January 21, 2022

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We Are Ready To Die For Resource Control * Akpabio Is A Serial Liar * Our Discussions With Jonathan On 2023 Presidential Race -–INC President

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Prof Benjamin Okaba is president of the Ijaw National Congress, INC. In this interview, he told TNN about the renewed clamour for resource control and also took time to talk about the lingering leadership debacle in the NDDC as well as the speculations surrounding the 2023 presidential election as it concerns Dr Goodluck Jonathan.

Excerpts:

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Just recently the Ijaw people started what we are seeing as a renewed clamour for resource control struggle. What led to these and how achievable do you think it is at this?

Okay, talking about the reasons for the invigorated call for resource control and restructuring kind of, they are both immediate and reboot, you will recall that the Niger Delta people in general, and the Ijaws in particular have right from pre-colonial days done everything possible to defend their natural endowment, even amidst the superior powers of the European forces during the eras of the European trades, both in slaves and then there after the legitimate commerce so to speak.

Why the renewed vigour? Years after we made several calls and on a daily basis the fears we raised, on the issues of marginalization, the issues of neglect, of environmental degradation; in fact we’ve gotten to a point  that the Nigeria state as it is, is not interested in the development of the minorities, which the Ijaws are a major factor and that if we continue to cry out, if we continue the usual ways of writing, addressing press conferences, et cetera, etcetera, we might get anywhere. So the best way is for us to come together and that was the essence of the summit- to define our past, our present and have some focus moving forward and one of the decisions we took there was that restructuring or nothing.

Now, talking about achievability, we believe that the first thing in any struggle, going by what is happening in Ethiopia and other countries that have initiated similar movements, a journey of a thousand mile starts with a step. We have started with the first step which is mobilizing ourselves and agreeing that this is the way to go, and that to a large extent, has given the Ijaw people a common voice and the INC which is the umbrella also the organization of Ijaw people ,a direction and every step we need to take henceforth will be based on this resolutions reached at the summit.

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We keep talking about restructuring, what’s your idea of restructuring?

Restructuring, like I said earlier is, you have a structure, just like a building with its foundation. If you wake up and discover that the building is tilting towards a particular direction, or the foundation is weak, or some parts of the building require some re-enforcement or rehabilitation, you either by add rods or maybe come up with some other frame works or designs that will make the system work better.

Restructuring is just like saying Nigeria as it is, the structure of Nigeria as premised on the 1999 constitution is faulty and needs an overhaul.

Can you identify those faults you are talking about?

Yeah!, The faults we are talking about, for instance, now you see that politically you have a country whereby because of the lopsidedness of the political structure that gives a section of the country more representation, like in the senate, in the house of reps, if you go by regional representation, you will discover that half of the senate is populated by people from the north, so by restructuring we are looking at a system whereby we have representation on ethnic basis, where there is equity in representation, so that as we are today, if any matter comes from the minority, it is dead on arrival because of its disadvantageous position in terms of numbers in these houses. So, when you have a restructure based on representation, rights, equity in representation, there will be a balance.

Then number two, you talk about fiscal federalism, the issue of derivation and all that. Let every region produce, own and consume, not a situation whereby, as we have now, every resource, the land use decree, the Petroleum Act and every associated Acts and decrees have made it difficult for states, for regions, for nationalities to own, work, that which even belongs to them, that which is domiciled in their own territories. For instance, you find oil in the Niger Delta and those who manage the oil are not from the Niger Delta. Look at the NNPC for instance, how many directors were appointed in NNPC? Out of the 25 or thereabouts, 20 or 21 of them are from the north, no Ijaw person. NNPC awarded some road contracts, the oil producing states don’t have any, but if we have fiscal federalism, whereby all of these issues we are talking about are managed and controlled, even the exploration of oil is controlled and managed by the regions and at the end of the day pay taxes to the centre. In fact, we are so blessed in this country that there is no part of this nation that is not self-subsisting. People are just being wicked by using their majority advantage to stifle development in other parts of the country.

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Talking about state policing, look at the federal system, we have a federal system whereby for every issue, there is a command system at the centre; so if there is crisis in Anambra, you need the Inspector-General of Police to give directives. Let us have state police because this is about bringing the fight against criminality to the grassroots and you see the wonderful job in the recent past being done by state police outfits. They are doing wonderfully well and you can see that the crime rate is reducing, in spite of the fact that they are even being discouraged. So there are so many areas. You can see that even the centre has overburdened itself with too many responsibilities, to the extent that cost of governance is weighing down performance of government in other sectors, to the extent that we have a country today that borrows to build roads, borrows to feed, borrows to do everything. All these things are avoidable if we allow the different regions and states to harness what they have and make contributions to the centre with limited responsibilities. I think these are the key areas.

This clamour has been there, I remember we had Kaiama declaration in 1998 and the youth, the IYC and everybody, even INC officials then, were involved in the clamour for resource control, at some point it died down. Resurrecting it now, what new things are you bringing to the table to be able to achieve results now? What is the new thing, the strategy, the new approach that we did not see before now?

You know we reviewed all of that and part of the reasons why people just feel that ‘is it not just another ritual, like we’ve always had in the past?’  But I want to tell you that we should expect something different. That is the truth, we are going to explore several means and that is why in the communiqué we issued, we did say that the Ijaw Nation shall, we’ve never said that before, that we shall pursue self-determination, we will pursue it, self-determination and I am very sure you are conversant with the doctrine of self-determination. But we are careful in saying that. In doing so we shall be peaceful, we shall apply non-violent, we shall apply non-violent, peaceful, legitimate means of doing so. So, as to what the steps are, to be very frank, we are not ready to tell anybody this is what we want to do.

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But can we rightly say now, that the Ijaws are saying Nigeria should get ready for a fight in the struggle for resource control?

No, it was very clear, we said look, we don’t want to call it a fight so that let it not be misconstrued. We said we shall stop at nothing, right, until we pursue this to its logical conclusion, the processes can be legal, we can decide to go to court, we can engage international agencies, we can do so many things, but whatever we have planned, we want to keep it very close to our chest and take one step after the other. That is just the truth of the matter.

I know that Egbesu is part of the life and culture of the Ijaw man. Is the Egbesu god or goddess going to be involved in this new approach to resource control?

(Laughs) Do you know why I laughed?

No, I don’t know, tell me.

I told you, we are stopping at nothing.  In fact, I like the comments of one of our brothers, Joseph Eva; he said in this struggle, the Ijaw people dead and alive, spirits, born and unborn, are all involved in the struggle. That’s the truth.

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Okay, that’s what Joseph Eva said, so are you adopting those words?

Yes, that is, I am just adopting those words because if I say so somebody will say oh, somebody said so earlier. Everybody, the living and the dead, the trees, the flora all are involved in this struggle. Look at what we faced in Nembe. Only yesterday were they able to get that spill contained and for now people are clapping oh! The Nembe oil spill has now been contained. What happens after? Are we going to shout and shout again before they will do clean up? Like it happened in Ogoni land, are we going to shout and shout and cry before they will do remediation? Are we going to shout and shout and shout before they do compensation?

Is there a possibility that the Egbesu god will be made to visit the National Assembly or The Presidency so that they will feel that this time around the Ijaws are serious. I am just trying to look at that thing that is unique, that has not been done before. I was part of the struggle, I was part of the Kaiama declaration in 1998. So I was there at the heat of it in Yenagoa, when the Oronto Douglas of this world were still alive.

Yeah!

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So, what is different now?

No. I will not tell you. I am working under strict directives to leave certain things to our chest and let’s just say, let Nigerians expect changes from us. Definitely, it’s not going to be as usual. I am just telling you, as you are asking I know you are desirous. I’m even tempted to say one or two things but I don’t want to say anything, I want you to just give us sometime and you say ah, is it part of what you suggested the other time, or you are talking about the other time, and we take it from there.

Yeah! That’s why I mentioned it because I think the one that has never happened before is the spirit of the dead, the spirit of the Egbesu deity visiting the leaders of this country for them to know that yes these guys are actually very, very serious, let’s allow them to have their way.

My brother!

That’s what I am talking about. So, are we going to invoke the spirit of the Egbesu deity to go to work?

If I say yes, and they decide to work at the pace they want to work or in a direction that they want to work, which I don’t know, you will say this was what you said and it did not happen this way. Spiritual things are spiritual things, they have their own ways of working but the truth is that we have called on our God and we know that our God is in this fight with us. How he is going to fight it, when and how, we don’t know. But the Almighty God of the Ijaw people are all involved in this struggle, that is the truth.

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Okay, it’s the Almighty God and not Egbesu?

The Egbesu is created, everything on earth is created by God, I’m very tactical or careful in the use of my words, right?

I called the Almighty God because the Almighty God is universal and this is an all Ijaw fight. We want to be careful to ensure that we don’t deliberately exclude some persons. If I say it’s Egbesu that will visit, some people who are Christians will say ah ah! Why will he invoke Egbesu where there is Almighty God? But if I say God and Egbesu believers say ah you didn’t call Egbesu, they also know that God, anything that is created on earth, is created by God.

Okay but was the Egbesu god been consulted on this before the battle started?

If we have done consultation, I will not tell you, it’s not part of our strategy to tell you what we have consulted and where we have not consulted.

What should Nigerians expect, what should Ijaw people expect, what should Niger Delta people expect from those behind this current struggle that they have not seen before?

Well, like I said earlier, there will be greater mobilization, there will be greater concentration, there will be a greater focus, and there will be some actions that I am constrained to talk about. I’m sorry about that.

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Okay, so what will be the climax of the struggle?

Nobody knows, it could be today, it could be tomorrow.

No, no, no, no, I mean what event will be the climax?

I understand what you mean and that too I don’t also want to say, yes. The climax, I also don’t want to say because we are going to pursue it from multi-dimensions, that’s the truth.

So, will I be right to say that the Ijaws are ready for the worst this time?

I think so, the communiqué did say so. The leadership has enormous responsibility, there is no doubt about that, as we speak, there are some persons even amongst us who don’t even believe that anything can come out from this. But we are gladdened by the fact that even when Martin Luther King was addressing the Negros, he recognized that yes, there are naysayers, there are people that will betray, there are people who wouldn’t believe, but the important thing is that the leadership is focused, and at the end of the day, it’s the result that will convince some persons. There are people that are just waiting for the result and we are ready, we are focused and we must get the result, that’s just it.

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From what you are saying now, will I also be right to say that the Ijaw people are ready to stake their lives to make sure that this time around, the clamour for resource control succeeds.

In fact, the summit itself, that Ijaw people gathered, you know that we are in comatose, the INC, we are in comatose, severally, people amongst us never even wanted, some of us never wanted this to happen, they fought the INC to a standstill, but they gathered.

You need to read the speech of Justice Tabai. It’s to tell you, if somebody like Justice Tabai could come out and begin to count all of that and the governor to say what he has said, there are so many things. We decided not to say anything, the INC decided to be economical because at the end of the day, what the people need is action.

I am saying from the body language, and from what all these leaders said, will I be right to say that the Ijaw people are ready now to die and stake their life for this struggle?

I want to believe so.

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Let’s move away from that and go to the NDDC. Earlier, you said northerners were the ones in charge of NNPC, they are the ones in charge of this and that, but NDDC right now is being controlled by the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and people have been clamouring for things to be done rightly; a board has not been constituted and a lot of people have protested, women have protested and all of that. Where does the INC stand on this?

Well, if you talk about those who have challenged the non-constitution of the NDDC board, I think the Ijaw National Congress is topmost. Even when we visited Buhari, we told him pointedly that the forensic audit was no genuine reason to delay the constitution of the NDDC board and when he even said the report will be ready, we challenged him to make the report public. Since public funds were spent, let us know because you are blaming it, the malfunction of the NDDC, on the fact that people were corrupt, contractors collected money and they refused to deliver and all that; let us know those contractors and till today nothing has happened.

So, now that the board has not been inaugurated, things are still the same way they used to be, close to two years now NDDC is run by an illegal…

(Cuts in) three years, three years.

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Yeah! About three years, there has been no board. How does this worry you as a very senior stakeholder?

We are bothered, we have said so severally. Our worries have been expressed severally in various fora. We are as bothered as anybody. In fact, there was the time when the Akpabio of a man visited the Niger Delta, I was in that gathering and we warned him, he saw the bitterness of the people, in the eyes of the people.

Yeah but nothing has changed, since then, between then and now.

No, nothing has changed.

I’m sure you are talking about the visit to Tompolo, between then and now nothing has changed…

(Cuts in) You can see that even recently the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta under my leadership embarked on a protest match in Yenagoa, to drive home the same force. What is yet to be done is for people to start shooting and all that and they say you call it shooting, going into mayhem and do a replication of what is going on in the East, turn the place into a bloody thing and those are the things our people are cautious about. We know those who say when this appeals go, when the protests go and they keep quiet, they are only setting some kind of trap and we are also very cautious. You don’t jump into a battle field unprepared, that is the truth and particularly if there are other ways of achieving the same thing.

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If you were to meet Akpabio now, the way things are now as an Ijaw leader, as an Ijaw leader, I’m emphasizing it, as an Ijaw leader, Ijaw men are bold, Ijaw men are fearless, Ijaw men that I know look at people in the eye and tell them the truth. What will you tell Akpabio about NDDC?

You know what, thank God you made reference to the Oporoza visit. I told him that he is a big disappointment, huge disappointment to the Niger Delta; he is a huge disappointment. I first of all elevated his ego by saying that look, we expected your uncommon interventions in Akwa Ibom to be replicated in this place. Look at what you have done, you have messed up, the organization that was meant to better your people, people trusted you and gave you this responsibility and said oh, let us use our own person, now look at what you’ve done, you have turned your back, you are busy enriching people outside the region, following the footsteps of people, dictates of people outside the region against your own people, you will come back and meet these people, you will not stay with them forever. These are the words I said and if I meet him again, I will repeat the same thing, that is the truth.

Are you still feeling disappointed even uptill today because this one you are saying was what you said at Oporoza many months ago.

(Cuts in) I’m more disappointed, that’s you know, I’m more disappointed, that’s why even when this oil spill occurred in Nembe and the minister for petroleum went and made a promise, I said look I don’t trust this promise, you promised about Niger Delta and nothing has happened, and you said two days, people waited for more than two days and nothing happened, only recently, just yesterday that they were able to kill the spill, so my disappointments are even more. He confided in us and said look the moment this forensic audit is over, he pleaded please just allow this because it has started, okay, it’s over how many months, three, four months and nothing has happened, where is he, have you still hear him talk again?

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Okay, so will you say he is a liar or a blatant liar or a serial liar?

In fact, I am not the one to even say it, he is the one that has called himself a liar by not fulfilling what he promised he was going to do and not coming out with any explanation. I’m not calling him a liar, he said something and he did the contrary, so he is the one to say whether he is a liar or not.

2023 election is coming. Let’s talk about your son, your brother, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. There are speculations that he is likely to get into the field again, have you discussed this with him, have the Ijaw people looked at this, are the Ijaw people thinking that the presidency should come to the South south again. Where do you stand?

Well, if the Ijaws must participate in the elections, if the Ijaws must remain committed to the Nigeria project, I think that it’s fair that for purpose of balance the presidency should shift to the south south.

Now, on the issue of discussing with him, yes, when we got the inkling that he is being persuaded to contest, we had some discussions with him, and those discussions for now are private discussions. There are certain parameters we have set for ourselves, to advise ourselves further. So, we are still watching to see whether some of those parameters are being also looked into by other people, or other critical stakeholders.

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What was his body language like, when you people were discussing with him on this?

Yeah! Body language is that if Nigerians say come and rescue the country as a statesman of good repute, why not, if we are sincere to ourselves, if we have electoral processes that are credible and where the voices of the people, the wish of the people will prevail, why not, but if the signals are not clear, (laughs). If the signals are not clear, if the same infractions as were experienced in the last elections are there, we will not encourage him to go in and disgrace himself, that is just it.

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