S’South govs should stop behaving like beggars –N’Delta activist


A Niger Delta activist and President of Ijaw Monitoring Group, Joseph Evah, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about the perennial issues in the region, the new board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, and other national issues

After a long wait, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has inaugurated the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, what are your expectations from the new board?

The people in this new board are not spirits; they are human beings, so they should already be aware of the suffering of the Niger Delta people. Due to the manipulations of this board in the past, our people have suffered. There was a time I asked President Buhari to pay attention to the activities of the board because I saw no development that they were doing. It was a mere gambling centre for more than seven years. There has been an administrator, a coordinator and everything else apart from a substantive head. There was a time I asked the President to name the then Managing Director ‘general overseer’ as we have in the church because there was no way what they were doing there would be called a management. They would come up with one idea and spend money on it and in the end, they wouldn’t do anything. While the North-East Development Commission was doing well, we were busy counting our losses. If the people there now do the job they were appointed to do, it will give the people of the region some hope.

Do you align with those who said the NDDC hadn’t lived up to expectation?

With the situation in Nigeria, you can see that nothing seems to be working. We have seen situations where the godfathers will appoint people that they want and they will not allow them to operate freely. Those who are not working according to the directives of the NDDC, the godfathers who appointed them cannot have the political will to sack, dismiss or disgrace them. It is the same problem with the Ajaokuta Steel project in Kogi State. It has been more than 40 years, but the stories are the same. So, if the President has the political will to discipline everybody, there will not be a problem. In Rivers State now, people are making reference to the governor, Chief Nyesom Wike. Let us forget about his party affiliation and judge his performance. We are telling other leaders to show us what they have done. Despite Wike’s disposition that some of us do not accept, he has done things that our eyes can see. That is what we are not seeing in the NDDC. It is not as though it is total failure; there are certain things that the NDDC has done. However, it has to be consistent. The commission has given scholarships and trained some young people abroad, but with the billions that the commission has received, they have not lived up to half of people’s expectations.

What are the unmet expectations?

For instance, the poverty in the Niger Delta is because of hunger. If the NDDC goes into commercial fishing, we will see a significant change in our internally generated revenue. Over 80 per cent of the fish consumed in this country is from the Niger Delta. If the NDDC partners international bodies to go into commercial fishing, the people of the region will feed themselves comfortably through the Atlantic Ocean. The NDDC is not to wait for the 13 per cent derivation which will be used for only projects. If it goes into investments that people can see clearly, then it will help brighten up the face of the commission. Lagos State has all those ideas. That is why I am always angry with most of the governors in the Niger Delta. I have begged them to copy the South-West governors and stop behaving like beggars who go to Abuja every month for funds. The governors are afraid to even partner with the NDDC. The commission can change the face of the Niger Delta if the political will is there. Apart from the construction of roads and bridges, they can lift a lot of people in the region out of poverty. We need to tell them that the rubber plantation in Sapele, Delta State, and the palm oil plantation in Akwa Ibom State can be revived and industralised. Some of those who go to the NDDC feel they are going there to loot. It is only God Almighty who can save us at this point.

What do you think the new board, led by Lauretta Onochie, should do differently?

We are begging all of them in the name of God to do the work they were appointed to do. We know some of them. We know their activities in the Niger Delta before now. They have been patriotic. Let them continue in that spirit. Those of them who do not have it should imbibe it and talk to their conscience. This is because one day, we will leave this world. What will then happen to our children? Now, all of them are running to London and the United States. Whose fault is this? The new board of the NDDC should write its name in gold. If they have the political will, things will work.

A recent report by the World Bank that assessed the level of multidimensional poverty in Nigeria placed Bayelsa State, a member state of the NDDC, as one of the poorest in the country. How does that make you feel?

Bayelsa State’s landmass is almost the smallest in Nigeria but for water mass, we should be one of the largest. That was why I filed a suit through my lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), asking the regime of the late Gen Sani Abacha to stop dredging the River Niger. I stopped it. When we were arguing on state creation, we protested and petitioned the Oputa Panel, saying that the eight local governments given to Bayelsa did not qualify it to be a state. We wanted our complete 10 LGAs. One thing is that Bayelsa is looked down upon because of the water mass, which is why no meaningful development is recorded there. Look at the Maroko and Lagos Island areas; they are similar to Bayelsa but look at how the government has turned things around. This is why I keep telling our governors not to use the water mass as a yardstick to complain. With vision, development can be created. When the Federal Government said they gave us the eight LGAs because we had no landmass, what about water mass? Our water mass is feeding the whole nation. Even though we have been pushed to the wall in that area, let us sit down and reason together. The World Bank’s assessment of our poverty level is unacceptable because it seems we are not doing anything. I am from Bayelsa State and it is a shame. We are trying to put our heads together with the current governor, who is a listening governor, to make sure that the new result that the World Bank will bring will be better.

In September, the Federal Government awarded a pipeline surveillance contract of over N40bn to a former militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, which generated a lot of reactions. So far, over 58 illegal oil pipes have been discovered in the region. How did that illegal activity become so entrenched?

That was why we wanted Tompolo to be part of the contract. If ‘outsiders’ collect these contracts and come to our area, they will say they are pursuing oil thieves but they will not protect our environment. They will only be after whatever commissions they will get from the Federal Government. Our environment has been bastardised. When we talk about the companies that are destroying our environment, what about us as indigenes? We as freedom fighters believe that with Tompolo our environment will be protected while they are fighting oil thieves. In the next 100 years, will our children be able to live in that environment with this pollution going on? There will be nothing left. That is why we are encouraging Tompolo to go ahead with that contract matter. The thing is the pollution and destruction of our environment. Recently, the Federal Government while dismantling the badges carrying illegal crude oil decided to destroy the badges with fire and allow the pollution to further destroy our environment. Why burn the ship on our waterways? Can’t they offload those badges and sell them? I don’t know the kind of human beings that are leading us. If we are in a sane society, those who did that ought to be arrested and taken to the International Criminal Court because they are further polluting the water. We have talked about these things a thousand times and we have become tired. Tompolo is doing a fantastic job and he should keep it up and expose all of them, stealing our collective commonwealth.

There was fuel scarcity across the country for months, how logical is that for a country that has oil and gas in very large quantities?

I would like to ask the Minister of Petroleum, Muhammadu Buhari, to tell us the pump price of fuel in Nigeria. The Minister of Petroleum in Benin Republic cannot show that kind of incompetence before the media. We have heard him say before that it is the enemy of his government that is causing the scarcity of petrol. I have been confronting this system right from the Abacha regime and we have never had it this bad. We are talking of the most populous country in black Africa. Why will they not insult us when we go to other countries? It is embarrassing. The President cannot tell us why the Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries are not working yet he is still the Minister of Petroleum. Anytime I think of this country and look at my children, it is clear that we need a miracle to save us in this country. The other time it was the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, saying Nigerians may not sit the West African Senior School Certificate Examination because of the Covid-19 pandemic. If not for the commissioners of education in the South-West region who said no, our children would have missed out on that all-important examination. Even Ghana said they were ready. I met some of the education commissioners who supported Adamu at the airport and I told them that they wanted us to be backward.

There have been a lot of issues around the 13 per cent derivation fund for the oil-producing communities. Do you think that fund has been judiciously utilised?

The percentage is not the problem. The Niger Delta governors should emulate the South-West governors. Some of them don’t have these so-called derivation funds but they are working. The South-South alone in conjunction with the NDDC can feed the whole region. We have all the resources in the Niger Delta. We have to move from consumption to investment and production. We need industries. It is the political will that is not there. They call themselves political leaders but do not command respect in the scheme of things. Some of them are very myopic and they have decided not to reason together as one. In the next 20 years, because of the vision of the South-West leaders, that region will become a mega economy of its own. This is because they are connecting their states with railways and opening their economy. When I talk, they will say I am a troublemaker. This is why I have decided to be quiet. We have been part of the struggle right from the June 12 era to this day, so we have to keep talking. We cannot fold our hands and watch the nation go upside down. If we do, in our graves, our children will curse us for doing nothing.

There have been political killings in some parts of the South-South and South-East, how do you think this can be addressed?

Leaders across political parties need to come together to show their followers that there is a need for peace. I will advise all Niger Delta people not to kill one another because of elections. Elections are not wars. No blood needs to be shed and election should not be a do-or-die affair. The symptoms we are seeing are not palatable at all. The violence, the killings and the carnage in the country is something else. The political elite who are supposed to talk about peace are threatening fire and brimstone. The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, is not doing enough. The Director-General of the Department of State Services and even the National Security Adviser should visit the states where there have been dangerous political comments to talk to the governors. I am glad about the way the Independent National Electoral Commission has handled the issue of permanent voter cards collection. We expect the foreign observer groups to brief us on their assessments and make recommendations to INEC.

What do you make out of the CBN Naira redesign policy that has caused a lot of chaos in the country?

We have to be praying for this country every day because the people that are managing our affairs are certainly not from this clime. Look at the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, who should have been dismissed by the President for trying to contest in this same election. Where has it been said before that the CBN governor, who is supposed to be a custodian of the sensitive materials of the elections, is interested in that election? We saw vehicles carrying his posters and some supporters urging him to run for the presidency. The shocking thing is that the president did not see anything wrong with that. We have to ask ourselves what exactly is wrong with Nigeria. Should we call the CBN governor of another country to help us manage our economy?

What are your thoughts on the naira redesign?

I don’t know what the CBN governor told Buhari that made him accept the redesign policy. This is chaos. For the President to accept for this policy to be implemented on very short notice is suspect. We didn’t see the CBN governor for two or three weeks sometime in December and we were told he went on leave. Now that he is back, how far has the policy been successful? They are telling us that the commercial banks are not respecting their orders to fill their ATMs with these redesigned notes. The banks are saying they don’t have enough new naira to give. What kind of palaver is that? We have to be sincere with ourselves in this country.

— punchng.com


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