Ms. Ann-Kio Briggs, a rights activist, is a spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA). As a delegate to the 2014 National Conference, she maintains that the 2014 national conference was the best opportunity Nigerians had to sit down and agree on the way forward.
There is no doubt that the report of the 2014 National Conference relegated to the archives by this administration, what is your view as somebody that actively participated in that exercise about its non-implementation now that more Nigerians are clamouring for the restructuring of Nigeria?
It is very unfortunate in the sense that everybody agrees that the 2014 national conference was the best opportunity Nigerians had to sit down and agree on the way forward. We were not able to do that during the amalgamation. We were not able to do that during the pre-independence. We were not also able to do that during or even after the civil war. So, when we heard that the conference report was being pushed into the dustbin because this President said he did not agree with the report of the conference, it saddens my heart. Let me say it again that the conference is not about any individual person; it is about Nigeria and Nigerians. This is about the best input Nigerians have had to package for themselves. We addressed a lot of issues in the conference like the issue of whether the local governments should be funded by the federal government or by the state. We addressed the issue of the Land use Act and other burning issues which have direct impact on Nigeria. We also discussed the issue of Boko Haram, the herdsmen and others. If there is any group of people that do not want western education, you cannot force them and you cannot force people to remain in one place like the herdsmen. That is their lifestyle. The issue of resource ownership and self-determination were all discussed. For one person and in this instance the President, the people around him and the APC political party to say they are not going to implement a report that all sectors of this country were represented, is highly political in a wrong sense. For a political party to say it will not implement or even look at the report of that conference, it’s their choice; but this is not going to speak well of Nigeria. I think that that report should be looked at. But if the President disagrees, I think it is a wrong decision to do so. The conference was not meant to address his desires as the case may be.
The former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and others have also backed the call for restructuring of Nigeria. Why are they saying this now?
Politics in Nigeria is about cabal. There are people who are in this cabal. Even if they have left government, they still play a role in the next government. When their opinions are not carried on board, they want Nigeria to be set on fire. They want Nigeria to sink or drown. For some people who hitherto did not but are now calling for restructuring of the country, it is better late than never, that is one. Secondly, my concern is what are their reasons for calling for restructuring? What is their ulterior motive because they have one of such ulterior motives? I don’t believe that Atiku Abubakar could say that; but it means to me that if certain policies are not immediately put in place like the issue of local government, something bad may happen. We cannot continue to have one state having 44 local government areas while others have less than that. The section of Nigeria that has seventeen states is actually the section that produces the wealth of the nation. The South-West produces about 3.7% of the total economic funding of Nigeria. South-East contributes about 2.4 % while the South-South contributes about 91.8%.
When you look at it from that perspective that some people have oil wells and some don’t have, what does that tell you? Atiku has Intels in Rivers State. The Onne Port is managed by his company. I think this is what is agitating his mind for calling for restructuring of the country. Nigerian politicians are selfish. They are not there for the people. They are selfish along the line of religion or ethnicity. They are not there for the people of Nigeria. At every step of the way, it is Nigerians that suffer. If restructuring means that we will have resource ownership, I am all for restructuring. If it implies that the state will fund the local government areas, I am also for it.
A state like Kano has 44 local government areas which is quite high in terms of what goes to them while a state like Bayelsa has just eight. Bayelsa has the least of local government areas yet it produces so much to the economy. If that is what we mean by restructuring, I am all for it. These are the things we discussed at the national conference. But it becomes double speak when one side said they were not going to look at the report of the conference. Restructuring should mean regionalism or internal self-determination which really packages everything internally that forms the component of the state of Nigeria. I am skeptical of Nigerian politicians who ought to have said something yesterday and they deliberately refused only to come up now and say that same thing when it is most convenient for them. When I hear restructuring, I am not overtly impressed until it comes to past.
We have heard of the account of a sitting governor frozen, continuous detention of people court had earlier granted bail, the emerging Niger Delta militants and their destructive operations and many other such crises in the country under this administration, can restructuring of the country be the needed panacea at this point?
It ought to be. These points you have raised like those accused of committing any crime calls for question. The law says that even if you saw somebody shot somebody, and you are the eyewitness, you have to convince the jury before the person is found guilty. We are not saying these people did not steal the resources of this country but you have to prove to the world that this thing happened and must be dealt with. Government should fight corruption within the confines of the law because you cannot be above the law as a government. If the government is above the law, then it is setting the stage for anarchy. Government must set a good example for the citizens to follow. (Sambo) Dasuki was given bail by the court but government is not obeying the law here.
If you look at the Nnamdi Kanu case, you will find out that the President himself went to the United States in 2015 in September and asked for self-determination for the Pakistani people. There is no different from what Kanu is agitating for, the only difference is that the Pakistanis are Muslims while the indigenous people of Biafra are Christians. Does it mean that Muslims anywhere in the world have the right to self-determination while Christians in Nigeria don’t? These are the things I find difficult to believe. We cannot have two different laws in Nigeria. Now on the arms agitators blowing up oil installations whether they are herdsmen, Boko Haram or a group of people which I may not believe are Ijaw people until I am convinced, is another serious issue. Ijaw people cannot be criminalised. When the herdsmen went about beheading people, their senators and even the President came up and denied that they were Fulanis.
I don’t see Ijaw people as the problem of Nigeria, rather the problem of the Niger Delta is Nigeria. It is unfair for the nine resource producing states to be continuously treated the way we are being treated while the federal government takes 87% of what they produce here to the centre. These are the issues that have to be addressed. Boko Haram has been identified as a terrorist group. The Fulani herdsmen have been identified as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world. The Niger Delta people were told pipelines are being blown up by Ijaw people, I refused that. No Ijaw person is blowing up any pipeline in the Niger Delta because we are not violent people.
Coming to the Nnamdi Kanu matter, one will say that these people have not been violent in their demands. These are the things Nigeria must discuss. Boko Haram does not want western education yet they use weapons manufactured by the West. The herdsmen must say what they want. IPOB wants a separate state and this must be discussed. Dialogue must be explored with all these violent groups. But one thing is sure, nobody in the Niger Delta will easily give out his father’s land to be grazed by the Fulani herdsmen. We don’t even have land in the Niger Delta. We live in swamps and the creeks. If we are to continue to live together, what are the terms that will facilitate that? Once again, I think that for anybody to undermine the conference report, is what will continue to agitate my mind and I think this will shape the opinion of so many Nigerians in the coming 2019.
What is the future of Nigeria without the implementation of that report and what will be your advice to the President on this important document?
That is a N6.8trillion question. I was fortunate to sit between influential Nigerians in the last conference. Late Dr. Tunji Braithwaite called me “my revolutionary daughter” and I called him “my revolutionary father” in the last conference. I sat with great minds in this country in a committee which was about the devolution of power. I was most privileged to be in that conference with this influential Nigerians. The breakup of Nigeria was the only thing we did not discuss in that conference. I will want to say to the President that he should not discount the fact that whether he supported the conference, great Nigerians from his own ethnic group, North and other parts of Nigeria sat down and discussed issue bothering us as a nation. If we discard that report, we may not have the opportunity of discussing again peacefully as a people. If you have another conference, you will not stop people from discussing the breakup of Nigeria.
The 2014 conference gave us the opportunity of consolidating the unity of this country and we may not have such luxury again. We are a federation by mouth, not by practice. Government must keep Nigeria together not by force, not by using a government agency to intimidate other people. Federal character was to be the issue of justice, but it does not exist again because of the way appointments are made. Bayelsa complains that none of its indigenes was included in the Ambassadorial list. I think that to keep Nigeria one must not be by force. It must be by equity and justice and that will be based on federal character justice. I advise this government to check out what it can do with some of the items in the conference and implement them to save Nigeria from impending collapse. I wrote the minority report, and I can’t agree that the status quo should remain at 13%. The constitution says not less than 13%, so why are we still at 13%? It should be a minimum of 100% and we pay tax to the federal government. This is where we can discuss justice and equity. The President should look at this. Failure to do this will pull Nigeria further apart. Nigeria cannot continue at this rate. In Niger Delta, you have people drinking from where they defecate. This is unfair. A situation where people outside of the Niger Delta owned more than 90% oil wells in the region is damn wickedness. It is evil. This cannot make us one Nigeria.
(SOURCE –INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER)