Why Paul-Birabi wants to represent Ogoniland in National Assembly
There’s a renewed interest in Ogoniland following Naakuu Paul-Birabi’s declaration to run as the Accord Party candidate for the Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency in the 2023 general election. Paul-Birabi comes from a long line of notable four-generation empire builders. The most famous was his highly revered grandfather and namesake, Timothy Naakuu Paul Birabi, widely regarded as the “Father of the Ogoni Nation.” As family dynasties go, this iteration augurs well for the return of Ogoni’s prominence in national politics.
In Ogoniland, his emergence heralds a generational shift from the presumptuous and politically compromised old guard to an enthusiastic crop of young people determined in seeing Nigeria revisit the highly vexatious Ogoni question. Since 1999, Ogoni representatives at the state and central legislatures remain unpopular, handpicked by external potentates and imposed on the people. Paul-Birabi promises a transparent leadership devoid of external control.
Within Rivers State, the Paul-Birabi factor means going back to the drawing board to recalculate the balance of weakness. The immediate threat facing Rivers is a possible Ogoni backlash. No Ogoni has ruled Rivers since 1967 when General Yakubu Gowon created it. Ijaws, Ikwerres, Igbanis, Ndonis, etc, have all ruled as governor, deputy governor, Speaker of Assembly or Chief Judge. The only exception is Ogonis whose patience appears to be running out.
The emergence of Paul-Birabi signals a new impetus for peace and political stability in Ogoniland as his candidacy is devoid of unscrupulous political history. He comes with clean hands but will Ogonis have the foresight to appreciate this opportunity? With a name that commands respect across the state and Nigeria, his victory could herald the long-awaited rebirth Ogoniland has always craved for.
At the centre, Paul-Birabi is expected to introduce bills aimed at declaring Marshal Plan for Ogoniland. His constituency is not being cleaned as prescribed by the report of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP. The resultant consequences for the health and well-being of Ogonis are severe. There is exponential growth in oil-spill-associated diseases like cancer and respiratory illnesses. His frustration is that no Ogoni political leader is even talking about it.
Finally, his victory at the poll could redefine the fractured relationship between Ogonis and foreign oil multinationals. The ill will nursed by his people against oil multinationals must be addressed someday. Paul-Birabi is likely to intervene as a federal lawmaker. An internationally acclaimed lobbyist, he knows when and how to negotiate.
Who is Naakuu Paul-Birabi?
It is necessary to clarify that Paul-Birabi bears identical name with his Southampton University-educated grandfather who live from 1916-1953. In terms of character traits, also, there is little difference between the two. Calm and composed, both are impatient with injustice.
Hon. Timothy Birabi’s activism in the West African Student Union saw him lose his postgraduate scholarship in London as a Mathematics student. He was harangued, humiliated, and deported back to Ogoniland as a troublemaker in August 1948. But he was willing to sacrifice the personal opportunity for the independence of his people. Surprisingly enough, it was out of this bitter experience that a brand new Ogoniland was born. Back home he turned his energy to building primary schools and people-oriented projects.
Born in 1980 to Senator Bennett Birabi and Dr. Bridget Nwanne Morenike Birabi, Paul-Birabi’s first degree was in Agricultural Economics from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, where he served as President of the Students Union Government. His Master’s was in International Business from the London Metropolitan University.
After his postgraduate studies, he worked in the publishing, advertising, and investment banking industries before pitching into a reputable lobbying firm. Upon returning to Nigeria in 2007, he served as an aide to the Speaker of the Bayelsa House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Werenipre Seibarugu. Thereafter, he took up an appointment with the Corporate Communications Department of the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, RSSDA.
For seven years he worked as an administrative aide to Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State. Handling all administrative duties, he wrote speeches and correspondences for the governor in addition to managing his Principal’s schedule. His horizon was expanded when he got involved in Climate Change and Environmental Protection. This was a singular privilege granted him by Governor Imoke. His first engagement was COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he participated in discussions with the United Nations, UN, on special status for Cross River as a sub-national. The state hosts 25 percent of Nigeria’s original forest stock.
The Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, known today as Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, was another occasion for him to come to the fore. As a key focal point in the Governor’s office, Paul-Birabi integrated all relevant MDAs while ensuring that Cross River stood out among the top-performing states for four years running.
He was part of an administration with significant successes in welfare reform, health care, education, water conservation and basic sanitation. Over a hundred solar-powered boreholes were drilled and 66 Primary Health Care Centers were built across the state. “Project Hope” ensured free health care for pregnant women and children under five with great strides made in tackling maternal and infant mortality.
Paul-Birabi knows firsthand what happens when people are led by political leaders that have their best interests at heart. He wants to rebuild Ogoniland. His clarion call is “Ogoni Now!”
Paul-Birabi has short and long-term solutions to his people’s problems. The short term, of interest to us here as it constitutes his 2023 manifesto, addresses the immediate problems buffeting his Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency. The problems fall under three broad categories of inadequate basic education, undeveloped agriculture, and a dearth of industries. We zero in on agriculture.
It must be stated that Paul-Birabi aims to utilise areas Ogonis have a comparative advantage as long as it is not oil and gas. Ogonis have been obsessed with the petroleum “beneath” their soil to the exclusion of other resources “within” the same soil. They have large swaths of arable land that can easily give them a comparative advantage in the agro and allied industries. It is a question of changing from traditional farming to mechanisation. Farming with machines will lead to bumper harvests and what to do with excess products leads us to food processing.
Three cassava processing plants will be built complete with their own supply chains for ease of product distribution. Ogoni garri celebrated locally, can also be distributed nationally. Paul-Birabi recalls seeing well-packaged Ijebu garri sold in African shops in London. His agrarian vision will see Ogoni garri sold in the Diaspora. His agricultural blueprint will also see pineapple processing plants built to extract concentrate for export. The by-product will then be converted to animal feed as nothing is wasted. Agriculture alone can create 2000 direct jobs.
There is a negative multiplier effect associated with a lack of ways and means. Where there is no industry there can be no reasonable work. Where there is no work there’s poverty. Where there’s poverty restiveness becomes the order of the day. Where there’s restiveness insecurity follows. Where there is insecurity you can’t attract investment and the vicious circle continues. This untenable condition has remained the bane of the Ogoni since 1999.
Paul-Birabi wants a national debate on the Ogoni question since Ogoni youths are hunted down as “cultists” and killed by state actors; when the real enemy is poverty. Ogoni poverty is not by accident. It is part of the global conspiracy against groups unfortunate enough to be richly endured by God. Reversing this gang-up requires a thorough understanding of the working of international instruments governing multinationals and supra-nationals. An expert in international business and political orders, he encourages Ogonis to first secure their land by exploring opportunities on the ground than wasting time and scarce resources chasing after the petrol dollar.
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Visionary and compassionate leadership
Paul-Birabi asks, how are Ogoni political leaders cleared to contest for public offices? Imposed leadership can hardly qualify as representatives of the people. Such leadership will also be hostile to the Ogoni aspiration since it owes its allegiance to outsiders. Cold and remote leaders who hide behind “big party” names to mark time in office do not represent Ogonis. They bear Ogoni names but there is nothing Ogoni in their cruel actions.
By declaring to represent his constituency, Paul-Birabi aims to dismantle the client leadership holding Ogoniland to ransom. From now those going to lead Ogonis are representatives selected by the constituencies they represent. Such genuine leaders can be held to account.
He urges his constituency to courageously take a safe bet with the younger generation keen on advancing creative leadership. Since doing things the same way can only lead to the same result, Ogonis should summon the courage to try a generational shift best symbolised by himself. Things can never get worse and a better future lies ahead. Ogonis will be led by a younger cadre totally committed to their people’s emancipation. That is part of the social contract. Ogonis are marginalized because the right people to liberate them are yet to occupy the seats of decision-making. The level of despondency in Ogoniland calls for positive action under visionary, compassionate but young leadership.
The second coming/conclusion
Since Paul-Birabi declared to run for the House of Representatives, a febrile excitement engulfed Ogoniland. The young man is nothing short of Hon. Timothy Naakuu Paul-Birabi redivivus. Their great leader has come back to life to complete the job of Ogoni emancipating denied him by death. Hon. Timothy Naakuu Paul-Birabi was elected into the House of Representatives under the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, NCNC when he died in 1953. His demise stalled the Ogoni trajectory.
Exactly seventy years after, the great man’s grandson, reputed to share remarkable oratory resemblance and seems to be his exact reincarnation in terms of vision, compassion, and passion for Ogonis, stepped forward to serve. It’s no surprise that the present bearer of that name has boldly taken his stand to articulate the same Ogoni argument his grandfather did many decades back.
Indeed, Paul-Birabi’s emergence, as elucidated via his campaign slogan, is indicative of “The Second Coming” of the Father of the Ogoni Nation. His advent promises to usher in political enlightenment and socio-economic development. One can’t help but think that there is a spiritual dimension to this particular candidate. The stars are aligned for Ogonis and they cannot afford to miss this chance.