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Olise:Negotiation is mere political stunts


 Mark Olise

Mark Olise

Mark Olise, Deputy Director Communications, Lower Niger Congress (LNC), tells KELVIN EBIRI that planned negotiation between the Federal Government and stakeholders in the Niger Delta is mere political stunt and would be futile if fundamental demands of the region are not addressed. According to him, there would be no excuse for the emergence of new militant groups or resort to violence if government attends to the people’s grievances.

Negotiation between the Federal Government and stakeholders appears to be in disarray. Who should government be talking to, in order to resolve the Niger Delta unrest?
The government can discuss with whomever it choses. The point is that none of those discussions will lead to the peace it desires. So, what should happen? If Nigeria must survive, the discussion needed is not an exchange between the incumbent president and a particular representative of any indigenous group. It has to be a conversation between the various indigenous groups in this country, particularly in the Niger Delta. It has to be within them and between them. It has nothing to do with elected officials of the day or bureaucracy. It has to
do with the people.

The authorities must recognise sovereignty and the rights of these indigenous nationalities. If you don’t, you are claiming an authority that does not derive from them, and there will be no peace. The authority that should be expressed ought be one that is derived from these people. Anything contrary will only breed OPC, MASSOB, Avengers, and Boko Haram. 

The Southern Kaduna People’s Union on AIT, the other day, was talking about Fulani militiamen attacking their communities. They said the attack was part of an agenda to grab their land and that the authority of the state has been acting as if nothing serious was happening, as if it doesn’t matter. If such reality exists and the authority of the day cannot even take a position or even act, to defend such people…Internationally, they are recognised…to defend themselves as an indigenous people.

Why shouldn’t elders under the aegis of Initiative for Peace, Governance and Development of the Niger Delta Region interface between the region and the government?
I have not seen any place where elders negotiate freedom for the people. Freedom is negotiated by those who lead the struggle for it. So,
if they like, they should go and gather their political friends or former government officials who have worked for them and are ready to concur to their slavery, or who got to their heights because they agreed to slavery. Go and assemble all of them. Avengers will come and go.
They will never get from our people the loyalty they need for the advancement of this country.

Should government negotiate with the Avengers directly?
There is no need for any negotiation with anyone directly. The message and demand of our people are clear, and are out there. What they have to do is recognise freedom. People are asking to go. It is just like Israel. They wanted to leave Egypt but the king said they shouldn’t. Eventually, several plagues descended on Egypt. People are tired of being under your slavery, yet you say you want to negotiate. Do bondmen negotiate? It is only free people that negotiate.

Currently, our people are in slavery. And so, they are not in a position to negotiate. It is only after they have been set free that they can negotiate. And being set free, in this case, means they should be free to decide what they want. That is when they can come to the table with you. Any talk, prior to freedom, will be like putting the cart before the horse.

Will attacks on oil installations bring about the freedom you say the people desire?
It is not a solution. And that is why I said those behind the act are latter day people who feel disappointed that nothing is happening. They are carrying out their activities as if there were no other processes before them. They are not in touch with anybody. They are not acting as people who are in a genuine struggle. I don’t think because the Avengers are talking is reason we should be listened to. This agitation has been on, long before the Avengers came. Our demand has to be listened to. As at the time we held the solemn assembly in Port Harcourt, last year, there was no Avengers, was there? By the time we had PRONACO and PANDA activities that led to the arrest of Asari Dokubo and others, there was no Avengers. There was even no Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). When the main problem is addressed, there will be no more excuses for new groups to emerge and resort to any form of violence.

The unrest seems political because under President Jonathan’s government, those who are now agitating never pressurised him to address the Niger Delta question?
That is the impression. Everybody was not quiet. Those who were supposed to listen to the conversation did not emphasise it. And also, there were people who were part of the regime that were trying to give the impression that they were listening. There were people who were not hostile to those who were agitating. There were people who were listening to people who were agitating. And it was that process of listening that finally led to the convocation of the last national conference.

If you go back and listen to the October 1, 2013 speech of the former President, you will see how he acknowledged the problem of the country, and how various efforts have failed. And that brings us to the point where we have to sit down and discuss why things have gone this way, and what we should do to resolve it.

But by the time the conference arrived, the nationality that reigns supreme in the north and which is benefiting directly from Nigeria, as presently constituted, insisted on some no-go areas, which included discussions on sovereignty, unity, and right to self-determination of the people. They barred it. That was the first decision taken by that conference. And the conference died at that point. 

There were processes, and people were listening. Whether they understood enough or didn’t understand enough, whether they were pretending or not, but there were processes. People who are agitating are not anarchists. They are not just people who want to cause trouble for the sake doing so. Once there is a process that seems like a journey towards peaceful resolution, people will give it a chance.

How do we ensure we have a negotiation process devoid of politics?
Slaves don’t talk about development. Slaves talk about freedom. When you are in captivity or bondage, you talk about freedom, and bondmen don’t negotiate. All of these will lead to nothing, if they are bent on negotiation, they will be wasting their time. But, if they dare to negotiate, then put the fundamental questions forward. They should put the demand on ground for the restoration of sovereignty; the right to self-determination.

But I tell you, of all the discussions they will have, those issues will never come to the table because of the kind of people they’ve assembled. They are stooges, and it is mainly for political stunt. They will pay them, give them money, to go and bribe some people who are believed to be part of the violence in the creeks. Is that solution? That is not solution.

Isn’t the emergence of several militant groups in the Niger Delta indication that the people are not coordinated?
There are no oppressed people better coordinated than the Lower Niger, who are internally colonised in Nigeria. By Lower Niger, we mean people in the 11 states of the South South: Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta and Bayelsa; and South East: Abia, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu; and a fraction of those in Ondo, Benue and Kogi.

These are people who are colonised, and you cannot expect true unity. Even during the slavery in the United States, the people (slaves) were not completely united. They had the home Negroes and the field Negroes. The Negroes that were selected to supervise the other Negroes felt privileged and enjoyed the system. That is the situation here.

It does not mean there is disorganisation in the struggle; it means that each time our voice of change gets higher, you will see that it influences certain people to take actions that only attract patronage. That does not in anyway deter us or derail our commitment to pushing for the realisation and recognition of our right to self-determination. All of these groups are not the ones that are articulating the solution to the problem of the Delta.

Those who are articulating the solution are being ignored deliberately by the authorities and the media. If adequate voice is given to the genuine agitators, there would be no room for peace and conflict merchants like the ones we see, who make a noise, so that they would be called and ‘settled’. Following this is a temporary peace, after which some other people will rise up again.

We don’t want peace of the graveyard. What we want is a free, equal and democratic society. This sovereignty that Nigeria has imposed on us has to give way to our sovereignty because the general principle of modern governance, based on democracy, is that sovereignty belongs to the people. So, if sovereignty belongs to the people, from whom government derives its authority, how will the people be excluded from determining their destiny?

We have made this call for many years, on the need to restructure the country in line with people’s right to self-determination, and they have ignored it. Consequent to that, our people have resolved to take unilateral action to liberate themselves. The Lower Niger Congress was founded by the various agitating groups in the South South and South East. And on the basis of that, they convened a solemn assembly in Port Harcourt, last year, where a resolution was taken that a path to national referendum should be pursued, so that the people can take a vote in exercise of their right to self-determination, on whether they want to continue in this atrocious union or they want to leave. And once that vote confirms positively that they want to leave, of course, the international instrument will be activated for them. But if it goes negative that they want to remain, the next step will be to negotiate what the terms for remaining will be, just like Scotland and others are pursuing their right to self-determination.

How can lasting peace be achieved in the Niger Delta?
Lasting peace can only be achieved if the fundamental demands of the people are met. And the demands are well enshrined in the various declarations of the people; from the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Kaiama Declaration, to the Benin Declaration of Pan Niger Delta Action Council
that led to the arrest of Asari Dokubo, Uche Owkuku and a couple of others.

The people of the Niger Delta want their freedom and their sovereignty restored. How can you impose a constitution over a people and claim they are party to it? How can you expect peace when you have decrees consolidated by the same constitution without input from them? You confiscate their lands and assets and you expect everybody to go on and assume there is peace. Everybody desires a free and democratic society and there cannot be a democratic society when the constitution is not democratic.

The basic law of every society is what determines the society. If the constitution is decreed and imposed, and lies that it derives its authority from the sovereignty of the people, and in practice the people have noticed that some are more equal than others on the basis of their nationality, they would agitate. Some people may not be able to interpret it properly but they feel the oppression, and they want it taken off. The moment the people’s right to self-determination is recognised and they become part of making the constitution, locally first, then federally, there will be peace.

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