Professor Ebieberi Joe Alagoa is an Emeritus Professor of History from the University of Ibadan. The octogenaraian academic in this interview with SONY NEME is angry with politicians for allowing immorality to derail the standards set to make Nigeria a great nation. Excerpts…
At 84, are you satisfied with the way things are in the coiuntry?
At independence, the University of Ibadan tried to set some standards for politicians. It was against that background that we expected the country to operate from, but the politicians largely disappointed us, and I know that was the background to the coup of 1966, because there were quite a few number of University of Ibadan people among those young people.
When I started a family and raised David, we set a standard for him and the girl that came after him. When his younger sister came, I actually named her Ebiene, meaning she had been born at a point that good time had come.
That was my hope for Nigeria that it was going to be a good place. Soon after that, the civil war broke out with its attendant calamities. So for lot of us, we had hopes and a high standard set for ourselves.
Though we tried to keep them in our own private lives and the things that we had to do in our profession and so on, but leadership has turned out to become a huge disappointment. These are the things that make us sad about our country.
What are your specific pains about Nigeria in general and Niger Delta in particular?
When oil was discovered in the Niger Delta, we had hopes that we were going to move Nigeria forward at independence. The first Central Bank governor, or so, actually said, we had so much money, but the problem was what to do with it.
However, very soon, the politicians knew what to do with it, although not for the common people. Of course these are great disappointments. Also, the politicians allow the oil companies operate on their own.
When you compare what is happening here with other places like Saudi Arabia, USA and elsewhere that oil exploration is taking place, government and citizens of those countries are in control of their wealth.
And they use it the way they want for the development of their communities. They hire people to explore their oil and pay them accordingly. But here, we have the oil companies that took over our resources.
We don’t even know the amount of crude oil that is going out, we are not in control. As if that is not enough, the things they do to where the oil is coming from are unimaginable. The environmental damage is even worse than the neglect, sharing formular and the meager 13 per cent derivation funds. Yet the environmental impact is even deeper and longer lasting.
Could you shed more light into your professorship in history?
My professorship is not about political history, mine is cultural history. I grew up in a very small village with my grandmother who was a cultural icon. I was fired with an imagination to try and present that and put in a form that will instruct the generations of the people, and showcase same to the world.
That was my ambition and I am proud of what I was able to achieve with that as I happened to be the pioneer of oral traditional history in Nigeria. I have put the history of Niger Delta together in a form that that had become acceptable, and a standard and I feel I have served my people to the best of my ability.
Looking at the political situation today, how would you assess the political elites?
The terrible thing I see is that most people who go into politics want to enrich themselves not to serve. They pursue things that are unneccessary not things that are sustainable and can serve the peoples at the grassroots, not even programmes that will lift the people.
That is the way I see them operating, which is very sad, and that is why the nation makes very little progress. There may be some gigantic projects that are so beautiful and so on, but how does that uplifts the lives of the ordinary people.
Does it improve the condition of lives and does it improve on the way the people think of themselves? It doesn’t serve the needs of the people. For several decades we have wasted the resources from crude oil and we have left our real resources underdeveloped. We have an economy that cannot stand the test of time.
How would you assess Ijaw leaders, taking their peculiar terrain into consideration?
The problems of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) are politically induced, because the political class want to control them so that they would leave them in the control of the resources.
And they will disburse them as they deem fit, not as they should be. So it has to do with the caliber and orientation of the leaders. My advice is that they have to be people who are devoted, committed to serve their people, committed to serve their communities and committed for grassroots developments. We need people of character that can’t be swayed by personal gains.
Culturally, how can the people of South South enhance their economy?
They have to work together and work with neighbouring communities and states. They need to have a national outlook not just narrow interests. They have to understand the long term interest of the country, they must not commit to a partisan outlook.
They must have to go back to the visions of the founding fathers, who generally had visions for the whole country, such as; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the NEPU leader, Malam Aminu Kano.
Their views were that of a united country, not that of a narrow interest of domination, preeminence but that of national interest that will attract the international community. you have the interest of your community, but unite it in a way that other regions will key in easily.
Could you recall one of your special moments in life?
The most recent is that I celebrated my birthday on a Good Friday, I was born on a Good Friday, and I clocked 84 years on a Good Friday. It is supposed to be a unique day, but my best companion, my wife, left me in this world since November last year.
She left me alone to reap all that she worked better than me to build. However, it is great feeling seeing my children and grandchildren doing very well on a sound footing, it makes me happy.
What does your name, Ebieberi, means?
My name Ebieberi means good news. When my mother gave birth to me in my grandmother’s little village, Ewoama, located between Brass and Okpoama (in present day Bayelsa State), where Agip terminal is located; when the news got to my grandmother, she said, ‘that is good news’. That was where I got the name.
How was your growing up years?
I grew up in that Niger Delta setting with my grandmother. She was a herbalist, looking after women’s health needs. She was a celebrity as women gathered around her in the evenings for different kinds of assistance as well; a real communal leader in every sense.
That is where I grew up. Thereafter I came to live with my father who was a chief, a trader and a Christian. Then I developed a sense of commitment for my community and my culture. That was even before I went to the Government college, Umuahia, which was one of the best in the country.
There were no discriminations. Everybody was treated same way. You couldn’t tell a child who came from a very poor home from that from a rich home. You were assessed by what you did and your character, you are your achievements.
That was the kind of school that I attended, and everybody who came out from there was different. From there I went to the University College, Ibadan, the first Nigerian university, where we set for ourselves the same standard as Cambridge, and anywhere else. They were very few then, anyway.