National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd) has berated the federal government over its alleged failure to implement the 16 point agenda presented to it for the development of the oil rich region. As a result, he said President Buhari should forget banking on votes from the zone in the coming general elections. He explained that commitment to restructuring the country will largely determine who gets the votes from the zone.
Commodore Nkanga in this interview conducted by TUNDE THOMAS also warned that militants from the region may resume hostilities if certain things are not urgently done right.
The flag-off of campaigns for 2019 general elections is tomorrow as political parties and politicians will be taking their campaign train across the country, what is PANDEF’s advice to politicians, parties and party leaders?
For us at PANDEF, we believe that every game has its rules. To this end, we advise parties, and political leaders including party candidates to play the game according to the rules. There should be no violation of the rules set by INEC. Our political leaders and the candidates must know that in today’s democracy, there is no room for violence. The era of do-or-die should be consigned to the dust bin in our political history.
Our politicians should learn a lesson from the recent midterm election in the United States. Not only that, coming nearer home, there were elections recently in some African countries including Ghana, and Zimbabwe, and there were no reports of violence or the elections being put in jeopardy through violence and thuggery. Under no circumstance should politicians engage in thuggery and acts of violence.
What should be of importance and paramount on the minds of candidates and their political parties is how to sell their manifestos to Nigerians. We also say no to hate speeches. Whether you belong to the ruling party or the opposition, you should not engage in hate speeches or try to whip up ethnic or religious sentiments. Issues should be the focus of campaigns by candidates and their parties. No attack on personalities. If we can do all these, there will be no need to entertain any fear.
One thing again I will strongly recommend is that this time around, the electorates should not take hook, line and sinker promises by some loquacious politicians who will promise heaven and earth. If politicians come on campaign to your area, and promise to do this or that, it is not enough for you to listen to them, but also ask them how are they going to execute what they promise to do. The electorates should demand explanations from candidates and their parties.
There are growing fears and anxiety among some Nigerians over the 2019 general elections, what are your own fears?
Ordinarily, there should be no need for fear and anxiety if all the stakeholders involved in 2019 project play the roles expected of them perfectly. Why should we harbour any fear if politicians play the game according to the rules. Why should we harbour any fear if INEC plays the role of a genuine umpire. It is only when there is a violation that you get reaction. For instance, if the election is not free and fair, do you think everybody will keep quiet? But one thing I know is this, Nigerians are now more mature, people won’t take laws into their own hands to protest injustice if they don’t feel aggrieved, and there is no way there won’t be reactions if the election is not free and fair. In view of this, I’m appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government to ensure that INEC plays true role of an umpire expected of it.
No attempt should be made to coerce or manipulate INEC to favour the ruling party. Federal government should leave INEC alone, and also let the will of the people prevail. It is when there is manipulation and rigging that people resort to violence. Politicians should not be desperate for political power. President Buhari should learn a lesson from former President Goodluck Jonathan who said on the eve of 2015 general elections that the blood of no Nigerian is worth shedding because of political power.
Why the desperation? Any politician who doesn’t have an ulterior motive but truly wants to serve the people will not take election as a do-or-die affair. For 2019 elections to be successful, INEC must be truly independent. There must be no body language to suggest that the federal government wants INEC to compromise. Security agencies including the police and operatives of the DSS and the Army must also be neutral. Those of them that will be drafted for election duties must be impartial. The whole world is watching us as 2019 is fast approaching, we can’t afford to let the world down. INEC must be very firm and also neutral. A lot depends on INEC. INEC through its conduct may make or mar 2019 elections.
What’s PANDEF’s view on the frontline political parties and their candidates?
Our position in Niger Delta is that any candidate that fails to give a promise on restructuring of Nigeria will not be voted for in the South-South. It is only candidates that back or favour restructuring that we are going to support. Without restructuring, Nigeria can’t move forward. Restructuring is the key to Nigeria’s greatness. Honestly, I don’t know why President Buhari and APC are not keen on restructuring Nigeria. I don’t know the kind of advice that Buhari gets on restructuring. But one thing is very clear, those people who he calls his advisers are not giving him the right advice on restructuring.
From what you are saying, can it be concluded that Buhari and APC should forget the Niger Delta in 2019 because of this restructuring issue?
Although the common position of PANDEF on 2019 is that the South-South will not support any candidate that doesn’t promise restructuring, but then we sent an invitation letter to all the presidential candidates of the different political parties to come and tell us about their agenda and manifesto for the Niger Delta, and also their position on restructuring. 16 presidential candidates honoured our invitation and the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar was the first to come. When he came PANDEF leaders grilled him for over three hours, and at the end of the session, he didn’t leave us in any doubt that he will restructure Nigeria. He even came to the meeting with some books he had written on restructuring.
We also sent invitation to APC and President Muhammadu Buhari but both failed to honour PANDEF invitation. Although APC later sent a letter to PANDEF, but from the tone of that letter, it was obvious that President Buhari and APC don’t believe in restructuring. But for us in PANDEF, and the entire South-South geopolitical zone, we want restructuring because we believe that it is only restructuring that will return this country to true practice of federalism as it was being done between 1960-1966, the immediate post-independence era of Nigeria.
One thing that has also continued to shock and amaze me is how of recent some prominent Nigerians that hitherto were advocates of restructuring are now speaking with double-mouths over the subject. Human beings are indeed very funny and unpredictable. A good example is the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who as far back as late 1999 when he was the Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice in Lagos was known to be an advocate of restructuring, but today he is singing a new song.
May be that could be as a result of the position the VP is occupying and the political party he belongs to…
But that’s not enough reason for him to compromise his principle. He can resign if he feels that he doesn’t want to compromise his position. It is not only Osinbajo that is involved, there are several advocates of restructuring who had now abandoned the ship. However like I said earlier, for us in the Niger Delta, there is no going back on restructuring. Restructuring is the future and hope of Nigeria for greatness. It is Nigeria’s hope for equity, fair play and justice. Without restructuring, we are sitting on a time bomb which can explode anytime.
Some people are saying that the relative peace in Niger Delta now is as a result of good governance, policies and programme of the federal government, do you agree?
Those saying that are being economical with the truth or they are apologists of Buhari and APC-led federal government. To say the truth, Niger Delta has not benefited from Buhari and APC’s government. In actual fact, Buhari has betrayed the Niger Delta and PANDEF. The people of Niger Delta have not gained anything from Buhari and APC and I stand to be challenged.
About two years ago, to be specific on 1st November 2016, PANDEF submitted a 16 point agenda for the development of Niger Delta to President Muhammadu Buhari, but can you believe that in spite of the assurance by Mr President that all the 16 point agenda would be implemented, as at today President Buhari has not fulfilled any of those promises. The only thing I can point to is action being taken on the proposed university in Okeonko in Delta State, out of 16, is that fair? Niger Delta people are not happy. What federal government continues to tell us is that it is difficult to develop Niger Delta, that Niger Delta is a difficult terrain, but it is not difficult for the federal government to take oil money from Niger Delta to develop other parts of Nigeria. This is very unfair. For how long are we going to continue like this?
You take oil money from Niger Delta to build network of roads, bridges, hospitals and rail network in other parts of Nigeria, and yet the people who own the wealth you abandon them. Is this fair? In Niger Delta, in some communities, some people have gone blind as a result of gas flaring, yet some leaders who don’t have conscience and the fear of God abandon the Niger Delta people to suffer various forms of environmental degradations, while other parts of Nigeria continue to enjoy Niger Delta’s wealth. Is there justice in this? No.
Federal government should not delude itself that the peace in Niger Delta today is as a result of Buhari’s political sagacity, no, Buhari has actually betrayed our people. He has done nothing for us. Even the federal government under his watch has abandoned the East-West road construction started by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Then who has made the peace we have in Niger Delta today possible?
Simple. It is the initiative of PANDEF leaders. PANDEF leaders have been appealing to the restive youths to exercise patience. But as the saying goes, human endurance has a limit. The youths and children of today are what I will call digital age youths. They are well exposed and enlightened. They asked questions and react where elders used to keep quiet. They want answers and solutions, and not excuses.
When the militants went into the creek and started bombing oil facilities, Nigeria’s economy was almost crippled. From exports of 2 million barrels of crude a day, exports nose dived to about 600,000 barrels a day. This situation led Nigeria into economic recession and it took the intervention of PANDEF leaders before the militants suspended bombing, but who says same thing can’t happen again if they feel frustrated and angry that federal government has failed to fulfill its promises to the South-South region. It is sad that in Nigeria today, Niger Delta people are being treated like second class citizens. What the nation’s leaders should realize is that peace is not absence of war but presence of justice.
Niger Delta people are suffering. We want equity and justice. What I want federal government to realize is that the money from Niger Delta which they and others are spending, they should consider it blood money. It is blood money because people that own the wealth being shared and used to develop other parts of Nigeria are suffering. Niger Delta people have been abandoned.
If you are to meet President Buhari face to face today, what will you tell him?
I will tell him that he and APC have failed the people of Niger Delta. I will tell him that Niger Delta people are not happy because he has not implemented the 16 point agenda which he promised to implement for the development of Niger Delta. I will also tell Buhari that there is no alternative to restructuring. Those advising him not to restructure Nigeria don’t wish him well. I will also tell Mr President that he has not been fair by ignoring us in Niger Delta.