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Amnesty can’t work without JTF withdrawal – Asari Dokubo

….Says Henry Okah and I are enemies

Exactly five days ago, the amnesty offered by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to Niger Delta militants to drop their arms took off. Arms depots have been set up but response has been low. It is not known how many militants will actually surrender their arms at the end of the day even as the offer expires October 4.

In this interview with Vanguard, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Salvation Front and Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force whose arms depot was ironically raided Thursday by the police, the day amnesty took effect said it will be difficult for the militants to drop their weapons that have become their source of livelihood. He  also spoke of his differences with MEND leader, Henry Okah and other issues relating to the amnesty offer and militancy in the region. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the peace process being initiated by the President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration in resolving the Niger Delta crisis vis-a-vis the implementation of the amnesty the government offered militants in the region?
I think that the amnesty offer is not lawful. It is not. President Yar’Adua does not have any legal authority to grant amnesty to anybody under the laws and statutes of the Nigeria state. So, whatever peace he is trying to achieve is very difficult if he does not have the legal authority to do so. It will be of no effect as far as I’m concerned.

But he has the power to pardon any crime against the state under the prerogative of mercy?
That is when the person has been convicted in a court of law or the person is in jail, to release him without pursuing the charges against him, you withdraw the charges against him. That is what can happen?

What do you have to say about other peace initiatives of the present administration?
Sincerely speaking, I’ve not seen any peace initiative.

Despite your argument that the Mr. President does not have power to offer amnesty to the militants, in the thinking of many, that was a kind of olive branch the government extended to the fighters in the region?

Excerpt a person is being dubious, if a man does not have something, how can he give it to another person? That shows the level of sincerity. Henry Okah’s counsel, our brother in the struggle, Mr Femi Falana, clearly stated that Yar’Adua does not have power to grant amnesty.

Asari
Asari

In Henry Okah’s case, they used the court to free him by stopping the prosecution?
But they said in amnesty, you sign the condition to become a recipient of something they do not have the power to give.

One other issue is the debate over when the displaced people in the region are to return to their home communities. What do you have to say on this?
These are the things we’re talking about, the insincerity on the part of the people who are in government in Abuja. You cannot be saying that you have given amnesty and innocent folks in their various communities who have not done anything wrong, you went to their communities, destroyed their communities, killed them and committed all sorts of atrocities against them and they want to return and you are saying that you want to screen them.

If you have granted amnesty to the so-called militants who are part of the communities and there is a sixty-day period when the amnesty can be taken and during that period, there was going to be a cease-fire, why should you prevent them from going to their homes? Are there two governments? One headed by Yar’Adua and the other by commanders of JTF? Why should their return be an issue in the first place? Until October 4, if those you claim are militants do not accept the amnesty offer, then you can make that an issue. For now, they have no issue whatsoever against these people.

Withdrawal of the Joint Task Force (JTF) from the region has been generating controversy and this is one of the demands of MEND…?
(Cuts in) That is the demand of everybody, not just MEND. They (JTF) cannot continue to occupy our territory. They should go. If the government has offered amnesty, until October 4, why are they still keeping the JTF there? Even the presence of these people (JTF) has not solved any problem. The attacks are still going on. So, if genuinely they want peace, you withdraw them.

Recently, Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos was bombed and MEND claimed responsibility. How would you react to the incident?
I think it is very regrettable. As an individual, I feel that it was wrong. Before an action is to be taken you have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. There are so many people in Lagos who have sympathy for our struggle and it will not be good to antagonise them. That’s my personal believe. But every argument has two sides. If you support us, why would you allow them to bring our resource to your house? That day around after 11 pm, a friend of mine, a foreigner called me and  he said an attack was going on, that I should find out what was happening.

Immediately, I started making calls. So, I felt very bad. You know the position of my group on attack on oil pipelines and its environmental effects. Our position is very clear on this issue. But we cannot dictate to or impose our views on other groups. We might not like it (such attacks), as well as kidnapping and so on.. But the justificationby those carrying out the attacks is that instead dying, they should rather attack oil facilities. The adverse environmental effects should have been taken into consideration.

Recently it was reported that northern Senators were trying to convince the National Assembly to include derivation on minerals from other parts of the country in the proposed Constitution amendment. How would you react to such move?
We are in total support of it. The resources of every people belong to them. But they cannot continue to take our resources, they should also allow us to take as much as they have taken from our own. They should make the law that we should keep our own, but they should make reparation. They cannot take from us and keep their own.

Arewa Consultative Forum reportedly accused you and Henry Okah of making utterances that are inimical to peace in the Niger Delta. What do you have to say on that?

I cannot speak for Henry Okah. He is not my friend. As it stands, we’re enemies. So, I can’t speak for him. He just came out of prison. I thank God for him that he did not die. He should go and take care of his health and come back. If he wants to join in building a formidable struggle, good. If he wants to continue in what brought disagreement between us, it’s also good for him. I can speak for myself.

I know the man who is stepping my toes. He has a face, he has a form and if I identify him, I’m not wrong. If the one who is stepping on my toes wants to rain abuses me, that is his business, I know him. I know that he is represented, supported and backed by the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy. They are the ones that have been so tickled, has been so angered, they are the ones making all the statements. One former governor of Yobe State said Niger Delta people are ingrate and all that. ‘We have done so much for them’ and so on. Hardly any other people had made these statements.

They maintained that the people of the Niger Delta blame them for the problems in the region?
Yes. They are the people who have been ruling and have been confiscating all our resources. You cannot ask a Palestinian not to say that the people who have caused their problem and have benefited from their misery are the Jews. Or you will ask Mandela and others not to say that it was the Whites that were the cause of their miseries in South Africa? You cannot. We know the chief beneficiaries of the occupation and the manipulation of the process in our land. They are the Hausa-Fulanis. It is as simple as that.

Taking you back to your relationship with Okah, you said that as it stands now you are enemies. What would you say is cause of your broken relationship?
I have said it several times. We disagreed on principles, on modus operandi of this struggle. Our group, the group that I belong to, stand on the platform of morality and justice. Anybody who wants to make us to step down from this platform, wants to cause deviation in our struggle and we’ll resist it. Some people followed him as the proponent of another direction, which is alien to our nature and to our believe. So, we disagreed. And then, personally, he offended me. So, as far as I’m concerned, these are our area of disagreement.

There might be room for us, if he agrees to shift from where he is standing to the universally accepted platform of morality and justice. What is not in our struggle is not in our struggle. Look at the Atlas Cove attack. What advantage did it give us? It has strained our relationship with people who supports us. Yes, morally, there is the argument is that if you support me don’t allow our resources to be kept in your house but of what general benefit is derivable from that attack? We have to weigh it.

Under the amnesty offer, the Federal Government said there will be no arms for money deal, that none of the groups that surrender its weapon will receive money for the arms?
I want to ask them, what is the N50 billion meant for? How can somebody hand over his guns with which he has earning a living and you ask him to return them without paying? How many years has he been in the creeks? How many of the people (militants) has the (government) been able to kill. It is just senseless. Even up till today, the Federal Government is owing me N137 million on arms I returned.

But some people believe that you have been paid by the Federal Government and that was why you supported the peace initiatives in the region on your release from prison?
You have sought on such issues several times, so where did I support them. My interviews have caused so much stirs and if I’m in support of the Federal Government maybe the ACF chairman would not have  talked about me the way he did. See, I am not doing anything to please anybody. I’m not in a popularity contest with anybody. I’m doing things that I’m convinced are right, my conscience tells me it’s right. I judge myself and as a Muslim. So, if I’m not pleasing anybody in what I say and what I do, I don’t owe anybody  any obligation rather than my conscience and my God.

If I satisfy my conscience, not even God because a lot of people hid under God to perpetrate evil. When you satisfy your conscience, you satisfy God. If I am done with that, to hell with any other person. When I disagreed and I came out openly against Okah, some people thought I will not live one week that I’ll be killed. I received so many text messages, I did not give a damn. As far as I’m concerned, what I said is the truth and I’ll continue to say it.

When I said northerners were parasites, my friends, so many of them took me on. We argued, some of them argued on the phone and did everything. My wife is a northerner, we argued. And people came and said Mujahid, this is not fair but I believe that what I said is the truth and I’ll continue to hold onto it. When I said kidnapping was wrong when I came out from prison, I had attacks from so many people, ‘oh you’ve been settled’ and all that.

Today, virtually everybody  that attacked me have had either his mother, relation or father kidnapped. Several people, even some of the militants, their wives and their children had been kidnapped. As the are kidnapping other people, other people are kidnapping them. So, time will tell whether you are on the right part or not.

Asari Dokubo
Asari Dokubo

When I said amnesty is not for me and I went to court, so many people attacked me; relations, friends, they were like, ‘oh, Keyamo want to use you for popularity’.. But Keyamo never initiated it, Keyamo even advised me against it. He said, ‘look, just forget it’. I said no. My very good friends, some of them don’t want to call me, they don’t want to greet me at all. They say, ‘why is it that where angels are afraid to walk you’re walking’.  So, I’m supposed to go to hospital, I don’t have money and people are weary of being my friend because I look at you and I say it to your face and I don’t give a damn. If I die at 45, so be it. If people can buy me, I would have been bought long time ago but God has not created the human being that can buy me.

This armed struggle which your organisation has dropped…?
(Cuts in) We did not drop armed struggle, we suspended it.

When you took up arms, did you envisage that it will escalate to this level?

No I did not.  But I knew that in every revolution, there will be counter revolutionary elements. And we were complacent, we were not very vigilant. We know that these counter revolutionary elements and fifth columnist will come but we were not vigilant and that’s why we have this situation of anarchy. Counter revolutionary elements are now rising and flying high as leaders of our struggle.

Some of the fighters in the struggle have been tagged as criminal elements, would you say that the original intention of your group and genuine agitators for the emancipation of the Niger Delta people is still on course?
Yeah, we are. It is like Onitsha market and does not know who comes or who does not come. That is how the struggle is. It’s like a market place, everybody is in it.

Some of the fighters have said they will not accept the amnesty offer but others have embraced it.  The government has given a time frame after which the offer will elapse,  what happens after the offer expires and the issues in the Niger Delta struggle are not resolved?
My group at our general assembly and central command have rejected the amnesty. We cannot accept the amnesty and we cannot speak for others. It will be wrong for us to do so. We can always speak for ourselves.

What happens in the event of renewed attacks on …?
(Cuts in) I know that there have been renewed attacks. We’re not oblivious of that fact. They (JTF) are still moving in troops everywhere. We know.

Even with the amnesty offer?
Yes, they are moving in troops.

On your return from a foreign trip you were arrested but the government quickly ordered your release, would you say they realised that your arrest was a mistake at the time and what do you think informed the action in the first place?
I don’t know what the government thinks, I cannot speak for the government. I knew that I’ll be arrested even before I came into the country. My wife had told me to go through Ghana. The flight I took, the last destination was Accra, I would have changed it at the airport to stop at Accra. I had a business class ticket, I hardly travel if I don’t have money, it’s just because of my health concern.

I would have just talked with the airline operators and go to Ghana. And from Ghana I would have passed through any border to come into Nigeria  but I said no. The only thing I want to say (is that) unlike during my detention when some of the SSS people were very cruel, they were very polite to me this time around. They treated me very well throughout the night.

You have insisted on the convocation of a sovereign national conference as one of the conditions for the resolution of the many problems of the country and in particular, the Niger Delta crisis. Why not present the case before the  National Assembly?
It is like a car that has no engine, what are you going to use it for? This Nigeria has no engine, so there is nothing to repair. The National Assembly is like the door of the car. Will you just enter the door and say you are driving a car?  Have you seen the carcase of a car on the way which children play with? They will be doing ‘bouuu bouuu’, do they move it? We’re saying that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian state and this thing can only be repaired through an wholesale process and that can only be achieved through a sovereign national conference.

What is you view on electoral reforms and constitution amendment under this administration?
I believe that if the government sincere, it will embrace electoral reform but with the activities and all the elections, including Ekiti gubernatorial rerun election, which was fought seriously by the people, all show that the government is not serious about any electoral reform. In 2011, they should not take the people for granted.

As the next general election is approaching, are you going to contest for any elective office?
I don’t think so.

Why would you not want to contest assuming your people wants you to do so?
I don’t think so because there is no level playing field. I’ll not come and contest election and somebody I know that he cannot stand election with me will come and defeat me and they say, ‘he has been defeated’. Untill there is a level playing ground, I will not contest any election.


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