From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Mr Ebilade Erekefe, spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide in this interview called for a president that would treat the Niger Delta issues like the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua. He spoke on various issues.
Nigeria is going through another round of political transition with the next round of elections around the corner, what is your take on the current unfolding political scenario?
As you are well aware, the Ijaw nation and by extension the Niger Delta is a very critical component when it comes to Nigerian politics and its development considering the very large deposits of crude oil and so whoever becomes the president of this country is of much interest to the Niger Delta people especially taking into cognisance the socio-economic challenges that the country is currently facing.
So, we are looking at a president that will first prioritise the issue of the Niger Delta. First as Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, we have been on the front burner in agitating for a restructured Nigeria that will reflect the true principles of fiscal federalism and so if the presidential candidates are not talking about a restructured country that will devolve power from the centre to the state and local governments, we don’t think the Niger Delta people will want to align with such presidential candidates; a presidential candidate not talking about how Nigeria as a country will be secured with a strategic roadmap, not just this rhetoric as we are seeing around; a strategic roadmap how the country will be secured, a strategic roadmap on how there will be the industrialization of the Niger Delta region, a strategic roadmap on how the Niger Delta region will be cleaned up, and restore the lost hope of our people.
With what we are seeing clearly, it shows that the political class and those aspiring to become president of this country are only campaigning on the basis of rhetoric. We have not clearly seen any desire of these presidential candidates in solving the Nigerian question and the Niger Delta in particular. And so, we are very much concerned, we are worried because what is currently going on is a charade; people are not really serious but as we make progress, we will be coming up with our own plans on how we desire to engage but fundamentally, the Ijaw nation and the Niger Delta will only mobilise support for any presidential candidate that will prioritize the issues highlighted.
The issue of zoning has been on the front burner and now that all political parties have elected their candidates, which part of the country do you think should produce the President?
Nigeria is a pluralistic country and you cannot take away ethnicity out of our body politics because of the various ethnic nationalities making up the country and so if the North has gotten its fair share, the South should also have its fair share but beyond the principle of zoning, our concern as a people is a leader that will be able to unite the country and restore hope, provide employment, eradicate corruption and fight insecurity headlong. For us, that is the kind of president we are looking at, a president that will put the Niger Delta as a major priority like late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did with his seven points agenda. The Niger Delta was a top cardinal point of his agenda and we saw what happened.
The man came, stabilized the region and brought in the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, created Ministry of the Niger Delta, and other interventions too numerous to mention. But we have a president who in his inaugural speech made it emphatically clear that the region that did not vote for him will have less than five percent of attention from his government and that is exactly what we have seen. And so clearly, the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region is a clear reflection of the statement of Mr President when he was inaugurated. For us, we are not surprised but going forward, we are looking for a president that we can hold to account on the issues that affect us as a people.
Fundamentally is the issue of a restructured Nigeria that reflects true fiscal federalism. We are looking at a president that will hold multinational oil companies accountable, a president that will secure the country and attend to the developmental needs of the Niger Delta people. Basically, that is what the Ijaw people and the Niger Delta people are interested in. It is not necessary on the basis of zoning. What if you zone and the President that emerged through that process do not prioritize the issue of the Niger Delta question?
I think we should begin to look at the bigger picture, think of a leader that will unite the country, a leader that will deemphasize religion and ethnicity background and take a look at the entire nation as his constituency, that is the kind of president we are looking at.
You have been one of the outspoken Niger Delta leaders in the fight for the constitution of a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, however, despite all these efforts, the commission is still without a board. What is your take on this?
For me, if I say I am tired of reacting to the issue of NDDC, it is because of the lack of commitment on the part of President Muhammadu Buhari and those who are saddled with the responsibility to constitute the board of the NDDC to follow the Act establishing the NDDC including betrayals of the Niger Delta region. For me, if it is our wish, we would have gotten an NDDC for long. You could see clearly that all the timelines that the Federal Government and the former Minister of Niger Delta had given to the people of the Niger Delta region have all expired and now we are moving into another round of election and so we want to see a presidential candidate that will come to the Niger Delta region to tell us that immediately he comes into power, he will inaugurate the NDDC board because that is a board that serves as the catalyst for the development of the Niger Delta region.
You do all the agitation and protests; there are fifth columnists and betrayers among us. Those who are benefiting from the non-constitution of the NDDC board are happy; our people are not speaking in one voice but a genuine leader who understands the importance of having a board will look beyond the betrayals and the controversies to appoint a substantive board to put the fears and concerns of the Niger Delta people to rest but that is not happening. We have clearly seen that the presidency and its handlers are not interested in the Niger Delta people.
They are people who are saddled with the responsibility to advise the President on this regard but they are not playing their role. If the interventionist agency that is supposed to expand the frontiers of our development is not given the required attention, it clearly shows that the President has violated his oath of office because the NDDC Act is an Act of parliament and the President swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Act was drawn out of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and so if he is not implementing what the Act says, he has violated his oath of office.
For us as a people, we think that the presidency is only waiting to see the negative reaction of the Niger Delta people and we will not fall into that kind of ploy because the Niger Delta region has been infested with violent agitation in the past before we got to where we are today and so if other parts of the country are facing serious turmoil and insecurity problems, the Presidency and the Federal Government should be happy that there are critical stakeholders working round the clock within the Niger Delta region to sustain that peace especially the Governor General of the Ijaw, who is the Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri; for constantly engaging the stakeholders in the Niger Delta region especially the Ijaw Youth Council, for us to continue to sustain the peace and stability in the region. The Federal Government is benefiting so much from our peace because there is an uninterrupted oil flow and the government is making trillions of Naira from sales of oil and gas from the Niger Delta region.
And when we demand for legitimate things, we see a government that treats our people with lip service. It is very annoying and provocative too. The Federal Government should not take the simplicity and the calmness of the Niger Delta people for granted because if there is any resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region, the Federal Government will become the greatest losers and the country will suffer dearly for it. We have been in that situation before and the Federal Government saw what happened. They should not push the people of the Niger Delta to resort back to violent agitation because it will not help anybody.
The next presidential election is crucial for the people of the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large and that is why we keep saying that it is not all these drama that we are seeing around the presidential candidates who are just acting. We are looking forward to a leader that will give us a clear roadmap that will take us out of this woods that we have found ourselves.