•Tinubu can heal Nigeria by being fair in his appointments
From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Vice President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Alabo Nengi James has declared that nobody can steal crude oil in the Niger Delta without the knowledge of the military.
James, one of the founding members of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) who bagged the national honour of the Order of the Niger (OON) at the last award ceremony presided over by former President Muhammadu Buhari, spoke in an interview with Femi Folaranmi where he blamed the military for the incessant oil theft in the Niger Delta region.
James, who recalled his brushes with the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, which ended in court where he secured victory, insisted that military officers posted to the Niger Delta to protect the national assets are the ones sabotaging it.
How will you assess the 100 days of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
For the 100 days, I don’t want to concentrate on projects that he has done, but what I am interested in is the reflection of what Tinubu is doing around my own area and a few things I know. First, I want to commend him for signing into law the bill on the Uniformity of Retirement Age of Judicial Officers, extending the retirement age of High Court Judges from 65 years to 70 years. I thank God it favours our Chief Judge, who was expecting to retire soon. So that is what he did for the judiciary, not only for the Bayelsa Chief Judge. Other judges in Bayelsa State and all over the federation will enjoy that retirement age of 70years.
Also within that period he also reappointed my associate and friend who has been in the Ijaw struggle and was a member of the most famous Ijaw organisation, Ijaw Youth Council, Dr Samuel Ogbuku as the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC).
I want to say that he should use his position well to do the needful by staying true to the aims, vision and mission of the dreams of the Niger Delta people by concentrating on projects and programmes that need to be done for Niger Deltans. The ecological and environmental issues need to be properly looked into as well as the issue of shore protection. He should liaise with all the governors in the Niger Delta states to make sure these things work because we need to identify the job of the NDDC and the job of the state and local governments. These are things we need to know and not concentrating on issues like water hyacinth removal etc.
We want to see projects, visible and functional projects, not projects that are commissioned and then the next two days it’s not functioning. Largely because of our terrain, we want the issue of the regional master plan to be revisited for the purpose of what it is meant for. That master plan is a good one. It has to be revisited for the purpose of the region and I want to also say that there are issues to be addressed in the Niger Delta, especially the East-west road. The road from the Benin axis is bad and the Bayelsa State axis is also bad.
What is your take on the initial scrapping of Niger Delta Ministry and its return with a new nomenclature?
I believe the name Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs affected its functionality. Those in charge of the ministry have not been fair to the Niger Delta region. Now it is the Ministry of Niger Delta Development and I think the word development is preferable. Now with the change in the nomenclature, we expect that they will work together with the other ministries and the NDDC to make sure the Niger Delta people feel the impact of development. So I think it’s a good idea that the ministry is being maintained because the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs that is more domesticated in the Northern area is still there. So I think we are very glad that the ministry is also back but we have to really restructure the organisational, structural arrangement of the ministry to reflect the name. We are happy that it’s back.
Within the 100 days of President Bola Tinubu, removal of fuel subsidy has been implemented with the attendant hardship on Nigerians. What is your reaction?
The mystery of fuel subsidy for me is the story for another day. It’s very mysterious, we don’t know how subsidies are being named; it’s just a name but however, subsidies are done even in the industrialised countries on agricultural matters, food, social issues. Yeah, subsidy is good but when the subsidy becomes fraudulent and aids corrupt practice among some selected Nigerians, then it is condemnable.
Subsidy would have been good for the ordinary man but it has become an organised crime. So few individuals, a cartel in Nigeria states are the one benefitting from it.
But there must be something to augment this subsidy removal, because I am a victim of it. I am a Niger Deltan; a riverine, deltaic person and things are not easy for us. To go to our homes, the fuel that will now convey people in a speedboat while we were paying N1000 for has now increased to N4000. So those that are using smaller engines to go to the seaside to fish now spend double the amount previously spent. Everything has now increased. In fact, the pain of the subsidy removal is more in the riverine area where the government needs to provide ferry boats for people.
The subsidy removal palliative should not be about food. The palliative should not be the provision of bicycles. The palliative in my area should not be even provision of cars. We are more of a riverine area so we need things like ferry boats. We need things that will convey our people. We need things that will subsidise our people. There is no light; many of our communities are in bad shape. So the subsidy should be the supply of solar light. Subsidy is not just bringing rice, that’s not what palliative means.
So, as of now, the Tinubu government deemed it fit to give N5billion to the 36 states. Now out of the N5 billion, they have now given out N2 billion to each of the states. I can see Rivers State bought lots of buses, and people are not paying for the buses. I’ve seen that Delta State bought a lot of buses, taxis; people are not paying for them. For here (Bayelsa) I don’t know whether there is anything.
For the palliative, some of us now are suggesting that the money, which is like the money being given out by the Federal Government, should be given to Bayelsans.
We can approximate the population in Bayelsa to be three million, so I am suggesting that the state government should help us. Now give the people this money with a law passed in the House of Assembly to empower the state government to distribute the money to Bayelsans like the way the Federal Government gave money to people under cash transfer. Because of our present situation and our topography, and we are suffering seriously because of our environment, that money should be shared or given to every individual as long as you are in Bayelsa State, so that people can use that money in their own ways. The government is lucky that we have a prosperity government. So, God has brought prosperity. So if this money is given, some of these ladies who are only looking for N50, 000 can be doing business. Some students will now begin to pay their school fees. It was like the compensation paid to the OdI community. The community shared their money. If you go back to Odi, you will not even notice that the Federal Government invaded that place. So the palliative money received from the Federal Government should be shared.
Several Nigerians have raised concerns that the state government may mismanage the palliative funds from the Federal Government. Do you share this sentiment too?
Maybe it is the fear that made them not release all the N5 billion naira. But I am sure if my state government realises what I am suggesting, it would go a long way to allay fears of mismanagement. When we talk about palliative, we are not talking about flood palliative. We are talking about a fuel subsidy palliative and that money is directly from the fuel. So we are not talking about flood. The Federal Government is saying: take this money and make sure you relieve the condition of your people. I think that is what the money is meant for. And the fear is that they don’t want to release it all so that some politicians or some state governors will not hijack this money for their personal use or not do the right thing. That is why I am suggesting that once the money comes, I pray that my state government will share it with the people of the state.
There has been recent agitation for decentralization of the oil pipeline surveillance contract and also calls for the renewal of the contract given to Tompolo and co. What’s your position on this?
I was chairman for oil and gas in Nembe Kingdom, which afforded me firsthand knowledge and I have stated my position in several fora, even in the military and government circles including in Abuja before the vice president. The area of surveillance is about so many things, including national security. For the surveillance contract, I have stated that if we want to do the right thing, it should be decentralized to the communities.
Our culture is diverse. In some areas, the community owns the lands and the swamps. In some areas, families own land and individuals own land. So it has to be given to the community. The sharing will be based on their own way of doing things. If that is done, it becomes every community’s affair where one person will not be bigger and use the money he’s getting to oppress the people.
Now, the fear of many people is that some people arrogate power to themselves by controlling the economy of their communities and its politics because they have so much money from the surveillance contracts. When you gather youths they become your followers. They become your loyalists. So long as you are paying them from the contract, anything you direct them to do in politics they also do. So it is supposed to be a community-oriented project, every community should have that job and the community will do it institutionally because there is an organogram in every community. So it becomes a community surveillance contract.
So if the community owns the workers, the profit will now come back to the community and that profit will be used for community development affairs. Also I have recommended that even if it’s given to somebody in those communities, that contract should be rotational. If not, we will now get a superman: survival of the fittest. Superman means when one man becomes so rich he will now begin to disrespect traditional authorities and that is what is now happening in some areas.
When I was chairman of the Oil and Gas Nembe Kingdom, I now used my strategy to talk to my leaders and they gave me a registered company–Nembe Utility Limited and that is what I used for the surveillance. It’s still being used after my tenure ended and another person took over.
I was head of oil and gas, so I was the manager of the company but it is a community-owned company so it’s not mine. It’s called Nembe Utility; it is dedicated to AGIP Surveillance Company and is still being used.
For the renewal, I want to urge Mr. President to renew Tompolo’s contract and other contracts that are ongoing. I pray they should renew it. Asari Dokubo is there, Ateke is there and others. So after this renewal the government should look at the policy again to make it a community affair.
But are you not worried that even with the surveillance contract, oil theft still persists?
You know that oil theft has got a lot of stories. In fact, you are aware of my oil theft tree those days, when I presented it in the security meeting here in Bayelsa State. That was years ago. I have a diagram called oil theft tree and put it together where the organised crime started and we are also aware of my case with a certain Major General who was heading the JTF Sector Command at a time. I don’t know whether he’s retired. When he was a sector commander here, I revealed their operations and there was accusation against him to the extent that I wanted to be arrested. But I took him and the JTf to court and won against them in the High Court.
Let me tell you: without the military, nobody in Nigeria can steal oil. I have been saying so, I have said it in Aso Rock Villa, I have said it during Obasanjo time. All the time, I have been saying it, without the military being involved in oil theft nobody can take one pint of oil out of Nigeria. In fact, the statement from some of the military officers is that since the civilians are packing money from there, they should also do the same. So from Operation Kakuri, to Operation Delta Safe, why has the military not been able to curb oil theft? If they were doing the right thing will the oil production get down to this stage? It would have been higher. This shows that something is wrong. The people that are brought to secure national assets are the same people carting away the petroleum products.
So you believe the military is part of the problem?
I think bringing in the military was the biggest mistake they have made because they start by claiming they are protecting oil wells and oil pipelines but what have they protected from what you have seen? I confirmed to you when I was in Oil and Gas chairman, I have said it everywhere. Even in Bori camp, we caught military people that were stealing the oil with badge. They were seen protecting the badge but we believe something was going on. I have the photograph. I took a photograph. See, I tendered it in Government House that time. I tendered it to the former deputy governor. Everyone was surprised how the stealing was going on. Military people were with rifles. If you are just passing the creek, you would think they are just guarding the boats, not knowing that under it there was a rubber, a siphoning rubber that is as long from Yenagoa to Ahoada inside the Mangrove Forest but you would feel that nothing is happening but because of our eagle eye and the fact that the terrain belongs to us, we discovered them. We now called the Navy in Brass and when they came, it was truly discovered that those military people were not assigned there. They picked everybody down to Brass, till I left oil and gas as chairman in 2016 to date, we never heard of the case again and nobody was prosecuted.
Let me also inform you that anywhere you see military boats patrolling seriously there is a business somewhere. It’s just like they said when the backyard is always busy; there are unmarried women there.
We have about 21 estuaries outlets to the ocean, throughout the Niger Delta and those estuaries have naval boats everywhere, so there is no way a car will pass, I mean, a vehicle will pass and you will not see it but they are seeing those that are going for fishing but they are not seeing the ships that are passing to steal oil.
Over 15 years ago, I had problems with the military before this issue to the extent that we went to court to stop them from arresting me. Oil theft is an organised crime. I am not exaggerating but I have been part of the situation, I was involved legally by going to court on it. I succeeded in the case and I have caught them with my men, stealing Nigerian oil with badges and tug boats.
Nigeria seems divided from the last election. How do you think Nigeria can heal?
It’s the present government that can heal it, depending on how the government brings people together by appointment. I think the appointment President Tinubu has made so far is fair.
The mixed feeling after the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal is expected. I have seen so many judgements, Amaechi was favoured, Imo State was favoured, my state miracle governor was favoured. So many people were favoured by court cases. When it favours you, there are no bad judges but now if it is against you, then something fishy must have happened. That is how we view things in Nigeria. One thing I know is that the Court does not deliver their judgement by listening to market speeches or by social media. They believe in evidence tendered to them as at that moment. If you are not giving them the facts and the evidence, it’s what you tender in court and with the facts that they receive that they rule a case. So it’s not by going and claiming the election was rigged and you cannot prove it.
Our politicians should play the politics with respect by obeying the rules and implementing the vision and mission of their party manifestos. This is what I think will bring unity of our purpose and everybody in Nigeria should be seen as a patriot and should be seen as we are working for the Nigerian mission, irrespective of the party you belong, irrespective of the tribe you are, that we are one people; if there are issues or correctional matter, we should correct it.
Insecurity is still a challenge in Nigeria. Is it unsolvable?
It’s very solvable. But it’s because of the political actors. Our lawmakers know that from colonial times till now, illegal possession of arms is still bailable. So why won’t people go about with arms? This is because it benefits the political actors. If it does not benefit the political actors, they would have moved against illegal possession of arms. Police will arrest 10 persons with rifles AK–47 and then the next thing, one big man will call from somewhere that they are my boys and the hands of law enforcement are suddenly tied. Our political parties now budget for unconventional security for political activities. So when we begin to promote non-state actors into the political system, what do we expect? The non-state actors are getting too many and the arms proliferation is worrisome.
There are measures we need to take to drastically checkmate the proliferation of arms and light weapons in the country. I think that the Act on Illegal Weapons needs to be properly reviewed such that if you are seen with arms, it should be a serious offence. So what is the National Assembly doing? Are they shielding those carrying arms? You will be surprised that the budget political players allocate to unconventional security is larger than what is given to conventional security. So it is the political players that are behind insecurity. They are the people that are causing insecurity.