ALABO Graham Douglas has been resoundingly quiet since the Federal Government waved the olive branch at the militants. Sunday Vanguard fished him out and pleaded with him to make suggestion on ways of ending the logjam in the region as well as tell the government the way forward.
By George Onah, Port Harcourt
NO one has heard anything from you since amnesty was offered the militants by the Federal Government, why have you been so silent, being a leader in the region?
Well, I have intentionally elected to be a bystander to see how the whole thing plays out. When it comes to matters of the Niger Delta, I think I have produced a lot of literatures of possible solutions in terms of rehabilitation through creating jobs, psychological debriefings of young men in the creeks as well as join our leader to be able to counsel young men.
Who is this leader?
Chief E.K. Clark, is our national leader. We are all withÂ very anxious and indeed pleased when the president gave the unconditional amnesty to our children in the creeks. But what we ask (is) what was the blueprint that was studied, evaluated and collectively appraised before the import of the amnesty.
If there is amnesty, you want to know what led to the degeneration of the situation that led to arms struggle to the point whereby it has gotten to the point of conflict between the nation and its citizenry, in fact an infinitesimal percentage of young elements that carry arms.
One would have thought that if amnesty was being granted because the young men are saying that there is no sufficient development, which have been echoed and orchestrated, you would say since the beginning of independence, it is falling on deaf ears to successive governments. We support the amnesty this time round but it has to be reconciled to the truth and realities.
For you to remain indifferent in a situation like this donâ€™t you think stakeholders and other people in the Niger Delta would read meanings to your being quiet.
What meanings would they read to my quiet disposition towards this issue, the young men have made an expression and we the elders are proffering suggestions to solving the problems. The question to ask, having been in government as minister during the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, one would want to ask why did we not have such level of militancy. I had worked closely with Generals Abacha and Abdulsalami, why was there not escalation of militancy.
This serious militancy took another dimension after the 2003 elections. Let us go down memory lane, in the Kaiama agitations, they did not carry arms, government came, dispersed and killed some of them. There was also the Odi matter and then the elections came, so progressively, the boys were being hardened. The boys were later used for elections, who bought those AK47 and other armaments for them. If you give me something and I realise that you are eventually jettisoning me and I discover that I could use it to survive, of course, I would use it, this is the situation in which we have found ourselves. I think that the only way people like us can talk is to see that the authorities are committed and have genuine interest to develop the place.
You did suggest that the federal government should involve the traditional rulers, opinion leaders and parents of the youths in solving the problems. In the first instance, since the boys have refused to listen to those people it is a sign that they have failed, including the parents of this boys…
I donâ€™t agree with you. These boys, I’m sure, have command structures in which they are loyal, obedient and dedicated to. What efforts have been made here, you see, there have been suspicion on the part of government and government agents. Has the parents and relations aspect been explored, I donâ€™t think so.
On the whole do you think that the federal government has done enough in tackling the agitation that gave rise to the arms struggle?
The agitation is development and the way and manner the development is being pursued, there is nothing significant to show to anybody. The president himself may be genuine but the operators, I donâ€™t think they have attained that level of commitment.
During the Gen. Babangida era, when we were developing Abuja, we built it with military fashion. When the president was announcing amnesty one would have expected that he would say I am going to build two new towns out of these oil producing areas, such as Gbaramatu Kingdom which was destroyed and this would be to appease the people. Gbaramatu is synonymous with Tompolo and if you have the opportunity to talk to him all you say fine, am giving you 5, 000 housing units and just get your boys to be occupied to develop these houses.
They know that they are going to have houses, which is part of development and while they are building those houses you can give them stipend, today you can put 30 houses in a month and you can have the 5, 000 houses in two years, the boys are busy and they are getting houses for themselves.
You then come over here, in the Eastern area, you look at the various people, you get dredgers and as they are dredging, you are putting structures in place, you keep the boys working, there is a lot of work to be done and you tell them that you are partners in development when you are bringing the big companies to work, just involve the boys, using the boys to develop their own infrastructure but there is not interface of using them. If a boy starts work at 7.00 a.m. and closes at 7.00 p.m. what time would he have to do kidnapping or do anything that would be criminal.
So, we should search our minds of what exactly we want in this territory, it is not just amnesty, although amnesty is something, there is the other side of the issues and Nigerians should realise that by not resolving the Niger Delta problem it is affecting our monolithic economic base.
But if thereÂ is attention to realities and there is carelessness in managing the crisis and it gets out of hand things can degenerate. My greatest fear is that we have international interests in the whole thing but so far no international organisation has come in but the way these things happen. It was only recently that we knew that Libya for instance was arming IRA (Irish Republican Army), we donâ€™t know Nigeria’s friends and enemies and this is why I think it behoves all of us to ask government to use military style to develop but donâ€™t use bureaucracy to develop it.
In this wise do you think that the Niger Delta has not been of any importance or do you think that it is slow
I donâ€™t think is slow per se, you have a competent and experienced minister whom I know very well and I have great respect for him and he is supported by a grassroots and vibrant personality.
But the question to ask, to do all these developments and have visible signs, you need money, how much money is at their disposal. Since the ministry was created we have been talking jaw jaw jaw and theory upon theory, we want visible things to be seen. Look at Calabar for instance what former Governor Donald Duke did there.
He brought in a big company like Strabag and told it to do this and that, we should not patronise companies that are ill equipped. Now you are doing the East/West Road and so on, who are the contractors doing them, what is their strength, they would do it and by the time they are moving out it has failed.
So these are the things we want to sit down and really appraise and say this is our programme for Niger Delta, but the way we are handling it, I hope it is not a flash in the pan.
There was an open letter to Mr. President by Tompolo, do you think he made sense there?
I read the letter and I think it is quite encompassing, the issues raised should be taken seriously, I mean very seriously. I donâ€™t know Tompolo, I have never met him before and most of the boys I have never met but reading through that, I donâ€™t think that boy should be wished off, he has some common sense and determination. If his argument is that by the action of the Joint Task Force he lost everything and his boys are scattered and he alone cannot come out and surrender one gun, it practically means nothing.
So if he says he should be given the time for him to assemble his boys to embrace the amnesty, then for benefit of the doubt, it will be nice not go into argument and drop such attitudes to it.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, is currently on recess for one month but they have threatened to carry out another oil war if the government does not accede to their demands, what is your advice to this group?
We are not conversant with who MEND is and I donâ€™t think the group would be as unreasonable as people tend to portray them. You can see that MEND operations is very sophisticated and very intelligent, these are not nitwits they are very capable young men that have this network that is known all over the world as the authority.
I do not think that MEND would get up and start destroying the environment and local communities. One should not forget the fact that these operators are more knowledgeable in the geographical disposition of these oil installations than you and I. 75 percent of those that own oil blocs are from outside and most of us donâ€™t have them.
But we elders are very accommodating and even if we pass on and the present crop of agitators are cut down, another group would emerge because it is like cutting the earthworm into two halves, both ends would regenerate. It is that problem in perpetuity that can upset the stability, unity and economicÂ stability of Nigeria, that is my greatest fear.