Struggle for Niger Delta altruistic, for unborn generations, says Lori-Ogbebor
Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor is a famous rights activist that has been in the vanguard for a better Niger Delta. In this interview with select journalists in Lagos, she bared her mind on a wide range of issues. CLARKSON VOKE EBERU was there.
There are insinuations in certain quarters that your suit against President Muhammadu Buhari and others to stop inauguration of a new NDDC board pending the public release of the forensic audit report was prodded by a minister…
The allegation is not only stupid, it is also disgraceful. It is very sad that some people are still trivialising issues when things are falling apart in this country. We are praying and begging God to help us restore the glory of this country. Concocting stories against someone like me, who through the years, laboured with other statesmen and women that they may eat, is an insult. I am one person in this country, who has laboured as a journalist, an activist and employer of labour to better the lives of people. People call me an activist, but I regard myself as someone who fights in defence of the conscience of the nation. I learned under people like Zik and Awolowo. They taught us that the country is more important than anyone else. They made us realise that they are handing it over to us. In many ways, they taught us things to do to move our country forward. That is what I have been doing all my life in different capacities. That is why I have never taken a contract from government. I worked as Programme Director in Nigerian Television Service (NTS), which is now Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
After that, even when I felt the country was not going the way our founding fathers taught us, I resigned from NTS. Peter Enahoro resigned from the Daily Times, Theresa Bawa went her own way. It happened so because we are people of conscience. When things are not right, we say they are not right. I didn’t run away from the country. I stayed up until now for things to get better. We fought alongside Chief E.K. Clark for the Niger Delta because we felt we were feeding the whole country and our region was getting nothing. That was long before now. And the biggest fight was the Ijaw/Itsekiri fight, which is now called the Warri Crisis. At the time we didn’t understand that what was happening was not just the neglect of the area. Funds for the zone were also being mismanaged by our people.
During the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, we fought hard to ensure the Niger Delta got a better deal. That was how the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was created by Obasanjo. It is a result of the struggle by people like me, E.K. Clark and others. Those people making noise today, where were they when we were fighting for the agency they have now turned into a conduit pipe? The template on how the commission would operate was spelt out. In all my fight for justice, I have never asked anyone for help. I have never asked any governor or President to help me or give me anything. My battles for the good of the Niger Delta have always been self-funded. And I challenge anybody to say if I have ever come to him to solicit help for my crusade for the good of my people. That is why I don’t believe in NGO. I fund my struggles. I don’t even allow my children to seek favour from government. I told them I won’t even look back if the need arises to criticise any government. Therefore, there is no need for them to seek favour from government. Linking me with Senator Godswll Akpabio is funny because I have never met him. He hasn’t been to my house either. The way things are going, it seems no one cares about Niger Delta as an entity. They care only for their separate tribes, but that is wrong. We tried to bring all the tribes in the region together for collective development, but I have found that individual and group interests matter more to them. Every individual is fighting for himself in the Niger Delta. They use the name, Niger Delta, to get money in Abuja and do the wrong things instead of developing the region. You can imagine a senator collecting so many contracts for the Niger Delta without executing them. Go to the so-called Niger Delta, what you will see are small islands and a few ramshackle houses. And if anyone talks about the wrong things going on in the region, they abuse the person.
Maybe those insinuating that I instituted the suit at the behest of Akpabio do not know that there is nothing Akpabio can give to me. Definitely, he is richer than me, but I can’t accept anything from him or anybody because I believe in my cause.
There are also claims that your lawsuit is meant to perpetuate the lifespan of the NDDC sole administrator…
My suit is against injustice. What I am saying is that it is the turn of Delta State to produce the leadership of the NDDC. And in the state, there are tribes to produce either the Chairman or Managing Director. After looking through the roster of appointments through the years, I believe the tribe to produce the next leadership is the Itsekiri. It is a fact that the Itsekiri area produces the highest quantum of oil in the state and we have not produced the leadership of the commission since inception. Itsekiriland is sitting on oil. Even my father’s house sits on oil. I had a worker who wasn’t satisfied with the job I gave him. He went to tap oil illegally and died. His wife and child also died. That is to tell how much oil the Itsekiri have got. To say that these people sitting on oil shouldn’t have a stake is wrong. To have even brought someone and lied that the person is an Itsekiri just for him to head the commission is wrong. The same person doing all these wants to be the governor of the state. I consider this an insult. I went to court to challenge the appointment earlier made and the President graciously listened by canceling the appointment of the board that wasn’t even inaugurated.
The President ordered a forensic audit and I agreed with him because ever since the NDDC was created, there hasn’t been any meaningful development in the region. And money is being pumped into the commission yearly. What do they do with the money? Who are even the people mismanaging the funds? They are our leaders, who are representing us at different levels of government. I am very sad that what we fought for is being used by our own people to impoverish the region. Since I cannot take up arms, I went to court because I believe in the ability of the judiciary to deliver justice. While we await result of the forensic audit, these same people are going about scandalizsng my name. They came to my house here to seek support, but I insisted that what is right should be done for the Niger Delta. They are now saying Akpabio should create another board immediately even without making the result of the forensic audit public. That is not possible. Why the hurry when we haven’t seen the outcome of the exercise ordered by the President? We deserve to know what went wrong and who did what. We need to know why the Niger Delta is where it is despite the creation of NDDC. The same people are giving Akpabio an ultimatum. This ultimatum they are giving, on what ground are they doing so? It must stop now because when you give an ultimatum, you must state what you want. You don’t just give an ultimatum selfishly and the Federal Government runs to you. And that is the end of the matter. We have been doing this for 20 years without any result in the Niger Delta. That is why people just see us as fools, who are agitating for pecuniary reasons instead of selfless aims. I went to court to stop this and ensure the President keeps to his promise. We must know the outcome of the forensic audit. Those found wanting must be prosecuted. It shouldn’t be business as usual anymore in the NDDC.
It has been reported that the result of the forensic audit had been submitted to the minister. Your take?
That is what they claimed. But that shouldn’t be the end. What is the outcome? The President should tell us. I won’t be surprised if that was done to affect my suit. Those making false comments about my suit should wait for the court to commence sitting to know my prayers before the court. They will know I am a better human being. If the prayers are not carried out by the President, I will continue to fight because I am not fighting for myself. I am fighting for unborn generations. I will continue to fight until the plundering of the resources of the Niger Delta stops.
Do you subscribe to the idea of NDDC being supervised directly by the President for efficiency?
In the past, I had called for the amendment of the NDDC Act to put the commission directly under the Presidency. The reason is simply that I haven’t seen much in terms of service delivery. The President is doing his best because if the President wasn’t involved in the appointment of the board, there wouldn’t have been any kind of sanity. What they are doing now is to mount pressure on the President to appoint a board. They are also creating situations that will make the President believe it is the whole of the Niger Delta that is speaking. I can tell you that it is not.
What I am asking for is for our oil money to be used to develop the environmentally ravaged region. We need people with vision who will create jobs, develop the region and solve our peculiar problems. I feel so bad about the people we send to represent us at the National Assembly. Instead of helping the region, they are destroying the region. Before a new board is constituted, they have to convince us that what they are doing will bring progress to our people. It can’t be said that the Federal Government hasn’t done much for the Niger Delta. Government has tried its best. For instance, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) was created, but they ended up using it to settle their families and cronies. The Federal Government has pumped a lot of funds into that place. What have we got to show for the quantum of money pumped into the Niger Delta? We can’t say that government appointed non-Niger Deltans as leaders of the NDDC all through the years. Our sons have been the people managing it. So, who is to blame?
You agitation has been consistent over the years. What’s keeping you going?
Everybody is created for a cause. This is how God has created me. It is natural. I am not the only example. What made Zik and Awolowo go the extra miles for this country? What made people like Fela (Anikulapo Kuti) stake their lives for this country? What made Gani Fawehimi led the struggle all his life? What is keeping (Prof.) Wole Soyinka in the struggle? Why is he still fighting? He is fighting for the love of the country. And that is how he was created. It is difficult for us to say that what is wrong is right. That is the way I am. I can’t change it. My children will do anything to make me not talk because they want their mother safe. But I don’t care. I can’t be comfortable when people are suffering in the Niger Delta and all over the country. I am against injustice anywhere and anytime. I am simply fighting for the good of my people. The only time I had directly sought help for my people was when I took Itsekiri women to Okowa. It was because a pregnant woman, who was coming from Escravos to have a baby, died on the road because there was no healthcare where she was. I took the women to the governor and he promised to build hospitals in the area. I am glad to say that Okowa has fulfilled his promise in a short time. That is the kind of leadership we want in the Niger Delta. He visited the area before executing the project.
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