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Why South/South is against calls for Nigeria’s breakup — Opone, PANDEF member 

…Says S/East can produce next President after the North

BY CHARLES KUMOLU

CHIEF Ossai Opone, a member of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF and former governorship aspirant in Delta State in this interview, explains how the gains of the latest dialogue between the Federal Government and PANDEF    can be maximized. He also proffers solutions to the growing agitations for self-determination in some sections of Nigeria.

Ossai Opone

As a member of PANDEF, what do you make of the increasing calls for restructuring?

Any country where there is a democracy, each of the component units has a right to determine their future. And each of the units often wants to take part in the making of a constitution that would safeguard their interest. That is why we have the growing calls for restructuring at this moment. We had an Independence Constitution that allowed for regionalism. And our leaders at that time supported that structure. That was why each region was able to create their resources and send a certain percentage to the centre. That method was a catalyst for the regions to be competitive.

But that is not obtainable now and the growth of the nation is stunted. It is this desire for development and competitiveness that are based on justice and equity, that are increasing the calls for restructuring. The beauty of that era was that each of the regions was known for the things they produced.

That is what people are calling for now. We need to restructure because ideally, people are bound to participate in how they are governed. We are currently being governed with a military constitution which made the centre stronger than the component units. This country is suffering from resources allocation syndrome. That is why some are kicking against restructuring because states will no longer go to Abuja to share money if we restructure.

Do you agree with restructuring in the light of self-determination agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Oduduwa group, Bendel group and some militant groups?

While I support the calls for restructuring and also believes that certain sections of this country are marginalized, it is important for all of us to know that such project can only be promoted through a consensus. The agitation for the state of Biafra is not a product of consensus.

Even the Southsouth which is where I hail from does not support calls for Nigeria’s break up. What we said that people are misconstruing is that we need a synergy that will encourage growth in the country. A system that encourages growth will put an end to all these agitations. There must be equity because the absence of equity creates pockets of agitations around. For instance, the Ndokwa ethnic nationality which I hail from produces about 480 megawatts of electricity out of the little above 2,000 Megawatts we are producing. But no Nigerian has asked if this ethnic group that has gas in abundance has electricity.

It is this kind of situation that gives room for self-determination calls. The Ndokwa example I just gave is the kind of injustice Nnamdi Kanu is talking about. The man is saying that the Igbo have not taken part in the leadership of Nigeria. My appeal to our brothers in the Southeast is to be patient enough so that the rotational presidency we are practicing will get to them.

President Obasanjo’s era was the turn of the Southsouth, Yar’Adua’s period was the turn of the North even though he did not finish his tenure and Jonathan’s era was the turn of the Southsouth to govern Nigeria. I believe that after the North finishes its turn, it will be the turn of the Igbo to govern Nigeria.

But if you are saying that you want Republic of Biafra which includes other ethnic groups that are not Igbo, that is not self-determination because those ethnic groups have not said they want to opt out of Nigeria.    Some of our agitators may know what they want but the calls for Nigeria’s dismemberment are unacceptable.

At the level of PANDEDF, we are saying that if the Federal Government listens to us we will make sure that the modalities that will make sure that there is equity and justice are discussed. What is good for the North should equally be good to the East.

Having said this, the government appears aloof to such calls. What do you make of this disposition?

The Buhari administration is on the right track. Unfortunately, governance was not made its main agenda. The main agenda is the fight against corruption. It is right to say that the government has shown poor attitude to the agitation. However, we saw the Vice President visiting the Southsouth to feel the pulse of the people.

At the last meeting we had with him, he assured us that the government is ready to address the challenges in that region. At that meeting, the strategy for the development of the Niger Delta region was discussed. Remember that we also have Ondo and Imo that are part of the Niger Delta. The government has a plan but our people are disappointed because they have not seen something on the ground. At the time that PANDEF decided to interface with the government, the production of crude oil was 800, 000 barrels per day.

From November 2016 till now, there is nothing on the ground for the militants to see that the government was serious. But after our last meeting, the government was able to show us a blueprint about what they want to do. I am saying that the government’s plan should be executed quickly because our people have waited for so long.

Will I now pass the blame of under development on the present government? The issue of resource control has been there for a long time. I will say that the government had not acted in a way that will show our people that they are really serious prior to our last meeting.    I am appealing to the government to make things to start happening now.

Given that since 1999, successive governments had come up with roadmaps on the development of the Niger Delta, did PANDEF come up with an internal mechanism that will ensure that the latest blueprint does not end up like others?

Our national leader, Chief E.K Clark made it clear to the Vice President that it takes two to tango. He told him that there is need to carry the Niger Delta people along on anything that would be done for them. We have told them that the things they plan to do should be done between 2017, and 2019. And October 1, 2017, has been set as the effective date for Action Plan. We can only appeal to our people. Because of the nature of the Vice President’s advocacy, we agreed with them on the blueprint. At our meeting, we discussed things that our people want to see which includes the issue of modular refineries. We are of the belief that the approach that the government took on modular refineries was not acceptable to PANDEF. The idea of modular refineries came up because of the illegal refineries the militants are operating.

PANDEF wants at least one modular refinery or more in each of the oil producing states. The federal government should at least, fund one of the refineries in each of the states.

Apart from that, we are also calling for the takeoff of academic activities in the Maritime University and the government has assured us that it will commence in October 2017. We also discussed the East-West road which they said they will look into. I know that funding has been a challenge but the government has embarked on borrowing to finance some projects. The government also assured us that the marginalization of our people in the allocation of oil wells will be addressed.

They assured us that preference will be given to our people whenever they are given licenses for marginal oil fields.    We want our people to participate in any project the government is bringing to the region so that our people can ascertain if the project is what our people need.

We talked about the relocation of the oil companies to the Niger Delta, saying that what we want is the movement of the head office of the companies to where the companies are prospecting for oil. If the multinationals are operating within our region, it will improve the IGR of Niger Delta states.

What are those things that make think this government is going to act differently unlike others before it?

I would not say that I am very optimistic. But when you interface with people like the Vice President, who is concerned about the legacy he is leaving behind, you will have some level of confidence. He said he wants to be counted as a leader who was able to contribute to the peace process in the Niger Delta. When a man says things like that, we had no option than to believe him. Our hope is that the coordinating ministers will contribute to the efforts of the presidency.


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