Self determination: Without restructuring, no going back on Ijaw nation –Prof Okaba, INC leader | NN NEWS

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The President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, has declared that unless Nigeria is restructured, the Ijaw nation would not back down on its self-determination struggle. In an interview with Saturday Sun, the former provost of Oleh Campus, Delta State University, Abraka, noted that over 80 per cent of oil wells in the Niger Delta are owned by Northerners. 

What is your view on the state of the nation?

Nigeria is sliding every day. Things are getting worse. All the indicators of a failing nation are manifesting in the country. You have political unrest, the economy is down, there is crisis, and inflation is very high. Everything is just sliding down. We have said this severally, rather than taking steps to improve, but we have a government that is into propaganda. The state of the nation is worrisome.

How do we come out of this situation?

The structure of this country has deviated from what was laid by the founding fathers as entrenched in the 1963 Constitution, which was pure federalism. In 1960, we were talking of a nation united in diversity, but today, Nigeria is divided along ethnic and religious lines.

So, getting back Nigeria to steam, to a country where everybody can call his own requires going back to the principles and the spirit of 1960 federalism, where clear issues of derivation were enshrined arising from the 1957 regionalism to 1960 and then the Republican Constitution of 1963. These were the original constitutions, and the founding fathers believed that with these agreements put in place they could have a united Nigeria in spite of its diversity.

Now there were distortions; firstly, by the military with the 1966 coup that led to the introduction of a system that is anti federalism; the various obnoxious laws of 1978 Land Use Decree, the Petroleum Act and so many acts, which to a large extent took away the rights of the minority and placed governance at the centre to the detriment of the federating units. All of these were transferred into the 1979 Constitution and consolidated in 1999 Constitution, which we have referred to as a satanic document, a document that first of all lies that Nigerians gathered and agreed. There was no such agreement; Nigerians never at any time gathered for it. It was already put together, drafted by a cabal of some military officers, all to the benefits of the ruling oligarchy.

Today, Nigeria is suffering because the 1999 Constitution created a very strong centre and very weak subordinate units, to the extent that there cannot be economic progress as we now operate a feeding bottle economy; the oil has become the mainstay and at the end of the month, all the 36 state governors run to Abuja and get a share of that. This has affected the promotion of our local economy, has made the governors and politicians lazy; also made things to be very difficult and also created problems in places where these resources are exploited.

The 1999 Constitution has bastardised Nigeria, the federal government carries so much. If you look at the 64 items loaded by the Federal Government by law and compare with what is left for states, you will understand the problems.  So, you have a father who has decided to carry all the burdens that are even beyond him, and doing so because it serves selfish interests and not national interests. Secondly, the system has also led to the emergence of a crop of politicians who don’t have national interest, whose business is to occupy power for the sake of themselves and they use power not for development, but to promote their personal aggrandizement. So, every time it is power for greater power. Somebody that was a governor wants to go get to Senate; somebody that was governor wants to be president, somebody that was a local government chairman believes that next time he has to go to House of Assembly, not minding his level of performance. Whoever that occupies power wants higher power; no one has voluntarily left power. That is the kind of politicians that we have in this country. We have a system that is so backward. 

Without having a restructured nation, elections by elections will only bring up leaders that will end up doing the same thing. The 1999 Constitution will make it even impossible for an angel sent from heaven to repair this country; no matter how good you are because the structure is so defective. Take for instance, a leader coming from the minorities loaded with the best of ideas, but because he is from the minorities, he is not given a chance because you have a system where some sections enjoy massive majority in the House. So, if the ideas were so perfect, they would be dead on arrival because they don’t serve the interest of these other people.

Unless we have a system where there is equity, true federal system where there will be true representation on the basis of ethnic nationalities, so that, it is not a matter of coming from the North or West, but every ethnic nationality should have a fair representation. That is the only way we can have mutual respect for ourselves and also attain a sustainable development, as a country.

You described the 1999 Constitution as ‘satanic’, but President Buhari once said it is fair to every section of the country. He gave the example of a small state like Bayelsa that has the same three senatorial zones like Kano that is very large?

He should have mentioned the number of local governments in Kano, which is 44, while Bayelsa has eight. The constitution says that every state should have a minimum of 10 local government areas. Buhari should be asked whether the distribution of amenities is by local governments or by senatorial zones. It is by local government area; when you get to federal account, Kano will have 44 portions and Bayelsa will have eight. That is the reality. I don’t want to take that statement seriously or any other he has made very strongly.

Is it against these reasons that the Ijaw people said not long ago that they were fed up being part of Nigeria, that they wanted to opt out?

We have said that we don’t have a guarantee for peaceful existence as Nigeria is today. We don’t have a guarantee that the resources that God has blessed us with can be properly utilised for our benefits. We don’t have a guarantee of a peaceful stay. On daily basis we face laws – it was Land Use Decree that has appropriated all our lands, the Petroleum Act has appropriated what belongs to us, even when they came up with the Petroleum Industrial Act (PIA), it is the paltry three per cent that they have given to the host communities that suffer the burden of oil spill, suffer gas flare, and all forms of environmental degradation, health hazard, etc.

We said if Nigeria should remain like this, there is no hope for us. So, it was a call to the British government to prevail on the federal government to have a rethink and begin to treat us as humans, and begin to apply the same principle of derivation that was in place when oil was not yet struck; when cocoa, groundnut, coal were the mainstay of the economy, to apply the same derivation principle so that we can use that to develop ourselves. That was we said and we will continue to say.

But if no one listens to your cries, what is your next option?

The option is self-determination. We just met on December 4, 2021 and decided to embark on self-determination, which is lawful; several nations of the world have embarked on this journey and found themselves where they are today. It is very peaceful. Our laws recognize it. Self-determination is not secession. United Nations recognizes the right of individuals or group of people to self-determination and that is what we have resolved to pursue.

Explain further on how you are going to pursue and achieve that in a broader context of Nigeria?

It is to enjoy what belongs to you; to determine a political system that will make you have control over what God has given to you; it is like self actualization; in the process of making you feel the way you should feel. That is self-determination, to determine your destiny in a broader context of Nigeria.

What is your expectation of 2023 elections?

The North is insisting that presidency remains in the region, while the South says it must rotate? I’m not looking at 2023 because it will make no difference whether it is a Northerner, a Southerner or an Easterner. It will not make any difference to the common Nigerian except this country is restructured. I said earlier that if you bring an angel from heaven to come and govern Nigeria with this 1999 Constitution, the angel would fail. If the Northerners say they want to continue to rule, we said it earlier that they are people who feel that this country belongs to them; that political power is their inheritance; for such person they don’t see anything funny claiming they want to perpetuate themselves in power because it is their birthright; their fore bearers had told them that the rest of Nigerians are slaves and so they are out to conquer the rest of Nigeria. That is their expression.

So, for those who feel that it should shift, they have some sense of equity by saying, you have taken it for this period why not allow it go to other places?. In this country, we have discovered that it is not the quality of leaders that will bring development to a place, but where the leader comes from. Look at this, Buhari came on board and he has sited many federal establishments in his town alone; look at the service chiefs, all from a particular section of the country. Look at appointments in NNPC, about 90 per cent are people from a particular region; look at the roads in the North, the money for their constructions are from the Niger Delta; how many kilometres of those roads are in the Niger Delta? They are in all in the North. They are using our money to develop areas that are not producing oil, leaving Niger Delta.

That is why the power tussle is about let us have it so that we can develop our place. This is because of the nature of the constitution that we have today. If we have a constitution that is truly federal, people will not care about who is on top because the federating units will be so empowered that they would have their police that will deal with issue of security; they will have their economy that will deal with diversification; they will have their own educational system. People will care less about the centre and focus attention on government at the grassroots more than at the federal level. And that is the only saving grace for this country.

With what you have painted about ethnic interests, do you think your position of revisiting the 1999 Constitution and also restructuring is not forlorn hope?

The funny thing is, the entire country is in trouble. You have all the service chiefs from a particular section, is that section secured? The insecurity in those places where you have decided to accumulate the service chiefs is even worse. Now talk about poverty, it is there more than other places they deny development. If you talk about the marginal oil wells in the Niger Delta are located as birthday gifts to Northerners, about 80 per cent of them belong to Northerners. Is poverty there better than what you have in the South?

(The Sun)

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