In the past few days, there have been strong voices raised against the newly passed Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB BILL as its provisions were far below the expectation of Nigerians. Led by the people of the Niger Delta, Nigerians, and the global community seems to have woken up to the heinous plot by successive administrations in the country to keep the region and its people in perpetual backwardness.
The question begging for answers is; why is this sudden awakening after many years the people of the region has complained without receiving any forms of support? Is this strong condemnation of the Bill and pledges of support from all quarters just rhetoric or backed with sincerity?
To provide answers to these nagging questions, your darling newspaper, the Ika Weekly, as part of its efforts to inform and educate its teaming readers, held a telephone interview with Comrade Joseph Angodeme Evah, Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, and Publicity Secretary, Ijaw National Congress (INC). That conversation was anchored by Jerome-Mario Utomi, our Special Project Officer.
Before diving into the documented conversation, let’s, first of all, serve you Comrade Evah’s personal profile.
Going by available records, Comrade Joseph Angodeme Evah was born on the 24th of December, 1965, into the family Of Chief John Brebahay and Madam Tuku Evah at Ekogbene Town In Delta State. His father, Chief Brebayah was one of the many children of the late Pa Abiri of Peretorugbene, Bayelsa State
Comrade Joseph Evah had his primary school education at Ekogbene, precisely, the Ekumu Primary School, for a while before he left for Lagos to be raised by his uncle who re-enrolled him in primary education at the African school, Ajegunle Apapa, and his secondary education at Satellite Secondary School Lagos. After his secondary school education, he took the Nigerian Defense Academy form to enter the Nigerian Army and another set of forms to go to St. Peter and Paul Seminary, Iperu Remo, Ogun State, to become a Catholic priest. The army and the church rejected him; perhaps, his destiny was elsewhere. With his resilient nature, he turned his attention to university education and headed to the University of Lagos where he read Mass Communication in 1992 and later, a Diploma in Law from the Lagos State University.
He was Press Secretary to the first Ijaw woman to be elected Local Government Chairman in the history of the Ijaw nation- Chief (Mrs.) Felicia Orunagha of Burutu Local Government Area. He also briefly worked with the Vanguard Newspapers and left them in the heat of the June 12, 1993 annulment crisis to join the Committee for Defense of Human Rights, a pro-democracy group, to fight the Babagidda’s Government. It was the annulment of the June 12 elections that changed everything in his life. He went into full activism.
In one of his television interviews, Comrade Evah said: “The annulment of the June 12 election in Nigeria opened the third eye of some of us. If some forces in Nigeria can humiliate and cheaply suppress a big and sophisticated tribe like Yoruba, then we that are regarded as a minority in this Nigeria project are in perpetual slavery and bondage. Therefore, we must take our destiny into our hands and resist the condition we find ourselves in and that was the struggle. “Since then, the Niger-Delta struggle was his life. His strategies are the use of the media to place the Niger-Delta question on the conscience of Nigerians and the international community as well as mobilize the people at every level for an effective struggle.
The mission is the total emancipation of the Niger Delta from education, social, economic, political, and cultural bondage. He pioneered the creation of the television and radio program called the Niger-Delta Hour on various Stations to enable the public to listen to his messages on the region. Today, he is a popular face on television in Nigeria and the world. He is even more popular with print media (newspapers and magazines). Hardly a week passes by without him bringing an important issue affecting the Niger Delta to the public focus through interviews, press releases, statements, advertorials, photographs, etc. he is contemptuous of injustice and would erupt with rage and action against it. The government has detained him several times on account of his crusade for justice in the Niger Delta.
In his Niger-Delta struggle journey, Evah had to contend with the appellation of the enemy in 1989. His first detention during Abacha days was when he challenged Shell and an oil servicing company, NISSCO, belonging to the government, for demolishing the block of houses built for workers while leaving the Ogulagha community after completing a tank farm contract job.
The Abacha government felt the press release captioned “Ijaw declare war on oil firm” was a serious threat and ordered security agents to detain him for over a month
Evah’s whole life revolves around the Niger-Delta question- visitation to campuses, provision for the scholarship for indigent students, establishing and funding youth groups t train future leaders, reorganizing cultural groups to revive the dying culture of the Niger-Delta tribes, and provision of educational materials for educational institution across the region, especially through the Tuku Educational Foundation which he established in memory of his Late Mother, to assist the less privileged the society
Evah broke new grounds when he established the first Niger-Delta Hall of Fame where over 200 photographs of personalities from the South-South geopolitical zones, who have contributed to the success of the Nigerian state, are displayed and the commissioning ceremony took place on the 10th of November, 2004 to mark the 9th anniversary of Ken Saro Wiwa. It was a historic occasion.
However, the most remarkable action taken by Evah that brought him to the limelight was is the ability to mobilize the whole Niger Delta to stop the dredging of the River Niger from Warri to Baro in Niger State, to attract artificial seaport near Abuja during the military regime. He did not only go to the court of law to challenge the dredging but also sensitized the international community against the action of the government
Comrade Joseph is one of the Ijaw leading names in the human rights crusade in Nigeria. He draws a distinction between making noise for settlement and services for humanity. His contribution to human and environmental rights advocacy in the media and public makes him a reference point on fundamental issues. There is hardly any societal problem he does not dwell on or place before the court of public opinion. In fact, some of his fans refer to him as the living encyclopedia of Niger-Delta
Ika Weekly; Sir, It is no longer news that the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed and swift and conflicting reactions have been trailing the bill. So, in a nutshell, sir, what is your opinion, bearing in mind the 3% allocation to the community?
Answer; Well, as you can see, every normal human being from the Niger delta is against the 3% or 5%. They are in support of the community’s demand of 10%.
Ika Weekly; 10%?
Yes. Although, like the Bible says; no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house Mark 3:27. Those who want to frustrate us or make nonsense of our heritage are now sponsoring some of our children who are betrayers to work against our common objective.
We are telling the Federal Government that they are creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control. This is the time the Government is talking about Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. This is the time that the Government is worried about Sunday Igboho of the Yoruba nation. All these agitations are because of injustice. Instead of the Buhari government doing something to build our unity, he is by his actions encouraging the separatist movement. If it is at this time that this kind of bill is coming up, it means the government is also encouraging separatist movement in the Niger Delta
Ika Weekly; Absolutely sir, but as a way of providing direction to this conversation, I would like to ask; how can you evaluate the role played by the representatives from the south-south region?
Answer; we said they should come and give us a report of what happened, we are waiting for them. We have called their Telephone lines, and all their phones are not working.
Ika Weekly; Are you serious?
Yes! All their Telephone lines are not working; I have called more than five of them and their phones are not working. Some of them at the National assembly are my cousins. Their Telephones are not working. They are all betrayers and they are hiding. They have put their names as Judas. They are the Judas of the Niger Delta. We cannot fold our hands for something that in the next ten years will backfire on us.
In the next ten years from now, anybody can become Nigerian president and do whatever they like, because they believe that the Niger Deltans are the only people that send betrayers to the national assembly. We will not encourage that.
We expected them to walk out of the National Assembly. Other regions have in the past walked out of the national assembly. And there was reconciliation because those people walked out of the national assembly. What have they been sitting down like Mumu at that place for? What are they benefitting? So we are angry. They are Mumu. The Hausas see them as betrayers of their region. In Abuja, they are shameless people moving about.
Ika Weekly; but Sir, looking at commentaries, the president is yet to sign the bill into law. So what is the way forward? How will the region remedy the situation?
Answer; That is why we are appealing to the president to do the needful so as not to encourage the separatist movement in the Niger Delta. He should send the bill back to the National Assembly for them to revisit it again. Even the Supreme Court reverses itself when the need arises. So why can’t the National Assembly? That is our advice for him
Ika Weekly; what is your position about the 13% derivation to the state?
Answer; On 13%derivation also, we are not saying 100% as our expectation but because we are human beings, we will continue to talk to our leaders, let this thing be workable.
In 1999, I made a submission to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I remember telling him that the 13%derivation should be changed, and should not be given to the Governor because the governors see the 13% as a Christmas party.
Instead, let us apply what Babangida did. Babangida used to trade by barter to build Abuja. He started the 13% with Julius Berger because Julius Berger could not be corrupted. Julius Berger built the Aso rock; Julius Berger built 90% of all the facilities. It was Julius Berger that changed Abuja to London. So, if he gives part of that 13% to Julius Berger Construction Company, you will see that Niger Delta will change to London.
Ika Weekly; So, what do you think is the holistic approach to the Niger Delta challenge?
The holistic approach to the Niger delta challenge strictly depends on those who are ruling the country. It depends on their ability to assemble the nation’s first eleven for the purpose of development, as used after the civil war. It means selecting people who are focused and impeccable. Politics has bastardized everything. No investments for our children, nothing, the universities there are not working. How come Buhari who has been former Governor, former Minister, and former head of state cannot assemble people who are credible, people who are productive? Everyday borrowing; Buhari is suffering from borrowing juju on his head.
Ika Weekly; All right sir, it has been wonderful speaking with you,
In fact, If I see Buhari, I will tell him that the borrowing juju is on his head. What kind of government is that? When they promised to change, change, we never knew that it is borrowing change. What is our problem?
Ika Weekly; Sir, are you saying that there is no way the election can take care of or produce this needed first eleven?
Yes, the election can but the electoral process cannot be trusted. For example, look at, what are we doing with the national assembly, I mean Senate and House of Representatives, and what are we doing with that number. If we want to deal with and correct the electoral process, we must learn to spend less money on elections. Through that process, you will see the beauty of democracy. The best candidates will emerge. But will they allow it? It will not be allowed because there is no money in such an arrangement. We have some members of the National Assembly that go there to sleep. Some of them have been part of the National Assembly right from the government of Shehu Shagari.
Ika Weekly; It is pathetic.
We have to confront these people. That is why we are confronting them.
Ika Weekly; Now, let us move away from conflict and lamentation to finding a solution. Beginning with the amnesty programme, how will you evaluate the performance of the current coordinator?
No, the current coordinator has just arrived. The current coordinator is less than one year in that office and we have told him that we want all our boys who are yet to be trained. If he cannot train all of them, we will tell him that he is a failure. We want him to train them because they are just roaming about. They can become another threat to our homeland.
Let us train them. The resources in the Niger delta can be used to create industries to absorb them. If the amnesty office can buy fishing trawlers and train our people in ocean rowing, fish processing it will create job opportunities for our people. There are abandoned fishing trawlers in Lagos. Amnesty office can buy them for this purpose. The number of people that will be needed to do that job it will create will be double. We will discover that number of youths presently trained will not even be enough. We need more than 10,000 double of that population for amnesty to go and engage in seafood processing.
If we make use of the Atlantic Ocean for the seafood trade by our youths and we have fishing trawlers, we can feed the Niger delta and even export fish. All these are solutions that we have given to them
We, therefore, want the new coordinator to be practical. What the previous ones did not do, he should do it; train our youth in seafood processing and marketing and engage the idle brain.
Ika Weekly; Okay sir, now, while we wait for the president what exactly are you people, the opinion molders doing to pressurize the president to do the needful?
I hope that all that we are saying on television and newspaper he sees them unless the press secretaries will be hiding television from him that is what some press secretaries do. Instead of the president watching news channels, press secretaries will tune to cartoon networks.
Instead of them showing him newspapers on national matters, they will show him any magazine that contains cartoon networks. All the press secretaries around the president should repent. Give him newspapers on the national matter to look at the opinion of the people. It will help the president to manage Nigeria.
Ika Weekly; Don’t you think that Niger Delta sending a delegation either to the senate president or to the president himself will make an appreciable impact?
Now, the problem is that those who are guarding the president, give the president a fake opinion. Our leaders, particularly members of PANDEF have made a lot of moves now. They are still making moves and the Ijaw National Congress leaders too; they are still making moves to visit the Aso rock to talk to the president. The problem is that, will the president be fair enough to do that?
His Special Assistants who are surrounding him are blocking people from coming to tell the truth to his ears. That is the problem.
Ika Weekly Newspaper: All right. Thank you so much, I obviously appreciate this time.
Answer; thank you too.