The former spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA), and Niger Delta Human Rights Activist, Ann-Kio Briggs believes that the North is not ready to handover power to the South in 2023. In this interview, she spoke on various issues.
What’s your view on the recent #EndSARS protests?
Primarily, as long as a protest is peaceful and non violent in any democracy, it is a basic human right. When something is a right, it is not open to discussion except if it has stepped out of what makes it a right. The #EndSARS protest falls within this category. The protest was kicked off by a particular incident which was not the first or second time such has occurred. The incident triggered the protest because it was caught on camera and uploaded on the internet. Nigerians have been long traumatized by police brutality, extortion, unlawful detention and most of all, extrajudicial killings by the Police force, Army, DSS and even politicians, and decided to exercise their basic rights to peacefully protest against these heinous crimes. It is absolutely wrong for anybody to drive against it. In that sense, anybody who believes in human rights, whether political rights, human rights, religious rights, developmental rights, social rights, any rights whatsoever, should be able to support the protest with good conscience. Even if a person sponsors a peaceful protest, it is not a crime so long as it is not a criminal activity, of which it wasn’t. If we recall in 2012 during the former president Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure, there was this protest at Ojota in Lagos, and subsequently in Abuja and other major cities in Nigeria tagged “Occupy Nigeria,” which was as a result of the fuel hike. There is no difference between the #EndSARS protest, the #Bringbackourgirls and the #OccupyNigeria protest. The concept is the same. The fact that it is an EndSARS protest doesn’t mean that other burning issues cannot be included among the agenda of the protest. According to the constitution, the protesters were not breaking the law. There was never a time the protest was violent. And this makes me wonder, how come it is okay to carry out the #OccupyNigeria protest and it is not okay to carry out an End SARS protest? Is it because it was during the regime of Goodluck Jonathan? We can also recall that during the time of Jonathan, when the protest occurred, he did not unleash thugs on the protesters, rather he allowed the people to exercise their fundamental human rights. Let’s not forget that history never lies; the current president of Nigeria was also part of that protest during Jonathan’s tenure. The pictures are there for record purposes. President Buhari even called for the resignation of Jonathan at that time. So, it’s a justified movement. You cannot unleash mayhem on people that are exercising their right to say that this is wrong with the government and this is why we do not want it. I disagree with the Federal government for criminalizing the act of #EndSARS protest and I condemn the Federal Government for freezing the accounts of the organizers, proscribing them as terrorists and attempting to clampdown the voices of Nigerians. You cannot proscribe citizens who are carrying out their fundamental rights by way of protest. There is no proof to show that they are criminals. A competent court of law must be able to prove that they are terrorists or criminals before you can freeze their accounts even as a government. You must get a court order to justify the freezing of their accounts. It is unfortunate that the protest which began peacefully was hijacked by hoodlums. So, I stand with the peaceful protest on end police brutality.
So far, do you think the #EndSARS protest has yielded a positive result judging by how it ended?
I like to first of all express my heartfelt sympathy to all those who lost their lives in the course of the protest.
It is most regrettable that they died while seeking justice and fighting for their freedom. More importantly, I like to state that it is an insult for anyone to accuse the peaceful protesters of the looting and killings that occurred during the protest. Most of the peaceful protesters have lost their lives for God’s sake. You don’t insult them with false accusations. It is clearly stated that the people that looted and caused the chaotic riot were clearly hoodlums. You could watch from the videos when the people narrating their ordeal in the hands of the hoodlums said that the hoodlums were brought in government official vehicles. If you watch the videos, you would also see that the people who attacked and killed police officers were not the protesters but the hired hoodlums. You could also see on the videos where government official vehicles came to the protest ground and carried hoodlums with weapons after they had finished causing the chaos. These hoodlums were hired to disrupt a peaceful protest. We must tell ourselves the truth. Now to answer the question of whether the protest has yielded any positive result. Look, the attack by the Nigerian army on peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate is nothing but a massacre. There is no other explanation to give about it. When more than four people are unjustly killed, it is a massacre, it is even a genocide. How else do you explain that a group of Nigerian youths were singing the national anthem and waving the Nigerian flag, with the absolute belief that as long as I am singing the national anthem of my country and waving the national flag, my country soldiers will not kill me, because the flag and the national anthem is a semblance of total patriotism to the country. That’s why as a Nigerian, you must stand at attention when the national anthem is being sung. That shows absolute devotion and total submission to the country. When a Nigerian wave the flag, it symbolizes respect, love and devotion to the country. So, this is to explain to people the significance of the Nigerian flag and national anthem. Now with all of these undertaking, it is most expected that the Nigerian Army already knows and understands this significance. It is unexplainable and absolutely difficult to understand how the army of a country will choose to shoot directly at unarmed citizens carrying out their fundamental rights. Now I have to tell you that the protest has not achieved its main purpose with the following points, since we live in a country where the army will deny an attack that was carefully planned and carried out on unarmed protesters, since the army can boldly tell us that it was hoodlums in army uniforms that attacked peaceful protesters singing the national anthem of their country, holding the national flag, then the protest has not achieved as much as was expected. It is only saddening that most peaceful protesters died in the course.
What about the suspended Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) forensic investigative hearing. Has the case been written off?
It is sad that Nigerians seem to forget that the NDDC, was set up for the Niger Delta, not for the National assembly, not for the federal republic of Nigeria. It was set up for companies and individuals who produce oil and gas. The NDDC came about from the agitation of the Niger Delta people not being able to benefit from the resources in their land, which is the oil and gas that is 100 per cent taken by the Federal Government, and so called 13 per cent derivation which is claimed to be given back to the Niger Delta. If that be the case, the fact that the NDDC has turned out to be a commission that has failed to achieve the primary goal for which it was set up, which is to be an intervention agency and not a developmental agency, is a disappointment to the Niger Delta people. The commission is supposed to be funded by both the Federal Government, state government and oil and gas companies. Now the question is, are these organizations funding the commission as they are supposed to? The answer is no. The Federal Government is even owing the commission billions of naira. One will ask again, is the NDDC being run to benefit the grassroots people of the Niger Delta? Tthe answer is no. From the day the NDDC was created, it has been a political creation and not an intervention agency for the welfare of the Niger Delta people which it was meant to be. When people are appointed as MDs of the commission, they become answerable to the person who appointed them. When people lose elections, they are compensated with positions in the NDDC. The money that will be used during the election will be taken from the coffers of the NDDC and nothing is done to investigate the expenses. The NDDC which was setup to cater for the livelihood of the grassroots Niger Delta people, is now used as an agency to sponsor political campaigns. Now to the suspended investigative hearing which we all know is now dead and forgotten. If the National Assembly really wants to sincerely probe the commission, they have to begin probing from the year 2000 to date. How much of the budget in the year 2000 was released to the NDDC? If the government during that year and every other year did not release all the funds in the budget to the NDDC, then it is corruption, and that is where the probing should begin. The NDDC is answerable to the Niger Delta people and not to the Federal Government or the National assembly. .
For a transparent audit to take place and produce an authentic result, the names of the companies that have carried out contracts, the transactions, the directors of the companies, the value of the job, the locations of the contracts and the jobs allocated to them for 20 years must be released and published publicly in the national papers. If that is not done, there is no probing. Who are they fooling? As far as they haven’t probed the year 2000, they are making no headway. And with the Nigeria system which we already know, that investigative hearing is dead and forgotten. With what I see, they will make out nothing from the so-called forensic audit. It is a shame and disgrace that Niger Delta people who have been MDs of the commission will have the conscience to loot the NDDC funds meant for the welfare of their fellow Niger Delta people. I and the Niger Delta innocent indigenes demand that they are punished and publicly disgraced.
What do you make of the allegation that the Rivers State Governor had a hand in the Oyigbo massacre which was alleged to be targeted at the IPOB, as well as his proscription of the group in the state?
There is nothing that gives a group of people the right to insist that another person whom they have not consulted or held discussion with, is a Biafran. You cannot come to a state, especially a peaceful state that is not an Eastern state to agitate for Biafra. The fact that the Federal Government or a state government tolerates that act, does not mean Nigeria recognizes any other country called Biafra. The only country that is recognized in Nigeria, is Nigeria. Oyigbo is in Rivers State. The governor of Rivers State is Nyesom Wike. The indigenes of Rivers and Bayelsa State have told the IPOB that they do not want to become members of the group. Even in the Eastern states where they come from, they have been told that they do not want Biafra. Yet they keep insisting on Biafra. How can someone stay abroad and continue to manipulate people in Nigeria, claiming to be a leader of the IPOB. Ordering people to kill and destroy lives and properties of people in another state. How can someone who claims to be a leader order his followers to kill a sitting governor of a state and offered a bounty of N200 million for anyone who carries out the murder? And you expect any governor to keep quiet for anarchy and destruction to take place in his state? The governor only did what was necessary to put the state in order. On the allegation, I do not believe or agree that Governor Nyesom Wike will intentionally order the shooting of unarmed residents in his state. That is a preposterous accusation. It is his obligation as a governor to protect lives and properties in the state and he is doing the right thing to put orderliness in the state.
For the purpose of equity and justice, don’t you think it is high time the Nigerian presidency comes from the South-East?
I have always said that the presidency is rotational, even though it is not in the constitution. It is a political understanding among parties that the presidency is rotational. It has gone to the North for over decades, the South-West has gone for eight years during the time of Obasanjo, the South-South has gone for four years during the time of Jonathan, automatically and psychologically, it is therefore accepted that it should go to the South-East. However, since we are talking about equity and justice, I think the South-South should be allowed to complete their tenure which has four years left.
So, if we are saying for the sake of equity and justice, then I suggest that the presidential ticket is given to the South-South to complete their tenure for equity sake. More importantly, it has to be unanimously agreed that he is doing only four years to complete the tenure.
I also want to tell you that the North has no plan to hand over power in 2023. From the look of things, I see both the APC and the PDP giving the presidential ticket to a Northern candidate. On the other hand, if the South-South does not want to cede a candidate, still for the sake of equity which I support, then there should be no argument that it should go to the South-East. So, both the APC and the PDP should give the presidential ticket to the South-East. In that way, you are talking about true equity and justice.
Now on the defection of Governor Umahi to the APC, I want to clearly say that his defection to the APC does not in any way guarantee that a South-East candidate will be given the presidential ticket. But if you ask if there is any chance of the presidential ticket being given to a South-East candidate in the PDP, then I will tell you yes, there is a chance for a South-East candidate to have the presidential ticket in the PDP. His decision to defect has thrown the South-East and PDP in turmoil. I believe that it was too early for Umahi to make such a move at this time, because he is a governor that was voted into power by a PDP party and he still has two good years to go as a governor. genuinely voted for him.