Annkio Briggs is a household name in Nigeria. She is a daughter of Abonnema, Rivers State but has been involved in so much activism, striving for development of the Niger Delta region.
In this interview that was transcribed by EDITH CHUKU, the social crusader and rights activist spoke on the recent declaration by Asari Dokubo of a Biafra Republic, the 2023 governorship race in Rivers State, as well as the proposed rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery.
Let’s talk about Asari Dokubo’s new Biafra agenda. What do you make of Asari declaring himself as the new leader of a Biafra Republic?
Well Asari Dokubo, I know him. He is my brother, he is from my ethnic nationality, he is from Kalabari kingdom. I’ve worked with him. Asari Dokubo I know, Biafra, I don’t know. There is no country like Biafra. I am aware that different people are aspiring to be free of Nigeria, Oduduwa people, the Yoruba people, Sunday Igboho has declared Republic of Oduduwa people. In the past, Adaka Boro also declared the Republic of Niger Delta. It just shows that for a very long time, there has been a lot wrong with the Nigeria system as a country, that the ethnic nationalities and individuals are highly disappointed and want a change and the changes are growing into the call for separation and I myself as a person, I understand it, I myself as a Kalabari daughter and Ijaw daughter, I also have my own ideas and I do believe in some of the ideas that if we cannot live in peace in Nigeria which I believe that we can no longer live, we don’t trust each other, that there must be a discussion for us to make a decision that will favour our future and our people.
What I am therefore saying is that anybody has the right to declare whatever they believe is in their best interest. But I am not a member of Biafra, I do not intend to be. And so if Asari as a person has declared himself the new leader of a country that does not exist, that’s his choice,, he is not forcing people to join Biafra. So basically it’s his choice, I do not take away that right from him and so I cannot tell him you cannot do it. Definitely, I will not join him, but then of course he has not asked me to join him either and I know a lot of people that are not agreeing with him. Other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta have disassociated themselves. It does not take away his right to whatever he feels is in his best interest. So I will not join the people that are personally condemning him, but I will definitely join the people that are saying that whatever he is declaring, I am not part of it. But to be fair to him, he has not asked me to be part of it either.
You have been a Niger Delta advocate for a very long time, a very serious Ijaw Nation advocate. Do you think that the entity called Ijaw nation will be able to join the Republic of Biafra since it’s declared by no less a person than Asari Dokubo?
Nationhood of a people is not based on the personality of one person. Asari Dokubo is a Kalabari man, he is from Buguma and also, I believe partly from Obuama, another Kalabari community. I am from Abonnema and I know as an Abonnema daughter, I know that the majority of Abonnema people, I am talking directly as an Abonnema daughter, as a Briggs daughter, I know that the majority f Abonnema people, 95 or 97, almost 99 per cent of my people, people in Briggs compound, people in Abonnema will not entertain the concept of joining any country in Nigeria without a primary discussion. It doesn’t matter who the person is. Definitely, Ijaw people are spread over three different zones and these zones are made up by communities and these zones are in different locations, Bayelsa is one, Delta State has a large number of Ijaw people, Edo State, Akwa Ibom State have Ijaw people, Ibeno people and their kith and kins are Ijaw people, you have them in Edo State, you have them everywhere. So one group or one person cannot speak for the whole of Ijaw nation and definitely cannot speak for the whole, and one zone cannot make a decision for the rest of the other two zones and one community or one clan cannot make decisions for other people. We all have to collectively make a decision that will be in the interest of Ijaw nation. I also want you to take this into consideration, that for instance in Rivers State, there are Ijaw people. We have nine local governments, nine and half local governments out of the 23 local governments are directly Ijaw ethnic nationality local governments; they are in these local government areas, in some, they share it with others. So if you are looking at it from that angle, nobody can get up and make any decision that concerns us, long term decision to that effect. So definitely, categorically, I am aware today that if a referendum is carried out among the Ijaw ethnic nationality, that the Ijaw people will overwhelmingly not join Biafra or any other nation, I am sure that they will be willing to discuss their future and to see if they can work with other people but to say that you can wake up one day, and that Abonema people will be in a country, or will want to be in a country that is called Biafra; let me tell you that it is not possible because we know there is a historical part of what happened during the war, to Kalabari people of both under the Federal government and under the so called Biafra government. Our people suffered tremendously. This is a very sensitive issue and will have to be discussed so no one person can… you cannot come and tell the traditional rulers in Abonnema that they are now all of a sudden Biafra people, that one is not possible, take it from me. It’s not possible.
So, as it stands now if you were to meet Asari face to face, what will you tell him about his new found love for Biafra?
I will have nothing to say to him, unless if he brings it up in conversation with me, because the decisions he made for himself is not a decision that I will tell him that, like I have told you, he has the right to make that decision but I also know that he cannot force anybody to follow him and so whatever people are with him on that, that is their own right to exercise and it will not affect me to the point where I will be a member of a country called Biafra by force. I want to be free, let me make this clear, I believe that it is in the interest of my people and myself that we become free of this enslavement, that we have endured in this country called Nigeria since 1914 and since after the independence of Nigeria. But that does not mean that I will jump from one slavery to another. I want freedom for myself and my people. There are countries that are just 400 thousand people in this world, so it’s not that Ogoni people can be a nation by themselves, Ikwerre people can be a country on their own, it is done in other parts, so this is why we have to discuss. In Rivers State for instance now, you cannot just say Ijaw people are Biafrans, what’s the meaning of that? So, we are just going to leave Rivers State. No, Rivers State is our state, our ancestral home is in Rivers State, it’s not in Delta State, it’s not in Bayelsa State, but we are Ijaw people, but our ancestral home, just like the Ogoni people, just like the Ikwerre people, just like the Ijaw people in Akwa Ibom, Ibeno people, they are Ijaw people but they share a state with other ethnic nationality. So, if we are going to have a country of our own, we have to hold a discussion and see how we can take our kiths and kins from the other states, from Delta State, Bayelsa State, Akwa Ibom State, Edo State, all those places have Ijaw people, and may I add that even the resources in these places are in the ancestral home of these people I’ve mentioned to you. So, there is a lot, I will not just wake up one morning and begin to assume that it is possible to for me to leave my kiths and kins. Igbo people are a great people, they are a great nation, they are industrious, I believe that today, if they split Nigeria, I believe that the Igbo people and the Yoruba people are in a better position to build a nation even quicker than the Niger Delta different ethnic nationality, that’s just the truth, you know? So, to say that I will wake up one morning and then somebody will tell me, Annkio, that I have now become a Biafran without discussing it, without me, no nah, it cannot be possible. I am just hearing it that Asari has made that declaration but that’s because he is a member of a group and it’s about the membership of their group. If he declares himself the leader of Biafra, whatever, he has not declared himself the leader of IPOB, IPOB too is another body that is calling for Biafra. he has not declared himself a member of MASSOB that Uwuzuruike is heading. So which of the Biafra now? if he has created another Biafra for himself and his followers, it’s okay for them but it got nothing to do with Abonnema people, it got nothing to do with the majority of Abonnema people, it got nothing to do with other people. So I don’t see it as anything that in my fight for equity and justice and the liberation of Ijaw people as a whole and the liberation of Ijaw people in Rivers State and even Kalabari people coming right down to my own clan, I definitely do not see that it is anything for us to worry about. I have worked with Asari in the past, I’m sure that if we agree on policies and issues, I’m sure we can work together, because it’s about our people and what is just. But I definitely will not… I have never followed Asari blindly and I worked with him when I believed in what he stood for, and right now, I think me myself, I’m clear enough in my own belief and in my own contribution that I particularly don’t need to be following somebody, no matter how it is unless I believe in it and I don’t believe that our first option is to become Biafra people or to even use the name Biafra. The name Biafra has already been claimed by some people, and so if some people think the name Biafra is their own, they can keep it but Biafra no longer exists as even a name on the map of Nigeria since 1975 or there about, when Gowon changed the name of Bight of Biafra to Bight of Bonny. So it’s just a name, but you cannot take away the idea or the concept of another man, that’s his own right whether it’s wrong or right, it’s his own right to exercise that.
Do you really think it is time to split Nigeria?
I believe so. I believe so, it does not necessarily mean that I am right, but I believe so because when you look at everything that is going on right now in Nigeria, you look at the Fulani herdsmen that are coming in from all over Africa, if you look at the killings that is going on of Christians in the North East, North West, anywhere across the North, and what they are doing in the forests in Yoruba land, in Igbo land, even in here, in Niger Delta, even here in Rivers State, go to Emohua, in town, where I live in town, there is a part of green where they are grazing. So, definitely we cannot live with people who refuse to obey the laws of the land and think that they are bigger than everybody else in this land and therefore that they own Nigeria. So if they own Nigeria, they should take their part of Nigeria and go and leave other people to keep their own part of Nigeria, they cannot force people to stay with them if people don’t want to stay with them, and I think that they are arrogant, and they are vicious, they are deadly. They want to overrun the whole of Nigeria, they want to control everybody, and definitely I will advise myself and every other person not to allow themselves to be controlled and that’s just the truth, Nigeria will have to consider that as the last option, because we’ve tried everything else.
It takes me to the next question, we’ve tried everything else and you’ve been part of this trial, in the past and it doesn’t seem to have worked. So, what more sacrifices do you think you are willing, as an activist from the Niger Delta to make, so that this dream becomes realizable and realistic?
Well, if you mean what am I prepared to do so that we can be free, there is a lot that can be done within the law, there is a lot that can be done within the law. We can agree, we first of all have to agree as a people, we have to agree. Just me alone, wanting it and believing it’s the best thing for us does not necessarily make it right. We have to agree with other people, you know, that this is in our best interest, that is other people, other ethnic nationalities, other Ijaw people, we have to agree first and then when we agree. There are some legal protocols across the world through the UN that have to take place, we must begin to pursue that. Some of us are already in touch and trying to do what is in our best interest. It’s not illegal and it is not against the law for people to begin to see how their lives can be bettered, and how they can create future for themselves, so, we will definitely try the legal angle and the angle that does not create war and things like that. We will try those things and when we try those things, it does not work there are other things for us to try, it’s a few things at a time, there are things we must do if we want to be free and I’m one of those people that want to be free, so, definitely there are things to be done. We will begin to do them, but first of all, our people, we have to sensitize our people to understand that where we are today in Nigeria is worse; it’s worse than where we might think that we want to contemplate but we cannot achieve anything unless we sit down and begin to see how we can achieve this freedom that we are looking at and talking about.
Let’s look at this 1.5billion dollar that the federal government has earmarked for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery, what does this mean to you?
(laughs) Put it like this, I am not excited. It is another distraction. They’ve been doing turn around maintenance for as long as I can remember, for a very long time. So, I’m not impressed, they will just find a way to abuse the funds and misuse the funds and I don’t believe that anything will come out of it. You only have to look at the so called Ogoni clean up and so many other promises that have been made. I’m not excited, I’m not impressed. Let us discuss how we will find peace within ourselves. We’ve been calling for a restructured country for a very, very long time, and I have been in that call for a very, very long time with so many other people but I’m also convinced that there are some people who do not believe in restructuring, and do not want restructuring and so, it is a continuum of deception. So this so called turn around refinery and all of those things, for me, it’s a distraction. They should come and discuss how they were able to give one human being the right to refine the oil in other people’s backyard. I’m talking about Dangote. How did Dangote become a private investor to the extent that he owns the so called largest refinery in the world. Where is he going to get the oil that he is going to refine? In the Niger Delta, so how many people is he going to employ and where is he refining the oil? In Lagos. So how does that benefit us? So, as far as I’m concerned, to be telling Niger Delta people, Rivers State people that they’re going to put 1.5 billion dollars into Rivers State and then bring Chinese people to come and bring the loan and turn it around and enslave the region and the people of Rivers State, that is the plan, that’s how I see it, and that’s the plan. I’m not convinced that the federal government is truthful, it’s a distraction. And if my people want to fall for that distraction it is also their choice. Building railway, coming to commission railway line, and things like that that it’s going to go to Maiduguri and places like that; how many of our people are taking Isam and Ngolo (sea food) and those things to Maiduguri? It is for people to bring their tomatoes, because our people are lazy to farm. When I was growing up as a little girl, we farmed. Today our people are too lazy to farm, so we depend on other people now to bring the garri that we will eat, people are growing cassava in the north, and people are making garri in the north if you people are not aware, you know, so all these local economy, our people have been deceived, and they want to be deceived into thinking that there is something called local content, one Nigeria, all those things, so all of these rubbish is just a creation of the people who believes Nigeria belongs to the, and as long as our people continue to believe in that rubbish, we will be where we are. But do I as a person believe that any of these things is feasible? No, I don’t and only time will tell.
Let’s talk about the 2023 governorship election in Rivers State, there are speculations that there is a plot to keep the office in the Ikwerre land, while your people from the Kalabari nation are also fighting hard. What do you make of this?
First of all, let me correct a misconception and it is a misconception both from my people and from other ethnic nationalities in Rivers State. Rivers Ijaw is not just Kalabari people. Okrika people are Rivers Ijaw, Bonny people are Rivers Ijaw, Opopo are Rivers Ijaw; so many other people. We are across nine local government areas. That the governorship is desired by the Rivers Ijaw people is not news, it’s not a secret, we have always desired it, again, if you know, you will always know that I am a very strong advocate for an Ijaw governor in Rivers State, if you know, you will know. Tthe misconception is that it is only Kalabari people that want to be governor of Rivers State, it is not true, other ethnic, the Ogoni want to be governor, the Ijaws covering the Opopo, the Bonny, Okrika, all of those people also have the right to aspire. But the Ijaws aspiration is not only for the Kalabari , it’s for everybody. So let people stop pushing Kalabari people as if we are disregarding other Ijaw people in Rivers State. We are not. Having said that and having also said that even the Ogoni people have not governed Rivers State, so they also will aspire and they should aspire if they want. But politics is a matter of negotiation and discussions. What I will advise the Kalabari people, the Okrika people, all the other Ijaw people is to begin to discuss with other ethnic nationalities in Rivers State. They should discuss with the Ogoni people, they should discuss with the Ekpeye people and let each express their own desire to govern Rivers State, between them, if they really want to achieve peace in this state. It is easy to discuss it, now, let us not forget that the upland, the upland have governed Rivers State so far for eight years, plus eight years, 16, 16 plus eight is 24; upland is Odili’s area, Ikwerre area, they have governed, the Ikwerres have governed for 16years and the Ikwerre could not have governed for 16 years without the support of other ethnic nationalities. The Ikwerres alone cannot bring out a governor in Rivers State. The fact that they have had four tenures back to back is because they have had the support of people like the Ijaws, the Kalabaris, the Okrikas and so on, the Ogoni’s and so on. So if they have governed for 16years, the Ikwerre people as an ethnic nationality, if they have governed for 16years, and personally, I am a supporter of Wike and his government, so, if they have governed for 16years, I believe that as a people in Rivers State, who do believe in equity and justice in Rivers State, I do not believe that the Ikwerre politicians will really stand up to say after Amaechi had governed for eight years, and Wike had governed for eight years, with the full support of the Kalabari and the Ijaw people, with the full support of the Ijaw people especially also Kalabari people, I do not want to believe that the Ikwerre people as an ethnic nationality will feel and believe that it is fair and equitable and just that another Ikwerre man should govern Rivers State again for another four years or eight years. No. It will not be fair. It was not even fair, that it was done back to back in the past, but it was accepted because that was the option at that time and we wanted to demonstrate that there was no reason to fight over the governance of Rivers State, when the very future of Rivers State was at stake, and I want to believe that Wike as a person, the person of Governor Wike does not believe that it is fair. He has not said so, and so I will not put words in his mouth, he has not said so, that he believes that Ikwerre people should govern again, three times, back to back, I do not believe that he believes so, and so I will not want to bring Wike into this discussion the way people have been instigating that I should take a position. My position today is that Wike is the governor of Rivers State, and he is in his second tenure, I supported him in his first tenure, I’m supporting him for his second tenure, nobody is perfect, let him govern, let him do what he wants to do, let him have his own style of governance and when his tenure is over another governor will emerge. But I do not believe that Wike will want to support another Ikwerre man to come and govern Rivers State, it will be a very dangerous position to throw Rivers State into, that that should happen and I think that Wike is too much of a brilliant and a sensible politician to allow himself or even he himself to think and believe that that is possible. There is a dichotomy in Rivers State, there is an upland riverine dichotomy, and that upland riverine dichotomy has been dominated and taken over by the upland. Odili upland, Omehia upland, Amaechi upland, Wike upland, there cannot; I say this with all sense of responsibility because I will not be in support of it, but it’s just me, I’m not a politician, as an activist and somebody who advocates for equity and justice, I do not, I will not support such a position. It is not fair, and I think, if we want peace in Rivers State, and there is a sense of brotherhood in Rivers State, I think that such ideas should be put to rest, let us work together, the Ogoni people, the Ikwerre people, Ekpeye people, the Ijaw people, let us all work together, it’s our state, let us all work together to achieve what is fair and what is just.