‘Why government needs Tompolo to appease avengers’
Chief Favour Izoukumor, the Fiye–Owei of Ogbe-Ijoh kingdom, Warri, Delta State, is the Chairman of Ajuju the oil producing community. He told CHIDO OKAFOR that the Federal Government’s slow pace in resolving the Niger Delta Avengers’ agitation has created more militant groups in the Niger Delta and has made dialogue much more tedious. Excerpts:
A group known as the Niger Delta Avengers has been blowing up oil facilities leading to military invasion of several Ijaw communities. Why is this scenario playing out again?
First and foremost, I will reiterate my earlier position that we are very surprised about the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers; I, therefore, condemn the act. Any act that destroys the assets of the economy is unacceptable. It is an act that no meaningful citizen of the country will embrace. As a Nigerian and core stakeholder in the region, they (Avengers) took everybody by surprise, so it is unacceptable. Now let me go to your question, Iet me say what I said in my earlier interviews; government created that vacuum – those reasons that may justify the emergence of the Niger Delta Avengers and their destructive actions. When you look at the issues adduced by the so-called Avengers, it is all about deprivation and injustice being perpetuated against the people of the Niger Delta by the past and present governments and they felt that the present regime led by PresidentMuhammadu Buhari may not be different from the past ones. They felt that the Niger Delta will be less developed by some of the decisions he had taken in the last one year and few months.The reasons are very obvious – it is about the development of the Niger Delta region, even before independence the agitations for the development of the region had been on.
How true is the claim that the Niger Delta Avengers is being sponsored by Tompolo?
I think that whoever is canvassing that notion is wicked. If you recall they have been trying to instigate the Federal Government against the young man, Tompolo. Recall that in the early part of the year there were destruction of gas pipelines, they were bombed, and some persons tried to link Tompolo to the bombing and since then Tompolo has refuted the allegations against him, and I also felt that people are deliberately using those statements to incite the Federal Government against him. Before the death of our amiable former President Yar’Adua, an olive branch of Amnesty was extended to all the agitators and Tompolo was among those that embraced the amnesty programme, he did not just embrace it, he convened a meeting of Ijaw youth leaders that he would be giving peace a chance and he used his influence to compel all the other ethnic nationalities to embrace peace in the region; that, yes, we are still oppressed but the approach should be non-violence.
So, how come they are casting those wicked propaganda to link him with bombing of pipelines, although, within his neighbourhood, he may have offended some persons by doing the right thing. So, to the best of my knowledge as a leader in this region particularly to the Ijaw people, Tompolo is not behind any Avengers, neither is any Ijaw leader behind the economic campaign of destruction by the Avengers and that is why most leaders have come out without equivocation to condemn the act. So I want you to accept the fact that no Ijaw leader or Tompolo is behind the act by the so-called Avengers.
Those who believe Tompolo has a link with the Avengers say the bombing of oil facilities began when the EFCC went after him. These incidents, they claim, are connected.
They are very unconnected. Some persons, maybe, few minorities within the system felt that the position of Tompolo by coming out to advocate for genuine economic and political emancipation of the Niger Delta was unacceptable, perhaps. One way or the other, those who want the status quo to remain felt hurt. I have said it time without number that if Tompolo has issues with EFCC let him go and face them.. Tompolo believes in due process and rule of law. He felt alarmed that the EFCC claimed that they have called and invited him and to his greatest surprise he has not received any letters. He was suspicious and the first thing he did was to go to court; he took the EFCC to court. And as we speak Tompolo has lawyers facing the EFCC allegations and all that – so why is such a person who is following rule of law being harassed by the EFCC? Even in the Niger Delta he has canvassed for peaceful approach to issues. So, like I said earlier, the enemies are doing everything possible to ensure they give Tompolo a bad name. There is no connectivity between bombing of oil facilities and EFCC hunt for Tompolo to me.
How does Ayiri Emami an Itsekiri ex-militant leader play into this issue? Stories abound that he is the one instigating the Federal Government against Tompolo and the Ijaws of Gbaramatu kingdom.
I read that in the papers. I have no facts on ground that one individual or leader from a particular ethnic nationality is instigating the Federal Government against Tompolo and maybe any person, I have no fact. These two persons you talked about, from my knowledge, are even friends. Tompolo and Ayiri are friends. It is quite unfortunate that some of the statements that are being credited to them are inflammatory. You know life is about individual interest, you may also have group or people interest – and if these interests are not well managed, there may be likely conflict of interest and that is why in the modern society people, elite have understanding through consensus; nobody will say I’m superior to one another, and I have not read anywhere where Tompolo said Ayiri is his enemy. But sometimes when we take our individual position on issues it may conflict one another’s view. Whatever the case I don’t think one person’s position on an issue may warrant two ethnic personalities degenerating into a conflict particularly as we all are in the Warri zone. I still believe Tompolo and Ayiri are friends they may have divergent views on issues which are allowed.
Are you impressed with the way the Federal Government has handled the Avengers issue?
First, I need to commend the President by opting for dialogue. Most Nigerians believe that the best approach to manage the Niger Delta issue which is very sensitive not only to Nigerians but even to the international community – the best approach is through dialogue. I need to give kudos to the president for accepting the dialogue advice. But I need to be candid, apart from his body language and making a pronouncement of dialogue and giving instruction to the military to scale down military actions – the president may have genuine intentions to see that the Niger Delta that is still aggrieved would come to the round table to dialogue.
However, I feel concerned that after that statement much has not been achieved. Even the peace we are enjoying was initiated by the Delta State government. The Delta State government led by amiable Governor Ifeanyi Okowa who set up a peace advocacy committee led by the deputy governor of the state and they travelled around the nooks and crannies of the state advocating for peace. That was a similar approach that Yar’Adua used when MEND was at that time in the offing, canvassing for the same development for the Niger Delta and that is the approach the state government adopted to win over the communities.
Are you saying in essence that the state and not Federal Government is responsible for the relative peace in the riverine communities?
Yes, majorly. That advocacy committee that was inaugurated by the governor and led by the deputy governor prepared the ground for conducive environment that made the Federal Government to mandate the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and other ministers, to explore how peace would return – so the Federal Government consolidated on the state government peace advocacy enterprise. The efforts of the Federal Government to resolve the Avengers crisis to me looks low because their lapses have led to the resurrection of various armed agitators in the region. The earlier the Federal Government makes their intentions in the region known, the better for the region as it will give confidence to the investors and Nigerians.
Many different militant groups have risen in the Niger Delta demanding for one thing or the other. The cacophony of noise from these new militant groups appear to have made resolution of the crisis cumbersome as the Federal Government appears to be at a loss who to dialogue with. MEND and Avengers are even not in agreement
For more than 30 years one has been on this business of Niger Delta to see how we can get a fair share in a peaceful way. What is happening now is not strange. As far as I’m concerned, MEND has been moribund for over the years and for MEND to be resurrected within these few days is political. If I ask who are those behind MEND you may equally ask who are those behind the Avengers. You know very much that MEND is dead. The various pluralities of militant groups is now a big issue – the intelligence gathering of the security agencies are not effective. As a developing country, perhaps, they are doing their best but when you rate them with the international community you will agree with me that their intelligence gathering system is not proactive, effective and efficient as expected.
If they do, this question will be settled by the intelligence gathering agencies. They will know that the resurrecting militant groups exists only on the pages of newspapers as they are not on ground. Most of the resurrecting groups believe that it is a means to enrich themselves. Recall that same thing happened when Yar’Adua extended the olive branch to the agitators – there were lots of purported militant groups but Yar’Adua was not distracted.
To the best of my knowledge the dreaded group that has taken over the region is the Avengers. Any other group flexing its muzzles should be ignored by government. The Federal Government through its intelligence agencies should be able to know who to dialogue with. Most times when things happen in the Niger Delta whether good or bad the Ijaws are always mentioned because they have the largest population in the region. You will agree with me that in all the Niger Delta states we have chunks of Ijaw people. Ijaws are agitating because they have not got their fair share and there is no agitation they have been involved that did not have the support of other ethnic groups.
This issue of oil blocs is a serious issue which even the Avengers demanded justice. Niger Deltans say the North cannot own their oil. How serious is this matter?
First, the people of the Niger Delta need to realise this fact – owning oil blocs are based on universal principle. Most leaders are self-centered most especially when they know the citizens are ignorant. It is as a result of our unawareness that led to the unfair distribution of oil blocs, assuming we had early awareness that there are oil blocs licensed to indigenous companies, I don’t think that will happen. Our ignorance contributed to our people not having oil blocs. I need to also say that I don’t have the fact that 90 per cent of the oil blocs belong to the North as widely published in newspapers. The fact remains that the present allocation of oil blocs within Nigeria is unfair – it is almost zero for the Niger Delta region because of lack of awareness…
But former President Jonathan as an Ijaw man would have addressed this matter?
I will come to that. But the point I’m making is that genuine leaderships across the world are there to make sacrifices for their citizens – the leaders in Nigeria should realise that the people have got the awareness, you must incorporate the people in terms of benefit. I can’t agitate that the whole of the Niger Delta should be in control of the oil blocs, however, the Niger Delta people want to be treated as other Nigerians. Those that manipulated the oil blocs to themselves should realise that the Niger Deltans and other people have got a clue and they should take steps to spread it in a way that we will have a fair belonging. It’s because our country has been ethnicised, every action is viewed from ethnic prism otherwise as a businessman I can buy oil bloc anywhere in the world, I can buy an oil bloc in the United States if I have the resources.
The current President should genuinely look at these concerns with a view to correcting this injustice. Now, coming to your question why Jonathan, an Ijaw man couldn’t correct these anomaly despite being president for six years. Individual opinion of governance differs, I wasn’t privileged to be close to Goodluck Jonathan but I think I felt that Jonathan felt he was not a President for Niger Delta, he realised he was a president for the whole country, he realised that a president needs to be a statesman, so he was not there to correct the wrongs done to his people. But I think he had genuine intention to see how he could correct the abnormalities in the past that was why at the eve of his first tenure he convened a national conference most of the recommendation was to restructure the country and he felt by doing that may douse all the agitations. He was not ethnic minded president and Nigerians will remember he was a great leader.