Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South
FORMER national president of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, in this interview, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, sheds more light on why, as leader of the pan-Ijaw youth group, he opted for amnesty for militants and the threats he received from militants for leading the campaign for them to surrender arms and stop kidnapping for official pardon. He is, however, not satisfied with the present pace of development in the region and proffers his ideas on the way forward. Excerpts:
It was under your tenure as IYC president that the Federal Government proclaimed amnesty for militants and this was not without suffocation pressure from you and other youth leaders. How do you assess the amnesty programme so far?
Looking back, I must say I am greatly vindicated. Most Niger Delta leaders who were behind the scene, funding the crisis at a time from home and abroad were calling for my head when I suggested that government should grant a blanket amnesty to militants.
Much later , arising from a meeting I put together with the governor of Bayelsa State , Chief Timipre Sylva, on 30 December , 2008, myself and all past leaders of IYC resolved to shut down militant camps. It was tortuous for us and I suffered persecution from the Joint Task Force on the Niger-Delta, JTF, on the one hand and the militant themselves on the other hand.
A militant leader even threatened to kill me, other small groups also threatened, but I was not deterred. I saw today in our lives, so I feel strongly fulfilled. The amnesty is not the end to the Niger-Delta crisis, but is a means to an end. It is working wonderfully well, especially with Hon Kingsley Kuku. Of course Timi Alaibe is a major component of its success. However, President Goodluck should empower Kuku to begin engaging non militant Niger-Delta youths or create a special desk for that purpose , else we may be sending a wrong signal to the patriotic non -combatant section of our community.
Not all the militants embraced the programme within the stipulated deadline; we thought IYC was acting on their behalf at the time it was pushing a case for amnesty. What went wrong then?
I already touched some of the reasons, a few did not understand why we were dialoguing with the government, others were not sure if they would not be betrayed in the end, yet others had selfish motives. The IYC is a pan-Ijaw youth movement with a holistic mandate to act on behalf of all Ijaw youth and I exercised that power.
But I am happy it was in good light; today, our youths are being trained all over the world, which is what I set out to achieve working with all stakeholders. The government, in its comfort zone with increase in oil output per day and revenue, may have forgotten our role, but we are happy.
Today, a good number of these ex-militants want to be included in the post-amnesty programme and the Amnesty Office says it is over. Don’t you think government should bend backwards to accommodate them?
Again, that is the emerging danger. Unless the government provides alternative platform for youth engagement , in this case partnering with the Niger-Delta Ministry , NDDC, Ministry of Youth and or creating a desk for youth in the Presidency, every youth who feels neglected would rather prefer to ride on the amnesty program even if they were not militants, it is more of a survival strategy; so I think President Goodluck Jonathan must act fast, else all youths in Nigeria would seek training via agitation means as it is playing now with the Boko Haram.
Up till now, MEND has not accepted the amnesty programme. Is this not worrisome, as those not accommodate in the post-amnesty programme could be mobilized to wreak havoc once again?
MEND? This is complex. The MEND that I worked with accepted the amnesty, the one currently in the media, I have no access and thus cannot speak about them.
Some of the ex-militants are calling for the head of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta Affairs and Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, Hon Kingsley Kuku, over non-payment of stipend, allowances. How do you personally assess Kuku as the driver of this programme vis a vis his understanding of the needs of the ex-agitators.
Kingsley Kuku is doing a great job and is not about to play politics with the destiny of any ex-militant, but on the issue of allowance, I don’t have any information; so I will suggest you talk to the Special Adviser himself as it falls under his purview, ordinarily I do not see how you don’t get paid if you are listed.
The major issue that led to unrest in the Niger-Delta region is underdevelopment. Not many believe that the Federal Government under the leadership of a Niger-Deltan, President Goodluck Jonathan, is frontally addressing the matter at the moment. What do you say?
That is the big challenge. The people in power suddenly are thinking that the Goodluck presidency and amnesty are all our people are fighting for. So, I see that they are having meetings after meetings until the chickens come to roost.
I really do not know the challenges of the Niger-Delta Ministry, but I cannot debunk the fact that almost everyone is sad at the pace of its deliverable in terms of addressing our needs, we expect a more radical approach to our infrastructure needs in terms of new towns, road network and bridges and environmental clean up from this ministry because it is an interventionist ministry, just like the Ministry of Lagos.
After Jonathan, the next president may decide to scrap it, what would he be remembered for? I would have to engage the minister someday to know what the problems are before we can truly criticize.
Its performance index thus far no doubt is worrisome. The NDDC was a cash cow and until Mr. President put some radicals on its board with a clear mandate to deliver in real time, we will not see its benefit. The president must be more aggressive to the Niger-Delta; else he will find it difficult to return home after his service to the nation. He is president of Nigeria and must address all Nigeria problems, while frontally tackling the Niger-Delta challenge.
You ventured into politics as a House of Representatives aspirant in your constituency, Patani, Delta State, but lost out. What happened?
My sojourn from activism to politics was a wonderful experience, it was borne out of my desire to legislate for some of the issues we have addressed as activists, issues of human rights abuse, environmental pollution and remediation, gas flare, budget implementation and corruption.
I won that election at the Patani end where it was free and fair, I was rigged out at the Bomadi end. Nevertheless, the rivalry that was generated between the sister Patani/Bomadi local governments was quite un-healthy, so I had to heed the advice of my supporters to withdraw from the tribunal. We, however, are on course and looking forward to 2015. In summary, much was learnt in the process especially about political deceit and last-minute maneuvers.