Edward O. Ekpoko (Esq) is Secretary, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought and the Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri Leaders Forum. In this interview, the Warri-based lawyer explains why ethnic minorities, especially those in the South-south, should not be among those kicking against the contentious PDP zoning of the Presidency.
Ahead of 2015, the polity is saturated with permutations and interest building for the coming elections with stakeholders hardly taking stock on how much we have fared under the current dispensation. Shall we then start with a performance audit on the current dispensation?
Nigerians are not happy with the present state of affairs. Take power supply for instance. We have never had it so bad. Power is very central to the economy and its poor state is affecting us. Small businesses like barbing, hair-dressing, beer parlour and all that cannot thrive without power. So people who would have been self employed are thrown into the labour market.
If you have no job doing and you take a specialization in welding, you cannot succeed without electricity because you cannot rely on power generator. Our infrastructures are not going the way it ought to be. 20 years ago, it took far shorter time to travel to Lagos (from Benin), not to talk about the Lagos Ibadan Expressway. Second, the rate of corruption is very high. Nothing has changed. I still see EFCC, ICPC and others as political instruments to witch-hunt opponents.
And when people begin to agitate for state creation, zoning and all that, you see that we are dealing with failure of leadership. These agitations are the fallouts. If you have a good governor or President who can deliver, people would think less of where the man comes from. But because of our own inadequacies, if a man manages to get to a position of leadership, the only thing he thinks about is how to do one or two things in his village.
Go to Bayelsa, Jonathan has to put a university in his village, there is Law School in Bayelsa and all that. Political appointments now favour the Ijaw. So why would the Itsekiri man not want to be President of Nigeria to also gain opportunity to do same for his community.
But the public believes President Jonathan has done considerably well because of the extreme security challenges he has had to contend with.
Your ability to manage crisis shows your leadership quality. These things make a leader. Crisis would always come, but what counts is how the leadership handles the moment. I agree the President inherited the crisis. The ethno-religious Boko-Haram issue started towards the end of the Obasanjo era and then President Yarâ€™Adua before it got out of hand now. Honestly, I am not satisfied with Jonathanâ€™s handling of the crisis.
If you are in his shoes, how would you deal with the matter?
He should be more drastic. No civilized government would tolerate it. People talk of cthe arrot and stick approach; he should negotiate with Boko Haram and all that. I donâ€™t agree. America will never sit to negotiate with any terrorist, neither will Europe. He should be able to use the military to quell the insurgency except we are saying the military is incapable.
Contention over zoning of the Presidency is raging again towards 2015. What is your stand on this?
There is the view that zoning exists between the North and South. Obasanjo appeared to have confirmed that too. Obasanjo was there for eight years, Yarâ€™Adua came, and Goodluck had to complete his first tenure. When Goodluck was to run, northern agitation was strong but people just said he should go.
Zoning not constitutional
That is not debatable but if indeed there is such an arrangement within PDP, the party has to respect it. However, under the circumstance, President Jonathan is entitled to a second tenure. And when he emerged in the face of zoning in 2011, it was done on a political process. For northerners who do not want Jonathan now, let them exhaust that party process. They will also participate in the primaries. Let them go and vote whoever they want. It is not a question of denying the man the right to run.
My final word on the PDP zoning, if it does exist, is in the interest of the South with the way the country is configured. If you allow it to be winner takes all, it will not be in the interest of the South because numerical strength favours North. So the South must not be seen to truncate an arrangement that would bring justice to us. It would be difficult for a southerner, particularly the minorities, to become President.
Still on performance audit at the federal level, can all ethnic minorities in the Niger Delta say they have benefitted satisfactorily from a Jonathan presidency they voted for with very high hopes?
That is the irony of it all. Frankly, the Jonathan presidency was a great joy to the southern minorities, but certainly more for Niger Delta because of our peculiar situation as the region where oil, the main stay of our economy, comes from. Yet it remains the most undeveloped part of the country. What have we got in return? Everything about Niger Delta under the Jonathan presidency has become Ijaw. Key appointments for the region are for the Ijaw. From ministerial appointments to key agencies, South-south slots are given to the Ijaw.
Amnesty is an all-Ijaw affair from the management to the beneficiaries. 90% of Nigerians sent abroad under the Amnesty programme are Ijaw. In PTDF, they have funds for scholarship and empowerment schemes. In the past four years, the number of Ijaw there compared with other parts of the Niger Delta will make the alienated majority weep.
There was a presentation I made at the Pan Niger Delta Conference in Port Harcourt on the topic, â€œThe Ijaw Should Build More Bridges Rather Than Fencesâ€, where I emphasized this irony. You begin to ask yourself, do we all belong to the same Niger Delta? With all these happening in the South-south, people are grumbling. Look at the plight of the Urhobo. A minister was to be appointed for Delta State. The governor is Itsekiri, so you donâ€™t expect a minister to be picked from Itsekiri.
The President is Ijaw. Now you want to appoint a minister from Delta State and you ignore Urhobo, the most populous ethnic nationality in the state. You went and picked an Ijaw man as minister. And, today, Urhobo have no minister. It is unfair. People know Niger Delta Affairs Ministry as Ijaw ministry. At times, you talk about the domination of the North, but when your own brother oppresses you, it is more painful. East West Road is a key issue of anger. It is the only road that connects the West to the East.
The contract for the dualisation of the road was awarded by former President Obasanjo. It is not a project initiated by Jonathan. Why canâ€™t he complete it? With the way he is going, he may not be able to complete it even if he gets second tenure. So it is a justified anger when people begin to raise issues over the administrationâ€™s indifference to the completion of the project.
The President got it wrong. I donâ€™t want a divided Nigeria, but to declare the unity of Nigeria as a no-go area in the National Dialogue makes it an exercise in futility. That is the way I see it as an Itsekiri man. As early as 1848, the Itsekiri nation, long sovereign, had started signing treaties with external stakeholders beginning with John Bicroft, earliest British imperialism front who arrived at the time.
Today, we may not be the most populous in a forcibly united Nigeria, but we, by the grace of God, remain so relevant by our significant contribution to national treasury. Now, when it comes to national recognition, we have only one House of Reps member. In the case of the Senate, we can only get there by rotation. What then is our right to self determination if we do not have liberty to discuss the terms of our continued involvement in a united Nigeria?
Are you then saying Itsekiri should not participate in the confab?
Far from that, we will participate to make out feelings known. But what is wrong is wrong. The unity of Nigeria is the most paramount agenda if the conference is good intentioned.
What can you say about the state of Delta?
We have not fared well in Delta. Impunity is high. Lawlessness is rampart. People just feel they can get away with anything. The state is dirty. Drivers, motorists and residents are reckless. And the source of this impunity and recklessness is tied to the emerging millionaire politicians whose source of wealth you cannot trace beyond 1999.
These politicians do things with impunity because they have one political godfather here or there. People are reckless because government is not doing anything to check the impunity. Warri is an old town, older than Tel-Aviv, the capital of Israel. Tel-Aviv was founded 1912. Warri predates it. But government and the people just treat the town with disdain.
On 2015, your perceived emerging millionaire politicians whose wealth cannot be traced beyond 1999 are still the most prominent in contention for political offices. Will maintaining the status quo change the story of Delta from the perception of stagnation you hold?
We are aware of the permutations. We are not impressed by what we see. There is also the talk of zoning, particularly for the governorship. I am not aware of zoning in the state. But if there is any such arrangement within PDP, it is not binding on other parties. Indigenes from all ethnic groups have been contesting the election since 1999 and the results have never reflected zoning.
The Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri Leaders Forum where I am secretary is quite concerned about the avalanche of aspirants and the sentiments here and there for the senatorial seat. We have made it clear we are still consulting with other stakeholders within Delta South and other the districts. At the right time, we will make our stand known.
What I am sure of now is that it would not be business as usual for the majority who have enjoyed undeserved ride into leadership. Those who have held offices should be ready to give account. We will soon make their scorecards known. Some of us will come and go to the field to ensure that the votes count. That is not a threat. Only time will tell.