He is the enfant terrible of the socio-political landscape, a thorn in the flesh of successive administrations. Lawyer and rights activist and social critic, Festus Keyamo, has added a new prefix to his name - politician. Keyamo, convener of Delta Force United, a platform believed to have established to launch his political career, tells SHAKA MOMODU why he is putting his money where his mouth is
What is this Delta Force United, your new pet project all about?
Well, other patriots from Delta State and myself have decided to turn our attention to the affairs of our dear state, Delta State. My passion for Delta State is not only because I am from that state. I was born, bred and I grew up in Delta State. Even though I hail from Effurun in Uvwie Local Government Area, I was born in the compound that was housing the old Daily Times office along Post Office Road in Ughelli. And I also grew up as an original home boy. I first went to an ‘Akara School’ (not a Nursery School), somewhere around Afiesere, then proceeded to Oharisi Primary School, Ughelli, along Isoko Road. Thereafter I went to Government College in the same Ughelli, where I did my O’Levels and Advanced Levels. I then proceeded to the then Bendel State University, Ekpoma, to read law. So you can see that everything about my evolution is Delta State. It was only after university I sojourned to Lagos for my Law School after which I began my career with late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. I therefore have an umbilical cord connected to my roots in Delta State that I cannot sever. Try as much as I can to keep away from the affairs of my state, I just cannot run away from it. My childhood friends and former classmates see me and raise issues, and since I have also gone back home these last few years to establish an office at home to help my people, I have also seen plethora of issues that need urgent attention in my state. The urge therefore, to make some kind of contribution one way or the other is very irresistible.
Outline a clear vision of Delta Forces United?
In outlining our vision for the state, we have looked at the core of the problems responsible for the underdevelopment of the State and we decided that the following will be our objectives: That the only way to discover a new leadership for Delta State is not by promoting leadership on the narrow platform of any ethnic group; that the political future of Delta State rests squarely in the hands of the people of Delta State and not in the hands of a selfish few who have always decided the political future of Delta State and her people; that the only way to return Delta State to the people is through mass mobilisation and mass participation in the political process and not by cynicism, despondency and political abstinence; that the culture of making ‘political leaders’ and ‘godfathers’ out of those who only dole out money to a selfish few to secure political support is the root cause of underdevelopment of the State; to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the reconstruction and development of Delta State; that the only way to develop Delta State from her present position to a frontline State with the huge resources at our disposal is not to continue on the part of impulsive leadership with questionable past and character, but to insist on a new leadership with a transparent past, proven track record of service to the people and the fear of God; that the urgent reconstruction and development of our State by a trusted and competent leader is far more compelling and important than the insistence on future leadership emerging from a particular ethnic group.
So you can see that Delta Forces United (DFU) is a rapidly growing group of patriots deeply concerned about Delta State and whose ideology is founded on the philosophy of Charles De Gaulle that “...politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”
Due to its expansionist programme, we are inviting coordinators and volunteers from all nooks and crannies of Delta State and beyond for the purpose of building a strong, united socio-political organization that can make useful contributions to social-political issues concerning our dear Delta State. In this regard, Deltans, residents of Delta State, Deltans in the Diaspora and friends of Delta State are invited to join hands with us in this patriotic endeavour. Interested coordinators and volunteers must be prepared to deploy their time, resources and skills in various fields of human endeavour to sensitise, mobilise and rally the people of Delta to achieve these objectives.
Is this a pre-cursor to a political ambition that will berth in 2015?
Definitely, you cannot start a revolution without anchoring it properly at the end of the day. We must make inputs as to what happens in our state politically. But how we are going to achieve this would be left to the coordinators, volunteers and members to decide regarding 2015 and beyond.
Let’s talk about our democratic experience in the last 14 years; are you dissatisfied with the progress so far?
If I am satisfied so far, I would not have left the comfort of my successful practice of law to be convening such a group. So the answer is obvious. As regard Delta State in particular, it is unfortunate that a whole lot of incidents have conspired to give us the toga of the capital of corruption in the whole country since 1999. Whether this is reality or perception is still a debate in certain quarters, but there is no debate that something has to change to remove this toga from Delta State.
Are you going to run for an elective office, the gubernatorial position perhaps?
Let us not go there yet. Let us continue to build our network and whatever I decide to do at the end of the day will be a product of my personal conviction and not any pressure on me. But one thing is clear: by the grace of God, I have a fairly comfortable private life, so I am not desperate to be something else.
Where is the funding and logistical support coming from because running a socio-political organisation costs a lot in time and money?
This is one organization where there is no money bag who will be giving anybody money. Anyone thinking of coming to sing praises to collect money should remain in his house. This is not business as usual. We shall all make personal sacrifices, including myself, to effect a change.
What has been the response to your clarion call and what is the strength of its membership so far?
We are almost embarrassed by the barrage of responses we have seen. We are growing by leaps and bounds and for all our coordinators and volunteers, they should know that we shall be holding our first general meeting very soon.
At what point did you decide that enough was enough and the only way forward would be an active political participation in the democratic process?
Well, the signs have always been there from the beginning of our democratic experience that the pace of development of the State has not been as is expected. Take Akwa-Ibom State for example: in those days when Warri as a city was the centre of attraction in the whole of South-South, Uyo was an unknown village. Today the reverse is the case. The awesome transformation of Uyo is stunning. Uyo is now like a little Dubai. And yet both States have access to the same oil money. In my State, Delta, whether it is a matter of misplacement of priority or outright looting, we shall soon see. Therefore to answer your question directly, it has been a matter of gradual frustration on the part of true patriots from that State.
But the problem is that each time you want to talk, certain elements would create the impression that the State is in the firm grip of a few people and there is nothing anybody can do about the situation. They make you believe that everything centre around money and plenty of it, and that without having it nobody in the State will listen to you if you call for change. They also create the frightening impression that there is no way election can be free and fair in the State and whoever takes over from who is always predetermined. So, they tell you never to bother and that is how the game of musical chairs continues.
But something deep inside of me tells me that God is not a sleeping God, that change is about to come in Delta State. But we must be ready to work for it, too. And by change I mean, a complete shift of power away from those who have always held one position or the other and who cannot be divorced from the sad history of corruption, stealing and underdevelopment in the State to a brand new set of individuals who have a clearer vision and plan for the State. Some of these old politicians have no single thriving business outside of politics. That is why, to them, power is do-or-die in the State.
But like what my friend and senior brother and comrade Adams Oshiomhole did in Edo State to the so-called godfathers like Tony Anenih and his cohorts, I am appealing directly to the ordinary people of Delta State (and I hope they hear my cry) to learn a lesson from Edo State and liberate Delta State also from the clutches of these professional power mongers.
You have a successful legal practice and has carved a niche for yourself in the national space, but politics and law are two different things altogether, are you not worried that stepping into the arena is like stepping into the unknown, given its capacity to be nasty?
There is no way you can leave a more enduring and everlasting mark on the majority of your people than when you have access to state power and resources to effect change in their lives. No matter how successful you are privately and how rich you are privately you can only affect and change the lives of those around you and a tiny minority of the population. Because you can’t kill yourself. For instance, every day my phones are full of text messages and my email boxes are also full of mails from people begging for jobs and money. As a private person you cannot help all. But with a clear vision, if you have access to state power and resources you can create jobs for as many people as possible.
So, I do not consider myself successful at all if all I can do is to cater for myself and my immediate family members. I also cannot forget from where I am coming. I grew up a poor boy on the streets of Ughelli. So I have a mental and psychological connection with the poor. But one last line: this battle is going to be one powerful contest of ideas and not a contest by weapons and fists. But our people must be ready to take their destinies into their own hands.