(2017) FEBRUARY 14th PROTEST: MY EXPERIENCE AS A HUMAN RIGHT ACTIVIST by Ebi Robert





The 14th of February, 2017 will forever be remembered in the History of Bayelsa State as the day the youths of Bayelsa State stood up against bad leadership. Government was established by God to help protect the people. It is saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the welfare of the People, and because God respects our free-will he has given us the right to choose our leaders and today, that system is what is called DEMOCRACY. Democracy as a system of government has been practiced in other parts of the world and has been successful at least to a very large extent even though we may have our little reserves about some happenings in those advanced countries. As usual, when it entered Africa, most precisely Nigeria, it turned out to be the opposite because hardly does anything good work in Nigeria.
Bayelsa state as one of the youngest states in Nigeria and also as an Oil producing state has a lot of opportunities. If Isaac Boro were to be alive today, he would have been a Bayelsan. Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro and other Ijaws fought and spoke against the Federal Government so that the voice of the Ijaws will be heard. Many even sacrificed their lives along the line. Even though some did it through the illegal means, we are sure that the Ijaws are marginalized and there is a need to speak out. But what do we say when our own leaders that ought to be the protectors of our voice stand tall against us by thinking only of themselves? Bayelsa State receives one of the highest allocation in Nigeria but there is nothing much to show for it. There are no jobs and no opportunities. Workers are not paid their salaries regularly and yet they are expected to work. The government says there is no money but the same government approves a loan of billions to buy cars for members of the parliament. School fees of the Niger Delta University have skyrocketed because the government has refused supporting the school the way it ought to. This is happening at a time Bayelsa State youths are expected to compete with their brothers in the East and the West. Educationally we are backward when compared to the Yorubas and the Igbos, yet the only state owned institution is not well funded. Mismanagement of the School has been given as the excuse. But I ask: if a school owned by the government suffers from mismanagement, who do we blame? If the same bad managers are asked to raise funds without being removed, what do we think will happen to the fund still realized? So was asked a friend by name Jasper Kokoibo. The comrade in his wisdom has asked the government to be diplomatic. In my stay in NDU for five years, I never received bursary at any time. Though, it’s a privilege but if states that receive less than what Bayelsa State receives are able to pay, what excuse do our rich state have to give? Workers go on strike-actions because the government is weak. Herdsmen were giving land to graze. But we have heard of stories of the dominating nature of Herdsmen and their role in violence and community killing. This has made many Bayelsans to worry and that is why Bayelsans are asking: Why are our lands given out without due consultation with the people? How many hectares of land were given the Bayelsans that were sent out to be skilled in agricultural skills?  No one should blame them for their fears. How many industries are there in Bayelsa State? Many of the goods used in Bayelsa State are imported from Delta State and other states. What economic plan has there been put in place to help improve the lives of the people? These and many more were the grievances of the people. So on the 14th of February, 2017, youths and other Bayelsans assembled at Tombia to match in Yenagoa to air their view and get answers to the questions that need be asked.
I have said it before: Leadership is God’s will and not bad leaders. How long shall we keep voting in bad leaders into office and expect a miracle from God? We go to the poll and vote the wrong leaders into office because of little peanuts given us and expect a miracle. Because we needed answers, we decided to match. We decided to do this not because we support some political parties against the ruling party, but because of the Love of our state. Peaceful protest is our civil right. It is recognized under the Law and in line with the provisions of the Law did we obtain a police permit.
I agreed to join the protest because it was well organized in line with the Law. I joined it because I am an Activist and an Activist does not do his activism in his house. So for this first time in my life I joined the educated youths of Bayelsa State to say ‘NO’ to careless leadership, but little did we know that the government had their counter-plans.
We were all gathered with placards when some police men, arrived the scene asking if we had the backing of the Law. Those who are well enlightened with the happenings spoke with the security agency which is quite normal. After all Police has the duty to protect lives and property. Soon Briggs arrived all the way from Rivers state and engaged the security agents, most especially the DPO on a matter of clarification and intelligence. I was taking some pictures when all of a sudden I saw hoodlums throwing stones at us. At once, the police stated shooting. We all ran away for our life. An activist cannot speak when dead. As the saying goes, he who fights and run away, lives to fight another day. We had to run, because we were unarmed, there was no how we could stand them. In the first place we could never have been with guns because we are not there to fight. I sustained a little injury on my leg. But others got injured big time. The whole gathering was scattered even before we could match. I ran across the road but I did not leave immediately. I stayed for close to thirty minutes. I observed that the hoodlums were still walking around in groups, freely with the security agents doing nothing. How can hoodlums walk freely around security agencies that were many on ground? There and then I observed that the hoodlums were working with the police. I recognized two of them very well. I even greeted one of them I know very well, he was even shocked but acted as if I was not really familiar. I got close and I heard one of them who receiving a call. He was saying: We still dey the place wey we STONE THE PEOPLE. I met up with one Comrade Matthias. We both went to a Hotel where we and Briggs had a press conference. On my way back home, I observed longs trunks loaded with women and youths representing the various local government areas singing songs of praises to the government. Suffering and smiling as usual. I wept in my heart when I saw them. Is this how low the people of Bayelsans have become? So people can sell their future for just some thousands? So pathetic. I visited Facebook and saw the climax of it all. One elderly man I respected so well posted that the protest was disrupted because money changed hands. That is to say, we were paid and so we fought against ourselves. I was shocked to say that an IJAW FATHER of ours who was supposed to speak on my behalf is being subjected to this level because of cheap gains.
I wonder when Bayelsa will receive salvation. When will divine light enter into the hearts of Bayelsans? Who did this to our youths? Is it that the government has deliberately kept us undeveloped educationally so that they will continue using us for their selfish aims? Many questions ran through my mind.
Many may ask: Ebi Robert joined a protest? How come? It is simple. I believe in this: Faith without work is death. I pray for my government, but where the need arises for me to take physical actions recognized under the Law to create change, I won’t take chances. However, it must be a protest conducted by well meaning people in a peacefully atmosphere which was this case, if not that hoodlums disrupted it. Protest is recognized all over the world and a normal thing. It is just that the society we find ourselves is but a blind one that is why it turned out the way it did. As a Human Right Activist, this is what God has called me to do, if I do not, who will? I cannot wait for others to make the sacrifice all the time for me to enjoy. Nelson Mandela went to prison for years. Many might feel he was stupid, but today South Africa is benefiting from his works and he is one of the celebrated men all over the world. Martin Luther did same for the United States of America. Remember Castro of Cuba? Some of the Activists who made their society great today were not Christians, yet through their sacrifice Christians and pagans like are benefiting from their sacrifice. Now if this is the case, I believe as a Christian I can do more.  I believe I can fight this battle better because I shall be fighting it both spiritual and Physical; spiritual through prayers in righteousness and physical through Advocacy and my pen.
Today the government of Bayelsa State disrupted the protest. To them they think they won the game. To them we did not match out, so they won. But unknown to them the protest was done far better than anticipated. Why? Because of the attack, the whole world is coming to hear about it. Has the protest not gone far? Are our voices not heard? They are. Are the orientations of the people not changing? They are. God is indeed wise.
But let me make this clear to the government. Governors come and go, but government remains. Leaders come and go but the state remains. Today the Ijaw youths were hired to beat their fellow Ijaws, but let it be known this day that this very Ijaw Soil shall we all be buried. We must build a society the Ijaw sons and daughters shall be proud of someday.

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