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If militants surrender one gun, they’ll keep five – RITA LORI-OGBEBOR

You seem to be so much scared of the Niger Delta situation, why are you so much afraid about what is going on in the creeks of the region?

I am afraid, and I have been afraid for a very long time. I am afraid because what we saw at the very beginning started as crisis between the Ijaws and the Itsekiri. We, the Itsekiri knew what we suffered, and up till now I am still at a loss as to what happened. With the events happening now we came to see that the crisis itself was caused by ignorance and poverty.

Ogbebor-3Ignorance, because the people were poor, and they did not understand why they were poor. Because they were more on the creeks, they saw the people in the lands, as the ones who were benefiting from the oil and they thought they were being marginalised by the Itsekiri. So they came and struck. The Itsekiri have never got over that shock.

It is now that they understand, I hope, that the Itsekiri are not the problem, the Itsekiri did not cause their problems. It is a problem that has been there for a very long time, the problem of neglect by the Federal Government. And the Itsekiri are equally victims of the neglect.

After the Ijaw/Itsekiri internecine war, the politicians then engaged the boys and bought and distributed guns for what usually used to be ordinary thuggery, and here we are with violence of guns, and more dangerous weapons. After the elections were won and lost, the needs of the different people who have been involved in the elections that brought them to power could not be satisfied.

Why do you think a genuine struggle for justice and fair play in resource allocation change for nefarious acts in Niger Delta creeks?

It is because the boys have tasted real money, and in some cases, power. To tell them to drop their guns now will be impossible. The other thing is that since the discovery of oil, a lot of foreign people — people who are not indigenes of Niger Delta — have been involved in the illegal exploration of our oil. For instance, as a full-time journalist during the Nigerian civil war years, I knew how these foreign firms were taking away our oil and which led to the problem between BP and the Federal Government at that time. So illegal bunkering has been going on, but it was mostly done by the foreign companies themselves.

Now other people came to join — foreigners, individuals came to join and they were still carrying on through the foreign companies. During the Ijaw/Itsekiri crisis, more people have come into illegal bunkering and our own children are now involved. It is a very complicated issue now.

When one thinks about what is happening in the Congo, Rwanda — all areas where you have mineral resources — you have these people, who go in there instigating corruption and trouble, and because it does not concern them really.

Take the Warri crisis, for instance, it took us sweat and blood, and God, before the Warri crisis could come to an end. But a lot of people enjoyed the crisis, because their wives and children were not involved, their sisters were not raped and killed. It came to a point that every soldier wanted to be posted to Warri — and that is still happening today, soldiers and policemen — everybody wants to be posted to Warri, because of what is going on — illegal bunkering.

This is where I am afraid that this thing is not going to end. Now that our own children are involved, they have tasted real money and power, so they are not going to let go. The foreigners are still there also instigating them because they know it is in chaotic situation that they can get what they want.

Besides, some of our children have become criminals and they are not thinking that they are ruining themselves and the Niger Delta. For instance, you go and burst a pipe without knowing the damage to the environment. By that act you also destroyed the ecology of the place.

As it is now, how can we reverse the situation in the region?

Well, from what I have seen, I have told you that I am afraid. It is going to be difficult to reverse the situation in Niger Delta. The Federal Government and its agencies are far from the place. They do not see how much we are suffering and all they know is the money coming from the place. When the Ijaws and Itsekiri were fighting, the Federal Government and its agencies were busy talking about the money that was coming from Warri oil wells and were not concerned about the loss of lives of the people.

Today, the country, is run on the oil from the Niger Delta. People do not think of the people, who are suffering. They do not think about the women, who will be running whenever there is trouble, from creek to creek and the children, who will die, if the Niger Delta matter is not resolved.

In spite of all the trouble, some people are benefiting; they keep their big ships in the high sea and ask our children to go and burst pipes and when they burst the pipes, they take the oil and put in the big ships and they go away. But our children do not understand.

This is my big fear. I am afraid if this is not going to degenerate into a situation where there will be war, because the criminals among our children do not care. They do not even understand. There are no fishes in the water in the Niger Delta any more, but they do not care about that, they do not even know that this thing they are doing causes more environmental impact than the money they get.

By bursting the pipes, our youths are polluting and destroying the Niger Delta ecosystem. What words do you have for them as their actions pose greater environmental issues in future?

They can not understand. For instance, when there is a burst of pipes, a lot of people are happy. The various communities in the area of burst pipes will be busy preparing papers to make claims for compensations.

The communities do not know that there is no amount of money paid as compensation now or in the future that can make up for the destruction that oil spillage from the burst pipes had caused the communities. It is very difficult for me to advise them, except that they should realised that by bursting the pipes they are doing more harm to themselves because when the oil is gone, it will dry up one day but it should not dry with our farming, fishing, trading and our land so that we become very poor. It is unbelievable people are totally ignorant about the destruction that is going on in the Niger Delta.

How do you see the roles of the multi-national oil companies operating in the Niger Delta vis-avis the crisis situation?

The oil companies, for me, are not helping situation. What is happening today in the various communities where the oil companies are exploring oils will not be allowed in their home-countries. They are all happy about the conflicts in the communities in the area. During the Ijaw/Itsekiri crisis, the NGOs use us to collect money from donor agencies in their home-countries and come here and they do not spend the money here.

They only spend the money making noise. We do not want any help from these NGOs again but we demand clean environment from the oil companies. We want our way of life before the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta.

Today, because of oil that is causing conflicts among the Niger Delta ethnic nationalities, the children are no longer going to schools. They cut corners and indulge in bunkering and buy big jeeps. What good has the oil done to the Niger Delta region? It has only brought calamity! People like us are just sad and what pains me every day is that you have these politicians running around saying they are discussing our problems. They are not, because for everything they do they are looking at how it will benefit them and their own immediate families.

In future, do you see the Niger Delta people going back to their traditional occupation that sustained them before the discovery of oil?

Well, before you begin to think of the people of the region ever going to their traditional means of sustenance, you have to first think: “Can this thing ever stop? ”I am afraid! Will the situation not degenerate into war?

Some of our children who have turned criminals along with the criminals outside — these other people who indulge in bunkering in the Niger Delta — will not allow this thing to end. This is my fear. But the Federal Government is the one that should be thinking harder than myself because if they do not come up with reasonable answers to the situation, things will get worse.

So, how do you think the problem can be solved?

If you plead with any militant to drop his guns, that is a waste of time because no militant will lay down his guns. Every militant knows what the gun is for — the guns for them, represent implement to get food for themselves. If they give one gun, they will keep five for themselves. The militants are no fools.


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