– Comrade Joseph Evah, Ijaw Monitoring Group leader
• We’re already consulting former president
National Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, is a reporter’s delight any day as he will not dodge any question despite how sensitive or who is involved.
In this no-holds-barred interview with Sunday Sun, he dissected the scandal rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and what President Mohammadu Buhari should do, Ogoni clean-up, thoughts on Ondo election and why the Igbo should tackle traitors working against their 2023 presidential goal, among other critical issues. Excerpt:
The scandal rocking the NDDC is no longer speculation…?
(Cut’s in)The entire mess is now on the public domain, all that they have been hiding, and all that we have been complaining about on the setting up of Interim Management Committee (IMC) has now become clear before our very eyes. The major issue for us now is on the way forward and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is like the engine room apart from the activities of the governors, to help our situation. So, the way forward is that President Buhari should reverse himself. There is nobody above mistakes, the president has made the mistake by setting up the IMC, which is unknown to law, unknown to any law as far as the NDDC is concerned. It is clear for all to know that this setting up of the IMC is what is causing this problem, so it is better for the President to reverse himself. Before now, I warned on the danger ahead when Buhari wanted to set up the IMC, like the prophet that I am, I warned against it. I appeared in many television stations as well as interviews from most newspapers condemning the attempt to set up the IMC, but my admonition was ignored. I knew it will lead to another disaster in the history of NDDC and now it has come to pass. I have a copy of the opinion poll I conducted through the Ijaw Monitoring Group, we conducted an opinion poll in 2007, part of the opinion poll, the views of the Niger Delta people was that we don’t want the NDDC to be under any so-called special adviser, special assistant to the president, minister of Niger Delta or anything. We want the NDDC to be under the office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation. This is because if there is any problem, if the NDDC is not working we hold the Secretary to the Federal Government responsible. If the NDDC is given to any special adviser or assistant they want us to kill ourselves. If the NDDC is handed over to the minister of Niger Delta to supervise, they want us to kill ourselves because it will lead to crisis. This is because those offices are political appointments within the children of that region that want to play politics with it. In 2000 the opinion poll was published and I distributed over 100, 000 copies of the opinion poll that we still have today in which we rejected any attempt to say NDDC is under special adviser or assistant to Mr. President or minister of Niger Delta. Our demand then was that we want it to be under the Secretary to the Federal Government so that we can hold the presidency responsible if the mandate was not being delivered. We learned from what happened to the late Ken Saro-Wiwa when some of our youths were against some of our leaders for betraying the region, the next thing was to come and hang Ken Saro Wiwa and the other patriots. The person/people that advised the president to set up IMC mislead him. The president has seen it with what is happening there now. The new IMC people said they used N1.8 billion to take care of themselves. The argument is that if they don’t take care of themselves and Coronavirus kills them who will now be in-charge? Can you imagine? We are saying that if there is any problem you find out in the NDDC, give it to EFCC, that has been probing, investigating, and placing people on trial as in other structures. So, why are you saying that IMC should come and coordinate forensic? The immediate past acting managing Director of NDDC, Joi Nunieh told us that there is nothing like forensic, she was there to conduct forensic she said uptil now there is nothing like forensic and we know that that is the truth because you cannot tell politicians to come and investigate themselves. We all know what this country looks like when it comes to such issues. So, to cut the long story short, let the IMC be dissolved, let NDDC be under the office or control of the Secretary to the Federal Government, let those found guilty be made to face the music. Let there be a genuine forensic test, not the one that you will tell politicians to do the investigation.
But are you worried that aside from the present revelations coming out from the present NDDC scandal the institution is believed not to have done much since its inception given the financial resources expended by present and past leadership?
Well, everybody knows that and that was why we expected the president to put special mandate to EFCC to deal with some of them so that others will learn from their experience. Look at what happened to NYSC. When Buhari came as military president the NYSC was a disaster, but he set up probe in so many things, including the NYSC, today is NYSC not working? We all know what happened in the 80s with the NYSC programme. It was not politicians that probed NYSC.
Former acting MD of NDDC, Joi Nunieh accused Akpabio of sexual harassment and …?
(Cuts in) That should not concern us. There love affair should not be a public matter, they should not bring it to us we are looking for the way forward for the Niger Delta. Their romance should be a private, personal, or secret issue.
Who did you see the Edo governorship election?
The conduct of a free and fair election is the duty or responsibility of INEC. We are telling INEC that we want a free and fair election in states. But like the problem of APC in Edo State, we are begging the president that he should not always wait until we come up with a fire brigade approach. We should be able to settle political issues before it becomes an emergency. The president should know the right time to intervene to calm tension rather than wait until the deed is done before trying to proffer political solution. Look at what happened in Edo state, it was until the crisis became unbearable that the president waded in and took a decision, it should not be so. Even in this NDDC matter, the moment the president dissolves the IMC which is not known by law and inaugurates the board and asks EFCC to go into investigating activities from the beginning to date, tension will come down.
But Nigerians will be the same people that will condemn and accuse the president of being undemocratic?
What is undemocratic about it? There are different reconciliatory processes that could be adopted which will still be fair to all parties. The process is that the president took a wrong decision, he is a human being and can be a victim of mistake, but he should be statesman enough to accept correction when he is wrong and do the right thing. In the Bible, God said He regretted making Saul the king, but He later removed him for David. The president coming up with IMC which is not known by any law was a mistake and what was to be done was to make corrections realizing that you have goofed. The president will simply say that he has come to realise that the IMC was set up without any law backing it, therefore, he wants to go back and follow the law. The moment he makes such a statement everybody will applaud him. The ministry of Niger Delta budget is like N10 while the NDDC budget is like N200,000, now Akpabio has abandoned everything about the ministry of the Niger Delta and now fighting in the NDDC, he simply wants to hijack that place, causing confusion. The Prof, I mean Pondei (IMC Acting Chairman) is just a professor in the university they just brought him, he is supposed to tell those that gave him the appointment that what he is seeing in the NDDC is mysterious.
Do you still hold your view that the Southeast should produce the 2023 presidency?
I think that should be the decision of all Nigerians, all lovers of unity, equity, etc. That has been our slogan and we hope that the Southeast themselves should encourage themselves because we don’t want to say if they don’t want it the leadership should go back to the North. We will not say so. But if the Southeast is not prepared any other Southern part of Nigeria will take over. I have called the Southeast leaders over and over and I have been warning them, if they are not ready, if they continue to play gamble like the way they did when they were given the position of the Senate president, when they will produce not less than five Senate presidents as if they are out of their minds. This is time they have to organise themselves well because we don’t want such insult again where they will be attacking their own without caution. They allow themselves to be used against their own, they should wake up to the reality of the moment. If they continue with such sell-out character they will shoot themselves in the foot. Was it not recently that one stupid group went to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC)? These are people that are supposed to be flogged naked. Those people who went to the CAC they are supposed to line all of them up and flog them naked because they are betrayers of Igbo land, they are traitors and what they are doing is to crumble any agitation to get the presidency in Igbo land in 2023, that is their mission. All those characters are being sponsored in other to frustrate Igbo presidency, I hope they know? If the Igbo will not check themselves and talk to themselves if possible carry out deliverance service on all those people and their ilk that went to CAC to register another parallel Ohanaeze Ndigbo. They should cast out the betrayal demon in them, I expected all the General Overseers in Igbo land to rise up to this spiritual challenge. Those people need healing, they need demonic deliverance. How can some people wake up one day and say they want to go and register another Ohanaeze Ndigbo group? They should see those people as traitors that they are. So, with all this, you can see that perhaps the Igbo house is divided. And if the Igbo house is divided we will not still allow the North to come and hijack the presidency again, no, no way. If Ndigbo is not ready any other Southern part of the country will be welcomed to take it. There is a saying that you can force the horse to the stream, but you cannot force the horse to drink water. We want to ensure that Ndigbo gets the presidency in 2023, so they should resist their children who are displaying this sell-out character. They should stop selling out their political destiny. This is the right time for Ndigbo to also become the president of Nigeria. Nobody can say again or call us, the Niger Delta people second class citizens because of the honour that our son Jonathan has given to us. Nobody will call a Niger Delta citizen second class. We have produced the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In those days they call us second class citizens, but not now anymore. Jonathan’s presidency has cancelled that insult, that abomination in the history of Nigeria. Ndigbo should put their house in order, so that their children’s children will be proud of what they did, to cancel their identity from that of a second class citizen as some perceive it today. If the Igbo are not ready for the presidency we will scout for any other person from the South to warm up. We don’t even care to ask Jonathan to come back, to come and complete his second term. We are already telling Jonathan to prepare, he should not be afraid, he should be courageous. If the Igbo are not ready we will show up, after all, we were also part of the old Eastern region so Jonathan will continue with his second term and we are going to back him. We are surprised at the drama that the Igbo are playing now. How can some people go to register another parallel group against their apex organisation? It is the height of betrayal.
PANDEF leader, Chief Edwin Clark wrote an open letter to President Buhari lamenting on the unsafe state of the country, just as Col Abubakar Umar (Rtd) did….?
(Cuts in) I think the president should sit down and have another look at the issues they raised. People like Chief Clark are extra-ordinary human beings; they are still around with us to help the nation, so his open letter if there are wise men around the president they will read the letter again to the president, over and over. God decides to keep people like Chief Clark to be with us, to save the nation. Look at his letter, he is talking about equity, justice, fair play, etc, the key for Nigeria to move forward because they know that they have played their role completely, they have lived a fulfilled life and what is next? His service is to advise those who are managing the country. You must listen to people like that because they have seen it all and are in a better position to counsel you.
How well is the Ogoni clean-up going on?
We are not satisfied with what is on the ground. It is less than 30 per cent of work done despite all the noise by the Federal Government that much has been carried out. Even with the job on the ground Shell is still frustrating it. They just want to do Yahoo-Yahoo job there so that they will tell us that they have done the cleaning so as to continue their oil exploitation, but we will not allow them, we will resist them. That clean-up should be of international standard and we are expecting international observers of this clean-up to come and give us update. Without getting experts from the United Nations coming to observe the percentage and quality of the clean-up so far we will not accept the result.
Some people contend that the problem with Nigeria is not leadership, but followership because they argue that if the followership resists bad leadership it will collapse. Do you share this view?
No, I don’t believe in that school of thought. Everything rests on leadership or at least a greater per cent. If you go to Dubai, why is it a paradise, it is the leaders, visionary leaders. Followership will protest and you (leadership) will bring security men to teargas them and they will disperse. If you have a conscience you do what is right for the people as a leader because you are elected to serve the people. Why should you blame the people that put you in office? You asked them to vote for you and they did and put you in office and you turn around to blame them, why? Look at how the Arab emirate transformed desert. It is leadership that holds the ace.
Do you foresee a free and fair election in 2023 without signing the amended Electoral Act by the president?
The judiciary that is supposed to help us to deal with electoral offenders etc are not doing their work well, while some of them, some of the judges now give Jankara ruling, pleasing the highest bidder. This is bad because most people no longer see the court as the last hope of the common man. This is sad, it should not be so. One day we will all leave this nation for our children’s children and if that is at the back of our mind I don’t think this country will have a problem in every area because we will be thinking of bequeathing good and lasting legacy to them, meaning that we should love one another so as to build a strong and united country. But that is not happening today.
How would you rate the National Assembly because some critics say they are mere rubber stamp of the executive?
The national Assembly even when you look at what they are doing in this NDDC issue you will weep for this country. We advised from day one that this IMC should be dissolved, but the president did not listen, if not, this National Assembly has no moral right to be questioning Akpabio, IMC, and the NDDC people. Where is their moral right? You remember that Akpabio wanted to say something and they did not allow him because he is their paddy man, he is one of them. Why did they not allow him to say something? It is because they don’t want to wash their dirty linen in the public because all of them are the same. So, I don’t think we are getting the best from this National Assembly that is what I can tell you. Where they are benefitting they will soft-pedal, but where their interest is not provided you will see them shouting and kicking. Look at the oversight function given to the National Assembly, could anyone say he is satisfied? You know during the beginning of this Coronavirus pandemic they were sharing jeep and I confronted them. I told them that we have to stripe them naked and flog them. They were sharing security jeeps to themselves, vehicles that were more than N30 million each. Sometimes I am ashamed at what they are doing because even in the realm of logic the action will not hold water.