Prof. Mike Anikpo is a researcher who has gone round the Niger Delta communities while consulting for UNDP, UNFPA, USAID and other international agencies. He is a lecturer in the Sociology Department of University of Port Harcourt and presently the Director of Centre for Ethnic and Conflict Studies (CENTECS). In an exclusive interview with Paul Obiajunwo, he argues that it is laughable for anyone to say there is development in the Niger Delta region. He also spoke on the issue of the welfare of the citizen.
As researcher who has gone round the Niger Delta communities looking at the issues affecting the region would you say thing are changing in terms of developmental projects and general wellbeing of the people?
Things are changing, but development? It is laughable because I have gone round the Niger Delta communities as a researcher. I must tell you research has carried me round the Niger Delta communities to see things for myself and as far as I am concerned there is no development in Niger Delta region. When I came here in the late 70s I went round to what used to be called the old Rivers State and I was shocked to my marrow by what I saw. Look you don’t need to be from the Niger Delta region before you see the injustice. I was in Lagos and I used to see the Third Mainland Bridge, then I asked myself what if one- third of this bridge is constructed here, then you could drive to Nembe and Bonny but there was no such thing even when they started developing the area. Like Rivers State for instance you could drive to Ogbakiri, Buguma, Degama, though the bridge they are constructing linking Adoni to Opobo is yet to be completed. So when you are talking about developing Niger Delta region I can tell you there is no development yet because the Riverine area of this region has not been opened to link upland. One major road that links the Niger Delta states, which I see as beautiful concept is the East-West Road, that was one major idea though they made mistake because they didn’t dualize the road, but that is the only road in the region. Because it links the commercial zone of the region, it was a good idea but totally inadequate. Beyond this road I don’t see anything, maybe Rivers, Calabar, Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Edo, Bayalsa have all expanded including other Niger Delta States and may be beautiful. And some of the states today have Airports but that is not what I called development. This is because the masses benefit nothing from it, what I am saying is that if a fisherman in Ogbia and other Riverine communities in the region has no access to link up the major cities to sell what they have produced then we are not there yet. And if this set of people cannot sell what they have because of lack of infrastructure then it added nothing to the economy. We have not reached where we ought to have reached as far as I am concerned.
Recently you were of one the guest speakers at Peace Project organised by foundation for Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta where 120 youths were trained on peace building in the region. Can peace be sustained in this region when oil is being produced literally at the back of the house of a man dying in hunger?
That is the distorted system, and that is one of the major factors affecting our system. What I have always talked about is that if you are taking oil from under somebody’s building or land it is not a crime because the person has no equipment or guarantee by law to tap the oil by himself. But what is the crime is when we forget that there should be certain recognition that this oil was taking from his land. Treat the person in a way that he will feel comfortable like the man who ends up making enough profit from the same oil that is what I called justice and equity. Don’t forget during the Peace Project I told those who came to the training that you cannot talk about peace without talking about Justice. There must be justice and equity to get peace, so forgeting the people without a recognition that oil was taken from his land or under his building is evil. Look, anybody who comes to Niger Delta will arrive at the same conclusion; you don’t show wickedness to people because you are interested in profit. There was a time I challenged them and I told them that since they are always talking about profit without the concern for the people, suppose they exchange profit with the people. The people are dying, the people are suffering and you are talking about profit, then replace a dying Niger Delta man with profit since you are interested in profit. And what this group of people does in Niger Delta is that if a particular people are shouting for injustice they will use another group of people in the same community to shout them down that is the politics. But the truth is that you cannot have peace without justice.
But the same people are sponsoring all kinds of peace projects in the region?
As far as there is an unjust system it would be very difficult to achieve, the British were the ones that colonised us and they were also the people that are talking about human right. First, our right abinitio has been taken away to govern and to look after ourselves. But it didn’t work because it didn’t stop attack on British establishment. It is not a verbal issue, the African Nation kept on fighting until they became independent, you are creating a situation that creates conflict and you are verbally taking of peace. It cannot work until you match your verbal theory with action. I don’t believe people or nations do not know what others want, they know what we want. They should not claim that they don’t know because in their place they know what their people want.
Looking at Nigeria at 53rd what would you say we have achieved or failed to achieve?
Over the years the only thing one can say Nigeria has achieved is by remaining as one indivisible country, whether that is by design or accident especially after the Nigeria civil war. But Nigeria somehow after that war, still remains one country. Then one should also look at the various aspect of the economy, we are also very lucky that oil has been flowing. And we are also deriving major aspect of our economic to this great commodity. We have been able to keep that despite all kinds of hiccups and turbulence in the economic system, yet the country is still moving on. Again, Nigeria was able to project themselves in another ways like sports and the rest of them. The only thing that tends to cloud the entire system is politics. In fact when you look at what politicians are doing you will say nothing has happened and when you look at the violence that often erupts like the issue of Boko Harem, Kidnapping, militancy and the rest of them, it creates the impression that we have not achieve anything. But we are trying and we have achieved something since Nigeria got independence, all we need now is to reinvest the money looted in the system back to the system.
What do mean by reinvesting back into the system?
That is the major problem affecting the economy; I am one of those who believe in Marxist theory, if you look at what is happening now you will discover that we are heading to a stage of primitive accumulation of wealth. It happened in other countries, it is stage in the development of capitalist system. Anybody who is aware of this theory will tell you that we are in a stage of turbulence, even the United States passed through it. There is only one snag about our movement to capitalist system and that is that unless those who are accumulating wealth decide to reinvest it in Nigeria we would continue to face a big challenges. The capitalists must reinvest what they have got or stolen from the system. It doesn’t matter how we get the wealth, what matters is how to reinvest in the Nigeria economy that is the only way to have peace. Look at what people like Dangote and Adenuga are doing they are reinvesting their wealth back to the economy, these are capitalist accumulators but the problem is no longer about what they have accumulated but the reinvestment in the Nigeria economy. These two men have showed Nigeria the gain of reinvestment because their companies today have engaged thousands of youths who are now benefitting from their reinvestment. This, I think is the problem in Nigeria because Nigerian is not reinvesting the wealth they loot from the system.
These days it looks as if it is only the elite that celebrates Independence Day, the poor man hardly talks about it. Why?
Yes, these are some of the contradictions of the new colonial system; a lot of people are suffering because the system is characterised by inequality. Everybody knows that the inequality is too glaring and too sharp that we don’t need to tell anybody about it. Some people in this country are too rich that they don’t know what to do with their wealth and if they want to buy this country they have the money. While somebody is at the hospital getting confused of the drugs prescription given to him or her because there is no money to buy those drugs even as low as N500. It is a reality, I know people in this country who cannot afford a meal in a today. In some countries today, their government provides them with unemployed allowance. In our society some graduates are married but cannot take care of themselves, they depend on their parents to survive because there is no job. I think that the money we have in this country should be able to carter for us in a way that people can be a bit comfortable. Like those graduates exempted from service because of their age should also be paid like their colleagues who are serving to enable them take care of themselves. This will help them to develop the feeling that their country is taking care of them. That would be better instead of the total abandonment. Some are sick, some are begging for what to eat even when they have government to take care of them. When you look at the money that is coming into the purse of those who are representing the hungry masses you will discover that it is totally outrageous. Nobody is talking about socialist system but how can we take care of other human beings. That is what I called injustice, people are dying of hunger in your constituency and it does not touch your feelings then you are not doing justice to your people. Meanwhile in this situation somebody else does not know what to do with his wealth. And at the end you see people getting involved into all kind of criminality, the millions that kidnapper’s grasp from people could have been used to carter for many. You can’t expect a hungry man to think properly or participate in any celebration. The first thing he thinks is how to eat whether he steals it or borrows, all he needs is to eat. So those in authority must look for away to provide for the suffering masses.
The rate of employment is increasing on daily basis and people look frustrated out there looking for any means to survive. What do you think they should do?
Patience, for you to do anything in an environment that is called a Nation there must be certain structure that would be provided by the government. That is why we elected them to represent us. The provision of infrastructure and other basic necessities of life, which include water, electricity, hospital, market, school is not being targeted on anybody. When government provides infrastructure the people can now functions in the context, it is necessary that government or somebody must provide a starting point for you. Someone must give you a little push to begin life. There is no way you can start with nothing to become something in life there must be an initial push. When people say government cannot do anything, I have always disagreed with them because it can do something. The management of the resource is in their hand. If the government provides infrastructure even if they don’t provide direct employment a number of people would provide jobs for themselves. It has happened in my community the first time we got electricity some of the members of the community who were living in the town like welders, electricians, plumbers and so on decided to relocate to the community. Those who relocated had apprentice working with them, then people began to send their children to acquire skill. So youths will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible to survive without an initial push from your parents or the government. It costs the government nothing to provide a little allowance for out of school youths and when the government does this, its input would galvanise the system and make them productive to the society. Instead of vandalizing the pipeline, kidnapping, stealing and all the rest of the things that frustration pushes them to do. It is not a matter of minimum wage, I know people that if you give them N10, 000 every month they would start life with it, because you have kept them afloat.
Don’t you think education has a role to play?
Education has a lot of role to play, in some countries, it doesn’t matter the course you studied in school there are certain practical courses that could assist you in life. At the University of Nsukka, now University of Nigeria I met a psychology lecturer at the University who is an auto mechanic. He told me that while he was studying psychology in United State of America he also did a practical course in Auto-Mechanic. I am telling you this because he has worked on my car. One day I told him why not set up mechanic worship and he said he has all the equipment to do so. This is where we have not reached in education. As a graduate one should have gained some practical experience that would provide food for him or her while waiting for white-collar job. People must have a practical skill, if you study agriculture you should became a farmer, but the problem is that even when that person wants to farm he does not have a plot of land or even money to buy it. How can that graduate survive? That is why government must provide an enabling environment by distributing land to them? In western part of United State, the farmers are the richest people there. There must be a reorientation in our school system that would make people to understand the dignity of labour. The educational system has a lot of roles to play to ensure that the youths do not fold their hands and wait till when government would provide job for them. Our educational system provides some negative value system, which makes people to think that once you are educated you must go to the office and sit down. That value system must change, there must be a reorientation, and people must appreciate the dignity of labour. I think we should begin to appreciate what we are doing to earn a living. Even if your job is to clean dust on the road you should accept that as your means of livelihood. Look at our society; we have this orientation that when you see people disposing waste or doing the kind of job people described as menial job, may people see this group of workers as lazy people, in fact some people do not see it as work. People also question why they are doing such kinds of job. That is the kind of value system we are into. The value orientation is too negative that it doesn’t give credence to dignity of labour. It is the role of education to make us to understand that it does not matter the kind of skill you have but the dignity of labour. The standard of education is too poor that it has not given us the positive value system that could make us productive in the society. The University of Port Harcourt have declared it an entrepreneurial University because we want a situation where students would no longer concentrate on the course they are studying but also in acquiring a practical skill before they graduate. Even if you are looking for job in the oil company while you are waiting for the opportunity to come you can utilize your skill to provide for yourself. I know a lady who is a graduate but she makes beads, some students open barbing saloon while in school to assist themselves, so what stops a Political Science student from going to do a Masters tailoring. This is what we call entrepreneurship; this value system should not be advocated alone at the tertiary level it should start from the primary school. So we are not doing enough that is what ASUU is shouting about they want education to be properly funded because if you talk about entrepreneurship them you must be ready to set up infrastructure.
Everybody wants his or her child to acquire the best education and this search for the best learning environment has forced many people to send their children to private school especially the elite. What is the way out?
Because we don’t value our educational system; because we cannot provide the necessary facilities for proper teaching. If I may ask, have you paid the teachers well? The answer is no, have you provided the infrastructure and teaching aid? No. Now somebody somewhere decided to set up a standard school and provides all necessary equipment and facilities including good teachers, what do you think will happen, there will be mass enrolment. Like the mission school in those days, they were well organized. Suddenly somebody brought the idea that government should take over the schools. Of course, government can control the schools more than the mission because they have the resource to do so, but what happened to those schools at the end they were abandoned. I don’t believe that government cannot do better, it can, it is only that we have a peculiar kind of government that does not know the responsibility of being in government. I used to be in the North Korean and I discovered that their educational system was imparting positively to their people.
In our society today, criminals and all those who defy the law are being celebrated and recognized even more than the law-abiding citizen, does it mean we must be radical or stubborn to became something?
That is very unfortunate, in a society that is doing well those who are doing well are being rewarded but like I said earlier we have a distorted system in Nigeria where criminals are being crowed and made to look like heroes. The issue is that those who produce are not those who consume and those who consume are not those who produce; this is just the reality of Nigeria system. This is also the problem in most developing African countries. There is a distorted reward system, those who are disturbing the political system are always rewarded but that tells you what governance in this country and other developing countries in Africa is all about.
ASUU is still on strike does it mean there is no other option?
Let me tell you, if there is any other option ASUU would have found it out, don’t forget ASUU is a union of intellectuals and I can tell that they also think along that line. They have on many occasions thought of many options. They also resorted to warning strikes as an option, there was a time they thought of an option of only coming to work and relax without doing anything so that they would not go on strike and that did not solve the main purpose of their demand. But remember in all my years in the labour sector, I did not see any other option than strike. When you are aggrieved with your employer and you apply other means and it doesn’t work, the only option is for you to withdraw your labour power. And when you withdraw it, your employer would know because it is the only power you have. Remember strike starts because the dialogue option fails, so the worker now has only one thing left for him or her to do, that is to withdraw that labour power.