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Etteh: I’ve paid great price for Nigerian women

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Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, made history in 2007, when she became the first female legislator to preside over the lower chamber of the National Assembly. However, barely six months in office, her tenure was short-lived as she soon ran into a controversy over the N628m proposed to be used for the renovation of her official quarters. She was forced to resign but later, the same legislative chamber exonerated her from every complicity in a scandal that became known as Ettehgate. 10 years after the event, the frontline politician, in this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI and PHILIP NYAM, recalls the powerplay and how some people doubted her studentship after she travelled abroad to study law, among other issues. Excerpts…

 

 

…I bear no grudge against anybody

 

Since you left the House of Representatives in 2011, not much has been herad about you. What have you been doing?

To be honest with you, those 12 years were a little bit rough; and anybody that really wants to belong to the legislative arm of government and work will know what I am talking about. So I decided to stay back for about a year to reflect and freshen up and seek the face of God on what to do next. All along, I have been interested in studying law, and since I had applied and got admission, which I deferred, I decided to go for it. So, by 2012 I had to travel to England to see if I could actualise my dream and I am sure you are all aware of it because some of my inquisitive brothers went as far as calling the school to find out if I was actually in the school or not.

The school sent me a mail that some people were bothering to find out whether I was in the school or not, but I told the school that the mail was not for me because that is not my name. But the school said all the indices showed that I was the one. And I don’t know how they were able to even get my registration number.

One day I was just reading Nigerian newspapers online and I saw a story where they mention my school and even put my registration number. I said if they do this, it means, they will even want to know my result; I was a little bit baffled.

This incidence gave me the impetus to really work extra mile because I discovered that I was not the only one reading the course; anyone can fail but certainly not me, people ar

e interested in the outcome of my study. And my husband used to tell me, ‘know that it is not only you but over 180 million watching you,’ so I cannot afford to disappoint the family, He said nobody forced me to go back to school.

You are the first and only female Speaker of the House of Representatives; and indeed the only woman to have ever presided over a chamber of the National Assembly. How were you able to achieve this?

To God be the glory. To preside over the House or any chamber of the legislative house, everybody knows that there are some salient issues you must be abreast of. When I got to the National Assembly in 1999, to the glory of God, under the Alliance for Democracy (AD), I became the first female principal officer.

That gave me an opportunity and the determination that if God can take me to this position, there is no position He cannot raise me to. So, that encouraged me to work extra hard at the National Assembly.

So, when I joined the ruling PDP, there was an opportunity for someone to be elected as the Deputy Majority Whip of the House, which was zoned to the South-West and South-East. I think we were about four or five people who were interested in the position and our leaders said we should go for shadow elections.

Along the line, two people stepped down for me and I was left with two opponents. I was fully prepared because I like elective positions; and all the members were fully ready. Even for the position of the minority whip for AD, I was being propped up by some of the members who had been legislators before.

If I tell you the genesis it is so funny. On the day of the election, I was not ready but the men kept coming to my room insisting that I must contest. They said they know that as a woman, I have the mileage. I told them to give me time to think about it and it was a rainy day and I slept off.

They came knocking on the door that I should come out. I was looking for a way to ward them off, but they kept pestering and I said God, if it is your will let it be done in my life. They left me and went to the venue and when I got there, electioneering had started and they were all for me; and that was my first time of meeting with even most of my colleagues from the the South-West.

The election of leader was conducted first and then they came to position of the minority whip, we were eight and I looked at it and I said God take control. To the glory of God after the elections, the gap between I and the person next to me was 18 votes, and that was how I emerged. I give glory to God and I am ever grateful to the AD for that opportunity, I think I served to the best of my ability.

How was the experience, migrating from the minority whip to the position of speaker?

No, I did not just migrate, you missed a link. The link is that when I joined the PDP I became the Majority Deputy Whip of the House, which doubled as the leader of the South-West caucus. I believe that was another platform where I led the people well and they were all for me, that was 2003.

How did you become the speaker? That is another aspect. By virtue of PDP’s zoning arrangement or procedure of choosing their leaders; I understand they zoned the position of Speaker and National Chairman of the party to the South-East and South-West. So, it was now for the east and west leaders to decide on which to pick.

I don’t know how they arrived at finally zoning the speaker to South-West. But like I told you before, I was the Minority Whip for the AD and then became the Majority Deputy Whip and South-West caucus leader; and again Chairman of Female Parliamentarians in Nigerians. So, naturally, if there was anyone qualified to hold the position of the Speaker, I was eminently qualified.

Your tenure was short-lived. What really happened?

 

That is one aspect I don’t always want to talk about it at all because it is not palatable. But let me tell you that as a Christian, there is nothing that happens to a human being that does not have the hand of the Almighty God. I believe strongly that if God wanted it to be longer than that, nobody would have changed it. But if I now start telling stories, it will look as if I want to justify myself. I want to leave everything to God because; the God who placed me there has been fighting for me and has not stopped fighting for me. I got there by His will and when it pleased Him that I should leave, I left; so whatever transpired has a hand of God and that was why I could not complete my tenure. So, whatever way people look at it, they are free to judge.

But at the valedictory session of the 6th Assembly, they tried to re-write the story by clearing and vindicating you of any wrong doing.You were exonerated. How did you feel when that took place?

To be honest with you, the number of calls that I received that day were more than the ones I got when I became the speaker. That is to tell you that Nigerians knew what happened. When it happened people came up with different insinuations but it was much later that I started seeing what actually transpired.

All I need to say, whatever the allegations, it is between me and my God; and the way I perceived it, God wanted it to happen that way. May be the history would not have been completed if I being a female had not stepped into that position because people see it as an exclusive preserve of men. And look at my sister (Hon. MulikatAkande-Adeola) that wanted to come in, what they did to her! Are they going to say that she too was not qualified? But I am not too surprised because it is happening all over the world. It looks to me as if people are generally not prepared for women leaders. I believe they are just wasting their time because the best people to handle leadership positions are women and I keep praying to God that one day, Nigeria will get there.

The Bible says touch not my anointed and do my anointed no harm. And when you toy with God, He shows you. When I see women who have risen to the pinnacle of their careers in this country, I keep praying for them because I know that I have paid the price for every woman to excel in this country. The way they wanted me to start talking about what happened would have pitched me against a lot of people. And if I had done that, I would have blocked the way for other women coming behind me. They said, ‘she cannot be trusted’ but I chose to pay the price for our women to excel. I am happy that after I became first female speaker, several women have scored first in different walks of life in this country. We have had a first women chief justice of Nigeria; we have had first woman president of the Court of Appeal, just name them. But once they see a lady, they believe that she doesn’t have the capacity. Look at what is happening to the current Head of Service. I have been following all ladies in high places and I wish them the best of luck.

No woman has been elected governor,senate president, vice president or president in this country. What are your future plans?

Will you give a shot at the Osun gubernatorial seat come 2018 or are you planning to contest for senate in 2019 or what?

I do not like taking such decisions myself. I allow God to decide for me. He knows the right position for each of us. If He says Patricia Etteh move, then I will move but if He did not say I should move and I did so, it may not augur well for me. The second aspect, except our people change their orientation because if I had presided over the House of Representatives, Osun State governorship should not be an issue. But the issue is that Osun is a predominantly Yoruba state and culturally they don’t reckon with women, which we have tried to change.

For example, I heard very lately that the Kabiyesis said they will not take the staff of office from a woman; and I went and asked some of our Kabiyesis. I said, if you people said you don’t want to take staff of office from a woman, why did you people asked that I should be left alone when they were fighting me as speaker? I said I was baffled. Are you saying women are not ripe enough to rule?

But I know ultimately that God is not a man that can lie; one day, sooner than later a lady will become the governor of one or two states. Secondly, do not foreclose the fact that a woman will rule this country one day and when it happens you will surely see the difference. Unfortunately, in my case, not many people knew what actually happened. Some would say, oh she stole our money; she renovated her personal house for N628 million, meanwhile I was still living in my personal house. Honestly, when I reflect on all that happened, I just but continue to pray for this country and ask God to forgive those responsible. Even when people say derogatory things about me, I do not respond because I know that I have God behind me. So, it is better for me to keep my head because I want Nigerians to know that my head is not something anybody can use to break coconut. As for my exoneration, I asked for it. I know I was wrongly accused and would not leave the chambers of the House without demanding my rights. I told them if something was actually missing they should tell me but if nothing untoward happened, my name should be cleared before I leave or else posterity will judge all of them. That was how they searched their books and found nothing and were compelled to clear me. That was exactly what happened at the valedictory session.

What has been your relationship with your successor, Hon. Dimeji Bankole and those who played principal roles in your removal from office?

Very cordial. Extremely cordial. I bear no grudge against anybody because it’s not good that I will profess Christianity without practicing forgiveness which is a major doctrine of Christianity. It is very painful when you think about certain issues but if you don’t let go those issues, they will continue to haunt you. The Bible says: ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive others.’ It means that if you don’t forgive others of their shortcomings of whatever, anything you ask for under that atmosphere, solution cannot come your way. Therefore, I am not begrudging anybody. Dimeji Bankole who took over from me is not my enemy because that seat is meant for one person at a time. Like I said, if I had to leave the place, definitely somebody has to step into the position. I was so happy that he was the one chosen to replace me because Dimeji Bankole is one of those that I trained from the South-West. So, if he took over from me, I accepted it with all pleasure. But at the initial stage, you know he had to fight for the seat and when you have 360 members with divergent views, you cannot rule out bickering and all sorts of things. You know some may have told him that; ‘Mrs Etteh is this and that, she doesn’t wish you well’. So at that initial stage, he withdrew from me but towards the latter part of the session, he came to me and we embraced each other and as far as I am concerned, it’s a forgotten issue. The issue of my removal was not even about Dimeji Bankole at all. They just gave the seat to him; it could have been given to someone else. The real issue was that there were just some people who believed that Etteh should not be there and I didn’t want to fight anybody. I didn’t know many of the people except that we all met at the National Assembly.

What is your true political affiliation now? Is it true that you are no longer in the Peoples Democratic Party?

Well, I have moved to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and do not owe anybody any explanation for that because I believe that party politics is like friendship. If I believe that your ways tally with mine, then we become friends but if I know that what you are doing does not augur well with me and I don’t want to offend you, all I need to do is to step back a bit. Let me tell you, I have one thing: If I know that I love somebody and he is doing something that I don’t like and I don’t want to offend him, I will kneel down and pray to God saying, Please Father, I don’t even want to meet this person on the way not to talk of crossing his or her path. I don’t want anything that will make us to quarrel. God has always been granting me that prayer. I just believe that PDP was not there when I believed that it should be there. Yes I finished my tenure as a member of the House of Representatives, I went away to do other things, but by any stretch of imagination they cannot change history. Nobody can change the history that I was the number four citizen of this nation. Nobody can say that I was never the Speaker of the House of Representatives; but you cannot continue to begrudge everybody. If God says that we are going to flow together, we flow together but if God says otherwise, no one can change it. I came back from abroad and saw the way things were going and so many factors can be responsible for one’s movement from one party to the other. In my own case, my own state and all the people have all gone into APC. This is a party willing to accept you, extending a hand of friendship and this another party carrying good and stick and calling dogs to come and eat. So that was how I left PDP. I left not because I am annoyed with anybody or begrudging anybody or any political party.

What is you view on the just concluded national convention of the PDP, your former party?

Well what happened last Saturday at the convention of the PDP… Well, I was wide awake when the convention was on live television. As a politician, you must know what is going on around you whether it is in your party or other parties. So, I watched the proceedings on television until I saw that what was going on was no longer interesting and I had to go to church early the following morning, I decided to go to sleep. I was in the church till about 4.00pm on Sunday and I don’t take my phone to church because I want to concentrate. The Bible says: ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God, what is God’s.’ When I came back, had my lunch and went to have my rest. However, when I switched on my phone I discovered that a lot of people had been calling me and messages were pouring into my phone. So, I was wondering what could be happening in the country. Is anything happening in Nigeria? You know, once something is happening, you will see people calling and sending messages all over the place. So, I decided to open the messages and the first one I read said: ‘Ma, have you crossed to PDP?’ The question did not make sense to me. Then somebody called to tell me that they listened to the acceptance speech of the new National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus and that he mentioned my name. By that I did not even know that it was Secondus that finally got the mandate. Initially, I thought may be somebody wrote the speech for him and added my name. But in politics, you don’t leave anything to chance; you don’t leave fire on the roof. It is not about Secondus; it’s not about PDP; but it’s about letting people know where I belong and where I stand. If I am standing with PDP, I should stand upright and I will say my mind. Now that I am in APC, people must know that I am in APC and there should not be any misgivings. Every other name mentioned in the speech are all in PDP except me. So if I keep quiet and I don’t talk, then APC will start thinking that I have returned to PDP. Already, some people from my state were insinuating that some of us who joined them from PDP are still eyeing PDP. So it will be very wrong of me to see such things happen and keep quiet. Why is it that it was when they wanted to use my name that they remembered that there was one Mrs Etteh somewhere? If I were a man, they would have been coming to me and we would have been flowing together in agenda, but because I am a woman and I need to respect myself, there is little that I can do. I cannot be seen moving anyhow; I need to respect myself. If I am called upon to attend a meeting, for Christ’s same, I will be there but I cannot just be everywhere. When there is a mistake, concerning my person, I think I have every right to correct it. I know the National Chairman (Secondus) very well, I knew him when I was in PDP. I know that personally, he is a nice man and if PDP says that is the man they want, what is my headache about it? But all I’m saying is that I am no longer in PDP. So, I expected him to apologise for mentioning my name in their gathering.

Don’t you think mentioning your name and prominent people was merely beckoning on you to return?

I won’t lie to you that they have not approached me. They came but there is an adage in Yoruba that says: What you are not going to eat, you don’t even smell it. You don’t want to perceive its aroma. They invited me and they also said they wanted to even come to my house in the village. I told them that I was busy and I was really busy. The date they said they wanted to come, I was engaged in a committee that was seeking reconciliation of members of our party in Kogi State. I mean APC members who were having problems with their governor in that state. Secondly, I am no longer interested in PDP.

Why do I have to honour their invitation? If you start honouring such invitations, along the line they may change and begin to ask you something that may change your mind. But again, don’t get me wrong because the people that are in PDP are the same people that are in APC. People have the freewill to move to any party , but something must provoke you to move. For now, nothing is provoking me because I am comfortable where I am.

The truth is that if I want to return to PDP, the party will be willing to have me but the issue is that where I am today, I am more than comfortable. I can say that today I am in APC and the APC is working for me because we are able to put our heads together to chart a new course for this country.

What would I say that I am running up and down for? But I believe that if my name is mentioned I have every right to correct the wrong impression and let everyone knows where I stand. In any case, since I’ve been on sabbatical leave, why are they just remembering me? But in law, people interprete issue in the way it suits them. Some people are already saying I was planning to go back to the PDP whereas others are saying that even if I wanted to go, PDP should not take me back. They should leave me alone. They cannot interprete my movement or intentions for me. If tomorrow, per-adventure, if there is something wrong, there is a way of sitting together with party leaders to reason together and correct the issues. It is where you cannot correct issues that they become problems. Any decision you take at that point, nobody will blame you for it. So for now, I just think that even in future, if any party doesn’t do well, we will not hide it because the essence of being a leader is to be able to say the truth. It’s to be able to make sure that you care for the interest of Nigerians and not an individual. You don’t join a party because of an individual. You join politics to be able to be relevant and useful to your community and Nigeria.

Still on the PDP Convention, there have been insinuations that the South-West was cheated. Do you agree?

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to make any comment on that issue. The reason being that I’m not with them and I don’t know how they started this journey. It will be very wrong of me to sit in judgement over the matter. However, in the political climate of this country, let me say it loud and clear that there is no way you can marginalise the South-West because we are talking about elections; we are talking about votes which a region can deliver. By the time you take North- West out of Nigeria, the next place is South West. So if you now believe that the South-West does not deserve anything, you need to think twice. Yes, I said I don’t want to dabble into it but if what I heard is correct, they said that this particular slot, National Chairman, was zoned to the South-West, meaning that no other zone should go and fight for it. They (South-West) should fight internally and bring out their own candidate. So I don’t want to judge; I don’t want to dabble into it, but I believe that if they reached that decision and the position belonged to the South West and they later went to involve other zones, then there must be a reason for that, that is clear to them and not me. I don’t know anything; I’m not in PDP.

During the last senatorial rerun in Osun State, the PDP defeated your party and some analysts believe that PDP could take over the state in the next governorship election. What do you think?

Let me give you an analysis of what happened in the rerun. The senatorial district you are talking about is where I come from and I think that I am in a proper place to say something about it. There were a lot of indices responsible for APC losing that seat to PDP. A major reason is the numerical strength of the district. Just like we earlier mentioned, the strengths of the North-West and South-West, North-East, South- South, South-East and North-Central differ. The same thing is applicable in Osun State, particularly Osun West Senatorial District where the late Senator Isiaka Adeleke came from. If you are talking about the strength of each local government in Osun West Senatorial District, you will realise that Ede where our Senator emerged from has a high population you cannot ignore. Again, don’t also forget what happened that the late Sen. Isiaka Adeleke was once a governor in that state. Definitely, whether he did it rightly or didn’t do well, he must have had his own clout and many of his people may have just voted in support of his brother out of respect for his demise. So if you marry these two factors, you can see that they were sufficient to sway the votes in favour of the PDP. But let say it clearly that it was not an issue of the PDP and APC. It was about a protest vote in support of the candidate’s late brother; it was about the total vote- Omo wani ( he is our son). Finally, the issue of APC and PDP is a different factor. As at the time the Senator discovered that he cannot get the APC ticket, if he had gone to any other political party at that time, honestly speaking, he would have won. Therefore, it is not about the race between PDP and the APC. You can’t judge it that way and it is not over until God says it is over. The governorship election in Osun State comes up on September 22, 2018. God spearing our lives, we will all be there and you never can tell, anybody can spring surprises but I know that APC is on the ground in the state.

How do you see the recent defection of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, from the PDP to APC?

Well, to me I am not blaming Atiku Abubakar for moving to the PDP. He is a politician to the core and he knows what is good for him. He is matured enough politically. Secondly, if he feels like this is the party that can take him to his Promised Land, then nobody should fault him. Let him try; he was there before and he still believes he has some people there who can give him the support to win. He believes he can give the APC a run for its money. So, please nobody should judge anybody. If he thinks defecting to the PDP is the best way to go about it, the choice is entirely his. He cannot choose for me, I cannot choose for him because I believe that everybody knows what is good for him at a particular time. Even if you are choosing for people, I don’t think that Atiku is somebody anybody can choose for; he knows what he wants. For him to take that decision, he must have been thinking and consulting with his followers over a period of time because it is not a decision you take overnight. So, I don’t think anybody should judge him for moving.

If you are opportune to go back to public office, what would you do differently?

Well, let me put it this way that the issues that I did not know then are now known to me clearly. You have to know your friends. You know who your friends are when you go through the thick and thin of life. And now that I am a lawyer, I think I know my rights better now. Outside that, I believe that I tried my best for that short period of being the Speaker. I thought I could correct so many things that needed to be corrected and I was all out to do that while the tenure lasted. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do what I was planning. I thought I could wait until I get to the cruising altitude and now look at issues such as appropriating money for Ministry of Works, Health and other critical sectors and they will not utilise the funds. I was looking forward to putting on my jeans one day and just call the Minister of Works and said I am going to inspect that project today, let’s meet there. Come and give me an account of the money that was appropriated. But I am 100 per cent sure that they had seen the handwriting on the wall, that they will not be able to control this lady. You know it is very difficult to control a lady once she knows what she is doing is right. Contrary to the opinion in some quarters, ladies are capable of delivering results when they have the opportunity to serve. But it appears, some people just sat down and said; ‘we need to get rid of her’. I knew it was a coalition of forces, not only within the House of Representatives, but outside of it. They said that it was because she was removed from an exalted position, that is why she has been out of circulation. No. I don’t like to be idle at any time. I don’t want to move frivolously. I move when I need to move; I do what I am supposed to do and I do my things diligently. So if I have any other opportunity to serve the public, I will just be myself as always.

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Interview

Adaka Boro’s agitation now moneymaking venture –King Opuokun

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His Royal Majesty, King Okpoitari Diongoli Opuokun the IV, the Ibedaowei of Opokuma Kingdom is a journalistturned- traditional ruler. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he touched on many issues. Excerpts…

 

What are the objectives of the PAN Niger Delta People’s Congress?

I was one of the key drivers of the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress. For purposes of emphasis and clarity, let me state that what the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress had always advocated was a paradigm shift in their leadership of the Niger Delta. We now have a new leadership. The leadership that was there then had served the Niger Delta and the Ijaw Nation credibly, and it was time for them to bow out when the ovation was loudest. There is a difference between the leadership of PANDEF and PANDEF as a body.

How comfortable were you with leadership of Pa Edwin Clark?

The leadership was headed by Pa E.K Clark at that time and for over 50 years, he was at the forefront of the struggle for the economic and political emancipation of the Niger Delta People. Even in the civil service or public service, if a man had worked up to 35 years, government policy is for such a person to retire. So, for me, it was a matter of principle. The Niger Delta is blessed with abundant human and material resources. We have people who are capable of leading the Niger Delta struggle.

After all, how old was Isaac Adaka Boro when he embarked on the 12-day revolution with his people. Incidentally, we are marking the 50th anniversary of his death. Look at what is trending in the world now. Today, France has a president that is just barely 40 years. The president of North Korea is about 33 years or there about. It is the global trend.

The world is moving towards a direction. And if you look at this country, right from the time of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, even our military heads of state were not old men. There were some a little less than 30. Some a little above 40.

That is the age where you can have effective leadership. So on a matter of principle, I have nothing personal with Pa EK Clark. I respect him and will continue to do so. But on principle, it was better to bow out when the ovation was loudest and that was my position and our position.

But to God be the glory, people saw reasons with our positions and today as we speak, there is a new executive in place. Even though I still hear of Pa E.K. Clark attending certain programmes and functions which I’m not too comfortable with but it is not a personal thing. If it is a collective decision that he should be there so be it. But the truth of the matter is that as Izon people Izon means truth, we need to tell ourselves some bitter truth. It is time for us to organise a befitting reception to tell the man thank you for serving the Ijaw Nation and for serving the Niger Delta. Let him retire and stay at his home in Kiagbodo.

That is his home town. Let him stay there and let the leadership of the Niger Delta, the leadership of Izon nation, the leadership of IYC and even some of the governors of the Izon-speaking states go to him at Kiagbodo to brief him.

To consult with him. If there are issues if they need to discuss with him, let them go and consult and seek his fatherly advice. That makes him a more honoured and respected elder statesman and father of Izon nation, not by him going from one place to the other.

It does appear that we are people who do not have regard or appreciate the efforts of our heroes past. For me that is my position. And I think that those of us who started the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress that has been our position. It was not a personal thing. Well it is also possible that there may be one or two persons that may have had some beef with him. But count me out. I’m not part of that.

How do you see the Adaka Boro’s struggle?

When Adaka Boro and his team of lieutenants started the struggle and engaged the Federal Government in a 12-day revolution, it was driven by ideology, principles, passion, based on fundamental human right.

The people of the Niger Delta, the oil-bearing communities were deprived, alienated from government. What Boro and his team did was to draw attention of the government to injustices meted out to the people of the Niger Delta.

That was why he talked about self-determination. And Boro didn’t start the call for self-determination. The London conference of 1957 where Sir Aaron Dappabriye presented a position paper of the Niger Delta people and in the London conference the Niger Delta delegation called for self-determination. And it was as a result of that call and one of the resolutions of that call was that the Niger Delta has been declared a special area that deserves special attention.

Unfortunately till day the area designated as Niger Delta region has not been given that desired attention. But when Boro took up arms with his team, they re- echoed that same demand. Self-determination, resource control, devolution of powers to enable the Niger Delta people and the state to develop according to their own ability and resources available.

But I must tell you that the struggle today as it is, is a far cry from the foundation that was laid by Boro and his team. Each time I meditate on the position of Boro and the present state of the struggle, I weep. I bleed in my heart. The struggle has been commercialised.

Contractors are now taking advantage of the struggle to line their pockets to make billions of naira for themselves while the majority of the people are suffering. The issues that made Boro and his team to take up arms against the federal government are still left unattended to.

This year’s edition is the 50th anniversary after the struggle. Where are we? Niger Delta and indeed the Nigeria state is still in a state of tatters and rested development. Nothing is moving and nothing is working. But I think it has become worse because those who are claiming to be fighting for the people of the Niger Delta are doing so for their pocket. Not for the collective good of our people.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Boro, my message to our people is that let us continue to be guided by the ideals of and vision that Boro and his team stood for and as a young boy when I came from Lagos to attend secondary school in Kaima, I lived in Boro’s fathers house.

Infact for the records Boroh’s father then was still alive and he was instrumental for my gaining admission to Government Secondary School, Kaima and before we moved to the hostel, I lived with him in his house. That was in 1976. This is 2018, that same building is still standing there. It is even worse.

What is the goal of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress?

We stand for restructuring. We stand for resource control. We stand for devolution of powers from the national. The central government is just too powerful. The central government is too far from our people. And then we want our people, the Niger Delta people and the Ijaw nation to feel the impact of government.

The government is too far and then the little resources that get to our state. Look at every month, our state government go to Abuja for a handout which will barely be enough to pay salaries.

Where are the mega projects? It is only the federal government that can embark on a mega project. But if they want the state to do that, then reduce the federal allocation and increase the state allocation and that of local government. And then their responsibilities too, reduce their responsibilities at the federal level or central level and then increase the responsibilities of the states with funds so that they can do major projects.

Is restructuring an agenda for the 2019 election?

Well I’m a royal father, and as you know, and as royal fathers, we are supposed to be apolitical. Therefore I will not want to comment on 2019 but restructuring is the way to go. There is no way out. There is no option at all.

So any government that does not talk about restructuring then the government is not listening and is not sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. I can tell you this from the North to the West, from the South to the East, it is one song that everybody is singing including the North now.

They are now talking about restructuring. So any government that says you are the government of the people, by the people and for the people, then you should do what the people say and what Nigerians want, I think is restructuring because it is overwhelming.

Is it right for traditional rulers to remain apolitical when they have something to offer?

Our democracy is still evolving. It is an emerging one. Besides, the key players are also not developed. As we talk about restructuring of the polity, the economy of this country, we need to also restructure the political class.

The political class are also not matured enough. Anybody that comes from any political party supposed to be our subject. We are supposed to be neutral as fathers so that when they come, we receive them, bless them and wish them well. If royal fathers and traditional rulers begin to shift from that responsibility and want to be partisan, there will be problem.

And because our political class are also not mature enough or our democracy is not mature enough, if the person eventually wins, they would want to say this traditional ruler didn’t support me so, I will also not support him or I will want to dethrone him and all that. And by so doing, you would have exposed your stool and crown to political manipulation and ridicule.

And you are carrying the crown, the banner of an entire kingdom, therefore it is not you. For instance, in my kingdom, it is not about me Okpoitari Diongoli. It’s about the Opokuma people by extension the Kolokuma Opokuma people and by extension the Ijaw Nation. And I’m seen as father and a monarch.

If I expose my stool to political manipulations and all the rest of them, then it must have been an error in judgment. Therefore you can really excuse the monarchs because our political culture is not as developed as that you have in the western world.

You were talking about PANDEF being led by old men but we equally know that an old man is leading Nigeria.

It’s unfortunate, I think it is an irony of fate because he became Head of State in 1983 as military leader. Officially he is 76 years or there about. Now from 1983 let’s assume and this is 2018, if you do the mathematics, you will know how many years. So, how old was he? How old was Gowon?

How old was Ibrahim Babangida? How old was Sanni Abacha when they were heads of state? In other words, I think somebody is trying to run away from the truth. Even the policy of the federal government and the state when a public servant serves for 35 years whichever one that come first. If you are less than 65 after your 35 years in service, you retire. If your 35 years coincides with your 65 years, you retire. So, I think that our youths are not lazy.

We have youths that are creative, innovative, youths that are industrious and compete with their peers elsewhere. And that has been proven again and again. When our youths go outside the country whether in the academics, whether in sporting arena, whether in the movie industry, they do very well.

We export some of the best. I think it is not fair. It was not appropriate. It was a misjudgment to describe youths of Nigeria as lazy. Youths of Nigeria are very strong.

Do you not think there should be a time limit for a politicians to retire?

My personal opinion now is that if we need to have leaders who are very functional and will be effective at all levels, that leader should not be more than 60 years. But we have a problem, the constitution does not place any limit or age barrier for anybody who is qualified to contest election.

Age barrier is not one of the criteria and then the electorate that will elect or determine who becomes their leader. So, I’m just an individual monarch. My individual opinion may not really count in this circumstance.

But if you ask my personal opinion, I will tell you that if a leader is more than 60 years, he should bow out and allow fresh minds, younger people to lead the country, to lead the state, to lead at all levels. That is where I stand and even for PANDEF and Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress or indeed any other organisation.

Do you think the oil companies have treated their host communities well?

My position is known to the industry very well. Multi nationals have always stood by the people, for the people and I have always told them. Answering your question directly, I will tell you no. The multi nationals have not been fair to the impacted communities. But you see, when you engage them constructively, they have their own sides of the story.

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Business

Gunwa: Why it’s difficult to enforce compliance in Nigeria’s maritime

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Chief Executive Officer, Maritime Service Limited, Mrs Juliana Gunwa, in this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, says the only way to address Nigeria’s maritime sector’s challenges is to domesticate and enforce necessary maritime conventions. She also speaks on sundry issues impeding maritime development in Nigeria. Excerpts

 

What is your take on maritime pollution reception facilities in the country?
Nigeria’s reception facility at the Snake Island is one of the best in Africa, but it only covers two aspects of the Maritime Pollution (MAPOL) Convention. It covers garbage, which is annex five of MAPOL and covers oil, which is annex one, so they have receptacles for two of the six annexes. We have the one that can cater for garbage annex five and annex two for oil.

The facility is highly sophisticated and is comparable to what is available in America, Europe or any of these developed countries. So, I give kudos to Nigeria for that as a country.

But we still need to put some things in place; for instance, we need training for our staff. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is doing a lot in that aspect, but we need to train more. We need to have a number of well- trained surveyors to be able to go on board. We have so many vessels coming in and I believe that the number of surveyors are not enough to board vessels on regular basis to ensure compliance.

So, we need staff that are well trained in this area; staff that are competent and confident to go on board to challenge operators that do not comply with rules. Also, Nigeria as a maritime nation must start to encourage private operators to come together and own vessels. Government should encourage them because we all know that vessels ownership is capital intensive.

So, there will be need for us, either at governmental level or operational level, to have vessel of our own so that we can effectively participate in lifting of cargos in this country. We need to have record of how many vessels have been detained for lack of compliance. These are some of the things we need to work on. The moment IMO sees us working on these; the world itself will know that Nigeria is working.

How can government address the incessant failure of Nigeria to attain category C of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council seat?
I was part of the country’s struggle and efforts to get into IMO’s council seat at different times. I even coordinated a number of programmes when we regained our seat on category C of the organisation.

The category C of IMO council is a very key seat to occupy. One thing I know is that once you are a member of the council, you are part of decision making.

For instance, when new conventions are introduced, you have the right to either support it or disagree with it, depending on the level you think you are operating in the nation. But if you are not a member of the council, you are just an observer and you have no say.

Some unknowledgeable people have been asking question as to what will the country gain from being a member of the council. We have a lot to gain as a maritime nation apart from the fact that it is prestigious to be on the council. Without being there, there is no way we can run our shipping locally, it is not possible. So, for us now, we must put our house in order to get back to IMO council.

It is very important for us to look inward and look at areas that are of concern to the International Maritime Organisation and one of such areas is ensuring that the conventions are implemented. Also, we should go a step further to ensure domestication of all these conventions because if they are not domesticated, we cannot effectively implement then.

Can you shed more light on this?
If there is a vessel that comes into our waters for instance and failed to comply with any of the provisions of the conventions and we have not domesticated those conventions, we can’t charge them to court unless we domesticate the conventions, which would give us the legal backing.

So, we must ensure that we are not just ratifying these conventions; we should go a step further to domesticate them. Effort must be put in place for effective implementation and in carrying out the implementation; NIMASA should try to have stakeholders’ meeting.

It does not end there, we need to have more interactive sessions with the operators and that is one thing my company tends to achieve. We must work with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to ensure some of the requirements are put in place and it is only when they are put in place that we can carry out enforcement.

So, if we put necessary things in place, it is not going to be news to IMO, because the organisation will get to know that Nigeria has all of these in place.
How do you want government to tackle leadership issue in the industry? Nigeria is a unique country and most of our issues are likely political.

I still want to believe it is good, if we can get a maritime leader, somebody with maritime background, to be the one that will pilot the affairs of the maritime agencies. Having said that, the industry can still have a politician at the helm of affairs, but such a person must have experienced hands to work with.

With that, such a politician will be able to do well. I know so many professionals that are out there that their competencies could be required and utilised by these agencies, however they are not being utilised.

For instance, a lot of professionals have retired from NIMASA and there is no reason why the agency cannot go out and engage some of them as consultants

. I believe some other agencies do this and these professionals do not need to be part of the day-to-day workings, but they should be there to guide and offer advice that will be helpful to run the agencies.

I had attended a lot of IMO meetings during my 35 years of service because I started attending when I was at the Federal Ministry of Transport. One thing I realised the developed countries do differently from us is that some of the international delegates of countries such as China, United States, Norway, Canada and others had been there for between 20 and 30 years.

I knew some of the delegates who had been there consistently. I knew them, they knew me, they bring in new people, but the older ones are still there to guide them until they are fully retired. Even by the time they are fully retired, they still keep them as advisors.

What is happening in Nigeria is lack of consistency. We are not consistent in attending those meetings, especially in policy monitoring. There must be consistency because the issues discussed in the previous year won’t be same as the current year.

What is your view on leadership turnaround in NIMASA and other maritime agencies?
When you look at the turnaround of leadership in NIMASA, it has not been helpful. What happened in NIMASA is very peculiar to the agency. It has not happened that way in Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a few other maritime parastatals. I think the agency should be seen more as a professional organisation.

The way the agency is being treated, especially in term of turnaround of leadership whenever there is a new minister, has not been fair. I think you can only make change when you think a particular director general is not doing well in discharging his or mandate. From my experience, I can say I spent at least 14 to 15 years in the agency and I am sure I worked with six or seven director generals there.

Why is it difficult to have indigenous fleet in the country?
Well, I wouldn’t think it is really impossible. You know there is a precedent that NIMASA is trying to avoid. I remember several years back when NIMASA gave out some funds for acquisition of vessels, then, there was no professional machinery put in place for adequate disbursement and payback modalities. So, we found out that quite a number of people that took the fund didn’t even use it for what it was meant. Some didn’t even payback.

So, I think these are some of the things agitating the minds of the agency. Having said that, my advice is going to be that we cannot continue not to do something; everything in life is all about risk and if we are going to continue to keep safe, we are not going to make progress.

That is why I am not going to condemn but advice and that is to setup disbursement agent where finances will be managed. I know the agency is trying to setup something like that, but there should be a proposal on setting up a professional modality so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Government should put in place professional modality that will enable the agency and the Federal Ministry of Transport to adequately disburse the fund.

Is it possible for indigenous shipping companies to form a cartel in the industry? I think what we need now is encouragement, that’s what some other developed countries do. Singapore did a lot of encouragement in terms of maritime industry expansion and I believe we can do that.

If you look at the cabotage regime, you will know that there are lots of young Nigerian companies coming up to do coastal trade. I know we have some very serious-minded people who are into cabotage, though some of them may still not have the vessels because of the cost. I want to say there will be need to support professional operators that are out to promote the industry.

In my company, we have done a lot of research about what we can do on ferry service and how to go about it. But we realised it is going to be difficult because of the plenty of money required to go into this type of service without local or international partners.

How would you relay your experience in the public service and private practice?
When I was in the Department of Maritime Service in the Ministry of Transport, all I did was nothing but maritime. Thereafter, I came to the then office of Government Inspection of Shipping (GIS) that was later merged with the defunct Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA).

As I was planning to exit, I started thinking that I had benefited so much from the industry in terms of policies formulation, travelling all over the world to represent the Federal Government at different levels and acquiring additional degrees in different maritime disciplines.

At NIMASA, I was initially the head of the Maritime Safety Department, which was a unit before it later became a division. When the issue of the environment was becoming a global concern and recognised world-wide, the former director general encouraged me to set up a marine environment department and with the help of God and staff, under six months that came to pass. So, that made me to become the first director of marine environment management department unit, where I was for about over four years.

I won’t start to talk about some of my achievements but I would say that all of these have really exposed me to be in a position where authoritatively, I could talk about maritime sector in general.

I am now at a stage whereby if you wake me up and ask me any question about the maritime conventions I can roll them all out because they have become part of my life.

So, after benefiting so much from government and having also been exposed to many international forums where serious maritime issues were discussed and serous decisions were taken, I felt that one of the best ways I could continue in the industry is to set up my own outfit after my retirement.

I realised that the stakeholders would need to know more about what NIMASA, as a safety administration, requires of them and the agency would have to be in a position to pass adequate information on the relevance of some international conventions to stakeholders.

From the knowledge I gained from the agency, I felt that I would be useful in transferring knowledge to the younger generation that have come in and not yet privileged to go on any professional training from where I have benefited immensely.

 

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Interview

Ofoke: How Ebonyi revived justice system

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Ebonyi State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Cletus Ofoke in this interview with UCHENNA INYA, speaks on justice delivery system, rule of law, police, prison reforms, among others

 

How has it been as Chief Law Officer in Ebonyi State?
Well, God has been faithful and government is a continuum. When I met activities in the ministry, I quickly adapted to them and started discharging my duties accordingly. So, it has been God all the way.

That ministry belongs to a lawyer and as a trained lawyer, nothing is strange to me. In terms of administration, I have the experience. I have run my law firm for seven years before I got the appointment. I have also held many positions of trust that had to do with administration. So, combining administration with practice of law to me is not a strange thing.

What is your assessment of justice system in the state?
In Ebonyi state judicial system, the spirit is very high. The justice sector to me, is living up to its expectations; it is not a one way traffic. There are stakeholders in the justice system; the judiciary, the prison and others. Those bodies brought together have been collaborating to ensure that justice is done to all manner of people in the state.

But as a ministry, we have been discharging that which the Constitution says we should do; we have been vetting files, filing information, ensuring that people who are not connected with any offence are discharged accordingly because that is our mandate and ensuring that people that has one case or the other in court are prosecuted accordingly.

Immediately I came in as Commissioner, I had a series of meeting with Heads of Departments of the ministry and in those meetings, we were able to marshal out points on how to deliver effectively on the issue of justice dispensation in the state and they all agreed that those points were apt and that they were going to abide by it.

I think the HODs are doing their best. One, no file from police stays more than a day in our ministry without being vetted. Immediately it is vetted, if we find out that there is a prima facie case established against the accused person, we charge that person accordingly. I have also made sure that the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) is unburdened. In other words, I met backlog of cases files that were not given attention but immediately I came on board, I ensured that that those files were given urgent attention.

Again, the Department of Public Prosecution is a life wire of this ministry in terms of justice sector dispensation. Because of this, we injected more people into that department so that it will not lack manpower and that has really paid off because the law officers in that very particular department has to do with justice sector we are talking about and they are up and doing.

So, we brought on board people that are seasoned, people that have done the job for years and people that know what it takes to prosecute and what it takes to counsel where necessary. It has not been without challenges anyway but we have been able to surmount them.

The problems we are having is that at times we don’t get case files from police as quickly as possible the way they are supposed to be doing and that hinders the operation of justice dispensation in the ministry. By and large, the ministry is doing very well.

In what way would you say the backlog of case files you inherited affected justice delivery system?
The effect although we have cleared them, innocent people were languishing in prison. People that were not connected to the offences they were charged with were languishing, praying that God should intervene on their behalf. But with the promptness and with the zeal the people we have deployed to the ministry have shown, we have been able to clear those backlogs and that is what gave rise to filing of information.

In fact, more than 60 informations have been filed since I came on board and I can assure that authoritatively that we have discharged not less than 20 people.

This has to some extent decongested our prisons. Like I told you, justice sector is not about ministry of justice alone; we have other critical stakeholders. So, in terms of prison decongestion, that has really helped. Situations up to 50 files have been given attention by way of filing information and more are still coming. As a matter of fact, last week, the Department of Public Prosecution filed eleven information awaiting assignment by the state Chief Judge.

For the other ones, we discharged them because we looked at the files, why they were brought to prisons and we saw that they were innocent of the offences they were charged. When I came on board, we had about 70 case files that were not given attention but we have cleared them.

What role is the state government playing in prison decongestion?
The governor has done a lot in the area of prison decongestion. He is constructing an ultra-modern building for the state federal prisons which is about 90% completion.

He has also charged the state Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy to be up and doing and that committee is headed by myself the Honourable Attorney General. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy has met with the Chief Judge of the state; we have met up to three times and part of it is the release from prisons about 26 inmates sometime in February this year.

You can agree with me that a situation whereby 26 inmates were release from prisons will go a long way to decongest the prisons. So, the government is doing quite a lot. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy is currently looking at cases of inmates who deserve to be granted state pardon.

How cordial is the relationship between your ministry and the security agents in the state?
The relationship is very cordial. Of course, we are all partners in justice delivery and when I came on board, the first point of call was to meet with the state Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde and we had a robust discussion on how to be getting case files from police as when due so that we can vet them accordingly in line with the directive court. And I can assure you that that meeting has yielded positive result because the office of the officer in charge of legal gives us attention. Anytime my ministry staff goes there to get those files for vetting, he treats that as a priority.

In respect to the prison, we are very strong partners in progress; the relationship is very cordial. In fact, you cannot talk about prison decongestion without involving the prison officials. The Controller of prisons is a wonderful woman; Mrs. Oputa is a good woman. She came up with an idea of decongesting the prison and that position of her gave birth to a meeting with the Chief Judge of the state which resulted to releasing of 26 inmates like I told you. If the relationship is not there, that wouldn’t have been possible. Other security agencies; SSS,
Civil Defence are good partners and we have not had any challenge resulting from their various offices. We work hand in hand to make sure that our state remains number one in terms of prison decongestion.
Is rule of law on trial in the state?
Well, you already know the answer. In Ebonyi state, everything is done according to the rule of law and the dictates of the law.
Our governor believes in due process and let me inform you that he has not only been acknowledged in Ebonyi state, in the south east, but in Nigeria. He has won prestigious award of Ambassador of rule of law, good governance and anti-corruption.

That summarizes the state of rule of law in Ebonyi state. For somebody to have won the laurels among other states, tells you that in Ebonyi state law is supreme.

In terms of checks and balances, in terms of accountability, in terms of due process, our governor is number one. Whatever he does, he ensures that it is backed up by law. He is a man that listens to the wise counsel of not only jurists but also the ministry of justice which primary role is to advise government on law. And you can see that in the state, people can sleep with their eyes closed because of the attention he has given to security, because of the attention he has given to human empowerment.

In terms of the legislature, the Ebonyi state House of Assembly is an organ of government that does its own constitutional job the way it pleases the Honourable members. His Excellency, the governor does not interfere with the running of the House of Assembly.

They are free to legislate on any matter that has direct positive bearing on the people of the state and that is democracy and that is the rule of law we are talking about.

So, if our governor does not believe in rule of law, he would have been interfering with the functions of the legislative arm of government and that of the judiciary. Our Judges go about dispensing justice; our government does not interfere with how judgments are giving. In fact, some judgments are even given against government and government obeys them. We advise government and government to obey them. So, rule of law reigns supreme in Ebonyi state.

What role would the newly created Criminal Prosecution department play in justice system?
It is to monitor the inflow of criminal cases in all the courts in the state. I told you that we vet files and other things we do to ensure that there is justice delivery in the state.

The department is a very vital department in the ministry of justice and it has helped to a very large extent in ensuring that criminal prosecution go very well in the state.

The job of the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Criminal Prosecution, who is in charge of that department, does not stop at criminal prosecution. It looks at other cases that of interest to both government and individuals.

In other words, inferring with the police, the office of the O/C legal, the Nigerian prisons, the DSS because these are the agencies responsible for apprehension of criminals. He interfaces with those security agencies in respect to criminal matters that are to be given attention by both the agencies and the ministry of justice.

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