By Henry Umoru, Assistant Politics Editor
What is your take on the recent killings in Uwheru, Ughelli North and the exhuming of eight corpses?
The news of the killings did not come to me as a surprise because I am from Delta and my place is very close to Uwheru where this incident took place. For a long time now, I would say for more than 10 years now Fulani herdsmen have always caused problems in that place in their search for grazing land.
The Uwheru people who are purely farmers have always clashed with them in their attempt to drive them away from their farms and this had always resulted in some casualties of the Uwheru people.
The recent onslaught of the herdsmen did not come to me as a surprise because they are now taking advantage of the Federal Government not taking action on previous cases all over the country. We have not heard one day from the Federal Government that one Fulani herdsman has been arrested, his gun taken from him. Rather we have heard words of encouragement from those in authority.
This time, the herdsmen, particularly after the flood which normally occupy the grazing land, will come with trailers filled with cattle and drop them with the people. Sometimes they remain there and prevent the people from going to their farms until when the flood is coming again before they move back.
When I heard the governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa making a statement about the incident that took place in Uwheru, I was only shocked because he said that he learned that they did it with the assistance of some military men and investigation about that should take place.
That was the only new thing that came to me because the issue of attack of the Uwheru people had been known to me for a long time.
There is also a problem where the security officers, Soldiers and the Police in our area particularly in Delta are mostly from the North, so no action is being taken to prevent this onslaught on our people.
As a result of this, the leaders of the South, Middle Belt, that is South West, South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt met over this issue particularly the killing of people in the Southern part of Nigeria.
When we saw a report sent to us by the community, we felt very sad that this killing took place and the people had to be exhumed from shallow graves and I heard the Police say that they wanted to know who killed the people, who buried them and so on and I just smiled.
Does it mean that the villagers or the communities killed their people, buried them in shallow graves to obtain what? The credibility of their allegations against the Fulani Herdsmen or what?
We are all Nigerians and no one is more superior than the other; perhaps this is the reason many people in the country are now agreeing that we should have state police and we are waiting to see the next thing. We will be meeting with the governor of Delta State before we issue our statement on this frightening attack on our people in the South.
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We thought what is going on is mainly in the North and we all sympathize with it. So I think this matter has to be seriously looked into and we shall visit the matter again.
During the last Christmas, I was at home. One day, I received a delegation of 25 women from Ughelli South Local Council that they learned I was in town and as their leader, they had come to complain to me and I asked them: ‘What is happening?’
They said they were getting very worried because their farms have been taken over by Fulani herdsmen and they cannot go to the farms for fear of being raped or killed; that I should appeal to the governor of Delta State and use my position of being in Abuja to see what could be done for them to go back to their farms.
Similarly, my community women also reported that similar things were happening in their place that they have taken their bush called Ugborugbo and they cannot go to the farm. What type of country are we building? This is what is happening in the Niger Delta.
I also saw in the papers, the Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom who is 103years old announcing that many of his people have been killed by these Fulani herdsmen. He mentioned the names of those killed, the villages that are suffering from these types of things in his kingdom and he called on the government to come to their rescue.
We have Amotekun in the South-West and other geopolitical zones are clamouring for theirs. What is your take?
I was outside the country when I heard of Amotekun and I approved of it. I supported it. We the leaders of the South and the Middle Belt supported them and congratulated them for having the courage, the boldness and the wisdom to do what they did particularly when it is realized that only Oyo State is governed by a different party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, all the other five are All Progressives Congress, APC.
So one is very happy that leaders of our people can differentiate between what is political party and what is in the interest of their area and the country at large.
So we appeal to every area to do what the South-West has done. Community policing is not enough which is being controlled from the centre like the normal police; so I think we have to resort to self-defence as mentioned earlier by Lt. Gen. T.Y. Danjuma.
We are appealing particularly to my region, the South-South that the governors should meet and take a similar decision, no one is going to keep quiet while his home is under siege, and his people are being killed and women are helpless. That is why we supported Amotekun.
Even though there were some counter statements that were made, the people stood firm and I am happy that the law will soon be passed by the various Houses of Assembly in the South -West.
Every region or state should adopt that because that is the only way to prevent the attacks on our people. They are not uniformed men, they are not state police, and all that they are doing is to complement the police which do not have enough men to go round.
I was surprised the other day when it was reported to me that the governors of the South-East are dancing what I don’t know, they took a decision that they have also formed their own before Amotekun and they were not copying anybody, for them to turn round after holding meeting with the security men, they now said community policing is what they are doing; so what about the one they have put ahead before?
Though I am very surprised, but I am happy to note that the entire people of the South-East will like what is going on in the South-West and I think the governors will listen to them to change their mind to do what they have said they have done before.
The forest guard and so on and we all were proud that the governors of the South-East have now established their own defence force. I am saying that every region in Nigeria should have a similar thing like Amotekun, let it be uniform.
The Senate has started yet another constitutional review. The Chairman of the 58-member Constitution Review and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege promised that the report of the 2014 Confab would be revisited. As one of the 492 delegates to the Conference where more than 600 resolutions were reached, which areas do you think the Committee should pay serious attention to?
Firstly, on behalf of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, I wish to congratulate the Senate for Constituting a Committee to review the Constitution. We pray that all members place the interest of Nigeria first, and not to play partisan politics and ethnicity in carrying out their deliberations. This is because the Report of the 8th Assembly was a disgrace, particularly when they voted against the devolution of power.
Having said that I will say that the first item the Constitution Review Committee should consider is that of Devolution of Power to the states. The present Constitution of Nigeria has no character of Federalism. It is a unitary form of Constitution.
A situation whereby the Federal Government controls every aspect of Government including Primary and Secondary Schools, Agriculture, Health, Finance, etc. is untidy. And that is why people consider the President of Nigeria to be one of the most powerful in the world. Everything must get the approval of the President/Centre. This is not what happens in the US where we copied from.
The Constitution should contain only two tiers of government. Matters pertaining to Local Government should be handled by the State, the Federal Government should off its hands.
Local Government Councils should be created by State Governments in accordance to their requirement and as to their ability to finance them.
There should be no joint account between the State and Local Governments. All monies should be paid to the State Governments, and the State Governments should set up State Revenue Mobilisation Commission which should be headed by a retired Judge.
The Federal Government should have some of the following functions.
(i) Foreign Policy including signing of Treaties.
(iii) National Assembly which should be streamed down or reduced to one Senator per State. The membership of the House of Representatives should also be reduced.
(iiii) Tertiary education as they exist now where states are also free to establish their own Universities should be maintained.
The present Constitution with about 79 powers exclusively reserved for the Federal Government makes it clumsy and authoritative and makes the State Governments to work like appendages of the Federal Government.
The State Government should also reduce their membership of the State Houses of Assembly to make it cost-effective and efficient in intelligence. Also the State Houses of Assembly should be independent of the State Executive.
Local Governments should not be part of the Federal Constitution and should be a creation of the Region or State, which should finance them.
The Local Government should also be made to finance themselves.
The Chairmanship of the Council should also rotate among the Wards in a Local Government Council.
The Constitution of the Region/State should contain a provision for State Revenue Mobilization Commission as exists in the Federal Constitution. The Chairman of such Commission should be a retired Judge.
What would the South-South zone take to the table when the committee takes off?
The South-South Region, popularly known as Niger Delta will take to the table those items for which we have always agitated at every Conference such as those held in 2005 and 2014. These issues include derivation or resource control. The Northerners, who do not have oil, are today the owners and managers of the Industry.
We will insist on the Local content Act. Today 85% of the senior appointments in the oil industry go to the North. This is very unacceptable.
We regard it as offensive and unconstitutional where for instance, out of 15 very senior appointments, 10 went to the North, three to the South-West, two to the South-South which producers over 80% and none to the South-East which also produces oil in Imo and Abia states.
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The abolition of the Equalisation Fund Act whereby fuel is sold in Sokoto State at the price as it is sold in Bayelsa State, should be seriously looked into.
All Oil blocs and lifting of Oil are given to people from outside the South-South, thereby impoverishing the people of the Region to the extent that they depend on the Federal Government for development at all time, thereby making them stooges without voice because some people feel power belongs to them absolutely.
These other politicians control the political parties because the wealth is in their hands, wealth which they generated from the Niger Delta Region. When we speak out, it is regarded as confrontation by those who hold the power. The landscape of the Region is polluted, the ecosystem destroyed.
The 13% provided for in the 1999 Constitution as amended, has not been increased for 20 years now. Every attempt by South-South Delegates at various conferences particularly in 2005 was opposed by Northern delegates.
It is for this reason that we are demanding for the restructuring of the country by going back to the 1963 Constitution which provides for Derivation or Resource Control whereby 50% of revenue accrued in a Region is retained by the producing Region to manage itself, while the remaining 50% is shared between the Federal Government and the Regions including that which contributed it.
We went through this in the 2005 Conference and only 18% was approved. We rejected it and asked for 25%. The South-South Delegation under my Leadership staged a walk-out.
Even the 18% recommended was not implemented.
Same argument arose in the 2014 National Conference, and as usual, the Northern Delegates opposed any increase and so no recommendation was made. But the matter was referred back to the President.
The South-South will also ask for a State Police, and not this method of the military permanently occupying the zone in the pretext of protecting our vital natural assets, whereby the actual bunking is perpetuated by some of them in collaboration with unpatriotic local people.
Universal Basic Education should be abolished.
The position of the Attorney General should be separated from the office of the Minister of Justice, and the Attorney General should do his duty as the Attorney General, and not be tied to the Executive.
There should be two Accountant Generals, one for the Federal Government and the other for the Federation.
The Section of Federal Character should be clearly spelled out and should be compulsorily implemented.
What must the Omo- Agege Constitution Review Committee do to succeed?
They should consider it as a national duty and not to consider it parochially on religious, sectional or ethnic ground. What the 8th National Assembly did was very disgraceful particularly in the area of devolution of power.
The Committee should examine the Natural Conference Report of 2014 because it contains extracts from all previous conferences or constitutional review recommendations.
The Committee should not see the Report of 2014 as partisan but as a national document. The El-Rufai Report is just an aspect of the 2014 National Conference Report.
The Committee should look into it also and see what the differences are therein, and include them in their report if they think it is necessary and important.
Collecting evidence from various parts of the country should be reduced to the barest minimum because similar exercise had been carried out by the 8th National Assembly headed by the then Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
One critical area that the Omo- Agege led Committee should look into is the area of religion. Religious differences have been one of the main problems causing insecurity and disunity in the Country.
No religion should be regarded as superior to the other. This was why the 2014 National Conference recommended that there should be established a commission to be known as the National Religious Equity Commission which shall “deal with all matters relating to the protection of the fundamental human right to freedom and belief as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the African Charter, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties on human and people’s right to which Nigeria is a signatory.”
It was also agreed at the 2014 National Conference that Religious Pilgrimages (such as to Israel and Saudi Arabia) should not be a concern of the Government. Individuals, who want to embark on Pilgrimage, should be able to fund their trip.
The Government should only give administrative surveillance to the pilgrims.
Each State or Region should have its own Constitution based on the Federal Constitution, and where there are conflicts such conflicts should be resolved in favour of the Federal. For instance, in the 1963 Constitution, there was a certain clause considered obnoxious because it provided that only indigenes of certain areas should stand election in such areas.
The creation of 18 more States was one of the recommendations made by the 2014 National Conference if we are to have a true Federation where everybody is equal. It was recommended that four new States should be created in the South East, and two more states should be created in the North West, three more states should be created each in the South-South, South West and North East Regions.
The idea was to bring every geopolitical region including the South East which has only five states now, to have nine states at the end. This recommendation was adopted after very serious debates.
What is actually wrong with the present Constitution?
It is a Constitution that is one-sided, it was produced by the military, it majorly favours one section of the country. In fact, Nigerians wanted a new Federal Constitution based on the 1963 Republic Constitution. The 2014 National Conference made a Draft Constitution based on the 600 recommendations made by the Conference.
It will be tidier if the National Assembly would examine the 2014 Draft Constitution attached to the Report than amending the 1999 Constitution which was not made by the people of Nigeria.
What is your position on the call for sack of the Service Chiefs by the National Assembly?
I have always spoken about this. Sometimes ago, I made a statement that what time and whose money was being spent by the Chief of Army Staff in building an Army University in Biu, his own town?
I asked was it budgeted for by the Federal Government or is it part of the money allocated to defence or is it part of the money with which they are fighting the war in the North East? Nobody has answered me.
That the Chief of Army Staff should have time to supervise the building of a University in his place particularly in Borno State which is the centre of the war, is amazing. It shows that they are not very serious with what is going on.
I also made a statement that the Chief of Army Staff said there were bad eggs among his fighting soldiers and it was because of these disloyal soldiers that they have not made many advances.
I was shocked when those fighting at the war front replied him that the leaders of the army are in Lagos, Kaduna looking for money and that they in the war front have no arms and ammunition to fight the rebels and that if there is anybody that is not making them to advance forward that it was the senior officers in Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt.
I have never seen where junior soldiers will comment on their senior officer’s statement. It shows there is something wrong. Their discipline is affected and also there have been differences between the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Air Staff, we don’t know what brought about those differences.
The army is on the ground, the air force is in the air complementing each other, but if both of them don’t agree, then there is something wrong. We are worried particularly when I learnt that the army was even asking to buy planes or helicopters.
I have not heard of other military forces in other parts of the world where one arm of the security force is against the other one, they are not cooperating. These are the issues that have affected the advancement of the war in the North.
Our laws particularly the one setting up the army made certain regulations that every public officer, the military, retires when he is 60 years old or when he has put in a number of years in the service.
These military men, officers or service Chiefs have been in power since 2015 when this government came into being, one would have expected by now having regard to the fact that the President of this country, the commander in chief is a retired general, with him and his fighting forces, this Boko Haram war should have been accomplished, but unfortunately things are getting worse.
They said that Boko Haram has been decimated, that Abubakar Shekau was killed and buried, but that is not true now from what we are seeing. I listened the other day on the television when Senator Ali Ndume said his fears about the war and I have also listened to eminent persons from Borno State.
The governor of Borno State, Babagana Umar Zulum must be congratulated for the boldness and courage in stating what is happening at the war front.
It was stated some days ago by the government that the government will not retire the Service Chiefs, what can we do? If the same Service Chiefs are Nigerians and I know they are, they must put the interest of this county first.
If the President has his own reason of not wanting them to go, if you have been given a job to do for five years and you have not been able to accomplish it, you must be honourable enough to say enough is enough, please appoint other people to carry on.
We have received so many clamour particularly when it comes from the National Assembly both the Senate and the House of Representatives if they have made moves, what are they waiting for?
Mr President does not own this country, this country belongs to all of us and if a whole arm of government, the National Assembly said they should go, it means they have passed a vote of no confidence and they should have the courage in the interest of this country to step down.
There is this Bill by former Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Gaidam that was read the first time on the floor of the Senate. The Bill seeks to grant Amnesty to Ex- Boko Haram like the one granted to the Ex- Niger Delta Militants. What is your take on this sir?
The former governor of Yobe State is talking rubbish by comparing what happened in the Niger Delta of which I was in the forefront and what is now happening in the North-East.
In the first place, the militants in the Niger Delta did not kidnap ordinary Nigerians; they were kidnapping foreigners in order to draw the attention of the Federal Government and the world to the suffering they were undergoing in their own area by the neglect of the Federal Government.
And I remember when the militants kidnapped 14 expatriates that were working for Wilbros in Port Harcourt, I came to President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja and I told him that I will appeal to the boys to release them, please don’t do anything, it is better to consider them because they have not killed Nigerians they have not done anything, and he agreed.
And we talked about Tompolo, he said he learned that he was not well educated and I said yes, what can we do for him? I said let the oil company give him an appointment to supervise the pipelines which he will do with the other militants, and he agreed.
I came back to Delta and an arrangement was made, the boys said they will not release the hostages to any other person but to me. The Secretary of the government of Bayelsa state at the time, Ambassador Godknows Igali and the Secretary to the Delta state government, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, came together and they went to the creeks and the people were released to them and they brought them to my house in Warri at Mid-night. Most of them were the Philippines.
And not only that when in 2009 under President Yar’Adua, but the military also attacked Okerenkoko, Gbaramatu, they were in the air and on the ground and in the water, the Navy, the Air force and the army combined to attack Gbaramatu as if there was a war.
I cried to Mr. President and I even sent the then governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, to Yar’Adua to stop the war and we should settle and at the end, they withdrew after killing so many innocent people.
That was the festival day in Opoza, I was to be the father of the day, I sent someone and that person called me from the bush that the place has been sacked by the military. So this is not the same with what is going on in the North-East.
Secondly, there were conditions for Amnesty. The militants submitted their arms and ammunition which could fill a whole compound. A deadline was made and in fact, Tompolo again was the last to surrender his guns on the 4th of October 2009. So the case is not the same.
What are the Boko Haram Insurgents fighting for? Who are they protecting? What are they fighting for that they are not getting? People are killing human beings, a war that Nigeria has been fighting for 10years, you want to grant them amnesty, on what ground? Those of them that have been freed de-radicalize them, have they surrendered their guns?
We heard that some of them returned to the war front. One of the commanders of Boko Haram, on the part of the army now and the man was shocked and the man was reprimanded for pointing it out. Who are we deceiving, who is deceiving who?
So I am not opposed to granting amnesty to the people, but the conditions must be made that these people who have been killing people over 20,000 have been killed by them, these people now have links to other foreign terrorist organisations from the Middle East, if you want to give them amnesty, nobody stops you from getting them amnesty, you have the power, you have everything, some of us are second class citizens in our country, when we make statements, they say we are agitators.
As far as I am concerned in the interest of this country, such bill should be examined very carefully, but not to compare a different case, a harmless case with a case that well over 20,000 people have died and are still dying and property destroyed and the whole world is aware of it. What happened in the Niger Delta was a small thing talking about oil for which the benefits they have been denied.
Today the militants are still angry because the oil industry today has been taken over by the Northerners. They are the people exporting the oil, they are the people selling the oil, they are the people using it to develop other areas of Nigeria.
As I mentioned the other day, these Abacha loots which we are recovery from the United States of America was money derived from our area, from the oil industry, put into the central bank and now they are bringing back those monies, you are now talking of building express roads from Lagos to Ibadan, from Abuja to Kano and the Second Niger Bridge, whereas the East-West road which is the most important economic road in Nigeria because all the oil companies use that road was not mentioned.
So we know where we belong to, but we will not keep quiet, if we are to be one Nigeria for people to look down upon others, it is an insult for anybody to refer to what is happening in the North East to what happened in the Niger Delta where the militants were crying about negligence, pollution of their area and so on and so forth.
The NSA, General Babagana Monguno has raised the alarm of Sabotage and undue interference by the Chief of staff to the President, Abba Kyari. Is it an indication that all is not well in the kitchen Cabinet?
That is not new, we have heard about this before; the first time when the EFCC acting chairman was recommended by Mr President to the Senate for confirmation and from the same Presidency, a letter was written to the Senate that the man was not qualified, was incompetent, was corrupt, and so he was rejected, he was not confirmed.
So one thought that once the name is sent there again the second time, one would have expected that the Presidency have taken a decision nobody will dare it, but the same thing happened again and the man was not confirmed. So that was the beginning, the time we felt these things were happening.
When the first lady made a statement that where are the Nigerian men, that a few people who were not elected by the Nigerian people have taken over the Presidency and she mentioned Mamman Daura and others and then recently she said that Garba Shehu was disloyal to the Presidency particularly to the family and that he should go, nothing came out of that.
Again we saw how the Head of Service lost her job; during the time the pension man who ran away to Dubai because of his crime came back to work in the public service and investigation was being carried out, the Head of Civil Service made a statement against the powerful in the Presidency.
After that, a woman who has been doing her job all the time, is it after that time that they knew she was corrupt? So these are questions many people are asking in this country.
Now the recent one between the NSA and the Chief of Staff is very surprising, even though we have been seeing the signs and people have been talking about the signs, it is very embarrassing in the sense that the NSA is the head of the Security forces in Nigeria, a very senior position while the Chief of Staff duty is to manage the domestic affairs of Mr President, he is in charge of personnel and so on.
In this second term, the President said that everybody, government official should pass through the Chief of Staff, whether the NSA was included in that announcement one doesn’t know.
But what I saw in the previous government of President Jonathan, similar thing happened; when Gen. Gusau was appointed Minister of Defence and Col. Dasuki as NSA some of us were worried that these two people who are in-laws, we were told that Gasau did not attend cabinet meetings because of his feelings that he was being kept out of the government and he said and I quote that the NSA Col. Dasuki directed the Service Chiefs not to report to him as the Minister of Defence to him.
Col. Dasuki was the one in charge of security, he was the one even arranging for the buying of arms and ammunition abroad, he was responsible for most of the payment of security money and from what was said recently he was in charge of all the funds for the Presidency and the Security Forces. There was a divided house and that was what must have affected the advancement in the war front.
So this is happening and by this time the Presidency should have spoken either to When I listened to the news about the Bill, I was amazed. The former governor of Yobe state who could not fight Boko Haram, who in his presence his students were killed in their dormitories and he could not do anything.
Himself, the governor of Adamawa and the governor of Borno they were against me when in 2014, I said that the declaration of emergency in the North East would not be complete unless the three governors were asked to step down for 6months and appoint a senior former Military General to supervise each state and they insulted me and Mr President believed in his Attorney General.
I wrote a public statement which was published in the papers that this state of emergency declared in these areas will not work. I referred them to the state of emergency declared in Plateau state and in Ekiti state too, but they didn’t listen to me.dispel the rumour of the letter written by the NSA or admit it; something has to be done either you are disciplining one or you are asking them to keep their mouths shut. So from this angle, one begins to worry what is happening to this our government.
Edo State Gubernatorial election has been fixed for September this year and there is still political quagmire between Governor Godwin Obaseki and the National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. As the South-South Leader and a father, what will you tell them ahead of the election?
What is happening in Edo state in APC even though I am not a member, Edo State is part of the South-South and most people regard me as their leader; what is going on in Edo state which is between Adams Oshiomhole and Obaseki is very unfortunate.
People have told me that these two men were very good friends, Obaseki was a businessman, Oshiomhole was a trade unionist and Obaseki helped Oshiomhole in winning the seat of governorship in Edo state. Thereafter the same Oshiomhole sent for Obaseki and he became his adviser in all the businesses particularly economics.
So Oshiomhole in other to show the same goodwill and to compensate Obaseki for what he did for him also stood firm. There were very many qualified people who wanted to be the governor particularly the then deputy governor, former Minister and others who contested, they all failed and Obaseki who was Oshiomhole’s candidate won.
I don’t know the internal working of these two men, but they have gone too far and I begin to worry why APC has not been able to call both of them to order. They may win or they may lose the election if they do not settle their problem.
I am speaking on behalf of the people of Edo state and the Niger Delta that we need peace; we don’t have to kill ourselves. People in other parts of the country conduct elections free and fair, no trouble, no killing of people and so forth but while in the South-South, in the Niger Delta, we see the election as if it is a battleground and it is the people in the area that suffer, that is my concern.
I call upon President Buhari to see that they have settled otherwise the differences, the disagreement will cause so much trouble in the place.
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By Henry Umoru, Assistant Politics Editor