HRM S. P. Luke Kalanama VIII JP, is the Pere (King) of Akugbene Mein Kingdom in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State. He is also the first Vice Chairman, Delta State Traditional Rulers Council. In this interview with National Point’s Delta State Correspondent Dave Okpongadie, the royal father expressed concern over the state of insecurity in Nigeria and calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to be more
proactive in tackling the menace. He also spoke on other salient matters bedeviling the Niger Delta region. Excerpts:
Your Majesty, are you worried by the wave of crime in Nigeria, considering the fact that Nigerians are murdered on a daily basis?
First, let me start by saying that if not by the mercies of God, by now, Nigeria would have become a thing of the past as the level of insecurity in the country is so frightening to the extent that it is a major topic in daily newspapers like yours across Nigeria and the globe. There is no responsible Nigerian that is not worried about the rising insecurity in the country. We are all disturbed by the wave of banditry, kidnapping and killings in the nation. And as a monarch and custodian of the people and culture, I am so worried because even though politicians will have a way of escaping the country to a safer clime if anything happened, as traditional rulers, we are not privileged to that, so, we are so concerned. Particularly, I am so concerned.
In our last Traditional Council meeting held at the state capital, Asaba, we did discuss the level of insecurity in the country and resolved that in our next meeting, it does not matter if security issue takes the whole day. So, it is our prayer that President Muhammadu Buhari and all the service chiefs will live up to their responsibilities. Just three days ago, I had a meeting with my council of chiefs at the palace and we questioned the suitability of the National Security Adviser and minister of Defense because the office of the National Security Adviser is to collate all necessary information from the various military establishments, from the various security establishments. So, if that is being done as expected, why the frequent attacks? Why the consistent killings taking place particularly in the Northern region, Southern Kaduna State, Niger State, Zamfara State and others?
Trying to juxtapose the positions being held by these powerful men in government and of course, where the president hails from, you can see the security. Look at Katsina State and Abuja; Abuja is the seat of government and you have lots of military establishments around Abuja and the Brigade of Guards which has the responsibility of protecting Aso Rock, the seat of the nation, but this has not been spared by these non-state actors. You can see that the bandits are not relenting as a result of the huge amount of money being paid to them as ransom. So if the criminals can have such audacity to attack the convoy of the president whether he was there or not, attack military formations, come to Kuje Prison to free their members even when the government cannot free her citizens from kidnappers, then it is a shame and it calls for worries. We do hope and pray that our president will redouble his efforts aimed at nipping the ugly scenario in the bud so that Nigerians can sleep with their two eyes closed.
NDDC has been without a substantive board for years now and several calls are coming from leaders and people of the Niger Delta urging the president to constitute the board, what is your take on this?
The story of NDDC and the issue of the Niger Delta region when placed side by side, is very disturbing to those of us in the Niger Delta Region. Yes, the Willinks Commission in 1956 recommended that special attention should be given to the Niger Delta Region because of the difficulty in developing the area. After the Willinks report, there was this Niger Delta Basin Authority, saddled with the responsibility of developing the region. But were those things achieved? The answer is NO, not until the youths of the region began to agitate, the elites started to agitate for a better deal to the Niger Delta region and that prompted the emergence of OMPADEC which took it from 1.5 to 3 per cent derivation. With OMPADEC, little was achieved but when we had this democratic dispensation under General Olusegun Obasanjo, he created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000, with a statutory board to manage the affairs of the commission. The activities of the Commission have always been managed by a board, unfortunately, here we are today.
Since 2019, when President Bihari was elected for a second term in office, there has been no statutory board, but it is being run by either a management committee or sole administrator as it is at the moment, which is a clear aberration of the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission. Funny enough, on Monday, August 15, 2022, there was a newspaper report on a paid advertorial in one of the national dailies that the Whatsapp account, the Facebook account, the email account, Instagram account of the sole administrator of the NDDC had been hacked and that the general public should beware. So where are all these things leading us to? When the commission was managed by the substantive board, they were able to construct a road to the headquarters of my kingdom even though not tarred. If there was a board in place, that road would have been tarred properly by now to attract massive development to the area. On a yearly basis, after the rains, we do carry out repairs which is not supposed to be the case.
The essence of government is to provide for the needs of her citizens but here we have a case where they give out with the right hand and take it back with the left hand. If there is one man who has been so insensitive to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta region, it is one of us in the person of Godswill Akpabio. So many have called out to him to change his behaviors towards his own Niger Delta Region and he has acquired so much wealth believing that someday he will become the president. How can such a man become a president of this country? It is not possible for him to be because our prayers are not with him. He and few of them are flexing muscles in the control of the commission. They deliberately reduced us financially; they have reduced the region to a laughing stock.
What was the essence of the president in setting up a forensic audit for the Commission? The essence of setting up the forensic audit was to find out if jobs that were approved are executed. Mid last year, the Ijaw National Congress paid a courtesy visit to the president at the Villa and one of those demands by the group through the chairman/ president of the INC, was the constitution of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission. It was one of the major requests that was made, but President Buhari said unless a forensic report is released and the forensic report had been presented to him and up till now, the content of that report has not been made public. You will begin to ask yourself what were the findings of that report? Some big shots are also capable of doing wrongs to the people of the region in making sure that the report does not see the light of the day. I want to say that the president hates the Niger Delta Region because no president had ever hated us the way he (Mr. President) hates us.
Of course, General Sani Abacha gave us a state which is called Bayelsa State and others did also. The NDDC was moving well until President Buhari came on board and those in power stifled the voices of the Niger Delta region so that they can exploit our God given wealth. They want to exploit it at the detriment of those that are producing the oil. What business has Nigeria got to do with a railway line to Niger Republic? What business that money from the Petro Dollar is stashed away and everything is now being taken to Niger Republic? Buying vehicles for Niger Republic? Of course, those who actually needed those items are not given and that is what we call misplaced priority. This is an act of wickedness, robbing Paul to pay Peter. The president should be prevailed upon to set up a statutory board even if not in tune with the board that was cleared in the Senate. Let him send a fresh list to the Senate for screening and confirmation in order for the board to be constituted so that the purpose of setting up the Commission can be achieved.
Are you satisfied with the level of development in the Niger Delta region?
Like I said earlier, all you see in the area today is as a result of poor leadership. If you remember the days of the groundnut pyramids, you remember the days of cocoa, coal, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory used the wealth from cocoa to develop the Western region; the Northerners also used the groundnut pyramids to develop the North; so if this wealth in the Niger Delta is used to develop the region, we won’t be talking about underdevelopment. Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world but is it not insanity that we cannot refine our own oil in our country? How can you export your crude oil and import refined products at a higher cost? It is foolishness giving somebody N10, you will now spend additional N20 to buy that N10. The underdevelopment you see in the region today is also caused by the elites particularly, the current government to impoverish the Niger Delta Region because if the wealth that God deposited in this region, a quarter of it is well utilized to develop this place, we won’t be talking about underdevelopment, We won’t be protesting, we won’t be carrying placards protesting on daily basis. How can a board mandated to take care of the needs of the people, because you are sharing the money with them, they released money to the board, you threatened the sole administrator to return back the same to the few cabals in the government? It is an irony! And we do hope that someday this will stop and that is our prayers would be heard.
On the alleged lopsided appointment into the board of the NNPC Limited, what is your take?
That is also a function of maladministration because you are talking about oil. What the president has succeeded in doing is likened to barbing someone’s hair on his behalf. If you want to talk about the management of the oil in the Niger Delta Region, those who are supposed to be in the helm of affairs are the people of the Niger Delta Region because I know where the shoe pinches and it is my responsibility to do the needful by bringing in the best brains to manage the funds, to be able to develop the nooks and cranny in the region. At every point in time, they want to stifle the voices of the Niger Delta Region so that in spite of what they are taking from the region to give back a little becomes a burden to them. To me, this is the height of wickedness of man against man, this is very inhuman and very satanic. What impact does a man from Katsina State have on the Niger Delta Region? Does he have a negative impact as a result of oil exploration? The answer is NO. The land they have there is fertile for cropping, the air they breathe there is not polluted but we breathe in polluted air and our ecosystem has been destroyed and the man who sits in the comfort of his Kaduna State or Niger State is the head of the various segments that constitute the new Board of the NNPC Limited?
You can see the same persons in charge of running the board, it is just a change of nomenclature, those running the affairs are same persons that grounded the organization and the NNPC is not remitting money to the federal government account. Why should such a board exist in the first place? The essence of going into business is goal oriented, profit making, so the NNPC is not making profit and so of what use is NNPC? But you are using tax payers money to pay monthly salaries, draw monthly emoluments, entitlements, allowances, furniture allowances, car allowances and so on and so forth. So, I want to let the president know that no matter the injustice done to the Niger Delta Region, one day, we must all stand before our God and give account. When the leadership role was given to you, what did you do with it? Did you use it to destroy the system or use it to better the lives of the people? That is a major concern to the people of the Niger Delta Region but even if we don’t have the guns to fight them, the Almighty God will fight them someday.
As a respected Royal Father, what do you have to tell Nigerians with regard to the 2023 general elections?
As the clock ticks towards 2023 so many forces are already at play. In the meeting I held with my palace chiefs and the one we held in Asaba, we did mention that there are set down rules, campaigns are not going on because the set down rules are there. There must be a specific time-frame within which you will have to commence your campaigns. In the campaigns too, I will advise the politicians to make their campaigns issues-based. Their campaigns must be based on issues, not attacking individuals. Nigerians are happy that we have several options to choose from now because it is not a one party system, it is a multi-party system where every Tom, Dick and Harry is entitled to his or her own opinion to choose. What I have for the politicians is that they must play by the rules and if they play the game by the rules, everything will be okay. We must learn to be a leading example in Africa and I call on all Nigerians to come out and vote in the leader of their choice.
Do you have Issue With APC Muslim-Muslim Ticket?
As a monarch, our role is an advisory one and that is exactly what I want to do here. I am not in support of any political party but because I am a Nigerian and I am also deeply concerned about the recent happenings in the body politics of Nigeria, I make bold to say that our diversity must be respected. Nigeria is a secular state and there has not been anytime that our fault lines have been so visible like we are experiencing today. In 1993, when Chief MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe campaigned on Muslim- Muslim ticket in SDP and NRC, as a student, I campaigned for Chief MKO Abiola of SDP and at that time, we were not talking about religion. Religiosity was not part of the system. Abiola being a philanthropist, a sports lover and a pillar of sports in Africa, everybody was looking at the pedigree of Chief MKO Abiola. We looked at his pedigree but today, you have a government that has so much balkanized the various tribes in the country; we have a government that has made our fault lines so widened. You have a president that is so obsessed with a particular religion that has actually caused the issue today. So, when I hear people argue that Chief MKO Abiola did that in 1993 and nothing happened and of course you cannot juxtapose 1993 with 2023 because the indices are quite different from each other because in 1993, were there major issues regarding to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and so forth?
There was nothing like that but today, the security architecture of Nigeria is being manned by one particular religion and tribe and of course, as a government, you must give that sense of belonging. If you have someone from the South East, South South as one of those in the security architecture in order to balance the security architecture based on ethnicity, everybody will be at peace in order not to rock the boat. But we have a situation whereby even though an officer is qualified, because he is not from your tribe, you will have to discard him and bring in a junior officer thereby retiring very competent military officers that should have given this insecurity a bite. Because they are not from your region, you tend to bring in their juniors to superintendent over them and then retire them; this is why we are where we are today. I pray that whoever that is coming after this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari should be somebody that will not treat one particular tribe or religion above the others and that we should be seen as Nigerians first.
As we progress, if we begin to yield to this system, the person coming after this present government in 2023 must work very hard for things to be alright again because of the level of destruction this government has created in the country. They came on the mantra of fighting corruption, in that area they have failed woefully. I just read in the papers this morning that NSITF said that N17B vouchers had been eaten by termites. This present government has made this country a huge joke, no true country will respect Nigeria. Two of my colleagues from Edo State travelled to the United States just last month and because one was putting on a normal jeans and tee-shirt and the other one was putting on a South South dressing, the one on South South dressing was intercepted because he was quickly identified as a Nigerian and he was scrutinized. That is where we have been and don’t forget that all countries have their embassies in Nigeria and they see this thing and report back to their various countries. So, it has reduced the image of Nigeria. Our diversity has been so hurt by the present administration so, whoever is coming after him should pray to God for direction so that these fault lines can be closed, so that these ethno-religious sentiments can be swept aside. As it is today, there is no way these fault lines will not be questioned’ we will continue to question them. We will continue to put them on their toes and ensure that they do the needful otherwise, Nigerians will not take it likely with them too.
If Nigerians will not take it likely with them, what is your final word for Nigerians?
That is why all Nigerians of voting age must get their PVCs so that they can vote credible candidates into power that can give life back to Nigeria, vote in a president that can take back Nigeria from the ruling class. Today the ruling class has disengaged from the grassroots because it is just a few persons coming together to share the wealth of the country; there is a disconnect between the government and the people and that is not the way it should be. The government should be afraid of its citizens not the other way round but we now have a government that the citizens are afraid of and that becomes a tyranny. We don’t run a tyrannical government, we run a government of democracy, but we now have a government that is being ruled by a plutocratic system. What we are doing today is plutocracy. It is only those with deep pockets that win election and that is something that must be condemned; we are running a democracy, a democracy is a government for the people, by the people and of the people, but we have a government that can best be described as plutocracy.
Someone once described the government as a government of greedocracy, government for the greedy, by the greedy and of the greedy and that is why Nigerians must get their PVCs and vote for a government that can protect her citizens, vote out a government that cannot respond to the yearnings and aspirations of its citizens, a government that criticized the dollar at N180 and now you have the dollar above N700. Where are we heading to? I want to say that Nigerians should be deeply involved in the 2023 elections. But like I said, it must be done in strict compliance, in conformity with the electoral law as promulgated and signed into law by the president.
Thank you very much.