By Egufe Yafugborhi
For the hard hit Ijaw of Delta state, the scare of another military invasion of some of their communities, particularly Gbaramatu kingdom of Warri South West council, remains a big worry in the atmosphere of the tension being generated by Ex-Militant leader, Govenrment Ekpemukpolo (Tompolo), EFCC face off. While that storm is still unsettled, the declaration for closure of the NIMASA Maritime University, Okerenkoko has deepened their frustrations.
Since the declaration, widely adjudged as “inciting”, leaked from the mouth of increasingly eccentric Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, rage has been piling especially among the militant youths, some of who staged demonstration at Asaba last week.
However, in an encounter with Chief Favour Izoukumor, a community leader and Commissioner representing Ijaw on the board of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, he stressed why Ijaw must save its energy and might in addressing the matter and the whole gamut of challenges posed by the unfolding Tompolo saga even in perceived face of provocation.
Izoukumor on Amaechi’s comment
The statement credited to the Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, if true, is very provocative, inciting to say that a region laying the golden egg feeding the nation does not deserve a university!. This is the only riverine university Federal Government has ever established. It was established not only for Ijaws, but the Niger Delta and Nigeria, yet you say it should be cancelled?
I read the minister saying no parents will send their children to that university. This is quite fallacious because there is Escravos (oil) Terminal where thousands of workers from different regions of Nigeria and the globe are working; contractors are fetching billions from there. Multinationals transformed where they are living to paradise and the university in question is just stone throw from the terminal and that is the place you are saying no parents could send their children to. I am deeply disappointed at Amaechi. He should know that despite political differences, we are all from this region. Amaechi is in better position to know the suffering of the people of this region.
Why Ijaw must stomach underpinning provocation
My sincere advice to Niger Deltans, particularly the Ijaws, is to see these as provocative statements, maybe made to see our reactions. Let’s be peaceful. Whatever grievance we have as a result, we should express peacefully. I believe this is the personal view of Amaechi and not the position of the Federal Government, FG. Let’s await FG’s position and whatever it is, let’s use peaceful means to seek redress.
The perception of the Ijaw towards President Muhammadu Buhari is that they are targets of his anti-corruption drive. The President has a track record as a man of integrity and a nationalist. I don’t think he will reduce himself to targeting an ethnic nationality until it is proven otherwise. This impression was fueled by a statement he made immediately after the elections in an interview with some journalists in the US where he reportedly said that areas that did not give him much vote should not expect to get more in terms of distribution of political benefits.
There are also concerns about the anti-corruption crusade and I think Ijaw leadership has unequivocally supported the crusade. The President has also said it is not targeting any nationality. He needs to douse the tension by engaging the Ijaw leadership to correct this wrong impression being created about him. He should assure all that he means well and that he is President for the whole country, not of one or other regions at the detriment of the Niger Delta.
Engaging Niger Delta leaders, for the President, is paramount because when you don’t address a rumour, it generates tension. If he timely intervenes and engages stakeholders, it would disabuse minds who may have taken those statements to heart. I am one of the young leaders in the region. I don’t have that perception. I still believe the FG led by Buhari will do the right thing. Until I am proven otherwise, I don’t have any cause to say he is targeting the Ijaw ethnic nationality.
Seeming resurrection of militancy in recent pipelines bombings
As a community leader and representative of the Ijaws in DESOPADEC, I unequivocally condemn the criminal act; it is unacceptable. I however do not think the phrase ‘resurrection of insurgency’ is correct because this is purely a criminal act. It has been happening quarterly, possibly more, every year. There have been pipeline vandalisms caused by criminal elements. I don’t know those behind it, but what is certain is that they are criminals with diverse interests; diverse interests because these vandalism, especially on the gas line in question, is a recurring decimal. People are benefiting from it, some business interests and unscrupulous elements within in the NNPC and its subsidiaries. It is a criminal act; not violence that is resurfacing.
Yes, NNPC could be beneficiaries. They and others in the industry because this gas line is vandalized annually. My surprise this time is that in all the vandalism actions these past years, it has not drawn this kind of national attention, and I don’t know the reason behind it. In the past when it was vandalized, NNPC repaired it quietly without any fuss. So, why is it different this time?
Tompolo’s run with the law as justification to point fingers at him
I think these are some of the unnecessary, frivolous claims to create needless tension in the Niger Delta. Business interests engage criminals to do the act and they get repairs contracts. This has been recurrent. It is not new and how can you link this to Tompolo? I am not speaking for Tompolo, but I think all of us and you journalists know Tompolo as someone not afraid to accept responsibility for his action; in this case he has no basis to do this.
I want the FG to investigate all past pipeline vandalism: Who were behind it? I feel some persons are trying to instigate confusion between the FG and Tompolo; to tag him with a bad name to hang him. I am shocked about linking this to Tompolo because it is an open secret in Delta State, particularly Warri South West and within NNPC. I think people are instigating the FG against Tompolo and trying to frustrate him into giving negative reactions.
Threats to hold community leaders accountable for further attacks and failure to produce culprit
I will not just apportion blame to security agents because I am a man from the riverine area. If I just conclude that they are not fulfilling their obligations I may not be fair to them because the terrain in the riverine area is complex. If criminals are coming, you may not know. They are doing their best but it is just like terrorist attacks, the way these guys operate, they plan and carry out most of these atrocities at night.
Anything that will crumble the economy of Nigeria is not in the country’s interest. Ijaw will never support it. That’s why I condemned it in its entirety, but don’t extend the punishment to innocent people; it is uncalled for. There is no way lawful community people will know what is happening. Most of these communities are distant from the attacked facilities.
Two, these persons operate like terrorists; they are fully armed and most times they do these criminal activities in the night when innocent people are in bed.
Community leaderships are not even saddled with protection of the pipelines and you want to hold them responsible? That’s unfair. Even asking the community leaders to fish out these persons is unjust. Government need to synergize with communities leaders, the stakeholders on the way forward. Such statement credited to government and its forces is capable of alienating community stakeholders because credible leaders who have information will be scared away. Only those ignorant of the terrain that will make one to blame community leaders.
Notion that criminals are from the communities, their plans and execution of same known to the communities
Those are deliberate, erroneous assumptionsto incite the FG against innocent communities; they are unsubstantiated rumours. I am a leader from Warri South West and Chairman of Ajuju community. Are you saying that I am also aware? It took everybody by surprise and when we got wind of it we swung into action. If not for the proactive measures taken by the state government and community leaders, maybe these criminals would have done more damage.
The JTF knows that the success in halting the attacks was due to these collaborative efforts. They get intelligence information from the community and creeks. It is the locals that lead their investigation movements. Whatever peace we see is through efforts of the state government and these leaders. The acts were done about a day and next day all the communities were on alert. As we are talking most of the communities leaders have mandated their youths to assist the security agents and they are on security surveillance on the oil facilities.
Looming ethnic conflict
We need to be peaceful and law abiding despite whatever is happening. From the bitter experiences in the past, we have resolved to settle disagreements in peaceful manners. Warri crisis taught all the leaders a lesson. Yes, there may be some skeletal restiveness but I think it is always being timely nipped in the bud. It is imperative that all oil producing communities be vigilant and vigilante groups should sincerely do the work, collaborating with security agents, avail them any information that can help protect oil facilities.
We are core stakeholders. As commissioner representing Ijaw in DESOPADEC, I know as much that the only way the commission and state government will have enough money to embark on massive development is when there is stable oil production. If we are not vigilant, we will allow criminal elements, self-centered persons to destroy oil facilities with long term negative impact, not just degradation of our environment, but also drastic fall in the state’s revenue.