Clark: We want proper negotiation between government and Niger Delta leaders
Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, said the Niger Delta militants had reasons to be angry but were misguided in declaring independence from Nigeria. He spoke with CHIDO OKAFOR in Warri, Delta state.
The Avengers have been on a campaign to ground the Nigeria economy by destroying critical oil infrastructure. Other militant groups have also joined the fray. Do you think this insurgency can be addressed the way the federal government is going about it?
In the first place, I held a press conference long time ago, early enough to condemn the vandalization of pipelines on the ground that it affects the economy of the country, and at the same time affects the ecosystem of our area; it pollutes the air, the water and everything because the pipelines pass through our homes and the oil are sent to other parts of the country through the pipelines. We know we have been neglected and we know we are not in the scheme of things. It is true we had our own son as president for five years, but he was not given the opportunity to look at his own people by being blackmailed, cajoled and was described as a square peg in a round hole, because he comes from the minority. And at the end of it, he left office without looking after his own people – by pleasing others, developing others – building amajiri schools, roads, railway and everything – he established twelve federal universities in all parts of the country and the only one he established in the Gbaramatu area was prevented from taking off by people like Amaechi, who has three universities in his state, Rivers. So, there is no doubt that these boys have reasons to be angry, but that should not be reduced to crisis and vandalisation of pipelines and destruction of oil facilities. Let us negotiate; let us dialogue.
A similar thing happened in 2008/2009 during late Yar’Adua’s time and we, the elders, under my leadership negotiated with Mr President who was very understanding, and that was how amnesty was granted. The programme was the rehabilitation of these children (militants) and the development of infrastructure in the region. That was why a 45-member committee was set up by the late Yar’Adua, to make recommendations about the infrastructural development of the Niger Delta. They submitted a report and we felt a white paper will be issued, but up till today nothing had been done, everything seems to be one-sided.
The Federal Government announced few days ago that it had resumed payment to Niger Delta militants under the amnesty programme.
Would this address the problem?
That is a good development but it should not be done under pressure. If it is normal they should let them do it. The economy is bad; workers are not being paid so these boys should also understand. The same purse the money to pay them come from is also the same place money to pay salaries come from. So, they should be patient, but somebody must talk to them. A situation where they are regarded as militants, never-do-wells is unacceptable. Not only that, look at what is happening in Ogun State, Ikorodu area and Lagos, where criminals are called militants, they are not only Ijaws there are Yorubas and other tribes. Recently, I have to call a meeting of Ijaw Leaders of Thought to my house here in Warri and the meeting was attended by prominent Ijaw leaders from the eastern zone, comprising Akwa Ibom, Rivers led by Graham Douglass former Minister of Aviation; the Bayelsa area (the central) led by Chief Okorotie, and this area (Delta) was led by Chief Broderick Bozimo, former Minister of Police Affairs and many people attended. We took several decisions – one, government should take a second look at the ongoing negotiation with militants, who are they negotiating with? If the leaders of the area, the fathers of these youths are not aware of what is going on – it’s unfair.
So, the Ijaw leaders are not impressed with the way the Federal Government is handling the so-called negotiation with militants?
No. We were happy that Mr. President said they were going to dialogue and nothing has been done. So we want proper dialogue. Because of this agitation so many groups have sprung up. One group will calls itself Boro this, the other will call itself Egbesu that, and we don’t understand this confusion. For example, MEND is a dead body. In 2009 after the amnesty programme was granted, Tompolo, Asari Dokubo, Boyloaf and others left this MEND and this was to be the end of MEND but we discovered that the Charles Okah who is in prison today is running this MEND, with one Wilson Ajuwa and a few others. It is no longer an organisation accepted by the boys who founded it, so when they said MEND is arranging dialogue with government on behalf of the Niger Delta, we felt they have not asked questions to find out who are the true leaders. We feel that there should be dialogue but the leaders must be involved because we all belong to this country. Our son was president of Nigeria for five years; his successor, Buhari, is also a Nigerian so we should support him, it’s no longer a question of, oh, we are no longer in power so we should destroy things.
The so-called Adak Boro Avengers were to declare Niger Delta Republic on August but that didn’t happen because leaders like you stopped them. Were the militants right in trying to carve out their own nation from Nigeria?
These are youths; I cannot speak for them because the way I reason is not the way they reason. They feel that, perhaps, they were being neglected that they were being treated as third class citizens and all of that. When Adaka Boro took up arms in 1966 or so, he had his own reason. So these boys are over reacting, the issue of declaring Independence does not arise. Those boys cannot declare independence over our head. We advised them and they agreed that they will not do it again. So we want to live together with other Nigerians, but Nigeria must be restructured. We cannot live in a country, which is one sided and lopsided. Then, look at things that are happening; 80 percent of the oil resources are found in our backyard but today there is nothing to show for it.
The people are angry that nothing has been done. For instance, the board of NNPC was reconstituted recently, nine members and nobody from our area here, the oil producing area, was included. We have a situation where I’m a Nigerian and the oil I produce is controlled and maintained by other people – I’m like a stranger in my own country and I think that is the case most of these boys are making.
You talked about restructuring Nigeria. Give us an idea of the shape the restructuring will take
The shape of the restructuring is contained in what we discussed at the National conference and what is contained in the national conference document.
But the Buhari government said it would have nothing to do with the national conference document.
We’ll appeal to him to touch it. The country belongs to everybody, he doesn’t own it alone. We have to be discussing if we want to have peace in this country. So there must be justice. That is the position.