By Olakunle Olafioye
ANKIO Briggs, Niger Delta activist, is disturbed by a number of issues currently playing out in the country particularly those affecting the region she hails from. One of such issues is what she refers to as the injustice against the Niger-Delta people. This according to her remains the root cause of the recent attacks on pipelines and oil installations. But while she condemns this act of vandalism, Briggs is of the opinion that the federal government’s approach to the problem is rather too harsh. Here are here views on some of the issues currently playing out in the country.
The President has threatened to give Boko Haram treatment to vandals in view of the escalation in the act of vandalism. Is this the right approach to the problem?
Violence is never the best approach for any situation. Definitely the situation in the Niger Delta, which is a long time situation of injustice against the people of the region, is worrisome. The approach can never be good if it takes the form of violence, when the government takes the form of violent stand against the people. The people already know that there is violence against them. The lack of development, the lack of acknowledgement of what the Niger Delta should mean to Nigeria economically is a form of violence against us. The strong arm tactic of wanting to govern the oil producing states by all means is a form of violence against the people of Niger Delta. We have suffered this type of violence for a very long time. It is a pity that the president today has identified the Niger Delta as a region he will choose to handle with a strong arm as he has said relating to what is happening in Niger Delta; the blowing up of pipelines as being something he will attack the way he will attack Boko Haram. Boko Haram is identified worldwide and by the Nigerian government as a terrorist organization. Now the people who are carrying out an economic activity either by modular refining or as the government says that they are committing a crime by blowing up pipelines, these do not amount to terrorism and therefore do not deserve the coloration that the president has given to it.
Are you not worried that act of vandalism which appeared to have died down under Jonathan administration is rearing its ugly head once again?
Nigeria and the world cannot pretend not to know why. Yar’Adua offered amnesty and people are mistaking amnesty for the solution to the Niger Delta agitation for justice. It is not. Amnesty was offered and also we found ourselves in a position where Jonathan, who is from Niger Delta, became the president of Nigeria. Rightly or wrongly, but my view today, I believe it was wrong for us to have considered the fact that because a Niger Delta man was the president that we should stop the agitation for justice. We were wrong there. It was on that basis that the agitation was stopped. If we continued, it might have looked like “what do these people want?” I thought about that personally two or three years ago and I came to that realization and I started saying the agitation is back on whether Jonathan is the president or not. Now, personally again, I don’t believe in act of violence either from my own people against the economy or from Nigeria government against my own people. But having said that, I do know why my people have resorted to blowing up pipelines.
What are the reasons?
The reasons remain the same; the issue of injustice in Niger Delta. We want 100 percent resource ownership and we want to pay back to the Federal Government. We have not reached the point today to say we want to separate from Nigeria. That is not what we are saying, what we are saying is that we want self determination: economic self determination, political self-determination. We want to choose the people that will represent us so that we could hold them accountable and we want to own our resources so that we would also hold our people accountable when they mismanage our resources. Right now it is the federal government that is mismanaging our resources because they are taking 100 percent of it and giving us only 13 percent of which really in figurative term only eight or nine percent is actually getting to the government of the state. These are the things our people are demanding. If Kaduna State governor today can say he will bring in investors to explore gold in his state why can’t my state governor bring in investors to explore oil and gas? If the Minister of Solid Minerals is going to issue licenses for people to explore solid minerals why should the people in Niger Delta not get licenses to have modular refinery in the Niger Delta?
There is an insinuation that escalation in act of vandalism is caused by the decision of the federal government to stop pipeline security contract formerly given to some ex – militant. What is your view on this?
The agitation for justice and issue of sabotaging the economy started before pipeline security contracts were given and pipeline security job was part of negotiation of the amnesty program of Yar’Adua. I was part of the negotiation, so I know why Yar’Adua offered Ministry of Niger Delta, I know why Yar’Adua offered amnesty and I know why Yar‘Adua also offered pipeline security contract. I am not part of the people that have the contract but I know how those things emerged and I do not believe that it is because the pipeline security contract is no longer there that is why they are blowing up pipelines. No I do not believe so. It is a form of agitation, which I personally don’t buy into; I don’t want them to blow up pipelines. I don’t want and I still believe we can drive home our points without blowing up the pipeline because It also affects the environment, which we are complaining about that the federal government and their partners, oil companies have destroyed for us. Having said that, I cannot pretend that I do not understand why my people are blowing up pipelines but it is wrong for anybody to say that they are blowing up pipelines because they no longer have the pipeline security contracts. And also don’t forget that there are other people who are involved in the stealing of the oil. It is not the people in the creeks that are bringing in the big ships to cart away the oil, people in government and in the military are also involved in the act.
What is your view on the controversy trailing the 2016 budget particularly the missing Lagos – Calabar rail project from budget?
As for me, I do not believe that this is a controversy as such let us not pretend that we don’t know what is happening. If this government will cut off the university that has been proposed and approved to be built in Okerenkoko in Delta state, so that school of marine can now go to the north so it is not surprising to me. It is not a controversy, it is a purposeful thing that this government has done to remove the Calabar-Lagos rail project. These are some of the things that people are pretending they don’t know why Niger Delta people are reacting they way they do. The railway line the Jonathan government made is between north and the west and now somebody has the guts to remove the one that will be in the Niger Delta and the people are pretending they don’t know why Niger Delta people are reacting the way they do. And then they are using Niger Delta money yet they are denying Niger Delta people things that will develop the region. I think the Niger Delta people should be accorded the respect they deserve .We know what is going on in the country, to think that we should not react, that is unfair.
In fairness, President Buhari has shown interest in ensuring that the Calabar-Lagos rail project is restored in the budget?
Then if he is not part of it they should put it back. The president should come out and make a statement to that effect. Let him tell the Niger Delta people that it will be constructed and when it will start. Because if they say it will be built, they may start in 2019. If he says he is ready to do it, let him start it now so that we can see that you are starting it. But it you are not starting it and you claim it was not removed from the budget and nothing is given and you are saying our people are complaining, of course we will complain. People like me are talking; we are putting our proposals forward. If people in the creeks are blowing up pipelines, and they have given you the reasons, why are they pretending as if they don’t know why they are doing that? According to them they said the latest action was a reaction to Buhari’s statement that he would treat them the way he is treating Boko Haram. In other words, they say Buhari government, the APC government values the oil more than the people who the oil belongs to.
Even though the tension in Rivers State appears to have died down, not a few believe that this could be peace of the graveyard. What do you think can be done to bring a lasting solution to the orgy of violence in the state?
The tension in Rivers State is being created from outside. The tension in Niger Delta is being created from outside. Even the chairman of APC said it very clearly when they lost Rivers State that they have lost the oil rich state. Their intension is to gain the oil rich states and I think the people of Niger Delta from Akwa Ibom to Bayelsa to Cross River to Delta and Rivers State have shown very clearly that no matter what happens they are PDP States. Whether PDP is a good political party or not they are not to decide for us. The people of this region have decided that they want PDP and they have spoken overwhelmingly ,but I think the government of the day should move on in Nigeria and leave Rivers State alone, they should leave Niger Delta alone. The people have spoken; in essence really there is no crisis in Rivers State, but we cannot deny that there has been killings. There has always been killings all over Nigeria. Boko Haram kills people every day. In Kaduna, about 400 people were killed and buried. Killing of such magnitude has not taken place in the Niger Delta. The Fulani herdsmen are going everywhere killing people and they have been identified worldwide as the fourth deadliest group of people in the whole world. Something of such has not happened anywhere in the Niger Delta. So let them stop giving us a bad name. They are just giving Niger Delta a bad name. We don’t deserve this bad name. Federal government should get on with the governance of Nigeria and leave the states for state governments.