Stories by Emma Amaize,Regional Editor, Regional Editor, S-South
National chairman of the South-South Elements Progressive Union, SSEPU, Joseph Ambakederimo in this interview with Saturday Vanguard reviewed the expectations of the people of the Niger-Delta since President Goodluck Jonathan took over from his former boss, the late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua and concluded that nothing significant had happened in terms of development.
He also lashed out at Niger-Delta leaders who have abandoned the region for Abuja since Jonatahn became President. Excerpt:
What in your opinion is happening in Niger-Delta in terms of transformation under President Jonathan?
From my observation so far, There is nothing significant in terms of development that has taken place in the entire Niger Delta in the last six years even since the proclamation of the amnesty programme or even the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. One major reason adduced for this is the lack of policy direction and a blue print for the development of the region.
The immediate former Minister of Ministry of Niger-Delta, if you asked me, performed ‘dismally’. Godsday Orubebe became over- whelmed by the issues affecting the region and didn’t know where to start from. As I speak, the only visible project that is ongoing in the Niger Delta is the East-West road (Warri-Port Harcourt ) that that has been on for the past six years with no clear cut date of completion.
You will discover that the company handling the project does not even have the capacity and the Ministry of Niger-Delta is in the habit of reviewing the contract sum upward every year. In fact, one can safely say that the East –West road has become a drain pipe to siphon money from the treasury. I thought by this time the Niger Delta would have become a huge construction site but none of these is happening and officials of the Ministry of Niger-Delta and NDDC have become richer than the ministry and the commission and nobody is asking questions.
In fact, the issues as they come have become very worrisome in the sense that the Niger-Delta issue as you would want to see and believe, has been relegated to the background of national affairs and discourse in this country.
What is the President supposed to be doing which he is not doing now?
Between you and I, by now, we are supposed to have seen the area becoming a very huge construction site with heavy machineries moving in and out of the place.President Jonathan cannot afford to fail the people of the Niger-Delta reigon, he should come out with a blueprint for the region and give the Ministry of Niger-Delta and Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, a marching order to develop this region because we are in a hurry to put infrastructures in place and open up the place for investors to come in.
We need economic development, we need youth employment. If the area is developed, there is no gainsaying that all the negative vices that we experience today will come to pass. We even hear right now that there is peace in the area but for me, there is no peace yet and I say this with all sense of sincerity, that the peace we have right now is mere cosmetic and if we are not careful, we will have another implosion in the region because of the level of frustration within and among the people.
Therefore, this is the appropriate time for us to put our act together and look back once again to our past agitations to see how we can get it back on track and get the region once again moving.
Niger-Delta leaders leaders are unusually quiet at a time they ought to speak up, what is wrong?
It is unfortunate because the agitation in the early 80s and 90s were purpose- driven. Some of us embarked on a non-violent agitation to seek to redress the lopsided development that we have suffered in the region. From the 1.3 per cent – 3 per cent, and we were going to achieve more until we got 13 per cent derivation, we did not spill blood to achieve this but of course, I will always identify myself with the non-violent agitation with dialogue. We can achieve more and we would have achieved more than what we have.
There is no doubt that we have missed the track and it will be difficult to redirect the train back to track. The Niger-Delta issue has been relegated to the back seat.
In fact, Tompolo, Ateke Tom and the other self styled ‘Generals” must have to go through the re-orientation and transformation training like other militants in the region are presently doing in Cross River state. If there are anybody that should go through the transformation and reorientation training, it should have to be these self –styled ‘Generals’ .
They should be made to compulsorily undergo the re-orientation and transformation training in order for them to inculcate what they have learnt into their followers.
And on the part of the people, we have to ask our sons and daughters who are in government some salient questions on what they have done with the monies voted for the various agencies they run, which are saddled with the development of this region. Without that, we will not make any significant progress.
How do you see the threat by MEND to renew hostilities in the region?
From the beginning, I see MEND as a criminal organization. It is a creation of the media, you do not go about kidnaping people, raping women and children and blowing up pipelines, destroying your communities and say that you are fighting for your own people. It is not possible. We did not achieve 13 per cent derivation by killing people even under a military regime. So, the tactics of MEND is old-fashioned. If they mean well for their people, they should come out the way I am speaking now, face the camera and tell them what you want to do for them.
Some of them were given so much money. We know what happened. That was how their level of fraud came about. What did you do for your people if you claim you are really fighting to improve their lives.
One of them was given N700 million in one of the Niger-Delta states.What did he do with the money.He went and bought seven different colors of Hummer Jeeps. Is that the kind of life you want to live? That is not the idea of the struggle that we embarked upon in the eighties.