Govt should address the issues of justice and equity

THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER - Muyiwa Adeyemi & Willie Etim

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'Government Should Address The Issues Of Justice And Equity'
From Muyiwa Adeyemi and Willie Etim, Yenagoa

Chief Samuel Owonaro, who was granted amnesty in 1967, along side Isaac Boro and Nothingham Dick, after being sentenced to life imprisonment for declaring the Republic of Niger Delta, urges government to do more to ensure sustainable peace in the region.

As one of the first set freedom fighters in the Niger Delta granted amnesty in 1967, along with the late Isaac Boro, what is your view on the recent amnesty granted militants in the region and how do you think the peace deal can be sustained?

The truth is that the circumstances are quite different, as there had been a lot of changes since that time. But the underline common factor is that the situation in the Niger Delta remains precarious, though there have not been positive changes.

The reason some of our youths take to arms is to draw attention to the plight of the people of the region. If there had been significant changes, there won't be any necessity for the struggle to continue to this stage.

To my mind, in spite of the little changes that have taking place, you will agree with me that the situation is getting worse. The rate of degradation is increasing by the day and at the same time, the criminal neglect of the people and the area by the government worsen the situation.

Isaac Boro, Nothingham Dick and my self were granted bail in 1967 by the regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon. As I said, the circumstances were different. Immediately we came out of the prison, we were conscripted into the Nigerian Army, because the civil war had just begun and the whole area had fallen under the control of the rebels. We naturally felt we should assist our people to where they should belong and fought on the side of the Nigerian Army.

What I am saying is that there was something on ground to occupy us, because we were immediately drafted to fight on the side of the Nigerian Army. So the amnesty and the integration came together, but the present situation poses a lot of challenges to both the federal and state governments, because they need a lot of planning to re-integrate and de-programme these boys.

From what we are gathering, we learnt that the government is doing a lot of planning to rehabilitate them, but I am not aware how far government has gone in executing the programmes of re-orientating these boys and sustain the peace we are all looking forward to.

I am not aware of any special programme than what any man on the street knows. But I will say, once government has gone this far and has recognised the fact that it has not been fair to the people of the region, they should go a step further.

I am not saying what they are doing is not good, but I want to add that, you have only handful of youths who felt they have been pushed to the walls and took up arms against their nation, they are only handful, and I wish to be contradicted on that, there are a lot of us in the Niger Delta who are more bitter than these boys.

So if you just take care of those boys and you are not thinking about the rest of us, you have not started anything at all. I think the problem in the Niger Delta has gone beyond development. These boys have dropped their arms and we are waiting for what will follow, but the main thing is to deal fairly with the people and ensure there is justice and equity.

If government does not take these issues of justice and equity seriously, I strongly believe it is an illusion to think that you will have peace. Yes, some of these boys have dropped their arms and oil production will increase, but to sustain it, government must address these issues of justice and equity. Otherwise, I am afraid other people will stand up again to say we cannot take it any longer.

Yes, we want development, but the main issue is to deal with people with some respect and allow people have control over the resources from their area. And by that I mean getting them involved in the oil industry.

The people federal government gives licence to explore and exploit oil are not brilliant than the people of the Niger Delta. The people they give licence to lift oil and go and sell are not smatter than the people of the Niger Delta; they are not the only people who know how to market oil.

So if we are not involved in that area, I don't think we are respected as people of the Niger Delta, knowing that the resources are from our backyard.

How many of our people are involved at that level, like NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation)? I wish to be contradicted on this, I learnt that NNPC couldn't say the actual quantity of oil being exploited and sent out. That is a shame. If NNPC is in that kind of blunder, why can't our people be in that blunder as well to know what is happening in the industry?

Let me make this point, which dovetails to the earlier one mentioned, we should practice what we claim. I mean we should practice true fiscal federalism. That is what is going to solve these problems, not only in the Niger Delta, but also in many parts of the federation. Once people are part of the process, they will not feel cheated and short-changed, then there will be permanent peace in the country.

As it is now, though I cannot speak for the whole of Niger Delta, but I know that the right thinking Ijaw person do not feel Nigerian enough, because of the way Nigeria is treating us. And the only remedy is to ensure justice and equity.

What is the motivating factor of your own struggle, because most of these boys cannot be called freedom fighters?
In our time, the struggle did not drag on for this far, and the motive was that we felt being short-changed. But as I said, things appear worse now.

Then, it was 50 per cent derivation, but it is now 13 per cent. I am not trying to justify bad things, because what is criminal is criminal, but whether we like it or not, there are boys that are genuine freedom fighters and there are elements who want to help themselves. And even those in genuine struggle have to sustain themselves to be strong enough for the struggle.

After all, if you are talking of kidnapping and hostage taking, it is happening in other part of the country and the perpetrators are not Niger Delta people. This criminal act is going on because the kidnappers think those they want to kidnap have acquired what belonged to everybody and they are not part of it. The only way to get the piece of the action is to criminalise themselves, which is bad.

But it is something that can be corrected, and it is the responsibility of the government to do that.


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