When I got the invitation to speak at Ama-Ebimo Zion, Kunukunuma, a Cherubim and Seraphim church, I was initially reluctant to accept the invitation until I met with the head of the church, Apostle Mathias. He had this professorial look and a very friendly demeanor.
One of the things I’ve realized with my association with the Ijaws is that once you have an Ijaw friend, you have a reliable and committed friend, who will take you in as his blood brother. An Ijaw friend will sacrifice everything to make you comfortable.
The other thought that crossed my mind was how the church will receive my kind of message. The topic I was given, The Power of Knowledge, made me feel that this was a different kind of Cherubim and Seraphim church.
One thing my kind of ministry has taught me is to break religious, tribal, and denominational barriers. As long as there is someone that is ready to learn, I am ready to teach, learn, and get new experiences. Religion that separates us into denominations, branches, tribal churches, and that prevents us from interacting and learning from one another, is motivated by the desire to build personal empires and kingdoms for ourselves.
The almost-1-hour boat ride was very exciting, with a lot of adrenaline rush. The Passport 19 speedboat made the journey much more comfortable than the smaller, open, speedboats.
What struck me most, however, was the massive exploration of the oil resources of the people by the Federal government and multinationals, and the reckless degradation of what was supposed to be a beautiful ecosystem. The waters of the river were polluted; at one point it looked like a cup of coffee with so much milk poured in it. Along the mangrove forest were patches of aluminum-coloured mangrove trees. I was informed that the trees died off because of oil spills. There were oil wellheads popping out of the creeks in several spots along the route to Kunukunuma.
Another thing that struck me was the boat house I saw in Batan flow station. I know that to keep a boathouse in that location would cost a lot of money daily, and these boathouses have been occupied for years, probably decades, as long as oil exploration had been there. The homes of the owners of the land, oil, and wealth of the community were poorly-built houses; some had no toilets and portable water. Why would the companies and the federal government not build good homes—with basic facilities—for the workers and the natives to reside peacefully together on the islands? After all, it’s the same ocean that separates us and The Caribbean. Now I can understand the anger of men like Ken Saro-Wiwa and several of the Niger Delta agitators.
As we moved further on, we noticed a lot of military presence—an explanation for the amount of military hardware and naval gunboats at the Warri Port.
As we went further, we saw Okerenkoko, the permanent site of the Nigerian Maritime University, with quite a number of beautiful houses in the distance. To the left of Okerenkoko, after a few minutes of boat-ride, was the takeoff campus of the Maritime University, which is, at least, a sign of hope and a bright future for the youths and people of these communities.
We finally got to Kunukunuma, where we were given a warm reception and we went straight to the church to give a lecture on Repackaging Ministries for the 21st Century. There were pastors from different denominations, including Pentecostal churches.
One good thing with the average Ijaw is the spirit of the bond of unity. We had a wonderful lecture and we went for lunch by the riverside. The cold breeze, the sound of waves splashing underneath us, boats speeding past, tugboats towing barges with cargoes towards different destinations (I suspect are construction sites for oil companies), big ships anchored in the distant horizon with petroleum products (an irony of the Niger Delta and the Nigerian situation), and gas being flared—that could have been easily converted to generate electricity—were, all, side attractions as we had lunch.
Here was a community surrounded by crude oil being pumped out of the earth, to be exported, only to be reimported as refined petroleum products at higher prices. Why couldn’t companies like Matrix and other importers of petroleum products, who we saw their big ships, build modular refineries around that area instead of importing refined petroleum products?
In the evening, as the sun was setting, pictures of nations and holiday resorts in The Caribbean came into my mind. Kunukunuma could have become a beautiful tourist resort if not for the paradox of this nation, called Nigeria.
In the sunset, two young boys were fishing with a net—that they dragged along the shoreline—and a plastic basin tied to the net. After several attempts and nearly two hours of moving along the shoreline, I only noticed one small tilapia fish and a few small crabs as their catch. At the same time, a woman and, possibly, her daughter were returning from fishing for crayfish, and I called out like Jesus, ‘Any fish?”. They responded with a voice of despair, “Na only small we catch”. Just like the forest animals and trees have also been destroyed with pollution, the fishes in the river have greatly reduced.
I was also informed that the river has been progressively eroding away the shoreline of the community; up to about 50 meters of that community have been washed into the river over time. There was a grave, by the present shoreline, of a person who was buried in the 60’s; I was troubled that in the next few years, if care is not taken, he might be raptured into the river. Even the dead can’t rest in peace because of the neglect and mindless destruction of the ecosystem.
We cannot all blame the government alone. As we walked along the shoreline, we came to the house of a one-time chairman of Desopadec—the only legacy that proved that a man of such status came from that community.
Finally, we had to leave. It was like leaving a child who could easily become a neurosurgeon, but was paralyzed by poliomyelitis. It was a tale of great potentials marred by great negligence and elite capture.
It was a good stay. I definitely will go back, sometime, in future.
The sun would definitely shine again, one bright morning, on Kunukunuma and the whole of the Ijaw land to usher in development that they truly deserve. My only fear is that by that time, crude oil would have become a menopausal lady, overtaken by modern technology, which is not driven by fossil fuels.
God bless Kunukunuma.
God bless the Ijaw nation.
God bless Delta State.
God bless Nigeria.