When there is peace in Niger Delta, there will be development in Nigeria —Minister
5 Aug 2012
BANKOLE MAKINDE and TUNDE OYESINA
In this interview with BANKOLE MAKINDE and TUNDE OYESINA, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Peter Orubebe, talks about the unfinished matter by Nigeria in the South-South geopolitical zone, among other sundry issues. Excerpts:
WHY are the people of the South-South so restless and seem to have such apathy for Western education?
I think judging from where we are coming from, to a very large extent, the people were denied of education. As a young man that was growing up, our people never had the opportunity to enjoy Western education until when Chief Edwin Clark became Commissioner for Education. He made deliberate efforts to bring some schools, particularly in the then Mid-West and so, if we look at the entire Niger Delta, you will find out that our people never had the opportunity to have the kind of access and impact at government levels. Our people were not in positions of authority to be able to take certain things to their people. That brought some sort of backwardness in education. It is of recent that you will see a lot of our people going to school and of course, so many people from other regions capitalised on that and denied us some things for a long time. When a good number of us went to school and we came to realise the available resources vis-a-vis what we are expected to have and how we are expected to be, people came to realise that we were cheated, neglected and deprived. This is simply the cause of restiveness you find in the region.
Neighbour-to-Neighbour, that political association you engineered and headed, is still waxing stronger even after it has delivered its mandate of installing Goodluck Jonathan as president. Now that the man has openly declared that he would not be contesting for a second term of office, don’t you think the association should be proscribed as its looks to many Nigerians as a drain on public funds?
Neighbour-to-Neighbour has nothing to do with public funds. It is an NGO meant to confess good governance, look at critical national issues and come out with ideas to support any government in power to see that the dividends of democracy are given to the people. Neighbour-to-Neighbour is not an organisation of Goodluck Jonathan. It is an independent NGO that was put together by people of like minds who love Nigeria, who think that democracy must survive in this country and feel that Nigeria must move forward like any other great nation. I happen to be the National Coordinator and we will be there for any government to support them to do what is right, to move Nigeria forward, and to provide the dividends of democracy to the people and the organisation is critical and from time to time, we come out to discuss national issues and provide solutions as to what is good for this country. The essence of the organisation is to see how we can encourage good leadership, define what a good leadership is and identify with a good leader and go along with a good leader. We put Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari on the scale and we found out that Jonathan had what was expected by Nigerians to move Nigeria forward and that was why we came out boldly to tell Nigerians the type of leader they should vote for. If tomorrow we find somebody that we believe has a credential to move Nigeria forward, we shall support him.
How has the journey been so far in this ministry?
Well, it has been quite challenging; even this morning, I had a press briefing. We were particularly talking about the East/West road. The creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta is a pointer that the issue of the region has not been resolved. Remember that in the past, we had the Development Board, later we came to have OPADEC, and then NDDC and from NDDC, we have the ministry of Niger Delta. It is because the issues have not been resolved, that is why government is looking for possible ways of resolving these issues and my prayer has always been that this should be the last stage for government to find a lasting solution to the problem of Niger Delta and I think that it is high time we had to create a lasting solution that will move the Niger Delta forward. Today, whether anybody likes it or not, a peaceful Niger Delta is good for this country. When there is peace in the Niger Delta, then we would have gotten a peaceful environment and there would be increase in oil production which would bring about enough chance for the development of the country. It means Nigeria should be concerned about the development of the Niger Delta. The challenges are enormous but as a ministry, the framework for the development of the Niger Delta is there, the capacity, the enthusiasm by the people who are workers in the ministry; from the minister to the cleaner. But the only challenge we have is the resources. The funds are not there to do the things we want to do to move the Niger Delta forward. But all the same, with the available resources at our disposal, we are doing reasonably okay. If you look at the statistics presented by the minister of finance, over 98 per cent of the resources given to the ministry have been expended, showing that these people are hungry to develop the Niger Delta. As money comes, it finds its way to the development of the Niger Delta.
Some Nigerians are complaining that the Niger Delta Ministry is being run as if it was created for the people of Bayelsa and Rivers States alone, as the two states are reportedly the largest beneficiaries of the largesse accruing to the ministry especially in the area of employment. How would you react to this?
Most people don’t take time to make their findings before they come out to talk. For instance, we have one skill centre in each of the states under the ministry. The East/West zone is cutting across all the states in the Niger Delta. When we wanted to train the non-militant youths, the 701 that have been so far trained are shared equally among the nine states. That is what is done at any time we have projects but the point is that projects belonging to other people and executed by them are always erroneously ascribed to have been executed by the Niger Delta ministry. When we wanted to do housing project, it spread across the nine states of the Niger Delta. That is how we do it; there is no discrimination. We do things equally.
Is it not time that we employ the Odi strategy used by President Olusegun Obasanjo in tackling the Boko Haram imbroglio?
If you listened to the President very well even during his campaign, he made it clear that no Nigerian needed to die before we make a case for anything. Ask for development, there is no blood worth shedding. He appreciates that human beings are created by God, they are precious before Him and he said that ‘if there is any situation or any challenge, come to me and discuss.’ The president has said it over and over that nobody had come out to say he is the leader of Boko Haram and to start with, where can he even trace them to? They have no traceable address.
The Odi case, people were in a place holding a community to ransom and the government moved in to resolve the problem there. It cannot be compared to Boko Haram. Today, you have a leader who believes that we must all come together to move Nigeria forward. No matter how aggrieved you are, bring your issues to the table and let us discuss the way forward. He is not a leader who believes that issues should be resolved with iron-fisted actions but he believes that mediation is the best and as much as possible, Nigerians must come together to work for a peaceful co-existence.
What exactly do you think is wrong with this country and what do you foresee in the next five years regarding its continued existence?
Well, I think we got things wrong from the foundation. As Nigerians, we are always in a hurry to get things done but we don’t have the patience to get things done. We are not a thinking nation and we don’t plan. We are fire brand activists kind of people and that is why today, we are spending billion of dollars on power and we have not been able get result. But today, you have a President who believes that there must be a different way of doing things, the Nigerian way of doing things must be the right way of doing things. A President who believes in planning, who thinks and believes that we must have a frame work. it is when we have a frame work and the structures ready that this country can move forward. He is a President who believes that governance should not be built around Goodluck Jonathan but around institutions, once these institutions are strong, any average Nigerian will be able to run any system in this government. Once we get the planning right, everything will go in sequence. I am very sure that the President we have is ordained by God to take Nigeria out of the woods.
How do you think we can tackle the issue of bunkering and theft of petroleum products by the people of the Niger Delta?
I like to correct an impression, it is not true that bunkering is done by the people of Niger Delta region. First, let us define bunkering, it is the act of using sophisticated instrument to illegally break into oil pipelines and stealing the property of government which could be crude oil. For you to do bunkering, you need to have a modern ship that will be somewhere and you must have barges that will go to the creeks to take the crude oil and you must have instruments and equipment that you will use. Now, the point is this, if you go to Niger Delta, the ordinary man there is poor and so cannot hire a modern ship, barge or buy the equipment we are talking about. It is wrong to say that Niger Delta people are doing bunkering. They don’t even know what it is. Some of them have not even been to the creeks. Bunkering needs highly sophisticated equipment and it can only be done by people who have money, name and capacity, who are high up in many ways. I think that at the appropriate time, the government will be able to tell Nigerians those who are involved in bunkering.
The Supreme Court recently decided the feud between Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom States on the 76 wells in favour of the later. As the minister in charge of the South-South, how do you intend to ensure good neighbourliness between the feuding states over the issue?
I think in the first place, it was wrong for Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom States to have gone to court. There is no difference between the two states. they are one and the same people. So, I expected them to resolve the issue politically but I am still of the strong opinion that even though Akwa Ibom has won the case, nature demands that they should still go back to the roundtable and talk as brothers and see how they can resolve the issue socially and politically. I think that is the best way for the purposes of co-existence and remembering where they were coming from. I think they should go back to talk.
What is your comment on the recent impeachment threat against President Jonathan by the National Assembly over his alleged low implementation of the 2012 budget?
You know in politics, these are things that make the soup sweeter but I believe that the National Assembly has a right to think of any situation and demand for anything and the executive has a right to explain to them any area where probably there was some misunderstanding. But, by and large, the troubles have a way of solving themselves politically within the system and I believe that the institutions are capable of resolving these issues.
How do you relate with the governors in the Niger Delta in your capacity as their minister who disburses the largesse accruing to them from the centre?
I discuss with them. All the governors are my friends. We discuss at serious levels and when there are things I want to do, I discuss with them so as to have their inputs and when I see that there are projects that are very critical for the region, we have meetings together to discuss the best way to handle them. In the next one month, we shall be having a Niger Delta stakeholders council meeting where the ministry will present an infrastructural development framework for the Niger Delta and we expect that all the Niger Delta governors, oil companies, various donor agencies and community leaders will all come together to discuss the framework so that we can move forward.
What is your relationship with Governor Dickson, Timi Alaibe and former Governors Sylva and Alamieseigha?
They are Ijaw people, I know Alamieseigha as the first elected civilian governor of Bayelsa State and I give him the respect I ought to give him. I also made my proposal to support him to move the state forward and that is much I know about him.
Alaibe was the executive director, finance and administration in the NDDC. We worked at that level and I gave him all the support needed and he has done his part and he has gone.
Sylva was the governor of the state and an Ijaw man too, I also made some expressions on how he could move the state forward. He has done his part and he has gone and Dickson is there now. He is also an Ijaw man and he is there as the governor. What I have always done I will still do and that is to make my input to support him.
How would you describe the politics of for mer President Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Yar’adua and President Goodluck Jonathan?
Well, talking about these great Nigerian leaders, I remember when former President Obasanjo was elected, during his inaugural speech, I felt very happy that there was a new dawn in Nigeria. He is great leader and statesman. He came and brought a lot of issues. He has done his part and today he has gone. I did not work directly with him, but I read him from afar. There were bold actions he took. He is a great man.
For the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, I worked with him directly as a special adviser, minister for national planning and as minister of state, Niger Delta. He was a great leader, strong-willed and a man who loved the high and the lowly and who had a vision for this country. He was not enticed by anything, he was there for the truth and he was ready to contribute his quota towards the development of this country. That was a great leader we lost.
And, of course, Goodluck Jonathan is a man of great vision, a thinker and a planner who will not be enticed by anything. What is important to him is for Nigeria to have a pride of place in the comity of nations. He believes Nigeria can be better and he is fighting hard to achieve this. He is a man that loves Nigeria. He believes that every emerging nation comes with issues, but his prayer is that Nigeria will move forward. He is a man who carries Nigeria in his heart and I think Nigerians should give him the support. He will turn this country around. He has started moving Nigeria to the right direction, but, of course, as I said before, we are people without patience.
People talk about you as a very cool, calm, patient and nice person. Is your humility derived from the circumstance of your growing up from a relatively poor background?
My father was an educationist and my mother was a trader. So, I did not come up from a very poor background. My father was a very strict person and a very good Christian and the same thing goes for my grandmother. They taught me to respect every human being that is created by God. They taught me that we may have different tittles and degrees, some may have money and some may not have, yet we should not despise anybody. That has been my guiding principle.