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Niger Delta: FG not interested in genuine peace — DR IYAYI

By Gabriel Enogholase
DR. FESTUS IYAYI is a lecturer in the University of Benin.
He came into limelight when he was the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), where he joined others to confront the obnoxious policies of the Babangida administration. Since then, he has not looked back. A radical author and human rights activist, Iyayi in this interview with Vanguard described Nigeria as failed nation state. Excerpts:

WITH the persistent fuel scarcity in the country, lack of energy to run the industries and a faulty electoral system amongst others, would you describe Nigeria?

I have made the statement more than ten years ago that Nigeria is a failed nation_state. I made that statement a long time ago because the problems that we are encountering now have been with us for a very long time. It is the inability of the ruling class in Nigeria to harness the potentials of the country into a concrete achievement

I have always made the point that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Nigeria as the 9th potentially richest country on earth. And the same UNDP in terms of the achievement of the country ranked Nigeria as the 13th poorest in the World. About 70 percent of the Nigerian population live on less than 1 US Dollar a day and they are below the poverty line.

Dr. Iyayi
Dr. Iyayi

So, everything that you are seeing is an indication that Nigeria is not just a failed state; it is a nation  governed by insincere leaders. The same mentality that characterized the slave trade era when African rulers sold their kin and kith into slavery is in operation today. This country gives nobody any opportunity or chance for optimism or hope. It is incredibly ugly. So, Nigeria is a failed state.

With the experience in some of the rerun and bye- elections, what type of electoral reform would you recommend to the country?

There is nothing to reform. Based on the outcome of the failed 2007 general elections in the country and the reactions of Nigerians, President Yar’ Adua administration was forced to conceive a process of reforming the electoral process . We know what the Justice Muhammed Uwais Committee came out with. People doubted whether the Committee would have the courage to tackle the problems that everybody felt is untraceable, but they did a good job in identifying the problem.

It was a very, very good job. You are aware of what happened to them. The government accepted the minor recommendations and the ones that lie in the heart of the sanctity of votes in Nigeria , they rejected i.e. the appointment of the chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and the question of how to settle election petitions. These are crucial issues that lie in the heart of the failure of the electoral system in Nigeria .

And if you go to Ekiti State where the government played an active part in perpetuating viol
ence, and the rigging of election, you will tell yourself that there is no hope. These classes of people have learnt nothing and forgotten everything. So, if people are looking forward to 2011, they are just joking because in 2011, there will be no election. What happened in Ekiti State is a simple reflection of what is going to happen in 2011.
And this class that is determine to kill, maim, milk and famish the people have strategic plans to punish the people  without any fear of the consequences. The people are not well organized, resistance is not there and where it is organized, it is not sustained, and so, they think that they can get away with anything under the sun and that is what they are doing. So, there will be no electoral reforms because the essence of the reforms have already been taken away by what the government did.

Some have argued that the president should not appoint INEC commissioners and the chairman. What is your position on this?

That is not what we are looking for. What we are looking for is not an appointment made by either the judiciary or the executive. We are looking for is a system that is impartial, that guarantees the independence and freedom of the actions of the person that presides over INEC so that the person does not owe any loyalty to whoever appoints him or her. That is the real essence.

So what the commission recommended is not to take away the powers of the President and give them to the Judiciary, it is essentially to deal with the problems that have faced this country over the years – where the chairman of INEC has seen himself as an appointee of the President and therefore tended to do the bidding of the President.

That is what the entire country is concerned about and so, what I expected the Executive arm of government to have done is to have said, yes, you have done this, are there other ways in which we can strengthen what you have done in other to make the appointment impartial? That is not what the Executive did. What the President and his cabinet did was to go back to the same procedure; the same process that has created fears, anarchy and violence in the electoral system in Nigeria .

That is what has made it impossible for people to believe that their votes will count. Their votes cannot count as long as the President continues to appoint the chairman of INEC. So, it is not whether it is the president or the judiciary that appoints, it is looking for a process that ensures that the way the INEC boss is appointed is such that it does not lead to a situation where the person owes any loyalty to anybody. His loyalty is to the Nigerian people. This is the essence.

One of the recommendations of the Uwais Committee is that election riggers and their associates should be jailed for ten years. Do you think that this punishment is appropriate?

Well, I believe that if an election rigger goes to jail for ten years, that is an appropriate punishment. It can be more severe, but that is a starting point.

The issue is not whether there will be a law, it is possible that this thing will pass through the National Assembly and it becomes a law.  The problem is whether the law itself will be enforced. But who enforces the law; is it the same people who have rigged or who rigged their way into elective offices? The EFCC is there, we know of those who are corrupt. Names have been mentioned, international scandals are there and all kinds of things that happened.  But is the EFCC functioning?

The issue is not whether there are provisions for punishment; the issue is that of enforcement. And I believe that whoever is guilty of election rigging should face the music immediately.When a court declares that one does not win an election, that is a sufficient ground to say that the person is guilty of election rigging.

But the current system that allows the person to remain in office is undermining the proposed punishment. So, there has to be consistency between the different parts of the reform. If somebody says he wins an election and there are petitions indicating that the person did not win, the matter has to be decided before anybody takes the oath of office.

And it is in that process you establish who rigged and who did not rig election. If you say it does not matter and allow the people who are being challenged to continue in office, then, how would they be punished for the offences that they have committed? What will happen is that they will get a polling agent and one or two persons from the pol
ling stations into jail, while the key perpetrators and those who were really involved in rigging will go scot free.

How do you see the failure of the federal government to implement the reports of the Technical Committee it set up to look into the Niger Delta Crisis?

Well, has the government implemented anything? We have just spoken on the Electoral reform, has the government implemented its recommendations? How do you expect it to implement the recommendation of Leedun Mitee led technical Committee? There is a certain degree of naivety but I also think that in our circumstances, may be that naivety is sometimes justified.

If Mitee and others have not served in the committee, they would have said, look you don’t want to give the government a chance. Many of us had said that nothing would come out of it  and at the end of the day, Mitee and others who served in the committee would be biting their fingers.

They will be telling themselves, well, if we had known, but at the same time, they would also have, maybe, undermined their own integrity for being involved in the entire process. These people are not interested in the kind of condition that will lead to genuine peace in the Niger Delta.

They want to maintain the system that currently appropriates the resources of the Niger Delta privately into their pockets. They are not interested in the issue of justice because the Niger Delta question is that of justice. They have paying agencies, NDDC, the military and then of course they are appropriating arms into the Niger Delta. That will not solve the problems, but that is what they are interested in.

In the budget they made last year, say N444 billion, for security in the Niger Delta, they did not talk of development. That should give an indication of the mindset of those who are in power. They are not interested in the resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta.

Take the power probe and other sectors where recommendations have been made, nothing happened. These people are not interested in governance, they are just interested in enjoying themselves, in stealing and saying to all parts of the world, look, we have conquered the people and we are enjoying their resources. That is what they are interested in.

In other words, does that justify the army of occupation currently in the region?

In fact, the army of occupation in the Niger Delta was part and parcel of the strategy of General Ibrahim Babangida. Chief Alfred Horsfall, a former Director General of  the SSS  said   before  OMPADEC  was created, the chief executive  of one of the oil companies whom I suspect to be Shell, came into his office detailing how government was going to deploy troops in the Niger Delta in other to smash opposition groups.

And he, Horsfall being the  head of the SSS or NSO then said, look we don’t need a military solution in the Niger Delta. He then went with the maps to Babangida and said, let us try and do something different and that was how OMPADEC came to be created.

But in spite of that, the militarization of the Niger Delta continued because that is the primary strategy for resolving the problem of the Niger Delta. All other ones are just cosmetic and a mere additives. Their main strategy is the curtailment of the Niger Delta through military means. So, there can be no reform along political lines, along economic lines, which are those envisaged by Ledum Mitee and his group.

That will not happen because the strategy of the ruling class in Nigeria is that military occupation of the Niger Delta is the only way that they can guarantee the extraction of oil and remember that they are doing this with the international capitalists and Governments like the USA and of course, multi-national oil companies there.

They have link with the security agencies of these other countries and their governments also. These are the ones who would continue to say that look, if we must continue to extract oil there, there must be military presence.  Back home, anybody who thinks otherwise is simply wasting his time. These people are not answerable to Nigerians; they are not responsible to Nigerians. They feel accountable to interests outside Nigeria and so, they will not do anything that Nigerians want.

How then do you see the activities of criminals in the region as opposed to what the late Isaac Adaka Boro and late Ken Saro-Wiwa stood for?

The fact of the matter is that the Niger Delta resistance goes back to history. There was resistance during the colonial time, but it took the form of petition writing. People wrote petitions; people went to court and appeared before the Willinks Commission at that time.

But the colonial government said that the Niger Delta cannot have an authority of its own because the area is difficult, it cannot be developed and so, let it remain as part of the Eastern Region. So, it was on that basis that the problem of the Niger Delta began to fester and after that, in the sixties, Adaka Boro formed the Niger Delta Force and campaigned for the liberation of the region, declared a Republic which was then put down.

It was strictly a political struggle backed by the force of arms because people said, look the government at the centre was not ready to concede anything to the people of the Niger Delta. From that time on, following the example of Adaka Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa emerged and he was interested in nationality rights and then started his campaign, the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which of course, led to the Kiama Declaration. Their message was let nationalities all over the country take control of their resources under their care and exploit the resources for the development of their people because of what had happened to the Ogoni people after so many years of the exploitation of oil resources.

The area was despoiled and there was gas flaring everywhere but  no development was achieved.  And it was this that  led him to say, look  let us have control over own resources. So, it was a very painful struggle. It did not involve  military or armed activities.

So, it was when Saro-Wiwa was murdered that the whole situation changed. People then reali            d that if you go by peaceful means it will not work, they then went back to the method that Adaka Boro had used. But then, after a period of time, people other than those genuinely interested in the political struggle for the region started using all kinds of means including arms struggle to liberate the resources for themselves.

So, if you go to the area now, there is a problem because there are people who are genuinely interested in the liberation of the Niger Delta and there are people who turned the struggle of the region as an avenue for making money. So, the criminalization of the area is in itself first, a way of discouraging those genuine forces.

If you read the letter that Obasanjo wrote to the former governor of Bayelsa State, D.S.P Alamieyeseigha  where  he said that the people of the region are criminals because some policemen were killed. He said, look, you have failed to apprehend them even though they are walking about during the day.

The  failure of your government to do so and other things showed that you are all criminals. Even the governors of the Niger Delta States also called their own people criminals. Criminalization is also part of the large attempt to discredit those fighting genuinely for total justice. But that does not mean that there are no genuined  militants  involved in the struggle to express  the  people’s  cry for justice. So it is a strategy for ensuring that people get confused about what is happening in the region so that they do not then receive the kind of support that they should.

What I am saying is that, that criminalization of the area is a larger attempt to discredit the genuine forces fighting for freedom or the region. But that is not to say that there are no criminals involved in the struggle. The involvement of criminals is not enough for them to criminalize the larger struggle of the people  for justice. I talked of them in my book on the Niger Delta; it is a question of justice, not freedom.

If you say freedom, then you are saying let each nationality go on its way and becomes autonomous and something like that. If it is a question of justice, then you are saying what will be the ideal relationship between the peoples of the region and other people  in other parts of Nigeria . And I have always argued that other parts of Nigeria also have the right to the resources of the Niger Delta.

That is the question of justice and not the question of freedom. What the people  are fighting for is justice, and they are saying look, if the resources are located in any area, have a derivation formula that enables us to maintain the environmental consequences that arise from the exploitation of the resources. If you give us 50 percent of the resources, that will enable us to take care of our problems.

In the fifties and sixties it was 50 percent. Now they are talking of 13 percent. In addition, the negative consequences, that arise from the exploitation of oil and gas resources are not accounted for in any form, not in the financial accounts prepared by the oil companies and not in the financial report prepared by the government. Those consequences are there and the question is, where will the resources come from in the future for the regeneration of the environment there? Who will pay the cost? Where will the revenue come from because they are not accounted for today in terms of the returns that both government and the oil companies make, so that is the question.

It would be re-called that at the Aburi Conference in 1967 Chief Emeka Ojukwu called for a con- federal political system for Nigeria and only recently, the Movement for National Reformation (MNR) led by Chief Anthony called for the division of the country into 8 autonomous regions with a weak centre. Do you support these calls against the backdrop of development in the country?

We need a federation and not a confederation. We need a type of federation where the federating states have autonomy in relation to the specific functions they have to perform within their own territories. One of the problems that we have over the years is that we are federal in name but  unitary government in practice.

The centre has overt powers and if you read other authorities on this matter, you find that we do not have a federal structure. It is because federalism has failed that people now talk of confederation. We need a centre that is really strong while allowing the states to exercise the powers they have under the constitution.

That is not what happens now and so, we have to return to the type of federalism that we have in the first Republic. That was when the Western Region depended on cocoa , the North on cotton and groundnut and the East on rubbers, palm oil and other things.

So let us return to that kind of federal structure. If we find ourselves in that kind of arrangement, people will not be talking about confederation. I don’t believe that we need a weak centre because if you have a weak centre, that is not really the best for the Nigeria, but then, having a very strong centre and very weak states is also not good for the people. There has to be proper balance between the powers of the states, the local gov
ernment and then, the federal government.

President Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua is two years in office. In spite of mounting problems such as the failure in the energy sector, increase in crime rate, and restlessness in the Niger Delta, people are still clamouring that he should re-run in 2011. What is your view on this?

You are dealing with a class phenomenon. Yar ‘Adua is not the issue because he did not make himself President of Nigeria. Certain forces made him president of country and it is the same forces that are clamouring that he should continue because they know what is happening under the system. Individuals play a huge part in history, but they do so only within context of other forces within which they coalesced. So, the fact that he has not performed over the last two years in office is not his fault alone, it is the failing of the forces that propelled him into power.

It is the failing of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because that party is made up of a gang who are interested in looting the treasury of the nation. They are not interested in the development of the country, they don’t have a sense of patriotism and they do not know the meaning of shame. How did the Third Term agenda for Obasanjo emerge? It is the same forces that said let Obasanjo have a third term in office that is saying, let Yar’ Adua go for a second term.

The President is entitled to a second term with the provisions of the constitution. So if he wants to run in spite of the widely speculated health problem that he has, it is his right. But the decision is that of the electorate to make whether they want him or not. And the problem in Nigeria is that the electorate do not decide who remains in office.  It is the same gangsters in power that decide who remains in office.

So, if they agree that Yar Adua is going to be president of Nigeria in 2011, he will, unless the people and other political parties get their acts together and say enough is enough. If people resist and say he cannot continue, that is it. If they see the resistance of the people, they will run because their investments are not in Nigeria . All the money that they looted are outside the country and they will run for their lives. So if people do not resist, Yar’ Adua will continue in office in 2011.

He  may even have a third term in 2015. Any thing goes. Obasanjo did not have a third term because there was a disagreement within his party. Atiku did not want him to continue and if there was agreement that he should have a third term, he would have had it, Nigerians would have just shouted for one or two weeks, and then it would have died down.

If you are asked to access the two years dministration of President Yar ‘Adua, what would you say?

I will not just make a blanket assessment; I will look at the different sectors of the economy. In doing so, I will then arrive at a general assessment. I will take the issue of poverty. Are Nigerians poorer that they were in 2007? The answer is that Nigerians are poorer today that they were in 2007. Do they have more energy that they had in 2007? The answer is again, no.

We have less power. Look at the health and education sectors, look at infrastructure development and all other areas, the country is worse than it was in 2007. And then, look at the whole issues of accountability and transparency. Is the government better than what it was in 2007; the answer is no. Things are much worse. The promise of Electoral Reform have not been carried out? If you then take everything together you find that the government has not performed.

And if you take the areas separately, the verdict is that the government has not performed. But unfortunately, the people did not put the people in power. They  remain there by the forces that rigged them into power. That is the way this kind of assessment can be done.

In fact, I was reading the other day, a statement credited to the wife of the president, saying that she was alarmed at the report being made about mortality rates in Nigeria . Those reports are true. Nigeria has one of the highest infant and mortality rate in the world and the situation is not improving, rather it is getting worse.

It is because there is a failure in leadership. Ghana conducted election, it is over, South Africa conducted election it is over, the same with Indian with 70 million going to vote and within 12 hours, the result was going to be made known.  So if you take everything together, I will say that we do not yet have a country.


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