By Chioma Onuegbu
Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd), a former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, is the National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF. In this interview, Nkanga speaks on the state of the nation, especially plans to have a security outfit for the South-South geopolitical zone.
You recently said PANDEF has formed a committee to reach out to South-South governors on the need for a regional security outfit like Amotekun. How far have you gone?
PANDEF had taken that decision after the meeting we had with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Chief E. K Clark. We said that it is the best way to go now. I had a meeting with my governor here in Uyo on this regional security matter. And I am soliciting his support to tell other governors to show concern about what is happening in Nigeria, which invariably affects the Niger Delta. He promised to talk to his colleagues. Like the governor of Delta State, we don’t have a problem with him, he is always very supportive. Today, the governor of Edo State is also showing interest in what we are doing. Bayelsa State governor is also very concerned about what PANDEF is doing. We believe that if they talk to themselves, that is the beginning of it. They need to meet. You know Seriake Dickson (former governor of Bayelsa) was the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum. We would work with the new Chairman of the forum. They have not met for long because, last year, Dickson was busy with the governorship election in his state.
Whatever PANDEF says, we are just advocates. They are the ones that will implement it. Without them, and maybe the ministers and some other stakeholders, nothing much will happen.
We have sent words to them, but we cannot force them to meet. We have spoken to some of the governors individually. Every region is doing something. We have a committee for this purpose and it has done its work. We have a blueprint. The governors don’t have to adopt it because they may have other ideas. There are other stakeholders in the region, who have other ideas. Some of them have even given us their ideas.
It seems the South-South governors are not working together. If that is the case, do you think PANDEF will succeed in making them work together again?
It is not that we have not been talking to them before now. We have been doing that. The last time they held a meeting was when Adams Oshiomhole was the governor of Edo State. To the best of my knowledge, they have not been meeting regularly as they used to. We were very happy with the kind of things they wanted to do then. Today, we even have South-South and South-East Joint Governors Forum which Udom Emmanuel is the Chairman, but I don’t know how often they meet. I only know they have met a few times. And we are concerned that if the South-South governors do not meet, what will they go to discuss when they meet as two regions? And some issues are peculiar to us. Your observation is quite right, not much has been happening, but personal differences like the controversy between Wike and Dickson is not helping the region
Don’t you think the fact that the zone remains the only region yet to announce its plans about a regional security outfit exposes the lack of cooperation among the governors?
I don’t want to assume. We are aware that there are personal issues between some of them. But I think the overall interest should be above every personal issue. Specifically, they said Wike and Dickson are not talking, and if we don’t sort out this internal matter, how will they face the enemies of the region? That is embarrassing to us. We believe those are personal things and may not be as bad as people are talking. After all, the Niger Delta had the BRACED Commission and everybody applauded it. This one is even a security outfit that we are talking about. If there is no security, the economy will not grow.
Some of them trivialise the whole thing. But the long and short of it is that they believe that they have secured enough for their states, but we believe that that is not enough. If people come to kidnap someone here in Akwa Ibom, chances are that they will not keep the person in Akwa Ibom, they might take him to Edo or Cross River. We have seen that in the past. If you don’t have some kind of coordination, how do you go beyond your borders? That is why we are saying that we want something like an umbrella. We believe that regional security is very good. Even the 2014 conference report recommended that states can create commissions for the purpose of tourism, commerce and security
What has PANDEF done to reconcile Wike and Dickson?
Usually, when things like this happen, we send people. I know Chief E. K. Clark has spoken to both of them. And we believe he can handle that because the issues they are talking about are issues bordering on ethnicity. It is not that Rivers State is at war with Bayelsa, certainly not. They are the same people. Bayelsa was created out of Rivers State. Certainly, they are not at war. We have spoken to them individually. If the governors had been meeting, I am sure they would have trashed out the issues themselves. They cannot make any impact on doing things individually.
PANDEF recently urged the Senate to adopt the 2014 confab report when reviewing the Constitution. What are the items that PANDEF wants to be implemented in the recommendations?
For a report that was done by 492 eminent, well qualified Nigerians and they made over 600 recommendations. The recommendations were by consensus. Remember every class was represented at the conference. So even if a particular issue does not affect the Niger Delta, it will affect some people in this country. We are recommending the implementation of the whole recommendations. Our position is simple, take that 2014 national conference report and implement it. Specifically, we have been talking about restructuring.
There must be specific areas in the recommendations that PANDEF and indeed leaders from this region are concerned about…
Remember that restructuring is what we are asking for. Anybody that says he doesn’t want restructuring is living in denial because that is what will move this country forward. Niger Delta region will not move forward without it. There is no way you can say you have done this or that and leave out fiscal federalism. It is the number one pillar of restructuring.
Our founding fathers practised it, even in the First Republic, it was practised. That was when they said at least 50 per cent of what is found in an area will be put back to develop that area. They said so because they considered the topography of the areas and the difficulty in developing some places. When they said 50 per cent should be put back in the areas because of their resources, it was hoped that in the future it should even go beyond 50 per cent. If you live in the Niger Delta, you will know that there are peculiarities here.
Right now over 65 items are in the Exclusive List of the central government. The other tiers of government are not doing anything because some of the things they wish to do are not in the Exclusive List, they are in the Concurrent List. So you cannot do anything as a state to develop your areas. These are the issues. For example, we have been crying about power and that is how we are going to continue to cry. Today some states even built Independent Power Plant because they knew the importance of energy but they can only generate, they cannot distribute. They cannot transmit because those things are in the Exclusive List.
On regional security outfit
We have taken a position on that, and that has been in the public domain. Immediately that happened we congratulated the South West and we also encouraged other regions to follow suit. But don’t forget that PANDEF is also part of the bigger umbrella of Southern and Middle-Belt leaders which meets very often. Even as this was coming from the South-West we knew about it. That is why the Middle Belt also stated that they will emulate the South-West. Ohanaeze said they have a system already in place as far as security is concerned. In almost every village today we have vigilantes. People are already defending themselves. And of course, Nigerians have given examples of similar security outfits in the north like Hisbah, Civilian Joint Taskforce.
We have asked for state police but they refused. Those who are refusing should tell us what agenda they have.