Friday, 02 June, 2023


Jonathan’ll damage himself if he defects to APC ‘Ikimi, Niger Delta activist

Oghenejabor Ikimi is a Warri-based lawyer and a human rights activist in the Niger Delta area, who says it as it is. He is the Executive Director of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP), he speaks with EBENEZER ADUROKIYA on burning national issues. Excerpts:

You are from the Niger Delta, your brother, our former president, Goodluck Jonathan is being rumoured as planning to join the APC in order to contest the 2023 election. What is your view on this?

As a lawyer, we deal with facts not rumours. If it’s true that former President Goodluck Jonathan is planning to join the APC, constitutionally, he has the right to belong to any association of his choice. But planning to join, or has joined or being lured to run for presidency, I think, is morally wrong. I’ll advise him not to join the APC or contest for the presidency at all. It’ll damage his personality because he has a good name. He’s an international figure. He’s recognised all over the world as a man in power who conducted an election, lost and handed over to the winner. So, he has a good name that I’ll not want him to rubbish. He should remain in PDP and build it.

Talking of being morally wrong, do Nigerians think that way given last Thursday’s eventual defection of Femi Fani Kayode to APC in spite of all his attacks against the party?

That’s the unfortunate aspect of our people who hardly consider the moral aspects of issues. But a lot of us know that the reason FFK defected was for ‘stomach infrastructure.’ He’s broke. That’s the simple reason. He said over his dead body would he join the APC. But is he dead now? He’s alive. But another school of thought would say at that time he took that stand, that was the state of his thoughts. They’d say that was his state of mind at that time. Man is not static. But we know he’s broke.

The controversy over who should collect VAT is raging on between the Federal Government and the states, particularly in the south. Where do you belong in this debate?

The states have the right to collect VAT. This tax collection regime is neither in the Exclusive Legislative List nor the Concurrent Legislative List. So, the way FIRS collects the money and shares it is unjust. That’s Governor Nyesome Wike’s stance. You collect N2.8 billion from Kano State and remit 100 per cent to it, but in Rivers and Lagos states, you do otherwise, giving them a paltry sum not commensurate with what you collected. There’s no justice in all these and that’s one of the reasons for the controversies in the land. It’s an eye-opener to the governors. That’s why Wike went to court. He’s won my heart as a man of the year. The state assembly has made its own VAT law, ditto, Lagos State which is a welcome development. Other southern state governors should follow suit rather than just gathering to pass resolutions. They should go and make their laws on it, too. The Appeal Court order did not touch on the state VAT law. It’s the one being collected by the FIRS that the restraining order affects. If the governors come together, I know that the Supreme Court will finalise the issue because it’s of national interest. The VAT is on consumption or sales tax. Insincerity and injustice must be laid to rest in our system.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday, wrote the National Assembly for approval to take fresh foreign loans. Many Nigerians are scared that the country may have over borrowed. If you are to advise the National Assembly on this matter, what will your advice be?

If I were to advise an impartial National Assembly that is not tied to the apron strings of the presidency, I’d tell them to reject the loan proposal from the president. From his body language, president of the Senate has already approved the loan request. Imagine an administration with a promise at inception to manage the little they have! They gave us the impression that whatever we cannot produce we’ll not consume. But the reverse is the case today. And today, this regime has borrowed foreign loans close to about six times, especially from China, more than previous governments. And you know what that means. I’ll advise rather than take this loan, let us begin to consume what we produce alone like the nation of Israel does. We should begin to mine our mineral resources ourselves so we begin to enjoy foreign exchange. Zamfara appears to be mining and enjoying its gold while crude oil in the Niger Delta is for all! Another injustice! These foreign loans benefit no one. We’re only mortgaging the future of generations unborn with these loans rather than leaving inheritance for them.

There are fears that the military’s onslaught against bandits in Zamfara and other northern states could lead to a mass movement of the criminals to the South. Do you share this fear too?

It is already happening. You saw what happened in Kogi. The jailbreak in Kogi where a soldier was killed and scores of inmates set loose into the society. Who are the people responsible for this? It was the armed bandits. The gunmen are already everywhere now. The military onslaught in the North West has pushed or even pushing the insurgents southwards. I don’t think such Kogi incident can happen in the South East and South West, but I can’t vouch for the South South. The governors need to wake up.

Former General Secretary of NUPENG, Chief Frank Kokori once  granted an interview, urging governors to arm their youths to defend their territories and people? Do you subscribe to this?

Arming our youths in what ways? I’ll want to use the word, ‘self defence, rather than ‘arming our youths,’ let everybody defend their communities, their states. ‘Arming our youths,’ with Nigeria being in a precarious state, means we’re technically going to war. We need to be careful with our choice of words. But under our 1999 Constitution under Section 33, Nigerians have a right to self-defence. Let every Nigerian from anywhere defend themselves, it’s constitutional. Don’t listen to the presidency or the military telling us not to defend ourselves when they can no longer protect us. So, are they saying when bandits come to attack me I should be looking when no one is there to help me? If there’s another constitution they’re using, they should let us know.

The governor of Katsina State recently confirmed that majority of the bandits troubling the peace of the nation are Fulani. What advice do you have for Fulani leaders on how to handle their youths?

When we talk of Fulani bandits, the governor of Katsina wasn’t far from the truth. Majority of the bandits are Fulani. In fact, majority of them aren’t even from Nigeria. They cut across the Sahel. They are coming down to join their kith and kins in Nigeria to create mayhem and collect their share of our national cake. They were brought in by Fulani in Nigeria for the purpose of getting amnesty from the government like it happened in the South South. That’s the game. The Fulani leaders in the north west must first disorientate the Fulani youths and reorientate them from that mentality of getting amnesty. It’s going to be very difficult, no doubt. I’m actually wondering why Sheikh Gumi has not been arrested after all he’s been doing to support the bandits. Imagine him soliciting amnesty and compensation for Fulani criminals and yet he’s moving about freely. It has backlash effects on Fulani youths since they have someone talking on their behalf. If that man is kept in the cooler, it’ll send signals to the bandits to have a rethink. The government must carry out a reorientation of the youths with the message that good money is earned only through hardwork and not banditry. The government also needs to study how banditry was checkmated by the colonial masters in that part of the north during the colonial era and see if they can learn from it.

How would you assess the economic programmes of the Buhari government vis a vis the welfare of the ordinary man in the Niger Delta?

I don’t subscribe to these handouts – tradermonie, marketmonie, farmer Monie or what are you – which the Federal Government is rolling out to ease the economic tension in the country. We have to move from consumption-economy to production-econony. We should be talking about industrialising the country. All these small loans do not help given the high exchange rate. They make no impact on the economy. Paying somebody N30,000 monthly for doing nothing does not work in a consumption-economic climate. We should begin to produce rather than just consuming. See China churning out about two million scientists every year! No wonder they’re overtaking America. We missed it after the Nigerian Civil War. Our government should have assembled those Igbo producing armoured tanks and other weapons for the Biafra soldiers to lay the foundation of technological growth for the country. I won’t give Buhari administration a pass mark on the economy.

Finally, going forward to 2023, what is your choice – restructuring or Southern presidency?

I’ll go for restructuring rather than southern presidency. The latter is not a solution to Nigeria’s problems. He will fail the way the northern president has failed because Nigeria is structured to fail. The administration of Nigeria is over-centralised. Nigeria is only a federation on paper. In practice, we’re a unitary state where all the components are subordinate to the Central Government. That wasn’t how the country was structured before the advent of the military. The component states then had powers to govern themselves in such a way that they controlled the resources of their regions and that was why the sage, Obafemi Awolowo was able to use funds from cocoa to develop Western Nigeria. The region then had its own embassy and attache in Britain so as to get foreign exchange from cocoa. The Northern and Eastern regions too had their embassies in Britain to enhance trade in their regions. This was how Nigeria was structured before the military misadventure into civil governance. Nothing will happen differently even if a southerner becomes president come 2023. Worse still, the system we have now is ridiculous because at the end of every month, governors go to Abuja cap in hand to collect ‘alms’ from the Federal Government. They’re now mentally lazy. They don’t think out of the box. If we agree on restructuring, those states who can’t survive on their own will merge with other states for survival. Restructuring is the better option to Southern presidency and the solution to the imminent disintegration of a country that’s already at war with itself.

Credit: Nigeria Tribune


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