‘Those demanding amnesty for Boko Haram, bandits are not fair to Nigeria’
Foremost Niger Delta activist and Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, says Nigeria is fighting an undeclared war, noting that those demanding for amnesty for bandits and insurgents are not fair to the country. He disagrees with those saying that Niger Delta militants sold the kidnapping dummy to the rest of the country, stressing that, “the foundation is the Maitatsine riot in the North.” The fiery activist also speaks on the planned rehabilitation of Port Harcourt refinery with a whopping $1.5 billion, rising agitation for secession in the country and the state of affairs at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) without a board, among other issues.
Nigeria is facing serious security challenges, which include insurgency, banditry and kidnapping. What have been your reflections on the situation, especially against the backdrop of insinuations in certain quarters that Niger Delta militants sold the kidnapping dummy to the rest of the country?
It is a lie; we the Niger Delta people never started kidnapping. We never kidnapped anybody, we are peaceful people; we love peace. Kidnapping in this country started with the Maitatsine riot in the North in the early 80s. It happened during Shehu Shagari’s administration and continued until Buhari’s regime as Military Head of State. And they dealt with it.
The breakaway factions from Maitatsine sect started re-regrouping afterwards, but our security agents did not do their homework in that direction. Buhari tried to ensure that they finished them, but the remaining elements now graduated to Boko Haram. The foundation is the Maitatsine riot in the North.
To take care of the aftermath of the Maitatsine riot, the Babangida regime came up with nomadic education. So, those who are demanding for amnesty for Boko Haram and bandits are not fair to this country. They were granted amnesty at the time Jubril Aminu was the Minister of Education with the introduction of nomadic education. This cow problem, is it not nomadic? So, there was nomadic education to take care of nomads and every of their problems. We are currently facing the problem of Fulani herdsmen, but they were given amnesty in the 80s by the Babangida government.
Now, when our challenge came and instead of listening to us, the Federal Government deployed military men to come and occupy our area; Ijaw gods came out to fight for us. So, it was Ijaw gods – Egbesu, Osopele and Benkurukuru – that confronted the Federal Government and the Army. No Ijaw youth kidnapped anybody; we never kidnapped anybody. It was Ijaw gods that dealt with the Federal Government and they started ‘crying’. To appease the gods, the late president Yar’Adua came up with the Amnesty Programme. So, we the Niger Delta people never kidnapped anybody for ransom. As they are publishing the names of wanted Boko Haram members, let them publish the name of an Ijaw person that kidnapped anybody for ransom. The security agencies are there; I challenge them.
Having said that, we are all concerned about the level of insecurity in the country, especially in the North. I once lived in Maiduguri with my parents. So, it is very sad for me to see Maiduguri on fire. In those days, religion was not taken to this level. Sometime, we went to the mosque to eat with Muslims when they had festivals and when it was time for Christian festivals, Muslims in our compound also followed us to celebrate. That was what we did in Maiduguri in those days. So, there is nobody who has ever lived in Maiduguri, Katsina and all the other cities in the North, whether Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Ghanaian or Togolese that will be happy over the destruction that is going on there.
Every part of Nigeria is supposed to be home to every Nigerian. What is going on in the country today is an undeclared war. So, people should not be childish over it by suggesting that Niger Delta people started kidnapping instead of dealing with the problem. This is a serious problem facing all of us.
You seem to be in support of some governors who insist that they would never grant amnesty to bandits?
I want to say that God should bless the Katsina State governor who is very firm that there should be nothing like that. I had in the past demanded for amnesty for Boko Haram. During Jonathan’s government, I granted interviews where I canvassed that they should be granted second amnesty because they were given amnesty in the name of nomadic education. I said they should be given another amnesty to see if that would reduce the carnage they were perpetrating.
I want to ask those who are bombing pregnant women, if people had bombed their mothers when they were in the womb, would they have been alive today to be planning to bomb other human beings with the belief that they are fighting for their faith? They didn’t fall from the sky; they have parents. But they are killing people, killing others’ parents here and there. I hope they listen to the voice of reason.
So, I vehemently support the position of the Katsina State governor. They had been granted amnesty in the past, even five years ago, but some of them have taken up arms against the state again. They have even penetrated the armed forces, which was what was causing the sabotage we were seeing. The Army had come out to say that there was sabotage in the system. May be the new Chief of Defence Staff and his team will change the narrative. We are completely helpless.
The security situation in the country has given rise to more agitations for secession. It used to be the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) saying the Igbos want to leave Nigeria, but a Yoruba youth leader, Sunday Adeyemo, recently declared that the Yoruba nation was no longer part of Nigeria. What is your take on the development?
It is very sad, but I think we can still save the situation if Buhari is firm. Why we are calling him out every time is because he is the leader. Look at the way Gen. Gowon managed the civil war; Gowon is still alive. Why can’t he consult him? During the civil war, Gowon told the federal forces, ‘this war we have is not enemy against enemy; it is brothers against brothers, so you should use limited force to bring our brothers back. Any area you capture, you have to make sure that there is rule of law, weddings, food, etc. And we want international observers to really monitor to see whether these things are actually being done. Then, anybody that crosses to our side we would, may be, give him appointment so the person could go and lobby his people. And yes, we have all offended each other but we should accept it.’
Gowon said something like this in his bid to keep the country together. But a situation where the Presidency is saying, ‘forget about those people who are agitating for secession’ doesn’t help matters. Let them agree that there is a problem, which arose because of their body language, and find solutions to the problem. Some spokespersons of the President have been speaking anyhow and they do so because of the perks of office they are enjoying. They have to stop it.
There is actually a problem. The government should announce that there is actually a problem, but we should not allow this problem to go out of hand. If you recall, the first set of politicians and officers that were killed during the first coup d’état were from a particular section of the country. Even at that time, people like Murtala Mohammed and others said they wanted to break up the country if not for the British people.
So, at any given time in this country when people felt oppressed, they demanded for a break up of the country. Thus, this is not the first time that people are demanding that they want to leave Nigeria. Even before independence, when other regions in the country wanted independence from the colonial masters, Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa insisted that the North was not ready. They said the North was ready to go its way than to join other regions to have independence then. So, these talks about we want to go, we are tired of this marriage is not a new thing. Why should people in Aso Rock today be behaving as if they are hearing them for the first time? They are supposed to find solutions instead of pretending. When you see some of them talk on television, you wonder if they have spiritual problems. It is unfortunate.
If you say the President should follow the footsteps of past leaders and find solutions to agitations for secession, what kind of solutions do you expect him to proffer now?
There was a national conference before he came; he should implement the report of that conference. Representatives of the civil society organisations, academia, business community, traditional institution and recognised elders from each of the ethnic groups in each of the states, among others, attended the conference. Some of the elders that participated in the conference were part of the delegation that went to London before Nigeria became a republic in 1963; those who participated in the making of the 1963 Republican Constitution were part of the 2014 National Conference. Why is he trying to play politics with the report of that conference? If Buhari decides to implement the report of that conference today, I tell you, tension will come down.
Those who are against the outcome of that conference are only trying to play to the gallery; they have no answer. They only want to give former president Jonathan a bad name to hang him. Meanwhile, one of the greatest achievements of Jonathan’s administration was that conference; there is nothing wrong for you to improve on what your predecessor did. There are projects that other people started while in office, which should be continued. We should remove the mindset that unless we do our own then we are not political leaders. That is the mindset of Buhari’s advisers. Was it not recently that we repaired the Third Mainland Bridge, which was built by former president Babangida? Will he say he wants to pull down that bridge and build his own? That kind of mindset is one of the causes of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
Sometime last year, you called for the inauguration of the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) while the forensic audit of the commission continues. Up till now, the board has not be inaugurated neither has the audit been completed. How do you think this has affected the operations of the commission?
The situation is very similar to when we were demanding for the removal of the immediate past service chiefs; the president was just adamant for nothing. Even the head of Buhari’s village demanded for the removal of the former service chiefs; there was a protest in Katsina to press for their removal. When bandits were attacking even Buhari’s kingdom, virtually all the elders in the North demanded for their removal, but President Buhari refused to heed the call. So, the day we heard that he has removed them, people were like, ‘is he now tired?’
The whole Niger Delta patriots have told Buhari that he cannot turn NDDC upside down. We have told him that we are in support of the forensic audit and that he should go ahead with it. But we also noted that, if it were politicians that would conduct the forensic audit, he would just waste his time. We have advised him to give the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which he holds in high esteem, the power to do the forensic audit. But he refused, probably because somebody that has his ears told him not to do that; that is what is happening in NDDC. So, when Buhari gets tired, just like in the case of the removal of the service chiefs, he will do what is right.
What if he doesn’t get tired any time soon?
Well, we will continue to demand. Nigerians never got tired to say he should remove the service chiefs because it was obvious that the service chiefs were even tired but didn’t know how to resign.
The other day, I saw the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs demanding for more funding for the ministry; the minister, Godswill Akpabio, has left the position he was given to face NDDC. Today, NDDC is like a farm to the whole nation. Recently, you heard the National Assembly members saying they would probe the Commission over the fund it spent on COVID-19 palliatives. To many observers, it means they have no money in their pockets for Easter. The trend is that whenever they lack money for an upcoming festival, they will just accuse the NDDC of one misdemeanor or the other because NDDC is like a farm where everybody can go and harvest. That is what they have turned it to because the Commission has no board.
Investigations are going on in many Federal Government agencies, but the boards are there. But an Interim Management Committee (IMG) is managing NDDC instead of a board. I will not be surprised if by tomorrow, Buhari’s press secretary will announce that the title of the head of the IMG has changed to ‘general overseer.’ If he does that, nothing will happen because the South-south governors are not firm on NDDC matters. If the governors are firm like their Southwest counterparts, would the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, be talking about the Federal Government’s plan to use the Ibori loot, which is Delta State’s money, to execute projects outside the Niger Delta, instead of handing it over to the state?
So you are opposed to the government’s plan to use the money for the construction of the Second Niger Bridge and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway?
The AGF is just insulting Niger Delta people. I think when they look at the calibre of people who govern the South-south, they will just be insulting us. This is the same Niger Delta that produced the late Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Dennis Osadebay and Michael Ibru, among others. When Chief Okotiebo appeared before the British parliament those days, the Prime Minister stood up. Today, look at the type of governors my area produce. If these governors decide to storm Aso Rock and tell Buhari that his government is insulting the people of Niger Delta, he will address their concerns. How could the government say that money that belongs to Delta State, recovered in London, belongs to the Federal Government? I hear some educated illiterates saying that it was the Federal Government that struck the deal for the money to be returned.
In the first place, where did the Federal Government get the money? Is the Federal Government not getting money from the federating states? Which money did the Federal Government use to pursue the case? Is it not money from the federating states? So, it is the Federal Government’s responsibility to go and bring the money back. Is it the responsibility of the Delta State government to go and negotiate for the return of the fund? Would the British government have accepted to negotiate with the Delta State government?
The Federal Government has to protect its citizens residing in London, U.S. Cameroon, Canada, Liberia and all over the world. It is not their states of origin that will go and discuss with the government of other countries if they have problem there; it is the Federal Government, which has embassies there. So, if the fund belonging to a state is stuck in a foreign country, it is the Federal Government’s responsibility to bring back that money through the embassies. And in this case, Delta State doesn’t have an embassy in Britain.
So, when I see some educated people talking childishly, I simply conclude that they are doing so because this is Nigeria. But Malami or whoever should stop insulting us. Even if we have cowards as governors, who are exposing us to this insult, he should remember that tomorrow another person will be AGF and the person can do the same thing to his own state.
I had gone to court to stop this kind of insult in the past. That was when they wanted to dredge River Niger without carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Do you intend to approach the court on this matter?
No! I will not go to court because politicians from the region will sabotage my efforts; that is what they do. When I took the Federal Government to court over its plan to dredge the River Niger, and the matter dragged on until the restoration of democracy, some of our politicians came to tell me that I didn’t have right to pursue that case. They said that it was either I stopped the case or they would deal with me. So, what I just want to advise Malami now is to remember that there is tomorrow.
How would you weigh in on the ongoing national discourse on the government’s plan to rehabilitate Port Harcourt refinery with a whopping sum of $1.5 billion? Are you for or against the move?
Those who are advising Buhari to do that are just rubbishing his image. Buhari was part of those who built the refinery; he was minister of petroleum during Obasanjo’s government in the military era. He was a governor during the military era. He later became military head of state. Now, he is a civilian president. If Buhari is sincere with this country, he is more informed than any other Nigerian about petroleum matters. It is the bootlickers that are deceiving him in the Villa. He said he is the minister of petroleum. If he is the minister of petroleum, is it the repairing of Port Harcourt refinery that he wants to use to wind down his tenure?
Next year is election year; the political parties will nominate their candidates for the 2023 general election in 2022. Is that the time that Buhari wants to start fixing refineries? I don’t know what is happening; the way our leaders think and do things is so frightening. What is happening to Buhari? Who are the people reasoning with him?
If he must repair the refinery, he should arrest those who destroyed our refineries, get them to cough out the money they looted and use it to repair the refinery. We don’t need to use government’s money to repair Port Harcourt, Warri or Kaduna refineries. Let him direct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to go after those that destroyed the refineries. If they carry out a forensic audit of the refineries, those who destroyed them will bring out the billions of dollars they looted on their own and repair the refineries.
But government can build new refineries. If the Federal Government wanted to build new refineries since the inception of Buhari’s administration, it would have built more 10. There are simple, modernised ways of building refineries. You are aware that some Niger Delta youths are refining crude oil illegally. The government had assured that it would give modular refineries to Niger Delta people refining crude oil illegally. Are you seeing the modular refineries? No! It is because there is a cabal that does not want the pump price of petrol in the country to be low. They want to continue tormenting ordinary Nigerians in the name of importing fuel. So, as the U.S. dollar, which impacts the cost of importing petrol, is making Nigeria’s naira useless, what do you expect in the markets? Any amount of money you take to the market today is almost useless because we are importing fuel and the importers and marketers want to make billions and billions of profit. That is why Nigerians are suffering.
Nobody will tell me that Buhari don’t know that. He is aware; he has been in government since the 70s till today. So, who are the people that have chained him that he has become almost helpless? What type of spiritual bondage is in Aso Rock that anybody who enters there will be helpless in the hands of the cabals that are making the ordinary people to suffer? This is my worry.
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