Era of opportunistic leaders gone in Bayelsa —Elaye, IPA president

Mr Ortrofanowei Elaye, President of Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA), speaks on challenges in the region and called on prospective governorship aspirants in the state to engage in constructive and issue-based campaigns that could bring development to the Niger Delta region. BOLA BADMUS brings excerpts.


A coalition of some concerned stakeholders, including Ijaw Professional Association (IPA), recently held a workshop in Yenagoa to sensitise the people on the need for a violence-free poll. What motivates you to champion the cause of peace ahead the governorship election in Bayelsa State?

The initiative was done by a collaboration of people and organisations that have a common understanding that progress can only take place in an atmosphere of peace. Of course, a lot of money went into it. But I must make it very clear that the individuals within the groups are completely apolitical and I said this with all sense of responsibility. We all believe that investment in peace results in development. Life is more valuable than any amount of money that you keep somewhere else. So, for us, we believe no amount of money spent is enough to ensure that no life is lost or no person is injured. We did this because of the recent past where lots of mindless destruction of lives and property happened in our region. We want to change the narrative. That is the inspiration.

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How would you pass on the resolutions reached to the critical stakeholders, particularly politicians who were not well represented at the workshop, for the ultimate aim of moderating their general conduct?

I think the critical stakeholders were there. We had people from the state government; we had people from the political parties and we had potential aspirants. Invitation was sent to several people, including international organisations, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police and the State Security Service (SSS). We have a data base of those who attended the event. We are now doing a re-evaluation to know those who did not attend and find out their motivation for not attending so that we can continue to engage them.

We believe this is the first of several other engagements that are going to take place. Already, we are reaching out to those who should have been there but were not there. We know that invitation reached out to them. Maybe other engagements didn’t allow them to attend. Every person who spoke agreed that there is need for peace. And every person who loves Bayelsa State, who loves the Niger Delta region and indeed loves Nigeria, will agree that we must not lose any life. If they have ideas of how we can ensure that no life is lost, we invite them to bring those ideas so that we can work together to ensure that our people have credible election in an atmosphere of peace.

I have never heard any of those at the top echelon of government lose their children or loved ones during election. We are out to change that narrative. Just the way they like their own children and their families to stay safe, everybody must also stay safe. Nobody must be lured into violence with small monies. The communiqué is out there for them. We are going to the local communities in the inter land to let them know that we have nothing else to offer them but message of peace.


It appears it is going to be a sustained campaign, what is your source of funding?

We have five collaborative groups at this moment. It will interest you to know that a lot of people are asking to join the initiative. We believe that as they join, the less would be the financial burden on us. And, of course, we are getting institutional support from other stakeholders like the media houses, print and electronic, the INEC and political parties. We want everybody to preach the message of peace. The initial one was very expensive because we needed to reach out with the message. But going forward, the more people we have preaching that message, the more materials we share to the people.


How are you interfacing with the security agencies to ensure that the election is not only credible but violence-free?

Thankfully, the next election is going to take place in just two states. We believe that there shouldn’t be a problem in terms of number of security personnel to deploy. There is an issue in terms of impartiality of the security forces. That is part of what we are doing to let them know that we are all Ijaw people; we are all brothers and that if we have political differences, they should stay aside and make sure that they maintain the peace, rather than take side. Fortunately, the social media is now very mature in Nigeria. In the last election in Rivers State, everybody saw where the problem was. Even in Lagos, we saw people who were perpetrating violence. We call on the security operatives to uphold and maintain the rule of law. They must ensure that they do not take side either with a party or an individual or use the instrument of state to protect or promote one person over the other. The resources they are using belong to Nigeria and Nigerians and not to the ruling party. We ask our people to follow the right channel and report any case of collusion by those who are responsible for protection of lives and property.


The Niger Delta region is for now relatively peaceful, how sustainable is the reigning peace?

That is why we are doing all of these. It is relatively peaceful now largely because the people are beginning to speak with one voice. The people in the Niger Delta region are beginning to see that we are one after all. The problem of infrastructure affects all of us, regardless of where you come from or which party you belong. Everybody is beginning to see that that man is my brother; that woman is my sister. If we kill ourselves, we all lose. Before, it used to be a divided people. But now, there is unanimity of purpose. Everybody wants to be a part of the peace train. The next thing you will see is more rapid development, if we are able to sustain the peace. Whoever comes to power must maintain the peace; he must maintain the rule of law. If you think you come to power by violence, the people will reject you.


The end product of your peace initiative is good governance, how would you make the political parties and prospective aspirants key into this?

We want to change the story from that pedestrian style of politicking to issue-based politics. Over the last few years, we have not heard of people talk about what they would do to promote peace and progress for their people. They just bring personal issues; issues that have no bearing with the people. So, we are changing the narrative by saying that, ‘look, we don’t care who you are, come and tell us what you will do for the people and how you will do it.’ Some people come into office by accident; they do not even understand what the issues are. They are far away from what the people need.

Employment is a big issue. People are not talking about employment; people are not talking about infrastructural deficiency in the region. These are the issues people should come and talk to us about. We expect that as aspirants come out, they will bring agenda that they will be held accountable for. The era of accidental leader is gone. Competence is key; love and passion for the people is key. All those things have been missing in our politics.