Foremost Niger Delta activist and Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, is not one that parries reporters’ questions when confronted as he is always frank and does not mince words on his position on issues.
In this interview, he told Sunday Sun that 2023 Presidency should go to the Southeast, warning the North to bury the idea of retaining the Presidency in 2023, unless if they have concluded to destroy Nigeria.
He also opened up on other sensitive national issues, including border closure, why the region is relatively calm, the delayed inauguration and forensic investigation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and assessment of Nigeria at 59, among others. Excerpt:
There seems to be relative calm in the Niger-Delta region and most people are attributing it to the success of the Amnesty programme. Do you share this view?
Well, the Amnesty story is a success story, no doubt, in the Niger Delta, but not a total story, I mean, it’s not 100 per cent success story, but of course, you know there is nothing that is 100 per cent perfect, but to a good level it is commendable. You know that when this President (Buhari) came to power during his inaugural speech at the Eagle Square, when he took over from President Goodluck Jonathan, he said that the Amnesty programme will end within one year, but later when the elders intervened that the Amnesty has done all that it should do, for example, the training of all the ex-militants and the president reasoned with the region and decided that the Amnesty should go on without giving any terminal date, so that also made some people, especially the youth, to believe that President Buhari is cooperating with the region, that is one of the factors and every time when due, the Ministry of Finance is releasing money to the Amnesty office to continue the training of the young people, but we are still saying that is not all. For example, the Ministry of Niger Delta is not working, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is upside down and the president also promised that he is going to investigate the problem of the NDDC. We are saying that, even if he is investigating let him inaugurate the new board because even when you are probing the NSA office over Boko Haram they have a new NSA and the NSA functions are going on and they are still fighting the war against Boko Haram, so we want all hands to be on deck in all the areas that empowerment is to go to the Niger Delta. But the truth is that our governors are not also helping matters because they are not working like their Southwest counterparts, usually the Southwest governors collectively gathered money to fight insecurity in the Southwest, but our Niger Delta governors are not speaking with one voice and that is a problem, but for the Amnesty, the Amnesty is going on and the ex-militants have hope in the Amnesty programme. I think this is one of the reasons the region is calm and we are expecting other areas like the NDDC, Ministry of the Niger Delta and the governors to also wake up.
There is this delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board and some people say it is proper and important to first have a forensic audit of the NDDC before the inauguration of its board. What is your take on this?
No, that is not proper; you cannot say you have to wait until after the forensic auditing before inaugurating the new NDDC board. The president did not announce the time that they will carry the forensic auditing. Is it only the Niger Delta problem that the president is facing? So, let the board go on with their work, after all, what they want to investigate is not on the new board rather the past activities of the Commission, so let them release the money to NDDC and let the new board go on while they do their investigation. Everything cannot be standstill because you want to do forensic auditing; it is not done that way. Inaugurate the board, let them be doing the work expected from them and you will be doing your investigation. It’s simple. The new board members were not in the NDDC board before so why wait? What of the NSA that is in charge of security, he was not the one that was the NSA during the time of President Jonathan and Yar’Adua, but Buhari is investigating Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan era of the Boko Haram war, that is what he is investigating, so inaugurating the new board has nothing to do with the investigation. Even as we speak NIMASA is also under investigation, don’t they have a new D-G and board members of NIMASA? As we speak INEC is under investigation yet we have the structures that the president inaugurated and they are on the ground working. As we speak the Nigeria Airport Authority is under investigation and many others, so you cannot be delaying the inauguration of the NDDC board under such excuse. Let me use this medium to further inform and plead with the president to do the needful, ensure that the NDDC board is inaugurated without further delay so that they can start their work.
Are you aware that some people even wrote a petition against those that constituted the board?
Not everybody will be satisfied with what you do in this world. Even if Buhari cancels the present board and constitutes another one not everybody will still be satisfied, people will still find fault in it. Even between you, your wife and children if you come up with any suggestion, even if it is the best solution to move the family forward one person must kick against it, they will have their protest, are you going to listen to all protests? It is natural, so you don’t expect everyone to concur before you take certain decisions so far you know it is in the best interest, just go on and do it. If you listen to all protests we will become like the children of Israel in the Bible; when they were crossing the Red Sea they were complaining, God gave them Manna and they were still complaining; what was their problem? In life, you ignore some complaints, especially when it is meant to distract you. The truth is that if we continue to argue and protest, we will be delaying our progress and that is what the oil companies are using against us. They will always say that the Niger Delta people are not united, that they cannot develop the area because they are always fighting when they want to bring any development to the area. Don’t you know what happened in Ogoni land? The government created divide and rule and Ken Saro Wiwa was hanged with some other people, so we are saying that Buhari should inaugurate the NDDC board that has been set up. The governors that are fighting against this board are PDP governors and Buhari cannot call PDP governors to nominate people because it is APC government so they will nominate only the APC people. Did President Obasanjo nominate APC people during his tenure in NDDC? No, he did not.
But can you say that NDDC has lived to its expectation?
No, it has not and that is why we are happy that the president set up this investigation panel. They should investigate them and anything that will make the NDDC sit up must be done. We thank God that the president took this decision to investigate the Commission, but that should not delay its inauguration. You see as we speak now, all the boards and all other ministries and para-ministries are all going to the National Assembly to defend budget, so who will go and defend the budget for the NDDC? We want the new board to go and defend its budget that will delay even the 2020 budget for NDDC. Look at the Ministry of Niger Delta, they went to the National Assembly and said the money given to the Ministry is not enough, so the NDDC new board can also go to the National Assembly and demand increase for the NDDC where necessary, but if we don’t have a board how can they do that? The civil servants that are now acting cannot go and do that in the National Assembly, so that is why we are calling and begging the president in the name of God to please inaugurate this new board so that they will also go and defend the NDDC budget and defend any other thing the National Assembly wants to know about the NDDC.
You just mentioned the National Assembly and its responsibility, but some critics are saying that the National Assembly has become a drainpipe in the nation’s resources and that it should be scrapped. Do you have the same view?
The National Assembly is supposed to be part-time, but this our National Assembly, they say half bread is better than none. It is because of the law and the constitution that it is still being called the National Assembly, if not, there should not be anything called National Assembly, they are all cowboys. Did you forget that in my state Bayelsa, the state Assembly members said they want pension, maybe you did not see my interview or my video where I said we are going to flog them naked. I said we are going to flog them naked and I mean it if they give themselves life pension. Who are they? I am one of the founding fathers of Bayelsa, I have not demanded life pension for the state I contributed in its creation and these small boys within the range ages of 32, 33 and 35 are demanding for a pension. I said I was going to flog them naked in front of the Bayelsa waterfront that was the end of the bill. Some say Dickson (the governor) will not agree with me and I tell them Dickson is too small to challenge me on such issue. When we were struggling to create Bayelsa state where was Dickson? He was a corporal in the police; I said if Dickson signs that bill he will not be able to sleep in his house because the people will fully be mobilised against it and today the bill is dead. If we don’t stop this “Agberos”, these cowboys, they will overshoot their boundary. When our vice chancellors and lecturers that have suffered to train them are not receiving such pension they want to have it. The same thing is in the National Assembly, Abuja, if I have my way, I have said it several times on television, I will carry “Koboko”, very strong stick and go to that National Assembly and flog all of them that are disturbing the revenue of this country.
If you flog them out what will then be the alternative?
Because of the alternative problem that is why we are saying that pastors should go and carry deliverance service on them, the majority of them never won the election, so I think they need spiritual deliverance.
Nigeria just clocked 59. How would you assess the journey so far?
The only thing we are thanking the Almighty God is that there is no war and when there is no war there is hope. Our founding fathers, we know that this is not their dream, because people like General Yakubu Gowon are still here with us, moving around, calling for peace and unity. As far as I am concerned Gowon is my hero because he was able to bring Nigeria together, united, brought back the Igbo, put the NYSC together to bring unity among our different nationalities. I thank God for General Gowon’s life, a very humble and simple man. With all the blessings that God endowed this country with, we can see that the problem is in the management of these resources, both material and human capacity that we have, but I believe that God is with Nigeria. God Almighty is with Nigeria and He will not forsake us, He will still intervene in our challenges. In 59 years, like Nigeria, all African countries are still facing the same problem of leadership and all that. But Nigeria, the biggest black race in the continent, we still remain the giant of Africa despite all the challenges and that was why when recently South Africa was maltreating our people through xenophobic attacks I felt bad. Sometimes when I want to talk on television they say I will create a problem, it is not a problem. We need to say things the way they are and put the records straight. I expected all the vice chancellors from the universities of Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin, Ife, those first, second-generation universities to publish the names of all South Africans that came to our universities. When we were in the university South Africans were given bed spaces, free tickets to eat, they were not spending money, their outstanding leaders had one training or another from Nigeria and we gave them all the supports you can think of during their apartheid regime. When Nelson Mandela was in prison his wife was coming to Nigeria to collect money from Chief M.K.O Abiola and these people are now maltreating and killing Nigerians in their country. We are supposed to tell them history. When parents fail to tell their children history on how their uncles or aunty helped them you will see those people behaving abnormally in their attitude to such uncles. Even in our immediate background, some parents don’t tell their children their background, they hide it and when you look at those children they are abnormal in their attitude to those uncles or aunties because they don’t have the history of where they are coming from, the contributions of those people to their life. It is only when you tell them history that their eyes will be opened to the truth, those are the things that the children in South Africa should be told. The other day I saw the South African Ambassador to Nigeria talking to Onyema, our Foreign Affairs Minister as if Onyema is a small boy, which should not be so. It is Onyema that should tell him history, but because Onyema does not have history in his head, Onyema is supposed to educate him that our university of Ibadan, Lagos, Benin, Ilorin, etc, were where their leaders were trained; it was Nigeria that trained the majority number of their elite of today. If the University of Lagos, for instance, name about 10 people that went through the university in 1971, I know that one or two persons will be a minister in or someone very prominent in South Africa today. Letting South Africa know where they are coming from and letting their children, those who are attacking Nigerians, killing them, looting their property, that will make their children to shut up. All these ones that are killing Nigerians were not born, they don’t know, they are ignorant of the time Nigeria was their God-father, advocating for their freedom in all platforms, using their resources, music, to champion their cause for freedom. We fed them, gave them all support for them to have the courage to fight the white government that reduced them as mere slaves. What are we getting today from South Africa – maiming, killing, raping, looting of Nigerian shops, etc, it is pathetic and sad development. You know Nigeria canceled history teaching in our schools, which is why I thank Buhari for returning the teaching of history to the school curriculum. How can our children of today not know who was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, or Awolowo or Balewa, etc, what are they living for? They better commit suicide and die. You don’t know the founding fathers of your nation? Is that a nation that wants to prosper? That is why Nigeria doesn’t prosper and live up to expectations. We must teach history in our schools.
How would you react to the present closure of the borders by President Buhari?
I want the president to open the borders because I read the story from the Finance Minister on what Nigeria is losing from the border closure. Other countries may unite to punish us back. In Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, etc Nigerian banks are there, if they gang-up against us in this region we may not be able to fight the situation or contain the disaster that will follow it. If you are using it to teach a lesson to people you must have a limit, the borders must be opened before Christmas and the New Year period. You don’t just wake up one morning and advise the president to close the borders. You can close the borders for one or two weeks in other to make the other countries see how they can team to arrest smuggling, Nigeria cannot close borders without negotiating with Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana, if we behave like that they will also retaliate, if they retaliate in another way it can also harm our economy, we cannot live in isolation. You know how America was bragging with China, and when China showed them a little of what they don’t know you see that President Trump’s head became normal. No country can live in isolation to think that they can do it alone; no country has everything that it needs, so Nigeria should open the borders before they give a wrong signal that will create a problem for the country.
There is this issue of rotation of the presidency that is now generating heat…?
(Cuts in) I have said it at different fora and in my interviews that 2023 presidency should go to the East, the Igbo should have it. The North cannot have it in 2023, it is the turn of the Igbo in 2023. We are warning the North to be careful or they will destroy the country. We are proud that Jonathan honoured the Niger Delta people, you can see that when I talk on television I am so proud and some people say Evah is so arrogant, I say yes for this one I am arrogant because Jonathan canceled the second class citizen that people call us, we are no longer second class citizen. I am doing a special video to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday next month. The message is that Jonathan has freed us from that insult and so my children are free forever. Before they said we were a second class citizen that we cannot rule Nigeria, but God Almighty used Jonathan to break that, that we can also rule Nigeria, the country that we feed. We are the feeding bottle of Nigeria, if we the feeding bottle of Nigeria cannot feed and as well rule Nigeria then there will be no peace and we fought and fought and Jonathan became the elected president, not by military fiat, but as elected president. So, we are now telling the Igbo that they must bring honour to their children’s children. In the next 100 years, we are no more, this generation will be no more in the next 100 years, so what happens to the children in the next 100 years? If the Igbo are not serious about that then it is left for them. Since after the war the Igbo are regarded and treated as second-class citizens, but we do not support the way IPOB is doing their thing. IPOB should corporate with Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo national leadership, they should not be insulting their elders. The other time they went and embarrassed Senator Ike Ekweremade in Germany, those that did it are very stupid. I know how I joined forces to fight for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, so they cannot insult their elders. When people like Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, the First Republic minister are talking, IPOB should sit down on the ground and listen to them because those people know the secret of this country, people like Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu they must respect them, rather than point fingers at them. They should cut off the fingers of that person. If they respect them and they are disunited Nigeria will pounce on them. The entire nation as you are aware, it is the Igbo that carries all their wealth to develop everywhere in the country outside their homeland, so they should be careful. From our side, we are supporting them and I know other groups will do so. They should use Ohanaeze and their governors and sit down, talk sense among themselves. Any governor that his head is not correct, they should call Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma of the Anglican Church to go and cast out the demons on such governor. Everybody should shut up, Yoruba should shut up, let the Igbo become the president in 2023, that is the unity and we want unity in this country. The Igbo should not sell their birthright. I know many people who are going round to go and give Igbo people money because they know they love money so as to change their minds. This is Ndigbo time 2023, the rest of the country wants to back them, but the moment they sell their birthright, it will be a problem for their children yet unborn.