A SPEECH DELIVERED BY PROF. STEVE AZAIKI, OON, MHR, JP, AT THE GRAND FINALE OF THE OKOLEDE NEW YAM FESTIVAL OF EKPETIAMA KINGDOM, 12TH JUNE, 2021
I am delighted being personally present, once again, on this historic Okolede New Yam Festival of Ekpetiama Kingdom in my Constituency. I recall that soon after my election into the Federal House of Representatives, I attended this festivaI as a Guest of Honour. I give glory to God that I am here, once again to witness the age-long cultural fiesta of the good people of Ekpetiama who also voted for me massively in 2019. More delighting, is my being made the Chairman of this epochal event. I thank the Ebenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, HRM (King) Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada the Fourth, the Ekpetiama Council of Chiefs and the organizing committee, for finding me worthy to chair the grand finale of this year’s edition of the Okolede New Yam Festival. Onua, alua! Let me state that my presence here as Chairman of the occasion is not only as a result of my position as representative of Yenagoa-Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency in Nigeria’s House of Representatives, which comprises Ekpetiama. I have maternal affinity with Agudama-Ekpetiama, traced to Aku who gave birth to Igbulu (male) and Ingobinafa and Engeni (females). Igbulu gave birth to Zige, Saiyou and others. Ingobinafa married at Ikolo and gave birth to Ozubide; my grandmother and others. To cut the geanology short, Ozubide returned to his mother's place, Agudama and married Eradiri's third child (female) who gave birth to Suku and Abada (female). My blood relatives in Agudama are therefore, children of the Sukus; Akunamas and Igbulus and the Gbassas who are also brothers to Ozubide family. This blood affinity is aside the geographical proximity of my community Yenebebeli-Atissa, with Ekpetiama, precisely Bumoundi, bounded by the Nun River, and Akaibiri, near Yenebebeli. I would like to thank the traditional rulers, elites, women and youths for sustaining and preserving the historic Okolede Uge, year in year out. This festival is not only a show of the rich cultural heritage of the people. It is also a way of letting the present generation know the culture, yam cultivation culture and varieties of native songs, music, dance and dress patterns of the Kingdom. The festival is equally a means of letting the present and future generations as well as the world to know that Epetiama people have a distinct cultural heritage and identity to be proud of in the comity of kingdoms in Bayelsa State and Nigeria. Clearly, the festival is serving as a bond of unity among the various communities in the Ekpetiama, as well as neighboring Kingdoms, like Epie; Atissa; Gbarain and others that are annually invited to fraternize with you during the celebrations. I urge you to sustain the tempo and continue to leverage on it as a bond of unity and an avenue for fraternity within and externally. In this era of increased need for community development, it is pertinent to not only utilize the Okolede as a cultural jamboree, but a platform to also appraise how the Kingdom has fared in the previous years or immediate past year. This is to enable you realize areas of success and failures, so as to do better. Ekpetiama has produced renowned elites, professionals and leaders who have contributed immensely to communal, regional, state and national development, hence putting the Kingdom in limelight. Personalities such as Late King E. P Okoya, with Famgbe-Atissa maternity; Late literary icon, Dr. Gabriel Okara; Late Captain Berebo A. Dakolo; the living legend and foremost Pharmacist, Sir (Dr.) Lambert Eradiri; HRH Christian Otobotekere; His Excellency (Rt. Hon.) Werinipiri Seibarugu; Architect Reuben Okoya; Barr Kemela Okara and others, readily come to my mind. There is therefore, no doubt, that the kingdom has remained organized for communal activities till date, without communal and chieftaincy tussles. Culture and cultural activities and indigenous artifacts are vital aspects of entertainment and tourism, which are the drivers of even national and global economies and money spinners, especially, when blended with information and communication technologies. In that vein, it is necessary to call on the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture; Bayelsa State Ministry of Culture and Tourism to direct their respective agencies to ensure that the Okolede Fesstival is profiled and performance documented and branded in offline and online media to attract spectators and sponsors. A dedicated online website could also be set up to publicize and promote the festival. These are also within the ability of Ekpetiama Kingdom as well, and it could do them solely or in collaboration with government, Multinational Oil and Gas Companies in the area, as well as other donors. Other Kingdoms could also do same to package and brand their festivals to the world. It appears that the mainstream mass media in Bayelsa State, both public and privately owned electronic and print, have not given adequate coverage to traditional festivals in the state. Or better put, organizers of cultural festivals in Bayelsa, may not have adopted professional and strategic media relations approaches to collaborate with them in order to promote such festivals. Whichever way it is viewed, I urge the mass media to see coverage and analysis of cultural festivals in Bayelsa as part of local content, human interest stories as well as development journalism, but not really commercial news to be so commercialized. I also urge organizers of local festivals to utilize strategic communicators who could professionally liaise with the mass media to promote festivals. This could be done as part of the social responsibility of the media, and where need arises as part of negotiated media partnerships in which both parties could share benefits in the forms of advertisements from other sponsoring partners, announcements and special supplements in exchange for free news coverage. Luckily, the Travel and Tourism Writers wing of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), known as Travel Writers Corp is very much present in Bayelsa State. Our Kingdoms ought to parley with such a professional body and others, to give necessary publicity and promotion, to project ourselves through our festivals and other vehicles. Projecting who we are to Nigeria and the world has become more important than ever. as the issues of ethnic and cultural identities are gaining traction every day in Nigeria and in the entire world. Given the perceived ethno-domination in governance of our country, even though diversity ought to be strength as conceived by the plain concept of federalism, it has become more imperative for ethnic nationalities to project their uniqueness and identities. This is more so, as there is a cascade of agitations for a fairer deal or self-determination by various groups in Nigeria. Whether it is restructuring or total independence for the agitating groups, what beats the mind is the question: Where is the Niger Delta? Whither is Ijaw Nation, the fourth largest tribe in Nigeria? What are our permutations, demands and strategies? Should we sit on the fence and become an appendage to a group of people who want independence? In case of any eventuality, the Ijaws are large and resourceful enough to steer its affairs, be it as an independent nation, or as a regional government, whether in the larger entity of South-South, or not, in the case of a restructured Nigeria. Should Nigeria be restructured along regional lines, Gbarain-Ekpetiama and the other kingdoms in Bayelsa State are all endowed enough to form components in the region, as states or any name that might suffice. But, how prepared are we? That is the big question! We must get prepared! The arguments about restructuring, or to undertake the restructuring is not as complex as it has been made to look like. It simply means change, and major changes in the political, legal and economic structures and procedures of governance. The concept of self-determination has also made the need for change clearer, and it seems to be a better idea or terminology. Self-determination in all aspects of life: be it politics and governance; resources management; ethnic and cultural identities of a people as well as security, have become the way forward for a competitive, interdependent and progressive development of various groups and individuals. Recently, the Queen of England acceded to Prince Harry and Meghan Markel's quest for self-determination, despite the United Kingdom’s most revered monarchical democracy. Scotland recently had the right to vote for self-determination from the United Kingdom, even though those who voted for “NO” won. Quebec and Ontario had tried to leave Canada via referenda, as provided in the Canadian constitution. Many other countries, for instance, Singapore and Malaysia; Norway, Denmark and Sweden; Iceland and Denmark; Czech Republic and Slovakia; Croatia and Macedonia; Belgium and Netherlands; Ireland and United Kingdom as well as Russia, Ukraine and its other components, which I also witnessed while as a student there, all exercised their right to self-determination, most of which ended peaceful. United Kingdom also recently parted with the European Union. Many of these new countries are doing better than when they were together, despite the case of South Sudan and Sudan being used as a case of unprogressive experiment of right to self-determination. As Nigeria is enmeshed in insecurity, marginalization of some ethnic groups and regions, vis-à-vis distrust and underdevelopment, the time for Ijaws and the South-South to unite in the struggle for self-determination, as others are doing, is most important than before. The spate of unassailable banditry and terrorism, has also called for more unity and alertness in Ijaw Nation, Niger Delta and the entire South-South. It is even more so, as President Muhammadu Buhari has in a media chat on Arise Television, challenged states, local governments, communities and traditional institutions to protect their domains. This is irrespective of the contradicting counter pronouncement he made against states’ ban on open-grazing by herders, and chiding of Igbo’s move for self-determination as well as the shoot-at-sight order, to crutch even genuine demands for self-determination. Indeed, the states are in a fix, as they have no police and supreme courts of their own to effectively manage security and slam penalties on offenders. Nevertheless, the way seems to be now open for states and communities to adopt lawful measures to maintain peace and security in their domains. Thus, states, local governments, traditional institutions and communities should be vigilant, unite and do the needful to maintain the security of lives and property of their people, albeit with respect for the rights of their visitors. I will not end this speech without touching one question that might be burning in the minds of some listeners, who might ask: What has Prof. Azaiki done since assumption of office as our representative in the House of Representatives? This might not be a forum for that. But, I can say that I have facilitated various skill acquisition and empowerment programmes, which about 737 Constituents and 10 groups benefited; various projects for more than 54 communities; presentation of petition to the House and the Executive demanding for budgetary allocation or release of emergency ecology fund for shoreline protection project at Obogoro-Atissa; motions on completion of East-West Road; Covid-19 research fund/institutions; removal of Service Chiefs and retooling of security apparatus; voiced support against the obnoxious Water Resources Bill, among others. My dear Constituents, I reiterate my unalloyed commitment to the progress of the Constituency and Bayelsa State through personal and official positions, with your continuous support. Once again, I implore you to unite for the common course towards right to self-determination and realization of the common good for our people in cultural, political and economic spheres. Thank you for listening.