Mr Raphael Okelezo, a philanthropist, a public commentator on national issues and politician , is one of the powerful voices in the Niger Delta region.Â Okelezo, from Irri, Isoko South LGA of Delta State, in this interview with Gab Ejuwa, bares his mind on burning issues, affecting his native Isoko and the Niger Delta in general. EXCERPTS:
Now that the Federal Government has rolled out a post amnesty programme, what is your advice to the Federal Government, Isoko people and the entire Niger Delta?
First and foremost, let me commendÂ President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua who has provided amicable solutions to the Niger Delta problems. This is what successive governments and most countries with civil conflicts have not been able to resolve but he has addressed it.
To start with, the amnesty programme should be a transparent programme, because a lot of initiatives like this had come before, and theyÂ werenâ€™t successful.
My message to the Government is that they must be up and doing so that these freedom fighters war who were gracious enough to surrender their strongholds donâ€™t go back to the creeks. In essence,Â the Government should pursue urgently, a vigorous and systematic development for the region.
Alongside empowerment ofÂ the youth with method of education and selling skills, this naturally endowed Niger Delta region of ours will move forward with unity, faith, peace and progress.
Niger Delta leaders should be transparent in their dealings with the Federal Government. In this regard, they should consider their people before taking any decision, because if they make any mistake now, they will be held responsible by the younger and future generations.
Do you know of the master plan for the Niger Delta region?
Iâ€™m very much aware, and itâ€™s been long put in place, evenÂ as far back asÂ Obasanjoâ€™s tenure. Iâ€™d like to suggest that the Government revisit the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report. Also the master plan must be reproduced for community leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders to enable the people to monitor the execution, without which there will be mutual suspicion and distrust.
It may be difficult for the Government to distribute this document to all the interested parties?
What do you mean? How could it be difficult if the same Government could print ballot papers for the 36Â states of the nation? So, you see, itâ€™s a question of Government having the will to do it. And if really they wonâ€™t do it, then their sincerity is to be questioned.
Because I have been personally involved in selling this idea to the people of the region. Iâ€™ve spent much to also ensure that the militants buy the idea of peace in the area.
So, Iâ€™d refuse to be privy to any initiative or plan that is not transparent, because at the end of the day, it will be counter-productive. So, Iâ€™d like to prevail on the Government to match their words with visible action.
Few communities within the Niger Delta actually used arms to draw the Governmentâ€™s attention. What does the initiative have for the other parts that did not embark on armed struggle?
We have nine states within the Niger Delta. A typical example is my own area Isokoland which did not use armed struggle, yet has over eighty oil wells with nothing to show in terms of development.
Are you saying that because we did not use arms, we should be ignored on the developmentalÂ programme? Donâ€™t ever think that!
The development programme is, and should be meant for the whole nine states of the Niger Delta region. We must not be selfish and partisan.