By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
Former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army and Chairman of the South South Elders and Leaders Forum (SSELF), Brig.Gen. Don Idada Ikpomnwen is one of the foremost leaders in the Niger Delta struggle and has never ceased expressing his frustration in what he described as the unserious attitude of the Federal Government towards finding lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis.
He described as an insult and a slap on the face of the people of the Niger Delta ,the proposed up-grading of the Petroleum Institute in Kaduna by the Federal Government. He expressed the angst of the elders and leaders of the region towards the policies of the President Yarâ€™Adua- led administration so far and declared that what the people need now is action andÂ not mere rhetoric and unseriousness.
Sir, the issue of up-grading the Petroleum Institute in Kaduna to a university while that of Warri was jettisoned, by the Federal Government has generated a serious controversy. Though the Federal Government seems to have reversed its decision following the outcry by leaders of the region. How would you react to the issue?
The issue of a up grading the PTI in Kaduna to a university is bound to attract the irk of the people of the Niger Delta. There is no doubt that this particular question, that is the issueÂ of up grading the PTI into a full fledge university had earlier been considered and approved by former President Obasanjo and the people of the Niger Delta were quite happy about it.
There is no doubt that citing a higher institution of that level in aÂ place is clearly a mark of development and progress for the place in which it is established. Since this is an oil related institution, it is only proper that it be located in the area where the bulk of the oil in Nigeria is produced.
As at now, oil or gas is yet to be discovered in the North Central part of Nigeria , like Kaduna state in particular. So citing the university there by the Federal Government does not make sense.
That is an affront on the collective interest of the Niger Delta people and the oil producing communities in particular.
So I am not surprised that the issue is generating a lot of discomfort among the Niger Delta people and it is also no surprise that the Governors of the South South listed this particular issue as one of the grievances they have for wanting to chart a new direction on the issue of the amnesty for militants. The attemptÂ is insulting, provocative and unacceptable to us.
But donâ€™tÂ you think it will have grave consequences for the nation if eventually the Governors pull out from the amnesty programme?
Quite frankly the posture of the Governors with regards to the amnesty package is an appropriate reflection of the mood of the people of the Niger Delta. Without a doubt, the Governors reaction have been received with applause from all the groups in the Niger Delta including the elders and youths.
Infact, this present development has endeared the governors to the people because it will be recalled that earlier on, a lot of resentment greeted the more or less lukewarm attitude of the Governors at the beginning of hostility between the JTF and the Niger Delta militants.
People expressed disappointment at that time over the approval that was given by the Governors in their meeting with the President, which approval was that they found justifiable, the resort to military onslaught on the militants in the region.
People were very unhappy about it because it was most inhuman, undemocratic for governors to call for fire on their own people. So by what has happened now, it is like a policy reversal.
It is a very significant development, to the extent that the postures of the governors in the past have always been the greatest problem confronting the zone in terms of taking head on, any policy or posture of the Federal Government towards the region.
To that extent, this present development is very unique and outstanding.Â We hope that this new development is not based on selfish interest of the governors. We hope it is not coming with the fact that we are expecting that less funds will come their way by virtue of the new Petroleum Bill before the National Assembly.
Whatever it is, the posture of the Governors isÂ very significant and may well be the turning point of the attitude, the collective action of the people of the Niger Delta towards federal policies. With out a doubt, the greatest problem of the Niger Delta has been neglect, complete absence of infrastructures and the fact thatÂ Â the people of the region are seen as irrelevant and inconsequential.
This has been so inspite of the fact that some of our people have been appointed into federal positions. It has been a very sad thing because when you have your ownÂ people in the systemÂ and that system still remains very oppressive and fails to take measures to right the wrongs that is so visible to every body, then one begins to ask what exactly is the issue.
The presence of our men and women at the National level cannot lead to the reversal of policies in favour of the Niger Delta.
And of course, that brings to the fore the question of whether or notÂ those who represent us at the Federal level are doing so for their own personal interest. I think the whole idea of democracy is participation and it is mysterious that you have people within a system where that system does not take cognizance of the plight of the people of the region.
I think once there is a synergy between the governors and the people, then of course you begin to find a government that is pro-people, a government that can champion the interest of the people and that will be the beginning of the end of the long standing marginalization and oppression of the Niger Delta people.
Whatâ€™s your take on the Governorsâ€™ view on Petroleum Development Bill?
The Governorsâ€™ Forum has declared it anti Niger Delta and that remains the truth. The previous Petroleum Act vested with the Federal Government the power of control over all of the proceeds from oil. That Act clearly offended the concept of federalism.
It was clearly an affront to the people who naturally ownÂ the oil. What one expected from any review of the Petroleum Act was to ensure that a larger share was made available to the communities, the local governments and the states where this oil is located. So if this appears not to have been done in the new Act before the National Assembly, it means the bill is not in the interest of the oil producing communities and the Niger Delta in general.
The bill as it is being proposed cannot command the respect of the people of the Niger Delta and it will definitely not see the light of the day.
What are yourÂ expectations from the National Assembly members on the Bill?
I think the bottom line is the interest of the areas that produce oil. You cannot kill the hen that lays the golden egg. We cannot use the resources accruing from the communities of the Niger Delta to the advantage of others and you neglect the interest of the people who produce the oil. So against that back ground, our legislators at the state and federal levels, they are Niger Deltans, they understand the true concept of federalism.
They are expected to know that the arrangement NigeriaÂ was meant to reflect the interest of all the ethnic nationalitiesÂ that constituted the present day Nigeria . The idea was not that what ever was good for Nigeria , was good for the states or regions. It was the other day round. It was that what ever was good for the component parts, was good for the centre .
But we have since moved away from that, particularly since the emergence of the military in politics. We are now in a federal unitary system of government and it is now what the centre wants that is enforced on the component parts.
It is a far departure from the original idea of lettingÂ the various component parts develop according to the uniqueness of their environment and allowingâ€˜ unity within the various groupsÂ so that the nation at large would move forward and at the same time the peculiarities, the uniqueness of the component parts will be sustained.
That is far from the situation in Nigeria today. If our legislators and governors know that what we are having today is a far departure from what was originally planned, the way to a blissful future will be charted.
Let us do things the way we agreed in the beginning. Let us do things the way our founding fathers planned it because they were wise.
They knew the nature of the component units that were brought together under one name. They knew that the best way to keep this nation together will not be the unitary or monarchical system but a federal system that will recognise the peculiarities of each component part and make every component part relevant. It is unfortunate thatÂ today, the states are powerless, every thing is in the centre, the executive -legislative list is over loaded.
The police is centralised. The army of course is centralised. Prison services is centralised.Â Every thing is centralised. So, you find that you have a centreÂ that is over loaded, unable to perform and cannot perform. So when we are talking of progress and peace in Nigeria , we are not telling a fairy tale, we are not discussing things that are not practicable. We are saying things that can be done, things that ought to be done, but have not been done.
We are saying; let Nigeria be a truly federal nation. Let power and responsibility devolve down the line so that there can be efficiency at all levels. There is no way a federal system can be efficient if there is no measure and no opportunity for effectiveness and efficiency at the various lower cadres of government.
Looking at the comment credited to the Minister of Petroleum, Dr Rilwanu Lukman, regarding the proposed upgrading of the Petroleum Institute in Kaduna rather than the one in Warri, several leaders of the region have called for his resignation. Do you think it is a wise call considering his explanations on the issue?
There is no question about that. There are many reasons for people to disapprove the manner of speech of the Petroleum Minister. In the first place, in the oil sector, the power arrangement is obviously and manifestly lopsided such that, apart from the position of the over- all head of government, you have a man who is the Group Managing Director of NNPC, being a northerner.
You have also the Minister of Petroleum, a Northerner, that arrangement itself is unhealthy. And this is besides the fact that Rilwan Lukman is not new in the stage. In a dynamic nation that we have, people are bound to have reservations about recycling people in theirÂ 80s, especially when they have been here and there before. Even at the time of the nomination, a lot of people said why this recycling, why can we not get a new hand to handle this business and why must it not be a man from the oil producing region for this position.
The arrangement is lopsided and it does not favour the Niger Delta, it does not reflect justice and equity in the sharing of power. So if people are saying Rilwan should resign, Niger Deltans generally have not hidden their views to the fact that Lukman was a wrong choice.
I am not saying it because I do not value the manâ€™s integrity or his wealth of experience. I am saying that by political equation, his choice does not seem to meet the expectations of the people of the oil producing areas and their expectations are not justifiable.