By Daniel Kanu
National leader, Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, is a reporter’s delight as he always speaks his mind no matter whose ox is gored.
The social critic was in his usual element when he engaged Sunday Sun in this exclusive chat, submitting that unless something drastic is done, President Muhammadu Buhari will leave a sad legacy as Nigeria’s Debtor-in-Chief.
He also spoke on the problem with Nigeria, amnesty for Boko Haram, PIB re-consideration, among other national issues. Excerpt:
Nigeria will be celebrating her 61st independence anniversary on October 1. So far, what in your assessment?
Well, things can be better, Nigeria can be fixed, but the leadership is not on the right track. The nation is standing still; 60 years is long enough to put this country on a good footing, but we’ve continued to derail. But with God all things are possible and we also pray that for our nation. We as Nigerians did not do anything worse than any other nation on earth, so we pray that God should not give us punishment. God should touch the heart of those in leadership positions in this country who are managing us in a way that you began to think about what is happening. Look at the way the dollar is just making rubbish of the naira. In fact, very soon we will be using wheel-barrow as they used to carry Uganda or Zimbabwe money to change one dollar and the wheel-barrow will be full. We are getting to the level where if you want to change one dollar you will put heaps of naira inside wheelbarrow for exchange. That is the level we are going. I am frightened at what is going on in Nigeria and I know that I am not alone. What is so sad it that our leaders are pretending as if they don’t know what is happening, they are behaving as if all is well, as if what is happening is normal and this is simply because everything that they are using is free and easy to get because they are in government. So, they are getting free government this, free government that, free government everything. But we are begging God to touch their heart so that they can have a change of heart. With the way things are emerging each passing day, they are gradually, but steadily taking the country into a ditch, unless there is an intervention, a reversal from the madness that we are witnessing. We are also begging God as we celebrate our 61st anniversary to touch the heart of Buhari to stop borrowing so that the future generation will not be enslaved to either China, America, IMF or the World Bank, etc, forever and ever. We want God to touch his heart to know that his own children also will be part of that burden even if they have other places abroad, but no place like home and no condition is permanent. Coronavirus has just shown us that in this life, no condition is permanent. During the heat of the Coronavirus pandemic, Dubai was telling non-indigenes to leave their country so that they can manage their own citizens. Supposing this COVID-19 pandemic continued for five years non-stop, I don’t think that Dubai will allow anybody that is not their citizen to reside in that country. So, let our leaders who have blocked their ears, they don’t want to listen or hear any word of advice, let them know that Coronavirus is a sign of warning that “you should develop your own area”. So, the type of loan that the president is taking and because we have a Yahoo-Yahoo National Assembly it does not matter to them even if we perish because they seem to be blinded about the reality of the time we are in and the consequences of their action for the future. This National Assembly seems to be insensitive on the danger ahead as they go on rubber-stamping everything that comes from the president. For them it is anything goes. They cannot tell the president that what he is doing, that in the next 100 years when we are all gone, but our children and children’s children they will be in bondage. They are collecting loans uncontrollably like motor without control or brake. It is like children and their love for ice cream. You know that children love ice cream and cannot resist it, that is how Buhari loves taking loans without resistance. It will be sad for Buhari to leave a legacy as Nigeria’s Debtor-in-Chief. The revelation that the revenue-to-debt service ratio now stands at 98 per cent is an indicator that Nigeria has passed a critical threshold and is being strangulated by debt burden which is mortgaging the future of our children and their children too. I am not an economist, but I know what debt independent revenue of 98 per cent means in concrete terms. It means that, for every N1 Nigeria earns, 98 kobo is used to repay loans, leaving the government to survive on 2 kobo. This is utterly worrisome. Nigeria’s debt crisis points to a broken fiscal regime; and should be a wake-up call not only to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), but to the President Buhari-led government. There is the need to rescue the naira and by extension the economy from its present life-support condition. I think it is expedient for Buhari to act decisively to salvage the nation crumbling under the weight of debt servicing. The truth is that the Nigerian people are tired of excuses and deserve some respite from this excessive borrowing madness. Nigerians are suffering because the naira is useless.
You appear quite angry, but where do you think we missed it as a country?
Of course, it is a failure of leadership, but everybody is surprised at how slow the country is going when we have a president who was a former military governor, a former minister, and a former military Head of State and is now again the president. So, what will one say again? This is a man who is supposed to know the right thing to do given his experience. He went to Staff College in London, he has travelled widely, had different leadership training so who again is supposed to have a better experience than him? The country is on standstill under his watch. So, what is the problem? I believe it has a spiritual implication and I will recommend that both the Muslim and Christian clergies gather in Aso Villa to cast out the demons that are tormenting our leaders there while in office. They need deliverance from manipulations from all churches and mosques. I sincerely believe that there is a demon in Aso Rock that manipulates our leaders and our spiritual leaders need to undertake that task of ensuring deliverance. This was a man who fought the Nigerian civil war to keep the country one and now he has no solution, I don’t understand. He has no answer to the way naira is crashing, no answer to the state of insecurity in the land as Nigerians now live in fear, the economy in doldrums, strikes everywhere, agitations here and there, hunger in the land, Nigeria getting deeply divided for wrong reasons. What again will I say? Buhari saw the caliber of people that Gowon surrounded himself with as Head of State? Why can’t he sack those that cannot do the work? I expected that Buhari as the president, given his experience should even from a distance smell out somebody who is abnormal for the position assigned to and tackle them, but he seems not to see or he pretends not to see, but it is rubbishing his leadership. Imagine the kidnapping going on, banditry everywhere, our young girls and our women being raped, shedding of blood now and then, clashes between herders/farmers. What is going on? How can we explain what is going on in Buhari’s own state (Katsina), bandits are kidnapping traditional rulers, kidnapping women, and children? The only thing I give kudos to Buhari in this government is his restoring back the prestige of the army uniform. I was a barrack boy; I was brought up from Ojo Barracks that was where my parents stayed. Today, if you see an army officer you will know that this is the same army officers that the Indians enjoyed, that the British enjoyed. I am not talking about the fighting force of the army, but their dress code; it commands respect as we used to have it. Before the army people were just behaving like Boys Scout and I was so angry as a barrack boy. In those days in Abuja when I see soldiers you will think that they are going to a dancing disco party, I was so angry, but all that has changed, you see them now looking smart, and you see them with their staff moving smartly. Now having said that, our survival as a nation, let me repeat that Buhari needs spiritual deliverance from our Christian and Muslim clerics, and I am serious about this. He should be used as a point of contact for our country’s deliverance. Anybody that enters that Villa should not be under any spiritual manipulation. That should be the focal point of the prayer.
There are reports that President Buhari is considering a review of the PIB…?
(Cuts in) If they are reviewing it to our favour God will bless him. He has been a petroleum minister during the military era, so he should know the damage done to that region. He knows that our children are no longer working. Today, our children are doing nothing and they have rendered our women useless because they are equally doing nothing, no income. Is it not annoying that till date we are still talking about the repair of damage from oil exploration since 1956. Today, the only place they are doing some repair or clean up is Ogoni land which is not even one per cent of the entire Niger Delta that needs clean up. And there is so much politics involved in the Ogoni clean up which is very slow. We are supposed to sign an agreement with certain people to take part of the PIB funds to start cleaning up our environment. Those who wrote this PIB today are not interested in the past, but if you are not interested in your past, you have no future. Today, Nigeria refuses to teach history in their schools, that is why Nigeria is doomed. Nigeria is doomed, a country that chooses their hands to install doom in the land because they don’t want their children to know how their fathers, the leaders, all those who made sacrifices and the mistakes they made so that this current generation will know who did what, how, when, why and know how not to repeat certain mistakes again. There is no country in the world that bars the teaching of history in their schools, it’s only Nigeria and those who don’t learn from history that are doomed to repeat mistakes. So, we need spiritual deliverance because something is wrong with our political leaders. We hope that President Buhari as former minister of petroleum should know very well what the people are suffering from the destruction of their environment. Look at the funds that they are giving for amnesty, that fund is not enough. If you compare the money (N65,000) now with a dollar, you will know that the value has eroded. Those who are advising the president to stop amnesty in the Niger Delta region are looking for trouble, serious trouble, I repeat, they are looking for trouble. They are trying to provoke God to anger. Those who are advising Buhari to stop the amnesty are looking for Jehovah, God’s anger, they will be inviting the anger of God on Nigeria. After the Maitatsine riot that happened in the North during the time of Shagari and Buhari too, Babangida came and asked the Northern elite to come up with what could engage the restive/ idle youths in the North and they came up with nomadic education. Prof Jubril Aminu was then minister of education and they came up with nomadic education with a special budget under the Ministry of Education. Today, nomadic education is still going on, but people are asking for the stoppage of the Niger Delta amnesty. They want to provoke God to anger and the consequences will be disastrous for the country. Our own amnesty programme has not lasted long as the nomadic education which has lasted over 30 years since 1989. Nomadic education is still running till today to take care of the idle youths in the North, but they are complaining about the Niger Delta amnesty which is just over 10 years. Nomadic education is meant for the entire North, don’t forget. Those people calling for the scrapping of the Niger Delta amnesty are talking either from the point of ignorance or mischief. What people should be calling for instead should be that the amnesty project is expanded to include all Niger Delta youths, all South-south youths, unemployed youths that you have destroyed their lands, denying them of their God-given profession, especially fishing and farming. If they do that God will bless them. You need to come to our region to see the devastation, the damage done due to oil exploration. Why should the oil which God deposited to us be turned into a curse for the people? You are using the oil money to develop other places ignoring the people you are destroying their land, creating poison in the environment. I am yet to see any country in the world that is treating its citizens where they are taking their oil from the way our Niger Delta people are being treated with disdain. The entire North is benefitting from nomadic education, now they have established another agency called Ministry of Humanitarian Services. This ministry has been distributing money especially in the North, but we have not seen anything in the Niger Delta. Most of the people advising Buhari want Nigeria to be in crisis so that they will now be making money from security money. So, I am appealing to President Buhari to expand the Niger Delta amnesty programme because the oil and gas exploration there is causing hardship in the region. They should increase the stipend from N65,000 to N100, 000, it will not collapse the Nigerian economy because there is still oil and gas in the region and you are still making huge money from the region. The president should also force all the Niger Delta governors to go into Atlantic fishing, maritime fishing because if our governors in the Niger Delta who are shameless, any Niger Delta governor without a fishing company must be asked to resign , they should be ashamed in their conscience. We have over 2,000 fishing trolleys leaving Lagos owned by Yoruba businessmen going to Bakassi areas to exploit the Atlantic ocean, no Niger Delta governor has established a seafood company, they should be ashamed of themselves.
Some critics are indicting Niger Delta leadership of corruption and abuse of the money voted out for the development of the region including the 13 per cent derivation and other monies from the Ministry of Niger Delta, PIB, others…?
(Cuts in) In the past, yes, but now we are seeing some evidence that some governors in the region are working, but remember also that the terrain is difficult. But that is not my own agenda as far as the 13 per cent is concerned. All our governors are also sharing from the national cake, which is the sharing from the federation account, but the 13 per cent specifically, if you ask me it should be turned to barter, the way Babangida developed Abuja. They should use the 13 per cent, for instance, to buy crude, they should then use the crude to negotiate with the construction companies that will develop the region. You will see that Niger Delta will become another London like Abuja. Babangida turned Abuja the way it is today through barter with Julius Berger and CAPPA construction companies using the Niger Delta crude. Naira and cash did not exchange hands, you simply negotiate with the construction companies and give them the roadmap of what you want them to do, simple.
What is your reaction that Boko Haram converts should be given amnesty as was done to your Niger Delta people?
I have no problem with that, I am not against giving amnesty to Boko Haram people if they are sincere and they say, well we are ready to lay down our arms, but we need to survive. When Boko Haram bombed the UN House in Abuja during the tenure of President Jonathan, I proposed amnesty for Boko Haram, it was well reported in the media. They were angry because their leader was killed. Why should their leader be killed? There was no reason for that. I was on television condemning those who killed the Boko Haram leader and I said we want to see them, we want to know them and ensure they are made to face the law for justice to take place. My argument was that somebody who was not violent when you arrested him, why should you kill him? But what we are seeing today has gone beyond what happened at that time. They have now taken different dangerous dimensions. Can Sheikh Gumi who is their spokesman come and write an undertaking that if they are given amnesty that they are going to lay down their arms? Is Gumi ready to do that? As we speak now, school children are being taken into hostages for ransom, some are even killed, our young girls, women, even pregnant ones are being raped and some to death. When did you hear that Niger Delta agitators kidnapped children or raped women, or went to other people’s land to kill and displace them? There was nothing like that. Niger Delta youths only told oil workers, oil companies to leave our land, in the international law, we are right, so as to protect our land. But be that as it may, we must find solution to issues, if they promise to stop the carnage in the land, can Sheikh Gumi come and write undertaking that they will no longer kidnap our children, rape women, attack people’s farms and all those atrocious things that they are doing? If they are still raping their own mothers, raping their sisters, killing people, displacing villages, then what type of amnesty are you talking about?