‘We, the Ijaw, want a separate state’

‘We, the Ijaw, want a separate state’


President of the Ijaw National Congress, Chief Harry Charles, in his quintessential self, has lent his voice to the plethora of views on the way forward for Nigeria. In this interview with ADELEKE ADESANYA, he urges the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to demonstrate boldness in its response to the calls that the country is overdue for restructuring. Specifically, he wants devolution of power, in which ethic nationalities would be classified as states. His Ijaw clan, for instance, should be brought together as one state, he says. Excerpts:

As Nigerians celebrate the 57th independence anniversary, what do you think are the major issues President Muhammadu Buhari should address?
Well, to be very candid, the issue in the country now is not even about the Ijaw nation alone. The country, as can be seen, is in a very frightening situation of uncertainty, and we expect the President to address this as we mark the Independence Day. Nigeria at 57 ought to have by-passed most of the challenges we are still battling with. So, in this period of independence, President Buhari should look into how to return normalcy to Nigeria.

How do you expect him to bring about the normalcy?
What we expect from the President is to douse the tension in the country. We all know that the country does not have total peace, so the President should douse the tension in the land by reconciling rather than combating, by being understanding rather than being pragmatic, by being a straight man rather than being a politician and by living a very clear departure from his known antecedents in terms of hardline posture over issues. Now, the basic issues are very simple and straightforward.
Let him address issues in the country in a manner that will heal wounds, not that he will aggravate issues. Let him act in a way to bring unity, not division. He should look at the issues of hunger in the land, which is the economy. He should also look at the issue of restructuring, which is the topic at the moment in the country, and he should address the nation on his ability and capability to continue in office.

So what is your take on the health status of the President, especially in the face of the clamour by some people that he should run for office again in 2019?
President Buhari should address the nation on the state of his health. He should not allow the people to read meanings into issues because he has not made his position known. He should stand firm and be the Buhari Nigerians voted for. A man of integrity, yes, but he should in this instance, show it that he remains a man of integrity for which he is known. He should come out and tell Nigerians the truth about the nation and about himself, especially on his fitness to continue in office.

What is the position of the Ijaw nation on the calls for the restructuring of Nigeria?
For us, the Ijaw nation, we believe that Nigeria needs to be restructured, but we do not believe that it should be done with crisis. We see that dialogue and negotiation will see to restructuring of Nigeria, where all components of Nigeria are taken along without the necessity of threats and attitudes that may be seen to be selfish and only regional. We believe that Nigeria is one entity; we believe it should be restructured and respect should be given to who is due. But no entity should lord it over the other.

But one of your leaders recently issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government on the restructuring…
If we as Ijaw nation start issuing ultimatum, it would amount to us doing clearly what others are doing, things that we were opposed to. For me and the others, we believe dialogue, mutual agreement, negotiation and common humanity, should be allowed to play in Nigeria’s quest for unity.

Recently, some Niger Delta leaders threatened to withdraw from peace talks if the Federal Government failed to meet the region’s 16-point demand. What do you see to this?
The 16-point issue is a clearly bound one. The INC and many well recognised Niger Delta groups have disassociated ourselves from the agenda. It doesn’t reflect the basic demands that have been there over the years, from the time of Ken Saro Wiwa. Our histories are not about oil blocks, our issues are simple. They are three basic points; restructuring, devolution of Nigeria, physical federalism and self-determination. Those are the issues. As far as I am concerned, and to a large extent of the position of INC, we don’t believe that we should be vulcanised into six states when our lands and people are homogeneous: same language, same heritage. I don’t see a situation why people in Arogbo should be confined to a life of treachery when they can be part of a larger Ijaw nation. Just like I don’t see different dialects classified into Benue, Niger, etc. They should form one unity. That is the restructuring we are talking about, not a military balkanisation where people, who are homogenous and conspicuous, should be separated within the Nigerian entity. We are not talking about seccession, we are talking about confederation.

Do you believe that the Ijaw nation and the Niger Delta have been marginalised by the government?
Of course, we have been marginalised for a long time. From the beginning, we lost something we never sold. The Niger Delta and Ijaw people, I can say categorically, were never defeated, neither did we trade our sovereignty. But the British government, through a gerrymandering process, amalgamated us into Nigeria, without our consent, without even discussing with us. From that perception, no matter what is done, we are marginalised because our voice is not heard.

Then why did you say the INC is not in support of the statement made my Chief Edwin Clark in this respect?
I didn’t say we are not in support. I said we are not a party to it. In other words, we were not part of it. Whether right or wrong, The Point is that, we are not a party to it. Now, you may want to ask me how we intend to solve these things. I have always said and I will continue to say it, that the way forward for Nigeria is the way backward. We must go back to the beginning and retrace the faulty, fraudulent foundation on which Nigeria was built. When we do that, we can now start building or creating the Nation. I believe in living together peaceably, but with due respect, and a negotiated cohabitation, where everybody’s interest is taken care of. I believe in confederation, I believe Nigeria cannot be a federation; it must evolve into a confederation of ethnic nationalities, coming together just like in the United States. Those who want Sharia should be free to do. If you don’t want Sharia, don’t go there, but don’t impose Sharia on the man who wants to practise native religious practices or the man who wants to be a Christian. Let revenue be from the bottom to the top, not from the top to the bottom. A country shouldn’t be seen sharing revenue, it is a negative-apparition economy.

In the constitution amendment process of the National Assembly before it went on recess, it was observed that the lawmakers were not in support of devolution of power to states, and this has angered some stakeholders in the country. How would you view this?
It is very unfortunate that the National Assembly could not rise above parochial sentiment to see that Nigeria needs devolution of power. I have always believed that Nigeria, as an entity, must evolve into a confederation of sort, such that can give each people the ability to progress and develop in their space and image. It is a situation where you see a confederation of ethnic nations or ethnic separatists that can bring about unity in diversity. But look at what we have today; the lawmakers, out of their selfish reasons, are holding millions of Nigerians hostage.

What is your position on cries that allocation of major oil blocks favours a part of the country to the detriment of others?
I don’t want to answer such issues. That is something that has happened. It didn’t happen today. It has been happening for years. We believe that all oil blocks should be revoked and returned to the federal coffers. I do not believe that more blocks should be issued to the Niger Delta people; nobody should have our common patrimony for his personal use. All oil blocks should be used for Nigerians in general, not for persons.