NIGER Delta activist, Ankio Briggs has said that the claim by some Northern leaders that the North owns the oil in Nigeria by virtue of its control of 72% of the nation’s landmass, is nonsensical. Briggs in this interview with TONY JOHN in Port Harcourt, Rivers state stressed that the oil rich Niger Delta remains the economic livewire of the country. Excerpts…
How do you react to the claim by the North that mineral resources in Nigeria, including oil in the Niger Delta belongs to them because they have the largest landmass?
There is nothing much to say on that, unless if one wants to go into process of argument. It is an irrational claim to resources. How on earth does it make sense to anybody, that what is in the Niger Delta belongs to the North? It is so irrational. It is almost foolish for such a claim. There is nothing to input there. I won’t waste time to try to prove that they are wrong. All I can say is that, if truly they so believe, let them all come down to the Niger Delta and lay claim to the oil. Federal Government, for instance, is the one claiming ownership by the constitution. So, if they are now saying that the oil resources in the creeks and mangroves of the Niger Delta belong to them, they should come down to the creeks and swamps with their cows and herdsmen and plant their onions and tomatoes in the creeks and swamps. It is foolish and quite irrational for anybody, who is an educated person to make such a claim. I think it does not deserve a response.
On the abandoned Confab report…?
It is rather a pity. I think that, sometimes, naturally, when things are meant to go wrong or right , depending on which divides one belongs to, the will of God will definitely be done. The fact that the national conference took place is not a guarantee the report would be implemented. This is not the first conference, discussion that was held in Nigeria. There have been so many reports on the Niger Delta. There have been so many recommendations in reports about Nigeria the government has refused to implement. If today, President Muhammadu Buhari says he is not going to implement, or even look at the report of 2014 National Conference, it does not surprise me. What I need to say about that is that, the 2014 National Conference is not about President Buhari; it was not about President Goodluck Jonathan. It is about the people of Nigeria. That conference, we discussed everything about Nigeria, except the break-up of Nigeria. Some of the discussion led to the conclusion that if we cannot achieve it, let Nigeria break. But, we did not go there. We did not discuss the break-up of Nigeria. Some of the issues we discussed were the issues of local government; that local government should be maintained from the state. I want to see how Kano State can maintain 44 local governments. Kano is using the money that is looted from the Niger Delta region, local governments and the oil companies that are partners there. Bayelsa State that produces the largest quantity of the resource that Nigeria is using has eight local governments. While a state like Rivers, which produces huge amount of oil gets only 23 local governments. On the national conference, we discussed the issue of grazing bill and it was completely knocked out. But, they are trying to bring it in through the back door. The money that is owed the Niger Delta Development Commission, we agreed that it should be paid to the commission. We also discussed the issue of self-determination and indigenous people to be able to determine whether to have self-determination. It was well discussed at the national conference. We also discussed the issue of revenue allocation percentage. It was at this stage I deviated from my committee. I disagreed with them on the 13 percentage that should go to the Niger Delta. The fact that the president today said he never supported the national conference, it is not about him. It is about millions of Nigerian people well represented at the national conference. Some of the agitation in Nigeria today, and future agitation, would be failure of the government to implement core areas in the report of the 2014 National Conference. I repeat, the National Conference report is not about one person; it is definitely not about President Muhammadu Buhari. It is about the people that make the south, north, east and west, all the ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. Failure to implement any core area of the report is going to be very dangerous for Nigeria in the future. It would lead to more agitation. It would be very dangerous for anybody who loves Nigeria to insist that, that will not be implemented.
How do you see the re-emergence of militancy, particularly Niger Delta Avengers?
I think that the re-emergence of armed agitation in Niger Delta should not come as a surprise to anybody. Why should it come as a surprise? The core issues of Niger Delta people have not been addressed. This issue did not start today, or when Jonathan became president. It started way back in the days of King Jaja of Opobo, Nana of Itsekiri, that rose against the colonial government. Nigeria has always been governed for economic benefit. If you look back, you will see that the re-emergence of armed agitators started way back. There was this agitation before independence was given. The Niger Delta region was given grade ‘A’ by the British government, which means that the region should be given priority attention for development because of its terrain. That was why the Niger Delta River Basin Development Commission was established. But, the North also went and clamoured and similar commission was established. It was not part of the initial arrangement. The North was a grade ‘B’ in terms of development because it requires less money to develop compared to the Niger Delta. Take note, for many years back, the mainstay of the economy of the country is oil and gas. Till today, Niger Delta is producing the mainstay of the economy of the country. Niger Delta is the economic life of Nigeria. Without the Niger Delta oil and gas, today, as we are talking, Nigeria will collapse economically. So, when you look back, you remember, Adaka Boro came and had a 12 day war; Saro Wiwa came up and declared non-violent agitation for equity and justice for his Ogoni people, which was quite right and I support it. From that day till today, Ogoni oil is still remaining in Ogoni land. The oil has not left Ogoni soil. And I continue to wonder, have Ogoni people been incarcerated? Have they been wiped out? So, why is it that there must be an attack when Ijaw people make their position known? I am not surprised that we have the issues of Niger Delta Avengers. Then, MEND was offered amnesty. Under the same circumstances, amnesty was offered, Gbaramatu was attacked. Tompolo was being looked for by the same Federal Government. Amnesty was offered by late President Umaru Yar’Adua because oil dropped. Today, we learnt that oil has dropped that low. If you balance the barrel Nigeria is selling at present, you would discover that the country has lost much. The situation in Nigeria is worse.
Look at the price of dollar, rising to N370 per dollar as at today. Nigeria is in trouble. So, I am not surprised one group is armed for agitation in Niger Delta, because neither the NDDC, OMPADEC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs can solve the issues of Niger Delta clamour for equity and justice. They cannot be pacified by NDDC, OMPADEC, or Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. The region can only be pacified by true fiscal federalism. I believe that the Niger Delta people are justified to demand for fiscal federalism. We must address the issue; we cannot run away from the truth. We must address that issue that unites us as people. Look, my brother, we have a country that has 36 states; a country that shifted its capital from Lagos to Abuja in 30 years. And what developed Abuja and will continue to develop Abuja is coming from Niger Delta. Continue to tell me that, that situation will still go on and I cannot account for 13 percent, is really blackmail and Niger Delta will no longer accept it. So, that question, if you are asking me to account for 13 percent of my property, I want to ask you, what will you say you have done with 87 percent of my own that you have been stealing from me? In fact, states that cannot pay salaries of their workers should collapse the same way they came. That is why we are calling for true fiscal federalism. It is not proper that you use the resources of nine oil producing states to develop the rest states out of the 36 states in country. That is why there will still be re-emergence of armed agitators.
The difference between Niger Delta Avengers and what I am going about doing is, I am a non-violent agitator for equity for the South-South and South East people and for the Middle Belt. The difference between me and the Avengers is, they have chosen to carry arm. The Niger Delta Avengers could be from anywhere. If Fulani herdsmen could come from other countries, who is sure that they (Avengers) are Ijaw people? I think it is victimization on the part of Federal Government. I think there is plan by the Federal Government to alienate the Ijaw people and take their land and resources from them. Why must Federal Government look for the Niger Delta Avengers in the Ijaw territory? Are we the only people in the Niger Delta? It is unfair and unacceptable and to create impression that Ijaw people are violent; and I am highly offended by it. In fact, Nigeria is governed on the tripod of corruption. Can it be said that corruption that cuts across the country, it is Ijaw people that are culpable? That is unacceptable.