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Text and Context: A Correlative Study of Youth Restiveness in Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Ground and the Omoku Experience

By

Amiriheobu, Frank Ifeanyichukwu

Department of Theatre Arts Education

School of Arts and Social Sciences

Federal College of Education (Technical) P.M.B. 11

Omoku, Onelga, Rivers State, Nigeria.

Frankifeanyi4real@gmail.com  08038478803

&

John Ebimobowei Yeseibo, Ph.D

Faculty of Humanities

Department of Theatre and Film Studies

University of Port Harcourt

Port Harcourt

Phone: +2348037058079

Email: johnyeseibo58@gmail.com

Abstract

Most modern societies these days are inundated with various social challenges. Some of these challenges are consequent upon unemployment which breeds deviant behaviours among youths. Youth restiveness is a term that is used to refer to these deviant behaviours. Youth restiveness has become a topical issue deserving of attention in developmental studies in Nigeria.Omoku, one of the richest oil producing communities in Rivers state, was of recent faced with issues emanated from youth restiveness, championed by splinter secret cult groups in the community. These issues range from kidnapping, vandalism of oil installations, illegal oil bunkering, politically motivated assassination, incessant killings, rape, armed robbery, lethal car bombing, and other forms of terrorism. This cankerworm has pragmatically affected the development of the community as it had resulted in the relocation of multinational oil companies; business establishments, and social recreational centers from the town resulting in an increase in unemployment, suffering and pain to the people. It also created tension, death, and sorrow in the community. The situation in Omoku like in other oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta was exacerbated by massive underdevelopment and socio-political ineptitude as portrayed in Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Ground. Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Ground is a play that succinctly addresses youth restiveness in the Niger Delta region, with its attendant problems and consequences. This study using the descriptive and analytical approaches, therefore, aims to identify and study the causes and effects of youth restiveness in Omoku by drawing artistic inferences from the play using the textual analysis methodology.  The study recommends that Multinational oil companies should re-channel some of their profits to improve the lives of the communities and rebuild the environment of those who suffer from the direct consequence of their operation.

 

Keyword: Ahmed Yerima, Youth Restiveness, Omoku, Analysis, Hard Ground

 

Introduction

Youth restiveness refers to a multiplicity of activities ranging from hostage taking of foreign nationals, local oil workers and citizens for ransom; oil pipe-line blow-ups; illegal bunkering; peaceful or violent demonstration; bombing of public places, etc, in the Niger Delta. (Epelle qtd in Uriah et al,106). The Niger Delta region that has contributed in fueling Nigeria’s economical development in recent decades is besieged with the issue of youth restiveness. This issue has metamorphosed overtime, exerting a pervasive, albeit, negative influence on all facets of the region. The facets include the economic, political, social, and general well-being of the people. The issue of youth restiveness in the region has become a dicey one in that militants in different splinter cult groups are waging war against the multi-national oil companies, to control their resources and thus, better their impoverished lives (Elegbeleye, 2005; Akintoye, 1999). On most occasions, they are always in conflict with themselves due to clash of interests (Ellegbeleye, 2015).  Painfully, Niger Delta, blessed with so many mineral resources has long been neglected and badly treated as there exist poverty, unemployment, dilapidated facilities, bad moveable roads, lack of health care facilities, and general underdevelopment despite the fact that oil produced in the area is part of the major source of Nigeria’s foreign reserves (Ifeanyi, 2005).

The agitation for regional identification in the area led to the death of Professor Claude Ake, Ken Saro Wiwa and their likes in the hand of government agencies (Chukuezi, 1994). The militant groups in the Niger Delta decided to agitate using violence means that also affects their people. Ironically, like the recognized militant groups in the Niger Delta region, such as Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA), Movement for the Survival of the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality of the Niger Delta (MOSIEND), among others and other smaller groups that have sprung up of recent makes the issue of youth restiveness more complicated to address (Ifeanyi, 2008). The situation in Omoku like in other oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta was exacerbated by massive underdevelopment and socio-political ineptitude and this is portrayed in Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Ground.

 

Theoretical Framework: Social and Behavioral Change and Communication Theory

Social and Behavioral Change Communication Theory (SBCC) is theory on which this study is anchored. SBCC can help understand why people act the way they do and why behaviors change. The theory exposes why people change from good to bad, considering the fact that so many phenomena may trigger a good person into doing things that affect his immediate society and his people. SBCC is an interactive process of any intervention with individuals, communities and/or societies to develop communication strategies and to promote positive environment which will enable people to initiate, sustain and maintain positive and desirable behavioral outcomes. This theory can also help to direct attention on what or who to address for social change. SBCC helps in explaining behavioral change and area of focus- the individuals, their intention to change their behavior or their surrounding environment (Crosby & Noar, 2010). Therefore, the goal of every behavior change campaign is to induce long-lasting behavior change.

 

Pragmatics of Youth restiveness in Omoku

The issue of youth restiveness in Omoku was a complex one in that it resulted to environmental unrest that had threatened the existence of peace, development and harmony in the area. The activities of the multi-national oil companies in Omoku, such as oil exploration and exploitation right from 1963 till date had made the people of Omoku and its environs to solely depend on oil company jobs. As a result of this, the people’s primary means of survival, such as farming, fishing and hunting were abandoned. They blame the oil companies for destroying their ancestral heritage due to gas flaring that has created environmental degradation that has affected the fauna and flora of the ecological system. As a result, Omoku people depend solely on the oil companies such as NAOC, Total, Chevron, and Saipem. It was as a result of the inability of the oil companies to provide adequate job opportunities for both skilled and unskilled natives of Omoku that prompted the youths to most times agitate against the multi-national oil companies. Epelle (2010), using the Lockean Social Contract theory as his framework for analysis, posits that oil violence in the Niger Delta region is largely a manifestation of the processes of state failure and collapse. It is indicative of the people’s insurgency against the Nigerian state, which has not been able to faithfully deliver on its terms of the social contract to the Delta people… (qtd in Uriah et al, 107).  These youths exacerbate their agony on oil installation facilities, cars belonging to the oil companies, and kidnapping of workers of the oil companies. In most cases, these oil companies also provide minimal job opportunities to the natives which is shared amongst the traditional ruler, his chiefs, youth leaders, and community development leaders. The process of sharing this job opportunities amongst these groups always generate conflict mostly amongst the youths.

In most cases, these youths according to Ifeanyi (2008), agitate amongst themselves due to clash of interest, mostly on the aspect of youth leadership. Right from the inauguration of the Omoku Youths Association till its abolition in the year 2008 by Chibuike, Rotimi Amaechi, the former Governor of Rivers State, youths elections and leadership was always a bloody experience, as each of the thirty four and more secret cults ranging from Iceland, Greenlanders, Degbams, KGB, Sailors, and so on which were dominant  in the community had candidates in mind that they believed would protect their interest regarding job opportunities, allocations, and every other profitable things that would come to the community. At this period, the community used to be agog with fear as it affects the indigenes and also the visitors who are residing in the community.

On most occasions, these secret cult groups were contracted for political reasons such as assassinations, looting of ballot boxes from polling stations, and causing disorderliness in the town. These secret cults groups were often given sophisticated ammunitions by their compradors for their political assignments. The cult groups after being abandoned by their compradors were left to roam around in the community creating tension with the sophisticated ammunitions used in the previous elections.

The most dreaded incident of youth restiveness in Omoku was the inter-secret cult war that started in the year 2012 and ended in 2017. This violence is believed to have been masterminded by some corrupt politicians who came up with the ideology of making all the secret cult groups in Omoku an entity with a unified name known as Icelander (Ifeanyi 2008). The reason for the amalgamation of these secret cults was to establish a unified body with a single ideology and interest. The group will in turn have a central leader who will be charged with the duty of controlling the activities of the members. The other groups rejected the ideology, believing it is a sort of enslavement, while some groups accepted. The newly amalgamated secret cult (Icelander) was in turn given the right and privileges to operate in the town, while the other secret cult groups who refused to join the new group, were seen as outlaws, thus, should not be found operating in or around the community. This issue created conflict amongst the cult groups in Omoku as the different groups started killing themselves, causing unrest in the community. Omoku became a war zone and a theatre of blood as so many youths lost their lives and countless properties destroyed.

Painfully, the issue became more tensed in the year 2014-2015 when the cult groups were also used by the same corrupt politicians to assassinate their political enemies, for their political interest. At this time, prominent political leaders, colleagues, and family members in the opposing parties were raid by the contracted secret cult members. It became unbearable in the year 2016 to early 2017, when the secret cult groups indulged in acts of kidnapping the oil workers, business men, women, and even the natives. They maimed, raped, and most times killed their victims.

They also engaged in acts of oil bunkering, which also disrupted the activities of the oil companies in the area. Their other activities included vandalism of oil installations, armed robbery, wanton destruction, and incessant killings. This act of terrorism by these secret cults groups has made the government ungovernable as it obstructed and defied all efforts aimed at curbing it over the years. These efforts ranged from the provision of amnesty programs from the Federal, State, and the Local levels and the provision of poverty rehabilitation programs such as the Gowin, and the N-power. It also ridiculed efforts both spiritual and physica aimed at settling it. All peaceful deliberations, financial involvements, and individual dialoguing proved abortive. Omoku became a theatre of pain as the issue of youth restiveness brought death, suffering, lack of development, and failure. The issue resulted in the evacuation of most multi-national oil companies, multi-million businesses, and immigration of wealthy men and women. Social recreational centers were deserted; the only academic institution in the area is seriously under-populated and development is stagnant. The primal and secondary levels of learning, instead of teaching morals and ethics, were preaching cultism. The issue of youth restiveness has affected Omoku – politically, economically, socially, religiously, and otherwise. The issue was so tense that governmental agencies such as the police, army, and the joint task force (JTF), could not proffer solution primarily because of the internal nature of the issue.

The establishment of Onelga Security, Peace and Advisory Committee (OSPAC), a volunteer vigilante group, makes up of natives of Omoku, led by Chief, Dr. Maxwell Ahiakwo, formed in the year 2017, assisted tremendously in calming the tension. They were also tasked to bring peace and security in the community and to see to the abolition of secret cult activities in Omoku, though issues relating to kidnapping, killing and other sort of restiveness were minimally reported.

Just at a time when the people think that peace had finally restored, Omoku, in the morning breaking the eve of the new year, 1st January 2018, recorded the most historic raiding championed by Johnson Igwedibia, aka Don Wanne, the dreaded cultist and kidnapper (the leader of Icelander cult), who was terrorizing Omoku and its environs. During the unexpected raid, Ikechukwu Adiele, his second in command and Obata Osu, his younger brother, single handedly caused the death of the 23 worshippers made up of children, youths, women, men and an old woman, whom were coming back from church, after the New Year eve, were arrested and incarcerated.

 

Causes of Youth Restiveness in Omoku

Youth restiveness is gradually becoming an endemic problem that there is the need to unravel the causes and its implication on the socio-economic development of the people and the state. Youth Restiveness in Omoku was caused by to some fundamental factors that affect its region. Issues like poverty, unemployment, bad governance, inadequate educational opportunities and resources, lack of basic infrastructure, inadequate communication and information flow were causes of youth restiveness in Omoku. Nafzigor (2008) attests to this fact when he says: “One of the reasons for youth restiveness and militancy in the South-South geo-political zone is the chronic unemployment occasioned by the lack of will-power among the major multinational companies to train youths of the area in oil related activities” (qtd in Uriah et al, 110).

Poverty syndrome is a big reason why most youths leave school for secret cults in Omoku. It is plausible to state that poverty is the root cause of crime and a crime in and of itself. Youth restiveness in Omoku is also caused by illiteracy, unequal distribution of national resources, and poor child upbringing among others (Stella, 2010). In most occasions, it can be caused by factors such as Marginalization, Unemployment, Exuberance and the role of politicians in employing youths against their perceived enemies (Chukuezi, 1994).  Most times, the militant groups take up arms against the government and the oil companies as a result of some fundamental issues affecting the region, which include the problem of underdevelopment, environmental degradation as a result of oil exploration activities, and resource control (Yusuf, 2013).

 

Synopsis of Hard Ground by Ahmed Yerima

The play Hard Ground revolves around Nimi, an eighteen year old school dropout who took to arms against the government agencies and the multinational oil companies. Due to his quest of alleviating poverty and suffering from his people, Nimi, decides to forfeit school, to fight for his people. He joins and later becomes the head of a militant group that believes they are fighting for the survival of their people. On one of their major hits, Nimi and his gang are ambushed and raid by the government security agents.  Nimi is rescued by family members of his gang. His parents (Baba who later became THE DON and Mama) pay a huge sum so as to avoid him being killed by the relatives of his dead colleagues who accuse him of being responsible for the killing of his gang members. Don, the leader of the militant group who is hardly seen, is curious, wanting to kill Nimi, believing that Nimi sabotaged their operation, and therefore caused the death of his boys. Inyingifaa, Nimi’s uncle who is an arms dealer is also touched by the sudden outbreak of tension in the rig, since his armed business is in ruined. He strives for the major cause of the sabotage as that is the only assurance of the return of peace to the creek. Mama tries to avoid Nimi meeting with the Don because she believes that the Don will end up killing Nimi the way he killed her younger brother.

Nimi later accuse Reverend Father Kinsley (his maternal uncle) of revealing his secret to the Police, because he had earlier confessed to Father Kinsley regarding their mission a day before the Police raided him and his boys but Father Kinsley reminds Nimi that such act is against the oath he took as a Reverend father. Father Kinsley tells Nimi that his girl friend (Pikibo) is pregnant with his child. Before the incident, Baba and Mama were having some problems because Baba is secretly in love with Amatu whom he occasionally sees.

Nimi is later poisoned by some Niger Delta Chiefs and people who came thanking him for his good work with different kinds of gifts; mama gets an epileptic attack at the same time, while trying to send them out of the compound. Inyingifaa comes in to inform Nimi that the Don has ordered for the execution of his girlfriend, Pikibo, because it was later discovered that Pikibo is the one who revealed their secret that led to the execution of his boys by the Police. Nimi, angered by this, decides to go back to the jungle to avenge the death of his girlfriend and his unborn child. Father Kinsley comes in to reveal the visit of the Don, as Mama brings out money which Baba gave to her for the preparation of the Don’s visit since he will not be present to receive the Don. Nimi declares Baba a failure and decides to kill the Don himself. Don comes in with his face covered in the dark; Nimi strikes him, only to discover that the Don is his father Baba. Nimi screams realizing this while Mama slumps.

 

Hard Ground and Omoku Experience

The play Hard Ground by Ahmed Yerima x-rays similar reasons why most youths in Omoku join secret cults. Nimi, the central character in the play, just as Joseph Igwedibia, aka Don Wanne, Uchechukwu Osima, aka Black Presidor and Chi-Boy amongst others in Omoku, drop out from school and join a militant group in order to alleviate their people from the shackles of poverty. Youths in Omoku decide to fight against the government agencies, multi-national oil companies, corrupt leaders, and most times against themselves, such as Nimi and his boys, because they believed they are unduly oppressed. They engage in the acts of kidnapping, politically motivated assassinations, oil pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering, incessant killings etc. In the process of these activities, most of them have died such as Nimi’s boys that were raided by government agency. They also engage in activities which also affect their own people.

Hard Ground also highlights other issues which are equally reflected in the experience of Omoku such as infidelity, betrayal, greed, and deception on the part of corrupt leaders who daily oppress and repress their people which result to lack of development, lack of job opportunites and general marginalization in the community. These issues have unequivocally brought high rate of poverty which questions the necessity of crude oil in the area. It is due to these facts that the eighteen years old Nimi, decided to fight against the government agencies and the multinational oil companies because of the effects of crude oil exploration and exploitation in the area that has resulted to environmental degradation affecting the fauna and flora of the ecological system. Thus, this issue of youth restiveness has pragmatically created suffering, sickness, and pain to the people, without a reminiscent attention regarding their health and welfare.

The youths in Omoku are daily agitating against environmental degradation, using every opportuned avenue to demonstrate their anger for national recognition. These reasons and more made them to allow the corrupt politicians, chiefs, and leaders to daily use them to create havoc in the society. Evidence of this is seen in the play when Nimi accepted to be used by the dreaded Don who he never knew was his beloved father Baba. These same angry youths in Omoku are also brainwashed into believing they are fighting for the emancipation of their people. After endangering their lives in this quest, they most times felt betrayed by the people they are fighting for. In retaliation, they started killing their own brothers and creating tension in the society. This is similar to why Nimi was angered when he discovered that Chief Tonye and Christy, the people he was fighting for, plotted and poisoned him. He was further angered when his uncle Inyingifaa, revealed that the Don has ordered for the execution of his girl friend, Pikibo and his unborn child, because it was later revealed that Pikibo was the person who revealed the secret of their operation to the government agencies which resulted in the death of Nimi’s boys in the creek. Nimi questions the reason for the agitation since the people he was busy fighting for are after his life and have succeeded in killing his girl friend and his unborn child. He vowed to avenge the death of his girl friend Pikibo and his unborn child. This he accomplished by killing the Don, only to discover that it was his father Baba that he killed. In the Omoku experience, youths kill themselves because they believed they were being betrayed one way or the other. Evidence of this is the killing of the twenty three (23) church goers in Omoku, on the morning of 1s t   January, 2018; by Johnson Igwedibia (aka Don Wanne), who felt betrayed by his own people (Omoku people), during the previous invasion of OSPAC, an indigenous vigilante group, of his house at Ali-Ugu, his paternal community. It was rumored he escaped with gun shots after losing most of his gang members.

In the play also, Chief Tonye, who is a symbolic representation of the corrupt leaders in Omoku, who mislead and destroy the lives of many youths after using them to achieve their egocentric objectives. In Omoku community, there exist corrupt chiefs, community leaders, and corrupt politicians who daily sponsor these agitated youths for their selfish ambitions at the detriment of the people. Nimi’s uncle Inyingifaa like most other leaders favor violence and this tendency is represented in the Omoku experience making in Omoku the issue more complex to solve. The complex nature has made all efforts aimed at solving it seem abortive. While most of the corrupt leaders benefit from the hostility in Omoku, there are however some patriotic people such as Chief Dr. Maxwell Ahiakwo, the OSPAC leader and others who want this issue of youth restiveness in Omoku and its environ stopped. Most times, some of them are maimed, humiliated, and killed while some of them leave the community when the safety of their lives and families are not guaranteed. Chief Alabo, a peace lover in Yerima’s play, who worked out on Nimi when he discovered that Nimi was bent on continuing the path of violence, is an exemplar on this note. Omoku, a home for all, blessed with milk and honey, once graced with favor, prosperity, enjoyment, peace, wealth, and hope was seen as a theatre of war, a home of failure, and a symbol of pain. Societal values, integrity, and socio-economic development were replaced with failure and terrorism. Omoku was termed a lawless place.

In a nutshell, what Ahmed Yerima’s play foregrounds is that the major problem in the society which is making the youths to restive is leadership. It avers that the leaders, rulers, and the Chiefs betray the trust and privileges given to them. It goes further to explain that the leaders who are suppose to be custodians and representatives of their people, are busy accumulating wealth, thus, increasing the rate of poverty and suffering, and most times engage the jobless youths in malicious activities which threatens the peace and prosperity of the people.

The events treated in the play correlate with similar ones highlighted in the Omoku experience. The play also posits that the angry youths in Omoku, such as Nimi in Yerima’s play were, agitating without a clear vision and mission which resulted to loss of lives and properties in the community. The play resolves by letting us know that neither the government nor the oil companies are the cause of the problems in our society, but the leaders in the society are the real culprits. Finally, the play warns that violence is never the best method of resolving  an issue nor the best way of drawing national and international recognition.

 

Conclusion

The study finds out in the play analyzed that drama which is a reflection of society, could be used and can function very well as a vehicle for restructuring and evangelization. Considering the above findings, it is apparent to deduce that the issue of youth restiveness greatly impeded the economy and development of the Omoku people. It is imperative therefore to state that this issue of youth restiveness in Omoku was predominant despite the steps taken such as the provision of the amnesty program by the Federal, State and the Local government levels, and the N-power scheme established by President Muhammadu Buhari. The issue has so lingered that it is also affecting the citizens and visitors in Omoku. Thus, it has created issues such as fear, suffering, death, and pain in the region. The most annoying part is that it has contributed to the crumbling of the Nigerian economy due to the bombing and destruction of governmental facilities such as the vandalism of oil pipe lines, oil wells, killing and kidnapping of oil workers, and creation of fear and tension in the areas where oil exploration activities take place.

It is believed that the Federal, State, and Local government are yet to address the major issue, and providing lasting solutions to the issues which affect the people in the region. On this note, one can vehemently represent the cause of youth restiveness, its challenges on Omoku community, and the effects in a figure below:

 

 

 

 

 Figure 1: This figure explains that the causes of youth restiveness in Omoku are many and its mode of representations differs, thus, has affected the people and the society at large. The figure below shows that the situation can be curbed and peace returned if the right step is taking.

 

        

Figure 2: In a nutshell, if these steps of change are not carried out in earnest time, the economy and growth of Omoku will be adversely affected in the immediate and remote future. The table below represents this possible state.

 

 

 

Figure 3: This figure shows that Omoku is in the middle of two spheres first is the part of massive development because of the mineral resources and few altruistic people in the town and the second is the part of massive destruction. The mechanisms for change are already given for both governmental and non-governmental agencies to draw from.

 

Recommendations   

From the analysis, youth restiveness in Hard Ground by Yerima and in Omoku is the result of a conspiracy of factors. These include: unemployment, lack of access to education, poverty, environmental degradation, and marginalization, inter alia, and nepotism. The Federal, State and Local governments have on so many occasions provided steps by which these issues emanating from youth restiveness could be resolved, yet, new issues related to youth restiveness are heard every day. Sequel to the above discussion, it becomes pertinent to proffer the following recommendations which would not only help in curbing youth restiveness, but could help in socio-economically developing Omoku:

  1. Employment opportunities should be made available for the youths to adequately exercise their skills and energy. If not provided, they will be forced to exercise it negatively. An example is the oil bunkering business and kidnapping which have become lucrative today.
  2. Peace reformation programs should be use in settling issue of youth restiveness. The use of repression and violence through the deployment of military and Police to curve the menace by the Federal Government should be reviewed and stopped. Angry youths in Omoku should as well embrace dialogue which is the best method of solving problems in every society. As such, agreements met by the parties should be carried out to its fullest.
  3. Government should provide functional and free education to the citizens as this will advance the level of communal literacy and awareness.
  4. Poverty eradication programmes like N-power introduced by Muhammadu Buhari, Youwin, introduced by Goodluck Jonathan and similar programs should be continuing at local, State and Federal levels and should be made available for people with educational background and those without.
  5. Multinational oil companies should re-channel some of their profits to improve the lives of the communities and rebuild the environment of those who suffers from the direct consequence of their operation.
  6. There should also be a policy of youth education and development through provision of scholarship and empowering them technically by providing them employment facilities.
  7. The Nigerian government must address obstacles like poverty, insecurity, and socio-economic and political inequities.
  8. Bad governance and corruption in the region should be reduced to the minimum in order to reduce cases of youth restiveness.
  9. The Theatre-for-Development method should be used in creating awareness and raising the consciousness of the people. Through this, the people especially at the grassroot levels would be sensitized to know that violence is not the best option for resolving grievances..

 

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