BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
Ambassador Chief Chukudi Dixon Orike is a lawyer. He was called to the Bar of England and Wales in June 1961. He obtained an Honours Bachelors degree in Law from the University of London and a Masters degree in Political Sociology from the London school of Economics and Political science – University of London. He was an elected member of the Nigerian House of Representatives in 1964.
In this interview, Ambassador Orike, a front-line elder in the Niger Delta region speaks extensively on the security situation in the country. He calls on the federal government to convoke an ethnic nationality conference where representatives of all ethnic nationalities would evolve clear conditions on how we can all continue to exist as a nation.
He laments the deplor-able state of the Niger Delta region, stressing that creation of a Niger Delta Ministry and the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC were not key solutions to the challenges of pollution in the region. He urges the government to call on the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP to conduct a similar environment assessment of the entire Niger Delta region like the one it did on Ogoni and publish its report for the federal government and its international oil company partners to conduct clean up exercise in the area.
Islamic sect, Boko Haram has told Mr President to resign as a condition for cease fire in some northern states. What is your response to this?
Well! Security is a major concern in any society. Infact in literature, Shakespear’s Macbeth said that security is human being’s “chiefest enemy”. Nigeria’s constitution said the main function of government is to provide security for the life and properties of citizens of the country.
Obviously, national security is a very important issue. If you narrow it down to the Boko Haram, my personal view about it is that it is more political than religious. Boko Haram wears the face of religion, they don’t want anything western, giving the impression that such injunction is the teaching of Islam but behind it is more of politics. Obviously, it is an opposition element that does not agree with the present regime.
But I see it as a wrong way of carrying out the functions of opposition. In democracy there must be opposition in order to keep the government in check. But opposition does not mean war or warfare or destroying everything in the land. Blowing up schools, police station, hospitals, killing and maiming people. These are not opposition.
I think Mr President should summon an emergency meeting of the Council of States with all the Service Chiefs in attendance to discuss the issue of Boko Haram as a security threat to the nation. The forum may examine the necessity of holding a meeting of the ethnic nationalities of this country to really decide the fate of the country, whether we should continue as one, if so, under what structure or should we break up peacefully like Czechoslovakia did which famously has now come to be known as the velvet divorce.
It is not in any way unpatriotic to say that Nigeria is not one nation. This is elementary, everybody who did history in primary school knows that Lord Luggard amalgamated several ethnic nationalities into one, and before him, the British colonial masters who took this area called Nigeria for trading purposes. They did not mean to establish a nation. But as they occupied it for a long time before they left, they had to organise it as a country. This is the problem in most African countries.
Many of the African countries were originally trading territories of European countries like Britain name it. Congo DRC, Rwanda, Burundi all these were Belgium trading territories while all the French speaking countries in Africa were French trading territories. Ghana, Sierraleone, Nigeria and others were British trading territories. At the end of the exercise they were set up to become countries. But the problem is that while they were trading territories, the different ethnic nationalities did not worry because the issue of power was not there, it was trading. But when they established them as countries and the issue of rulership came up, the various ethnic nationalities went into rivalry.
This is the bane of our problem and many African countries. In this kind of rivalry, there can never be progress. This is why you find instability.
So there is need to sit down and talk. We have to go back to how we came, and then decide if we have to remain one. How can we do so peacefully or is there a structure we can design that can ensure peaceful co existence?
We either to breakup peacefully or to be together but design structures that will provide safeguards and ensure peaceful co-existence.
In the interim what can be done in the face of the threat from Boko Haram that Mr President should resign?
For me the threat means nothing. The government was elected by popular wish of Nigerians, overwhelmingly in a free and fair election so Boko Haram cannot overrule the will of the one hundred and seventy million Nigerians, that is not the way governments are changed. Boko Haram should wait for 2015 and if they feel that they control the majority will of Nigerians then they can at that time influence through their majority Nigerians to elect a different group.
There is no way a minority called Boko Haram, how many are they, call them ten million, will now come to overrule what over one hundred and seventy million people decided. In that case anybody who is elected from anywhere whether from the West, South South, East will be told to resign by anybody or group and he will resign, is that how they run government.
In Spain, you have the Basque group in North West Spain creating problems, that has not made the Spanish government to resign. In Ireland you have the IRA; you have these things in different countries. The opinion by Boko Haram that the government should resign is not an issue. It is not democracy. You will have disgruntled groups in any democracy but they cannot tell a government to pack up and go.
Any word for the northern elders?
I don’t know what is in their mind. If they are not of the same opinion as the Boko Haram they should come up and speak loud and clear to the nation, condemn it. Because some of the northern leaders are old enough to know how this country had been run in the last fifty years that we had independence.
They know who had been in charge at all times. And they know what part of this country had been in charge of the government of the country for majority of the fifty years period of independence.
And if they feel what is happening now is what should happen when the rulership is from another section of the country then, that is ok, that is a precedent that would have been established for the future. And therefore when somebody from the north ascends to power they should also expect this turmoil because if you establish it as the order or our system of governance then you should expect it.
But don’t you see the northern elders been attacked if they condemn Boko Haram like the militants did to President Jonathan when he was Vice President? Remember they attacked his house at Otuoke.
Well! If President Jonathan spoke against militancy is not that a good reason why northern leaders should speak against Boko Haram. You said when Goodluck Jonathan was Vice President, he spoke against the Niger Delta militants , is not that a good lesson for northern leaders to also speak against Boko Haram. If leaders are afraid to condemn what is bad because of attack, then, I don’t know whether they can be truly called leaders.
What is your reaction to the threat to impeach Mr. President?
Well! This is democracy. During former President Obasanjo’s eight years in office, there were several threats of impeachment. In the different state legislators, there have been different threats either against governors or speakers. The thing is that there are laid down rules for what will constitute impeachment behaviours.
There are also laid down procedures on how to follow it. If they are saying that it is because of non implementation of the budget I hope that they have enough facts because they are in government. If a budget is not implemented several factors could be responsible. Budget, is merely estimates of cost. All ministries bring their cost of running the system; this does not mean the money is there. The government decides to see how to fund the budget.
And this is through projections. Our economy is mono, only oil which constitutes no less than 90 percent of all the country’s income. We make projections on the revenue we will earn from oil. Still this is projection which may be affected by several factors.
Things you did not foresee today while making projections can happen. There can be turmoil in the oil producing areas and production drops from your projections. Obviously, your projection is not realisable for that period. Also, if the world market price falls, your projection is not realisable.
When the money you had expected to carry out the budget did not come into your coffers what do you do? That is why I said I hope that the legislators have their facts because this is just an example. Assuming this is the case, then, the President will have no money to implement the budget.
Or are they saying the physical cash is there in the bank and Mr President just enjoy looking at the money. In that case, they would be right to say Mr President that is not what the money is for; it is for execution of projects.
But if the money is not there, how the hell is he going to implement the budget. So in such a case you are just blowing hot hair. That is why I said I hope they know the facts. I am an outsider, I don’t know, so, the House of Representatives should tell us the facts so that the public should know. The public will join them in telling Mr President to implement the budget if they are right.
As an elder statesman in the region, are you satisfied with the attention the Niger Delta gets from the federal government?
I guess many will say Niger Delta has a Ministry, a Niger Delta Development Commission established. This is what many will say if you talk about attention. They will say the federal government has given a lot of attention because of these things. But are they doing any indept examination of the situation?
Oil exploration has been on since the late 50s, meaning that it has been on for over fifty years. Fifty years is a long time in the life of a nation. And therefore fifty years of exploitation, degradation, environmental hazards, is a lot of time.
Take for instance the report of the United Nations Environment program, UNEP on Ogoni; this is an impartial world body. Their report on Ogoni land alone is an eye opener. It is not a report by one Nigerian group, it is United Nations body. If Ogoni with little crude oil production has that environmental degradation that attracts according to the UNEP report no less than one billion dollars for clean up then how much more the core oil producing areas like Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers , Akwa Ibom that produce these things in large quantities.
If you were to ask UNEP to carry out that exercise in the entire Niger Delta area I can tell you that Nigeria government will be alarmed at the report. The federal government will not have the money to do remediation and all that.
The only thing to say is that UNEP, an impartial world body should come and do the exercise in the whole Niger Delta and publish it. It is then you will know whether the attention being given to the region by the federal government is enough or not.
In any case what attention are they given? The Mekong Delta valley in Vietnam received attention of the United Nations. What is really being done in the Niger Delta? Are the real issues being tackled? You set up NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry whereas the hazards are still living with the people. The people are dying. Have they cleaned up the pollution in the creeks where the fishes are drinking oil polluted water and the humans eat the fishes?
You build schools, hospitals in these areas yet you are building them on top of hazards, the waste not cleaned up. The people are inhaling it. They are dying of it without knowing.
When BP had a blow out in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barrack Obama went there several times. And the issue was the cleanup of the place. It cost the BP Chairman his job.
So the pollution that affects the people is still in the region killing them.
What should be done?
Remediation and clean up. That is what they did in the Gulf of Mexico, they should remove the hazards.
Who should fund it?
Who else should? The federal government that is in partnership with the oil companies should do it. They should remove the pollution and hazards they have created for the people. The people living in the territory are equally Nigerians.
Give your advice on how Nigeria can attain its vision 202020 goal.
Whether we can attain the goal or not is a matter of opinion. But how can we achieve this when there is no peace, no security in the land, when we cannot have a shared vision to move on towards the achievement of the goals. When people don’t have a shared vision, a shared dream, a shared ambition, a shared interest, it is difficult to make progress.
It is only with progress that you can achieve whatever vision you have set for yourself. So I am a bit sceptical about the achievement of the vision 202020, it is because there is no unity of purpose and unity of action. Until we get this right we may not make progress.