The Federal Government and militants involved in renewed militancy in the Niger Delta have been advised to embrace dialogue as a way of resolving the contentious issues between the two parties.
While declaring that neither the use of force by government nor increase in violence by the militants will resolve the lingering crisis, an eminent Niger Delta leader, and National President, Ndokwa Leaders Political Forum, Rear Admiral Mike Onah (rtd) stated that experience has shown that violence and force will result in more deaths, sorrow and hardship.
In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, the retired Rear Admiral also spoke on other national issues including the war against corruption, calls for restructuring of the nation and a host of others.
What is the way out of the present crisis in the Niger Delta following renewed bombings of oil facilities in the region by the Niger Delta Avengers?
Resurgence of violence not only in the Niger Delta but in other parts of the country has become very worrisome. To the best of my knowledge, no nation develops or prospers in the midst of violence.
There is no doubt that in Nigeria today, we have a lot of problems. Poverty is also on the rise and things are very difficult but for all these, we have to blame ourselves for the ugly development.
Why did you say so?
I said so and I have no apology for saying so because God, in His infinite mercies has given Nigeria human and natural resources to live better lives but instead we have failed to live up to expectations. The question you should ask is this, how have we use these natural resources that God has used given unto us to better this nation?
The answer is definitely NO. People out of greed, and selfishness have channeled these resources into their own private pockets, and the consequence of this is that today millions of Nigerians are wallowing in poverty. This is very sad.
But violence is not the solution to these problems. Violence is not the best solution to the problem.
My words of advise to the Federal government and the Militants is to embrace dialogue. Use of force by the government and continuing violence by the militants will not solve the problem.
For us to have peace, I mean enduring peace, we have to restructure Nigeria, and this is not going to be done through violence. Both parties should embrace dialogue.
Are you saying sir that there is no alternative to …?
Cuts in … We must know that leadership is not easy. People are talking about the President, that is President Buhari, the expectations from him are too much, but what Nigerians should realize is that the man is not a magician.
The country was in a serious distress before Buhari assumed power, and I believe it’s too early to judge him.
Nigerians have come a long way since 1914 through the amalgamation. Nigeria will not break-up. Break-up is not the solution, rather we should focus on those issues that will unite us.
To repair takes a lot of time, Buhari is trying to fix Nigeria, to clear the rot, and this is not a day’s job, we should give him time. We should give him the chance to carry out the repair work. Nigerians should exercise patience with him. We have to be patience with him.
It is easier to criticise when you are outside government, it is when you enter that you realize the enormity of the problems facing you.
But some people are saying that nothing has really changed …?
Cuts in … That is wrong. A lot of things have changed, and some of those things are the ways Buhari has faced the corruption problem. The way he has been tackling the problem.
Unlike before, the fear of consequences of engaging in corrupt acts. Not only that, the culture of impunity is gradually fading away.
Now, there is fear that you will be dealt with if you are found to be corrupt or engaged in corrupt acts, but this was not so before. Before, people believe they can get away with some of these things, but things have changed today.
On the issue of Niger Delta Avengers and the bombings, you were canvassing dialogue but …?
Cuts in … For those blowing and bombing oil pipelines, this is wrong. Violence is not the solution, rather it worsens the situation. In the process of violence, you cause a lot of damages, and not only that , lives have been often lost. What is painful again is that it costs more money to rebuild what has been damaged.
The only way by which the Avengers problem and pockets of violence and agitations across the country can be addressed is for us to practice true federalism.
Although some of the agitators have some points to make, some of them are also greedy. However, true federalism is the panacea to these violent attacks in the Niger-Delta – it is also the solution to myriads of other problems facing us in Nigeria today.
The present situation where all the 36 state governors go cap in hand to Abuja every month is not the solution to Nigeria’s problems.
To make matters worse, the price of crude has continued to drop leading to dwindling economic fortunes for Nigeria. It is dangerous for any country to depend only on a single or mono product or source of revenue for that nation, and this is why Nigeria is in problem today.
All of us rely on oil, but now that oil is in trouble, we are also in trouble. But this ugly situation could have been averted if we have diversified our economy. For Nigeria to survive the present socio-economic crisis, there is the urgent need for the nation to diversify its economy. Diversification of the economy is one of the keys to solving multifarious challenges confronting us.
Rom my studies at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS in Kuru, Jos, every state in Nigeria has natural resources that can be harnessed to meet the state’s needs. No state is empty. So, this fear that if control of oil resources is returned to the oil producing states, that some other states may collapse is not true. It is an unfounded fear. No state is empty.
Take the United States of America for example, that is one of the countries that practice true federalism.
How and why is their system working?
In America, all the states are not equal. Some states are richer than others. States are like human beings. Even in life, all human beings are not equal. Some human beings are bigger than others – even when you look at your fingers, all fingers are not equal. That is life.
So, the issue of whether some states will do well or not doesn’t arise. There is no way all the states will be equal because God didn’t even create us equally. It is left for the states to harness the resources in their domain to better the lives of residents.
Our over-dependence on oil over the years have made us to become lazy to the extent that we even neglected agriculture which used to be mainstay of our economy before oil was discovered. I believe that our former practice of federalism will bring the best out of us. Adversity at times, force people to think of how to survive – adversity often bring the best out in you instead of thinking only of suffering. Even when you suffer, you are forced to think about how to overcome that suffering in order to enhance your well being and survival.
In life, some people will live long, while some will die young. As babies are being born into the world, others are also departing the world. That is life for you. Are all nations of the world oil producing? There are several nations that don’t have oil and they are doing very well. To me oil has even become a curse rather than being a blessing to Nigeria. What has the nation got to show that we are oil producing country? The oil wealth are being stolen by a privileged few, while millions of Nigerians wallow in poverty.
People living in oil producing communities who are the primary source of this wealth are living in poverty. Oil production has destroyed their eco system. It has affected their livelihood. Oil has been destroying their farmlands, fish and eco settings. So where has been the blessing in the so-called oil?
As the Bible says, as it was in the beginning, let’s return to the olden days when Nigeria’s economy was diversified. I’m talking about the glorious era of cocoa and palm oil in the South-West, rubber in the Mid-West, coal from the South-East, and cotton and groundnut from the North. Some of us still remember the famous groundnut pyramids in Kano, but where are they now?
On the people clamouring for break up of the country or fearing that true federalism may lead to break the country, what do you have to say?
I don’t think Nigeria will break up. Like I said. there is a lot of benefit in Nigeria remaining as one nation. It is only here in Nigeria that we are not using our size and population to our advantage. There are enormous benefits for us if we stay together as a nation. It is sad that we are not maximizing our population and size for social and economic benefits.
Take China and India for example, see how those nations are using their size and population to maximum advantage. Take United States for example, that country is using her large population to develop herself. This is the kind of thing Nigeria should emulate.
God has been so merciful to Nigeria, we should remain grateful to God. For those agitating for break-up or thinking of forming a separate country, they should realise that they stand to gain more in one united Nigeria. If we practice true federalism, some of their fears and concerns would have been addressed.
As at independence, Nigeria adopted federalism, and this was in practice until the military incursion which altered the situation. But my advise to President Buhari and other stakeholders is that we should embrace dialogue to resolve these issues. Violence by the militants and the agitators and the use of force by the federal government will only worsen the situation.
Let me quickly add that the type of government we now practice is also very expensive. Presidential system consumes a lot of money. A lot of money is spent on political appointees and other public office holders with little or no money kept for development.
Under presidential system of government, you have duplication of offices both at the federal, state and local government levels and you have thousands of political appointees, other elected public officers collecting jumbo pay. I don’t think presidential system is the best for us. We need to reduce cost of governance in the country.
However for all these our problems I still believe that dialogue is the best way out. Violence force will plunge Nigeria into serious crisis – for those who are opportune to have taken part in or witnessed war, they will know that war bring nothing but sorrow, destruction and pains, and therefore they will not wish that Nigeria should pass through that road again.
One of the fears that people have expressed about true federalism is the setting up of state police. Some people say that state police can become an instrument in the hand of state governors to persecute political opponents, what is your reaction to this?
It is true that some state governors will abuse state police – they may turn it into an instrument of oppression but a way can still be worked out to monitor them in order to address the abuse issue.
How do we set this dialogue on course? Some have even suggested that President Buhari should take a look at the recommendations of 2014 National Conference organized by his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, what is your take on that?
Whatever step that will bring us peace is welcome. There is nothing bad in Buhari taking some portions from Jonathan’s Confab Report and even Obasanjo’s National Confab of 2005 of which I was a member. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war war. Buhari should set up a committee to look into the 2005 and 2014 confab reports and subsequently take portions or sections which will help move Nigeria forward.
There is no time to waste. We can’t continue like this. We are sitting on a keg of gun powder which can explode anytime. Let’s all come to the round table and discuss in a harmonious way, how we can move this nation forward without bitterness and rancour. The time has come for Nigerians to jettison all forms of ethnic jingoism, unpatriotic acts and other things which are inimical to the growth of Nigeria as a nation. We should see ourselves as Nigerians, and not from the ethnic angle of where each person comes from. That is how they do it in America. Whether you are from Texas, Chicago, Nevada, Hawaii, Indianapolis, it doesn’t matter, you are an American, and that is why America is a great country today. We should also aspire to make Nigeria great.
How do you see the anti-corruption war being fought by Buhari? some are saying that members of his own constituency, that’s talking about the military are also not being spared?
That’s why I like the President. Buhari is showing that he is not biased. Why should he spared any military officer that is corrupt? Did you join the military to be corrupt?
Corruption is an evil that has to be tackled, and thank God that Buhari is having that courage to deal with anybody involved in corruption no matter the person’s status.
Corruption is bad, it is killing Nigeria, we have to deal with corruption. Again for those leaders in Niger-Delta who are in the habit of stealing money meant for development of the region, they should be fished out and dealt with appropriately. Also, if the government, and the oil companies operating in the Niger-Delta play the roles expected of them, there will be peace in the region.
Niger-Delta people should be vigilant – they should monitor their own leaders because some of these leaders are also greedy. Any of them found not to have been using money earmarked for development which he or she has collected on behalf of the states or oil communities should be dealt with.
How would you assess President Muhammadu Buhari’s government?
It is too early to judge or assess the man. That will be very unfair. Like I said earlier, the man inherited a lot of problems, and he is not a magician. We should give Buhari time. We should not be in a hurry to judge. We should not expect miracle overnight. It is not easy to be a leader. It is not a rosy affair as some people erroneously think. Buhari is on hot seat. He need our prayers, support and goodwill. Nigerians should not forget that his success is a collective success for all Nigerians. Let us pray for all our leaders at all levels to succeed – their success will translate into prosperity, development and growth of Nigeria.