Some ethnic leaders have transformed their lives from being wretched to millionaires while donning the garbs of human rights activists, writes TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE
On May 29, 2019, Nigeria celebrated 20 years of uninterrupted civilian administration in the country. Without any iota of doubt, the day was worth celebrating considering that this is the first time, the country is having long years of uninterrupted civilian administration since it gained independence on October 1, 1960.
The struggle for return of democracy on May 29, 1999 was not a smooth one considering the huge sacrifice made by many patriots, heroes and heroines. While many of them were lucky to be alive to see the dividends of their struggle, some died in the cause of the struggle and some till date are still counting their loses.
The struggle for democracy in Nigeria gave boldness to many ethnic nationality leaders and activists coming out courageously to defend the cause of their people and demanded better living conditions for their people. It was the struggle for democracy, good governance, restructuring and justice for all ethnic groups Nigeria that gave birth to many ethnic and militant groups in different parts of the country.
While some groups carried out their agitation in a peaceful manner, some use violence to get attention of the government to plight of their ethnic groups.
There was no doubt that some of the ethnic groups’ leaders paid the supreme price in the course of the struggle considering how many people were killed, maimed, and properties worth billions of naira destroyed during the struggle by agents of government. But today, people believe that some people have been able to feed fat on the ethnic violence, considering their status then and who they are today.
During the struggle, some of the ethnic leaders could hardly afford three square meals daily or comfortable to provide basic needs for themselves and families, but today, they are millionaires and billionaires, while some are business gurus, politicians or traditional rulers.
Among those people who many people believed feed fat on ethnic violence were the late founder and leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Fredericks Fasehun; National Coordinator of OPC now Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams; Asari Dokubo; Ralph Uwazurike; Government Tompolo; Ebikabowei Boyloaf; Nnamdi Kanu and Atom Ateke, among several others.
Gani Adams: From OPC factional leader to Yoruba generalissimo
Iba Gani Adams, the Aare Onakankafo of Yorubaland was among the eminent Yoruba sons who stood firmly in the defence of their fatherland in times of trouble. He was actively involved in the struggle for the revalidation of annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election as well as enthronement of democracy and return of Nigeria to democratic rule on May 29, 1999.
Adams was born on April 30, 1970 at Arigidi-Akoko in Akoko North-West Local Government Area of Ondo State. He started his education at the Army Children’s School, Otukpo, Benue State, before his father moved to Lagos, where he completed his primary education at Municipal Primary School, Surulere, in 1980. He proceeded to Ansar-Ud-deen Secondary School, Randle Avenue, Surulere and later trained in furniture-making and interior decoration, which he completed in 1987. Upon completion, he was employed by an Italian construction company, Visinoni Stabilini at Apapa, Lagos and later resigned from the organisation to start his own business. In addition to his vocational training, Adams also obtained diplomas at the International Aviation School, Ghana, and Lagos State University.
His quest for a better society and defence of the rights of the oppressed made him joined pro-democracy movement in the 1990s and served as the Public Relations Officer of the Mushin Local Government chapter of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in 1993. He is a founding member of the OPC and was the first deputy national coordinator of the group led then by Dr. Fredericks Fasehun.
The internal wrangling in OPC led to division in the group. The two factions, which emerged, were led by Fasehun and Adams respectively. Based on several violent activities traced to OPC members and their incessant clashes with the police in some parts of Lagos, Adams was declared wanted in 2000 by the police authorities for the alleged murder of Afolabi Amao, a divisional police officer at the Bariga Police Station in Lagos.
Adams was arrested a year after he was declared wanted. He detained in prison for several months. Adams went through a lot of travail during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration until he was released after several protects and appeals by groups and individuals. The groups included the Ayodele Akele’s Free Gani Adams Group, which led the campaign for the release of the OPC National Coordinator.
After his release, Adams did not relent in his efforts in defending the cause of the Yoruba and his campaign for the growth and development of Yoruba sons and daughters as well as the Yoruba nation made him win the hearts of many people. He later founded Oodua Progressives Union (OPU), which is presently in over 50 nations in the world, to cater for the interest of Yoruba in the Diaspora. Adams is also the chief promoter of Olokun Festival, a group, which is promoting major festivals and traditions in Yorubaland.
Having given all he has to the emancipation of the Yoruba race and promotion of Yoruba culture and tradition, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, conferred the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo on Adams in 2018.
Explaining the rationale behind his decision, Oba Adeyemi said Adams was selected for his contributions to the promotion of the Yoruba culture. According to him, the new generalissimo of Yorubaland possesses “three virtues” important to the Yoruba. “Manliness, courage, and patriotic zeal (not political ambition or opportunism), were three virtues respected in Yorubaland, even during the Yoruba warfare in the 19th Century,” he said.
Faith seems to reward Adams for his effort in the struggle for the revalidation of the annulled June 12 presidential election because his predecessor was Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of that election. Adams became Aare 19 years after Abiola’s death.
Without any iota of doubt, Adams has benefitted immensely from his struggle for his ethnic group. The struggle has thrown him up to be one of the most respected and prominent Yoruba, not only in Nigeria but globally, considering his exploits in the last few years. Today, he commands and leads millions of Yoruba in different parts of the world.
Mujahid Dokubo-Asari: Militant turns businessman
Mujahid Dokubo-Asari’s name rings bell in Niger Delta region as one of the defenders of the interest of the people of the region. He is a major political figure of the Ijaw ethnic group and served as president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and later founded the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), which was one of the most prominent armed groups operating in the Niger Delta region.
Dokubo-Asari was born as Dokubo Melford Goodhead (Jr), to a high court judge on June 1, 1964 but later converted to Islam and changed his name to Mujahid Dokubo-Asari. He is the first of six children and had a middle-class upbringing in a Christian home. Dokubo-Asari, who had his primary and secondary education in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, gained admission to study Law in the University of Calabar, Cross River State but dropped out in his third year in 1990 after repeated clashes with university authorities. He made another attempts to complete his education but his activism caused him to quit his studies at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
In 1992, because of his quest to serve his people in public office, Dokubo-Asari attempted to contest for a seat in the Rivers State House of Assembly but the ambition failed. His ambition of becoming chairman of Asari-Toru Local Government Area in 1998 also didn’t see the light of the day. Prior to Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1998, Dokubo-Asari and other Ijaw sons founded Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), and emerged as the first vice-president of the group. In November 1998, the IYC issued the “Kiama Declaration”, demanding control of the oil resources from the Niger Delta by the people of the Niger Delta.
In the “Kaiama Declaration,” IYC expressed long-held Ijaw concerns about the loss of control of their homeland and their own lives to the Nigerian state and oil companies operating in the region. The group, through the “Kiama Declaration” and a letter addressed in respect of that to oil companies, called on them to suspend operations and withdraw from Ijaw territory. The IYC pledged “to struggle peacefully for freedom, self-determination and ecological justice,” and prepared a campaign of celebration, prayer, and direct action – ‘Operation Climate Change’ beginning December 28 of that year.
Following the declaration, there was an immediate crackdown on the body by the government. Dokubo-Asari later became president of the IYC in 2001 and immediately changed the slogan of council to “Resource Control and Self-Determination By Every Means Necessary.” As IYC president, he was very vocal in defending the Ijaw people and Niger Delta citizens in general.
In continuation of his determination of better life for people of Niger Delta, which is laying the golden eggs, which Nigeria depends on for economic survival, in 2004, Dokubo-Asari founded the NDPVF. And through the group, he continued pressing the demands for resource control as well as joining other eminent voices in Nigeria to call for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to discuss the place of the Ijaw people in the country.
Due to the pressure from NDPVF, which resulted in a massive drop in oil production of 30,000 barrels per day and pushing up the price of petroleum worldwide significantly, former President Obasanjo, who was at the helms of affairs then called Asari and the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), Ateke Tom, to Abuja for peace talks which were in large part a failure. Base on his public support for self-determination of his native Ijaw people and independence for the Niger Delta, Dokubo-Asari was later arrested and charged with treason by the Federal Government. But despite his incarceration, he never changed his commitment to the Niger Delta struggle and while in detention, he associated himself with other nationalists and Civil Society Organisations to take part in the Sovereign National Conference convened in Lagos by Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO). On June 14, 2007, Asari was released on bail as part of new President Umaru Yar’Adua’s pledge to try and bring peace to the Niger Delta region.
As part of Yar’Adua amnesty incentives to eliminate terrorist activities in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government awarded massive cash rewards to Dokubo-Asari and other militant leaders of the Niger Delta. Asari later received an annual cash payment of $10 million from Abuja as part of the federal “pipeline security protection fee” to protect the Rivers State pipelines and creeks that the terrorists bombed, kidnapped and killed the workers and guards in the areas.
In 2013, Dokubo-Asari became a citizen of Benin Republic. He then moved his wealth and assets out of the Niger Delta, Nigeria and relocated to Cotonou, Benin Republic where he built several schools, colleges and a university in Cotonou.
Ateke Tom: Militant turns traditional ruler
Ateke Tom was former leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), an Ijaw militia group. He was actively involved in the campaign for resource control and fought tirelessly in ensuring that government presence is felt in the Niger Delta region. Having being able to get attention of government to the plight of the Niger Delta people through different activities, Tom in August 2007, after several days of gun fights between various militia groups and security forces in Port Harcourt, wrote to then Governor Celestine Omehia of Rivers State, requesting for amnesty in response to an offer of clemency and rehabilitation government had offered to militia who surrendered.
On October 1, 2009 during the 49th anniversary of the Nigerian Independence and three days before the closing of Federal Government amnesty programme, Tom willingly surrendered to President Musa Yar’Adua at the Government House, Abuja. The presidential jet was sent to fly him to Abuja, and his decision was commended by the President.
“Today, Chief Ateke Tom you have given me my 49th Independence anniversary gift and I cherish it so much,” President Yar’Adua stated the day Tom surrendered and embraced the amnesty programme.
He later became a leader in the Niger Delta region and was later crowned as the paramount ruler of Okochiri Kingdom in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Ralph Uwazuruike: Championed Biafra
Ralph Uwazuruike, who hails from Okwe in Imo State, is the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a group which canvassed for the secession and sovereignty of Igbo. He founded MASSOB in 1999, a few months after the elections that produced President Olusegun Obasanjo. The group kicked off at Uwazuruike’s Temple of Peace residence in Lagos State and recorded a jump in membership in its first few weeks.
Uwazuruike was particularly enthralled, in his school days, by books on Mahatma Gandhi which influenced his decision to study in India. He studied Political Science at Panjab University, and then Law at Bombay University, India, after which he enrolled at the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1991.
Based on his several agitations and activities of MASSOB, which at a point became unbearable for the Federal Government, there were clampdowns on the group and Uwazuruike was arrested and detained on several occasions on charges of unlawful gathering and disturbance of public peace.
Uwazuruike’s longest spell in detention was to come in 2005 when he was arrested in his Okwe hometown by policemen. He was charged with treason and remained in prison detention for two years after a protracted bail hearing at the Federal High Court, Abuja, before Justice Binta Nyako. The then Attorney-General of the Federation, Bayo Ojo, SAN, appeared in person for the government while Mike Ahamba, SAN, represented the defendant before being replaced by Festus Keyamo.
The case did not proceed to the trial stage as the first two years were spent hearing Uwazuruike’s bail application. Nyako eventually granted him three-month bail to enable him to bury his mother who had died during his incarceration. In 2011, Uwazuruike and 280 MASSOB members were arrested in Enugu at an event in honour of Ojukwu. He was released on the orders of then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Nnamdi Kanu: Championed secession of Igbo
Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian political activist, who was born on September 25, 1967, is the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which advocates a sovereign state for the Igbo speaking people of Nigeria as well as those from the South-South region, who fall within Biafra. Kanu, as part of the strategy put in place by him to propagate his group campaign, served as the director of a London-based radio station named Radio Biafra.
Following the manner at which he was embarking on his campaign, attacking government and making some inflammatory statement, Kanu was arrested on treason charges in Lagos on October 14, 2015 and was detained without trial for more than a year-and-a-half, despite various court orders that ruled for his release. The news of the arrest of Kanu generated protests across parts of Delta, Enugu, Rivers, Cross River, Abia, Imo and Anambra states.
When in court, he appeared regularly wearing a Jewish prayer shawl and head covering. He said in court that he “believes in Judaism” and considers himself a Jew. He was released from prison on bail on April 28, 2017.
Kanu was born in Isiama Afara, Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. His father is His Royal Majesty, Eze Israel Okwu Kanu (JP), and his mother is Ugoeze Nnenne Kanu. He attended Library Avenue Primary School (now part of Government House, Umuahia) and went to Government College, Umuahia for his secondary education. He later gained admission to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) but left after two years. He moved to London and studied Political Economics at London Guildhall University now called London Metropolitan University (LMU).
Kanu disappeared from public after his home was raided by the Nigerian military in September 2017. He later resurfaced in Israel and following his reappearance, the court revoked his bail. But till date he is yet to appear in court.
Government Ekpemupolo Tompolo: battling with EFCC
Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo was born on April 12, 1971 to a royal family in Okerenkoko, the traditional Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State. He served as the Commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). For years, Tompolo was a commander in various guerrilla groups in the Niger Delta which were all agitating against the insensitivity of the Federal Government and the international oil companies to exploitation and degradation of the Niger Delta. Tompolo’s wealth was derived mainly from oil bunkering. He played a major role in founding both MEND and also his own fighters. Tompolo embraced amnesty on October 4, 2009, in order to allow for peace in Niger Delta and for government and oil companies to carry out development projects, and provide jobs and training.
Tompolo had his basic education at Okepopo Primary School in Warri. In 1993, he dropped out of college and joined a resistance group in the Niger Delta. In 1998, he became a member of Ijaw Youth Council. He later joined MEND. Tompolo’s invitation to the leader of NDPVF, Dokubo-Asari, to take refuge in Delta State in 2005 helped precipitate the formation of MEND soon afterwards. Tompolo quickly rose to become a high commander in MEND and with his vast wealth he was able to provide a lot of support for the group. Under the auspices of MEND, he was able to drive the Nigerian government to grant amnesty to MEND members who decided to surrender.
Tompolo was granted full amnesty as well as all of his men when he embraced the Federal Government amnesty offer under President Yar’Adua on June 27, 2009.
He was very active during the administration of President Jonathan. In January 2016 an arrest warrant for him was issued on charges of theft and money laundering. He is presently at large but battling with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) case.
Ebikabowei Victor-Ben Boyloaf: Leaving large
Ebikabowei Victor-Ben, popularly known as “Boyloaf” was born in 1971. He was a former commander of the MEND at a point he was one of the highest-ranked commanders in MEND. He joined MEND in 2006 and soon rose to prominence in the ranks of MEND due to his expert commanding skills and was ranked 3rd highest in the ranks of MEND after Dokubo-Asari and Henry Okah. The name Boyloaf became well known throughout the Niger Delta. Boyloaf recruited hundreds of men and turned them into well-trained soldiers. By 2008 Boyloaf had influence over many soldiers and people throughout the Niger Delta region.
Boyloaf was arrested but soon released. He was arrested again on January 13, 2012 after a car bomb had exploded in a town he had been in the previous day. Again he was released soon after. In late 2012 Boyloaf began promoting the President Goodluck Jonathan for the 2015 election. Due to the spike in MEND’s activities in early 2013 Boyloaf was yet again arrested on February 4, 2013 and again released soon after. Even though Boyloaf’s days of militancy are far behind him he says that if there is no progress in the Niger Delta and the people of the delta continue to suffer he will return to fighting.
He officially wedded his long-time girlfriend, Onyi Maris (with whom he has a daughter), in Houston Texas on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
Frederick Fasehun: Abandoned stereoscope for activism
The late Frederick Fasehun, who was born on September 21, 1935 and died on December 1, 2018, was the founder and leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).
The Ondo-born medical doctor turned activist, studied science at Blackburn College and furthered his education at Aberdeen University College of Medicine. He also studied at the Liverpool Postgraduate School after which he had a Fellowship at the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1976, he studied Acupuncture in China under a joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Development Scholarship Programme.
In 1977, he set up an Acupuncture Unit at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. He resigned in 1978 and immediately set up the Besthope Hospital and Acupuncture Centre in Lagos. The Acupuncture Centre once earned a reputation as Africa’s first for the Chinese medical practice.
During the June 12 annulment struggle, he was an executive member of the Campaign for Democracy (CD). In the thick of CD’s crisis in early 1994, several factions put pressures on Fasehun to assume chairmanship. He declined, asserting in characteristic humility that “one can work effectively and successfully for the uplift of any organisation by being in the background”. He then campaigned for Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti to be returned.
Fasehun, in 1993, founded the Movement for Social and Economic Justice (MOSEJ), emerging as its national chairman. He is the founder of OPC whose agitation against injustice and extrajudicial killing as well as resistance to perceive ploy to waste the Yoruba nation has become legendary. A noiseless but adroit negotiator, Fasehun pointedly rejected Head of State Sani Abacha’s request to have him serve in his military dictatorship.
He was one of the three leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) who staged the rally for Abiola after the latter claimed his mandate as President of Nigeria. Fasehun was imprisoned for 19 months from December 1996 to June 1998 during the military rule of Abacha, only ending 18 days after Abacha’s death.
Base on his agitation and tireless effort in OPC, especially on the issue of security and defending the Yoruba, Fasehun won the heart of President Goodluck Jonathan and was given a pipeline protection contract to provide security for pipelines in the South-West. The contract was subjected to a lot of controversies and politicking, which didn’t make the contract to be effective.
Prior to the 2015 general elections, Fasehun went fully into politics and later served as the National Chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He died in the intensive care unit of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja on December 1, 2018.
Speaking with New Telegraph, Adams said he was still paying his dues in the democratic struggle.
He said: “When you are in struggle, there would always be a rough road. There is no way that you fight a struggle that it will not get rough and when you fight a struggle and you don’t compromise, God will now reward you; not reaping, it is the reward from God. Even though when you fight for a village or community, God will reward you, not talk of fighting for a nation. God will think about the risk you took during the process of the struggle and you don’t compromise.
“Why can’t you say (Bola) Tinubu feed fat? Why can’t you say (Kayode) Fayemi feed fat? They are products of the struggle. We have not even got our own bargain of the fat. Those are the people we feed fat from the struggle. I have never been a governor. Even been Aare Ona Kakanfo, I couldn’t collect salary from the government. I am still in the struggle because I don’t collect salary from government.
“For the first time, because most of the oil that is coming in Atlas Cove is being taken away by bandits and the bunkering, the government decided that let us give it to all ethnic nationality groups. The worth of the contract was N1,960,000,000. We did that contract for a period of three months and we handed over to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). When the All Progressives Congress (APC) government came, they said they won’t pay that money. It was even the Vice President that allowed part of the money to be paid. They paid only 30 per cent of the money; just N600 million, which was not even up to the amount of salary of the people that worked; 5,000 each for three months. And NNPC said we should pay them N70,000, which is their standard.
“We lost one person and about 20 people seriously wounded during the three months because the job of securing pipeline is a job of mafia. They paid us just 30 per cent. I didn’t do anything that is illegal. So, I am still paying dues, I haven’t got my gain.”
Also speaking, the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said the likes of Dokubo-Asari, Fasehun, Adams and Uwazurike deserved whatever status they had achieved in their ethnic groups and Nigeria at large because they sacrificed a lot for the betterment of the people in their respective ethnic groups.
But he said that why those he mentioned deserved whatever they got, that could not be said of Tompolo, Kanu and others, who according to him didn’t do much to deserve the accolades and wealth they enjoyed today.
He said: “It is not what you think. Dokubo-Asari does sleep in my room and up till today whenever he comes to Lagos, he does sleep in my room. We were together in the struggle; the same thing with Gani Adams. They are my comrades and we were together in the struggles. Nnamdi Kanu was even very small among us. I knew when he used to meet Uwazuruike. Ralph was our contemporary at that time. Gani, Dokubo-Asari, Ralph Uwazuruike and I were together at that time though I am the youngest among them. Those are the people we grew up together.
“Nnamdi Kanu was not even in our class. He was never part of any struggle. It is media that created him to be a monster. If all these guys are millionaires today, what is wrong in that? Dokubo-Asari benefitted from his brother, former President Goodluck Jonathan, when he was in government and he enjoyed his patronage. It is their right. What is wrong in President Buhari making me like Dokubo-Asari?”
In his response to the issues of some human rights activists and ethnic nationality leaders feeding fat on ethnic violence, a human rights lawyer, who was the founding National Secretary of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Comrade Femi Aborisade, said: “Our concentration should be more at government. Should we for example also choose to focus on human rights activists who have turned it into ‘human rice’ affair and enriching themselves? In spite of the shortcomings, I will prefer we look for issues to attack government not shortcomings in the non-governmental organisations.”
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