Nseobong Okon-Ekong holds a discussion on some of the contentious issues facing the South-south region with Former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State and Director General of three successful governorship campaigns in the state, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd.), who is at present Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum
Recently in Uyo, there was a reported fracas between the Hausa/Fulani community and the Akwa Ibomites in a place called Nassarawa, from what we hear the Hausa/Fulani community there now say that the area belongs to them they have changed its original name from Mbak Itam to Nasarawa Village. They have installed an Emir in the place. What do you foresee, recalling what happened in places like Jos?
I heard about the fracas and I can tell you that they will not survive here. What happened in Jos cannot survive here. My advise to them is to maintain the friendly relationship which we already have with them. I don’t even know how that comes! You just come and say this is your own, from no where? That will not happen here. I just hope that their sponsors or the people that know them well will advise them against that attitude. Maybe they don’t seem to understand that it is dangerous for them. Let them not even try it. I don’t see that degenerating to the kind of thing that you saw in Jos. Some of the people that we are talking about are not very educated people. Sometimes you see things like that. I am sure that by now it has been quelled by the military. I think the Nasarawa thing is because they sell cows and goats and things like that.
If they have truly installed an Emir…
You can’t blame them. You blame our people. If you leave a place open like that anything can happen. You don’t take chances with the Fulani. Every where that the Fulanis have taken over, they started like that, not just now from the days of Uthman Dan Fodio that is how they start. Everywhere in the North, once they go in, even if the Hausas are more than them, the Fulani person must be the Emir, no matter how many Hausa people are in that place. Everybody has been seeing this, it is not possible here. I think the state government will have to take more seriously what has happened. If you want to live peacefully, you live peacefully, if you bring that old-fashioned, land-grabbing attitude then there is no place for you here. We can do without them. What are they really doing? What are they contributing to the economy other than they cows that they are selling? Can’t we do without the cows? I don’t want to take it to that level. Let them just sell their market, but not think of taking our land
Your tenacity in politics in this state notable. You have been the Director General of two successful governorship campaigns, back-to-back at the end you don’t appear to be in the limelight. You were in the background, not seeking anything, why is that? Why did you not present yourself as a governorship candidate? Having been a Military Administrator, we have seen your colleagues who served as military administrators also contesting and winning election as civilian governors.
My understanding is that I don’t have to be a governor to get things done. If I am in a position to assist and recommend and things are done. I don’t see why I must be the one who must be there. May be it is the level of development of our politics that makes it the way it is. You hear someone say that one is an action governor. Don’t they have a manifesto or did the party not have anything that they promised the people people or did the man just drop from the sky, and just start doing anything that he wants to do? To that extent, I belong to a political party. The political party would have what they intend to do for the people and if I am in a position to advise the person on what to do, I don’t have to go and start seeking for that same office. That is my attitude to it. Sometimes because of our low level of development or lack of it, we misconstrue some of those things. I believe that with a team spirit if you are working for the betterment of the people and you have the opportunity, when you are not given the opportunity to put in a word, it is a different thing. I think I have the opportunity. There is nobody that has been there and completely ignores anything that I say. When you carry something to, let’s say a governor, it doesn’t mean that he must do exactly what you say. He might have access to other information which you don’t have. You must be ready to understand that the moment he gives you opportunity and some of them have been very nice in explaining why they are doing what they are doing, meaning that you can just advise on the basis of the additional information that you have. It is not because I have worked with two different governors and three different campaigns and they were successful that doesn’t mean that I must go and occupy that seat. I don’t have to.
And you did not even seek a senatorial position?
I don’t have to. What I am doing in the Niger Delta region today, if properly seen, the contribution is enormous. Today, I am talking about issues affecting the down trodden people of the Niger Delta. We are reconciling the Ijaws with the Itsekiris and so forth. All that is not an easy thing. I don’t see what a senator is doing. A senator is just in his own little enclave. It shows that for you to try to do what I am doing well, you will need a lot of cooperation of the people. Sometimes that cooperation does not come because of underlining issues. When something comes out some people want to see it from their own ethnic eye. Thank God, I have been preaching to the them that this is Niger Delta, it is a region that has so many ethnic groups. Everybody was speaking in his own tongue. This one would say I am Itsekiri, this one would say I am Ijaw or Ibibio. Somehow with the advent of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), we are beginning to speak with one voice. The problems facing us, does not understand whether you are Itsekiri and all. Is it the pollution, the environmental issues, we have? It is the same thing. I am just hoping that things would get better.
We didn’t see PANDEF or really feel its impact when there was that NDDC probe, with the information available to you as a pressure group in the Niger Delta, a matter of urgent national interest like that probe involving huge sums of monies that were taken out during the lockdown supposedly for the people, should interest PANDEF to take a position?
We took a position but it had nothing to do with palliatives. It was not a palliative issue. We did not get ourselves involved in palliative whether someone is getting palliative or not because our main reason for getting involved is beyond palliative. It is not palliative that we are looking for. With the NDDC probe, we were one of the first that fired a salvo and I remember that time, particularly in Akwa Ibom State they abused me thoroughly because I signed the News Release as Chairman of PANDEF and our people thought that it was a matter between Godswill Akpabio and I. I don’t know why they did that because the truth is that whatever happens in the NDDC affects the whole region, not just Akwa Ibom State. While other states in the region appplauded what I did , our people were abusing me. I was not bothered. I had said what I needed to say. It is still coming out the way we did. The NDDC thing has a history and we like to go by way of the history of that place. From the beginning, we did not want the NDDC structured the way it is we said that but Obasanjo, at that time, insisted. He brought nine states, instead of the six States of the South-south and we have accept it, otherwise tomorrow, they will go and carry Imo, Abia and Ondo and form a pressure group against us. Even though they did not want the place to succeed in the first instance, we endured all that and it has been working well with the other people but you can see now the development commissions are coming up in every region.
I saw that this was coming during the 2014 National Conference, when the North-east, because of Boko Haram said they should have their own development comission just like NDDC. I remember in that conference they were saying money should be paid and I said people are dying and you want money paid instead of solving the problem. Nobody was listening. At the end, they created that commission for the North-east. North-west, because of banditry, has also asked for it, I think that one is in its second reading before the federal lawmakers. Recently, I was in Abuja during public hearing for the South-south Development Commission hearing. That same day, the South-west was supposed to come and I think they showed up later. Apparently, if they have South-east; Imo and Abia will go with them, if they have South-west, Ondo will go with them, what will be left will be just South-south and the law is not looking good. We are not happy because they make NDDC a national property, whereas this one they are doing belongs to those people. In NDDC, you have directors who are northerners. That is what we are saying. That is the lot of the people of the Niger Delta. The NDDC is something for the whole country. Just like oil, it is for the whole country. Gold is for only Zamfara. We have been saying this. I was glad to go and appear at that public hearing, so that they can amend the laws to suit us like they do for other people. These are some of the things we say and they will shout us down, but eventually it comes around. The issue of NDDC, the moment that problem came. I said first of all, we were not totally happy with the way the NDDC was structured, having come this way and then we have the IMC and for almost two years now, nothing has come to this area, as far as the NDDC is concerned. They are just answering the name NDDC, but it is run by how many people? They are approving and doing a lot of things. We say if it is audiitng, forensic audit, go ahead and return it to what the place was created for. That was our submission. What you have there now is not what the law says. Now, it is being run by just a few people to the detriment of the Niger Delta people. If you ask them, they say, they are doing forensic audit. When will it end? When will the people of Niger Delta benefit from the NDDC?
The Minister of the Niger Delta Affiars is from Akwa Ibom..
So what? The Minister coming from Akwa Ibom is of no significance to us. We have said this. If we don’t look at it from the angle of emotion, you will see that the Minister coming from Akwa Ibom makes no difference. We have said it very clearly, there are things that bother us as a region. You see this East-West Road that people have been dying, for how many years? It was later that I found out that even when I was Governor, in my address when General Babangida came to Ikot Abasi because I took him to that bridge linking Rivers State, that bridge was not there, that road was not constructed by the way it is now. The road that was there from Port Harcourt was constructed by the Shagari administration. There was no bridge, people used to go by boat. When he came to commission ASCON, I took him there and I said if we can have this bridge, it will help us. In my speech close to 30 years ago, I spoke about East-West Road. You can imagine how long ago we have been talking about that road. Till today that road is not complete. The Ministry of Niger Delta should concentrate on that East-West Road because it was given to them. Let them leave all these other ones. Another area that is touching us is the relocation of the IOCs. On November 1, 2016, we went to see the President, about 100 stakeholders from the Niger Delta. We presented a 16-point agenda to him and said if you follow this, there will be peace in the Niger Delta. We were in a recession then, these Niger Delta Avengers had started breaking pipleines. The President, same President that is there said we are going to use this as a working paper. We left, The Vice President, as Acting President also came around. It was in the Governor’s Banquet Hall in Uyo that he said he was going to work for the relocation of the IOCs. I did not believe him because the people preventing the relocation of the IOCs are people in Lagos and he is from there. If you are in Lagos and see the development from Central Lagos to Lekki by Chevron, by Mobil, you will weep for our people. Those things should have been here. When we met him again on the 3rd of August the following year, because he went round the states of the Niger Delta and it was in Uyo that he made that statement that he would see to the relocation, when we met him and asked what has happened now, of course, he had not done anything. I remember Chief E.K. Clark spoke in that place and told him, in other climes all these oil companies, Mobil, Chevron, Elf are they located in their federal capital? They are not. Mobil is in Irving, Texas. Chevron is in California. Why is our own the way it is? If they are located here, the trickle down effect on even the woman that sells akara will be felt and it so happens that when they first came, Mobil was located in Ibeno, in Eket axis, both operational and administrative, it was during the war in the 60s that General Gowon’s administration then said administratively, let them operate from Lagos for the safety of the foreigners. Somebody is still quoting that one and saying security in 2020. That day in that meeing of 3rd of August, 2017, Ibe Kachukwu, he was the Minister of State, Petroleum then was quoting that security as an issue for the IOCs not relocating to the Niger Delta. Very recently, I heard the Minister of State for Petroleum, Sylva said the same thing to Governor Wike and Wike was mad at him. Are you saying that they don’t kill people in Lagos? Don’t they kidnap people in Lagos? So, why do you do things like this? That is why we said the Minister in charge of Petroleum, if these people don’t relocate, it is you. Another angle is the rail line. The colonial masters built it from Lagos to the north; and from Enugu to the north. They extended the one from Enugu to Port Harcourt for obvious reasons because Eastern Nigeria at that time had taken Port Harcourt as part of Eastern Nigeria and they needed a path to the sea, but from Lagos to Calabar, where the revenue is coming from, no rail. In Akwa Ibom, a child who starts primary school and finishes university there does not know what a train looks like, yet they are producing over 40 percent of the country’s revenue. The one they now use to build a rail line from Daura to Niger Republic. It is injustice and that is why when we talk about restructuring, it is this injustice that makes us talk about it. There is a lot of injustice in the system. These key places are manned by people from the Niger Delta. The rail line is Amaechi. He will be defending what they are doing. Sylva is the one for the relocation of the IOCs. Akpabio is for East-West Road. They are all from the Niger Delta and that is why it is very painful. The tree says, it is not that they fell a tree that is painful, but that the axe is using part of its body, the handle of the axe is wood.