By Elizabeth Uwandu
Comrade Joseph Evah is Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group, IMG, former spokesman on Ijaw National Congress, INC, and member of PANDEF. He spoke with Vanguard on the federal government’s bailout fund to states and other issues.
Is there any way you can score the Buhari-led government as being effective?
Yes. The bailout funds for states when he resumed office were a major stroke for this administration. When this government came on board, there was confusion everywhere because of salary problem in the states. In fact, we were recording suicides everywhere. For instance, some states in Niger Delta were owing five months salaries.
Also, the issue of pensioners dying without 10 months pension was daily news. You see them crying like children in a civil war situation. But the move by the President and the firm decision to release bail-out funds to assist all the states without discriminating against any state deserves commendation. The bailout fund stabilised the nation.
How do you see INEC preparation for the forthcoming election?
INEC is not showing us enough evidence that they are prepared for this election. And the international community is not showing us enough evidence that they are ready for our elections. I expected the current INEC chairman to go back to history on Nigeria’s elections. Yes, it is true he has conducted some elections in some states, but we are talking about presidential election and nationwide elections in various states the same time. He is only addressing press conferences. For instance, even voters education is lacking. There is no evidence to show how the voters need to go about the elections. So, if the commission is lacking anything a month to the election, he should tell the whole world his problems. We are all expecting peaceful elections.
There appears to be no news from the Ogoni Clean-up?
Our people are not happy with the slow move in this clean-up matter. I have raised the alarm several times on television; radio and even in print media that the oil companies like Shell, Chevron, Agip, etc have continued to play politics with this clean-up. The delay we are experiencing is caused by the oil companies. They manipulate everything to their advantage and the Federal Government cannot punish them for causing confusion with the international partners responsible for the clean-up. The Federal Government has announced the take-off date for the clean-up. But announcement is not the issue. The politics of the oil companies in frustrating anything Niger Delta is the issue.
Does it mean Ogoni clean-up matter is now dead issue?
No way. We cannot allow it to die. We are still putting up pressure on government. We are holding government to its pronouncement on the matter and our elected representatives. We are not talking about only Ogoni clean-up. We are talking about the whole Niger Delta clean-up. That was the demand of PANDEF. That is the demand of the whole region.
Some lawmakers are proposing a bill to return the country to parliamentary system. What is your opinion?
I totally support them. We are just wasting our resources on this presidential system. We have practiced the two systems of government, and we can now make a choice. The difference is very clear. All lovers of this country’s future will support the idea. It surprises me because I do not know how God gave them the courage to come out to make this demand, because the same people are the ones benefiting from this waste. I hear some people argue that the system is not the problem but the operators. That is a senseless argument. What empowered the operators to become the problem? The operators become the problem because there are opportunities available in the system for the operators to cause the waste we are experiencing.That is one of the evils of the presidential system of government. Nigeria cannot move forward with this system. We are doomed and we better change the situation. If not, we are bringing the future generation to suffer under this abnormal system we have operated for years. The Presidential system is like a free-for-all fight in mega super market. You have free space like the open air to do as you like lawlessly and you just give any excuse and move on. It is so sad.
Your view on the N134bn Ogoni judgment debt an oil company lost at the Supreme Court.
God is great. It is a victory for environmental justice. It is victory for the Niger Delta. It is victory for all the oppressed people throughout the world. I want to thank the Supreme Court that has re-affirmed that the courts remain the last hope of the common man in Nigeria and beyond. I want all the oil companies to know that the days of using dollar-hired lawyers to oppress the people of Niger Delta are gone. There is celebration across the Niger Delta.