He was young, enlisted in the Niger Delta struggle at 15 and at 25; he had accumulated a formidable arsenal that put the entire southern Ijaw under his strict control as part of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Kile Silkey Toroughedi from Azuzu Ama, popularly called Young Shall Grow, was motivated by oppression to fight the system. However, in the struggle, he said he was never into oil bunkering or kidnapping but merely engaged in adroit usage of opportunities within his domain to alleviate the debilitating poverty that ravaged his people. He introduced free education from kindergarten to university level, employed youths in the region and even had a scheme that paid stipends to elderly and widows. Regrettably, after submitting weapons he valued at over a billion naira, he was not paid. He however feels there was still a good chance for peace in the region if the federal Amnesty programme goes back to the original template but warns that should agitation start again in the region, it would be worse than the era of MEND. He spoke to Ahamefula Ogbu
How has life outside the creeks been for you?
Life has been good. As it stands right now, it is a great challenge and I have been talking to myself that after the guns who are you? That’s my major question to myself everyday and I have been working on that basis and everything is going on smoothly with the help of God. After everything, being a businessman, I’ve gone into private sector partnerships and working out things for myself and my family. I am a contractor and consultant in oil and gas so God has been helping me and I thank Him for all.
You were the most armed among agitators in the Niger Delta region, were you adequately compensated for arms and ammunition you submitted under the disarmament programme of the federal government?
No. Because the initial and original plan of the programme was later changed after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. You know I was one of the big wigs in the system but later when he died, everything was hijacked and politicised and I decided to be on my own instead of being in a ship of too many captains. I decided to be calm and focused.
Did Yar’Adua’s death affect the amnesty programme?
Exactly, seriously because the original plans of the amnesty was hijacked and they brought in a different concept to the system which they made the decisions on their own, not the way it was designed from the presidency. It is affecting us right now because most of us who fought gallantly as the founders of this struggle have not benefitted. The one who has not benefitted anything from the amnesty programme is Young Shall Grow because of the politics in the whole system.
When and how did you become an agitator?
I became an agitator because from infancy, I went to military school and with that military concept, when I got home, I found out that I am from an oil region and my community is an oil host community, so when I got home and saw how things were going on, how our mothers and brothers were suffering, I decided to agitate. Again, I travel a lot mostly to African countries and I saw how young boys hustle and survive with what they have around them, so when I got home and found out what we have around us, I mobilised people that lets us start talking to companies around us so that we can survive with our fathers and mothers which we started and at the end it resulted into Niger Delta struggle where the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was founded. That was how it happened.
Has the Amnesty programme addressed the reasons and concerns that led to the agitation?
What were the expectations and what have not been done?
A lot of things. All the promises that were made by the founding President of the programme, after he died everything ceased. I attended so many meetings with him before he died. He assured us that he was going to build six new towns in Niger Delta, return the headquarters of international oil companies to the region, reserve 10 per cent of oil revenue for the host communities, a lot of things that were penned down were abandoned. I don’t know where the original plans are right now, the only thing we see is amnesty programme in the education sector where people are selling forms to people, that is all we see about the programme now.
What are the possibilities of agitation starting all over in the Niger Delta with the failure of the programme?
The way I look at it is that if the programme fails and it comes up again, it will be worse than the former one because what happened in my time is an eye opener to those who were young then. Right now, if you look at the Niger Delta region, everybody looks at it that if you don’t involve yourself into guns, you are not a man or you are not ready to make money, so they involve themselves in kidnapping, several kinds of anomalies in the region which you can see the danger ahead of the whole thing, so we advise the government to follow up the structure of the original amnesty programme, how it was designed.
How old were you when you joined the agitation?
I started as a follower and a dedicated scout who listened to his principals and with that, as an errand boy, I started gathering things on my own. When you send someone somewhere, that person will bring first-hand information to you as a scout. I started as a scout, I used to go to an enemy camp, come back with information to my own camp and from there, I started taking care of things by myself; handling issues and gathering things.
How old were you when you first joined?
I started when I was between 15 and 16 years.
How old were you when you formed your own group and took control of Southern Ijaw area?
I was 25 years then
You were recently arrested and detained for a while; why?
Seriously I don’t know why. I don’t know what really happened. When I was arrested and flown to Abuja, certain questions were asked if I knew anything about Niger Delta Avengers. Infact, I was labelled as one of top rank, infact, sponsor of the Avengers and that I was trying to destabilise the system which I had supported to gain power. I supported APC and in the end I was labelled as the Avengers leader and arrested. Later, different allegations came up that I wanted to assassinate some service Chiefs and serving military officers which I did not do when I was still the Lion in the den; things I didn’t do then they alleged I wanted to do after I had disarmed. Infact, my arrest was like a movie to me. I took it in good faith because I was invited and fully screened and at the end of the day I was cleared of all allegations and released unconditionally because there was nothing against me.
Those who arrested me later found that I was innocent of all the allegations and I was freed unconditionally. It took that detention to give me the highest clean security bill in the country.
For how long were you detained?
I was in DSS custody for a year and one month
Were you tortured?
No. Nobody tortured me.
You had a free education scheme in Azuzu Ama as at the time you disarmed. What became of that programme?
Those are the reasons we raised arms against this nation because I have the vision of doing all those things for my people so when I looked at my environment, it motivated me into action so I said since we have oil in our community why not use part of this thing to help the less privileged, so I started taking to the companies and they gave me attention and provisions were made and every provision that was made was spent on the community because that was my reason for going into the agitation because I wanted to emancipate my people, for the younger ones not to be like us. We were like, no you have to go to school, that was why I established the free education programme in my domain.
Now that you have not been paid for the weapons you submitted, are you still sustaining the free education programme?
After the disarmament, we went back to the community and there was a presidential directive that the scheme be taken over but when he died, the order died with him. However, from my meager resources, I still sponsor people from primary to secondary and tertiary levels. As we speak, more than 20 people are on my scholarship programme in tertiary institutions across the country. We can’t begin to count the ones in primary and secondary schools. No matter how hard it is for me to do, I must have to strive on so that the original intention of showing my people the light and stopping them from passing through similar experiences as we did would not be defeated.
Additionally, I sponsor football competitions, hunt for young talents to expose on national and international platforms as well as sponsor our entertainment artists to enable them develop their talents. I have been made Ambassador for Peace and development as well as given a lot of honours for this but what gives me pleasure is my people having equal opportunities like others. For my schemes to address unemployment nationally, I was made the Chairman of the Unemployed Association of Nigeria.
Right now, are the children still schooling free there?
There is nothing like that because after the disarmament, we went back to the community to see that the directives of the President were carried out but they didn’t do so. However, I still sponsor people but not at the scale it was before the amnesty programme stopped out activities. We are still hoping that the government would do the needful as it will contribute to the sustenance of peace in the region. The dichotomy between the state and presidential groups and directives I think affected that but we are still hopeful.
What do you think should be done for lasting peace in the Niger Delta region?
Lasting peace in the Niger Delta is predicated on development and that development is not just for the government to come and develop us, we have right to develop ourselves where we must create peace and love in our region. If only we can sustain peace, then government will come in and develop us because most of the time we talk about development and we don’t even have the idea of how to develop us. That was the reason I established free education, keyed all the old women into different schemes where they were remunerated; I developed a lot of schemes for them by paying old men and women so that they will feel the reasons we raised arms against this nation because that is what the governors and the senators representing our people are supposed to do. I was just using that to show then what they ought to do and the possibility of doing them while they tagged us with different names like militants and all that. My reason was to develop my people through practical examples and programmes. All the money I got in the community through government and companies were given back to the community because that was the reason I was fighting. We have heard a lot about plans for modular refineries in the Niger Delta but till now, we haven’t seen anything. Expectations are high and it will enhance peace. The earlier they start implementing that the better, the region needs it.
We learnt you have been chosen as the head of all former agitators in the Niger Delta region, how did it happen?
Honestly I don’t know how it happened but those who made that decision know they are right; it is not a mistake because they know who Young shall Grow is ; they know my impact and what I have contributed to the struggle in the Niger Delta, so it is not a mistake. In the structure of leadership, you can’t force yourself to lead. If they accept you to come and lead, you lead.
Sometimes people feel that few people can come together to say lead us, who and who supported your choice of leadership?
The same agitators as me, my contemporaries decided that this guy was the one to lead. Like I told you about my screening by the DSS showed that I am crime-free, so everybody knows me, they know what I can do , they know what I have done in the past and they know my lifestyle. I believe in integrity, I believe in a life that doesn’t cost money and count no error, that’s what I practice. With that they decided that I was the right and proper person fit for that leadership. We are on one unity among the agitators, we have one goal so if I have been chosen to lead us, it is not a mistake because they know who I am.
Do you plan to go into politics?
Already we are into politics, not if I am into politics, I have gotten appointment in the past which I maintained for the whole tenure and to this immediate dispensation. Like I told you, the government that I supported was the same government that arrested me for questioning and at the end I came out innocent. So we are in political period and into politics. In politics we will help our people and move our region forward, so we are already playing politics.
However, if the opportunity comes for me to contest for any political position, why not? Though that is solely in the hands of God, He will design it, but for now, I don’t know.
How and where were you born?
I was born in Cameroun and grew up partly in Cameroun, came to Nigeria and started schooling here till now.
Did your life and experience in Cameroun influence your choice to protect your people in any way?
Yes. That was where I got my first motivation because while I was growing up in Cameroun, the tax collectors there were worrying people. The incidence of tax collection was high, so we saw these tax guys coming to our places; when they come they try to be familiar with our father but in the end they will arrest them , that their tax papers were not complete. Things started happening; at times, our parents had to build another house in the thick forest so if such tax people were about to come, they will move everybody into the house in the thick forest for like one, two or three weeks and after the whole thing, we will now come out. That was how we prevented the embarrassment from the tax collectors. so I started asking my brother that who are these people because anytime they come to the house, they will say our dad’s friend has come but in the end, he will arrest our dad, so I said how is he our dad’s friend and still arrest him? They will say it is for the reason that he is our father’s friend that he was doing that, that if it were other people. It would be worse. My brother told me that if I grow up and go to school that I will know, then he was in secondary school and they use to embarrass him on the same issue, so with that issue, our parents did not have the chance of going to the urban cities because of the embarrassment from tax collectors and all the rest. I remember that like for two or five years, I did not see my father going to the city to get something because of the fear of tax levy.
When I started schooling, in the hostel, we people from the Niger Delta have the oil and we have our friends from the north but could you imagine that they don’t pay school fees , they are so sluggish in the hostel, maybe Friday/ Saturdays, we will be the ones busy cutting the grasses and these guys will be in their rooms in the dormitory, by the end of the day they will be ahead of us, Sometimes, if we go to the village, to come back and resume is a problem, like a term of three months we will be late for two months to come back to school , we only do like one month because of lack of money but these guys, they have everything free in school. So we kept wondering like all these Hausa boys, just like a bell that rings in my head; it was a pain from my childhood, I told you that I have a growing pain till the day I will die, it started from that moment, how they degrade us, intimidate us even in our kindness, I said that okay, if this is how it is; and I read a book from my brother who was second in command to Adaka Boro, late Lt. Berto Amakumo that died side by side with Adaka Boro, he was my cousin , so while growing up, I read his books and I said no, this can’t happen, that when I become a boy I know what to do. So these were the things that triggered me and gave me the force to drive to this level.
Tell us about your family life…
I am married with children and I make out time for my family inspite of the agitation. I met my wife as a little boy when I was staying in my community although she was a little girl too. I met her when she was between 16 and 17 years. We took to each other and we later married and I am enjoying marital bliss with her. Since then, I have not looked back.
What is your philosophy about life?
I am a higher philosopher. Mind, self, man. I mind myself, my business and every good thing around me. I always go for the best for the majority of the people, not necessarily accumulating wealth but sharing what is available for the benefit of the greater number. I live for others.
Professor Dokubo has been chosen to run the Amnesty programme, assuming you were to advise him, what would you tell him to do to bring the amnesty programme back on track?
My advice is to follow the original structure of the amnesty programme although some administrators have been there and we found some things that are not normal in their activities but he as a professor, somebody who is educated, I think he has that charisma to find out things that are not right and to correct them immediately. I think with the no-nonsense stance of President Buhari, a lot of those things will be corrected. The move by the President in appointing Dokubo is a sign of seriousness, giving a sense of purpose to a dying programme. The other thing to do is that government should work closely with leadership of the Niger Delta region and ex-agitators, wave more olive branch at stakeholders and enthrone a symbiotic relationship where everyone will be happy and peace will reign followed by development.
The time you disarmed, you arguably brought out the highest caliber of weapon, how were you acquiring them?
We got the weapons because we were prepared for the whole thing, so we buy them and some we call booties of war, you get them from those you subdue when things happen and you get them from your enemies.
There is this allegation that every militant or agitator was involved in illegal oil bunkering and kidnapping, going to the high seas and trading products for weapons and buying others, how true is that?
That I don’t really know because I only know about myself. You can ask anybody in the Niger Delta, Young Shall Grow has not been involved in any oil bunkering. I have oil in my community, the La Casera(local diesel) that is ferried to Lagos is fetched from my community, it is from Azuzu Ama. Any quantity you want you get from that land but imagine, me that is the original owner of that place have not involved myself in that because I know what I am fighting for and I have to live and show exemplary life to my people to let them understand the reason we are doing this and not to get involved in any criminality so that just as I was arrested based on those things and was cleared, the community can also be cleared of such bunkering activities.
They noticed I was not getting anything from the amnesty programme and wanted to know how I survive, some thought I would be involved in illegal bunkering but after investigation, they discovered I was clean and not involved in any of those things. Before the result of the investigation came in, they though I must be one of the biggest bunkerers, I said no I am not that they should find out which they did and exonerated me. I have never been involved in bunkering or kidnapping.
You were attacked at a point when you were going for burial in your village, what happened?
Yea, it was during my mother’s burial, my mother died in 2012 and on April 5, 2013 when she was to be buried, we were taking the corpse to the village when we were ambushed and attacked by unknown gunmen. They killed some of my security personnel and it was the act of God that I escaped, maybe that time wasn’t for me and I escaped. We were able to still go ahead with the burial, later we found out those that were involved, most of them were arrested and brought to book.
Were they your boys?
They were not my boys.
Assuming you were asked to quantify the monetary value of arms and ammunition you submitted to the amnesty programme how much would that come to?
It was more than a billion naira and they were supposed to pay me for the weapons. That was what brought the confusion. It was rumoured that AK47 was sold for N700, 000, that it depends on the number of arms and ammunition that you have; they pay you according to what you have. On my own as a freedom fighter, I willingly brought out everything. You were there that day and I told you that these were the only guns I have and I don’t want to go back or think about It later, so I am coming out with all I have and let the government come and take them; so I gave them everything and I was not paid anything. I am the only person that did not get a dime from the process of disarmament till date but by the help of God, without the guns I am still doing my thing, living clean.
What lines of businesses are you into now?
I am into oil and gas contracting, private businesses and consultancies.
What advice do you have for Niger Delta youths?
They should stay calm and dutifully follow the implementation of the amnesty programme because with peace will come development both governmental and private. They should build oneness. This time it is not about guns but what we can do in the region. Every Niger Delta youth should come together and ask the federal government to do what we want. Instead of using the gun, it is time for the intellectual approach.