Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State is unhappy that the federal government is yet to fulfil its promises to the Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF), two years after the promises were made. According to him, FG’s inability to fulfil the promises was responsible for the latest threats by the Niger Delta Avengers.
He also kicked against FG’s plan to get states to provide lands for colonies, saying that a strong statement from President Muhammadu Buhari would end killings by Fulani herdsmen across the country.
Okowa also spoke on several other national and state issues.
The killings by the rampaging Fulani herdsmen is increasing by the day, what do you think is the solution to this problem?
Well, I actually think that there is a lot that needs to be done. This problem has been on in the last few years, but it appears to have taken a new dimension now. Because the killings you are hearing about now, yes because of the large numbers in Benue and Taraba States, it is coming to the fore, but you find those killings everywhere. Even as I was here (in Abuja,) I got a report that somebody was killed in my state by one of the herdsmen.
I think that the security agencies must stand up to this very wrong approach to the issues of cattle rearing because when people come out and they carry guns, I don’t think that that was what used to happen in the past. Because in the past we used to see herdsmen, they come in; they relate with the people in the various villages, that is not the position at the moment. But when you just stroll into people’s farms, stroll into people’s lands and continue to do all manner of things, it is not right. I believe that there has to be a strong statement coming out from the presidency and such strong statements from President Buhari will possibly spur the Security agencies to take appropriate actions.
First I believe that every herdsman must be totally disarmed because it is not the right thing to do, I don’t think that they are empowered to carry guns as they do, no Nigerian is empowered to carry such riffles except if they are members of security agency. So, we must do that.
Will Delta State concede land for the colonies?
In the first instance you know that Delta State is possibly half of water, half of land. So, obviously we are in need of land.
The opposition in your state alleged that the recently held local government elections were compromised, what do you have to say?
When you talk about the opposition, I think it is only one party that made that complain because the other parties that participated didn’t speak in the same manner, that is one. I believe too that if you try to follow up several weeks to the elections, I was out there on campaign. I went to the entire 25 local government areas campaigning and thereafter gave our candidates flags, they went to every ward and every unit campaigning, we took it very seriously. Throughout the time to the elections, I did not see any other political party truly campaigning for even those that complained, we never saw them campaigning anywhere. So, I do not know how people want to win elections. If you do not campaign, you do not go to the people; you do not go there to ask for their votes, I don’t know how you are going to get their votes.
I think that essentially, the other parties led by IPAC (Inter Party Advisory Committee) have actually come out with a statement. But on our own we are convinced that we did the right thing and I don’t think we owe anyone any apology because we were ready for the elections but they were not.
Recently, the Avengers threatened to resume hostility and even threaten to destroy oil pipelines, what are you doing to ensure that the threat is nipped in the bud?
A lot is being done but sometimes there are so many things you do you don’t have to speak about it in public because it is security based. But recently on the 10th and 11th of this January, we set up an advocacy committee against the destruction of pipelines and oil facilities. That advocacy committee is led by the deputy governor made up of very top ranking persons in government who have influence within the sphere of areas where we have these facilities. They organised a conference which involved the youths of that area, it involved the traditional rulers, major opinion leaders and even some very prominent ex-agitators for two days. The Managing Director of Shell was there with very top management of Chevron and other companies where they talked with each other and made far reaching decisions.
These are the kinds of things that we do to try to create a buy-in so that the youths, the opinion leaders, the traditional rulers can be part of governance, can understand what is going on, so we actually reach out to them. It does cost us money but we believe that there is nothing better than peace. In a very peaceful atmosphere, our resources can grow, development is assured and investors can also come in. But there are so many other things we are doing that we don’t have to speak about publicly because of the security nature.
However, I think there is the need for the federal government to keep up to some of its promises. We thank God that the Vice President was with us after we were able to lay the foundation for him to come, he was in Gbaramatu kingdom and spoke to people and spoke to other opinion leaders in Warri. We thank him for that visit but there were certain promises made and when the leaders through PANDEF also visited Mr. President, there were certain requests made. We need to see some of these things on ground. The 16 things that we asked for cannot be on ground but key things have to be on ground. And one that is very key is the Maritime University, I think the National Assembly is concerned because the House of Reps recently passed the bill; it has also passed in the Senate. So, we hope that as soon as possible, Mr. President will sign it into law. Beyond that, a Committee set up by the Vice President then as Acting President to look into the start up of the university; have done a lot of work. They were supposed to start in October 2017, there are already some delays and we are already in January, so you find out that there is some level of agitation. But I do know and I have confirmed that the federal government has released the initial N1 billion to them, and as a state government when we found that there was an agitation last year, we also released N100 million to support the university to start initial things that they needed to do. We think that as quickly as that starts, we can say yes, one out of the 16 things has been done, let’s be patient and look forward to other things.
I think too that the oil companies’ relationship with the communities is actually improving. It is usually tough because they also have their own setbacks, sometimes too, some of their actions don’t help but I believe too that with the conference that held and the committee put up to improve the relationship between them and the oil producing communities, I think that that is going to be far-reaching and by the special grace of God, I think our facilities will be maintained.
What’s your assessment of the Buhari government so far?
Well, the government of the APC and the PDP and the APGA government both at the federal and state level came in at a very challenging time. There is no doubt that with the very challenging times, there are definitely some setbacks and many of the things that we did promise, we may not be able to fulfil them. But I will rather not want to directly score it because in scoring a government you need to look at a whole lot of things but what I think I will like to see a little more is the development of infrastructure.
But one thing I find that they have not been able to do well is the management of the budget because in every process, you must manage the budget in such a manner that you will be able to utilise the dry season which you actually need for the development of infrastructure. Unfortunately, in the two years going to the third one now, the national budget is usually passed late in the year and you have already crossed the dry season. So, if funds are not released appropriately because the budgets also have not been passed, you may not be able to achieve a lot. But scoring them on every other thing will be difficult for me. I think in terms of infrastructure development there is still a lot that needs to be done.
Are you happy with the state of things in your party, the PDP and how prepared are you to take over in 2019?
Yes the PDP is getting stronger. We had challenges you do know that and by God’s Grace we were able to conduct a non elective convention in August 2017 and in December we conducted an elective convention. Because we put the right processes in place we were able to tackle the issues that came thereafter. And because it is anticipated that in any elective convention with so many people in the contest, there might be some problems, we foretold that and we had the Siriake Dickson’s Reconciliatory Committee headed by the governor of Bayelsa State. We had a good enough convention by our own assessment. Yes there could be always one challenge or the other, it is normal. But I think the reconciliatory process went very fast, the last pockets of reconciliation are being sealed at the moment. The faction that was about breaking away is already talking with the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee and everything is being worked out properly.
I think we have gone passed any real challenge as a party at the moment, it is for us to consolidate the processes of our party governance and prepare ourselves to take in a large chunk of people who may not feel happy with where they are. We are preparing ourselves for that. We are also preparing ourselves to begin to reach out to all Nigerians on the need for them to support the PDP because what we have is actually a reformed PDP where we have a renewed focus and I believe too that by the time we go for our presidential primary, we are going to be very fair to all and with that fair contest that we are going to provide, whoever emerges will actually be an acceptable candidate and we go out there to campaign to Nigerians. We have strengthened the party and we believe we are on course to election victory.