Wing Commander Peter Yerindi BiakparaÂ is a retired Air Force officer. He spent twenty three years in the Nigerian Air Force before heÂ retired and then went into politics, whichÂ he saidÂ he was forced into by hisÂ people whenÂ the slot for House of Representatives wasÂ vacant. HeÂ contested election to the senate during the Babangida years butÂ didnâ€™t make it and because of his involvement in Delta State politics, heÂ was made a Special AdviserÂ on Niger Delta and later he becameÂ Commissioner for Agriculture in Delta State.
In this interview withÂ Abayomi Adeshida of our Abuja Bureau, Biakpara answers questions on Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s chances of running and winning the Presidency in 2011 amongst other issues.
What is the focus of the Ijaw National Congress at the time you set up the body?
Well, as a disadvantaged people, we gathered to formulate policies, so to say, for the suffering Ijaw people; and as usual, when a group of people are persistently shortchanged in their environment, they also plan survival. Of course, until recently, the fight had been a peaceful fight, verbal agitation, intellectual, and all that; and I think there are reasons.
I will tell you, only little things start big things, even a volcano starts with small eruptions. The whole Niger Delta problem as you see it today, started from a tiny disagreement between the Ijaws and the Itshekiris ethnic disagreement in the Warri area and that flagrated into Bayelsa and everywhere and you know where we are today.
But now, the focus is no more intercommunal, it is not interethnic, it is now the Ijaws and the rest of Nigeria; or rather, Niger Deltans and the rest of the country, particularly, the people who are holding the reins of government and until recently, the reins of government is now in the hands of the Niger Deltans. So, the focus like I said is fight for survival, not fight to dominate anybody.
Before now, the main problems had been the federal government shortchanging the peopleâ€¦
But what have the state governments been doing, would you sincerely say they have paid enough attention to developmental challenges in the region?
I have been in government at that level and therefore, I know. And if anybody tells you that State Governments are doing nothing to address the situation, it is not true. The problem of the Niger Delta is so monumental that State Governments can only do just little; Iâ€™ll give you an example.
When I was in government,Â Governor James Ibori was able to do at least one, and when I say one, it is just representative, but in quantity, many bridges, he was able to bridge the land to the riverine areas; if the Federal Government had also done that type of project way behind, I can tell you, the kind of myth surrounding the Niger Delta where any little thing that happens makes everybody shake, we would not have had it, because we would all know what is there.
Now, they donâ€™t know what is in there in the Niger Delta, Niger Delta is a mystery.Â Any little agitation or fracas there is like the devil is coming, like small children being afraid of the devil or the masquerade; that is what they have made out of the Niger Delta because they know so little, and they know so little because there is no development. Roads are not there so if you send a policeman to an interior part of the region, he will tell you he wonâ€™t go, because he does not know what surrounds him.
Like I said, itâ€™s like the child being afraid of the masquerade, when the adult knows that itâ€™s a human being that is inside the masquerade, but the child thinks it is something else that is inside.
But the agitations has suddenly turned dangerous as the sincere call for development is now laced with sabotage, kidnaping and general insecurity of livesâ€¦..
Yes, you will agree with me that have abated tremendously with the recent emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as President.Â This thing is psychological, everybody in the Niger Delta felt like somebody sitting in Abuja, aided by the majority tribes, put it that way, and had been shortchanging them.
That psychological feeling is no more there, therefore, the agitation was bound, and now it has come down. If anything is happening now, itâ€™s a matter of normal criminality that is available anywhere; itâ€™s not just a Niger Delta issue anymore. Itâ€™s criminality which exists everywhere in Nigeria.
People are agitating in the north against Jonathan presidency come 2011, referring the whole nation to an agreement that the north should continue for the next four years and generally, Nigerians are hinging the ambition of the President to run in 2011 on his performance within the short period he has.
Anybody who is talking about hinging Jonathanâ€™s emergence in 2011 on his performance is being mischievous, I can tell you that. Presidents have been on seat for so many years and they didnâ€™t perform; Jonathan is not a magician, Jonathan has only three months to make up his mind and decide â€˜yes, I will run,â€™ what would you expect a normal Nigerian to do in three months that will convince the people that he can actually lead the country well for four years with all these years of misrule in the country?
Therefore, we have to look beyond performance for now; of course the indications are already there that he will perform. Therefore, spread it in the next five years, we will realize the very potentially beneficial person we have in Jonathan. From whatever angle you will want to look at things, you will agree that God is working through him. In fact, I described him in my book as the physical manifestation of the finger of God in Nigeria. That is exactly what he is; we have to recognize him as thatâ€¦.
When did you write this book, Jonathan has just been president for barely two months nowâ€¦
Iâ€™m still writing it. In fact you met me writing it; itâ€™s just that I virtually concluded.
People will ask how the vision for publishing the book came within a few weeks into Jonathan presidency, they will see your speed as a betrayal of some hidden motives for coming out with such a book, just like what weâ€™ve seen in the days gone by, published by elements who were seeking relevanceâ€¦
Before Jonathan Presidency, I am already a relevant person. so, I donâ€™t need this book to be relevant. The point is that I have been in this struggle, the struggle is me, and I am also the struggle. Of course, we did a lot of things before Jonathan became the President, even though God concluded it for us. So, the moment you get to one step, you are looking beyond that step; the moment Jonathan became the President, of course ordinarily, people will look at the next step.
It wasnâ€™t started by this group. Our starting this book was precipitated by the anti-Jonathan group, saying that the Presidency had been zoned to the north. Take for example Vincent Ogbulaforâ€™s statement. The writing of the book started after Ogbulaforâ€™s statement, and of course, he was kicking against Jonathanâ€™s emergence as PDPâ€™s candidate for 2011 Presidency.
So, just like they were thinking that he (Jonathan) cannot be (President in 2011), we also were thinking that he can be.Â Itâ€™s just that we decided to put our own in the form of this book. We are the ones making the case and we must make the case very clearly.
What just occurred to me from your response was the reverberation of general belief in town that Ogbulaforâ€™s prosecution for corruption was due to his utterances as you just quoted him nowâ€¦.
The corruption, was itÂ committed during Jonathanâ€™s tenure as President? The case was in 2001 and you should ask the judiciary and the Federal Government lawyers why it was at the point they commenced prosecuting the matter that they went to court.
Why is the case coming up now, you just asked, Jonathan is not the head of the judiciary. He is not the one that prosecutes cases for the Federal Government, so, itâ€™s a matter of timing. In my view, I think what people would want to say was to criticize him for not stopping the arraignment of a sitting chairmanÂ of a ruling party over allegations of corruption, but you are aware that he cannot just do that since he professed that anti-corruption is one of the pillars of this administration.
So, I think Nigerians should be praising him for bringing out cases that have been hanging. Itâ€™s not only Ogbulafor that has been running, you are aware of other cases.
Remember your former boss, governor Iboriâ€¦
You are right, he was my boss, I am not routing for his prosecution, but if an offence was committed, so be it; the law must take its full courseâ€¦
You were appointed as the first Special Adviser on Niger Delta under him and that had brought you to some level of recognition so far, how would you describe him as a governor?
I was appointed by him based on what role he expected me to play in his government. If you ask me about Iboriâ€™s performance as Governor, I will tell you what I know, whether he stole the money he was said to have stolen or not, I donâ€™t know.
But I know Ibori as a Governor was a very amiable Governor , very approachable, very understanding. In fact, I worked twenty three years in the military and I have been in politics for almost twenty years, I have not seen anybody else I met and worked with that is better than Ibori. I am telling you with all the sincerity of purpose and candidness.
He is a nice person to work with, but whether he stole money I donâ€™t know.
Letâ€™s get back to Jonathan Presidency. Some critics like senator Kanti Bello openly declaredÂ willingness to campaign against the ambition of the President to run in 2011?
In fact let me read to you from my book some quotations of what some Northerners have said so far to support of the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. This is Alhaji Abdulkareem, he is a Northerner; Jonathan should contest in 2011; Alhaji Sule, let anybody be President if he qualifies; Bernabas Gemade, when God zones, no man can change; Senator Jubril Aminu, 2011, it will be difficult to unseat Jonathan .
What I am trying to show you with all these is that it is not true thatÂ northerners are opposed to the candidacy of Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.Â He has supportersÂ from Bauchi, Zamfara and KatsinaÂ more than whatever you can find from anywhere.
The true perspective is that some northerners are opposed to the contest just as some southerners are also not going to wholly agree that the man should run. So, it is not a uniformed divide, the divide is in the head, not on geography at all; that is what I have seen for the few weeks that we have organized this campaign by the Jonathan Support Group.
Let us review some of the decisions of the President in his first two monthsÂ which might make many believe that Jonathan does not have the clear understanding of governance: the rush to pardon Ribadu was received by people from some quarters withÂ dismay because the issue of Ribadu was one of the first timeÂ major decisions of the federal government that was reversedâ€¦
First and foremost, Goodluck Jonathan is an individual. And every individual must take a position. Take the case of Sanusi who is the CBN Governor now.Â There is a big divide, one for Sanusi, one against Sanusi as he is still serving.
Therefore, if you as an individual, you have taken a positionâ€¦like me Iâ€™ve taken a position on Sanusi.Â If I become the President tomorrow, I will act out my position because of my conceived position for the actions he has taken while he was in government. Ribadu too, I personally thought at that time that Ribadu was doing a very good job.
Of course, as a human being, he might have made mistakes a couple of times and those who donâ€™t like him picked on those ones at that time when they were in charge and the other man says no, those few things are not enough to crucify him.
What is wrong with that? In the opinion of the man on the seat now, he believes his virtues are more than his sins; therefore he looks at his virtues and forgives his sins. There is nothing wrong with that. If tomorrow there is another person, the person can look at it from any angle and whatever he feels is right, that is why we always say that people should do what is best for the generality of the people so that whatever you do may not be changed easily by somebody else.
There have been some criticisms of former President Obasanjo over his perceived meddlesomeness in the current administrationâ€¦.
In my book, youâ€™ll read about what people may call Obasanjoâ€™s meddles-omeness. I am saying in this book that this is Jonathanâ€™s government. Yarâ€™adua/Jonathanâ€™s government is the only government in Nigeria since 1960 that is still only being guided by the creator; creator meaning the man who conducted elections that brought the administration to office. Tafawa Balewaâ€™s government is about the one that is next to it because of the colonial masters.
You canâ€™t speak inÂ similar vein of Ironsiâ€™s government, you canâ€™t speak in the same vein of Gowonâ€™s government; Murtala/Obasanjoâ€¦the fact is that ObasanjoÂ is playing the role because he is the one who had a vision, who made the government to be. If the truth must be told, this government needs Obasanjoâ€™s guidance; I am telling you, people may call it meddlesomeness or any name, but I donâ€™t see it so. Obasanjo brought this government to be, he had a vision for doing it and he may be overdoing certain things just as every human being might be, but his experienced hands of guidance is very necessary.
But many people are losing sleep over Obasanjoâ€™s comments each time he offers adviceâ€¦
Why would they be able to sleep? They canâ€™t be comfortable while being told their wrong actions openly. In everything in the world, there are two sides; Obasanjo is angel to some people and heâ€™s a devil to others. I personally had problems with Obasanjoâ€™s style of governance, but donâ€™t make him a devil. I think Jonathan need his guidance now more than ever because he had gathered experience.
Whether people will accept it or not, Obasanjo is the most experienced politician we have today .If you say heâ€™s vindictive,Â then deal with him in a way that his vindictiveness will not affect your performance or you donâ€™t get into his net as long as he holds the stick. Tell me the person who is not somehow, everybody is somehow.
You just agreed with Obasanjo, would you also approve of the role of the governorsâ€™ forum in the emerging political situation in the country today?
In politics, itâ€™s a matter of influence. Everybody strategizes to exert his influence to get political power either individually or as a group. What you are currently accusing the South- SouthÂ of doing now, you can say the same of Afenifere,Â you can say the same of Ihaneze Ndigbo, you can say the same of Arewa Consultative Forum; everybody wants to exert influence from a standpoint.
Governors Forum, whetherÂ Constitutional or not, is not different. It isÂ now left for you and I whether to allow them have their way or guide them to what is right. I donâ€™t see whatever they are doing as being inimical to the success of anybody, it is only you and I who would see it and having seen it as being inimical to the growth of democracy in Nigeria, we either stop it or keep quiet.
You formedÂ the JonathanÂ Support Group . How different is this groupÂ fromÂ Daniel Kanuâ€™s three million man march for Abacha?
No, no, no, no,no. to be fair to myself and others who have been with us from the beginning, we are not just starting this today. In 2007, this same group worked very hard, then it was Yarâ€™adua/Goodluck Support Group. We were on the campaign trail from pillar to pillar throughout the period of the campaign.We had a similar publication tagged one hundred and ten reasons why they should be elected into office then.Â We were not sung for our role then.
They did not sing us because it wasnâ€™t a controversial body ; what we are doing now is not to be controversial, but we are contributing to the debate and we are not expecting money from anywhere, except of course, money to publish this book and distribute it freely to all parts of the country. We want to print and circulate ten million copiesâ€¦
HowÂ would Jonathan make some visible changes?
Well, these people may not in everybodyâ€™s opinion have been doing anything wrongly, but the feeling of belonging is very necessary in nation-building.Â We were not feeling belongedÂ before now. We had felt neglected.
If you are from a polygamous family and major decisions that affect the family are mostly taken by the children from a particular woman, you would be forced to tell the head of the family some things that might make him see you as being rude, that will not take away the fact that you are asking for your rights in the family for the peace of the entire family.
Because of the lopsidedness in the headship of the country, every other thing appears to be lopsided. What we are saying is that Jonathanâ€™s emergence, rightly or wrongly, will re-juggle Nigeria in a way that everybody would feel belonged.