N’Delta deserves better treatment, says Patrick

Honourable Erasmus Ucheowaji Patrick is Bayelsa State’s Commissioner in charge of the Ministry of Ijaw National Affairs. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he speaks about the challenges facing the Ijaw people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria and other national issues



What exactly are the duties of the Ministry of Ijaw National Affairs?


This ministry is responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of all Ijaw people across the globe. I mean all the Ijaws – men, women, children, boys, girls and those yet unborn. This Ministry caters to their interest and wellbeing.


The Ijaws in Ondo, Edo, Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom and of course predominantly Bayelsa states which is the only homogenous Ijaw state.


Since you came on board, what are some of your achievements?


We have done quite a lot within these few months, notable among which is the successful conduct of election and inauguration of Ijaw National Congress (INC) Executive. Like you know very well, this body has been in limbo for the past three, four years.


But God has used the Prosperity Government, ably led by Distinguished Senator Douye Diri, to reposition it. So to me, I consider it fulfilling and I think it is a very cardinal achievement for this Ministry under him. We have also been involved in other matters like mediating to bring about peace in our body, the INC, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC)


. We are experiencing relative peace in the Niger Delta region. What do you attribute that to?


Well I know of Bayelsa and I know that the miracle God is still working peace for us here. The God of miracle and the God of Senator Douye Diri that brought him on board miraculously contributed to that because we call upon him every day. Prayers go on in Government House every day and there is nothing God cannot do with prayers. People are also trying to imbibe this sensitization trying to educate our people of the consciousness that there is no substitute to peace. Peace is everything here and if we have peace in our land every other thing goes. Business can thrive, every other thing can thrive. Bayelsa state has been fairly and reasonably peaceful and stable. We thank God for that and we give kudos to His Excellency, the Governor, for his leadership style in that direction and for the security agencies through whom these things are being worked out.


With this, how would you assess the leadership of the current Prosperity Government?


You have seen it all and you have said it all. One is that he is a miracle governor. God is doing miracles and wonders through him and continues to do. He is a man of very quiet humble disposition. He doesn’t believe in flexing muscles with anybody.


He is calculating and very focused. Anything that he is determined to do, you hardly can change him. If his mind is fixed on a particular thing, he goes ahead to achieve it and so far so good. God has been helping and directing him right. He is a team player and a leader. Even at Exco, he keeps telling us that working together is better than anything.


Recently the Petroleum Industry Act was assented to by President Buhari, where they gave the host communities only three per cent equity. How do you see it?


Is there any fairness in that? I can’t say less. We know we have not received fair treatment in this part of the world. I’m not a young man and I’m not a youth anymore. And I know that right from time to time that the Ijaw nation, Ijaw race, and the people of Niger Delta have never had the best of times in this country.


We produce or lay the eggs that feed the whole nation but we are hardly given our rightful place. Right from time, this marginalization and injustice have been there. That is why till tomorrow, I personally and a good number of us are eternally grateful to General Sani Abacha, of blessed memory, who looked at us the fourth largest tribe in this country without a state, without anything and said ‘look, go and manage yourselves with Bayelsa State.’


We didn’t meet the constitutional requirements for state creation with eight local governments. He said go and manage yourselves. And you can see the magic that decision has done to Ijaw people.


It has transformed, changed and unified us the more and this is something people could have done. State creation started from 1967 or thereabout with a 12-state structure. From 12 to 17, 19 to 21 and now, we have 36 states.


What crime did we commit that we were not considered all this while? What did we do? People that started this with us have had four, five times over and somebody is telling me about the population. Which population?


We have a teeming population in our communities. Just because when it is time for the census, they hardly can access our places to take proper census because of the terrain and they keep telling us nonsense. This is not right. Look at Oloibiri. It is like a ghost town.


Nothing is happening there. Look at our region. We have the worst roads and worst infrastructure anywhere and yet the money with which Abuja, Lagos and everything were built came from here.


And now you have passed the Petroleum Industry Bill into law and you expect us to clap for you for short-changing us, putting 30 per cent to doing exploration of something that you are not even sure of and then giving the host communities three per cent. That is the height of injustice and an insult on our sensibility. I tell you, it is not right.


Is that why so many persons have been clamouring for resource control so that they can pay taxes to the centre?


That has been what we have been propagating in our INC days not just now. We said we can pay as much as 70 per cent tax to the Federal Government. Let us control our resources. We are ready to pay as much as 70 per cent tax because as it is now, they don’t even know the quantity of crude that leaves our shore every day.


There is no statistics to tell you that this is the amount of crude they lift from here and export out of this country. So is it a business for a certain class of people. That is why I’m saying, if the constitution allows us to control our resources, we should be able to fashion out plans for ourselves.


We had been crying for a coastal road in our days in the INC. We talked of constructing a coastal road and we approached General Abdulsalami Abubakar when he was Head of State to make a presentation to him demanding the construction of a coastal road for the Ijaw people – a road that will start from Arogbo in Ondo and get to Ebeno in Akwa Ibom. That is the map of Ijaw Nation. It is quite contiguous.

You can move a road from there down to Ebeno and it is doable. You can take a boat from Arogbo and move straight along the waterways to Ebeno, Akwa Ibom without mixing with any other group or clan.


Why didn’t they do it?


Are you asking me? Are they listening? Now it is the little three per cent that was appropriated to the host communities.


Some people still want to control the money, in fact Senator Godswill Akpabio said that the money should be domiciled in the Ministry of Niger Delta while the host communities said it should come to them, but they seem not to have a strong voice. What do you think should be done?


The money is for the host communities and therefore they should be allowed to manage it. Some people are saying that they will kill themselves. Let them kill themselves. It shouldn’t be anybody’s headache. Allow them to manage their affairs.


There are responsible and reasonable people there who should be able to manage the funds. Look at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) here, Akpabio took over NDDC and he feels that he is a tin god in this country, bamboozling everybody and doing what he likes.

He came and told us the list of the board for NDDC will be ready by June. We are in August now. In fact August is ending by Tuesday next week yet we do not have a list for the board. He is taking people for granted in this country just because we are peace- loving people.


Because we believe so much in this one Nigeria and people think they can take us for granted. It is not fair, for God’s sake. I’m appealing to whoever is in authority to try and exercise restraint and rule with the fear of God. Know that others have feelings like you.

They said what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I pray that people should learn to embrace peace so that we can continue to live together as one.


Some people are equally saying that the mismanagement of funds at NDDC and that of Amnesty Office were done by Niger Deltans?


Who is saying that? Are they saying what they are doing now is free from corruption? Yes there may be one or two instances but then you can’t take this from the people.


The people must be allowed to rule themselves and fashion out plans for themselves and to manage their affairs without unnecessary interference from whoever. S


ome believe that these issues are a threat to one Nigeria. What is your position?


God has the final say. We are in his hands. We are tools. We are instruments in his hands.


What is your view about leadership at the federal level, especially in the area of insecurity and other things?


I bled in my heart this morning when I saw a video of the killings in Plateau. It shouldn’t have happened. There was no basis for that. And I’m praying that God will give all our leaders the mind to rule with the fear of God because if you have the fear of God in you, some of these senseless killings won’t happen.


If we have the fear of God, that will guide us on what to do. I pray that every leader should have the fear of God in every position he or she occupies.




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