Fourteen Days in Bayelsa State, Nigeria
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 Gordons
brothers 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 Womens 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.
Odis 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 Gordons 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
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 Alaskas 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 Alaskas 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 Gordons
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 Citizens 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
Day 14 ( Dec. 10th) -- Annies 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.
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 peoples 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.