A former minister of state for defence (2006 -7), Mr. Mike Oziegbe Onolememen, cannot hide his anger over the outcome of the Akoko Edo Constituency rerunÂ election which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)Â declared Action Congress (AC) candidate, Mr. Kabiru Adjoto, to have won,Â having scored 5,335 votes against the 3,741 votes polled by the PDP candidateÂ Mr. Anslem Agbabi.
The Uromi born politician, who graduated with a first class degree in architecture from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma in 1988, said the election was a charade. Onolememen, who wanted to take a shot at the Edo State governorshipÂ seat in the 2007 election before heÂ was told to step down by PDPÂ elders inÂ the state,Â also talked on someÂ issues concerning the Niger Delta.
By Luka Binniyat
ON the amnesty grantedÂ Â militants in the Niger Delta
It is important for us to situate the amnesty granted militants by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua. Basically, the amnesty came about from the need to arrest the restiveness in the area. You are quite aware that in the past six years, Nigeria has suffered untold hardship as a result of militancy leading to losses to the nation.
But I want to say that the level of violence witnessed in the Niger Delta was the manifestation of the deep-rooted problems in the region. And the problems areÂ abject poverty,Â lack of infrastructural development,Â governmental neglect, deprivation and absence ofÂ economic empowerment. I must praise and thank the president for his magnanimity in granting amnesty to the militants.
I believe that this willÂ have two effects:Â It will bring peace to the region and developmental activities. It willÂ also have that salutary effect ofÂ ensuring that the losses that the country hasÂ continued to recordÂ as a result of attacks on the oil sector leading to dimishing revenue are reversed.
But government must not forget to look at the deep-rooted problems. This is the time to formulate policies and embark on developmental projects that will mitigate those problems. Government must make concerted effortsÂ and take concrete steps to address thoseÂ problems, or this militancy, in the near future,Â would come back again.
The Niger Delta states have been controlled by the PDPÂ for these past ten years, with the exception ofÂ Edo State.Â Do you think that the governors of these states have contributed their quota in terms of infrastructure and the general well being of their people?
There has beenÂ failure of governance in the Niger Delta in the past ten years. There is no doubt about that. There has beenÂ failure of leadership. I was reading one of the papersÂ where the vice president of the World Bank was saying that one of the South-South states made about $25 billion in the past eight years. And that there is nothing to show for it in that state.
If you take that kind of money as per capita income of the state, it comes to about $3,750, which is likeÂ the per capita income of most European and North American countries that enjoyÂ good life. But come to the Niger Delta and the state in question, there is nothing to show for it. You see people living in squalor, in filthy conditions. In fact, she was quoted as saying the state has the worst healthcare delivery system in the world. And you begin to ask yourself, what has happened to all these funds?
So it is clear that governance in the Niger Delta has failed. The system of check-and-balances in the states are very weak. That is why we have questionable leakages in the system. So, clearly, the resources of the Niger Delta in hands of its political leadership haveÂ not been expended to benefit the people. That, sadly, is exactly what has happened. Because if these resources were put developing things that can have multiplier effects on the lives of the people, the socio-economic level of the people would have so improved, and many people would have been gainfully employed and so on, and that would have impacted positively on the area.
Federal Government has granted amnesty to militants. It has created a Ministry for the Niger Delta. We have the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the 13 per cent derivation. There are also billions of naira appropriatedÂ this year for projects in the Niger Delta. How do the Niger Delta states complement efforts of the central government?
The Federal Government should not have any illusion that it alone can deal with the problems of the Niger Delta. What is required is a collaborative governance in that region.
TheÂ three tier of government, civil society organisations, NGOs, representatives of various societies in the Niger Delta should come together andÂ articulate their fundamental requirements and, collectively, through that collaboration forge developmental projects and every stakeholder would know his role in ensuring delivery. This idea of somebody sitting in Abuja and thinking that he knows the problems of the Niger Delta is wrong. He sits there, gives contracts to contractors from outside the region, and the people are just onlookers. That will only continue to infuriate the people. The Niger Delta people want to be part of the development effort. That is why collaborative and collective governance is the best panacea for solving the problems of the Niger Delta.
The surrender of arms by militants in Bayelsa State who embraced the amnesty was shown live on national TV. Nigerians were shocked by the arsenal of these militants. I think the â€œrepentantâ€ militants were saying, â€œwe have played our roles and stopped hereâ€. What should government do, to discourage a new generation of militants from springing up in the future?
The surrender of weapons by the militants as we witnessed in the past few weeks gives government the right opportunity to do the right things now. It is only when the right thing is done that the next generation will have no reason to take to arms. Let me give you an example: Nigeria is an oil producing country. AndÂ the mainÂ resource in the Niger Delta is oil and gas. And whether we like it or not, in the next fifty years, oil and gas will continue to contribute about 90 per cent of the resources of this country.
So, what do we do?Â But, first, let me point out that what we are facing in the Niger Delta is not a problem created under the Yarâ€™Adua administration. But, President Yarâ€™Adua has shown more commitments in tackling the problem headlong that any other leader in Nigeria. All his activities and policies point inÂ that direction. Past leaders have caused these problems. For example, if refineries and petrochemical plants were built in all the states of the Niger Delta, you can imagine the number of jobs that would have been generated. All the idle hands will be engaged and it would have radically altered the socio-economic variables of the area. It will have a ripple effect on the economy of the place. It is idleness that lead youths to commit crime, to become militants and kidnappers and so on.
Even if the oil companies that operate in the Niger Delta perform their corporate social responsibility very well, you will not see oil producing communities living on stilts, their people in squalor. So many of the bad things that have happened wouldÂ not taken place, and Nigeria would have been saved the problem.
You were among strong contenders in the Edo State PDP for governorship. You must have had your administrative blue print for the state.Â Now, PDP has lost that seat to the Action Congress. The court says PDP did not win. If you look at the way Edo State is being run now, are you satisfied?
Well,Â I want to disagree with you. PDP won Edo State. To the best of my knowledge, we won the gubernatorial election. But, consequent uponÂ the court order, the slot wentÂ to AC. We believe in the rule-of-law. We have no option, but to agree with the verdict of the court. We only hope that the AC government under Comrade Adams OshiomholeÂ would put together its acts quickly and let the state witness development that will uplift theÂ people. Edo is our state irrespective of who is governor. All we want isÂ good life for our people.
The re-run election into Akoko- Edo Constituency for the state House of Assembly took place amidst tension. The inspector general of police paraded 26 suspected party thugs with fire-arms caught at various polling units in the constituency. At the end of the election, AC swept all the wards and won the election, amidstÂ foul cry by PDP. What is your view on this?
The stories of our party supporters in that constituency who were on ground have been corroborated by the inspector general of police onÂ national TV when he paraded some suspected thugs, with a lot of arms and ammunition which were paid for by the opposition.
It is clear that what went on in the name of election in Akoko Edo Constituency is a charade. How do you expect a free and fair election when the entire paraphernalia of Edo State government was moved to Akoko Edo for just a state constituency election? Edo State Executive Council practically relocated to Akoko Edo. I was in Edo State at that time and I was gettingÂ information.
How do you explain that many government functionaries from Edo South, Edo Central were in Akoko Edo all in the name of â€œsupervisingâ€ the election? When did they become election observers or INEC officials? So, toÂ me, their motive was clear!
They probably went there to give physical expression to the heinous design for the election, all in pursuit of a majority in the state House of Assembly. That beats my imagination, because this a government that came to power through a court order over an allegation of election rigging of 2007. And this same man supervised one of the electionsÂ that witnessed the highest level of thugery in the history of Edo State election.