Ijaw opinion leaders, Chief Godspower Gbenekaeme, in this interview with OLA JAMES, says President Muhammadu Buhari should fulfill his promises to develop the Niger Delta as panacea to the peace process in the battered region
The Ijaws have been crying out against marginalisation for decades now, what do you think is the way out of this quagmire?
The problem is not that of the Ijaws alone. I can say that the problem of Ijaw is about the Niger Delta question. Unfortunately, the Ijaw man has always been at the forefront of a better deal for the Niger Delta people. Sadly, because they are at the forefront for the emancipation of the oppressed and badly marginalized people of the region. They have always been at the receiving end; to the extent that their neighbours have labeled them troublesome people. In fact, that is where we have found ourselves, but when the goodies come from the struggle everybody enjoys it.
What is your vision for Ijaw people?
As much as I want the Niger Delta region to be developed, the Ijaw people should not be taken for granted. In fact, a lot of commissions have been set up to develop the Niger-Delta because the region feeds the nation through the production of oil that contributes 90 per cent to the nation’s wealth. So, the idea of setting up one commission has not yielded any positive result. In fact, government should be sincere in developing the area that lay the golden egg.
What do you really want the Federal Government to do now?
Government should look at the area of restructuring. I travelled to almost all parts of this country. When you get to Abuja you will be marveled at the massive development done by the money gotten from the Niger Delta area. Unfortunately, when you come to the Niger-Delta, it is a sorry sight. No commission was set up by the Nigerian nation to build Abuja; rather oil money is being used to build Abuja and other parts of the country.
My contention is that the oil money should be used to develop the Niger Delta. Government should restructure the country so that fund gotten from each state will be used in developing that state and pay money to the central, which is federal government.
Don’t you think some Niger Delta people should be given oil blocks?
This issue of oil blocks has been misinterpreted several times. I recalled that a lot of groups from the Niger Delta have sent delegation to the presidency to talk on the development of the region. Unfortunately, there were controversies about this oil block issue. The main reason Dr Goodluck Jonathan was voted out was to make sure that the oil wells that have been given to some people be withdrawn and give them back to the people who bided for it. If a lot of Niger Deltans get concessions on oil wells, it will be better for the region.
I think it is better for us to also manage the oil wells placed around us. We are saying that Niger Delta people should also be allocated with oil wells, not a northerner or a Yoruba man, benefit from getting oil well to the detriment of the Niger Delta people who are the producer of the oil.
What is your take on the controversial Maritime University?
What do you mean by the word “controversial?” Well, you are newsman and you are entitled to your opinion. However, I believe that the university located at Okenrenkoko has come to stay.
And, it will be difficult for people to wish it away through mere propaganda and inflammatory talks. I repeat again that it will be very difficult for anybody to talk of relocating or disapproving the allimportant university. The people saying that the take-off campus is yet to be feasible and that there is nothing on ground are all telling lies. I tell you that the structures that are presently at the take-off site can be comparable to any other school structure in the world.
Imagine somebody in that difficult terrain, sand-filling the area and putting structures like that at Okerenkoko, and then some people will still be maligning Chief Government Ekpemupolo, who is the brains behind the building of the university. I think the university is already in place and I want to advice those that are kicking against it to change their mind. Some people say the land in which the university is located belong to them. If the land really belongs to them and such a gigantic project is being sited there why won’t they be happy?
Well, the facts are there is no history of Ijaw people driving the Itsekiris away. Ijaw People have not been conquered; neither Itsekiri people have been conquered. In fact, there could be misunderstanding between the two ethnic groups. They have always cohabited peacefully. The best thing is for us to live in peace and chart a way forward for the needed development.
At Ogidigben, an Itsekiri community there is the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) project and the gas component project while the deep sea port is in Ijaw side. We can achieve more if we come together and embrace peace. At this time of economic recession, we need such projects. I still want to preach peace because development can only come when there is appreciable peace.
We are presently experiencing economic recession, what advice do you have for the Federal Government on ways to resolve it?
The Federal Government has communication engagement problem. Since the visit of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to the Niger Delta area the production of oil has raised sharply, no militancy and there has been appreciable peace in the region. So, the problem at present is engagement and communication issue. Let them communicate the real thing to the people and they will listen. And government should be prepared to implement their promises to the people. I think the Vice-President has done well by visiting the Niger Delta to see things for himself. However, he has tried as much as possible to fulfill the promises he has made to the people of the area. He should also know that the Niger Delta people are slow to anger, but can react violently if they want to. My advice is that government should continue to engage the people and fulfill the promises made to them.
For some time now there have been peace, how will the peace process be sustained?
One of the biggest issues now is the militarization of the region. For instance, there are the Army and Navy boats at Oporoza; they are still increasing the presence of the military in the area. The Federal Government does not even understand that even if 50 barracks are built in the riverine area people can still deal with the military and destroy the so-called house boat. It is not about the presence of the military house boat that has brought about the present peace process in the volatile region. It is as a result of the visit of the Vice-President. I tell you, the so-called military personnel and a bit of criminality and illegal bunkering.
It is not Ijaw men that are doing the illegal bunkering; rather it is the military in the riverine communities that are doing the illegal bunkering. In fact, government should demilitarize the area and allow peace to reign; it is too unbecoming of the military deployed to maintain peace in the area because they have caused a lot of havoc and problems. I recall early last year when the Army killed a young man and my people revolted but I intervened and calmed the situation and the deceased was buried without any trouble. In truth, the Army is terrorizing our people but we decided to remain calm because there is something we are looking at; it is not that we are afraid.
Do you have faith in President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption?
I don’t like talking about this corruption of a thing. I am worried about his crusade about corruption. Look at this scenario. Our Minister of Aviation, Rotimi Amaechi, who the Rivers State Government’s panel has indicted seriously for using the state money for Buhari’s campaign is the man presently in government. He (Buhari) is selective in his anti-corruption crusade. I am not happy over his so-called fight against corruption. For instance, for two years now how many people has he sent to jail? How much has he recovered and, where is the money? So, this issue of corruption is painful and time wasting. I am seeing a situation where the present government will be worse than Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s government. In fact, there are so many corrupt officials in Buhari’s government and he is not doing anything about it.
Can you comment on the activities of herdsmen killing people across the country?
Let me tell you frankly that the so-called herdsmen are Boko Haram members. It is an extension of butchers known as Boko Haram, who are also criminals. Most of them are armed with bow and arrows as well as other dangerous weapon, like AK 47 rifles.