By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The renewed violence in the Niger Delta region occasioned by the destructive activities of the Niger Delta Avengers has further put a strain on the Nigerian fragile economy. In this interview, the Acting President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Mr Charles Ambaiowei, gives a number of postulations on the possible causal factors that triggered the new waves of militancy in the region. He particularly blamed President Muhmmadu Buhari for pursuing policies aimed at alienating the Niger Delta people.
The Niger Delta Avengers which claimed responsibility for the recent bombing of some oil installations has listed control of resources as part of its demands to halt the renewed violence in the oil rich region of Nigeria. How would you situate this demand within the context of the age long agitation for restructuring of the country?
Clearly, I cannot subscribe to the position of Niger Delta Avengers demanding for 60 percent control of resources and 40 percent for the rest of the country. That, for me, already exposes the element of greed as well as institutional corruption entrenched in the system. I think we are getting into something messier, if this is the kind of agenda that is being pushed forward. It means they are doing what they are doing for their self interest alone. For us in the Ijaw National Conference (INC), our core issue of restructuring goes beyond this narrow minded interest. For each pipeline they bomb, do you know thousands of metric litres of crude oil or gas that is directly excreted into the Niger Delta environment? Do you know how many years is going to take to clean our biodiversity? So, we are in a very big mess.
Now, there is a power play game among those who have cornered the resources of this country. Those of the Niger Delta stock among them seem to have lost out in the power equation. They are bringing us down by putting themselves forward claiming to be avenging this and avenging that. We must look beyond this surface lining. The dynamics of issues have gone far more complex than they were some few years back. Recall that those who created Boko Haram and actively promoted it had clearly said they were going to make the country ungovernable for former President Goodluk Jonathan. Can we begin to read the renewed militancy as a backlash of the way they treated Jonathan and now ready to give it back to them in their own coin? Two, President Muhammadu Buhari has made the greatest blunder when upon becoming the President of this country, he turned around to say that his anti-corruption fight is going to commence from Jonathan’s era. Is this not the same Nigeria that all of us know that there is institutional corruption and dysfunctional federalism and other things that have promoted oppression and injustice that led to the agitation of the Niger Delta? Are the people of the Niger Delta fool as not to know this? What Buhari has done is to automatically tell the Niger Delta people that it is only President Jonathan he wants to fight with his anti-corruption crusade. Is there no sense in looking at the renewed violence as a way of fighting to protect their brother? If you cannot kill your brother, why would you kill my own brother? And there are good examples to cite here. Why did the North do the counter coup against Nzeogwu? Awolowo got wind of the coup, he did not die. Nnamadi Azikwe got wind of the coup and escaped. Because no Igbo man died in the coup, they saw it clearly as Igbo agenda and so they carried out the counter coup and made the whole of Niger Delta suffer and oppressed. What will make the people within the Niger Delta not to protect their own? We have had oil windfall during the military administration of Gen Ibrahim Babangida and he was not brought to book for it. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo came in; he was not interested in Halliburton saga. Up till now, nobody has brought those involved in the matter to justice.
Again, look at the Maritime University at Okerenkoko. That is a pittance to the number of federal universities that have been established everywhere in this country. The Maritime University is the second Federal university on Ijaw soil. Hardly had the administration that set it up left that they started giving it all manners of bad coloration. Every kind of rubbish is being spoken about the university so that they will not operate it. Beyond that, there is a preponderance of government policies designed to favour the North. The point I am making is that there is a clear evidence to show that the modus operandi of this administration of President Buhari is to whittle down the influence of the Niger Delta people.
Let’s put things in proper perspective. At this start of this chat, you clearly dissociated the position of the INC from what the Niger Delta Avengers are doing. But from what you have enumerated so far, it seems you see the renewed militancy as a reaction to the perceived injustice that is being done to the Niger Delta people. Not so?
Get me right, Ijaw National Congress (INC) has never believed in violence as an option in any of the struggles for justice in the Niger Delta region and never will we do so even in the future. But I will quote the words of Martin Luther King Junior for you: “An oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” It is from this context that I am trying to tell you what the feeling of the Niger Delta people is by way of postulation. Are Nigerians and international community addressing their minds to the possibility that this might be the reason for the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region? This is not to say, however, that the INC accepts that method. How many years have we been promoting PIB to be passed? It has not been passed because majority of the people in the parliament are against anything that will make the Niger Delta people enjoy the resources in the soil. INC submits in our writings to peaceful resolution of the imbroglio.
But why can’t we sit down and look at how federalism is being operated in other clime? These core issues are not being addressed. And, of course, Jonathan too failed the Niger Delta people in this regard. Until that is done, we are going to see more of violence. Save for the Southwest, every other region is marred by violence.
What is the implication of military deployment to the region to quench this renewed militancy, among other options?
I have already taken a position. Like they say, “He who is dawn fears no more.” I don’t need to recount or restate how many times our people have been killed, slaughtered and maimed. There is nothing else the Nigerian state can take from us that we have not already given them. If oil and gas were to be in existence in other regions, they would have over turned the constitution we operate in this country. They would have even done this violent agitation more. What we are seeing now would have been a child’s play. No doubt, the people of Niger Delta will suffer collateral damages for the renewed violence, but no one single soul will waiver in his or her commitment to achieve the general agitation for a true federalism. And until the last man in the Niger Delta soil is wiped out, Nigeria will continue to hear this agitation. The only way to peace is a true federal structure so that we can have our own government with reasonable level of autonomy. This is what the Avengers are telling you. How do you imagine that 80 to 90 percent of people who own oil wells are people from the North? Some will die, some will live; we will continue to make case for this agitation.
Like you did say, innocent people are likely to suffer the consequence of military action as a solution to the renewed violence. Isn’t there a way the necessary stakeholders in the region can intervene and appeal to these militants so save further loss innocent of lives?
Let me tell you why that option cannot work. If we operate a true federal structure, the Ijaw people will have their own way of legislating to fight corruption that is being perpetrated by our leaders. It is this element of one Fulani man who is there coming to persecute our brother that is the bane of the crisis. When you see the Fulani man shielding his brother and at the same time persecuting the Niger Delta man, you don’t expect the people to sit down and watch. What I am saying is that we need to change tactics by looking at the fundamentals? When we get those fundamentals right, it will be left for the people of the Niger Delta to take up their leaders for their corruption. If you conduct an opinion poll, you will find out that 80 to 85 percent of Niger Delta people are bitter that Jonathan lost a golden opportunity to restructure this country and give it a true federal structure. The National Confab he organized came too late and it was even a political confab and that is why we are where we are today. If he had done that, he would have given Niger Delta people a true federal structure.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. If President Buhari is going to salvage the last vestiges of this country, we need to go for a national conference. There are too many things to be sorted out in this country.
Instead of the Federal Government to use intelligence gathering to pinpoint those behind the pipeline bombing and deal with them through the court process, they are busy playing up one ethnic group against the other. Filth columnists in this country are the one masterminding the blowing up of pipelines in the Niger Delta for them to set up the region for destruction.
What you are saying in essence is that the real confide citizens of the Niger Delta are not the ones behind these bombing activities. How would you explain that?
I can say that categorically. If the Federal Government is ready to use intelligence to catch one Ijaw man, they should come and ask me whether we, INC, will carry placard to ask for his release. We will never do so.
But the fact that government has not been able to catch one person is not enough reason to exonerate the entire Niger Delta people.
In the same vein, why would you send all your troops to the Niger Delta to annihilate every living soul without any fact? When they massacred Ogoni, what were the facts? When they massacred Umueche, what were the facts? When they massacred Odi, what were the facts? When they massacred Gbaramatu, what were the facts?
In order words, what you are saying is that some people are masterminding these bombings in order to give an excuse for the government to destroy Niger Delta.
That is the filth columnist theory I am putting across to you. They are doing all these things to give us a bad name and excuse to enter our territory.
But what will the government gain by destroying a particular region?
Oh! My brother, why are you asking this kind of question? What has the government gained by refusing to return this country to true federalism? Is it not the people who want to gain that are gaining, while they rubbish the rest of us in line with the statement made by Sir Ahmadu Bello in the Parrot Newspaper of October 12, 1950 where he said: “This new nation called Nigeria shall be the enclave of our great grandfather- Usman Dan Fodio. We shall use the minority as willing tools; we shall use those of the South as a conquered territory. Never shall we allow them to gain power.”
That is what we are facing in Nigeria today. Have you not also heard what President Buhari said about IPOB? He said we would all rather drown than watching IPOB to carve out the Independent State of Biafara from Nigeria. I wish him good luck! Do you know that there is also a statement that says: “No army in this World can ever stop an idea whose time has come?” We, the Ijaw people, have our own agitation and we want the Federal Government to look into it. The people of the Middle Belt have their issues. The Southeast Igbo have their issues. Yoruba too have their issues. Can the Federal Government look at these genuine issues and deal with them?
It is going to be worse, if any President refuses to open up his mind to look at these issues. The bottom-line is for us to do an overhauling of the present structure in a way that will give autonomy to each region.
You cannot tell me that there are no corrupt people to be taken up in some other zones of this country. Corruption is corruption no matter how long it was committed. The Sun