By Charles Adegbite
Former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife is worried about the on-going hostility in the Niger Delta area and the deployment of the military to the region. In this interview, he appeals to the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to stop further attacks on oil pipelines, saying dialogue with the federal government will achieve better results. Excerpts:
Recently, another militant group resurfaced in the Niger Delta area, bombing the pipeline installations and threatening to keep attacking Nigeria’s main source of revenue; what do you have to say on this?
Well, I passionately appeal to members of the Niger Delta Avengers to stop further hostility and give dialogue a chance. I do not claim having a detailed knowledge of the agreement the federal government reached under late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua with the Niger Delta militants. It is rumoured that the federal government unilaterally terminated the agreement reached under President Yar’Adua. There is no doubt about their strong resolve to achieve their objective of grounding Nigeria. But the issue is that a better result can be achieved through dialogue.
How do you think they can achieve their objectives?
They don’t have to ground Nigeria. Negotiation which considers all aspects of their demands can bring a win-win situation. I have appealed to the President of Nigeria to stop “crushing, crushing” stuff. The threat to crush Niger Delta Avengers, the threat to crush IPOB and all the crushable; let them give dialogue and peace a chance. Even if their goal of grounding Nigeria is achieved, it will bring punishment to their people in the Niger Delta, my own people in the East and all the people of Nigeria.
Nigeria has a manifest destiny that goes beyond the interest of Nigerians and include being a big brother and rallying point for all blacks on earth. Therefore, we must consider that purpose for which God created Nigeria. It is expected that Nigeria should grow into a super power, thereby raising the dignity and respect of all blacks and finally wiping away the shame of the slavery of all blacks.
We cannot achieve all these with a doomed Nigeria, with a grounding Nigeria; or with a Nigeria that does not work. Enough of hostility from the Niger Delta Avengers! We are aware of some arrogant groups in Nigeria who do not recognise the overall effects of what they are doing on the entire black race, which we are talking about. I want to appeal to Niger Delta Avengers to consider longer damaging effects their action can cause the entire Nigeria and ignore the arrogant show of the group who do not recognise the long term effects of what they are doing. Mr President seems to be backing away from the crushing language and the Avengers should also back away from their destruction language. I am making this passionate appeal in the interest of the whole nation.
What actually led you into making this appeal to the militants?
Well, I heard of the blowing up of some oil pipelines and the threats to keep on attacking oil depot until they are listened to. I plead with them to give peace a chance and embrace dialogue. The Federal Government should as well bear it in mind that dialogue is always the best option.
You said you have appealed to the President not to use “crush them” language but now the military has been deployed to Niger Delta. What do you have to say on this?
Well, a government must show that it cannot fail. When organised violence is going on in certain part of the country and nothing is being done about it, it is government that will be blamed for it. Although I am not surprised that they had to go to that extent because I was hoping that the Niger Delta Avengers will listen to our plea and hold on from further destruction of oil facilities, so that government can organise a team of negotiators to go and negotiate; to find out their grievances and see how to alleviate those grievances. This is the reason I appealed to them to first give dialogue a chance.
Recently, Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clarke appealed to the avengers that to stop their attacks, but they still went ahead and reportedly blew up some oil pipelines; don’t you think that this has gradually turned to a war?
Yes. You know many of us don’t want any war whatsoever. And that is why we appealed to them. I was with Edwin Clarke and reasonable people were appealing against violence. Ohaneze also appealed to the Niger Delta Avengers to go slow, hoping that, by that way they will get away from war and take the matter to negotiation table for discussion. Who suffers? It is the area that is used as the battle field. If you go to the battlefield, bullets don’t know someone who is targeted. It can kill anybody. And it will take many decades to build up what is destroyed.
So, I say all of us: Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern Nigerians should sit with the Niger Delta Avengers to bring their grievances to open and accept negotiations. Then, in the same way, we plead with the Federal Government to go slow because government is government.
And they should be more mature than any group and therefore should not attack just like that. And also we heard that the Avengers are very sophisticated and so they should be open to reasons so that if they are grievous as such they can make a case. It is a good case. A group of people across Nigeria can be set up to meet them for negotiation.
Do you know what they are actually agitating and the Chief of Army Staff said they are criminals and that there is nothing they are avenging?
It is easy to say all those things. I think they have already mentioned those things. They have already mentioned the unfair distribution of oil blocs. That is a definite issue. If you are a member of that place and oil blocs are given out to people outside your area; with almost 80% per cent oil blocs given out to the North, you will feel as they are feeling. The oil is being taken from their territory.
I don’t know the details of what is going on. That is even enough for any group to be annoyed. And the Chief of Army Staff cannot say he didn’t know any of their demands, because I didn’t go to talk to them but I saw their demands.
Movement for the Emancipation for Niger Delta(MEND) came out recently to dissociate themselves from the Niger Delta Avengers and condemned their actions. Don’t you think that the division among the two groups will not help them?
Yes. It is true. That is why we encourage the government to go for negotiations. In the case of the Labour, the government was able to tear them apart so that they ended disagreeing with themselves, I mean the NLC. But in this one, it is not their own making that they are quarrelling among themselves. It is easier to deal with the situation like that because our people, Southern people, Eastern people, can bring enough reasons and persuasion to bear on the avengers and show how in a long time we may not gain anything by going the way of aggression.
If you look at the implication of the division between the avengers and the MEND what will be your advice to both the militants and the federal government, bearing in mind that the military can easily defeat them through the division?
Yes. With the division among them, I don’t know. What I’m saying is that, it is easier to negotiate because people from that area, the Niger Delta people, know the consequences of this thing. If one group is saying no, it is easier to persuade the other group. But they shouldn’t do what they are doing. It is not wise to wait until force is applied. Government will apply force to show it cannot fail.
But somebody said the Army is embarking on fruitless exercise because the militants operate more inside water than the soldiers. What will you say to this?
Well I don’t know the logic. It is a war, but I think if we can avoid war, that is the best possibility. And it is possible because if we are talking about you not being given the best share of what belongs to you, we can negotiate so that they can give you more than you have thought. So, I think the government will not go out with this crush, crush them, language.
What is your advice to both the FG and the avengers?
Yes. It is easy to destroy, but difficult to build. If we keep what is built as it is and then go to share it,’I think it is better that way than to destroy the whole thing and then start to rebuild it again. Everything that resulted in war sometimes are resolved at the negotiation table; therefore, the earlier we go to the negotiation table, the better. The earlier we accept the negotiating settlement, the better.