A former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Chief Nduese Essien has warned that any attempt by the federal government to negotiate with militants in the Niger Delta will not end the militancy, but rather will open the channel for the emergence of more militant agitators from the region. Essien in an AIT interview programme Matters Arising, advised that focus should be on allowing the people control their resources and also allowing the responsibility of developing their places, more in their hands.
On Militancy in the Niger Delta?
You can’t focus on some groups and ignore others. If you want to treat each group that bombs the pipeline, it means you should get ready to treat the next one that will bomb a pipeline in the nearest possible time. Because each group will feel that if one group has been compensated, or recognized by the government giving them amnesty; then that is the way to live. The basic thing is that to treat the militancy in the Niger Delta, we should go back to the roots; and the root is to let the people control their resources; produce and pay taxes to the Federal Government.
The federal government may even derive more revenue collecting taxes than going to appoint companies owned by other Nigerians to come and exploit the resources while the owners are sitting back at home watching the exploitation.
Again, these other Nigerians that come to exploit the resources bring their own people to come and work in the area. There’s no way the youths of the area would accept this situation.
On Militancy being driven by deprivation, and greed, political factor etc?
I would not subscribe the present militancy crises to political factor, loss of elections and so on. These youths are aggrieved. We have had militancy before we lost elections. We have had it as far back as 1979, although it wasn’t at the present scale. The right thing is to allow each region exploit their resources and pay taxes to the federal government as it is done in other federations.
That is what we call fiscal federalism. That is why people are talking about restructuring the country.
On 13% derivation being misused?
13% derivation is a far cry from the benefits that would derived by these communities. The establishment of NDDC is still not sufficient. When you are involved in the production, it means you’re going to get a lot of your people employed. The people of the area would no longer feel deprived if they control their resources.
So, let’s get these things clear. It is the reluctance of Nigerians to allow the communities operate as they did before 1966. It is this unitary government that the military brought that has changed the status quo and allowed everybody to either run to Abuja to get money, and the state governments to stay idle going to Abuja to get resources.
The Buhari’s Government’s Decision to switch from Military option to negotiation?
The dialogue should be first to pacify the people who are currently agitating. They have to negotiate to integrate them into the system, and in a way that you don’t allow other youths in the future to start agitating. What I’m looking at is a situation where there would be more gainful employment for a lot more people.
Evaluating the Militants’ Opposition to the Anticorruption posture of the PMB administration?
You know, when there is a crisis situation, people cash in on it and make other demands. They may not have gone out initially with the intention of asking Government not to tackle corruption. Maybe they’re just being used to defend some other interest.
How that would affect the agitation for resource control and equity?
You know, when these people go out to propagate for a cause, along the line there will be other interests that approach them seeking to use them to propagate their own interests. Like you heard yesterday that they were being used to plan a coup. That is how the thing runs. But as for the anticorruption war of the president, I want to say that he is well focused. He has always been averse with corrupt practices. But the situation he’s found himself is such that the corruption had eaten so deep into the system that it is not a matter of taking in old people that may have been involved.
I believe that the way to stop corruption is to strengthen the institutions of governance to prevent subsequent levels of corruption. What is being done now is to pick up those who had left government and were suspected of corruption and we are not even sure that those in government now are not doing the same thing. And we haven’t even heard of anybody in the present government being arrested for corrupt practices whereas it is being perpetuated. It is believed that the next government will come and pursue those that are engaging in those practices now.
During the period 2003 to 2007 when I was chairman of the anticorruption committee of the House; we noticed a significant reduction in corruption. It was under the Obasanjo administration when Ribadu was chairman of the EFCC. He made a lot of impact and many people started reducing their level of corruption. But after 2007, in fact with the removal of Ribadu, there was a drop in the pursuit of corrupt persons.
Former President Jonathan’s style of Anticorruption?
Those aspects he dealt with were equally useful but there was still need to recover looted resources from individuals. While you’re still preventing, there is also need to recover what was stolen.
On seeming lack of control of Niger Delta leaders over youths?
We created a situation where the leaders in the Niger Delta region can no longer control their youths. At the early stage of this agitation, those who are now leaders were involved and they tried to persuade the oil companies, the governments to look at the areas they were operating in and develop it. But the leaders’ approach was not militant. But the youths have come up with better education, with more exposure and experience. And they now feel like their leaders are docile in their approach to getting them their rights. So that is why they’ve taken it on themselves to fight. It isn’t as a result of the failure of the elders, but the government and the oil companies that were not respecting the views of the elders. At times they would go to induce the youths at that time. When they did that, the youths would think that the elders must have collected even more. So they created a situation where the youths had lost confidence in the elders to protect and to propagate their interests; and they want to do it all alone. So we are responsible for the situation where the elders are no longer able to control their youths.