National President of the Ndokwa Political Leaders’ Forum, Rear-Admiral Mike Onah (rtd) expressed deep concern about the continued exclusion of Ndokwaland from the Niger Delta Development Commission Board since established in 2000. He also talked about issues of restructuring, anti-corruption war, Niger-Delta crisis and others. He spoke to Shola Oyeyipo. Excerpts:
Elders and community leaders from three local government areas in Ndokwaland in Delta State reportedly protested alleged exclusion of the Ndokwa people from the newly reconstituted board of the Niger Delta Development Commission. What really are the issues?
The recent composition of the new NDDC board without a representative from Ndokwaland can be described as an act of injustice. It is only Ndokwaland, which is an oil-producing nation that is yet to have a representative on the board of NDDC since the commission was established 17 years ago.
In Delta State, we have five oil producing ethnic nationalities namely Isoko, Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri and the Ndokwa. But strangely it is only the Ndokwa people that are yet to have any representative on the NDDC board since 2000, when the commission was set up. Delta State representatives on NDDC board are supposed to be produced on a rotational basis among the five ethnic groups. But surprisingly, no representative from Ndokwaland has ever sat on the NDDC board. It is only representatives from Ijaw, Isoko, Urhobo and Itsekiri that are being appointed.
Have you drawn the attention of either the federal government or the NDDC to this issue?
We have made several representations to the authorities even before now, but we have been ignored, and this is why our people think that the NDDC is deliberately marginalising us. But this is very unfair. My question to the NDDC is this: what is our offence? It is sad that there is no notable or visible presence of NDDC in Ndokwaland. There are eight oil companies operating in our area, including Agip. We also have the biggest gas deposit in Nigeria but painfully, we have nothing to show for it. We have no electricity supply. Ndokwaland is in darkness. Our roads are very bad. No good hospital. We have made several appeals to the NDDC and the oil companies operating here but none of them has come to our aid.
Is the federal government aware of your people’s plight?
We have complained to the federal government. However, we will not relent. We are, however, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to rescue Ndokwaland by calling NDDC to order. Our people are angry, especially the youths, but we the elders have been appealing to them to remain calm in the face of provocation by the NDDC.
What is your assessment of Nigeria at 56?
To God be the glory that we still remain one as a nation. Although some Nigerians would have expected the nation to have developed more than this because at independence, Nigeria showed a lot of promises but somewhere along the line, we lost focus. But all hope is still not lost. Nigeria is a nation with a lot of potential. God blessed us with abundant human and natural resources. Our major problem has always been how to harness these resources to get the best for the nation.
To move forward, we need attitudinal change. Nigerians should be more patriotic. We should all see ourselves as one. Not only that, we should strive to use our large population to our advantage like other populous countries like China, India, Indonesia and the United States. We might not be there yet, but we will gradually get there.
Some people fear that the clamour for restructuring may lead to breaking up of the country. Do you agree?
I don’t think Nigeria will break up. Restructuring will do Nigeria a lot of good. However, it is unfortunate the way some people are talking about restructuring, giving it a wrong meaning. There are a lot of benefits in Nigeria remaining as one nation. It is only here in Nigeria that we are not using our size and population to our advantage. There are enormous benefits for us if we stay together as a nation. It is sad that we are not maximizing our population and size for social and economic benefits.
As at independence, Nigeria adopted federalism, and this was in practice until the military incursion, which altered the situation. But my advice to President Buhari and other stakeholders is that we should embrace dialogue to resolve these issues. Violence by the militants and other agitators and the counter use of force by the federal government will only worsen the situation.
What do you think is responsible for our present socio-economic challenges?
One is our over-dependence on oil over the years, which has made us to become lazy to the extent that we even neglected agriculture which used to be the mainstay of our economy before oil was discovered. I believe that a return to true practice of federalism will bring the best out of us. Adversity at times forces people to think of how to survive – adversity often brings the best out of you instead of thinking only of suffering.
Even when you suffer, you are forced to think about how to overcome that suffering in order to enhance your well-being and survival. Are all nations of the world oil producing? There are several nations that don’t have oil and they are doing very well. To me oil has even become a curse rather than being a blessing to Nigeria.
Some people have argued that our present presidential system of government is too expensive to sustain. What is your take?
That’s correct. The type of government we now practice is also very expensive. Presidential system consumes a lot of money. A lot of money is spent on political appointees and other public office holders with little or no money kept for development.
What is the way out of the present crisis in the Niger Delta following renewed militancy and bombings of oil facilities in the region by the Niger Delta Avengers?
I am worried just as I believe that every right thinking Nigerian should be worried. The resurgence of violence, not only in the Niger Delta but in other parts of the country has become a source of concern. To the best of my knowledge, no nation develops or prospers in the midst of violence.
There is no doubt that in Nigeria today, we have a lot of problems. Poverty is also on the rise and things are very difficult but for all these, we have to blame ourselves for the ugly development.
For us to find an amicable solution, I believe we should embrace dialogue. Violence and the use of force to counter violence will only aggravate the situation. Anybody that has ever witnessed war will never pray for a repeat. Nigerians should allow voice of reason to prevail. Rather than war-war, we should jaw-jaw.
How would you react to people saying that nothing has really changed in terms of transformation since the inception of Buhari’ s administration?
That is wrong. A lot of things have changed, and one of those things is the way Buhari has faced the corruption problem. The way he has been tackling the problem, I believe is commendable. Unlike before, there is fear of consequences of engaging in corrupt acts. Not only that, the culture of impunity is gradually fading away.
Now, there is fear that you will be dealt with if you are found to be corrupt or engage in corrupt acts, but this was not so before. Before, people believed they could get away with some of these things, but things have changed today.
On the issue of Niger Delta Avengers and the bombings, you were canvassing dialogue but …?
For those blowing and bombing oil pipelines, this is wrong. Violence is not the solution, rather it worsens the situation. In the process of violence, you cause a lot of damage, and not only that lives are often lost, what is painful again is that it costs more money to rebuild what has been damaged. What you discover is that for those causing violence and wreaking havoc, they will still come to the negotiation table.
My advice to the federal government is that steps should be taken to address the problems of unemployment, especially among the youths. Government should strive to introduce people-oriented programmes that will help to cushion the effects of economic recession on Nigerians.