Former President of Ijaw National Congress, Prof Kimse Okoko, has accused foremost Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark and other members of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) of undermining the interests of the people of the region.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the erudite Professor of Political Science described PANDEF members as political merchants. He also warned that Niger Delta can no longer tolerate the continued Northern domination, and reiterated the resolution of the Southern Leaders of Thought that 2019 general elections won’t hold unless the country is restructured.
How do we fix Nigeria, we know that all is not well with her?
The Southern Leaders of Thought, has taken a position that 2019 general elections will not hold unless the country is restructured. That was one of our positions at our last media conference.
We were supposed to meet with the northern group. Initially it was 15 from the South and 15 from the North. Atiku in fact started this. We have been calling for the two sides to negotiate on both positions, so that we can arrive at a consensus.
Atiku came to our meeting and said that we should give them to the end of Ramadan.
Ramadan has come and gone and that was why we were forced to hold that press conference, because we were ready with the Southern document, and we didn’t want to publicise it before meeting with them. Since they have not been able to meet with us, we decided to go on with the press conference.
We are telling Mr. President that all we need is for him to send a Bill to the National Assembly (since it is highly unlikely that the National Assembly will do that), to set up a law for Constituent Assembly, and it is that Constituent Assembly that will draw up a new law for Nigeria.
We are not interested in amending the fraudulent 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. We want a brand new constitution. We have a document on our position, where we whittled down powers of the Federal Government to the barest minimum like many other federal systems in the world – State police, state appeal court, ownership and control of resources etc, are stated in that document.
When the Northern group is ready, we sit together to discuss with them. If they don’t, we will send the document to Mr. President, and put pressure on him to ensure that the NASS passes a Bill to form a Constituent Assembly.
Given the roadblocks that you can see both from the NASS and the Presidency, we should be able to mount educational campaigns throughout the country to force National Assembly to do what we have been saying. That is our approach to the whole process. We believe in one Nigeria because going our separate ways will not solve the problems of the country.
Most Northern leaders are opposed to restructuring; they maintain that the 1999 Constitution has answered the questions of restructuring
That is rubbish, and that is only said by people from Northwest and Northeast. Middle Belt is not with them. From our own meetings, we have been able to accommodate the Middle Belt position. So, it is more than likely that the Middle Belt is with us. Northwest leaders are the ones obviously against restructuring, claiming that they don’t know what it is all about.
The present system benefits them so they don’t want any change. But we must change because we cannot continue like that in this country. We cannot.
Look at the recent appointment in the so-called restructuring in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Look at the appointment, they do it with impunity and it is completely unacceptable.
For our group, we keep pressing on. The things that are happening in this country, for example, the Arewa quit notice even though they said they have suspended it, that is their business. Look at the counter quit notice issued by the Niger Delta militants to Northerners and Yoruba in the region, and the Yoruba talking of forming the Oduduwa Republic. These are all forces moving this country to the precipice if something is not done.
We cannot accept this domination or bid to dominate perpetually the country by a few in the Northwest. This is completely unacceptable.
On the recent development in the NNPC, the Niger Delta that produces the oil got two slots, how do you view this against the ten slots for the North?
What kind of nonsense is that? Some of our people who have sold themselves to Northern hegemony for filthy lucre will definitely be on the wrong side of history.
In few decades to come emphasis on oil will shift, and what will be the plight of Niger Delta since the oil exploration has damaged their lands to the point that agriculture won’t prosper there. What should the people of the region be doing now?
Yes, the significance of oil seems to be fading away, but it is still very important to us because we can use our oil to industrialise the Niger Delta. I have no problem there.
We have been the least beneficiaries of oil sold in this place by Nigeria. We are going to explore the oil for our purposes, and use the gas to industrialise the region.
I have no problem with that, after all they have been selling the oil for all these years and we are not benefitting from it. Between now and 20 years when that comes to play we would have been able to use oil to indutrialise.
How would you use the oil to industrialise when Niger Delta is not in control of it?
That is why we say the situation must change. We must restructure this country, and I don’t see how we can avoid it in spite of what Buharis of this world are saying. We cannot avoid it.
What is your view on the seeming faceoff between the Niger Delta militants and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF)?
The PANDEF people are merchants, I’m not interested in them. They are traders. How can you leave the important things we are asking for – ownership and control of our resources and itemized 16 items from the decision.
Why are you diluting the important aspects, you tuck it away, about 12 or so from the list of 16. Who are the people that you now give the oil blocs? They are merchants. Clark and co, they are merchants. They have invited me on many occasions to join them, but I refused because I don’t believe in PANDEF because they are all mainly for their selfish interests.
On the issue of underdevelopment of Niger Delta, some Northern leaders are of the view that the 13 per cent derivation given to the region is enough to develop the area, except that your people are mismanaging it
Are they not mismanaging their funds? Who are they to tell me that I own something and you are telling me you gave me what I own? It is an insult and unacceptable. Tanko Yakassai and others are wasting their time. If they think that they can stay in their comfort zone, in their comfort house to continue to dominate the Niger Delta, it will not happen. For too long, it will not happen.
The saddest thing is that some idiotic politicians are going to mortgage the Niger Delta to them. We will watch and see and they will pay the price for what they are doing.
What actually does the Niger Delta want?
Restructure the country in line with what true federalism means. Ownership and control of resources to all the federating units, reduce the powers at the centre to the federating units. These are the irreducible minimum for the Niger Delta.
What could have led to the militants in the region issuing quit notice to Northerners and Yoruba in Niger Delta. Where will this lead the country to?
Like I said earlier, these are all issues that will drive Nigeria to the precipice the more. Is this not reactions to the quit notice that the northern youths said they have suspended? It was because of the counter forces from other sections of the country that the Arewa youths said they have suspended the quit notice, who cares whether they suspend it or not.
By now the IOCs are supposed to have moved their headquarters to the oil exploration areas, why have you people not pressured them in this direction?
We are not an island of the world; we are part of the international system. It is not easy to force an IOC to relocate. Suppose they say they can’t come because of certain reasons what do you do? It is not easy. They just sit down there and make directives. If it were easy, why has the government not forced them out since the directive was issued?
We are part of an international system, so let them be deceiving people who are not knowledgeable enough to know what is happening in the world. I’m not carried away by such issue.
Suppose they relocate to Niger Delta and at the same time, I will feel that I’m the sole owner of the oil what difference does it make?
Suppose they come here and we do not have the kind of personnel they have before to continue with what they were doing what difference does it make?
That is not the fundamental issue. I’m not saying that it is not proper for them to request for it. You cannot request for things that will be difficult to achieve within international system. Even Nigerian government cannot force it because they know the consequences of that action.
The same government many years ago told the oil companies to stop gas flaring, have they forced them from doing that? Let them continue to deceive themselves, but they can’t deceive me. They can deceive the Niger Delta merchants, who want to benefit from the crumbs. I do not require anything from any of them. I live my simple life till I die.
I’m going to fight and stand on what I believe is best and just for the people of the Niger Delta.
The militants have threatened to resume bombings of oil installations this month, what advice do you have for them?
Bombing is adding to the problems of the region by way of oil pollution. That is one of the reasons why I’m not in support of bombing of oil facilities. It creates more problems for our own environment.
As far as the militants are concerned that is the only language that the Nigerian government knows and understands. So, in frustrations they do that kind of thing.
We should understand that as afar as our environment is concerned we are creating more problems for ourselves.
For them, environment or no environment they say they are dead, so what is there for them. I think that is the verdict that even without the environment they are dead, and to them, ‘let me continue with what I’m doing’. That is the kind of mentality I think they have; they are not really interested in environmental issue because as far as they are concerned they are dead already.
Many of these militants now are for their pockets. The former militant leaders have mansions all over, is that for liberation, No. They have eaten from the forbidden fruits and have lost the essence of liberation. That is the tragedy of what we have now.
I believe the other militants that will rise up from what we have now will continue with the struggle.
Does the 2014 Confab report tally with the restructuring agenda of your group?
By and large, yes. When started we said we were going to use 2014 Confab as the bases of our discussion. That is how we started.
The over concentration of power at the centre, is largely responsible for example this ravaging corruption in the country. Those who argue that the first thing to do is to change the attitude fail to realize that it is the system that produces the attitude and not the other way round. The system produces the attitude of the citizens.
Unless we change the system, and changing the system here means the restructuring of the federation, attitudes cannot change.
That being the case President Buhari said he would not look at the Confab report not to talk of touching it. Your work will also be an exercise in futility?
President is not Nigeria. We are a sovereign people. It is the people of Nigeria who will decide on what they want not the president.M Whether he reads it or not is not the issue. He will be forced to read it somewhere along the line.
In an interview with Alhaji Balarabe Musa recently on restructuring, he said he was for restructuring that will not include resource control. What is your position on this?
He can stay in Kaduna and say that, but we will tell him that restructuring must include resource control. If he said so that is his own business.
What we are saying is that the Buharis of this world, the Tanko Yakasai of this world can no longer dictate to the rest of the country anymore. That is what we are saying.
Who controls the armed forces can use the same to subdue any contrary view, don’t you reason in that direction?
Don’t you see what is happening in the rest of the world? Do you think it is all that easy? If this country is falling apart do you think it is all that easy to use military forces to subdue everybody.
Fortunately, the Federal Character principle has created a situation where the population of the army is no more overwhelmingly the North again. They might have appointed service chiefs from North by virtue of Buhari. The population of the Nigerian Army now including the officer cadre is no longer dominated by the Hausa Fulani hegemony.
What will be the time frame of this restructuring, how is it going to be completed before 2019?
Our position is that no restructuring, no 2019 elections. I don’t have to put a timeline. The most important thing is to make a law for Constituent Assembly to be in place. Out of the Constituent Assembly, a constitution will emerge which will be put to a referendum.