Fourteen Days in Bayelsa State, Nigeria

Alanna Hartzok



[Reprinted from GroundSwell, March-April 2005]


Following is a day by day log of a two week journey to Bayelsa State, Nigeria hosted by Georgist colleague and leader, Gordon Abiama and his wife, Rose. and below that, the short talk given by Odi King Shine Apre at the launching ceremony.

Day 1 (Nov. 27, 2004) -- Fly into Lagos; our hosts, Gordon Abiama and his wife Rose, meet Annie Goeke, the other Co-Director of Earth Rights Institute and myself at the airport. We drive through the city at night, the air heavily polluted with toxic fumes.

Beautifully dressed women walking amidst impoverished and ugly degraded environment. Little kerosene lamps along the side of the road light up small trade stands. Children everywhere frenetically trying to sell things to motorists. We stay over at Gordon’s brother’s house. The household is watching Animal Planet on TV at one point.

Day 2 (Nov. 28th) -- We head off to Odi in the morning, about nine hours drive as needed to stop twice along the way for car repairs by bush mechanics. Odi is off main road, lush greenery amidst the burned out remains of buildings and more newly repaired houses. We will stay in a large house, powered by an electric generator as the village generator does not work. There are pipes for running water but the waterworks also do not work, so our bathing water supply will be brought in buckets from the well near the house. We meet King Shine Apre at his palace in Odi. He is most gracious. In the evening we go Yenegoa to birthday party of Rev. Dr. Prosper Ayawei, Bayelsa State NGO Liaison and the church General Overseer. The party is at a Vision Apostolic Ministries church which is also celebrating its anniversary. Choir and a band, speeches. I am asked to give the closing prayer.

Day 3 (Nov. 29) -- Walking with Arabi, a teacher and ecovillage team member through main street of Odi, it is Monday, Market Day, and there is a lively and colorful street scene, many tables with various food and clothing and other essential items. We buy material for skirt wraps. Arabi shows us the burned remains of her family home, then takes us to the room where she now lives during the week while she is teaching in Odi. She shows us her yam field, fish drying kitchen, and small catfish ponds. A woman gives me okra seeds which I intend to plant in my home garden. Later we go to Yenegoa to meet with about 25 members of Bayelsa State Women’s Council.

Afterwards we see Professor Buseri passing in his car on the street, as Niger Delta University administrative offices are on the same block. He invites us to dinner in a few days.

Day 4 (Nov. 30) -- Much excitement. This is the big event - the Odi Ecovillage/ Odi Green City Launching Ceremony. Gordon has had an elaborate banner made which is grandly visible at the entry way. We arrive at a green grassy square with canopies shading seating areas. Odi’s King Shine Apre, the Regional King Joshua Igbagara, dignitaries from Nigerian federal government of Abuja, Bayelsa State Assembly, Local Government, Ministry of Science and Technology. Speeches for several hours, then drums and high school girls dance for us, followed by financial pledging ceremony. Hundreds of thousands of nairas were given or pledged. Then we walk to site of the planned Odi Ecovillage and do a stone laying ceremony which is a special marker giving date and details of this important event. We look about and see a lush jungle site with a natural clearing for the future fish pond. Gordon points out areas where the buildings will be built.

In evening we meet with Ecovillage Team members who did such a great job with the Launching Ceremony. Victoria, Pria, Juliana, Ebey, Sambo, Truman, Arabie, Imomotimi, Powereza, and Eugene from Lagos. Our agenda is Post Launch Review; there was 607,000 Nairas pledged (51,000 cash received) and donations in kind. Organizational Set-up; Membership; Collaboration; Next Steps. (Speeches of King Shine and others will be on www.earthrights.net Nigeria section.)

Day 5 (Dec. 1) -- Jonathan Dawson leaves for his consulting work in Abia State. He is Europe/Africa Global Ecovillage Network coordinator. We explore Odi some more then meet again with Odi Ecovillage team members, distributing purses and other gifts, happily received. Rose is cooking our meals which we eat either at her house or where we are staying nearby. Rose or Gordon’s son Ebey fetch our bathing water from the well in several green plastic buckets which we put in the bathtub. The house is plumbed and has electric wiring but Odi does not manage to supply either running water or electric power. Some houses which have been rebuilt since the destruction in 1999 have their own generators. The second night our generator cord burns through, so we manage with flashlights (they call them torches) and kerosene lanterns. The mosquitos are surprisingly few, thank heavens. I take Wu, a Chinese medicine, whenever I feel I might be getting at all sick. Thankfully Annie and I stayed healthy throughout the trip.

Day 6 (Dec. 2) -- To radio station in Yenegoa. We set up interview upcoming. We attempt to exchange travelers checks unsuccessfully, ditto for ATM machine for credit cards. The only way to deal with financial exchange in Nigeria is with cash, we discover. We meet the Odi ecovillage launch photographer in a bank and he gives us several beautiful photos. Next door at a little restaurant was the Odi Ecovillage Chairman, Dr. Sami Ebiye, who we chatted with a while. Then to Mr. Waggs bank where we had a good discussion of alternative technologies, photovoltaics, uses of bamboo, etc., then to his office at Bayelsa State government where he serves as personal assistant to Solomon Aprela, the Finance Commissioner. Waggs showed us the book where he had the documents for our book and computer donations work of this year.

Just so happens that while in office of Aprela, live CNN of Pres. Bush meeting with Nigerian President Obasanjo, discussing security etc. issues. It was apparently their 10th meeting. Then to Creek Motel and Restaurant, government owned, Lebanese managed, Nigerian cook, dinner arranged for by Professor Buseri. Register Aprela gave very nice talk of appreciation for the efforts of Earth Rights Institute to procure donations of books and computers to Bayelsa State government which supplied same to Niger Delta University. Internationally known author Oronto Douglas also came for a while.

Day 7 (Friday, Dec. 3) -- Ten of us travel to Songhai Delta in Delta State. (Songhai was an ancient African kingdom). This is a training center for rural development. We stay overnight in newly constructed brick buildings. There is running water, air conditioning, and small TV sets in each room. Problem is, the electricity does not work very well. Some rooms it is not working at all. Management people assist us in trading rooms around and we manage to have a good nights sleep.

Day 8 (Saturday, Dec. 4) -- In the morning we have a formal tour. The set-up includes large areas of several kinds of foul — chickens, geese, turkeys, quail; fish ponds; a critter called "grasscutters" which seem to be like a ground hog; crafts shop; vegetable gardens; processing and bottling area for soya milk and ginger and fruit juices; a substantial conference building with a capacity for 300 people; and a telecommunications center with about 20 computers. The purpose is to train young people in particular so that they can develop livelihoods in their villages. Micro-credit is a feature as well. We were rather disappointed however in the fare at the African Restaurant on the premises, especially after viewing all the food production areas. But it is overall a good educational center for rural life and had some useful models for Odi Ecovillage Living and Learning Center.

We leave Songhai Delta around 3:00 pm. At about 4:00 we get into traffic jam which lasts four excruciating hours. A Nigerian traffic jam is one of the least pleasant experiences of my life. To keep from going insane I play Christmas carols on my flute and some join in singing Joy to the World, et.al. Finally arrive back in Odi around 9:30 pm.

Day 9 (Sunday, Dec. 5) -- Gordon's son Ebie takes us on a walk to Odi ecovillage landsite where we gleefully discover a spring, then to Truman Abiama's house (Truman is cousin of Gordon). Truman then walked us to his school where he is principal for several hundred students. His office is nearly bare with hardly any paper or writing implements. Student classrooms have chalk boards and chalk but little else. Students all neatly dressed in uniforms and seemed well-disciplined. We continue our walk to end of Odi where there is sand mining operation. Then we walk to the River Nun. Annie and I swim. Then we ask two boys to take us in their dugout canoe across this wide river over to an island. After exploring the island a bit, we cross back over the river. Walking home, the harmonica player from General Alaska’s band greets us on the street. We dance a bit and continue on our way back to our place of residence in Odi. I think this was the night Annie and Eugene entertain us by dancing to General Alaska’s music.

Day 10 (Monday, Dec. 6) -- Waggs takes Gordon, Eugene, Annie, myself and a few others on a speedboat ride out of Yenegoa through network of delta rivers. We sped past fishing villages, palm trees and mangroves to Akassa, Waggs home village which he had not visited for several years. Our first stop was at a center for village development where we exchanged ideas with the staff which included volunteers from Philippines and California. In another area of Akasa there were old buildings and railroad tracks used for both the slave trade and the palm oil trade dating back to mid-1800s. Waggs took us to graveyard where whites were buried during those years. We visited Waggs elder brother who had been responsible for the education of his younger siblings. After lunching on meat pies and Mr. Biggs chicken and rice (Mr. Biggs is British version of McDonalds) we headed further out to the ocean before traveling the two hours back through the very scenic delta river and stream network to Yenegoa, then by car back to Odi.

Day 11 (Tuesday, Dec. 7) -- Bayelsa State Radio - one hour interview. Interviewer had done his homework and asked very substantial and informed questions of Annie, Gordon and myself. Afterwards we stop for coffee at what appeared to be a promising outdoor food pavilion but instant Nescafe with a small can of milk was a bit of a let-down. Then we visit at Gordon's office of Centre for Geoclassical Economics, viewing shelves full of Progress and Poverty, Social Problems, and other books by Henry George. He has several students and is working with the Henry George Institute. We then spend two hours at internet center doing email. Returning to Odi, we pay a pleasant farewell visit to the King of Odi, who expressed gratitude and support for our endeavors.

Day 12 (Wed. Dec. 8) -- This is a rough day. The bus/van was to have arrived to pick us up in Odi at 7:00 am but did not arrive until 11:00. The capacity was maximum 15 but turns out there were 18 of us. In the effort to cram all the suitcases in the back, the window of the back door broke out. Rose found a piece of plastic which was taped and roped down. On our way to Lagos, about five hours into the journey, the right back tire blows while on a dangerous highway. The driver does not have complete tool to change the tire but another vehicle stopped to help. We pulled up bushes and placed them on the roadway and waved clothing to direct the speeding traffic out of the lane where our vehicle was stranded.

It took about 40 minutes to change the tire. Finally we arrive in the hell realm of Lagos a few hours later, and by now dark, we were dropped off at a busy area. While running down a stairway I fell and twisted my right ankle. I lose it a bit and yell but still managed to walk to the next van which we took through the jammed, noisy and polluted city to our destination at the home of Gordon’s brother. There the electricity generated by the city works sometimes, the generator picks up where Lagos electricity leaves off. We have running water and enjoy a shower.

Day 13 (Dec. 9) -- Today we have been invited to speak at the Public Symposium on International United Nations Anti-Corruption Day/Launching of Citizen’s Guide to Anti-Corruption Activism sponsored by the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), held at the Heinrich Boell Foundation (German Green Party) headquarters in Lagos. Several interesting speakers including Mr. Leo Atakpu, Dr. Axel Harniet-Seivers, Dr. Sam Amadi, Justice Mustapha Akambi, Hon. Chudi Ofodile, shared their perspectives and leadership of the anti-corruption movement in Nigeria. Annie and I talked about Earth Rights Democracy and the importance to the world of their efforts in Nigeria for the securing of resource rights for the benefit of the people as a whole.

We are pleased to note that another new and important ANEEJ publication -- Oil of Poverty in Niger Delta -- acknowledges the contribution of "Gordon Abiama, Director and Convenor of the Niger Delta Development Fund Initiative (who) equally deserves mention ... He facilitated the Reference Workshop on Sustainable Development in Oil-producing Communities in Nigeria which took place in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State." Furthermore, Chapter 7 of this fine publication recommends, inter alia, that "All the state governments in the Niger Delta Region should establish the Niger Delta Development Fund Initiative (NDDFI)." Thus our brainstorm at a long lunch in March, 2002 in Dakar, Senegal, which launched the NDDFI, has now resulted in its increased recognition as a needed institution in the Niger Delta. Note that NDDFI is also a formal Partnership Initiative registered with the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

Day 14 ( Dec. 10th) -- Annie’s plane leaves in the morning; I spend the afternoon at home of Gordon’ s brother, talking with daughter Mary and resting. Gordon and Rose accompany me in taxi to airport (vehicle has a flat tire which needed to be changed after turning into airport drive). We say goodbye around 7:30 pm, my plane leaves at 11:40 pm to Paris then Newark, New Jersey, from where I take train to Harrisburg and car to home. The journey to Nigeria has been a truly profound life experience. For those of you who contributed financially in the past to our Niger Delta Fund Initiative project in Nigeria, thank you so very much. Connections with our Nigerian Georgist colleagues keep building. Any contributions you care to make to our work there will be greatly appreciated. If you have books to send and can pay the postage for them, that would also be welcome.

Thank you and God Bless.

(In 1999 Odi town was destroyed by the Nigeria federal military due to oil resource conflicts in the Nigeria Delta.

SPEECH BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, KING SHINE A. APRE


... on the Occasion of the Foundation Laying/Fundraising Ceremony of the Proposed Odi Ecovillage/Green City Project at Odi, Bayelsa State, Nigeria on November 30th, 2004.

Your Excellency, the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

The Honorable Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Turner T. Isoun.

Your Royal Majesty, King Joshua Igbagara, the Ibenanaowei of Oyakiri Kingdom (PEN, TRM, OON, JP), the Chairman of Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers and the Royal Father of the Day.

The Chairman of the Occasion, Dr. Sami Ebiye.

Top Government Functionaries here present.

The Chairman, Odi Local Government Council.

My Lords Spiritual and Temporal.

My Esteemed Visitors from the USA, Scotland, Australia and Mali.

May I on behalf of the Odi Council of Chiefs and the entire good people of Odi Town welcome you all to this epoch-making ceremony. My joy knows no bound seeing today such respected and revered dignitaries converge here to identify with my people’s yearning for development. It has been five years since Odi was totally destroyed by Federal Soldiers. The experience was truly a traumatic experience which today has entered the annals of history.

My people are a resilient people, determined to forge ahead in spite of the immense challenges they faced.

In every dark cloud, there is a silver lining they say, and so we have chosen to see our destruction as a solid foundation for future growth. I have a vision of Odi transforming from its strategic state into a new Green City model that ensures a healthy economic, peaceful, environmental and social community for all. I am particularly happy that many of our illustrious sons and daughters also share this vision.

When my sons and daughters in this Odi Ecovillage movement came to me with this concept of development which has worked wonders in such countries as Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and other parts of the world, my ancestral spirits confirmed to me of the viability of such a project and I gave them my blessings.

Life is all about ideas and we live in a global village and I look forward to this project blossoming into a dimension where strangers from across the world would come to Odi to enjoy the natural ambiance and hospitality of my people. In closing, I want to say the Almighty God will surely reward you as you support our efforts of sustainable development.

Long Live Nigeria. Long Live Bayelsa State, Long Live Odi Local Government, Long Live Odi Green City.

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