2011: IT'S NOT TRUE THAT NORTH IS AGAINST JONATHAN — BIAKPARA, IJAW LEADER
Wing Commander Peter Biakpara (retd), a one-time member of the House of Representatives, led the Ijaw National Congress (INC) some years back. He was involved in the negotiation between the Federal Government and Niger Delta militants, which led to the amnesty programme.
In this interview with Saturday Sun , in Abuja, he spoke about the Goodluck Jonathan presidency and why former President Olusegun Obasanjo's meddlesomeness is necessary in government. He said that hinging Jonathan's participation in 2011 election on his performance is mischievous.
Biakpara spoke on these and other things.
You once led the Ijaw National Congress. What are the objectives of this group?
Well, as a disadvantaged people, we gather together to formulate policies, so to say, for the suffering Ijaw people. As usual, when a group of people is persistently short-changed in their environment, they fight for survival. Of course, until recently, the fight has been a peaceful one. It was a verbal and intellectual agitation. It was only recently that it became violent. Something sparked it off. Even a volcano starts with little eruption.
Though Niger Delta problem, as you see it today, started from a tiny disagreement between the Ijaw and the Itsekiris in the Warri area, but now the focus is no more inter-communal or inter-ethnic. It is now the Niger Deltans and the rest of Nigeria, particularly people who are holding the reins of government. Now, the reins of government are in the hands of the Niger Deltans, so to say. So, the focus, like I said, is to fight for survival, not fight to dominate anybody.
The accusation had been that the Federal Government is shortchanging the Niger Deltans. How much have you held the governors of the Niger Delta region accountable?
If anybody tells you state governments are not doing anything to address the situation, it is not true. The problem in the Niger Delta is so monumental that state governments can only do a little. I will give you an example. When I was in government, Governor James Ibori was able to do one significant thing. He was able to build many bridges from the land to the riverine areas. If the Federal Government had also done similar things, it would be a different story. Niger Delta is a mystery. Any little agitation or fracas, it is like the devil is coming himself. It's like small children being afraid of the masquerade; that is what they have made out of the Niger Delta. They know so little about the area. They know so little about the area because there is no development; roads are not there; so if you post a policeman to an interior part of the Niger Delta he will refuse because he does not know what surrounds him.
But the agitation has metamorphosed into militancy and kidnappings?
You will agree with me it has abated tremendously with the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. This thing is a psychological thing; everybody in the Niger Delta felt people in Abuja have shortchanged them. That psychological feeling is no more there. Therefore, the agitation has come down. If anything is happening now, it is a matter of normal criminality.
What's your advice to President Jonathan in addressing the problems of the region?
He has said it himself that one of the areas he would focus is the Niger Delta issue and there is no better person to do this than a man from there. He wears the shoes and knows where it pinches him. No other person can genuinely understand what the issue is and how to address it. The mere fact that is there alone will physiologically assuage the feelings of the people before you eventually go for the actual healing. I think Goodluck Jonathan is the right person to solve the problem.
There is the rumour that Jonathan wants to contest next year's election, but the feeling of Nigerians, especially the North, is that the zoning agreement be honoured. Also, Jonathan's tenure is short to make an impression that will encourage Nigerians to support him for 2011?
I'll start from the second part of your question. Anybody who is talking about hinging Jonathan's participation in 2011 election on his performance is being mischievous. We have had leaders in the saddled for four years and more and didn't perform. Is Jonathan a magician? Anybody who is saying he should perform before he contests is being mischievous. In fact, Jonathan has three months to make up his mind to run. What do you expect a normal Nigerian to do in three months? We have to look beyond performance. There are indications that he will perform if he has a full tenure. There are a lot of benefits tied to the Jonathan presidency. In fact, I described his emergence, in my book, as the physical manifestation of the finger of God in Nigeria.
When did you write this book as Jonathan is barely one month in office as president?
I am still writing it. I started it when he became president. His next step is 2011.
If you started writing a book on the president when he assumed office, Nigerians will see you as a sycophant…
I am already a very relevant person; so there is no question of opportunism in what I am doing. I don't need this book to be relevant, but the point is I have been in this struggle. I am the struggle. We did a lot of things even before Jonathan became the president, even though God concluded it for us. In fact, the writing of the book started after Prince Vincent Ogbulafor made a statement about zoning.
Your reference to Ogbulafor's statement serving as a catapult for your group seem to confirm the fears in some quarters that his judicial travail is a political persecution?
My question is, was the allegation of corruption or misappropriation of funds committed during Jonathan's administration? The answer is no. This happened in 2001.
So, why is it coming up now?
You must ask the judiciary or the ICPC that took him to court. Jonathan is not the one heading those institutions. It's just coincidental that he is being prosecuted when Jonathan is at the helms of affairs. Anti-corruption is one of the pillars of Jonathan's government. I think Nigerians should be praising him for bringing out cases that are almost dead. Ogbulafor is not the only one whose case has come up.
Well, Ibori was my boss. I am not rooting for his prosecution, but if an offence is committed, so be it. The law must take its course.
He was your boss. Did he steal money while in government?
I am not aware if he stole. Are we now talking about Ibori?
It is all embracing…
If you ask me about Ibori, I will tell you what I know. I don't know if he stole or not. But I know that as a governor, Ibori was amiable, approachable and understanding. I have not seen anybody I have met and worked with that is better than Ibori. Ibori is a nice person to work with, but whether he stole money, I don't know.
How do you see some of the President's actions, like the pardon of Ribadu?
First and foremost, Goodluck Jonathan is an individual. When something happens, every individual must take a position. Take the case of the CBN Governor Sanusi. There is a big divide as far as his reform in the banking sector is concerned. Some are for him and others are against him. I for one have taken a position on Sanusi and should I become the president tomorrow, I will act out my position not because it is personal but because of my conceived position for the actions he has taken while he was the CBN governor. In Ribadu's case, I felt the same thing. I personally thought at that time, that he was doing a very good job and of course, as a human being he must have made mistakes here and there and those who did not like him picked on those ones. Jonathan is the man on the seat now. He believes Ribadu's virtues are more than his sins and, therefore, looks at the virtues and forgive the sins. What is wrong in that? There is nothing wrong with that. If tomorrow another person's comes and says there is indeed, something wrong in that, he too can do what he thinks is right. That is why we always tell people to do what is best for the generality of the people, so that somebody else may not change whatever you do easily.
Nigerians are very uncomfortable that former President Obasanjo is indirectly involved in Jonathan' government. What is your reaction?
In my book you will read what people may call Obasanjo's meddlesomeness. What I am saying that Yar'Adua/Jonathan's government is the only government in Nigeria since 1960 that is still being guided by the creator. By creator I mean the man who made the government. Tafawa Balewa government can be next to it because the Europeans, who brought the government, were also around guiding him. You can't speak in that vein regarding Ironsi's government, Gowon government, ditto Murtala, Obasanjo governments. This government needs Obasanjo's guidance. People may call it meddlesomeness, but I don't. Obasanjo brought Yar'Adua/Jonathan's government into being. He had a vision. He may be over-doing certain things, but his experienced hand of guidance is very necessary.
In what areas should he be guiding the government?
He has garnered the experience. He is the most experienced politician I know.
How will you react to the allegation of lopsidedness in appointments in the NNPC, for instance, in favour of the South-South?
You mean you people are already complaining (laughs for few minutes). I am very surprised that you are complaining already. For 40 years South-South did not make in-road in NNPC; they have just seen one small bush path in two months and you are already complaining? Nigerians need to be fair to the South-South. We need to be fair. I am sure you are only teasing me because you are not making any point. If they are already complaining, then they are not being fair to the South-South. In 40 years of NNPC and petroleum, can you count how many South-South indigenes have been there? At a point, until recently, all the executive directors in NNPC, from the Group MD, were non-South-South people, perhaps, with the exception of one ineffective executive director.
Are you comfortable with the Governors' Forum influence?
In politics, everybody wants to exert his or her own influence, either individually or as a group. Even what you are accusing South-South of extends to Afenifere group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Arewa Consultative Forum. We all want to exert influence. I don't see any bad things the Governors' Forum is doing.
What will be South-South's reaction if the North stops Jonathan in 2011?
Let us first look at what northerners have said about zoning. Alhaji Abudulkareem said Jonathan should context in 2011. Alhaji Maitama Sule said anybody who is qualified can be president. Barnabas Gemade said that what God zones, no man can change. Senator Jibril Aminu said it would be difficult to unseat Jonathan in 2011. What I am trying to say is that it is not true that northerners are opposed to Jonathan contesting. In our group, we have northerners. It is not true that all northerners are opposed to Jonathan contesting in 2011 elections. After all, some southerners are opposed to it. Is not a uniform divide. The divide is on the head, not geographical divide. That is what I have seen from the few weeks we have organised this Goodluck Jonathan Support Group.
How is Goodluck Jonathan Support Group different from Daniel Kanu's 'one million man match' for Abacha?
Ours is not about seeking to be noticed. This group did not start today. It started in 2007, but then it was known as Yar'Adua/Jonathan Support Group. We were on the campaign.
What difference will Jonathan make from other past governments should he be the next president?
In my analysis of what happened earlier, South-South has never had one day of presidency, except now. If you are from a polygamous home and your father has two wives and every day he is playing with the children of the other woman, either sending them on an errand of giving them gifts and in the evening he ends up in the room of the other woman, if you are the first son of the neglected woman you will react and tell you father that he is parochial and biased. Have you asked why the Minister of Agriculture always comes from the North? I don't know, but it is an observation. Everything has been lopsided; let us joggle it around.