FOR the Ijaw National Congress, (INC) the amnesty should be seen as a process towards peace in the region. The President, Dr Atuboyedia Obianimi, made it clear in this chat with the Vanguard that an amnesty devoid of concrete solutions to the challenges of the region is like dancing round a circle. He wondered why the federal government is reluctant to come with dialogue content on the way out of tension and conflict in the region.
Dr Obianimi challenged the government to come forward for dialogue if it knew it had nothing to hide. Excerpt:
Consedering the spate of kidnaps which is yet to abate, dont you think the struggle has been criminalised?
When you are in this type of struggle some criminals could come in but it does not change the fact that there is an issue that informed the agitation so criminality doest not mean that you abandon the legitimate demands of the people. Addressing the demands of the people will help to expose the criminals.
Again, it is not the Niger Delta people that are involved in these kidnaps. 70 to 80 percent of the kidnap cases are done in Aba and Ngwa. They have what they call the Ngwa triangle. So why associate the region with abductions all the time.
Let me say that the INC does not support hostage taking or any unwholesome act.
We support non violent struggle. As you are aware having gone consistently on non violent struggle our youths felt we have abandoned the struggle and took up the challenge. This is what gave birth to militancy.Â This struggle traces its root to 1940. We were into verbal militancy then, making legitimate constitutional demands. But since the government chose not to listen, it is believed that was why the youths came up with militancy. Again, the youths into militancy are not into abduction. What I will say is that militancy came out of desperation.
When the people were crying of neglect and government further neglected the area, this caused militancy. Later the Abia triangle cashed in on the militancy in the region to take over abductions. This should not be the basis on which to say the struggle of the Niger Delta is criminalised.
Amnesty is on board for militants in the region. Do you see this action of government bringing about the desired peace?
We support the amnesty to the extent that it is a process towards an end. Amnesty is forgiveness. The Ijaw people are peace loving people. We want it as a process. There were issues that made some people to offendâ€™ the law, to have some go against laid down principles and normal levels of social culture. We have amnesty but it should be part of a process.
In every place where amnesty had occurred it was done as a process. Irish region is an example. In Ireland , Britain thought after many years of oppression of the Irish people they realised that it was proper to talk. They went to IRA and they were referred to the Shinfane.
The British government made overture to the IRA and the IRA. And talked about confidence building process as a conviction that Britain was serious. Among other things, the IRA also asked for a responsible mediator, forgiveness of one another.
They asked that the forgiveness should be legislated into law. All parties should apologize. In 2002 the British government came out to apologize for the oppression. TheÂ the IRA came out in 2005 to apologize for the years of atrocity especially good Friday.
There was an urgent need to develop the region. So they had a Marshal plan. A purposeful Marshal plan came up; Irish was granted some level of autonomy.
What you see in the whole story is that amnesty came up in a process of national forgiveness, rebirth, development and reconstruction. In our own case, nobody is talking about national forgiveness and rebirth.
You are talking of amnesty with armies driving the process in a civilian setting. The sight of a military man carrying gun brings back sad memories to the people
The amnesty committee should operate as a peace keeping force, mind what they say. The young men are seeing these soldiers as instruments of oppression. The committee should create confidence building process. Government should advise the people, involve the community leaders in the peace process.
Niger Delta development Board is an act of parliament, an enactment of parliament. It stipulates what percentage of monies should go to the board and from where but this is being ignored.
You are owing me by law and you have not given me the money you are owing but now you are saying the money has expired. These are some of the problems. There should be confidence building processes.
Another issue is the political space. We want an economic and political space. If you use the number of local governments as the basis for sharing revenue you will see that we lack behind
What we get is too paltry.Â Rivers state was one out of twelve then it became one out of 27, you see how our ratio is falling, then one out of 36, before we made so much noise and they created one from the state.
We were twelve states in the country. But now some have been split into three or four states. The whole of Ijaw land has five or six senators. Total local government for the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, Ijaw is just twenty four which is less than what Kano state alone has. Kano has 44 local governments.
So if Kano is sending people for the House of Representatives they will send more than what the Ijaws will send from Arugbo in Ondo down to the end of the Niger delta region. So you have not given me a voice. You have drowned me.
What is my space in the political arrangements? You and I know that if there is no political space there will be no social and economic space. So the Ijaws are asking for more states and local government areas.
Kano state has produced two other states before yet they still have 44 local government areas. Bayelsa is a state with only ten local government areas. My brother, see the level of injustice.
Bayelsa was a major revenue earner for the country, when you share revenue on the bases of local governments Kano gets 4.4 times higher than what comes to Bayelsa state. You have not talked about the other two states that came out of Kano state. You see a clear case of injustice.
Any word for youths yet to surrender?
I did not make anybody a militant.
Any special appeal?
You want to box me up. All I can say is that the government should address issues raised by the true militants.
Government should discuss with their leaders. I should have a word for the militants when government has done what it should do. This problem can be solved overnight if government does what it should do, it knows what to do.
You are giving us amnesty without dialogue content. Where is the dialogue content? Why are they scarred of this if they are sincere? They should come forth for a talk.
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