FULL TEXT: Prof. Benjamin Okaba's Welcome Address at the 2024 INC America's Convention in Texas, United States of America

13 May, 2024

Below is the full text of the welcome address delivered by Professor Benjamin Ogele Okaba, President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) Worldwide as Chairman of the May 2024 INC America's Global Ijaw Convention, which held from 10th May to 12th May 2024 at the Hilton Garden Inn Sugar-Land in Greater Houston City of the State of Texas, United States of America. Excerpts:

His Excellency, Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu (GCFR) President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, ably represented by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, the Honorable Minister, of State for Petroleum (Oil); His Excellency, Senator Douye Diri, Governor of Bayelsa State; members of the Nigerian Red and Green Chambers, other top government functionaries present; Royal Fathers; Representatives of the National Executive Council and National representative council of the Ijaw National Congress; the Ijaw Youth Council; Representatives of other Ethnic Nationalities, Chairman and Members of the INC Americas, other Special Guests, dignitaries and delegates, Gentleman of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I feel so delighted and honored to welcome you all to this epochal occasion, the May 2024 INC Americas Global Ijaw Convention hosted by the INC Americas Chapter, ably led by Mr. Kenneth Anga.

I wish to appreciate the Almighty God, whose mercies and grace made this event possible amid diverse challenges faced by the LOC while putting this program together. May I also thank the American Chapter Exco for gallantly hosting this historical three-day program and particularly for the impressive reception accorded all the guests invited from all over the globe. We pray that you sustain this wonderful hospitality all through the duration of this event. I consider the special care and love shown to us as very gratifying, Ado-Nua! Tamarau/Ayiba Tamaratua-apere (Thanks so so much. May God bless you and replenish you all).

Your decision to launch the Ijaw Cultural Centre in Houston Texas is coming at no better time, for it perfectly fits into the INC internationalization and beyond rhetorics agenda. I therefore call on all Ijaws, and friends of our cause to support this project because of the immeasurable benefits it will offer.

Only recently precisely during the 2024 Ijaw National Day celebration held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Congress unveiled and launched the Ijaw Nation Mobile app. While the Ijaw Nation map being produced is ready for public presentation.

We commend the present INC Americas Exco for the deliberate unity, unification and sensitization efforts aimed at bringing ljaws across social, political and economic divides together under the strong umbrella of the ljaw National Congress. I plead with all of us to always identify and promote those virtues that bond us together and de-emphasize those divisive tendencies that pull us apart. Our strength is in our Unity.

I humbly bring you warm felicitations from over 40 million Ijaw people across Europe, the Americas, and Africa in particular the Niger Delta. The 8th National Executive Council of the INC has mandated me to salute the leaders and members of the North American Chapter of the INC for their unalloyed support, commitment, and most valuable contributions to advancing the Ijaw Cause and the Beyond Rhetorics Agenda. We can't afford to forget the very useful input you made during the recent interactive session we had on very topical and sensitive issues bothering our existence and development. We promise to improve the synergy that exists between the parent body and all Diaspora chapters, as we kick-start the INC internationalization scheme.

I equally salute the ingenuity of the LOC in the choice of the theme of this year's event: to This theme is indeed apt and captivating in many respects and ramifications, as it seeks to identify and address the divergent means, methodologies and strategies of rejigging, mobilizing, galvanizing, and repositioning credible and symbiotic linkages and partnership among and between the Ijaws in the Americas, others in Diaspora and their respective families (immediate and extended), communities, neighbors and friends within the global environment; to meet their developmental needs in a mutually beneficial manner. No individual / community can be an Island all to itself, no matter their accomplishments. We need one another to be stronger and greater.

Suffice it to say that despite the God-given enormous human and natural resources of the Ijaws, who are equally ranked among the four largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Ijaw Nation, the focus of this conversation, is badly impoverished, brutally balkanized, neglected, and undermined by successive administrations in Nigeria-even before independence. The Ijaw local economy is badly inarticulated. This is worsened by the lack of meaningful wealth creation / empowerment and employment opportunities.

The Ijaw ecosystem, to say the least, the worst ever anywhere in the world, has continuously faced unmitigated catastrophes arising largely from oil and gas exploitation-related pollution without any reasonable form of remediation and compensation. The Ijaws suffer a Slave and Stranger Status in a nation where they are aboriginal and the producers of its economic mainstay.

The grievances of injustice that provoked the originators of the Ijaw struggle for self-determination (King Jaja of Opobo, Adaka Boro, Harold Dapple, Biriye, etc.), do not only persist but are getting worse with every passing day, despite the peaceful and civil engagement mechanisms we have adopted in recent times, following the 2021 All Ijaw Summit resolutions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, permit me to leverage on this rare opportunity to restate, as we have done on several occasions, that what the Ijaw Nation demands is simply Resource and Environmental Justice, a fair and justifiable economic and political regime, that guarantees us- (individually and collectively), a free and prosperous society where we own, control and manage our natural resources following well-established derivation principles and the practice of true federalism. Suffice to reiterate that, if the prescient conditions we have set for ourselves as a people of Good Conscience are continuously undermined, we shall have no option than to embark on a peaceful exit from the Nigerian State.

It has also become obvious that the efforts of the government at the Federal, State, and Local Government levels and those of the few public-spirited wealthy Ijaw men and women alone, cannot cope with the enormity of the multi-faceted challenges faced by the Ijaw Nation, hence the dire need for well-coordinated partnership between the Ijaws in diaspora and those at home.

At this point, let me attempt to provide some insightful remarks on the need for collaboration between Ijaws in the diaspora and those at home to inspire or guide further interventions from other resource persons and discussants here present:

a. Diaspora linkages, which imply the engagement of people in transactions that occur within transnational space, must of necessity, be seen to be bi-directional.

b. There is a pressing need to delve into broader and more profound avenues of collaboration that extend beyond traditional remittances and philanthropy. This should encompass advocacy, political and cultural investments, as well as the identification of opportunities, gaps, and issues for discussion regarding future directions.

c. Finally, I urge the resource persons and discussants to consider developing policies that would help create an enabling environment for Diaspora participation, investments, and development of their ancestral home.

In conclusion, I wish to welcome all dignitaries, stakeholders, and participants to this Convention, including those yet to arrive, and wish all of us peaceful and fruitful deliberations. I have the firm assurance that the resolutions we shall take in this Convention shall have far-reaching positive impacts on our collective existence as a people.

It is against this backdrop that I formally declare the May 2024 INC AMERICAS CONVENTION open.

Thank you and God bless.

President, ljaw National Congress World-Wide

#penglobalspeech #INC

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