PROFESSOR GODINI GABRIEL DARAH, popularly Know as GG Darah, astute academic, prolific journalist and politician, was born November 22, 1949.
He attended Local Authority (now Emoghwe) Primary School between 1956 and 1961 in Asaba, the capital city of Delta State, before proceeding to St. Vincent’s College, Ogwagbe, Asaba for his secondary education between 1963 and 1967. He later advanced to the Federal Government College, Warri, between 1968 and 1969 for the completion of his secondary school education.
Darah was admitted into the University of Ibadan for his tertiary education between 1970 and 1973. He acquired his M.Sc and Ph.D between 1973 and 1978.
Given the profound academic prowess displayed during his undergraduate studies at the nation’s premier university, Darah was later employed as a Teaching Assistant at the Department of English of the same University of Ibadan. He did this between 1974 and 1977 before leaving the citadel of knowledge for another exploit.
Being an academic per excellence, Darah soon secured another lecturing job at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife as an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Literature-in-English between 1978 and 1981. He lectured for about five years before his promotion to Senior Lecturer at the Literature-in-English Department of the school. He served in this capacity for five more years.
Also, he was a part-time lecturer in the Department of English, Ogun State University, Ago-Iwoye between 1986 and 1987.
Darah was appointed Visiting Professor, African Folklore, Department of African-American Studies, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA in 1992.
He served as the Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper between 1999 and 2000, before his professorial appointment and as Head of Department of English and Literature Studies, Delta State University, Abraka.
He was Editorial Consultant, Daily Times of Nigeria Plc, between 1989 and 1991; member, Editorial Board, Nigerian Academics of Arts, Science and Technology between 1976 and 1980; board member, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 1991 and 1995; member, Governing Board, John F. Kennedy International School, Effurun, Delta State.
He was also member, United Nations Media Committee on Development, 1994-1995; member, Association of Nigerian Authors, International Board of Books of Young People and Member, Nigerian Institute for Public Relations.
He was also President, Nigerian Folklore Society and has been Vice President, Nigeria-Korea Friendship Association, since 1996.
Darah was appointed a member of Delta State Think Tank on Development in 1999, Special Adviser on Public Communication in 2003 and later as a Chief of Staff of the same state in 2005.
Darah is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Treasurelake Limited, a Lagos-based financial institution.
Some of Professor Darah’s academic works are published in local and international journals.
They include Proceedings of the International Symposium On African Literature Before And After The 1986 Nobel Prize;Ideological Orphanage, The Intelligentsia And Literary Development In Colonial Nigeria and The Struggle Against Oppression, A Review Of The Premiere Of Femi Osofisan’s Play, Morountodun.
Daeah was the official delegate of the State to the 2014 National Conference. In this exclusive interview with our South South Bureau Chief, JOHN OGHOJAFORohn, Prof. Darah, among other issues, pinned down the causative factor of Nigeria’s present economic predicament to a faulty structure laid by past military governments as well as inadequate knowledge of economic management by the present government. Excerpts:
Less than two weeks after the Niger Delta Stakeholders’ meeting convened by Chief E.K. Clark for the purpose of peace in the area recently, the federal government has commenced a massive deployment of military hardware and personnel to the riverine area. With this development, do you foresee peace coming soon to the Niger Delta crisis?
Well, I confirm that I was at the Stakeholders’ meeting. The convener was Chief E.K. Clark. Representation was wide-ranging in terms of geographical spread as well as what you can call interest groups, cutting across the Niger Delta Area. Understandably, there may have been some eminent figures that were not there but considering the 48-hour notice of the meeting, the attendance was very pleasing. So, from the attendance list that I saw, people came from Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa. Delta had the bulk of the delegates, Edo, then other eminent persons who were outside of these states. So, it was a good attendance, the participation was very enthusiastic. My interpretation of that is that people are interested in bringing peace to the area. This is because there were no incentives offered them to come but they came on their own and they paid their way.
I was the chairman of the Communique Committee which comprised people from all the states. But it was not a long meeting. The focus was on how the Niger Delta Stakeholders can participate and join with government to ease the tension that is on ground. Some of the militia groups (what the Nigerian media call militants) were also there although they were not identified. The resolution we took was a short one, about four or five items. That was the communiqué which I think appeared in the newspapers a week thereafter. The first area of our concentration was how to appeal to the two sides to de-escalate the confrontation. The first part is to appeal to the federal government to withhold its arsenal of military hardware and call on the militia group that are currently engaged in what you can call attacks on oil installations and other facilities that are related to the economy. After that, we will then call on government to make arrangement for a dialogue meeting to take place. We also agreed in that meeting that instead of different stakeholder groups, ethnic nationalities, interest groups, NGOs, each one acting on their own, we should form a body comprising all the states in the area. That agreement was also reached that day. It has not taken place because you cannot do that in a hurry as different interest groups are required to go and consult and then come back. But the appeal was heeded.
The joy of it was that the militia group accepted that the mediation we initiated was acceptable to them. They too are eager to have dialogue. There is no conflict or dispute that does not end on the negotiation table. Even if one of the combatants wins militarily on the field he still goes to the negotiating table. So, I think that we have achieved much particularly with the follow-up. About a week or so after the PTI Stakeholders’ meeting, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, came to have another meeting with the group, but not all that were in the PTI Conference meeting were there due to the short notice. But some people who were not even in the first meeting were there. So, the responses to the initiative are very positive and very encouraging.
On the the militarization of the riverine area, are you disappointed?
We cannot say for now that we are disappointed because we have not entered into any agreement with the federal government. We only appealed to them to withhold their action in order to allow negotiation and dialogue to take place. Last week, they resumed what they called Operation Crocodile Smile. Although I’m not a military person, I don’t think they are cracking their guns, shooting and occupying communities. They are just like exhibiting or displaying capacity. So, in the language of war, they would say that is a part of negotiation because in a war situation, each side, even when they are talking, are still showing their capacity. So, I don’t think the federal government is averse to dialogue. The pledge we got from Dr. Kachukwu at the meeting was that he was given the go-ahead to meet his principal, the Minister of Petroleum Resources who is the President himself. He, (Kachukwu) and the governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa will jointly meet with Mr. President and then create a negotiation timetable and so on. So, we are waiting for that. I don’t think the action of the military has disorganized that yet.
At the PTI meeting there was a lot of bashing of the government of the immediate past president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as being responsible for the plight of the Niger Delta now. How would you react to that?
Well, I think we should go back to the options that face us now. And the options that face us in the Niger Delta have not changed from what they were from 1999 to 2007. What you are seeing now is an expression of disappointment by important stakeholders in Niger Delta concerning their expectations. My reading is that the agitators in the Niger Delta gave peace a chance, they showed understanding that the various issues will be redressed. But even that was optimism because the issues are not necessarily that of contract awards, NDDC or appointment of minister. Those are just symbolic gestures. The central issue is the ownership and control of oil and gas resources and the government of Nigeria, whether PDP or APC or Camoquine, has not conceded to those fundamental demands. So, my position on the former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s effort is slightly different from the one expressed that day at the PTI meeting in the sense that we are in what the Sociologists called ‘Blaming the Victim’. In a critical situation like this it is important to look at the root rather than blaming individual failures because those individuals as the president are using a certain structure. Unless that structure is altered even if Jesus comes to rule, they will perpetrate the same problem.
What I see from the Yar’Adua/Jonathan effort (because it was a continuity), was an intervention to lower tension in the area. And you know that by the time Yar’Adua and Co came, the revolutionary upsurge or insurgency of 2004, 2005 and 2006 was still on. But I think that because of the intervention, the fact that PDP took that clever move of making Dr. Goodluck Jonathan the Vice President, it was a bargaining they were doing. Then from there, because of the unfortunate death of President Yar’Adua, he (Jonathan) was upgraded to President. Now, people would ask: “If your man was there, if your son was there, why didn’t he resolve these problems?” This is because, the Nigerian constitutional structure, unless it is altered, nothing can be done about the problem of the Niger Delta. There are very fundamental things there. One is the ownership of this oil. If we don’t change Section 44(3) of the Constitution of the country, even if you send your wife, your daughter or your son there as the president, he will be handicapped. I think that if we take a more realistic view, the agitators of that period had a deal and they had a deal because of the involvement of Goodluck Jonathan, this is my reading. That is the reason why they were able to step back and say, okay, bring your programme and let’s look at it. They accepted what we now called the Presidential Amnesty. The amnesty is now a way of bargaining with the aggrieved. And the bargains were: names were written down, drop and abandon your weapons, be on the payroll and get so and so amount per month, and then they had 26,000 people registered to be sent for training to become different people and by the time they come back, they are equipped to live their own lives outside guerrilla warfare. Jonathan was one of those who made that negotiation possible. Others include Chief E.K Clark, the late Alamieyeseigha, Timi Alaibe, you can name them. You can see that principally they were Ijaw people and they secured that from what was then known as MEND (Movement for the Emancipation Of the Niger Delta). If you look at what the intervention did to Nigeria at the time the negotiation was made, going back to the days of Asari Dokubo, Boyloaf and the rest, the oil production was about 600,000 barrels per day. When that peace deal was signed production surged. So, Nigeria benefitted immensely from that peace deal.
In the lecture I delivered in honour of Alamieyeseigha in April this year, I compared that peace deal to the apartheid one in South Africa in terms of the quality. But because the structures have not been changed, as Nigeria was getting the oil and money was coming, they forgot about the structure.
The second point to note is that perhaps if one is to go and interview the beneficiaries of the amnesty, they probably would have different views. Many of them have been earning money steadily for five, six years now; you can imagine what they have been using that money for. Some built houses, married and paid school fees for their children, it is immeasurable. So, if there was no Jonathan there would those people have conceded? And who are the principal beneficiaries? I’m sure 80 percent were Ijaw people. So, it is not fair to just say that the man (Jonathan) was a failure because I would not use the non-completion of the East-West road alone to judge. We need a more comprehensive study of the various programmes that the peace deal brought about. But it is also true that it brought temporary stability to Nigeria. I usually use the Urhobo proverb which says that “If you have an ailment that requires blood transfusion, if you apply palm oil it would not heal.”
So, the amnesty programme was a temporary measure. The government should have gone ahead to take the next step. And I challenge Goodluck Jonathan to write his own memoir, let him explain. It was when we got to the National Conference that we brought that matter up. And from a distance (I’m not close to him), I saw that probably he was looking for a second tenure. If he wasn’t going back he would have been stronger. Now he got that National Conference report to use as soon as he gets the second tenure, but it didn’t happen that way. So, the ownership of resources and the volume of derivation are the key issues. The Nigerian government has not touched them, it has not shown any interest in touching them. Those who have the capacity to challenge government are those that have gone into combat now.
You are a renowned social critic, a Marxist for that matter. You were part of the government of Chief James Ibori in Delta State as an Adviser and later Chief of Staff to the governor. Looking back at what later transpired in terms of corruption and ultimately the conviction and commitment to jail of the former governor, do you have any regret being part of his government?
I have no regret nor was I disappointed. What happened is part of a conspiracy in Nigeria that those young men who spearheaded the challenge against the federal government on the issue of resource control are dealt with. This is my conclusion. I was an enlisted intellectual in that movement. Most of the lectures in resource control were delivered by me. The first one was in PTI here, and from there to Asaba. The Delta State House of Assembly held one in Badagry, I gave the keynote address. In Port Harcourt in July, 2001, I gave the keynote lecture. All the six governors were there. There was something called Ibori Vanguard which took it to London, I also gave the keynote lecture there. So, I had a clear understanding. The fact that those people, elected people, both governors and legislators combined to attack the federal government and to compel Obasanjo to pay 13%, that is one of the crimes they committed, especially, Chief James Ibori and Alamieyeseigha, we have even lost him now.
So, the use of the government investigation agency to tackle them was purely political. This is because they didn’t do anything that I think other governors did not do. But they were targets of revenge in the Obasanjo regime. Look at it, they tried the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. It took just four days and found him guilty. This was because they did not want him to contest for the presidency in 2007 and the man had to go to court and the court said they couldn’t stop him. So, I consider that pure presidential terrorism against them. If Ibori returns, I’m sure he will tell his own story. But to go back, if the criteria used was the performance in office, Ibori would have been the number one in the whole country on the basis of infrastructure. As a journalist, I was very critical. And I followed and chronicled the roads which he constructed, 2,000 kilometers new roads, not repaired but new. We went to Abuja to find the ones which Obasanjo did, he did 4,700 kilometers nationwide. In Delta State here, Ibori did 2,000 new roads with the star project being the Bomadi Bridge which cost N5 billion. Others are the Aboh Road Bridge and the Ughoton-Omadino Bridge.
From whatever area you want to look at, is it education? By the time that regime started there were 7,500 students in Delta State University, Abraka. By 2007 when they were stepping down there were 23,000 students in that University, not to talk of the upgrade of general hospitals and so on. So, Ibori’s performance is unquestionable. Within the context of the era in which he ruled, no governor in Nigeria will ever contest supremacy with him at that level. So, why should such a person be the one that is jailed? That tells you that there is water below oil because oil will not float unless there is water below.
There was this lecture you delivered in Ughelli at the commencement of the 2014 National Conference where you said that if the conference succeeded Nigeria would progress but if it failed, Niger Delta would progress. Can you now comment on your hypothesis?
The conduct of the conference was a success – the way the delegates were chosen, the representations, the equity, the mechanism used, the number of people who came (492 in all) and the methodology we used inside. In other conferences they will vote and cause confusion and protests but the chairman of the National Conference insisted that everything must be done by consensus. It delayed us and all the items we agreed on there was no voting. Every time we hit a wall we had to go back and to come back next day. But if it was too hot we had to go for one week, negotiating day and night, sometimes we held meetings six times a day between stakeholders, South South, Niger Delta, South West, South East, Middle belt, North, etc. It was done with such patriotic zeal because they wanted to help Nigeria to survive. The gain of it is that, what are the areas of contention? And if they were implemented what would Niger Delta have gained?
Looking at the 600 recommendations, you find that across Nigeria, many of the issues that are causing trouble were resolved. One of them was the inequity in power relations. The conference agreed that all zones should have equal states. Six zones were retained but the number of states in each zones should be equal. That was the first layer of equity that was laid. North West, has seven states now, more than anybody else but you will have two more. South East have five, they will have four more to make nine. The minority in the North which we don’t hear of were also considered. These are the Boko Haram-affected areas now. So, one new state was to be created in Borno, one for Adamawa and one for Bauchi. One in Kano, one in Niger State and Southern Kaduna, the Zango Kataf they cut one for them and then in the South West – three (Ijebu State, New Oyo State and a state in Ondo). In our own South South, three — Anioma State from Delta, none in Bayelsa, New Oil State in Rivers and then Ogoja State in Cross River. The whole country was balanced.
The next layer of what we called restructuring now is the devolution of power. The primary reason why Nigeria is so unstable is because the federal government has so much money and power. It is the only one that is viable. The states resources are so lean, it is not because the governors are just corrupt. The percentage federal government gets is so hefty for doing work that may not be as comprehensive as what the states do. The conference cut down its 52% down to 42%. But we did something which is even much better, the local governments is the system that the military used to siphon resources from the Niger Delta by multiplying them in the northern half of the country. But the military also did something worse, they made the local government another tier of government. So, they also share money every month. We also stopped that. How did we do it? We went to the constitution and found that Section 7 says that the local government business is for the state, federal has no hand in it. So, they were even disobeying the constitution. We therefore restored Section 7 and we removed the name of local government councils from the Schedule where they appeared at the end of the constitution. Therefore, they cannot go to Abuja to share money. By doing that, the states now have 58% of the federation accounts. The states now have more to share now. Once they become more viable many of the quarrels we have now will stop. And then we make Aso Rock less attractive because it is the money and power there that make people to commit crime in order to get there.
In the list we have with us, the federal government and the president of Nigeria is in charge of 425 ministries, departments and agencies. It means the president must sign the appointments of a Director General for each of them. Which government is doing that in the world? Where is the time to do that? A few days ago, President Buhari approved the budget of the FCT Abuja, that is, three months before the end of the year. No, that is not a federation and we are asking for true federalism to be restored. That position alone gives enough credibility to the Conference to remove the militarism in the constitution of the country because it is the military that is ruling now with the cover of civilian. We have to devolve power from the centre and the go back to the federal system that was operated from 1954 to 1967. This was a major achievement of the Conference. We tackled another item which is called exclusive legislative list. There are 68 items there in Part I of Schedule I of the Constitution. In that list, item 39 is the most important; it says the licensing of mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining geological surveys and natural gas is the exclusive responsibility of the federal. So, all the licences being operated by all the oil companies operating in Nigeria will be issued only by Abuja. In your land in Isoko, Ijaw or in Urhobo you have no right. You will just be seeing companies passing and laying pipes but you cannot stop them. We are saying that federal and states will now have concurrent powers to participate in the oil industry.
Now that the report of the National Conference was not implemented, people will not see its value. To go back to your question on my lecture in Ughelli, if the regime in power now does not go back to that report of the Conference, it will face problems upon problems and can never come out of it. This is because the problems are structural, they are ideological. It is not only about the person ruling there. So, if he doesn’t go there and restore equity and practice federalism, and he wants to use militarism of 1984 which he used as a military regime, even asking for emergency powers and doesn’t want to talk to people anymore, trying to disregard parliament and National Assembly, he will face problems and the problems will multiply. What are we seeing now? The problems have multiplied. It is not just the price of oil alone, the thing has gone up to 49 dollars per barrel now but there is still chaos. The price of rice you cannot afford and the naira is above 400 to a dollar now, it was 100 and above in the era of Jonathan. The national crisis is getting worse and worse because the federal government is applying palm oil to heal an ailment that requires blood transfusion. Total restructuring is inevitable.
Are you now advocating complete true federalism as your concept of restructuring?
Yes, that is the only exit point. The restructuring will now devolve power to the federating units. The federating unit is that unit that is sharing power with the federal government and we have said that only two layers – the federal government and the state are necessary. And we have increased the states to make sure that people who were excluded before or who are marginalized will now have the opportunity to participate in their own government. We went further to say each state as it was in 1960 will have its own constitution. Delta State will have its own constitution, the new one Anioma, will have its own constitution. And in that constitution you can include those things that will make life better for you provided you don’t challenge federal authority. According to Prof. Weir, the American who defined federalism, the two bodies (federal and state) are co-equals.
Talking about the dialogue between the militia groups and the federal government, what are the issues that are likely to be canvassed on both sides and where do you think a balance may be struck?
We should recognize that there are long-standing issues and there are issues that can be handled immediately. If you want all of them to be resolved at once you can never make progress. Take the one of resource ownership and possession; if you insist on resolving it today, then those states that are founded on this injustice will all collapse within 24 hours. So, you need to work out exact exit points, say by so and so year, derivation will go to 50%, by so and so year, it will go to 70%; you will have a range by which time the other states will adjust. When we realized this in the National Conference we said that 5% of the national budget will be set aside as a fund to enable those states which have various minerals yet they are under-developed, to now develop those minerals. We are now talking of Edo State and Ondo State which have bitumen. The volume of bitumen is second only to the one of Venezuela in the whole world. We have 23 in Nasarawa and 21 in Plateau – all solid minerals including uranium for making atomic bomb. They are all lying idle now because the law says only the federal government can explore them. The federal government is not interested in those minerals now. So, those states are impoverished. Is that a government? In modern government you must make sure that those resources are exploited so that business will flourish. The people in Nasarawa or Plateau may not have the skill, but they could go to Australia or South Africa to say “Please come and mine these things for us in a shareholding arrangement.” You will find that in five or ten years, you will have more than 200 times the volume of economic activities. And the more economic activities you have, the more jobs you create, the more prospects you create and fighting reduces. It doesn’t end but it reduces.
We also asked that the restructuring should include state police. Federal police will be there as it is in America, but the states will also have their own municipal police. In Effurun/Warri for instance, if you are having problems there, create your own police. In London, they have six police formations in one town. What is the advantage of that? You can always have crime nipped in the bud so that you don’t wait until the crime becomes insurgency before you intervene. There is collaboration, if the state finds that it cannot handle a problem, it calls on the federal guards. They would come in and join them with helicopters. That is what the Americans do. We have less than 400,000 policemen now in the country. That size is not even enough to run Lagos State. So, what have you done now? The money you are earning as an individual now you use to protect yourself. You build a house, you build a wall of fence, you build a gate and hire a gateman, you are paying for the service which the state should be doing. If you look at the houses which the British built when they were here hundred years ago, it was all flowers. They didn’t build walls because the security was efficient. The money we are wasting for providing security now will be used for investment. That is what is called policing business.
Prof. Soludo was delivering a lecture in Asaba recently and he said he prays that oil price comes down to as low as 10 dollars per barrel. If oil price drops to a zero level and has no value anymore what would then form the basis of further agitation in the Niger Delta?
If the oil completely becomes irrelevant to the economy, either the price goes down or the consumers in America, Europe and Asia just refuse to buy, then Nigeria will cease to exist and it will be reconstructed. It will be reconstituted on the basis of new thinking. It is the ease of the oil money that entrenches corruption—
Before you go further, you recall Governor Okowa saying that in the May 2016 federal allocation, oil contributed only 30%. That means other non-oil sectors are already overtaking the oil sector in revenue generation. When we get to a state where oil now contributes zero percentage to the national revenue, what would the Niger Delta states, specifically, anchor their existence on?
The Niger Delta has more endowment to survive without oil than anywhere else in the country. If the revenue from oil is coming back to us 100% then we will build Dubai with it. But the income from oil is siphoned, is stolen for over 60 years now or so. So, we get under-developed and further under-developed. In fact, states that have no oil are deriving more benefit than states in the Niger Delta.
If the oil industry ceases to become a major revenue earner to the economy it will now challenge us to look for an alternative. You will then ask what was it with us in the 1960s and 70s? We were not living on oil. The Niger Delta was known for palm oil. Palm oil accounts for more than 57% of all the oil in the world, palm oil alone. So, we have an alternative and it does not degrade, it does not explode, it doesn’t cause fire. If we insist on oil, we can go to palm oil, it is there. Is it fisheries, we can produce all the shrimps that the world needs for their parties in the Niger Delta creeks. So, we have such abundance, in fact it is the oil that is preventing us looking that way. We can go into agriculture, we can go into agro-industries that will convert agricultural goods into products. From there, we will go to manufacturing and into packaging. If we package we will export. These three lines I have described now can create 10 million jobs— those who will print the packaging, those who will weigh them, etc. That is how Singapore and all these countries are surviving. So, the collapse of the oil economy will be a blessing to the Niger Delta because we are not the beneficiary of it. The earlier the oil illusion ended the better for us. Look, when DESOPADEC started and we were given orientation lectures, it was proved that (the first chairman, Chief Okrika, is a forester) those trees called mangrove that lie from here to Escravos, one of it can generate 70 industries. And for the proof of it, we called at leather factories in Zaria and they confirmed that it was the bark of the mangrove tree that they convert to shoes.
Our calamity is the oil industry which attracts foreign buyers. I keep quoting my experience in South Korea when I went there. They told me “You are from Warri” and I said yes. They said, “We buy 5,000 barrels of oil from Forcados every day and for them to transport it, the American Navy will help them to escort it and that for every single barrel they buy which is 159 litres, they make 101 products from it. We are not converting. There is no country that exports crude oil that is an industrial country in the world. They are not in the G8, they are not in the G20. See how much money Saudi Arabia has, Iraq and the rest, but they are not industrial countries. So, once you have the oil, it blinds you. Every day, your account is credited in New York and so you feel you have money. I’m old enough now, I can go back to the days of Midwest. In the first 18 months of Osadebey and Mariere’s regime, they established three gigantic industries – Okpella Cement Factory, Asaba Textile Mill and Bendel Glass Factory in Ughelli. Tafa Balewa even came to commission the Ughelli Glass Factory. If they had stayed for an additional 10 years, we would have been an industrial nation by now. It was after the war that oil came. It was not even we that caused it. It was the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when the Arab used oil as a weapon to fight the war that they would not sell. Before then, the price was about 2 dollars per barrel, then it went up to 10 dollars and in the time of Shagari it went up to 140. Oil has been the calamity we have had. So, its disappearance will free us, we have nothing to fear, it will liberate us from that false economy.
Just ask yourself, how many people are employed in the oil industry? Shell has been here for almost 65 years, their highest number of staff is 5,000 in the whole country. And I’m sure half of them are not from the Niger Delta. If it is oil palm you will have up to 10 million people. In fact, the oil palm industry was employing about 4 million people by 1961. But they would not allow you go there now because every month they go to Abuja to take their own share. We need to face that problem so that we will have alternative thinking and move out of the disaster zone.
It is now quite clear that the Nigerian economy is in recession considering the figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Inflation is tending towards 20% while the naira is fast approaching the 500 mark to a dollar. Nigerians are crying, where do we go from here?
The Buhari regime I think is incompetent in terms of economic management. That is just my conclusion, because, all of it cannot be as a result of the fall in oil price and drop in oil production. There must be certain fundamentals that they have not got right. This is because in the times of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, they had a more robust economic team. Even though they may have disagreed with Dr. Okonjo Iweala on political ground, when she spoke, you saw authority. And when they rebased the economy we found that we were very strong. What happened? It was not just based on high price of crude oil then. So, I think that the Buhari regime lacks a competent economic team. You can be a good politician but when it comes to economics it is a different matter. When Obama became president of the US, he was confronted with an economy that was going down. He used stimulants, he was giving money to car manufacturers just to make them produce more and employ more people. I haven’t seen that. What is the economic policy that the president has presented now? So, it is pure failure of governance.
How do we assuage the suffering of the masses now?
The masses have no redemption nowS. This is because, as I said before, there is a certain political mood and a certain political engineering and these are captured in the report of the National Conference which he (the president) has backed away from. So, he is using no scientific approach. Where is the approach? Is it the one of combating corrupt people? That will not regenerate the economy. How much are you going to get from there fighting corrupt people? Some of these investments in most of the world capitalist economies come from corruption.
There have been criticisms that state governments benefitting from the derivation largesse have nothing on ground to show for it. What is your take on that?
We should look at this issue holistically. My popular phrase was coined by Prof. Tekena Tamuno, former Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan (he is late now), he wrote a book titled Niger Delta Oil Wars – 1849 -2009. And he coined the phrase there that “13% derivation is equivalent to 87% deprivation”. In other words, the Niger Delta oil producing states are getting 13% but they are denied 87% because they are entitled to a 100%. So, we are just making a mountain out of nothing. Bayelsa State is 80% under water. Do we ever imagine the volume of resources it needs even to build infrastructure there? 13% is for paying wages. Chief Ibori was the one that did best with that money and the evidence was overwhelming. You may say some other things, but let’s talk about Effurun here for example. In 1999-2000, this Effurun was a jungle with ‘deve’ groups everywhere fighting, you couldn’t move, but it has changed. The highest number of hotels in Delta State today are in Effurun. And they came during the Ibori regime and the trend has continued. These people would not have invested if they were not earning. It is the money circulating in the state that people found to invest in these infrastructure we are seeing now. So, the utilization of the 13% derivation fund you cannot make a generalization about it. You have to go to each state and establish their problems. Even Delta State where we confirmed that Ibori tarred 2,000 kilometers of roads, built Bomadi Bridge, among others, we still found out in our records that 48% of Delta State is under water naturally; it is not flooding. And the state cannot penetrate that area with infrastructure. How do you take a bridge from Warri to Forcados, at what cost? How many trillions of dollars will it take? Is it from 13%?
So, in the nature of Nigerian politics, because the structure of the politics was designed by the army, and from antiquity, the rule of the military is to conquer and loot, quote me on this, from antiquity of human history, soldiers conquer a place and loot what they find there. The Nigerian military came, conquered the country and operated a loot system for thirty years. When they were to exit, they chose people that would not probe them. So, it is a continuity of corruption. It is out of personal integrity that some of those governors did very well in spite of that. If they were to behave according to the political structure left behind by the military, some of them would not have even bothered to do anything. So, you have to change that structure first before you begin to ask people “Why are you corrupt? Why are you padding budget?”
As far as the looting ideology left behind by the military is concerned, budget padding is a natural thing. Security vote for the governor is natural. Do you have it so in America or in England? Those were the things which the military put there because it was their surrogates they wanted to be in power. So, to go back to 13%, let us not over-generalize. I can say that without 13% there would have been no Delta State. The first budget of governor Ibori was N6 billion. It could not pay the wages of workers. The workers’ strength then was about 15,000 but by the time he left, it was about 50,000. Are they receiving wages? Yes, they are. It is the money. That money goes to families, they pay their children’s school fees, marry, cater for their health and even to pay their tithes in churches. And so the money is circulating. They pay workers’ salaries, they pay teachers’ salaries and pay contractors. But it is woefully inadequate to cater for the challenge of our territory. The terrain is waterlogged. It is not caused by governors. Infrastructure there takes 10 times, 20 times what it would cost in Kano or in Kaduna. So, you must put that into consideration when you are judging. When Bayelsa State was created in October 1996, I drove there from Lagos; Yenagoa was a forbidden village. It was a disaster, there was only one road in the middle. There was no electricity and they were not connected to the national grid. There was no single petrol station in the whole state. Bayelsa is 12,000 sq. kilometers. You have to drive to Rivers State to buy fuel in your car. But it is not so now. If you drive into the town now, it is no longer so. It is not the federal government that did it, it is the 13%. If you go to Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, there is a difference there from Akpabio’s time. Let’s not be pessimistic or ungrateful that all the governors have been doing in the past 16 years is just stealing the money. That will not be fair. But the Nigerian government that does not have any territory built Abuja in this period we are talking about. And while they built Abuja roads, they paid Julius Bergers with crude oil. Why is the federal government not paying NDDC contractors with crude oil? Why does the federal government withhold NDDC budget in Abuja sometimes for eight months the budget has not been released?
From our own investigations, from Abacha’s time, it was said that they are afraid that if the money coming to the Niger Delta is too much, they will become so prosperous that they can wage war against the country. But our formula of 13% derivation is equal to 87% deprivation.
Finally, how would you react to the recent rumour that the president is seeking the approval of the National Assembly for emergency powers?
It is an insult on the democratic principle. With legislative houses all over the country and the National Assembly, an elected government is seeking to bypass it all. It is impossible. It should not be countenanced at all. It is an admission of failure. You got to power via those structures and you want to sideline them now so that you can move faster. It is not speed we are talking about now, we are talking about quality of thinking. You can be speedy and you can commit atrocities. Let him learn the process of subjecting himself to what is called due process. Why does he want to rule like a military dictator? It should not be allowed.