By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta and Chioma Onuegbu (Uyo)
NATIONAL Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF and former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd)) has warned that the present insecurity could escalate, overwhelm and consume the nation, including the President, Governors and Senators, if the leadership continues to pay deaf ears to the views of others on the way out.
Nkanga, who presides over the South-South regional group, told Saturday Vanguard in an interview, “Well, I may not know exactly where the country went wrong, but I think it is when impunity became a way of government and when we started thinking that impunity is the normal way of government.”
“Some of us had spoken in the past; when you talk about Boko Haram, you talk about this, I don’t know what the underlying agenda is, but with that level of insecurity we said this is not a conventional warfare, this is a kind of insurgency, tackle it the way it should be, look into the problems. There must be some kind of understanding. What is their problem? Win the minds and hearts of the people. I can tell you the way we are going about it, this war may never end.
“If you think that you can go there and bomb them, it will just be escalating and going the way it is because you have not paid attention to the origin of these problems. It started with Boko Haram, today they are not probably going by that name again. Nobody is talking about Boko Haram and where it is restricted anymore, you will just hear bomb blast in Borno state, some in the North East. Nobody thought that they would go to the North West, going into Zamfara and Katsina. Now they are calling it banditry. At the present, it is going to the South West. Therefore, these are the dangers and I hope well- meaning Nigerians will see that what we are saying is challenging the legitimacy of the administration.
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“They better see it; people must be dissatisfied with something, it is they are not carried along, they are not allowed to express themselves or they do not see the opportunity to express themselves. You cannot handle the country as if we are in a military barracks, it will not work.
“Some people are dissatisfied with something, so go back to the basics, and now some are calling for summit, they want people to sit down and talk. However, people have talked before, they made recommendations, and you did not implement them for whatever reason. It is not the person that carries the message that is important, but the message itself.
“If they are talking about conference, there was a national conference in 2014 and over 600 recommendations were made, and about 490 very well respected Nigerians sat down and put that together, you just put it in the cupboard. Many of the things happening today including the insecurity, solution are inside there. Sometimes you see them try to bring out one of the recommendations to do, so why are you rejecting it?
“And even there before 2014 confab, there were some others, which the 2014 conference took into consideration, so why can’t you take it and implement it. The government lives for the people, it is not the people living for government. Therefore, if this is what the people want, if this is what will make them to be at ease, why not pay attention to it and accept it. Nobody has monopoly of knowledge.
“Few days ago, I heard them talking about security summit, that one is coming from the National Assembly, the Senate. That is well and good, but they had one and I was a participant, recommendations made, they have not done anything about it and they are calling for another one.
“ So, the way out is for you to listen to the other people, look at the problems that started this in the first instance, provide good governance, be a listening government and implement what was jointly agreed , not just what a few people want to see.
“People are beginning to question the legitimacy of the administration. When the problem gets beyond the administration, if they cannot handle it, everybody will be consumed, including those in government today. Do not think that because you are a President, a governor, a senator that you will be spared. Warlords will emerge.
“Let them go to Somalia, Liberia , Rwanda and see what happened there and some infantile sycophants are coming out to say all is well. Not all is well. Do not compare what had happened at every other administration, look at what is happening now because some will come out to say ah, before 2015 this was happening. We are not talking about those who died before 2015; we are talking about those who died now.
“Stop the carnage, people were not killed like they are killing them in the South West now. You cannot go safely from Abuja to Kaduna without people escorting you with helicopters. The world is watching us. The point is that even if it is one human being that dies, it would diminish us. Do not sit in Lagos and think that it is somebody in Maiduguri that died; therefore, it should not worry you. Do not stay in Sokoto and say it is somebody in Calabar, it should not worry you, it should worry us. The life of one person should matter to all of us,” Nkanga said.
PANDEF, FG not in dialogue now
On the apparent lull in the relationship between the group and Federal Government, he asserted, “Yes, the observation that PANDEF is not in dialogue with Federal government, I think to an extent is correct. But it is not a fault of ours and I must admit we met the president on 1st of November, 2016 and it was agreed then that the points we presented, the 16-point agenda, which actually covered most of the problems of the Niger Delta, that it will be a working paper.”
“We started as a dialogue, unfortunately it changed to monologue and today there is no ‘logue’ at all. It is not because we do not want to, we have always been there, there was a strategic work plan they hinted and we were quite excited about it. That was the first area we realized that they were not carrying us because they consigned it to a ministry and they kept telling us that they are working on it.
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“It was moved from the Vice President’s office, but some relevant ministries were supposed to be part of it. Therefore, they said we should send some representatives, which we sent and by the time, they went they said they had already completed the paper. We were quite upset because they did not have any input from us and they said they had completed it.
“Since then, it is just once in a while you hear them say they are doing something. Not much is coming out there, in fact, we realized at the end that rather than look at the Niger Delta and the problems that are there, they just gave that programme same budget of about 3,4, 5years and it just encompassed the original budget of the Niger Delta.
“So when they now published that they are going to put so much trillion, which is actually the budget of Niger Delta, not about the PANDEF demands. We have been appealing to the youths of the Niger Delta to exercise patience, but invariably if there is no dialogue, today it is because the Federal government has failed to bring out the dialogue.
Govt not addressing our demands
Nkanga said PANDEF had made some efforts to get government back to the dialogue table, but it looked unwilling. “On our own we have tried to remind them, because especially with the pressure that came from the youths. We keep telling them let us do something that will make the young people to at least appreciate that there is something happening, that we care for them. I think with the benefit of hindsight, that meeting we had with the president may have been out of pressure because that was the time that the Niger Delta Avengers and some other groups said that they were going to blow up all the pipelines.”
“In fact, that was when we went into that recession. Therefore, when we talked with the president they (agitators) said okay, because of the meeting we had that they were going to give a window, that there would be ceasefire and they did. Moreover, we know that the oil production that had come down to about 600,000-700,000 barrels a day, actually climbed up again to about 2.3million barrels a day.
“It was good enough to get us out of the recession and do a lot of things. However, what is painful is that even when that came, all the demands of the Niger Delta, nothing was done about them, not even the East -West Road. They used that to do other things; Of course, we find it difficult now talking to these younger people, which is the situation.
Niger Delta agitators are fuming that PANDEF, which pressured them to cease fire, has not been able to get federal government implement the demands presented to Buhari, they see it as leadership failure. What do you say about this?
He disagreed that PANDEF leaders were ones that failed the people, saying, “Well, it is not leadership failure. Yes, they have not implemented the demands, but we cannot beat them up, we cannot fight them. This is a country, there is a constitution and there is a government. We have spoken about it at every fora. When there was a programme the other day in Lagos, I went there, every opportunity we have; we say something about it that they have not done anything.”
“If government is sensitive, if government cares about the people, of course they know that we did this in good faith, hoping that by the time they do some of those things, at least show political will, and it is not everything in the 16-point agenda that require money, that is the mistake some people are making. Some are saying that those things involve so much money. They are not just interested. What some of them, especially the very senior people in government say is that when Jonathan was there, why did he not do it for them, which is really, very sad.
“In a country like this, is that what we do? When your person is there, he should do everything for you. That is not a country, if we had an agreement and the agreement they refused to implement it, it is insincerity, which is all I can say about that.
PANDEF, Ohaneze, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum not at war with Buhari
The PANDEF chair faulted the notion that the the group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum were always at loggerheads with President Buhari and his government, saying, “I do not even agree with that and I do not think they are at loggerheads with Buhari government.”
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He stated: “One way, this is a democracy, therefore everybody is entitled to his opinion. If we have freedom of opinion and freedom of choice, we should be able to say this is what is good for your people. The Ohaneze will always say what they believe is good for the people that are under that umbrella that they are looking at, that will make them citizens with equal opportunities in the country, so with Afenifere, so with PANDEF.”
“But if you now have a federal government that does not seem to allow them to express themselves to the benefit of their people, it is not being at loggerheads, it is just difference of opinion. In addition, whenever you are in a democracy; whenever you believe what is happening is unsuitable to your people, it is not fair to your people you must speak out. We have said it very clearly that we cannot live in a country where we are supposed to be equal citizens with equal opportunities, then some people will behave as if they are first- class and others are second- class.
“Nobody will allow that or look at it and smile, it is only an idiot that will smile when they are making his future generation to be second class,” he added.
Why PANDEF threw its weight behind Atiku
Challenged that the Federal Government distanced itself from PANDEF because it supported the presidential candidate of PDP in the last elections, Nkanga asserted, “Well that is unfortunate. In fact, when those regional bodies first came together, not only just PANDEF, we said we wanted as number one issue the restructuring of Nigeria, which is what will save us from the situation we found ourselves.”
“If the administration had an answer better than restructuring, we would have gone with them. However, to continue recycling the same old actions, we do not see light at the end of the tunnel, so we had a rally in Ibadan in 2016, after that, we had a rally in Yenegoa and Awka. We also had in Makurdi. When we wanted to have the major one in Lagos, they thwarted it, they postponed it twice, when we realized the ruling party did not want us, so we just said look, there is no problem.
“We later screened 16 presidential candidates; Atiku Abubakar presented the best as far as restructuring was concerned. We realized that he had talked about restructuring even before it became a national discourse. At the time we were leaving, he brought and gave us a book that he had written on it. Therefore, if you see somebody like that with so much passion, the incumbent and his party were invited but they did come.
“It was not our fault that they did not come. However, we know that they had put together a Committee headed by El-Rufai sometime ago that came back and talked about federalism, which were some of the components of restructuring, but they have not implemented it. We know that even before they came into power in 2015, they had talked about federalism, but when they got into power, they said they did not say so.
“Very recently, the president himself said we should go to the way of true federalism, which means they agree that restructuring is the answer, but I do not know, for whatever reason, they do not want to save Niggeria from this pain that we are going through. Therefore, if we saw the person that was ready to do the right thing, why should we not support him?
“If that is the reason that the federal government or the ruling party is not parleying with us (PANDEF), it means that they do not love this country, because that is what we think is good for every part of this country. They ought to do it if the love this country or is it only to rule the country that they are interested in? If they are interested in the welfare of the people of this country, they should see those things that are as important to the welfare of the people. The way they are going about it now, I am afraid we may not get it.
North will gain from restructuring more than South
The Arewa Consultative Forum is not with other regional bodies in their avowed position. Saturday Vanguard further inquired, he said, “Everybody has its own agenda, its own opinion, you are talking about is the ACF, we have the Northern Elders Forum and they are very solidly with us. Some of them are also in the Arewa Consultative Forum and it is very formidable. We meet with them. The PANDEF, Ohaneze, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum and Northern Elders Forum, we have talked in the past, we have issued communique’ on this many times.”
“So I strongly believe that they are still with us despite recent statement by their Chairman. As far as Restructuring is concerned, all the regional groups are all in one accord. Some of them too, especially those in the Northern Elders Forum have seen the truth. In fact, they might end up being the best beneficiaries of Restructuring. Let people understand what restructuring is all about. The Restructuring that we are talking about is to give everybody opportunity to contribute to the growth of the nation.
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“We want to bring back the textile industries, groundnut pyramids. If the oil finishes today, perhaps where we will turn back to is agriculture and agriculture is mostly in the North. So at that time if we do not understand what Restructuring is, will you go and take their farm products without giving them some kind of compensation and recognition? Therefore, it is for everybody. Nevertheless, we do not learn at the same time, some people will come earlier than others,” he said.
No facts on embezzling of derivation fund by govs
The Niger Delta leader said PANDEF does not condone mismanagement of national resources, but would not want to accuse Niger Delta governors of mismanaging 13 percent derivation fund without facts.
His words, “The 13 percent derivation that they are talking about, we do not have ways of knowing that. We do not like to accuse people when we do not have the facts. If they do not tar road in my village, that does not mean that they are mismanaging fund, maybe they are tarring somewhere else. We have government agencies whose responsibility it is to look at those that mismanage funds.”
“They have the responsibility to do that but not for us to go on the pages of newspapers to say you are mismanaging funds. Maybe you do not even know how much has come in. You must know how much that have come in, what they have used it for and all that before you start talking. In addition, you must have the support of the agencies that have the responsibility of investigating those things.
“We cannot send them to jail; they are the ones that can see them to jail. I think it is just a generalization. Are we reaching out to the governors, yes, we do talk to them, not only about the resources, but we say there is need for you to understand even the 16-point agenda, the restructuring, we tell them we are the advocates and you are the implementer , so there is need for us to discuss. Some of them have been very reasonable, they have been discussing with us, they see the plight and they know that they are one of us.
“So it is a sensible thing for them to see how they can work with us to achieve these things. However, some have shown very little interest and it is the truth. As it is in the entire country, some people have party, ethnic or religious considerations,” he said.