By Japhet Alakam
Mr George Olungwe is the president of United Rivers/Bayelsa Indigenes Association Lagos chapter ,a cultural body that brings together indigenes of both Rivers and Bayelsa states. The Accounting and Business Administration graduate of Langstone University Oaklohoma USA is not new to leadership.
While in school, he was the president of the African Students Union Langstone Chapter. Olungwe does not like politics but because of his position as the president of such a powerful group in Lagos and based on the oil war and its issues that is on now, Saturday VanguardÂ sought his views on the position of the body.Excerpts.
Why is the group in support of the amnesty?
The initial struggle in the Niger Delta is based on the regionâ€™s marginalization, the region has been marginalised, poorly treated by the various governments, not only Alhaji Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s government. Subsequent governments have made just promises and nothing was done. We know that the initial struggle is not what we are seeing now, it has been hijacked by criminals which we are not happy about, but we know that these criminals are not part of the struggle.
Also politicians have used some of these boys (criminals) to advance their course which we stood against. We are not happy about that. You cannot come to my house, take my thing and expect me to keep quiet. Yes as a law abiding and patriotic association we are not happy that things are going the way it is going and that is why we have said yes to the amnesty.
But as much as we support it, we are asking if this government is sincere and that is part of the reason why we supported the governorsâ€™ reaction over the Petroleum Bill because these are the host community and the governors are responsible to the people.
They must account for what is happening and you want to bring out a bill and you did not invite them at least to make input . A bill of this nature is supposed to have a thorough consultation with the major stakeholders but the government did not do that and that was their anger.
We are talking about amnesty, yes we all supported it, let there be amnesty, let the boys come out from the creeks for we know that no meaningful development can come or be in an atmosphere of tumult. But when they see that while we are talking that we supported the move and you look at it again that government is seen doing another thing that is so aggravating and offensive to the region , it becomes a problem and that is why we are supporting the governors.
What is the way out?
The way out, yes- government has just established the Niger Delta ministry. For some of us it is not the ministry that matters. We have gotten Federal Ministry of Works and nothing is happening and all our roads in the South east, South South and other parts are still bad. Federal roads and the Federal Ministry of Works have not done anything.
So talking about Niger Delta ministry is like putting up another tall structure that will only consume more money and resources. So we are saying let them not use diversionary measures. We have NDDC, fine if NDDC is well funded as it is supposed, not just giving them two kobo or so, they will perform .Â Government have to be serious, there must be a way forward and that is why we are supporting the amnesty but the recent happenings is like making us to believe that government is not sincere.
They want to use the same style like previous governments.Â If governments wants to develop the area they should come out and do it not using one excuse or the other.
But the present
government is favourably disposed to South South, the VP and other ministers came from your Niger Delta.
How many of them, the VP is from our area but you know that he has no function by our constitution so his hands are tied.
And moreover Nigerian politicians are more interested in maintaining status quo. They are not interested in anything that will bring friction between them and their office. But that is not to say the VP is not doing anything but he is just one person and as I said earlier he has no function unless the presidents assigns a job to him and he will not go outside the job.
The VP is our son so we expect him to help us and tell the government the problems of the area so that proper attention will be given to it. Initially the present government came with things that excited us and we said Mr president is fair but we are beginning to doubt some of his actions. We know that he has advisers but he should be able to take the good ones not the ones that will destroy the nation.
If the government insists on taking the PTI to Kaduna, what will your association do?
We are not going to take arms, we will follow administrative measures by talking and writing. These are the things we will do and it is high time other regions began to see the Niger Delta issues as their own too and come out and support us.
They know that the region has been neglected and treated wrongly and begin to tell the government , but this country is such that when it is not your own, they leave it but it is the problem of all.
But the Igbos complained that Niger Delta people did not support them during the civil war?
I will not agree with that assertion totally because I know that a lot of us were in the Biafran army and we fought. But the concept of the Biafra did not go down. If you want to do something you must consult others not copt people, that was the case with Biafra.
They did not consult the region properly as people. Rivers/Bayelsa and the east are the same people, they inter marry so they should be brothers and sisters but when you are doing something and you think you have all the knowledge you did not consult others. It will not work.
So you mean Biafra had a good agenda but …….?
Yes, but they didnâ€™t consult the other units. And how will you succeed in such a war when the Niger Delta has the sea which is a key.
Now that you people are crying the same cry, how far have you gone to consult others?
We have not gone into a full blown war, this is just a struggle and not a war. Biafra was a secession and there was a war. We are using administrative method. The young men/women who are in the struggle are doing so based on the pains they have, None of them was conscripted or forced into it. It is based on the pains.
How can I stay in a community and the ecosystem is destroyed, our land creeks depleted and you know the occupation of Niger Delta is fishing but our rivers are polluted. No average fisherman can go to the sea and fish again. So you have killed the people and there is no provision for them to live.