Posted by By Emmanuel Obe on
The issue about armed struggle is different from the issue of criminality. We have told the government that the problem of our people is that of deprivation.
What is the Ijaw Youth Council doing to bring an end to the criminality and armed struggle in the Niger Delta?
The issue about armed struggle is different from the issue of criminality. We have told the government that the problem of our people is that of deprivation. These people want to be part of the oil and gas sector, they need good education, good healthcare, good roads and so on. If government provides these things, the guns will disappear. In the history of civil wars, I have not read it anywhere that people were told to come and return guns. But today, the guns are nowhere because the country has started addressing the neglect. Asari Dokubo returned over 3,000 guns and he bought 5,000 with the money they were paying him. So, we still have guns, we now have more than one million guns. So, taking our guns will not solve any problem. The issue is neglect.
People are ascribing a lot of things to the 1998 Kaiama Declaration. How do you rect to that?
We have a universally accepted document. That declaration was an attempt to address all the issues that affect our people; the issue of unity, which was also what the Nigerian nation was discussing from the 60s. It was not even the issue of oil but that of ethnic identity. When the oil came, they now created the oil exploration act, all in a calculated attempt to oppress the people. I think the Kaiama Declaration addresses these issues. Let’s control our resources. True federalism is what everybody is canvassing for, so that people can have access to their God-given resources. Sometimes, I feel sorry for the nation because we are not developing our technology as a result of our total reliance on oil. Where is cocoa and groundnut today? People are swallowed by this financial drive of making quick money. That is why we need a national conference to resolve all these issues. We are also calling for an Ijaw conference that will add move flesh to the document to be presented. The pan-Ijaw conference is billed for March.
The way the Ijaw are going about things can they go it alone without working with the other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta?
Our agitation is not even for the Ijaw alone. We just belled the cat. The Ijaw fought for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the beneficiaries are not only the Ijaw. We are talking about the declaration of a state of emergency for development. The Niger Delta crisscrosses so many tribes. The Ijaw are only the majority. Solve the Ijaw man’s problem and then you have solved 70 per cent of the problems in the region. For example, if you construct a dual carriage road from Port Harcourt to Opobo, it is going to serve all the people along that axis and so many other communities. Our terrain is the most difficult terrain. Whatever we are asking for is well placed.
People have said that the former governors of Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo and Delta states didn’t manage the resources that accrued to their states well.
Has the Federal Government managed the large revenue available to it well? It is better to have 37 small things than one big thing. Do you know how many billions former president Obasanjo spent in this country? You see, under our leadership of the IYC, money is not the issue. We are educating our people about our rights.
How can these issues you have raised be resolved in a constitutional democracy like ours?
We have proffered solutions. It is left for government to be transparent and address the neglect of the people for over 50 years. The government needs to put a powerful team together from the area which understands the people, people who are committed to injecting a lot of vigour in terms of manpower and capacity building. With all this, the crisis will be solved. If they are saying there is no security, why are they drilling and exploring everyday? But to do roads, they will tell you there is no security.
What do you have to say about Ateke Tom?
When I became the IYC president, I took some militants to meet Ateke Tom for a discussion. We told him that he had to release the hostages in his possession. Surprisingly, he released those Russians in his custody. These were hostages that had been there for three months. The government of Obasanjo refused to fulfill their part of the agreement. They promised to grant him amnesty and replace all his property that were destroyed which they did not. The man has been doing bunkering for sometime now and he has a right to the resources coming from his area. I have said that it is the militants that are doing bunkering. It is their right; if government thinks it wants to regulate it, it should license them properly. After all, do you know how many millions, Shell, Agip are taking? These people are looting our country.
What about the cult rivalry in the Niger Delta?
Of course, there are cults in Kano, Benin. You see, cults are just a function of the society. We shouldn’t mix cults and the struggle. We need a judicial commission of enquiry into the Rivers State crisis.
The President recently said NDDC’s N224 billion had expired. How do you react to that?
If government was living up to its responsibility, there wouldn’t have been the need for any intervention agency like the NDDC. Government failed, ab initio, to address the issues fundamental to oil exploration. The NDDC was created initially to address the pressing needs of our people. Unfortunately, since the last eight years, the NDDC has been short funded. There are contractors on the ground that want jobs, youths are going to NDDC for SMEs and they can’t get funding from the agency. You can imagine a situation where over N224 billion owed the agency will now have to be returned to the Federation Account. And this is a President who says he wants to solve the problem of the Niger Delta. The problem of the Niger Delta is basically that of neglect and underdevelopment; so much is taken out and nothing is going there. They deliberately held back the fund saying that the time the money ought to be expended is over, which is wrong. Lagos State was owed over N10 billion local government fund and the President dispensed this fund as fast as possible. The money has been appropriated. The government could even set up a bank where this money can be kept for use by the NDDC in carrying out projects that are of relevance to the people.
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