The Federal Government has been advised to honour the terms of the agreements reached with leaders of the Niger-Delta during a recent meeting with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. The meeting which led to the suspension of the November 1 ultimatum to the Federal Government was put together by the Pan Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF). An activist, and coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, Comrade Joseph Evah, made the remarks in this interview with ’TUNDE THOMAS. He spoke on various issues.
What’s your reaction to the November 1 ultimatum to the Federal Government by the Pan-Niger-Delta Forum, PANDEF recently to meet its 16-point demand? Although the ultimatum has been withdrawn, the group earlier threatened it would suspend further talks with the Federal Government on issues relating to peace and development of the Niger-Delta region?
Although the ultimatum has been withdrawn following talks between PANDEF leaders led by Chief Edwin Clark and the Federal Government, it is unfortunate that the ultimatum had to be issued before Federal Government decided to swing into action.
Why did the Federal Government refuse to implement or show commitment to the implementation of PANDEF’s 16-point demand until PANDEF issued the ultimatum?
The major problem with our leaders and government is insincerity. The Federal Government promised to implement or start implementing some of these demands several months ago, but in its usual style, after making the promise, the Federal Government went to sleep and it took the PANDEF’s ultimatum before it was roused from its slumber. This is very unfortunate. It shows that some of these avoidable crises are a creation of the government itself.
The Federal Government refused to show respect to the people of Niger Delta and that’s why it refused to honour its pledge to the region’s leaders until the ultimatum was issued to push the government to take concrete action towards implementing those 16 demands that will serve as a catalyst for the development of Niger-Delta.
I commend our leaders led by Chief E. K. Clark for issuing that ultimatum because it was getting to a situation where the people of Niger-Delta were getting frustrated with them and were even accusing PANDEF leaders of not being forceful enough in its demands. Some were even thinking that PANDEF leaders had sold out. It was when the ultimatum was issued that many Niger-Deltans believe that it was the Federal Government that was not showing a genuine commitment to the implementation of promises and assurances given to PANDEF leaders.
But that ultimatum was condemned by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta, MEND, and some other prominent Nigerians who described it as unnecessary and a kind of blackmail. They further accused PANDEF leaders, especially Chief Clark of looking the other way and not complaining about underdevelopment of the Niger-Delta when former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger-Deltan was in office, what’s your take on this?
Don’t mind those critics of PANDEF. They are hypocrites. One thing people should realize is this, in any struggle, you will always have some people being sponsored to disorganize the genuine agitations or struggle. This is what is happening in the case of PANDEF.
PANDEF is the only genuine group the people of Niger-Delta recognize. Not only that, the people of the Niger-Delta have put their trust in PANDEF leaders to handle negotiations on their behalf with the Federal Government. Forget what MEND and those other critics are saying. PANDEF leaders are our recognized leaders in Niger-Delta. We won’t allow any group or individual to break our ranks or sow seeds of discord among us. We have high regards for Chief E. K. Clark. He is our undisputable leader, no matter whatever anybody says about him. Clark is our hero, a patriot and true leader of the Niger-Delta.
One thing is this, in any struggle, you will have some dubious groups and individuals being used to scuttle the genuine struggle. These are people we refer to as saboteurs. This is not the first time it will happen. It happened during the June 12 struggle when M.K.O. Abiola was betrayed, it happened during the early struggle for development and emancipation of the Niger-Delta, and we all remembered how the military hanged late Ken Saro-Wiwa for leading the struggle against the injustices in the Niger-Delta. Ken Saro-Wiwa was betrayed. Any group or individual that condemns PANDEF should be regarded as saboteurs. Anybody or group that condemns PANDEF is being sponsored to derail the genuine agitations for the development of Niger-Delta, such groups or individuals should not be taken seriously. They are enemies of Niger-Delta.
What if the issue of PANDEF leaders looking the other way and not talking during the six years of Jonathan’s administration?
People saying that need to go and re-examine their heads. People should stop being unfair to Jonathan. They should stop accusing him of not developing Niger-Delta.
For several years, Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, IBB, General Sani Abacha and Abdusalam Abubakar were presidents and heads of state of Nigeria, but for all the decades they were in office, what did all those leaders who come from the North do for the Northern region? Nothing. Today, poverty is rampant in the North. North is suffering serious underdevelopment, despite all the donkey years that Gowon, IBB, Abdusalam, Murtala Muhammed and Abacha spent in the office.
Today, the problem of insecurity is more pronounced in the North than any other region in Nigeria. You have Boko Haram insurgency there, and all these leaders I have mentioned, have they been able to do anything about it? No.
What about the Almajiri problem in the North? The menace of Almajiri has been there for decades, and for all the years that all these leaders from the North were in power, were they able to tackle it? What of the problem of illiteracy, infrastructural facilities, decay or even lack of it, were they able to address or tackle all these problems? As we are talking today, you get to some areas in the North, pupils are still learning under trees. They show you some classrooms from the North and you see students sitting down on the bare floor to receive lectures. So you ask these leaders from the North why did they fail to transform the North into Dubai of Africa when they were in power.
Jonathan was in office for just six years, and people were expecting miracles from him. Jonathan’s critics are being unfair to him. Some of Jonathan’s critics need to undergo psychiatric tests.
Was it not even during Jonathan’s era that Lagos-Ibadan expressway that has become a deathtrap over the years was repaired and given a face lift; when Obasanjo a Yoruba man was President for eight years he abandoned that road. Not only that Obasanjo abandoned his own state, Ogun State. During Obasanjo’s time, roads in Ogun State were so terrible that whenever he came home from Abuja, he usually took a helicopter from Lagos to his Ota Farms and Abeokuta. Jonathan deserves respect. He should be given his dues. It is only in Nigeria that you see people who call themselves professors or PhD holders talking like children.
When Obasanjo was there, what did Obasanjo do for the South West? Nothing and I stand to be challenged. Apart from the construction of the Presidential Library which is his personal property, Obasanjo did nothing for the South West.
When Obasanjo was military Head of State, the only project he executed or got for the South West was the Ota Farm, which personally belongs to him. But today, when Obasanjo moves about, people eulogise him and give him awards. The same thing for IBB, Gowon and Abdusalam Abubakar; people sing praises of them, but what did all these past leaders achieve or do to transform their regions? Nothing. Go to the North, move into the hinterlands of the North; poverty, hunger, and underdevelopment are more pronounced there than in any other region in Nigeria, and yet the Northern region has produced more leaders than any other region in the country.
People should stop their provocative attitudes on Jonathan. They are being unfair to the man. Jonathan deserves the same respect being given to Gowon, IBB and Obasanjo. Nigerians should give him his dues.
On Chief E. K. Clark, I want to say enough is enough. People should stop disrespecting Clark; Papa Clark is our hero, our own icon. Clark is a selfless leader who loves the people of Niger-Delta and the people also love him and that’s why they accept him as their leader.
But Chief E. K. Clark was accused of making so much money during Jonathan’s era that he even built a private university, married a new wife and …
Yes, what’s wrong with that? Is Pa E. K. Clark at 90 too young to own a private university? Do these people talk rubbish about the old man know about E.K. Clark’s pedigree? Chief E. K. Clark is an accomplished Nigerian. He was a former state commissioner. He was also a former senator and he was also a former minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Clark is also the foremost Ijaw leader. Are these people saying a man with such prestigious record and credentials can’t own a private university? This is why I said earlier that some of these critics need to undergo psychiatric tests.
We will not allow anybody to rubbish or blackmail Chief E. K. Clark. All the private universities in this country, who are the owners? Are they more important or more eminent than Chief E. K. Clark? This is one of the injustices against the Ijaws and people of Niger-Delta. What do some Nigerians take the people of Niger-Delta to be? That we are paupers and second class citizens in Nigeria? God forbid.
Look at the case of oil block ownership in Nigeria; oil is found in Niger-Delta, but the irony of it all is that no Niger-Delta indigene owns an oil block. Rather it is Nigerians from other regions that own the oil wells. What an insult! For example, General T. Y. Danjuma from the North, not because of any other accomplishment but because he was a military leader was given an oil block, while Chief E. K. Clark has none. It is because political leaders from the Niger-Delta are not united, that’s why they are perpetrating all these injustices against us. What about the richest woman in Africa, Mrs Folorunsho Alakija who owns an oil well in Bayelsa State. Alakija single-handedly sponsored Babangida University in Minna because she got oil block from IBB’s government.
But some Nigerians are saying that the Niger-Delta appears to be asking for too much in that PANDEF’s 16-point demands, what’s your view on that?
That’s very unfair to the people of the Niger-Delta. It was the Federal Government that invited Niger-Delta leaders for discussion in the first place, and if you go for a discussion, there must be a give-and-take in your discussion. But the Federal Government later slowed down and kept the Niger-Delta leaders in suspense.
The people of Niger-Delta thereafter started asking their leaders about the talks with the Federal Government. People were expecting to see signs of the Federal Government’s commitment to the talks, but none was visible.
For example, the Federal Government promised to kick-start Maritime University at Okereonkoko, but as we are talking now, nothing has been done. It is a case of empty promise. Since no visible projects by the Federal Government have been seen, some Niger-Delta people started asking Niger-Delta leaders if they had collected bribe from the Federal Government so they could keep quiet. This is one of the reasons that ultimatum was issued by PANDEF.
Niger-Delta people are not blackmailing the Federal Government, it is a government that is reneging on its promise to the people.
The Federal Government has been releasing some Boko Haram suspects under the guise of brokering a peace deal, even Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader was released on bail, but some Niger-Delta indigenes are still languishing in detention, rotting away in jail. Is that not another case of injustice. If Kanu is granted bail and Boko Haram suspects are released, what prevents the Federal Government from releasing Niger-Delta political detainees like Edward Eduware, Charles Okah and Henry Okah? If the Federal Government is applying a political solution to problems of Nigeria by releasing Kanu and Boko Haram suspects, then our own children from the Niger-Delta in detention should also be released? The South East took up their struggle, today Nnamdi Kanu is on bail. I also was among those that fought for Kanu’s bail. But what about Ijaw people in detention like Eduware and Okah brothers?
These are some of the injustices our leaders in PANDEF are trying to address, and the Federal Government should be seen to be fair to all.
Chief E. K. Clark is our own mouth-piece. Niger-Delta people want dialogue and not violence, and therefore, it will be wrong to describe those who want peace as trouble makers. As we speak now, the Federal Ministry of Finance is starving the Amnesty Programme office of funds.
Are you saying the Amnesty Programme is being underfunded?
Yes, and it is being very unfair to the people of Niger-Delta. It is obvious that some people in this present administration are not happy with the Amnesty Programme, and if they actually have their way, they would scrap it. But is this not another case of injustice against the people of Niger-Delta?
Since 1989, nomadic education programme has been going on in the northern parts of the country. Jibril Aminu who was then Minister of Education under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida introduced nomadic education.
How many people from Niger-Delta own oil block? None.
If it is Asari Dokubo that declared that he doesn’t know what to do with money again, they would declare him a criminal. Dan Etete, an indigene of Niger-Delta applied for oil block and licence, they denied him while people from the North and other parts of the country have oil blocks. Is this not an injustice? Those of us who have oil in our backyard are denied oil licence whereas people who don’t have oil at all in their areas are being given our oil wells. Is that not injustice? Is it not unfair for people to say that Niger-Delta people are asking for too much? We are not asking for too much, but demanding our rights.
Some people have expressed fears that militancy might return to the Niger-Delta if there is no breakthrough in talks between the Federal Government and PANDEF, what’s your take on that?
We don’t want militancy to resume and that is why our leaders have been meeting with the Federal Government.
But what can guarantee sustainable peace is for the Federal Government to do the needful in Niger-Delta. If these injustices against our people are addressed, there will be peace, but if the Federal Government chooses not to fulfil its own obligations to the people, then the Federal Government should be held responsible for any consequences. There is no guarantee that bombings and militancy will not resume in Niger-Delta if the Federal Government fails to honour its promises to the people.
What is your reaction to the recent rejection of devolution of power by the Senate?
I’m disappointed, likewise others especially those from the southern part of the country. Rejection of devolution of power is also another way of rejecting restructuring. The Senate is playing with fire by rejecting devolution of power. Without restructuring, we are not going anywhere. Without restructuring, agitations here and there will not go away. Nigeria will not have peace unless we restructure.
The Senate had a golden opportunity to do the needful but missed it. It is only a true practice of federalism as enshrined in the Constitution of the First Republic that can move this nation forward.
Some of our former leaders like General Yakubu Gowon, General Babangida and former President Olusegun Obasanjo have been appealing to Nigerians to let peace reign following recurring violence and series of crises here and there in different parts of the country; how do you see these appeals?
Gowon, Obasanjo and IBB are hypocrites. Why are they suing for peace now when they were the source of Nigeria’s headache? Don’t mind these people, if they had done what they were supposed to have done when they were in power, Nigeria will not be in this terrible mess. Actually, some of our former leaders laid the foundation of the current crises facing the nation.
When these leaders were in power, they didn’t listen to advice, those who will tell them the truth and give them the right advice, they chase them away. They were acting as if they were God. Nigerians should not take them seriously. When they were in power, you couldn’t even talk to them. They were very arrogant and unreachable.
Look at somebody like Obasanjo; see how he treated those people that were accused alongside with him for plotting that phantom coup. When Obasanjo became president after he had been granted pardon, he promised to help these people but for eight years he was in power, he did nothing about the case of these people.
Obasanjo knew that these people were falsely accused like him, yet he refused to help them. All the former leaders of Nigeria were bad managers, and that’s why Nigeria is where we are today. I would have even said these leaders should offer the nation an apology for putting Nigeria in this mess, but if you ask them to apologise, they will tell you that it is even Nigerians that are owing them an apology. The only way to move this country forward is to restructure. There is no alternative to restructuring. True federalism was working well for us in the First Republic, but the military came and truncated it.
Today, Nigeria is in crisis because we jettisoned true practice of federalism. For peace to reign, people have been clamouring for restructuring but it appears some forces that are benefitting from the status quo are bent on frustrating any attempt to restructure, and it is the same forces at play that manipulated or used the Senate to jettison demands for devolution of power. What we all don’t know is that we are all sitting on a keg of gun powder which can explode anytime. I’m not a prophet of doom, but there is no way we can continue like this and believe that all is well with our nation. The earlier we realize and accept the truth, the better. Nigeria is in dire need of fundamental changes that will guarantee lasting peace and ensure that genuine unity and harmony prevail among the different ethnic nationalities that make up the nation. (The Sun)