COORDINATOR of Ijaw Monitoring Group, Comrade Joseph Evah in this interview calls for unity of purpose among political leaders of the Niger Delta extraction. He opines that with a common voice, the long expected development of the region may become realistic.
By Charles Kumolu
What is your perception of the state of the nation?
The way the Federal Government is handling the Biafra agitation in the East is very dangerous. They are taking the wrong steps by ignoring the agitations that are going on. For the first time since the end of the civil war, we are seeing an organised agitation. The Igbo man cannot ordinarily abandon his business for something else, but now we are seeing Igbo men leaving their businesses in order to agitate.
That tells you that they are serious. Seeing them sacrificing their time, energy and money, should be enough to make the Federal Government interested in the matter. Threats by the army, are not acceptable. We expect the government to tell us why they are detaining Kanu. Intimidation did not work when we had our Kaima Declaration during the military era. When they threatened us, we became resilient.
Do you think the Igbo man has a cause to protest?
Yes, the Igbo have something to protest against just as the Ijaw man has something to protest against. Why are they denying the Igbo the right of seeing their son, who was arrested? They can’t be denied that right. I went to court to stop the dredging of the River Niger during the military era because there was no environmental assessment. The government under Abacha awarded the contract through the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF. I went to my lawyer, Femi Falana and we stopped the dredging through legal process.
If the government had not obeyed the judiciary on the matter, we would have resorted to other alternatives which would not have been in the interest of the government. I questioned the justification for wanting to have a sea port in Baro in Niger State, while our ports in Warri, Koko and Akasa were moribund.
Justification for seaport in Baro
They wanted to dredge the River Niger from Warri to Onitsha and to Lokoja before finally connecting it to Baro, which is close to Abuja. So the government should listen to the Igbo the way we were listened to during the military.
Do you think the Niger-Delta region is fairly represented in Buhari’s government?
Niger Deltans are not well represented in the government and we don’t know why they are doing that. Maybe it is being done because the region produced the immediate past president.
But those, who may be thinking in that direction, do not have conscience. If you look at the way Jonathan worked, it will not be difficult to know that the north benefited more from him. He did that because he believed in the unity of this country.
And the new administration has also started treating the Niger Delta people wrongly. For instance the Urhobo nation which is a sophisticated ethnic group has not been given any appointment. We have not seen any solid appointment that befits the Urhobo nation and we are asking them to correct this type of insult.
But Jonathan was also believed to have insulted the Urhobo nation in that regard?
Well, you must have seen my publications. I Joseph Evah, I told Jonathan, ‘You are embarrassing the Urhobo people.’ I don’t do Ijaw struggle, what I do is Niger Delta struggle. That has been our major setback. To see yourself as Ogoni man, Itsekiri man or Ijaw man and so when we are divided the external oppressors will now deal with us.
A number of persons from the Niger Delta region felt that the Ijaw took over everything and looked down on the rest of the Niger Delta people when Jonathan was in power?
A lot of our people were actually misbehaving and we cautioned them. They were behaving as if this was the time for Ijaw people as if it was Christmas Day and the Christmas Day is forever and we cautioned them.
We tried to caution them that Jonathan was representing all Niger Deltans.
In fact, not only the Niger Delta, when people tried to make Jonathan an Ijaw President or tried to do as if Jonathan ends with Ijaw we tried to warn them that it is very dangerous. For example, 100% of the Igbo committed themselves to Jonathan’s presidency. That was why when Ojukwu died, I organised farewell to Emeka Ojukwu. I mobilised over 5000 people to the National Theatre. I paid N1.5 million to mobilise over 5000 people to take over the National Theater for us to celebrate Ojukwu. The Eze Ndi Igbo were there. I took micro finance loan to organize it and I announced it.
The reason was that during the war, we did not follow the Igbos. We supported the northerners against our Igbo brothers. Now, Jonathan is the President of Nigeria, Igbo had to forget about the way we maltreated them during the war, collectively decided to support Jonathan.
Now, the symbol of Igbo greatness, I call him the Ndi Igbo Black Moses, that is Ojukwu, I said there is need for us to celebrate Ojukwu. We will not allow Ojukwu’s burial without the Niger Delta people celebrating Ojukwu. That was why I organised that and thanked the Igbo for forgiving us because during the civil war, we joined outsiders to kill them. Today our son is the President, you Igbo decided to forgive us.
There are calls for the extension of the amnesty programme, which will end by December. Can you tell us the justification for such calls?
The training of the ex-agitators is still ongoing. Many of them still require to be trained. Even the trained ones are jobless. If the APC government is talking about N5,000 Social Security for the jobless, they should consider extending the amnesty programme because the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. It is not that we are encouraging people to be lazy. We are only concerned about how to make our youths productive and self sufficient.