I woke up early Saturday morning, nine November, two thousand and thirteen with severe pains around my neck. The night before, I had laid in an improper posture on my bed which affected my neck.
In spite of the pains, I had planned to hit the road earlier, to undertake a trip to the tomb of the late Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa(1941-1995). Saro-Wiwa was Nigeria’s celebrated satirist, pamphleteer, novelist, short story writer, poet, newspaper columnist, playwright, environmental activist, essayist and thinker. Saro-Wiwa’s grave is located in Bane, his ancestral home in the Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State of the eastern Niger Delta. Bane is on the eastern edges of the state about fifty-two kilometres away from the Port Harcourt city. Getting there in a public vehicle, would require one to join a vehicle to Bori, and later take another one to the Bane town, about twelve kilometres from Bori.
Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow activists were hanged on tenth November, nineteen ninety-five at the Port Harcourt prisons. Their corpses were deposited in separate graves at the Port Harcourt cemetery, located on the southern part of the Port Harcourt city. Ibiwari Ikiriko (1954-2002), the prominent Okrika, Ijaw poet and literary scholar in his collection of poems, Oily Tears of the Delta (1999) poeticized about Saro-Wiwa’s hanging, “Let’s not forget/that the cause/of his hanging/is still clinging/to the bottom of oil wells. …/To the remains of our conscience/like sludges on mud-flat”. General Sani Abacha (1943-1998) head of the Nigerian State ordered the state violence that swept through Saro-Wiwa’s Ogoni land and their eventual hanging. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas mogul under Brian Anderson was implicated in collusion with the government to enact the sad drama.
In Port Harcourt city, there are many points one can get a vehicle to Bori. Bori is the Ogoni Township and headquarters of the Khana Local Government Area. The Port Harcourt – Bori axis is always a busy transit route, I am familiar with. I have travelled through it even as a child. I have retraced my steps to write this travel feature article. The route is always flooded with students of the Rivers State Polytechnic (RIVPOLY) or those travelling through to Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area. Also travellers, to the Western Obolo homeland (the Andoni Local Government Area) use same Bori road. Bori is also home of many Ogoni and non Ogoni alike.
There were not many student travellers during my trip. On Friday, fourth October, this year, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), the umbrella union of polytechnic teachers in Nigeria commenced an “indefinite strike”. ASUP members were striking to press for removal of the dichotomy that exists between degrees awarded by the polytechnics and universities amongst other demands. At the RIVPOLY, sometimes called “Bori Polytechnics,” there was a peaceful negotiation between the school authorities and local ASUP branch. From Monday, seventh October to Friday, eight November, two thousand and thirteen, Rivpoly students were in session. They were writing their final examinations. Although there were few students there working on their project work, – leading to either awards of the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) or Higher National Diploma (HND).
I got to a small corner on the eastern tip of Port Harcourt called “Eleme junction” around twelve p.m. This was because I was waiting for copies of another Ken Saro-Wiwa’s prison memoir, Silence Would Be Treason – last writings of Ken Saro –Wiwa (2013). The book was edited by three famous international scholars- Ide Corley, Helen Fallon and Laurence Cox with a detailed forward by Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria’s famous poet, writer, environmentalist and architect. Owens Monday Wiwa, a medical doctor and younger brother of the late Saro-Wiwa had sent somebody from Abuja, to deliver copies to me; but the flight of the book emissary was delayed. I left for my Bane voyage without the book but got them on return. Two days before, Owens was at the Pope John Paul II library, the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Republic of Ireland, to participate in the launching of the great book.
Though called Eleme junction; the small motor park is administratively located in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area. The council area belongs to the Ikwerre group in the state. The small corner stretch had been converted into a motor park where buses and cars convey passengers to various parts of Ogoniland and beyond. The weather over the Eleme junction, was overcast -no rain, no sun. My mind sped back to the weather over Port Harcourt when Saro-Wiwa and his comrades were hanged. I walked slowly to a stationed white Serena car where a slim, average height and light-skinned man in his early thirties was barking like a mad dog. He wore a black cap with the labels “Northern Power System”. On the front of his white t-shirt was ‘CWS Amala NCCA 2001,’ while at his back was “College world Series”. On his feet was a pair of worn-out leather slippers.
The young man looked restless, and his eyes rotated like a bulb light on an ambulance on emergency duty.
“Bori, Ogoni, your flight is ready to go ooo! If you are a pregnant man or woman you go pay double money because you are two” he shouted.
A 14-seater bus there just got filled and was leaving the motor park. As I stretched my right hands to open the car front door, many thoughts ran through my mind. “Could this be the driver or someone loading for the fear to earn a commission?” I was a bit worried, but was determined to travel.
In less than ten minutes, the car was filled up with passengers. As usual, I paid eight hundred naira (less than six dollars) for two front seats near the driver. At the back were two rows of four passengers on each row. Two women, the rest were men. The fearful-looking man, who was shouting Bori- Ogoni, was the driver. “Na waooo!” I exclaimed in Pidgin English
“Wetin be wa? Any problem?” he asked in his all-pervading voice
“No problem, my brother, I for like make you allow others to load for you and pay them commission so that you create employment”
“Haaaaaa!” he laughed briefly, “Na so you mean? I am unemployed too. I am looking for a job. You can employ for your place of work” He replied as little smile flashed like lightning through a corner of his mouth again.
“Don’t worry hopefully thing go better” I said to him again.
He turned and looked at me and laughed briefly again. I interpreted the driver’s laughter to mean a lot.
The body of the car was dirty. It looked like a car submerged in a river of mud. Inside were dirty too – dusts and sands everywhere. The dirty seatbelt drew a long dirty line on my milk-coloured shirt. There was no car radio or side mirror, though the speedometer was functioning. On the dirty dashboard was a small sticker, on it written, “I love you”. That small sticker was placed on a bigger sticker, written on it, “This is a new dawn and together let’s keep the peace. Courtesy, Ateke Tom” a huge picture of Ateke, with a huge hat on his head was placed by the side of the writings on the bigger sticker.” Could this be one of Ateke Tom’s boys?” The thoughts hovered through my mind. I know a lot of his boys, but couldn’t recognize the driver. As a journalist and researcher some years back, was embedded with them. Ateke Tom is one of five founders of the Icelander (also known as German), a cult group established as a street wing of the University based Supreme Vikings Confraternity (SVC) around mid- two thousand.
Ateke, commonly called the godfather by his followers, is the only survivor of the five founding fathers (popularly called “five wise men”) of the Icelander confraternity. Others were swept away in various inter or intra cult rivalries. Some five years ago, Ateke and his Icelander fighters, sometimes called Niger Delta Vigilante Services (NDVS) accepted the government presidential amnesty and disarmed. But some of the Icelander’s cells across the region are still armed or re-arming and engaging in bloody contentions on a daily basis.
I looked at the Ateke’s sticker carefully again. I didn’t know that the driver was watching me. When I noticed it, I turned to him and said, “Do you know the godfather (Tom Ateke)”.
He smiled, but refused to utter a word to my question. We took off, travelling on the Port Harcourt – Eleme Expressway, heading eastwards. Along the road were several billboards with several inscriptions. There, was a huge board of Francis Nwogo and his wife, by their side was, “Encountering Fire Revival – Christian Pentecostal Mission.” I saw another religious board with, “The Anointing Deliverance and Break Through,” with a picture of Bishop Apostle Chinasa Nwosu by the side too. “Hollandia Yoghurt – hurry, grasp one.” Around the area was a fenced massive compound on the right hand side, “Amber Resources.”
Ahead of us was the Elelenwo Bridge and on the same right is the sprawling estate of Bristow Helicopters Nigeria, the Texas, USA firm which provides air transport services. Fugro Nigeria Limited (FNL) also owns some substantial assortment of flats there too. The driver was driving gently, before the bridge. A taxi cab turned speedily through an opening in between a central barrier from the left, in the opposite direction into our lane. If our driver was on high speed he would have crashed into his car. At the back of the taxi-cab which was painted in blue-white blue colours (colours of Rivers State commercial cars) was the gallant letters, “Competition in destiny – Warri Boy”. I was watching the driver as he never uttered a word. But a well-rounded, pretty and fair-complexioned lady, dressed in super-short dark dress shouted, “Warri nor dey carry last.” Everybody in the car burst into laughter, because that was a familiar phrase in Pidgin English. “All these Warri people always behave like crazy people”. “How do you know that the man is a Warri person? I said. Another male passenger, whose forehead shone like sunlight and wore a brown new t-shirt on a jean trousers remarked.
“Oga don’t tell me that as gentle as you are you are a Warri man. Are you from there? The male passenger asked.
“ Is there anything wrong coming from Warri? I asked him.
“It’s about the way you are defending them” he said further.
“I know a lot of good and well-behaved Warri people” I said.
“Warri no dey carry last” the lady said again and passengers burst again into scornful laughter.
“The luck of the Warri driver is that the death of the first lady’s mother has done us good. Because of her mother’s burial, government has tarred the road. I pray that one of them should die again so that they will complete the remaining parts of the road. Is only God that can save this country” the male passenger said. “Warri nor dey carry last” is a derogatory phrase in pidgin English. It denotes that dwellers of Warri, the slummy metropolis of the western Niger Delta are unnecessarily smart. In Nigeria, several ethnic groups, communities and persons use such perceptive and derogatory words and phrases against one another. It spreads ill feelings; deepen disunity that can lead to conflict.
We had just passed by a huge building of the Winner’s Chapel also called Living Faith Church with a picture of its founder, David Oyedepo, shortly after that we entered the Ogoni territory. In the book, the Next Gulf – London, Washington and Oil conflict in Nigeria (2005) Andy Rowell, James Marriot and Lorne Stockman wrote, “Ogoni land is an area of some 400 square miles in the eastern part of the Niger Delta. It is small relative to the Delta as a whole, but densely populated. Shell-BP found oil there in the late 1950s and while the oil company has extracted vast profits from Nigerian crude oil, the Ogoni live in abject poverty, with many villages lacking clean water, electricity or primary health care,” Saro-Wiwa’s Ogoni exclusively occupies four local Government Areas in Rivers State, though some Ogoni natives are in the Oyigbo Local Government Area and two Ogoni communities are found in the Oruk Anam Local Government Area, southwest of Akwa Ibom State. The areas are Eleme (Mboli), Tai, Gokana, and Khana. Sometimes some Eleme elites say they are not part of the Ogoni group, while others say they are. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) which he founded, under his leadership had enormous followership in the Eleme area. Historians and writers claim that the Ogoni people are one of the earliest inhabitants of the eastern Niger Delta region. They are said to have arrived their first settlement called Nama about fifth century BC. Nama is not up to ten kilometres to Bori, near the Sii community.
Writing about the origin of his Eleme people, the methodical researcher and historian, Gomba Obarijima, in his BA thesis submitted to the University of Port Harcourt, entitled, History of Eleme People to 1960(1981) argued, “It would appear that the Elemes have been very reluctant to trace their origin to Gokana, probably as a result of the circumstances under which their ancestor left his original home”. Gomba said that they have migrated from Gokana, home of Gberesaakoo, the founder of the Gokana kingdom. In nineteen thirty-two, the Eleme people accepted to join their kinsfolk under the Ogoni Native Authority government.
Some calm had returned to the car after the noisy remarks generated by the Warri Boy taxi-cab mistake. I was a bit happy. “Must we have University in every village in Nigeria”? The fair lady who stirred the Warri nor dey carry last controversy, was at it again. She saw a billboard along the road which had, “Proposed site of the University of Akpajo” and made the comment. There was another round of acrimonious argument; I didn’t say anything or did the driver. The driver was busy speaking the Khana dialect of Ogoni, Igbo and Yoruba languages to different persons on the phone while driving. I can’t really detect from his intonation the part of Nigeria he hailed from.
We got to the Akpajo junction. Akpajo is the border town between the Elelenwo of Ikwerre and Eleme (Mboli) of Ogoni. Few metres from the junction, is the staff quarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Along the road is a dark metal board. On it written in white paint, “RC; 7729 NBM supports state government in the fight against Kidnapping, Militancy, Criminality, Cultism and all forms of Violence – you are welcome, courtesy, south eastern zone”. On the same signboard, a diagram of a black axe breaking chains which tied two black hands. N.B.M stands for Neo- Black Movement of Africa. Some accounts have it that N.B.M whose members are also called “Aye axe men” was founded around mid-eighties, and that it broke away from the Supreme Eiye Confraternity aka air lords, which was founded earlier at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State in nineteen sixty-three. One of NBM’s top intelligent officers (they call them, “Chief Butcher” in the Black Axe world) had told this writer that the Black Axe (N.BM) was founded in nineteen seventy-six at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo State. UNIBEN, the place of their formation is called “Fatajalon” also called “Mother Temple”.
Naagbanton lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
To be continued.
Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.