‘LG autonomy is a fight Nigerians must undertake’
Amagbe Denzil Kentebe is a former Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board. He is presently the Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA). In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, the architectural engineer speaks on burning national issues especially those that concern the Niger Delta region. He also gives insight into the recent workshop on credible election and good governance in Bayelsa State organised by a coalition of concerned stakeholders to sensitise the state political actors on the need for violence-free poll ahead of November 16 governorship election.
There seems to be some relative peace in the Niger Delta region in the recent time. Do you think the peace that is reigning now is sustainable?
I don’t know what you mean by peace. If we have to use the yardstick of the last election, the Niger Delta region was a bit volatile, especially in some of our neighbouring states. And we are not going to wait till that time. That is why the coalition that organised the recent workshop is saying we are not going to give room for this to happen. Peace is sustainable within the region only if the people of the region are allowed free, fair and violence-free elections to be able to pick their own credible leaders. That is the only thing that can guarantee sustainable peace. Anything else will not.
Talking about the workshop, would you say the people imbibed the message of peace you are trying to sell to them?
Whether they take it seriously or not, we have sent out the message to them. We will not know until things start to manifest. What we are doing is to send a signal to all stakeholders that violent non-credible elections will not be tolerated. We are not also sitting down waiting till the election time to see whether they have listened to us or they have not listened to us. We are going to continue with the sensitisation; we are going to continue with the monitoring.
What is your expectation of the next level of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari particularly as it relates to Niger Delta development?
Going by the standard of the last four years, I don’t think that the government at the centre really did anything tangible for the Niger Delta in terms of infrastructural development, in terms of human capacity development. We didn’t see much of that. It is as if we have been left standing since 2015 because of the perception that we had a president that was there till 2015. But you don’t because the person who ruled is from a particular region neglect that region. As the president of the country, you have to ensure that development reaches all nooks and corners of the country. You do not deprive the region that lays the golden eggs. In the last four years, we were neglected. I am hoping that this time around, our own people who are in government will continue to engage the government at the centre to ensure that our dues are given to us.
What in your own opinion is the answer to the separatist agitations that have always threatened the peace and stability of the country?
If there is no equity, justice and fairness, people will continue to agitate. When you are not sure that the next man will give it to you, what you want to do in return is to take it for yourself. And that is why we have agitations. If there is freedom of speech, if there is equity and fairness in development and in the process through which our leaders are elected and revenue of the country is equitably shared, nobody will care whether somebody is from the east, west or from the central. But because you are not getting what you believe is your due, you feel the only way you can get it is to fight for it. If we remove those things, then we will have a government put in place by the people and for the people. At that time, people will be too busy, development will be going smoothly, businesses will be going on well and people will have little or no time to agitate.
For me, it is a simple thing. Let there be fairness, justice and equity. We have been the ones at the receiving end all these years. Even though we have had someone in power, we are the only region that cannot beat our chest to say we had our man there and he took care of us. President Jonathan went in there trying to be fair to the whole country, trying to be a leader of Nigeria not a leader of the Niger Delta. But you saw the result. Until every Nigeria can feel a sense of equity, we will not have peace
How would you then situate your position within the context of restructuring people have been agitating for?
Restructuring is the way to go. We have seen restructuring work in this country before we had the coups that led to the civil war. Then, the country was divided into regions and each region was autonomous on its own. We saw the kind of development that took place. In 1963 or thereabout, we had television station in Ibadan, which was first in the whole of Africa. There are certain things you would have expected. But today, we are still importing TV sets into the country because we decided to break into states. And not only that, we decided to concentrate the resources of the states to the Federal Government and now trickling down from there. Development never comes from top down. The development of any nation always grows from bottom up. So, if you don’t develop the grassroots, you will not have development move to the top. We have to go back and start to do what we know has worked, what has been tested. What is going on now is not sustainable. It is just a matter of time before we begin to have great divisions in this country if we continue the way we are going. Let each region take care of its resources and pay tax to the centre. By so doing, the people will be able to hold their leaders responsible. For me, restructuring is not negotiable. It must be done.
Do you think the governors are actually sincere with the agitation for restructuring, taking into considering their position on the autonomy of local government?
I am one of those people who do not believe that a policy like that should be what a governor makes of it or doesn’t make of it. The governor is there to serve the people. Local governments, by what the constitution says, are a level of government on their own. So, it is something we the people must fight for. It is not whether one governor likes it or he doesn’t like it. The right thing must be done. What we are asking for is a true federalism. Those of us that have been fighting for the past few years for true federalism are not fighting to get these resources being mismanaged by the Federal Government only to bring them to the state governments where an ‘executive’ governor also mismanages it. The resources must get to the people. It must be people’s choice to decide what happens to their resources.
The President said recently that he would be supporting true federalism. Do you see any sincerity in his statement or it is just a mere political statement?
I am praying he is sincere. But as you know, part of the manifesto of the APC before the 2015 election was to support true federalism. We have four years and nothing happened. If that is the yardstick, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this time around, the president is being sincere.
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