Mrs. Cecelia Ibru(left); Chief James Ibori; His Royal Majesty Ohworode of Olomu, Ovie Richard Ogbon, Ogoni-Oghoro 1; Prof. G.G. Darah and Mrs. Darah during the launch of Scholarship and Commitment: Essays in Honour of G.G. Darah… in Warri
He is arguably the most notable intellectual face and voice of agitations for better living conditions for the marginalised and deprived people of the oil-rich Niger Delta. So that when friends, colleagues and admirers gathered at the quadrangle of PTI Conference Centre, Effurun, Warri, Delta State, on May 16 to honour Professor Gordini Gabriel Darah, there was no mistaking the direction of the discourse. Even the outdoor setting for the event was symbolic of the performance aesthetics of the Udje scholar-activist. Indeed, Udje performers were on hand to serenade their patron-scholar, who recently retired from the intellectual warfront at Delta State University, Abraka.
Darah gave ample notice where his passion lies as he moves to his next phase of life after decades devoted for academic pursuits – a commitment to righting the sundry wrongs visited on the hapless people of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian state and its multi-national oil cohorts! He prided himself as ‘an academic militant’ for the sake of the degradations of his wealthy region that feeds the entire country but gets token in return.
A book, Scholarship and Commitment: Essays in Honour G.G. Darah, edited by Dr. Sunny Awhefeada, Dr. Enajite Ojaruega and Peter Omoko, was launched alongside a colloquium that dissected the essential Darah as scholar-activist.
Darah praised the chairman of the event and former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, under whom he served as Chief of Staff for providing some of them the intellectual platform “to ventilate our rascality over resource control. All the regions in Nigeria, in terms of development, Niger Delta is most backward. That is a problem we must solve. Everywhere we (Niger Delta people) go we overwhelm them. Those enjoying the yolk of the egg in the Niger Delta are elsewhere and no matter what we say, it doesn’t matter to them. Ibori has let us known that we have stopped asking for 13 per cent derivation; it means 87 per cent deprivation of the Niger Delta. Do the maths!”
As Delta State chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Darah said he needed two committees as fallout of the celebration to pursue two key agenda dear to his heart. He noted that his next intellectual struggle would be directed at demanding 100 per cent resource control for the marginalised Niger Delta people and the creation of a state for the Urhobo people from current Delta State. Darah anchored his second challenge on how the Urhobo, together with the Isoko, were at the forefront of agitations for the creation of, first Bendel State from Midwest Region. Unfortunately, he said, the capital then was situated in Benin City. Also, when agitation for Delta State was made, its capital again went elsewhere, to Asaba.
According to Darah, “A state of our own is now. As you know, the structure of government in Nigeria is that if you don’t own a state of your own, you’re an orphan. Through our agitation, capitals have moved from Benin City to Asaba. The more states, the more the capital goes away from us. This has to stop.”
Darah made his comment after an oral performance that sufficiently put the audience in the mood.
Ibori also commended Darah for his resolute stance and agitation for resource control, true federalism and equitable distribution of wealth in the country, saying, “They were the things that joined us in enriching each other in the government of Delta State. Darah worked with me in the advocacy for better living for the people of Delta State. Darah is too fierce in the advocacy for the good of Delta. I know that you are fearless.
“Let it be known that the job is not done yet. People can no longer breathe in Port Harcourt because of all kinds of activities due to oil and gas exploration. We have a generic solution to some of these problems. In this specific case, we have to find specific solutions to the problems. What is going on in Port Harcourt is very troubling. Sooner or later, we won’t be talking about 13 per cent derivation; we will be asking for the whole thing – 100 per cent of oil resources.”
Ibori also lent credence to the belief among many in the Niger Delta that his stance on resource control pitted him against the powerful Nigeria state apparatus that resulted in his incarceration in a London prison. Another Niger Delta actor that suffered similar fate was the former governor of Bayelsa State, late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Others in the audience echoed the same sentiments and vowed that the struggle for resource control must continue until the Niger Delta people begin to benefit from the resource in their land.
Udje dance group thrilled the audience with its energetic dances and drumming. Also, a final year student of Delta State University, Emoghene Oghenetega performed ‘An Ode to Ogbaeriarien’ in celebration of Darah as an intellectual giant.
Bayelsa State governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, represented by his Chief of Staff, Hon. Tafford Ugolo, also came to honour Darah, who he described as adding “intellectual flavor to our struggle. Darah, Ibori and Alamieyeseigha took our struggle to a higher level. At every struggle, when Darah speaks you will see his fervour. Darah is a leader of the Niger Delta struggle.”
Also, Delta State governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa, represented by Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tam Grazibi, said, “Darah stands out among contemporaries in hard work and literary activism… The book Scholarship and Commitment is an impressive scholarly production, as it deals with varying themes in contemporary humanistic and linguistic studies. The weaving together of topical issues across boundaries, which constitute the body of the book, is essential as it replicates the eclectic portrait of Professor Darah, a respected intellectual whose cerebral prowess bestrides many domains of knowledge.”
Former Secretary of Delta State Government, Comrade Ovuozourie Macaulay also described Darah as “an inspiration to all of us.”
Also, Mrs. Cecelia Ibru lent her voice to the struggle for a better Niger Delta and urged everyone to emulate Darah. Particularly, she said young people have to be pointed in the direction of acquiring education and persuaded to be part of the dynamics of governance.
“All of us have to rise and support the struggle to make life in the Niger Delta better like Darah,” she said. “Education is important. Let’s support our children’s education. Youth can only own Nigeria by being educated. We need selfless leaders like Mukoro Mowe and my late husband, Olorogun Michael Ibru, to effect our generation. We need young people to go into government, not politics!”
Notable poet and Delta State Commissioner on the board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, said Darah was among the Ife collective of intellectuals committed to bridging town and gown. Ifowodo noted that Darah has been an example of what everyone who “loves his country must do. He is an infectious advocate of the Niger Delta contribution to the nation and to literature. He champions the life of those still writing from JP Clark to us.”
Ifowodo performed a poem from his celebrated collection, Homeland.
Renowned Urhobo expert and American Prof. Pekin Foss was also there to honor Darah.
Renowned printmaker, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, said Darah has contributed immensely in developing the informal sector of the arts through his chairmanship of Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF), with its Harmattan Workshop, which enables participants earn decent living.
His Royal Majesty Ohworode of Olomu, Ovie Richard Ogbon, Ogoni-Oghoro 1, commended Darah’s intellectual prowess and his remarkable contribution to udje scholarship. The royal father also praised Foss for his groundbreaking study of Urhobo.
In their interventions (Odia Ofeimun and Yinka Odumakin were not able to make the event due to flight problems), Prof. Sunny Akpotor called to mind Darah’s total radicalism and how it has served him well. He, however, criticised Darah and his other colleagues from the Niger Delta for not doing enough at the 2014 National Conference. He noted that the region got nothing tangible from the botched conference, as the debate on resource control did not scale through.
Also in his intervention, Dr. William Ehwariame said Darah “is a committed intellectual, who desires to tell the truth and is ready to carry out enquiry. The book is a challenge to us who are scholars. These two qualities – truth and commitment – are becoming scarce even among Nigerian scholars.
“Darah is leaving a great vacuum. We should cease being workers – working for bread and butter – and go to the public arena and speak for all. Until a scholar goes public and speaks for the downtrodden, he remains a private citizen. Darah has gone beyond the comfort of the classroom to the public arena and spoken for the Niger Delta.”
Professor Patrick Moboghare also weighed in on the Niger Delta crisis and said, “A strong advocacy is the only thing that can do it. It was the advocacy for resource control that led to Ibori’s travails. And we must insist that for every cubic metre of gas flared and the fine imposed, 90 per cent of it must go to the communities affected. That is why Tompolo Egbemopolo is important. Others in Nigeria see him as a bad person, but to us in the Niger Delta, he is a useful person. He brought development that had been denied his people to his place.”
Also, an exhibition of sculptures by Dr. Uyouyou Nelson Edewor titled Odeyssey: A Voyage of Discovery was held to celebrate Darah at 70. While conducting guests round the exhibition that showcased the artist’s towering images that recreate Africa’s shrine ambience, Edewor explained to his esteemed guests that Darah and others like him from the Niger Delta have dared to conquer in spite of the harsh environment from which they emerged into the national space. In this wise, four of the titles aptly describe the celebratory mood of the event: ‘Enigmatic Leader’ (wood and fibre trimmings, 10ft), ‘Against All Odds’ (mixed media 11ft), ‘Giant Strides’ (wood and fibre 10ft), and ‘Atiboroko’ (simulated marble 6.5ft).
“Today, Gordini’s (Darah) activist intellectualism, which has earned him the stature of ‘Iroko of letters’ demands a rousing ovation,” Edewor said. “It is on this premise that this exhibition is hinged… In these works, my visual discourse celebrates the scintillating academicism and dance steps of the gentle but fiery ‘masquerade’ that we are celebrating today… The audacity of the likes of G.G Darah’s public intellectualism, I flaunt to the high heavens, the full-bright colours of the ‘Masquerade of Peace…”
Others at the book launch cum colloquium included former Deputy Governor of Delta State, Prof. Amos Otuama, a former Vice Chancellor of University of Benin, Benin City, Emeritus Professor Andrew Onokoreraye, Prof. Tony Afejuku, Chief Patrick Okitiakpe, Prof. Onigu Otite, and Prof. Philip Kwale.