Ijaw must be pacified for oil production to rise — EK Clark

Elder statesman, Chief Edwin  Clark, is the leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF,  and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum,  SMBLF. In this interview,  he bares his mind on issues relating to the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, and the state of the Niger Delta among others. 

When you look at the amnesty programme currently, would you say it is achieving its objectives? 

There are many sections of the amnesty as proclaimed by Mr. President that covers what it is doing now, that is, taking care of the youths in order to prevent them from going back to the creeks to carry out vandalisation or disruption of oil activities. To that extent, it has gone a long way because many of the youths are satisfied with some aspects of the programme, particularly the youths who have been rehabilitated through education, which is an open avenue for development. Without education, nobody will develop. So, with the education of most of the youths, I think to that extent, the vandalisation of pipelines and disruption have reduced. Again, there are some of them who are being given some allowances every month. I think to that extent, there have been some complaints from the youths and from the administration also. I think we have tried to reconcile them and very soon, that will also be settled. 

Also, there is the infrastructure sector, which is part of the amnesty programme. But the amnesty has not touched that area of the programme at all. There are no infrastructure developments in the area. The rehabilitation of those areas that have been destroyed by oil production, which now affects the ecosystem of the area, have not been looked into. So, when oversea oil companies, like Shell or Chevron, talk about selling their onshore facilities in order to move to the offshore, one wonders, how can that be carried out when they have not done anything about the rehabilitation of the people. Pollution has destroyed everywhere, we no longer have fish, we no longer have animals, we no longer have farms and people are left naked, resulting sometimes in the operation of this illegal refinery by some of the youths. 

These are problems which the Federal Government should look into because that is the only way the federal government can satisfy the people of the Niger Delta, whose areas have been devastated from time to time. I know there are many Nigerians who complain about anything done for the Niger Delta, they complain about it, even the amnesty. People now feel that there is so much money in the amnesty and there are  so many benefits accruing to the people of the Niger Delta, therefore, it should be open to everybody. So, the people now lobby, civil servants now lobby to be posted to the amnesty. Not only that, the same thing we have been talking about the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has now  extended to the amnesty programme, which is not fair, which is not proper, and which must be resisted at all costs.  I know the President is a man with wide vision and with experience and he will be able to ensure that the amnesty programme is properly run. 

As to the idea that the place has been consuming money, that is not true. There’s no doubt that some of the people are corrupt, but that’s not enough to close the place down. We believe that the amnesty will exist side by side with whatever effort being made by the federal government in the area of security. The Navy, the Armed Forces alone, or whatever private companies we have, cannot do it alone. They need the cooperation of the indigenous people of that area, the host communities, for the security of the place to be maintained. I hope and I appeal to Nigerians who are not facing the problems we are facing in the Niger Delta not to condemn people from the Niger Delta, not to cause any type of envy or whatever jealousy. They should go to the area, go and see for themselves what the people are passing through. You see dead fishes floating on the river. You see all boats being shot down by the military. The area is now rotten and  polluted. It is beyond repair, no crop can grow there. I believe that the federal government should devote more attention to the amnesty programme and move into other areas of the scheme like infrastructure development. Most of the areas have no land again due to the years of operation. Some of the areas should now be sand filled and houses should be built for the people, like the low cost housing in many other places, which the federal government has embarked upon. They should extend these to the Niger Delta area, which produces and contributes mostly  to  the economy of this country. Sometimes we believe the Niger Delta is being treated as if we are not part of this country and that our area is being left open for destruction. The amnesty should be allowed to stay and every effort should be made to maintain peace in the Niger Delta and we are all prepared for it.

Currently, people of other ethnic groups are attacking the present man, saying that he is an Ijaw person and he should no longer lead the amnesty. What do you make of it? 

I think that’s very petty. I’m not a tribalist and everyone knows me to be so. People don’t know history. They only think of whatever they want to gain and whatever benefits that should accrue to them without finding out the background to such things, the history of the system. As I earlier mentioned, the amnesty was set up by the federal government in 2009 under the late President Umaru Yar’adua after a very long time of suffering. When the time to surrender guns came, the Ijaw had to send retired military officers, including retired Major Generals, retired Brigadier Generals and other civilians. I remember there was a committee I set up under the leadership of Ambassador Godknows Igali, they went into the creeks to meet with these youths to surrender their guns in order to have this amnesty, they did. 

But I stand to say that some of the people complaining now at that time said that they were decent and civilised people, they didn’t want to fight  government with guns, so they had no guns to surrender. Others said they were not party to it and only the Ijaw youths were involved in it. It was during the time of President Goodluck Jonathan that the thing was extended to some of them who said that they had no representation in the Amnesty Programme and they were not benefiting from it. So, some of them were granted 500 slots, 200 slots, and so forth. But the whole thing did not start as a Nigerian affair. It started from the Niger Delta, where over 60 per cent of the oil is produced by the Ijaw. It is not a new thing that the Ijaw are being used to run the place. No, it has history. I remember the first administrator was Major General Godwin Abbe ,retd, from Edo State. There were others. It was thereafter, Timi Alaibe. Another Ijaw fellow, who was the Managing Director of NDDC, was posted to be the administrator and Presidential Adviser to Mr. President. After him, Kuku, another Ijaw fellow, came in. As I said, they were dealing with Ijaw problems, problems arising from the oil exploration, where only the areas the Ijaw came from were being affected. I challenge anybody to mention, apart from that area, any other part of this country or the Niger Delta that is affected, as much as the riverine areas. 

When Kuku left, another person was appointed. Where you have about 90 per cent of the problems affecting only the Ijaw, you cannot bring somebody just like that to come and be the administrator. It must be someone who is used to the area. It must be someone who is familiar with the area. It must be somebody who understands the problems of the people. It’s not enough to sit down in Abuja every month end to distribute money, they must know where the  money comes from. Who are the beneficiaries? Who are those suffering from the exploration of oil in the Niger Delta? They are mostly Ijaw. As far as I’m concerned, I’m appealing to our youths, appealing to our politicians not to politicise this issue of amnesty. If an appointment is made, there must be a period of that appointment. If that term is completed, then you can appoint another person or you reappoint the person. Therefore, it’s not a question of whether you like this person to be appointed or you want this person to be there. 

Against this background, do you think Ndiomu should be left to complete his reforms? 

Gen Ndiomu was appointed to this position for about a year or so now and he must have been given some time frame within which to operate. If at the end of that period, Mr. President wants to reappoint him, he should do so. If he wants to take somebody, nobody would say no, and will oppose him. He is Mr. President, he is the chief executive of this country. Ndiomu should be allowed to complete the period of time. He’s a capable person, as I know him. In fact, I know him so well. His father, Maj. Gen. Charles Ndiomu, retd, I worked with him between 1967 and 68 during the war. 

I see no reason why people should be kicking against that, we don’t want more Ijaw and so on. Jealousy and envy would not help anybody. Let us live together in a country where we respect one another. No one owns this country more than the other. He should be allowed to complete his tenure. I have also written to Mr. President before on this issue, not because of Maj. Gen. Ndiomu alone. That interim administrator means nothing, it’s unknown to the law. 

When you say interim, that’s for a short time, unspecified period of time, that’s why people keep agitating that they want to take over. Every government appointment is normally specified, either for two years or for four years or for five years as the case may be. Why must amnesty be different?  When a man is in position within six months, other people are lobbying for that position. There should be a definite time limit set for that office. So, if you appoint  Ndiomu for a term of two years, let him serve his term. If you want to renew it, you could renew it if he performs well. If someone else is appointed for four years, it should be so stated. That’s what obtains in all the government agencies. The tenure of amnesty should be definite and it should be defined. It should not be called to interim or acting or whatever it is. I think that’s it. It should be a full tenure, four years tenure. After four years, if you want to bring in somebody else, you can bring somebody else. 

For instance, I may like to mention this. We must be very careful so that we do not cause problems for ourselves, which may be difficult to solve. I have appealed to Mr President several times to allow the Amnesty Programme to run smoothly, effectively, and without any disturbance and I’m still appealing to him today. The  programme is essential. It is much needed now because  security in the country, particularly the Niger Delta, is very paramount and amnesty will go a long way to solve some of these problems, to prevent further destruction of our oil. We are talking about oil theft and so on today. We must find a way to curtail, reduce anything that will cause more problems that will affect the production of oil in the Niger Delta. 

The issues around the amnesty, especially youth restiveness that has reduced, how can it be sustained? 

The youth restiveness in the Niger Delta, as I mentioned, can be reduced or could be kept at a lower ebb if the youths are paid their entitlements. Their allowances should always be paid to them and they could also be engaged. I’m happy to hear that the present administration of the Amnesty Programme has established cooperative societies where these children can come together in groups to work out something for their economic survival. If the youths are satisfied, I believe very strongly that oil production will increase in the Niger Delta and peace will continue to reign in the area.

Source: The Vanguard


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