Tony John, Port Harcourt.
Annkio Briggs is a vocal Niger Delta advocate and activist for the rights of the people of the geopolitical zone that has been providing the bulk of the economic sustenance of the country. In this interview she speaks on the state of the nation and some topical issues.
Are you pleased with the state of the nation?
No. I really don’t see how anybody, especially if you know Nigeria from the point where I have known Nigeria since before independence. My memories go back to before independence, definitely before the Civil War. I know how the country was then. I know where we have been, where we have come and how we have gone, and where we are today. It is horrifying that a country like Nigeria, the largest black country in the world, the supposedly Big Brother in Africa, the largest producer of oil and gas in the Niger Delta region. It is unacceptable, it is shocking that after so many years of independence, we have not yet been able to raise people and choose people that would handle the affairs of Nigeria for Nigerians, comfortably and justly. It is horrifying. It is, in fact unacceptable.
What could be responsible for the horrifying state of the country?
The wrong people are in the wrong places. The idea of independence was not properly articulated. Why did we want independence from Britain? What was the plan for Nigeria at the time in 1960? How did Nigerians plan to govern Nigeria? Did they put the future of Nigeria in mind? Were they thinking in mind of the year 2020?. People like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Belewa, Ernest Ikoli, Obafemi Awolowo and others, and later people like Adaka Boro, did they really put 2020 in mind in whatever decisions they were making from the time they wanted independence? It is now very clear why the British colonised Africa, particularly Nigeria. It was because of oil, for their own economy, for their own growth and development. Did they (British) have good plans for the African countries that they colonised? What plans did they have for Nigeria because Nigerians had an existing process they used in governing themselves. So, when I look back, and I look ahead, I ask myself, what plan did they have for Nigerians? There was no plan at all. In fact, the fact that there was no plan for the future meant the wrong people are in positions and authority they should not be. Till date, wrong people have constantly been in place.
How can you appraise the democratic governance from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to Muhammadu Buhari?
I think in a way it would be unfair even to the people you have mentioned. Even though I don’t believe that they have done well. But, it would be unfair to Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan, to appraise them without going back to what I had earlier said, to the first premier or president, or whatever it was called. They started off wrongly. For instance, why did Adaka Boro carry arms against Nigeria at that time? Things led to the civil war. There were political issues; some of the things we are discussing today, like rigging of elections, they have happened before. So, to appraise Obasanjo down to Buhari, it has been accepted that whatever they took over was already faulty. The interference of the military was a huge fault. What is playing out today, in Buhari’s governance, is the plan or strategy that started long before now. The religious issues, I won’t call it crisis because crisis is a light word to what is happening now in Nigeria. What is happening now in Nigeria, without fear or favour, is a religious oppression. Because it is being done against Christians by Islamic fanatic moves, both inside and outside of Nigeria, we can call it a jihad. There is a genocide going on now. This even happened before the civil war. Even before the war, there was hardly any reference of any recognition to the different ethnic nationalities that existed and still existing, in what we now see as the South-South or the Niger Delta region. So, the rot that we are seeing today started even before independence as far as I am concerned. I see the hands of other nations playing out this religious oppression that is going on in Nigeria. The strategy started off with this empowering the Niger Delta people from accessing their resources. There is a plan, a strategy for this divide playing out in the country. What is playing out today is something that has since been there. For me, we cannot discuss the failure of Nigeria as a nation, without going back as far as I have done. This was why the study of History was taken out from the education curriculum of Nigeria. Very subtly taken out! There is no way that what we are facing today, that Buhari just emerged and started implementing his personal plan. No. Buhari is not implementing his personal plan. He is implementing a plan that he supports and agrees with. But, it is a bigger plan. It is a plan outside of Nigeria. It is a shame, therefore, that the Christians seem to come across as being weak because, if we truly undertake a census in this country, we would see that Christians are more than Muslims. You can’t appraise the nation and the religious oppression that the Christians are facing today without asking the question, how did we get to this point in the first place? Where were the Christians, the reverend fathers, bishops and other religious leaders in Nigeria, when Babangida took us into the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC)? So, if we are to look at the failure of Nigeria, we must start from 1960. The way Nigeria is going, we can’t remain the same way we are today. If you put this present government on one side in the last five years, and put all the presidents that had come since 1960 collectively on one side, this present administration is the worst government Nigeria has had and will ever have. It is really a shame.
Why did you call on South-South governors to review their security architecture?
Let me start from Rivers State for what I can see and make my analysis from there. I have never lived outside of my state, Rivers State. I travel and come back. I have never lived outside of Port Harcourt; and therefore, I can authoritatively say to you, I know my community very well. I was raised in my community. I know my community and my local government area very well. Before 2015, the number of strangers, note, strangers is not a derogatory word. It is a description. A stranger is somebody you don’t know. You may get to know the person later. But, at the time you are meeting the person for the first time, that person is a stranger. Now, the number of strangers in my community in Abonnema, today, comparing them to, say, 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo came in as president, if you compare the number that they are today, there are more people in my community that I don’t know who they are, or where they have come from. But, they are living in my community. Before, that was a long time ago, you could not come into my community without people knowing you don’t belong here. I’m sure it applies to every community. In those days, the way we held on to security, we are talking about security, nobody would tell you, a stranger, where Annkio Briggs’ house is without asking you, ‘who are you? Where are you from? They (natives) may even want to ask you, ‘why do you want to see her? That is security. But, now, in my community, we are so lax in security. And the Federal Government has taken away powers from the traditional setup in our communities. And from the security system in our communities, whether Nigeria Police or community system of being vigilant, because what I have just described to you is vigilante. It is knowing. Because Federal Government has taken that away, which is not really in the constitution, because Federal Government should not say it is a Federal Government and so, it takes away the powers of the state. Because you are a stranger, that is why you are asking about Annkio Briggs’ house. So, that’s why someone has to ask you why do you want to see Annkio Briggs? That is security; that is responsibility. Because, God forbid, if anything happens, the storyline will change. That is gathering of information for the community to secure its people. You cannot just stroll into a community, go into a person’s house, kill the person quietly, come out and go your way. It is the community that will be responsible for it. That’s why community takes that responsibility. But, today, strangers come in. They want to rent a shop and they succeed. Our people don’t think anymore. That responsibility, government has taken it. Our people are even afraid to talk about their responsibility. They left the issue of security to the police that are sitting in Abuja. And they leave the local government security to the police sitting in Port Harcourt. Very importantly, the local economy is no longer controlled by the locals but outsiders. You have to ask yourself, those sachet milk, rubber slippers and rubber drinks, are they enough to sustain the stranger and his family. These are the things that are wrong with security. If the communities can no longer vouch for their own security, is it the local government that can vouch for its own when the police in Port Harcourt give the order. So, when someone commits a crime and the person is taken to the police, you find out they speak the same language and of the same religion. And, so, there is favouritism, nepotism, even when it concerns my own security. There is a security strategy that is put in place. The president of the country said last time that anybody can come here without a visa from any country in Africa. Also, a Northern governor said he is a Fulani man and any Fulani man from any African country is free to come into Nigeria. This is a strategy that has been put in place. When you cannot stop terrorists from entering your country, why must you complain when America fails to give you visa? It is because they cannot trust you. You cannot continue to get your way by lying. These are the things that create insecurity. You come, you take over a place, you make people that own the place feel afraid and you make the place insecure for me for your own purpose, where do you want me to go? There is no law that compels me to share my oil with you. What type of law is that? This injustice leads to insecurity.
Niger Delta has been quiet for some time now. It seems all is well.
It is always an uneasy quiet. If you didn’t come to interview me and the set of questions you are posing, you cannot authoritatively quote me on anything. You can only be speculative. But, now, you can quote me because I’m free to talk to you and what hopefully is the truth and that to me, as a commitment to you, is the truth. But, no matter what it is, you cannot know what is in my mind. The reality of this kind of quietness is based on, one, insecurity. The insecurity of how this government functions. People are afraid to talk, even if it is the truth. And, so, they keep quiet. It doesn’t mean we are not oppressed. We cannot pretend that we are not happy that the president said he would not do something for the five percent that didn’t vote for him. It is an uneasy quiet and an uneasy peace.
What can you say about the incessant changes in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)? Is it helping the region?
How can it help the region? As a matter of fact, for a very long time, I have been on record for saying that NDDC, Amnesty, 13 percent derivation; these things are just things put in place to deceive the Niger Delta people of which I am not one of them to be deceived. The fact that NDDC is corrupt is not news. The fact that the corruption of NDDC is being manipulated and perpetrated from Abuja is also obvious. You have NDDC, which, in itself has a fault as far as I am concerned, even the name alone is faulty. The agency is not a developmental commission. It is an intervention commission. This country has been zoned. You cannot be in the South West and at the same time be in South-South. You cannot set up a commission and call it Niger Delta Development Commission, and you bring a state in South West in, South East in. The best name for it should have been Oil Producing States Development Commission. The NDDC is a deception. The corruption in NDDC is mostly perpetrated by people who are not from the Niger Delta region.
What can you say about jumbo salaries and estacodes for National Assembly members, while the N30,000 minimum wage issue has been stagnating?
This is not what anyone should expect at any time. Politicians in Nigeria see politics as business. It is a business for them, not a service. But, politics is a service. In civilized climes, you don’t see politicians falling over themselves. It is a pity, a shame that people are in the National Assembly and because they are there, they believe they are entitled to drive the latest cars in the world. Why? They are wrong. The things they are doing in this country are wrong.
What can you say about the unity of Nigeria?
Unity is a strange word when it comes to Nigeria. We all know what it means. But, when you want to apply it to a country like Nigeria, it doesn’t work. When you apply it to a country like America, it works because they made a decision to be united for the nation to be strong. Nigeria has not decided to be united and strong.