PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has been advised to embrace dialogue to resolve renewed insurgency in the Niger Delta which has led to attacks on oil pipelines and facilities by militants.
While urging the President not to listen to bad advisers and hawks in his cabinet who are allegedly urging him to use force to subdue the militants, Evah said military option would exacerbate the situation.
In this interview with SATURDAY SUN, Evah also spoke on other national issues including the role of South-south governors in the crisis, the region’s relationship with the North, Amnesty Programme and a host of others. It was conducted by TUNDE THOMAS. Excerpts:
What is your view about the resurgence of militancy in the Niger-Delta because many Nigerians believed that with the Amnesty Programme initiated in 2009, that lasting peace had returned to the region?
It is unfortunate that many Nigerians didn’t know that all along, we have been sitting on a keg of gun powder in the Niger-Delta.
What you have in the Niger-Delta has been a peace of the graveyard. Although it is true that Amnesty Programme is in place, but how many people will that programme benefit out of millions of our people whose daily lives and means of livelihood are being destroyed by oil exploration?
Niger-Delta people have been resilient – the suffering have been too much, and unfortunately oil companies operating in the region have little or no feelings at all for the people.
Unfortunately those people that are inhabitants of Niger-Delta would have looked up to for succour, that is the state governors are cowards. They can’t face the oil companies and tell them the bitter truth that the people are suffering as a result of ecological damage to their environment and businesses. It is unfortunate that these people we elected to represent our interests are the same set of people that have compromised.
The oil companies have little or no respect at all for these south-south governors because even some of them use to go and beg for money from the oil companies, and in turn the oil companies treat our governors as house boys.
What happens when you have nobody to do your battle, you then resort to self-help, that is exactly what is responsible for the renewed militancy in the Niger-Delta.
The people of Niger-Delta, both the young and the old, most especially the youths had expected the governors of the south-south to mobilize the people to demand for improvement in their environment. Most of these youths have been to Lagos, Abuja, Kano and other cities, and having realized that most of the developments you have in this places were carried out with proceeds from sale of crude oil got from the Niger- Delta, they become angry that the region which produce this wealth has been neglected.
Our people in Niger-Delta live in abject neglect. Our angry youths who are now involved in this renewed militancy want Niger-Delta region to be developed – they want the oil rich region to look like Dubai, New York, Paris and host of other beautiful cities across the world. Although as elders, we have been advising them to shun violence and embrace dialogue in channeling their grievances to the appropriate authorities.
Are you saying that the state governors in the Niger- Delta should have confronted the oil companies …?
Cuts in … No. We are not saying that. Do they need to confront anybody to demand for the rights of their people? No. The demands of the Niger-Delta people are legitimate ones. Is it not the greatest of man’s inhumanity to fellow human beings that your operations in my environment is causing a lot of damage, and you are not making any moves to ameliorate the situation?
Go to the Niger-Delta today, see people are living in squalor, and yet this is an oil-rich region. Even oil exploration has destroyed farming and fishing which used to be major occupation of the people.
There are some obvious insults which we don’t expect the governors to take from the oil companies. For instance, while these oil companies pay tenement rates to the federal government, they neglect the land owners from whose land they get the oil. There are other instances, and some of these people have built up anger in our youths.
But the Amnesty Programme is still on and many youths from Niger-Delta have benefitted and are still benefitting …?
Cuts in … It is true that Amnesty Programme is on. But do you know that many enemies of Niger-Delta and Buhari have advised the President to wind up the Amnesty Programme? But how do you wind up when many youths are still undergoing training in various fields in Nigeria and overseas? Now as a result of that plot to wind up the programme, they have reduced the budgetary allocation for the Amnesty Programme drastically, and as a result of that Niger-Delta indigenes undergoing training abroad are now stranded and suffering. There was a time they even send SOS Appeal to President Buhari. But my advise to the President is that he should not listen to these bad advisers. They will mislead him. But like I said earlier, on our own part we have been advising these boys to stop the attack on the pipelines. Those attacks not only result in economic losses for the country, but vandalisation of oil pipelines also damage the environment.
Will you say the agitation by the Niger-Delta is justified or criminal?
Let’s look at it this way, over a period of time you have been complaining about the monumental damage being done to your environment and yet nothing was done. You have been complaining about marginalization and neglect, yet nothing was done.
Again you see wealth derived from your region being used to develop other places, and yet your area is not developed, will you take kindly to that?
I believe in dialogue in resolving these issues, and that has been my appeal to the militants, but while we are appealing to the militants to embrace dialogue, if the president listens those urging him to use force to crush the militants, that would be a wrong option and if will prolong the crisis.
Are you saying the Nigerian military can’t crush the militants or the Niger-Delta Avengers?
I’m not saying that. But what I’m trying to explain is that you don’t resolve crisis with force.
Again, those agitating the use of force to suppress or crush the militants are poor students of history.
Has force not been used against the militants in the past? Late President Umar Yar’Adua initially launched military attacks against the militants, but when he realized the futility of the military option, he quickly put the Amnesty Programme in place.
Niger-Delta is a difficult terrain, and it has proved to be the graveyard of the military as they suffered heavy losses during that initial invasion by Yar’Adua’s government.
Even look at the current crisis, the military authorities have deployed personnel and equipment across the region, hunting for the militants, but have they succeeded, rather the attack on the oil installations has intensified with the attendant economic losses for Nigeria. For God’s sake, why not embrace dialogue. If Buhari embraces dialogue, it is not a sign of weakness on his part, but mark of a genuine statesman. That is why I said Buhari should not listen to bad advisers.
To show you again that it will be very difficult for the military to penetrate the creeks or tame the Niger- Delta Avengers, for almost 3 weeks now, the coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, General Boroh (retd) has been sleeping in the creeks leading an operation to get some of the militants but has he succeeded? No. Should federal government opt for military operation, it will backfire and the country’s economy will continue to be in trouble.
Who are these people, the Niger-Delta Avengers, and who are their sponsors?
Niger-Delta Avengers are faceless people. You can’t see them. Even the Amnesty Office workers and the coordinator have been looking for them in the creeks, but they can’t find any of them. Some people are even saying that may be they are spirits sent by the gods to fight the cause of the Niger- Delta people.
But some people are saying that the Niger-Delta Avengers are being sponsored by those people who felt about how this administration has been going about exposing corruption that took place during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration or that some people in the Niger-Delta are not happy with Buhari’s administration …?
Cuts in … It is an insult to link Jonathan with resurgence of militancy in the Niger-Delta. Jonathan has no reason to create problems for Buhari’s administration. Even his sympathizers have no reason to do so also. When Jonathan lost the election, he was the first person to accept defeat and also congratulate Buhari. Not only that he told us in Niger-Delta that nobody should cause trouble, and we gave him assurances that there will be peace.
The agitation going on in Niger-Delta should not be seen as anti-North or anti-Buhari, it is a protest aimed at protesting under-development of Niger-Delta.
The relationship between Niger-Delta and the North has always been very cordial. We in Bayelsa will remain ever grateful for the creation of the state by late Gen. Sani Abacha, a northerner. It was also a northern president, Umaru Yar’Adua that created Ministry of Niger- Delta Affairs, so our people hold no grudge against the North or Northerners.
In the same vein, you will also recall that President Muhammadu Buhari has been praising former President Goodluck Jonathan for accepting defeat.
What the people of Niger- Delta are fighting is our system which allow oppression of the people. We need to review our current Federal Structure. We need to practice true federalism. Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar also made allusion to this recently. Unless we are deceiving ourselves, the present federalism which we are operating is seriously flawed. It is not only in Niger-Delta that you have pockets of crises. All over the country, there is discontentment by some people and groups. All these need to be addressed including the current agitations for the independent state of Biafra. I don’t see why Nnamdi Kanu the leader of the Movement for Creation of Biafra State is being detained. Why detain the man? Why deploying the military and the police to suppress Biafran agitation?
Instead of all these, federal government should have employed dialogue to resolve the issue. Buhari should release Kanu. He can release him to an eminent elderstatesman like former Vice- President, Dr Alex Ekwueme with condition that he should stop talking while dialogue option is being explored to resolve the contentious issues.
President Buhari can’t afford to be mired in too many battles – the economy is already in bad shape. We need all hands to be on deck to revive the economy. The use of force can’t suppress all these problems. Buhari should regard himself as father of the nation, he should extend hands of fellowship to all. He should ignore the hawks or war mongers in his cabinet. He should not listen to bad advisers.
From your comments, are you saying Buhari has been unfair to the people of Niger-Delta because some people viewed him as being too pro-North?
Like I said earlier, I have not seen anything to show that Buhari has a hidden agenda against the Niger-Delta. He has continued with the Amnesty Programme although some people are advising him to wind up the programme – they have even reduced budgetary allocation for the programme. To me these are wrong steps. I know it may not be Buhari’s intention to do so but as a result of bad advice.
How do you wind up a programme when many beneficiaries are still undergoing training, many were still being expected to be enlisted into the programme? The reduction of budgetary allocation to the Amnesty Office has already resulted in severe hardship for Niger-Delta students abroad. Naturally people of Niger-Delta are not happy with this development, and President Buhari should order a review.
To show that Buhari also love Niger-Delta, he has flagged off the clean up of oil spill in Ogoni land. For doing this, the people of Niger-Delta are grateful. Appeals for the clean up of the spill were made to successive governments before Buhari came into office, but these appeals were ignored and not heeded. The Sun