Comrade Joseph Evah is the coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group and the former Publicity Secretary of Ijaw National Congress (INC). In this enounter with AZUH AKANWA, he speaks about flooding across states in Nigeria and why he rejected Gov Dickson’s appointment offer in his home state, Bayelsa.
During the military era you went to court to stop the dredging of River Niger, today flood disaster around the River Niger area is causing a lot of death and destruction. What is your opinion on the current situation?
It is bad as we speak, families are suffering and some are mourning their loved ones and the flooding is getting worse everyday, and the federal and state governments are all helpless. What is causing the uncontrollable flooding and helplessness is because government dredges the River Niger without environmental impact assessment.
It was one of my reasons for going to court through my lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN). My arguments were tested in the federal high court Benin and I got historical ruling and when the civilian government came in 1999, our governors and the so-called honorable men threatened me to withdraw my matter from court and I refused. They threatened that they wanted to be part of the case if I refused to hands off. They argued that
they are the true representatives of the Niger delta people. Since democracy has emerged. It got to a point that lives of members of my family were threatened by these politicians to please Obasanjo and by the time Yar’ Adua emerged as president, our politicians had done the final sale of our own part of the River Niger to dredge without acceptable environmental impact assessment (EIA). You see what we are seeing now is natural disaster but it is uncontrollable now because man (Federal Government) has tampered with the natural mechanism that was supposed to adjust itself when natural disasters occur.
You can see that the agencies of government only get to the affected areas and fold their hands to watch the display of nature because they don’t even know how to start helping the situation.
But the government told Nigerians that an (EIA) was conducted before the dredging?
The federal government displayed only fake EIA to the public. Any EIA without any input by the local people (communities) along the River r\J1ger is fake and it is not of international standard. If you gather professors and consultants who are strangers to that environment to write a report without involving the local people who are naturally gifted with climate change even when they were in their mother}s womb} your report is fake and you know those in government prefer fake reports to manage Nigeria. That is why Ghana is better than us. Today the oil companies are using fake report to destroy our environment.
You said several reasons led to your court action. What are the other reasons?
Economic survival was my second reason outside the environmental reasons that led to my court action. I was shocked that the federal government that abandoned Burutu ports} Warri port} Sapele Port} Akassa Port} Patani Port and other sea ports built by colonial masters} prefer to build new inland ports at Lokoja and Baro including the proposed Abuja inland port; so I was angry and I addressed a world press conference as the spokesman of Ijaw National Congress that the Ijaw will resist General Sani Abacha}s intention and in fairness to the military government at that time} they slowed down the move until democracy produced Zombie politicians that even clapped hands for Yar ‘Adua for the flag off of the dredging despite the fact that all our sea ports are dead} while the government approved billions of dollars to built new inland ports to bring goods through our water ways from London} USA} Canada to Abuja. It is a shame.
Nigerians are shocked to hear that at a time when Goodluck Jonathan is the president of Nigeria and his state governor is creating state flag and coat of arms to threaten national unity. What is your reaction?
You see, those Nigerians suggesting that Governor Dickson is threatening national unity are suffering from “On Unitary Government we stand Mentality.JJ Every patriotic Nigerian who recognizes Nigeria as a Federation will applaud governor Dickson}s move. When Nigeria was practicing true Federalism. This country was making progress until the military came and forced unitary system mentality in us. Why are people behaving as if it was Dickson that started this true Federalism something? Why are people not condemning Lagos} Osun} Ondo} Ogun} Ekiti} Kwara} cross River states for adopting these symbols even before Dickson moved to encourage true federalism.
But some people are complaining that the president’s home state should be careful on national matters?
I reject that blackmail from unpatriotic Nigerians. You see, it is the same blackmail they are using against the president in the villa not to do anything for the Niger delta till he leaves office. If the president wants to do something about development for his people, some fake characters will tell him that such a step will make him look like a Niger delta president or Ijaw president; that is nonsense.
Some people felt the governor took the decision too early, they suspect he is working for the break up of Nigeria.
Nigeria has broken-up before Dickson became governor. A country that lacks trust among the federating units; a country that annulled free and fair election in 1993, kill the winner; a country that the resources of one area are used for development of other areas alone, is not a united country. You said Dickson’s action is too early or why is he in a hurry? You know Dickson is a product of Ijaw struggle. So he knows the secret of Nigeria. He was part of Ijaw National Congress team when we left the leadership of INC, so when he emerged as governor, the spirit of the struggle started haunting his body and soul to actualize the dream of the struggle. So, that is why he is in a hurry to further unit the Ijaw natioh and set Ijaw nation in a strategic position that can quickly compete with the Yoruba nation that is the most advanced in the country. Like what Tinubu did in Lagos in those days, Tinubu will appoint you into a position whether you are from Ekiti, On do or Osun state as long as you are good even if you are not a politician; Tinubu will give you appointment to work for Lagos. That was why Tinubu could produce over 500 Fasholas within a given period. Dickson’s appointments are not based on PDP structures line-up by the party but his central focus s Ijaw nation. For example, the governor invited me to Yanagoa and urged me to take up appointment but I declined to take political appointment. Instead, let me stay outside to help him by condemning any bad policies or commending good policies.
It is strange to hear that in Nigeria, somebody will refuse political appointment knowing fully well about the opportunities around such offices?
Well the governor meant well when he requested me to accept an offer to serve. I did not campaign for him during election and am not even a PDP member or any party member. It is very difficult to campaign in Bayelsa because of the terrain and I did not enter the jungle with them. But he felt I have something to offer in government.
I told the governor that I prefer to stay outside and enjoy what am doing. I like visiting universities and other higher institutions to address Niger delta students; organize programmes for the blind, disable and widows, helping them to get assistance to improve their lives. I like to visit our villages with students to deworm our children in the Creeks yearly and am used to seeing people coming to my office to seek help and how I try to help them.
Again, I also felt that it is not proper for all Ijaw activists to be inside government. If we all enter government, then we are in trouble because the struggle is not over yet. Almost all our activists are in government even when I was discussing with the president in Aso Rock Villa in 2010, I told Jonathan that I don’t want appointment in government because it is dangerous for ail activists to be holding political position, even if those our activists holding political positions treat us like lepers while considering themselves as living in paradise.
I felt it is wrong for all of us to hold government appointment. So governor Dickson understands my position because he is a product of the struggle. The governor spoke to me about the appointment in the presence of INC former president chief Joshua Famodoh and the current Ijaw Youth Council president among others.
But you are supposed to use the appointment to improve your standard.
Well, some people heard of it and abused me that am a fool for not taking appointment in government offered by the governor. Those abusing me should look at the bigger picture. In the South-west, not all the activists are in government; so they have the ability to hold Nigeria down. If people like me, Asari Dokubo, Anne kio Briggs and Tony Uranta are still outside, it is good. Although our fellow comrades inside government see us as lepers while they are in paradise but no problem, let them continue with their everlasting enjoyment here on earth.
What is your reaction to the return of Dana Airline’s Licence, the matter is causing controversy.
The Aviation Minister has just confirmed to the world that Nigeria is a “mad” country where anything goes and it is the grace of God that is keeping us moving in Nigeria. How can a woman (Minister of Aviation) display such carelessness when defending her return of Dana’s licence? Can you imagine her telling us that it was a mistake to ban Dana in the first place? She even compared British Airline to Dana, asking if we can ban British Airways if there is any crash.
She should be ashamed of her conscience. How can you compare British airline to the kind of “Molue” type of outdated planes operating in our airspace? Where is the report of Dana airline crash? Let her give us update of compensation. This is a wicked country. I was in Ghana with over 150 Niger Delta students touring Ghana to learn about selfless leaders in that country who changed the situation of Ghana after years of hopelessness.
When learnt of the restoring of Dana airline licence through Radio Ghana, we were ashamed to move about in Ghana because everywhere we visited, they asked LIS the same question- why did our government return the licence without waiting for the result of the investigation of for the families to even bury their dead?
So, if her son or daughter was killed in that crash by a careless airline, will she stay in her comfortable office to make those nonsense statements?