oloibiri. From that moment, the Niger Delta people have suffered segregation and neglect, which has resulted in the oil spillage in that area. Some thieves and some oil companies have taken advantage to enrich their pockets out of the suffering of the people. For a long time, the people have been complaining. It started from Isaac Adaka Boro, who started activism for minority ethnic rights and later declared the secession of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria on 23 February 1966; then down to Ken Saro-Wiwa, who led a non-violent campaign against the Nigerian government for the environmental degradation of the land and waters; and  down to the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), the socio-cultural youth group of the Ijaw people.

The likes of the Asari-Dokubo, General Boyloaf,  General Africa, and Ateke Tom took the complaint to a whole new level during the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo as president of Nigeria, involving militancy, kidnapping of expatriate workers of crude oil companies, and bombing of crude oil facilities to draw the government’s attention to the neglect the Niger People. Unfortunately, some corrupt and selfish people took advantage of it.

If you look at Dubai, for example, they have oil, and then they were able to use what they have to transform their cities. It is a thing of shame that in Nigeria, where so much is taken, the government who carries the load of the country cannot provide basic amenities in their communities. Water, good roads, electricity, hospitals—we do not have that. For that reason, the boys decided to use the power of the gun to attract attention for their voices to be heard. That’s just the genesis of the crisis of the Niger Delta people with oil.

It was quite easy for me to direct and choreograph because the play and its messaging and the cultural expressions in the play are a part of me.

Eseovwe: Okay. Recently, we had a Niger Delta son as the president of the country, Nigeria. That’s talking about Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Do you want to comment about his administration and how it affects the Niger Delta issues?

Dan: He tried in his part, but a tree does not make a forest. He placed faith on some who betrayed him. They were supposed to empower the youths, do the roads, and then make some beautification around the Niger Delta region. But they didn’t do that.

What happened to him was that he had trust and belief in the people that were around him. When I mean the people, Ijaws that were around him. When he came into power, into the seat, he was able to put mechanisms in place, and then his people became his immediate direct subject. Then, he gave them the power to go through putting things together, but they failed. That’s what I’m saying. It was not his fault. It was a result of the betrayers around the office that he trusted.

Eseovwe: We can rightly say that the Niger Delta people sabotaged the struggles of the Niger Delta people.

Dan: Fine, we can say that because the chiefs did that. If a group of people are given money, they tend to turn against their entire community fighting for a just cause.

Eseovwe: In The Struggle, you pointed out the infighting that was prevalent among the Niger Delta people because of the oil wealth. Now, what do you think instigated these infightings?

Dan: Unfortunately, selfishness and greed are at the root of the problems faced in the Niger Delta region. The officials in charge of managing the funds coming from the oil wealth, including state governors, government officials, community heads, and leaders of thought, are more interested in sharing the wealth of the people rather than developing the region. This has resulted in division and infighting among the people. Even the militant leaders, who claim to be fighting for freedom, have become focused on money and government contracts. This led to sabotage of the movement.

In the opening scene of The Struggle, the Amanayabo of Opuloama community announces that the state government has given the community some funds for the development of the community; however, because he wants to steal the money for himself and some chiefs of the community, he unilaterally decides what the money will be used for, appointing his cronies Chief Asoyen and Chief Sokari. It is the embezzlement of these funds by the king and some of his chiefs that set out the conflict in the play.

There were other chiefs that were against what the Amanayabo did, like Chief Lokpobiri, and he was banished from the community by the king. The act of the greedy and corrupt Amanayabo and his chiefs quickly brought pandemonium to the community, which resulted to a revolt by the militants, who are also greedy and after the money that the government has given to the community. They want their own share of the money instead of focusing on the struggle for the liberation of their people. The timely intervention of Lokpobiri, who had returned from exile, stopped the fighting; and with a moving speech, he was able to get both the corrupt king and chiefs and the militants to see the bigger picture and focus on the development of their people and the fight for resource control of their oil wealth.

Eseovwe: That these internal conflicts hindered the Niger Delta’s efforts to control their oil wells.

Dan: Some people genuinely care about the welfare of others and can voice their concerns effectively. Elder Clark is a great example of such a person who, like Lokpobiri in the play, has been a leading advocate for the Niger Delta people, particularly in the fight for true fiscal federalism in Nigeria. This means that each state in Nigeria would have full control over its natural resources and only pay a small percentage to the central government. This is especially important for the Niger Delta states, as it would enable them to take charge of their development.

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