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Amnesty programme should focus more on education –Otuaro

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Amnesty programme should focus more on education –Otuaro

In this interview, the Ibe-Uyadonwei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Dennis Otuaro, speaks on sundry matters. Excerpts…

 

 

You’re already a successful businessman. What propelled you to go back to school for a PhD?
I see the PhD as a something for self- fulfillment. After going to school, you need the PhD so that you can break new grounds in learning. Right now, I am working on a research on the Challenges of Researchers Objectivity on the Niger Delta Crisis. From my research at the PhD level, I have realised that the people have so many challenges; some border on education while others center on basic needs, even before oil was discovered at Oloibiri.
The Winnick Commission Report of 1957/1958 made it clear that this area needed special attention but sadly after the country’s independence, that report was abandoned and the government of the day recommended the Niger Delta Development Basin which was an agency that was deliberately made not to work. Before the military intervention in our politics, there was derivation formula was enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. But immediately after the military left the stage, the allocation concept was inserted into the new constitution. The concept of revenue allocation is alien; it is a criminal concept in operating constitution of Nigeria.
As a father, you cannot allocate what your son has. When your son is wealthy, it is his duty to maintain you, it is not you as a father taking everything that belongs to your son, then you now give him 1.5 percent, 13 percent or whatever percentage. It is only here in Nigeria that the constitution is taking something from the state and then allocating it. Revenue Allocation is alien to federalism. For now the 13 percent is not even enough. The constitution says at least 13 percent. But at the end of the day, we only need a policy will of the government to make it a policy statement or declaration about reviewing the 13 percentage and increase in the percentage as the constitution does not stop any government from increasing the percentage from 13.

Do you agree that most of the crises that erupted in the Niger Delta were due to the acts of multinational oil companies?
As stakeholders, over the years, we have keenly observed and we have done our part bridging the gap between the communities and the government; bridging communication break down between the communities and the Oil Multi Nationals as well as the government. That was the role I played as Chief Protocol Officer; to let the youths to understand the project determination of the government had and the commitment towards development agenda of the government. But as of today, things are getting worse the attitudes of oil companies, it’s even getting worse. There are many cases of oil pollution that are deliberately blamed on host communities by the oil multi- nationals may be in connivance with the government and security agencies such that when a spill occurs they will categorise it as sabotage. And in some of these investigations, the communities and the stakeholders are not even involved; only the oil companies and the security agents will go and do it on their own and categorise it with any name at the end it is the community and the environment that suffers. And you know in Nigeria, how it is with the culture of settlement.

You seem passionate about the Niger Delta, what sustains this passion?
I am a product of the Niger Delta struggle; I volunteered for the struggle against the challenges facing the Niger Delta at a very early age of 18, since then I have been in the struggle. The only person so far from the Niger Delta area who has ever called for secession was the late Major Isaac Adaka Boro. That was the only person who called for a republic which was quashed after 12 days by the Nigerian military. At the end when he was being taken to prison, he still fought for the government during the civil war but after that era. All we are asking for is a fair share constitutional practice. Under Ken Saro Wiwa, the protest was a peaceful one but the people were visited upon with the force of the state. It was violence that was visited on the Ogonis. Even the Ijaw youths, when Ijaw youths went on peacefully Ogele (match) the famous “KAIAMA DECLARATION” the process was visited with state coercive force and violence, since then it has become very difficult task to hold Multi-National Corporations and Governments accountable to the prevailing situation in the Niger Delta.
The region cannot be giving much to the centre and remain neglected. The oil accounts for 90 percent of the country’s export. The neglect and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta is very pronounced, despite years of government intervention. It is something that is notorious. It doesn’t need any investigation. Question is, are we going to remain like that? Those of us who are not running away from the country to pay allegiance with other countries will continue struggling for a better Niger Delta. We will not relent in the struggle to make this place a better place.

How can you bring your two doctorate degree programs to bear in the struggle?
Many scholars have written a lot about the Niger Delta and I will not be the last. What I am trying to do now at my study level of PhD on Comparative Politics and Development Studies is to give a real focus, real meaning and background to what is fueling the agitation. Civic nationalism; a citizen call for fair deal in the polity. the people of the region are saying what we want is equal rights in the Nigerian project and that in the Nigerian project in the days of cocoa and groundnut it was derivation formula; and now that it is oil and other minerals (which the government is not focusing on due to oil), let us review derivation formula upwards according to the constitution provisions. And when you do so, it will give the oil and mineral producing areas more money from the resources extracted from their land to deal with the developmental challenges in their various states. These are administrative issues that do not need constitutional amendment to achieve especially for the people of the Niger Delta.

If given the opportunity, what would you do differently?
I would engage stakeholders and make to work vital recommendations to address relevant issues facing the Niger Delta. The people of the Niger Delta will be engaged meaningfully, because we already have basic documentation that are on ground in the archives that we can dust come up a good developmental blueprint to give short term, midterm and long term solutions; and not to be engaging stakeholders in marathon workshops and conferences That are not productive . It is time to make the youths, the women and the men of the Niger Delta productive.
When you go to the Niger Delta states, apart from the civil service, there is nothing generating employment; even the oil companies are not in the Niger Delta. You only see them in Abuja and Lagos and when those from the Niger Delta go for employment, it is always a problem as indigenes of where the companies are located are given preferential treatment. They are even under pressure from indigenes of those areas not to appoint Niger Delta sons and daughters. There is no industry in the region. Any amount of money you give to the people, they can hardly invest it there; the money will go out. That is why we must light up the Niger Delta, now that we’re talking about electricity, connect the region to the electricity and good road networks. So when the investors are coming, they will already know there are roads and it will open up the markets and make any investment accessible. Thereon, the security challenge can now be easier to deal with. It will then become easier for the government or security agents to mobilise when there are security challenges;

How effective has the Amnesty programme been in addressing these challenges?
What the past advisers of the amnesty programme have succeeded in doing from the initial stage is disarmament de-mobilisation, and now training is going on in some aspects. But the amnesty package that was given as at 2009 is more than that. So anyone in charge of the Niger Delta amnesty program should know that. How could these people have access to the resources in their region? It is one of the critical aspects of the amnesty program that stakeholders and the governments still need to discuss. Under the program, late President Yar’Adua, agreed on 10% equity stake for host communities in the petroleum sector as part of the amnesty deal. This 10% will be focused on long term development and investment for the region, so those are areas any special adviser in the amnesty and the minister for Niger Delta should be thinking when they convene for stakeholders meeting or advising the government to enable the people access their wealth. That is it and not just sending them to training and abandoning them without even determining the type of trade that is relevant in their respective localities. The NDDC has a serious role to play in even in the amnesty program because when we’re talking about opening up the communities by road, the lighting up of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta ministry and the NDDC have big roles to play.

How successful is the Amnesty program in reintegrating the militants back into the society?
For me it is not effective but as for the training and other things they’re doing, they say they’re doing some things. Recently, when they got some Boko Haram members reintegrated about a hundred of them, we already knew they’re integrating them into the Nigerian military service. If you say you’re reintegrating people, where are you re-integrating them into? You give them some starter pack for some trade that may not even be relevant to their locality.
You’re not telling us that you’re re-integrating them means that you are resettling them from their Local communities. At the end of giving someone starter pack, the way the program is being done now, you’re sending them to go and start business in their communities. So when you are training them for projects, do you take cognizance of the viable trade in their domains? No. There are cases of misplaced priorities in the reintegration process. But those that went to school, I know for the students after graduation maybe 60% can survive on their own. As students they can invest even if there are no jobs as is the Nigerian situation. Out of the ten university graduates, six can survive on their own. For me, they should even focus more on the education of the people because the level of illiteracy is very high in the Niger Delta and not only in the north as many believe. If more people are educated, the problem in the region will further reduce to the barest minimum. We have a high level of illiteracy. So, the Programme should focus more on education; and with respect to that they can also focus on the polytechnic and technical education aspects and not just formal university students education. Some people will be ready to go to the polytechnic for two years and garner the capacity to understand any business they may want to do.

As a very busy person, how do you balance academics, work and family?
Work, family and academics are tasking situations, only mitigated by the love and care of my wife, who is always playing the role of a mother. I will give the credit to her on how i cope with work, academics and the struggle, after God.

Do you have any political ambition?
I don’t have any political ambition for now but my mission is to serve my country anytime the opportunity comes. I always tell my friends that the greatest endeavor is service to your fatherland.

What fervent wish do you have for the country?
At the moment, my only appeal is to the political class. The elections have come and gone, so it’s time for them to heal the wounds and move on, especially to our President, whom I would implore to look very deep, refocus on the security architecture of the Niger Delta and carry critical stakeholders along, especially High Government Ekpemupolo ( TOMPOLO) . He should not rely on the political leaders alone; they cannot give the all the needed solution. There are critical stakeholders that as a country can be reached out to in a bid to restore peace and restore security and engender development In the Niger Delta region; somebody like Tompolo I believe is very critical to peace in the region. Wherever he is, he remains critical as a serious stakeholder. He’s somebody that everybody respects. Majority of the people respect him. They know that he’s not a politician, and when you go to the Northwest, there are stakeholders like that as well. So in trying to solve the insecurity issues we face at the moment, the president should look for people like that and they will open the way for a good developmental strategy for the Niger Delta and other parts of the country in similar circumstances.

Do you have a favorite food?
When we talk of food, if I’m in this town (Warri), I don’t go to eateries as a local person, and my favorite food is starch, with any native soup. You hardly see me at fast food outlets ; you will never see me at the eateries.

What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen to our traditional Ijaw music. You know I am a chief so it is incumbent on me to keep the culture going.

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