National Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group. Comrade Joseph Evah, was at the forefront of the struggle for the actualisation of June 12. In this interview, he defends his role, giving kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari, but saying the issue should not be seen as a regional triumph. Excerpts:
By Tony Nwankwo
President Muhammadu Buhari has declared June 12 Democracy Day. How do you react to this?
We are happy. We clamoured for June 12 to be declared Democracy Day. Some of us who were involved in the struggle, even before Abiola died, do commend the President. I was the convener of Non-Indigenes for the Actualization of June 12. I formed the group when our leaders like Ovie Kokori, former Secretary General PENGASSAN and Wariebe Aganmene (former president of NUPENG) were arrested. Infact, we mobilised the oil workers to cripple the economy of the country at that time. So, following the arrest of some prominent citizens over June 12, I decided to mobilise non-indigenes, especially people from the riverine areas, to join the strike and the blockage of roads. That was what we did as young men. And since the coming of democracy, my group has been mobilising people to insist that Democracy Day be June 12 and not May 29. Now, the day has been restored, we are happy.
What do you say about the GCFR awarded posthumously to Abiola and the GCON awarded to Babagana Kingibe, some say without due process?
There is no need for any further process. The man Abiola is now, by implication, a former head of state, as long as we recognise this, there will be no further process. Political leaders have used several processes that were not normal to annul an election, they used processes that were not normal to frustrate the authentic Day of Democracy, so why should this one become abnormal? Remember, when my brother (Goodluck Jonathan) was made Ag. President, they refused to transit a letter. They said YarÁdua could not sign the letter and the National Assembly, to save face, and not allow the military to come back, came up with the Doctrine of Necessity. Do we have Doctrine of Necessity in our Constitution? No!
So, whatever Buhari is doing, as long as majority of the people accept it, that becomes law. If the Supreme Court gives a judgement, and the judgement is against human interest, if the judgement is against unity, if the judgement is against peace, the judgement is useless. So, any court judgement that does not move in line with peace and unity, that judgement is nothing. Buhari has done the right thing. Remember he was part of the Abacha system, he was in that government; he was PTF chairman; he was a former military ruler. The military people messed up the country for so many years, if for one reason or the other, one military person now says: ‘I was part of the problem, please forgive us, we have been a problem to this nation’. Even at one percent, he has represented the military people who rubbished this country. I think we should commend him.
Some say the President arbitrarily changed Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12, so someone else could reverse the day, if there are no strategic guidelines.
If anybody comes, the person must look at the mood of the nation. If the person fails to look at the mood of the nation and reverses this, there will be crisis, especially from one part of the country. For instance, oil companies are facing hell in the Niger Delta. We swear for them everyday. They are our enemies. They pollute our environment with gas, with no compensation for the people. We are not smiling with them. Even if we don’t have the physical power to deal with them, we continue to swear for them. That it will not be better for them, as they want our lives not to be better. If another government comes and says for political reason, we are not doing this, there will be tension, and the government will not peacefully operate in the area. You can see what happened when this declaration was made, every part of the country did appreciate it. The mood of the nation is very important. Leaders should look at the mood of the nation. If leaders know the history and they want to peacefully rule, they will not reverse this.
You played active role during the June 12 crisis. Some are trying to hijack it as their own achievement. What do you say?
From what we are seeing since the announcement, some Yoruba are behaving as if only they fought for June 12. June 12 was a national issue. Infact, people like Ndubuisi Kanu, a former military governor, who rose to the highest rank in the Nigerian Navy, yet he risked his life. People like Kangiwa Umar, the former governor of Kaduna State, and former administrator of the FHA, people like my leader, Ovie Kokori, people like Wariebe Agamene. Just because the Press is based in the South-West they are not giving credit to other Nigerians who made sacrifices to make it a national issue. If we had washed our hands and said, this is Yoruba problem, nobody would have respected June 12 internationally. Nobody. A lot of people went out of the country on self exile, were not Yoruba.
So, I think, the press is trying to deceive the international community. And the Yoruba who are writers in the media, who are trying to hijack the thing as if it was Yoruba people that did it,it was outsiders who did more, and gave it character. If not, Abacha was ready. He dealt with the military too. He dealt with Oladopo Diya and some others when he faced the military within the Yoruba. He dealt with them. Look at the owners and editors of Tell magazine, then Ovie Whiskey and other editors, many of them suffered. People like Ubani are not from Yoruba land. Olisa Agbakoba was brutalized. I was there when it happened. It is a miracle that Agbakoba is still seeing with his two eyes. We were with him when he was brutalized Agbakoba was extremely brutalized. He is not a Yoruba man That some Yoruba writers want to sweep these things under the ground, the contributions of other people, under the carpet, is unfair, it is sad. Agbakoba is lucky to still be alive. I think they (security operatives) regretted not killing him there, because I was in that rally. We thank God that these things are coming back again for us to re-examine our relationship in this country.
Some say Buhari is doing this to garner support of the South-West for his re-election in 2019?
Well, that is some people’s opinion, and some people still have another opinion. If you have an opportunity, you make use of it. Any human being who feels he has an opportunity will use it. The man must be wise to use his opportunity. Let other people go crack their brains and use their own opportunities wisely. Look at the crisis going on. The Islamic leader that they detained and people are violent in Abuja, they should remember what happened to the leader of Boko Haram, who was shot by the police. If the court grants Kaduna Christianity leader bail, let him go. Let that problem not become another Boko Haram. Buhari in his inaugural speech was going to stop the amnesty program after one year. As we speak, amnesty program is still going on, one year is gone, why? Because he feels if he stops the program, the wahala, the problem that will come from Niger Delta. And Boko Haram is still there;. He will not be able to cope. He will now be using Nigerian money to buy weapons. So, he has used the opportunity to extend the amnesty program.
We seem to be down playing the incidents of Boko Haram, herdsmen’s killings, kidnappings and raping and the seizing of lands in Benue, Taraba for cows?
He is facing pressure from the Christian and international communities. Remember what the American President Donald Trump, told him, that the Americans will not accept the killing of Christians, killing of innocent people. That alone is an international indictment, international community indictment, that the President is not doing enough. He is not doing what he was expected to do. I believe he has taken the message and reasonable advisers around him will tell him that despite diplomacy, if American President welcomes you, you go and read between the lines, especially the killing in the Middle Belt. The international community is not happy with you, better work on it. I believe that for Buhari, his advisers will advise him that any other goodwill will be rubbished by that only, because if the killing continued, you are going to get zero remarks, from both Nigerians and the international community. And he has a few months to resolve this, if not this very declaration and every other declaration will be rubbished by the killing.
The recruitment into the Nigeria Police with Arabic exam questions is said to encourage Boko Haram members to join the Police. You have also heard?
We have told him times without number to sack the Inspector General of Police, Idris Ibrahim. The IG is giving him a bad name. Once, the President told us that he gave order to the IG and the IG disobeyed him. The IG should have been relieved of his position. Again, recruiting people into the police using Arabic, I need to verify that. I have seen it on the social media, but I I have not verified that. But apart from that, this IG should go. He is giving the President a bad image. The Ag. President Osinbajo, when he was acting, ordered oil companies to relocate to the Niger Delta, the oil companies refused and nothing happened. It is like they don’t know the power of their offices. The oil companies refused till today, and when Osinbajo sees the executives of oil companies they will be shaking hands. These are people who disobeyed you. Can anybody disobey the President in their own countries?