Joseph Ambakederimo is the Convener, South-south Reawakening Group (SSRG), a socio-political and think-tank group for the region. In this interview with Sylvester Idowu, he blames the problems plaguing the Niger Delta on corruption. Excerpts:
How will you react to the regional security outfits being canvassed in several quarters?
It is not healthy. People have been speaking; it has generated a lot of controversy. It is something we have to avoid. I don’t want to be a proponent for regional security outfit. Even the ones governors are creating have not been helpful. For me, corruption is at the root of all this.
The Nigerian Police are short-staffed. We still rely on the conventional way of fighting crime; training for manpower is weak. The Police don’t want to think outside the box. Modern day technology to track crime is lacking in the police and the other security agencies.
We begin with the Nigeria Police on internal security and at some point the President can bring in the army. I ask this question, when has the Nigerian Police become a revenue generating agency? We don’t know the Police, the army as revenue generating agencies.
Today, besides providing security for politically exposed persons and their families, a crop of wealthy Nigerians, not even wealthy, any Nigerian that stumble on money somewhere will go and get the Police to provide security for them and their families, and this, the Police do not do for free, the same with soldiers.
You find two or three hilux trucks loaded with soldiers escorting one person. The escorts are not for free; they are paid for. I know situations, where the beneficiaries pay as much as one million naira a month to the Ogas in the office, not to talk of the oil companies down South-south enjoying this too. My brother you can’t find this in any other country except in Nigeria. I have travelled many cities far and wide; I have not seen soldiers, police providing security this way for private individuals.
So, I come back to the question, who gives account for this money the army and Police get for providing security for individuals? Do they pay the money into the federation account, because they are institutions funded with taxpayer’s money? The answer is no. It goes into private pockets and the money is shared. This money runs into billions of naira every year.
You see security men now lobby to be posted to the houses of individuals. They say they get free food, get some allowances from the Ogas they protect, they have time to relax, keep their riffles to sleep. At the end of the day, you see the laxity in the system. At times you hear them say, “that man I worked with took care of somebody well. This other guy is not good.” So, where will you find commitment for the job?
I know a contractor in Port Harcourt, he goes about with two trucks of hilux soldiers and he refers to the soldiers as “my dogs”, a very close friend of mine. So, what do you expect to happen in this scenario? Corruption is at the root of all. You hear a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), when he leaves office he says he has built shopping malls everywhere.
It is also here you hear a police Commissioner, retiring from office has Housing estates scattered everywhere. Where do they make the money? Are you telling me, a Police man in County, New York, Huston or Florida, a Sheriff in a County, which is about the rank of a DPO, will leave office and begin to flout properties he acquired in office, how does he explain it?
It is only in Nigeria you see Police Sergeants, Army Corporal acquiring properties while in office. Nobody asks questions. So, where do we draw the line? They have abandoned the functions of their job to pursue private wealth.
Regional security is not the option. When the Amotekun thing came out, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Seriake Dickson said he supported it. He too had created five security outfits in Bayelsa. Has it solved any crime in Bayelsa? You see how cultists operate everywhere? The sea piracy is high, pipelines are still being vandalised, people are killed everywhere, you see corpses on the roads in Bayelsa, so, this security arrangement is not a solution. This was how they shouted in support of Civil Defence Corps, what has happened?
The way forward is to restructure the Nigerian Police force. If the Police are structured, we wont need the army on our roads collecting money. There must be checks. People must face the law for any crime committed, whether you are Inspector General of Police, DPO or Commissioner. Making the law run its course is the issues that will bring sanity to the system. Don’t they have hunters in the Southwest they called Agbekeyo, what have they done differently?
In those days, we knew what we called CID. If somebody pointed a CID to you, you’d have goose pimples. They seat in beer parlours, motor parks for information. We have to develop, finger prints technology. They don’t exist, because no data base in the country.
Now you see wives kidnap themselves for husbands to pay ransom, families do for families to pay ransom, children kidnap themselves for their parents to pay ransom. Any high profile kidnap in the country is an insider’s job.
The values have dropped in families. How can your daughter come late at night, your son come with a car and he is not working? Your girl child comes with a phone of three hundred thousand to the house and in all these you don’t ask questions. Today, it is coming to hunt everybody.
Lets look at restructuring as a group, what is your stand on this?
Restructuring, we still say no to it. If we minimize corruption, punish wrongdoing and we will get there. Leadership must be held accountable. This way we will not need restructuring. The individuals causing problem in the country today are not more than one thousand persons. What are we restructuring, when we have not changed our behavior? Look at the South-south, have we been able to sit down to talk?
What stops us from creating an industrial zone in the South-south, have a central water system? If we can pump oil from Warri to Kaduna refinery, why cant the technology to pump water round the Niger Delta region. Lets go back to the agriculture. The South-south has not been able to key into the agricultural revolution in the country yet we have swamp everywhere.
The rice we import to the country is swamp rice from Asia. Go to Bayelsa during the Shagari government, they had the biggest rice farm in West Africa. What is the fate of the farm today? Rice can be harvested three times in a year before the flood. We from the South-south have not keyed into the rice farm, yet, we have the climate, the soil to plant rice.
See the Niger Delta Development Commission Master Plan, today nothing has been done on the document. Talking about the Niger Delta Ministry, what have they done there? Development around the NDDC is not healthy, even if some of us are doing business there; it is not healthy. It is a shame that we have turned an agency that should be beneficial to everybody to something profiting some few persons.
The stench coming out from NNDC is too much. Again, we can’t blame anybody from outside; we must blame ourselves. The wisdom of the President to set up an interim board, even if it goes against the act we have to accept it, because we need solution.
Funds that have come to this region, I tell people is about one third of the annual budget of the nation, so who is our problem? See the funds to the NDDC, 13 per cent derivation, Niger Delta Ministry, Amnesty programme, the governors going to take loans in the bank in billions from the capital market. With all the money from all these channels, we are still where we are. We must look inward. All those that have held leadership position here must be called to account.
The region itself has not done well. We have a lot of money that has come to the region. Some of us are not happy with where we find ourselves today in the NDDC, but some of us are optimistic that the leaders there now will meet the objective.
Is there any timeline for a new board?
Yes there should be. We are in a contraption. I still mention Timi Alaibe that NDDC started having their problems after he left. It was a reputable audit firm that was doing their audit when he was there. Since he left when did they do audit? It is so bad with NDDC, anybody who got position as MD wants to become governor of his state, yet, you are there as Managing Director of an interventionist agency.
I suggest that all states in the South-south should contribute to what I call a Sub-sovereign future fund, let all the states contribute a percentage to the fund that should be domiciled in the Centra Bank of Nigeria. NDDC can be part of the fund. The fund can be used as collateral for loans to fund big projects in the region.
The Niger Delta Ministry is as guilty as NDDC. Since the creation of the Ministry what have they done? What can they pinpoint to us as achievements? How much has been expended? Senator Godswill Akpabio left other issues in his Ministry to be talking about NDDC, is it altruistic?
So let him go and look at his Ministry. Agreed that NDDC is in his Ministry, but let him allow the people there to concentrate, do their work. The Minister of Niger Delta Affair, Senator Akpabio should leave NDDC alone. Let the people do their work. Look at the East West road and see how bad it is? He should open up the region. The terrain is a blessing to us.
Where does the President come in in all these?
If the President wants to leave a good legacy, he must put his eyes on the Niger Delta, the Ministry and NDDC must be watched closely by the President. Let him do the things he should do here (Niger Delta) to leave a legacy, because the region is the backbone of the economy.
He should work his talk. Let us do things differently in the region to bring peace. I have intervened in several meetings to stop the boys from going back to the creeks. We have said never again will the boys disrupt flow of oil.
We want to see development in the region, virgin forest being pulled down for roads, houses, bridges, not just the Minister of Niger Delta gallivanting from one place to the other shouting about NDDC. We are also calling for audit of the Niger Delta Ministry. What have they done since 2007 that they created the Ministry? We want to know. We want Senator Akpabio to sit down to work.
Let me also say this quickly. Right now we are like in an organised chaos. But again, the governors are collecting security votes, so, they should give account. It’s only in Nigeria you hear that they don’t account for security votes. Who say governors are not Chief Security Officers of the state? Try a governor and see if the police will not come after you. Let nobody come and fool anybody in the country. The governors use Commissioners of Police very well. Corruption is what is destroying our country.