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Niger Delta Summit Controversy

Posted by By EMERSON GOBERT Jr. on 2008/07/05 | Views: 2985 |

Niger Delta Summit Controversy


Ijaw national leader and elderstateman, Chief Edwin Clark, was in his element when he spoke with Saturday Sun recently on the Niger Delta crises and other fundamental national issues. In his characteristic fearlessness, he talked about the proposed Niger Delta summit, political thuggery and cultism. The Joint Task Force, in the Niger Delta did not escape his venom, as he called its members contractors and illegal bunkerers.

* Enough of this nonsense Ė Clark

Ijaw national leader and elderstateman, Chief Edwin Clark, was in his element when he spoke with Saturday Sun recently on the Niger Delta crises and other fundamental national issues. In his characteristic fearlessness, he talked about the proposed Niger Delta summit, political thuggery and cultism. The Joint Task Force, in the Niger Delta did not escape his venom, as he called its members contractors and illegal bunkerers.

Indeed, Clark was frank in addressing the issues and confessed that he had not been so detailed in any interview.
It is shocking to many people that uptil now, peace in the Niger Delta remains elusive because of the activities of militants, who have gone as far as bombing oil platforms and kidnapping people. What do you think should be done, to put a stop to all these things?

This seems to be an old question. This seems to be something that has been happening for the past number of years since the previous Obasanjo government came into being and now, this government. People have been asking this question as to why there is no peace in the Niger Delta. Why has it been lingering? But they fail to ask themselves a number of questions. One of them is, are people in the Niger Delta crazy? Are they mad? Donít they know what they are doing? Why? I think these are some of the questions you people should answer yourselves.

Over 10 years ago, I attended a seminar organized by Shell. At that seminar, I said there had been so much neglect, maltreatment and marginalization of the people, poverty among the people, inability of parents to take care of their children, no educational facilities and no electricity. I said that people sit on top of water but no water to drink and our children sat on the ground, with teachers not there to teach them. I told them that teachers posted there refused to go because of non-availability of drinking water and so the youths are uneducated. I told them that the few of the youths who were educated had no jobs to fall back on.

I told them that if the situation was not taken care of, the youths would go into the driving seat or what you may call as driverís seat and the situation would be very, very, unpleasant for everybody. I said over 10 years ago at the seminar organized by Shell. At that time, Shell had appointed a committee headed by the respected Chief Gamaliel Onosode to look into the problems of the Niger Delta and they did and the reports were even given to us, at that meeting.

Till today, nothing has happened. Again, the oil companies and the Federal Government have no regard for the peopleís existence. Over the years, as far back as 1998, during the Kaima declaration, where the youths took a decision in which they talked about resource control, gave notice that by 31st of December if the Federal Government did nothing, there would be a fight. I tried to intervene, but unfortunately, the Federal Government confronted these boys with arms. A lot of them were killed, in Kaima, in Odi and in Yenegoa and some of the boys who survived are the people negotiating today with the Federal Government. They have grown up. Most of them are graduates.

They know their rights.
At that time, the government of Bayelsa State captured their leader. The boys went to the Government House and freed their leader. I call him general. He is not a soldier, Dike Ogorigba. He is the leader of the negotiating team today. They went to Government House, where soldiers and policemen with their guns were stationed. These boys went in without any trouble, disarmed all the policemen, and took the man away. The military administrator, one Admiral from Ondo, escaped through the back door. That was the beginning of the trouble.

The Federal Government, since then, has done nothing. After the Kaima declaration, where they gave notice, we went in and we discussed with the Abdulsalami Abubakar government, where Mike Akhigbe was the Chief of General Staff. We discussed until April 1999 when that government handed over to Obasanjo. Nothing was done. There was the General Popoolaís committee set up by the Federal Government of Abdulsalami Abubakar to look into the problems of the area, after the Kaima declaration. It made a lot of recommendations and produced a revealing report. At that time, Bayelsa State capital, Yenegoa, had no light. They were depending on gas turbine and it was the Popoola committee that recommended that N300 million should be spent to step down NEPA from Owerri to Yenegoa.

Until about few years ago, no stepping down was done, yet the gas with which NEPA operates and give other people electricity is produced in Bayelsa State. Yet there was no stepping down of water. The people have been buying sachet water from Port Harcourt, Warri, Ughelli and so on, at the cost of N10 per sachet and as I said, nothing was done. Oligbiri, where oil was first discovered and exported in this country in 1956, is in a shambles. Today, you wonít recognize it; no water, no electricity, nothing. The whole place is grass. There is not even a museum, as a place where oil was first discovered. There are no roads to connect all the places; no bridges to connect all the places, yet in Abuja, we have over 1, 000 bridges connecting lands.

How many conferences were held before these were done?
After Popoolaís committee and Abdulsalam handed over to Obasanjo, Obasanjo appointed General Ogomudia, the Chief of Defence staff to head a committee with all the service heads and the secretaries to the governments of six South-South states. They went round the whole of the Niger Delta. They made a report. The report was based on immediate medium and long term. The report is there. Nobody implemented it. Even the immediate one was not done, not to take about the medium or long-term. General Ogomudiaís report is there.

Then what happened,? Men were being kidnapped, left and right. Expatriates were being kidnapped by the youths to draw the attention of the Federal Government and the international world to what was happening to them. Thirteen of them were at one time kidnapped. We intervened. Some of them, were released to me in my house in Warri. Some of them were released to the governor of Delta State. After the kidnapping, what happened? Obasanjo decided to call a summit of the area. I rejected that. You donít have to discuss it before you put bulldozers in the area. We said we wonít attend such a jamboree. That was, I think, February 19, 2006 or so. The committee that Obasanjo set up was meeting in Aso Rock. Every governor from the South-South had to go there to say what he had done for his people, which he had not done. They would pay youths to go with them to Aso Rock to hail them whenever they spoke.

Obasanjo was the headmaster. He said who would speak and who should not speak. Fifteen months after, nothing was done. He then discovered what was called the coastal states. At that time, what happened? Obasanjo then summoned a meeting. He said jobs should be given by NNPC; Army should give jobs; jobs should be given by the Navy and so on. Those jobs, which came, went to every state in Nigeria.

The special treatment that was to be given to Niger Delta was not given. I give you an example. They said our boys and girls should be recruited into the NNPC. Special privilege should be given to the people of Niger Delta, but because the GMD of NNPC, as at that time, was a Yoruba man, what did he do? Over 600 boys and girls were called for interview from Ondo State, over 500 called from Edo State; Delta State, about 300 and something, Bayalsa State, 59; Rivers State, 170 something. Even if you say pay special attention to people of the Niger Delta, other people will come to benefit from it.
Obasanjo had a jamboree for 15 months, nothing happened in Niger Delta. Where is the report? Has it been implemented.

Now, this government has come and under the seven-point agenda of Umar Musa YaríAdua, the development of the Niger Delta states was one of the points; so we said good intention, something was going to be done. We appealed to the boys to stop kidnapping in the area; no more fighting; no more vandalisation of pipelines and so on. We said all these and there has been relative peace in the Niger Delta, except in Rivers State, as the president observed recently in his press conference. Is it development that brought about the relative peace? It is the belief of the people that President YaríAdua was going to do something immediately for them.

I risked my life. I went to the riverine area to prepare the ground for the visit of the vice president to Escravos, which he did. Since then, there has been relative peace and there has been discussions going on between the youth leaders and the Federal Government under the chairmanship of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and later the chairmanship passed to the Minister of Defence, Alhaji Yayali. It was during this period of time, the boys broke away and said the Federal Government was not serious enough. So many things were happening. We appealed to them, under my leadership, that we held a meeting in the VPís place and it was agreed that the boys should go back, set up a committee to visit all the camps and the boys agreed to go back under the chairmanship of the vice president. They have concluded their reports. What we expected was for the Federal Government to consider the reports and the president was to visit the area to see things for himself.

These things have not been done and from the blues, a summit has to be held under the chairmanship of Ambassador Gambari. Has Gambari ever been to any part of the Nigeria Delta? And if people, like us, at our age cannot speak out, thinking that, oh, the VP is from my place, the president is very well-meaning, one year has passed, then if you start with the summit, before the end of this year, nothing will happen. What the people want now, as I said, is the martial plan method to be used in developing the Niger Delta.

You know after the World War 11, in 1945, Germany was devastated. Other European countries were suffering, including France. The United States government and some of the European counties produced a martial plan with which they developed the war-devastated areas. That is what the Niger Delta people want. I can assure Mr. President that if he sends bulldozers and other things to the Niger Delta and the people are working, the boys will stop everything and they will jump into developing their area, but there have been too many promises. We agree there are some criminals among the boys. Government should deal with them. That is the position.

Do you sincerely believe that the YaríAdua administration is capable of solving the Niger Delta crisis?
I still believe that YaríAduaís administration is capable of solving the crisis in the Niger Delta because it was in his manifesto as one of his seven-point programme. The method and the timing are what we are quarrelling about. We are saying one year has past. He started very well by appointing a committee to look into these things. Theyíve been meeting. Has his government considered this point? Why a summit? None of us has been briefed about that summit. So Iím going to be invited like any other person?
Who are the stakeholders? Everybody in Nigeria believes that the oil belongs to Nigeria and thatís why everybody is a stakeholder.

Everybody is an expert in Niger Delta. Everybody is a consultant in Niger Delta affairs. So these people will parade themselves in that summit. At the end of it all, the object for which the summit was called will be lost, as it has been done in previous meetings, conferences and so on. So all we are saying is that the president should look into the reports submitted to it by committee earlier set up. If he wants to consult the people of the area and then, move into real development of the area that is okay. We donít need expertsí views again. What are they gong to discuss at the summit? Should we develop the Niger Delta or not or what type of development that is required? Is that what they are going to discuss?
Is the decision of the Federal Government to send a Joint Task Force to the region a solution or a provocation?

God knows it was a provocation. There was no need. This is the history of how the army went there. There was the Warri crisis and during the crisis, which engulfed the entire area, the Federal Government decided to step in. the Joint Task Force did not go there because of kidnappings. No! They were sent there to assist in quelling the internecine war that was taking place in Warri. They were sent to Warri alone. They were not in Rivers State. They were not in Bayelsa State. They were not in any other state. It is a recent development. They said JTF should be send to Rivers State when law and order had broken down. That is what happened. They were not sent there to solve the problem of the Niger Delta neither is it helping the Federal Government. One, the soldiers are benefiting much from the area and therefore they do not want to go.

How are they benefiting?
The governors of the area now spend money, which they share in the name of security of the Joint Task Force. Much money is being spent there. Number two: They have become contractors and illegal bunkerers. Contractors, in the sense that the little jobs that were being done by the people of the area, the host communities, are now being done by the soldiers in the name of security. They now supply boats sand other materials. The people are complaining. Shell does not mind paying them at the higher price because they feel that they add to the security of the area. In the past, our forefathers used to be the riverine pilots.

They were not pilots of big ships. They used to go to Escravos, Forcados River to escort ships to various parts and they were paid. Today, that does not happen. What is happening today, the Navy is going to the river to bring these boats and these pilots are now sitting jobless in the their homes. Today, you find that the Joint Task Force has roadblocks between Warri and Ughelli and Port Harcourt, between Warri and Benin, whereas that is the duty of the ordinary policeman. The so-called kidnapping they are talking, we have also discovered that some of the security men are involved. They organized with these boys and the boys go to do the kidnapping and whatever money paid is shared. I have a document to that effect, where four expatriates were kidnapped in one of the states and the CSO (chief security officer) and other officials in that government arranged with some of the boys to look for these white people and they gave them N20 million.

When these ones failed, they took the money and gave another N30 million to another four boys who went to look for the people and brought them but the actual amount the government was alleged to have spent was N300 million.

So the remaining N250 million, who took it?
I have a record to that effect. So the picture Iím painting is that if the armed forces are withdrawn and the people take over some of these contracts there will be relative peace. For example, the GMD has recognized that the host community should be given some of these jobs. I suggested this to the former president about three years ago, that the supervision of the pipelines should be given to the various host communities and he was very happy that it is to be introduced.

If problem happens the communities would be held responsible. The community will deal with any criminal among it, but what are they doing? They have been paying the money to individual contractors, who are not performing the job. Iíve suggested this to Shell. I told the company to involve the communities in the oil operation and supervision. I asked a question the other day. How many of our people are lifting oil? How many of our people are being allocated oil blocs? But almost everybody on the land, whether from the North, East or South West, are lifting oil, benefiting from our oil. Well, we donít control our resources. The pipeline passes through my backyard. I donít know who is supervising it. So, we are poor.

I told you before the NNDP was asked to produce a report for the Federal Government, which it submitted two years ago. That report said that the Federal Government, the state government and the local government in the Niger Delta have not got the will power to develop the area, that the Niger Delta is the poorest area in Nigeria. Not only that, but is the only oil-producing area in the world where the people are the poorest. Nothing is happening. The people live in make shift houses. The land they live in is below the sea level. Nothing is being done to provide infrastructure for them.

About three years ago, the president of the World Bank said in Addis Ababa that part of the money of the excess crude oil should be spent in developing the Niger Delta and unless that was done, trouble would continue. The Federal Government paid no attention and today, governors come with their briefcases to collect money from excess crude oil. It is because of the crisis in the Niger Delta that the oil prices are rising and the government is making excess money from crude oil. Then you want our boys to be fighting in order for you to get excess crude oil. The whole thing is immoral and illegal for the state governors, particularly those from my area. What have they done with the 13 per cent that they have been paying to them under section 162 of the constitution? Some of them have stolen the money.
Government is now talking about summit. Summit of what? Thatís why I ask, if you call the fathers and the mothers of these children, youths to discuss with them, there will be a solution to the problem. The next thing they will do is to send for the governors, they will now meet; they are the masters; they will argue while at the same time, they are stealing the money belonging to the people.

Youths in the region often accuse their leaders of selling outs. Is this accusation true?
Itís not true. It cannot be true. In which way are they selling out? Iím a leader. Am I not a leader from the Niger Delta? Am I selling out? If Iím selling out, I wonít say what Iím saying now. So that is not true. What they would accuse the leaders of is helplessness. A man has a son, he cannot pay his fees; he cannot provide food for him. There is no water for his children to drink. That is the position.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is threatening more attacks unless its leaders are given fair trial. Do you think this is an empty threat and if it is not, what does it portend for Nigeria?
I cannot forecast what will happen. I cannot tell what will happen. I cannot tell what these youths are trying to do. I can only tell them not to do anything to escalate the crisis in the Niger Delta. The issue of Henry Okah is being talked about. There is no where the constitution of Nigeria allows secret trial. The 56 charges they have given to him involve the entire struggle of the youths of the Niger Delta and Henry Okah couldnít have been the only one carrying them out. Let him be tried in the open. Okah is not the first person to be tried for wanting to overthrow the government of the country. The former president of this country was tried and jailed for attempting to overthrow the government of this country. There are many others. The recent one is Mamza Al-Mustapha, who was alleged to had planned to overthrow the government by killing the president of the country with grenades and other things. Was he not tried in public and he has been freed?

What is strange in Okah, a man from the Niger Delta being accused? Was Asari Dokubo not being tried for wanting to overthrow the government too? Was Ralph Uwazurike not being tried for the same thing? So there is nothing special in the trial of Okah. Okah has been accused of buying arms from the solders. We want to know how a civilian went to Kaduna to buy arms and the same soldiers are fighting the boys to whom these arms have been distributed. These are things Nigerians want to know. If you charge him for gun running, Nigerian would want to know the officers. What happened? How were they able to supply arms to Okah?

Try him openly and people will know why there is crisis in the Niger Delta. What is the cause? Who are those behind it? Donít try him secretly. Britain has stopped secret trial because they found that it was not good; so since 1991, they no longer try people secretly. Even those accused of being involved in the 9/11 attack in America are not being tried secretly. Let the Angola people know what Okah was being tried for; let South Africa where he has been staying know. Iíve asked a question, when did you discover these offences allegedly committed by Henry Okah? Is it after the government officials have visited him in South Africa, according what the wife said?

You made allegation on cultism some time ago and you were asked to substantiate it. How do you substantiate cases of cultism?
I have investigated. I set up a committee and we have named all those who are involved in cultism. Iím not afraid. Iím a Nigerian. If Iím 70 years and above and afraid of anybody, I will be a dead man. When you are 70 and above, you in the borderline waiting for your boarding pass; so you fear no foe; you fear nobody. Fight against injustice and thatís what I did in River State and I named them in over 200 pages and we are now being proved right. Our report is being confirmed. The civil rights man who gave evidence has mentioned the people who have been supplying these boys with arms and ammunition for supremacy of power in Rivers State. The Federal Government knows what to do. Why use soldiers to chase poor boys? Why not face those who supply them the money and give them the power to do what they are doing? That is the problem. For instance, the River State government has passed into law anti-cultist law. That is okay. If there is no cultism this would not be done. So these are things the Nigerian people would like to know.

Some people are of the opinion that these militants have powerful persons behind them. Do you share in this opinion?
These are stupid guesses being made by people. Over 10 years ago I said the youths will come to driving seat if was done to solve the problem in the Niger Delta. We are talking about militants. Some of them are 35 years old. Some of them are 40 years old. Who are the people behind them? The people behind them are politicians in places like Rivers State and perhaps, Delta. The people behind them are politicians who use them to win elections, not the ordinary parents of the boys or elders of the area. The other day, we submitted over 200-paged report to Mr. President on cultism in Rivers State. We asked him to institute a judicial commission of enquiry. We revealed the people behind it. It has been alleged even at the Truth Commission.

The people have been supplying arms. Nothing has been done to them.
These are crimes perpetuated by politicians. So it is not good to make a wide statement that people are behind these militants. I donít call them militants. They are freedom fighters. Sort out the criminals among them and deal with them; punish them. I even appealed to the youths to arrest any among them found to be a criminal, who kidnap young children of six months, six years and so forth, old women of 90 years old and so forth. That is not the cause we are fighting for.

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