Comrade Bristol Emmanuel Alagbariya is the National Secretary General Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and President Rivers Ijaw Professionals and Entrepreneurs Forum. In this interview with Paul Obiajunwowho spoke on the failed Amnesty programme, the oil exploration in the region and so many more.
Your Personal Assistant was recently assassinated what actually happened
Well, I have been an activist not today. Right from my university days I’ve been in the Student Union Government (SUG) and other organizations in my community and my local government I’ve been a youth leader. It is something that has been part of me while I also handle my professional job as an engineer. We have been at the front burner agitating for the Niger Delta youths and the Nigerian youths, there are so many activities I have embarked upon, during the election period we stood firm to protect democracy before the assassination threat on my life, but as God will have it I was not around when the assassin came. Some gunmen came into my office they killed my P.A Silvanus Otuenye, I was on my way to meet him before they killed him and I asked myself what is the problem. We are free to express our political conviction, as the National Secretary of the Ijaw Youth Council I have never stopped anybody from expressing him or herself. So I don’t just know why they killed that young man but the police are still investigating the matter and I know that in no distance time they will come up with their findings. I also want to use this medium to call on the Inspector General of police (IG), the executive governor of Rivers State Chief Nyesom Wike to look critically into the matter. I thank God that the security in the state has improved drastically. Before the assassination threat on my life they assassinated one of my friends Olala along Ada George road Port Harcourt, we’ve been activists since our university days it’s quite unfortunate that he was not lucky. People should not take the law into their hands. We should settle things amicably, I don’t know where all these are coming from but all we are saying is that the government should ensure that they protect lives and properties so that citizens can move around freely.
What are the benefits of the presence of the oil companies in the Niger Delta Region?
From the general impression, if you engage these multinationals or companies and ask them why the youths are not employed, they will tell you that the youths are not qualified, they don’t have the capacity. So it is an indictment and it is an irony that for close fifty years if not more that Nigeria has discovered oil in the Niger Delta region and the people in this region don’t have the required skills and capacity to work in these organizations. Ordinarily, even when you don’t have interest in an activity that takes place within your environment, within a period of time you can educate somebody in the process because you have seen how it operates. So, if you cannot educate somebody then it means you have been shut out of it completely. It is a clear indictment that our people have been shut out from the activities that are taking place in this region. That is basically what caused the crisis and the friction we had in the recent past in the Nigerian state that brought about the unlawful assassination and murder of Ken Saro Wiwa. That also made them to kill Ijaw sons and daughters, destroy our communities, raped our women. In that frustration our boys had no option but to take destinies in their own hands. These factors later led them into the creeks to fight for the emancipation of the Niger Delta people. Although along the line, criminality came into it. People that had dubious and criminal tendencies became part of the struggle. Also in that same group that they are fighting for the Niger Delta struggle they also inflicted pains and sorrows to their people. That is what made the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) to initiate the Amnesty programme to enable us differentiate those criminals from the actual freedom fighters and by God’s grace, it seems as if we have peace today but we don’t have peace.
Are you saying that the IYC brought about the Amnesty initiative?
IYC sent the first proposal to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, and IYC were the first group of persons he engaged, but it is not an IYC programme. It is a Niger Delta programme but we played a critical role in ensuring that our people embrace the amnesty programme. We went into the creeks to engage our boys. We educated them letting them see the genuineness in the programme that the government at that time was willing to empower and develop our people. But along the line, against the aims and ideologies that brought about the amnesty initiative, contractors and criminals lashed into that programme and deviated from the main objectives. The Amnesty programme was to enable the government have unrestricted access into the Niger Delta territory, for the companies to go back in doing their businesses, why we disarm these boys, rehabilitate and reintegrate them into the society. They are to train them not only the boys but the Niger Delta youths in the activities of oil and gas and make the Niger Delta region an industrial hub but till date it is far from reality. People are laying emphasis on payment to militants, rather than talking about the crux of the matter that has to do with the underdevelopment of the region. The pollution of our environment, the degradation of our ecosystem, we have lost the aquatic lives and our people are predominately fishermen they settle along the coastal lines today they can no longer do their ancestral business again. Now if you want to do the traditional fishing business you have to go deep offshore. There are special vessels and boats that can access that area, so they cannot go with their small canoes. These are poor people, so what do you expect them to do. Today, how many persons from Niger Delta own an oil bloc and how many oil blocs do we have, they say we don’t have the capacity, but we ask ourselves these questions the people today who manage these oil blocs were they originally born with that capacity?. If we trace their history what was the financial state of their family. Some of them went to school on scholarship; some of them were the first persons in their family that saw the light, so where did they work. Where did they make the initial money that enabled them buy these oil blocs and other privileges today that have empowered them if they they can talk about capacity. They cannot consciously create that enabling environment to people without capacity so that they will know that the government meant well for them. Ordinarily we shouldn’t have been able but the government made sure that we have that capacity. Why can’t they give us these oil blocs, group communities together ask them to nominate a head and give them oil blocs and ask them to manage it themselves but they didn’t do that.
But some of the Federal government programmes have somehow imparted positively to the Niger region
All the programmes of government have all failed because any initiative that is based on a faulty foundation can never stand. The government in itself wasn’t sincere in developing the Niger Delta it was a delay tactics. It was a means to buy time to re-combat and destroy the people that rised against government and they needed time because the agitation took them unaware. In every state today when the state government gives out scholarship it is those people that work around the government that have been empowered that embezzle the contract and carry out substandard projects. They are the ones that will still send their brothers and sisters on these scholarships. Some of the programmes dwell so much on parochial party sentiment. Because you are not my party member you will not benefit, instead of us to know that after election the next thing is governance. Because, governance has to do with everybody, They ensure you do not benefit because you never supported them, it is an obvious case how can these programme succeed. That is why we are emphasizing that corruption is endemic, corruption is the bane of the crisis we are having today. If you can achieve justice then nobody will struggle for some of these appointments and elections. Today people see partisan politics as a form of employment and engagement. someone that has not worked before handles a responsibility in government and within the twinkle of an eye he becomes billionaire , it has also affected our family front, if today you are appointed in government and you said you want to do the right thing your family will tell you that you are the evil spirit that has been holding the family back. So the Amnesty programme, after it was initiated people that drove the initial process weren’t sincere. They used that means to siphon money from the government as currently being done in the North East of the country over Boko Haram Amnesty. During the Former President Jonathan’s administration, different consultants were brought in to negotiate and mediate with the Boko Haram, people were using it knowing too well that they were not dealing with the real Boko Haram and they were using that medium to milk the nation. Not until Boko Haram came out that they have not had any negotiation with anybody. These people were just there to ensure that the government did not succeed. There is this saying that when the head is faulty every other part goes down, so if you cannot fire do not hire. The government at that time never wanted this thing to succeed; they were looking at only one perspective. If they were looking at the broader perspective which is to ensure that there is peace, because government spend so much money in achieving peace than giving justice which is free and even cheap. Look at the East -west road it is yet to be completed, they’ve not done anything in the Niger Delta region, they’ve not cleansed the region even businesses have not stabilized. Now strategically there is a plan to take the Niger Delta economic value down to the South West, and I challenge everyone that cares to listen that if they fail to listen to our plea and went ahead to relocate the NLNG dry-dock shipyard to Badagry all the investments going on in Badagry naturally will render all the ports in the Niger Delta redundant. We asked our question if the federal government has been benefiting from taxation alone, you will see that they would not have allowed any investment or opportunity to lay fallow because they want to maximize tax. Why is the Warri port not working, same with Calabar port and Port Harcourt port, rather you will hear that there are cargoes waiting for turns to enter into Tin Can Island, for clearance. So they don’t want businesses to thrive here. NLNG was talking about insecurity as an excuse; there are issue of kidnapping, robbery and all that in Lagos, so there is insecurity everywhere. How can there be security when there is huge poverty, a popular musician sang that every where she has gone to, that the only thing that is common to all humans is the act of love, but every where I’ve gone to in this country the common thing I see is poverty. The poverty here is the same poverty in the South West, South East, North and everywhere.
Is Ijaws also judging the recent appointments made by President Buhari?
I cannot judge him on the recent appointments, we know that a lot have gone right and also gone wrong, definitely he has to study the process, he has to start from where others stopped, make amends and probably initiate new ideas and policies. So it will be too early for me to pass judgment but I know that as a military man who has gone through regimentation he should be disciplined, he should bring in sanity.
Looking at the time of independence till now what difference does it make to the people of the region in term of development?
The Niger Delta region has not felt any better at all comparing other oil producing nations of the world. Look at Gaddafi of Lybia, he was bad but he also tried, look at other countries where they produce oil and come to the Niger Delta it is an indictment. It is a shame to the federal government. In America if you are going to Houston you know its oil and steel; if you are going to Florida you know its finance, different cities with their investments. The Niger Delta should be known as region for oil and gas. A region where any company that takes oil here cannot be so confident to keep her national headquarters here?, But you will see this company using chopper, this company will fly you to Warri then from Warri to Lagos which is an hour, because they are comfortable with it. They believe that it enhance their internally generated revenue (IGR) for Shell their procurement department, human resources department, finance, managing Director’s office are all in Lagos, how can there be development here, so all other subsidiaries rush to Lagos to establish their offices so that they can have access to the procurement department, finance, human resources and the managing director’s office. That is why every other company goes there. If you want to travel out of this country you have to go to Lagos, why can’t we have international flight in Port Harcourt considering the oil and gas in the region, the only thing we have is a connecting flight to Lagos then to America or from Port Harcourt to Abuja so these are the challenges we have. The companies are not being fair to the Niger Delta people, if an environment has huge resources and the people are excessively quiet know that they are just waiting for the perfect moment. Because, naturally where there is injustice the people revolt, so if you feel that they have been conquered, they have not been conquered. If we will still remain as one Nigeria the government should ensure that there is peace in every region.
Is it true that there is a change in the struggle?
IYC as the touch bearers are against violence because we want all the citizens to participate and benefit so we want everybody to be alive. We are willing to engage and we have been engaging but when peaceful dialogue becomes difficult then violence becomes inevitable. Everybody no matter how quiet the person is has a certain degree or percentage of violence in him or her that’s what makes the person human. Now the question is what is capable of pulling out that violent aspect of you, there is a limit to what people can take. They can endure but they will not endure all the time. We have decided to embrace peace and dialogue but do you know if our children will apply that method. We have believed that engagement, discussion is appropriate, Isaac Adaka Boro felt that those peaceful engagements have delayed and denied the justice we are fighting for and he took arms against the Nigerian state, Ken Saro Wiwa came again and said let us further engage and he was brutally murdered, Asari Dokubo, Tompolo, Fara Dagogo, Egbere Papa and others felt that let us face our greatest challenge. The same blood that flows on them also flows on us. We have dialogued over this time past and yet they have refused to listen, we the leaders are still dialoguing, we don’t know the next set of leaders that will take over from us, because we cannot remain here as leaders forever. Our tenure as leaders is time bound, the people that will take over we don’t know if they will apply our method.
Considering the fact that you have a family how are you coping with the struggle and family
Well, it has always been a challenge and I thank God for my wife; before we got married she knew I was a strong activist although she is a very strong Christian. It was an irony to a lot of people that how can someone so spiritual get married to an activist. But she said why she married me was because she was led and felt that she had a role to play in my life. And I also have a role to play in her life. You know when you don’t involve yourself in shady deeds you will always have some level of peace. I am a free person moving around without any fear but I now realized that if you are good there are still some people that will not like you. So you need to apply extra security measures but all I know is that God is the only one that can protect us.