SNIPPETS OF THE INTERVIEW
Q: May we know you sir?
A: My name is Hon. Morris Ogheneochuko Idiovwa, a native of Orogun, in Ughelli North LGA, Delta state. I am the chairman, Community Development Board (CDB) in Delta State. I am also the coordinator, host communities, Delta Central.
Q: Geographically, what are your obligations as the chairman?
A: My office is saddled with the responsibility of catering for over 111 communities in Delta State that makes up the OML30 asset which is run by NPDC and Shoreline. The asset also cuts across the four ethnic nationalities of Urhobo, Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri. Our obligation is to ensure that we keep relative peace in these communities, to guarantee that there is massive production for NPDC management, and also to develop these communities with the resources made available for us through NPDC and its JV partners in conjunction with Delta State government.
Q: As the new chairman, how have you been able to realize the GMoU which encourages a bottom-top approach in projects selection for community development?
A: Okay, when the board was constituted sometime around February 2015, we experienced few challenges that foot dragged us for over a year, and after sometime the board realized that there was need for changes, so the board reconstituted the management and exco of the board in which I emerged the chairman alongside with other exco members, and we came on board on May 17th 2016. From May 17th 2016 till date, we have been able to transform the entire system, transformed the board and set aside what has foot dragged us for over a year and engaged full procedures and protocols. We have been able to scope communities, award projects for over 70 communities in the first batch, other communities have been fixed in for the next batch, which we are also going to award projects to any moment from now. Activities have started taking place in communities; we have granted waivers to communities that have limited funds from certain needs in terms of supply of chairs, canopies, renovation of health centres. Communities with 2 million naira and below were granted these waivers, and communities with major amount of money over 50 to 70 million naira were awarded projects. This is what we have been able to do, we have transformed the board and as we speak, projects are flying all across the communities that make up OML30 asset.
Q: Can you specify the projects awarded to the 70 communities?
A: The projects are so much, like I said, over 70 communities and each of these communities have various demands. What we do is ask each community to prepare its CDP (Community Development Plan), and that plan stretches for four years. So, it all boils down to the dire need of individual community. Some communities need lock up stores for market, some request malls, some are building shopping plaza, pavilion playground, town halls, water project, electrification project; quite a lot. The GMoU is structured in such a way that you are requested to submit the dire need of the community, and if it is what the community really needs and it passes the requirement test of the board, we implement immediately.
Q: So far, how has your efforts affected NPDC?
A: NPDC and its JV partners are quite excited because, like I said earlier, we have foot dragged for over a year and this has caused a lot of tension, shut down, agitation from communities for over a year, and when we came on board in a space of about two months as we speak, we have been able to transform the whole system and projects are flying. Kudos has been going to NPDC and coming to the board, the JV partners are excited. The excitement is in the air and everywhere is bubbling in our communities because they see that projects are flying. So, NPDC have been very cooperative in terms of ensuring that these projects fly and go down to the communities.
Q: Congrats on such a speedy success, we hear and see accolades about you on social media. What was your background before you became chairman of CDB?
A: I worked in the public affairs department of Chevron for two years. I have quite a lot of businesses that I run and manage on my own for the past 12 years, and I have been doing well. So, I brought the wealth of experience into the board to fast track a lot of processes and set aside some difficulties that may have been dragging us back. A bit of the experience I have gotten from the field of management coupled with the support from my executive members of the board, we were just waiting for a proper way to pilot our joint ideas as board members. It was a collective effort to get here.
Q: Since you assumed office, has there been any disruption of NPDC operations?
A: In OML30 where I am chairman, since I assumed office we have not experienced anything like vandalism, restiveness,or sabotage. We have experienced relative peace though we may have had one or two issues relating to agitation from communities but they went through the due process where they shut down which is also one phase we are trying to rectify to ensure that we do not get frequent shut down of facilities due to communities agitation. I think we have done our best to ensure that we have relative peace and flow of crude across OML30 asset.
Q: Considering your efforts thus far, are you disturbed by the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers?
A: I and my board members are very disturbed. Though the Avengers have a reason for their actions, but I think it is baseless because we are all Niger Deltans but what we are seeing is that the Niger Delta is being side lined by a particular ethnic group which is unfair to other ethnic groups in the region. The Avengers are beginning to create a monster across other ethnic nationalities. Niger Delta is not synonymous with the Ijaws, Niger Delta is synonymous with several ethnic nationalities; we have the Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ndokwa. We have quite a lot of ethnic groups, we have the Ogoni, Ikwerre, Kalabari, the people of Akwa Ibom and Cross River. They are all Niger Deltans and these ethnic groups have quite a lot of valuables in terms of assets to the Federal Government. So, if we want to say Niger Delta we must come together and agree on a particular decision at a necessary set date. I am saying this because it happened recently around 2007 spanning 2009 when the militancy started. We knew what we did, what happened and how other ethnic nationalities were brought together to fight a common cause and when that fight took place, it was mainly other ethnic nationalities that fought and not only Ijaws but when the benefits started coming, other ethnic nationalities were side-lined and it was just an Ijaw affair and we realised that for over six years of former President Jonathan, it was mainly an Ijaw empowerment programme that ran through NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry, Amnesty Programme. It was just the Ijaws and now we have a state where some people have sprung up from nowhere and say they are Avengers of the Niger Delta. It is a repetition of what has happened before. So, we are quite disturbed and have sat and discussed about it and we are saying that if the Federal Government makes the mistake of negotiating with one ethnic nationality in the name of Niger Delta, other ethnic nationalities will resist heavily. We even have letters and reports of communities that are complaining of neglect, complaining of spillage and as I speak to you, there is a massive spillage in Kokori, if you go there, to the flare site, you will see everywhere, the river, the farms, they are all messed up from the flare. It cuts across, if you go to UQCC, the quality control centre, you will see what is happening there. Now, it is happening across the Niger Delta, it is not synonymous to the Ijaws. It is not synonymous to the riverine areas, this is why we are calm because we are the leaders of the upland but let me make it clear, nobody has the monopoly of violence, so we are keeping calm because we are law abiding citizens and we expect that the FG will do the needful. If a sect will rise up from nowhere and say they are fighting the Niger Delta cause irrespective of what happens to other ethnic groups of the Niger Delta, knowing fully well that what they are after is for their own personal interest and being sponsored by some selfish persons, the people from other ethnic nationalities will resist. Several negotiations and interactions have been going on, we are watching and monitoring the situation as it unfolds. We were invited some time ago on a Niger Delta security meeting in Abuja which I was one of the representatives from Delta State and I said it on NTA, that should they negotiate with a group irrespective of the fact that we have a lot of ethnic groups that makes up Delta State and the Niger Delta region, other ethnic nationalities will resist heavily. I think the FG should tread carefully because what is unfolding may turn out to be a monster if not properly handled and my duty as a chairman of an asset is to ensure that my asset is very peaceful and I can only get that done with cooperation from the Minister of Petroleum, the FG and the JV partners of my asset.
Q: So you have been able to identify the Avengers as purely Ijaw people?
A: Obviously, what is happening with the Niger Delta Avengers is synonymous with one personality in the ethnic nationality, the Ijaws. When it started we all knew where it started from, we all knew what prompted it. We had relative peace when Jonathan lost the election, we didn’t have violence prior to and after the election. It was due to one or two request from one angle, threat, letters were flying, we were seeing the handwriting on the wall and suddenly, there was a group that came from nowhere and they started blowing up FG facilities, it is quite obvious and as you can see, we have been to several meetings where you hear the IYC former president, Dr Chris Ekiyor and the present president speak and say you have taken maritime from Ijaws, you have taken this and that from the Ijaws. It is always the Ijaws, they have never said anything about other ethnic nationalities, all their claims and demands have always been with the clique, the Ijaws. So, it is quite obvious that this is a one man show and if it is a one man show, you are bruising the ego of other ethnic nationalities and when you bruise the ego of a man he comes out in full force. We are calling on the government to tread carefully to ensure that whatever they do cuts across because the degradation we talk about has been felt by every ethnic nationality that are oil bearing and producing communities, both upland and off shore. We will do our best to ensure that we keep relative peace in our respective assets but we can only do that to a particular level. If you push people too much, there is a limit to which we can discuss or dialogue for government or multinational corporations.
The Ijaws say they have been taking the leadership role because the Urhobos and other ethnic groups are docile in the pursuit of the Niger Delta cause, do you agree?
Take the Ijaws along you mean?
I think I will not subscribe to that. I think that is not true. You see, we know ourselves, we have been connecting, we have been doing things together with the Itsekiris and Ijaws, so we have been together even right from the first agitation from 2005, we knew what we were doing together. We thought we were one, we believed we were one, we fought together. We had boys who we told to calm down even when the amnesty programme was to come. We were part of the people who spoke to our boys to embrace the peace and dialogue but we realised that when the amnesty came on board and other ministries were created, our Ijaw brothers hijacked the process immediately and we left them because we felt that we were one from a common point of origin. I remember I had a friend, an Urhobo, when we had this amnesty programme he came to us and told us that he went to the former amnesty chairman, Kingsley Kuku, and requested for a bit of empowerment because he was part of the struggle and Kingsley Kuku asked him, river pass your land? You know when you hear things like that it grows anger. So, if the Ijaws tell you that they are trying to carry people along, no. They are a very selfish ethnic nationality. We are all one, if we are Niger Deltans, we must sit and plan. Like I told you, I cover over 111 host producing communities, the largest manifold in West Africa is in Eriemu field, it is under me. The UQCC, quality control centre, where you get dual pumping system, one running to Forcados and one running to the refinery for local production of crude is under me in Eruemukowharien, the WRPC in Ekpan community is under my asset. The Utorogu gas plant is under Delta Central. You see, these are very important assets that we ensure are highly protected. So, if the Ijaws are saying they are doing all they can to carry along other ethnic nationalities I will disagree because if an Ijaw man is there and goes there and sees that you are not there as an Ijaw man he disregards you but if he sees you as an Ijaw man it is easy to get away with whatever. Like what is happening now, there was never a time we sat down in the Niger Delta to discuss what is happening now. If this is a Niger Delta cause I do not think an Ijaw man has the right to negotiate for me in Urhobo neither do I have the right to negotiate for an Isoko man nor an Isoko man has the right to negotiate for an Itsekiri man. If you call it a Niger Delta affair when you articulate or itemise your demands you come up with them and call me because what is affecting you there is also affecting me here. You call me, I call my Isoko, Itsekiri brothers, we sit down and agree. It will now be a collective fight, it shouldn’t be a sectional fight. What you see is a sectional fight, an Ijaw affair and if it goes like this, the FG will be promoting violence rather than peace because when you do this again you have created a monster. What is happening is a loaded gunpowder, if you miscalculate, all other ethnic nationalities are watching and observing for the next step the government will take.
Q: It is often said that the Ijaw take advantage of the offshore environment to enjoy defence of water, do you think that you on the onshore, upland will be able to do anything about the situation when you mentioned resisting government action heavily?
A: That is a very tactical question. Initially I told you that nobody has the monopoly of violence and fear is a thing that you create with your mind, it doesn’t exist. Whether you call it offshore or onshore, it is all in the mind, it is all choices and we live with the choices we make. Once a man makes up his mind nothing can stop him. So, be it onshore or offshore, we are the leaders of these assets, I have said to you, and in as much as we are being careful we know what to do. I have always said to people, these facilities they live with us, we were born into them, we grew from them; so that is why we kept saying that there is nobody that can secure these facilities other than us. So, offshore and onshore, whether they are being blessed with water or the offshore advantage they have, I would say as a chairman of a board that I am being blessed with the land because whatever tactics I will use, I will use from the land and whatever tactics they will use, they will use from the river, so nobody has the monopoly of violence. But that is why we are saying we do not want such, we want to ensure that there is relative peace, we are doing our best to ensure that we keep this peace but we cannot do that when government starts promoting violence, when you negotiate with a sect on what affects the entire Niger Delta people, you discuss with one group of people, you are promoting violence rather than encouraging dialogue. You can only get result when you bring all stake holders and discuss with them. That a man picks up arms does not mean his neighbour does not know how to get arms, so let us not promote violence, let us promote dialogue and peace.
Q: This struggle on fiscal federalism what is your take on it, are you satisfied with the way the structure of the country is?
A: Obviously the structure right now is not favorable enough but I have always said I am not a partisan politician. My idea of leadership has always been on what is right, the truth, what makes sense and how we can stand by it. We know that over the past six years we had the full office of the presidency and all major boards of trustees and boards. If we have a new government in place you give the government a chance. If you give me a position in the federal government, I will try to identify the people that I can work with and create harmony among the federating states. Now this government has just come on board, one year plus, though they have not been impressive, if we want to bring issues of fiscal federalism and all that, with the empowerment of different regions so far, we have been highly marginalized but then we had it for six years; I think it will be unfair of us to start complaining for just one year. What I expect is to see how this has affected us and let all of us from this region go back and restructure, find out where we have failed, find a way to support the administration because we own majority of the resources that powers the economy. That brings me back to these Avengers, if we are being marginalized in a way, I expected the Niger Delta as a whole to come together and plan knowing fully well that this is an issue that affects the region as a whole. So what I expect is for us to fall back, do proper planning, come out with a road map for the next four or eight years. When you plan alone you slight the others and when we try to kick against it then you say an Urhobo man is fighting an Ijaw man whereas you created the environment. I think fiscal federalism is a thing that requires us to come back and restructure and let the government of the day do what they have to do. Everybody has opportunity, we had our time, if they are on board now let them do what they want to do and while they do, we plan to change the situation rather than causing destruction of federal assets and all that.
Q: Do you therefore see the actions of the Avengers as uncalled for?
A: The Avengers, what they are doing is not in the interest of the Niger Delta people at all. And we have been reading lately, though not confirmed, but if confirmed, probably all what I have been saying you may see it any moment from now. We have been reading on papers that we have governors who are negotiating on behalf of the Niger Delta people, and the demands put in place are release of ipob leader, the former NSA, Dasuki. How has Dasuki affected Niger Delta? How has ipob leader affected the degradation of our land for decades and the level of poverty being experienced in the region? How have these people affected us? Now you can see, Dasuki was the NSA to President Jonathan who is an Ijaw man, the NSA was in charge of security and we knew how he empowered the Ijaws. So you can see what I tell you that it is an Ijaw affair. This tells you that the Avengers do not have the interest of the Niger Delta people at heart. If the stand you are putting on ground to negotiate for the Niger Delta people is for corruption to fight back, it doesn’t make sense. This is the reason why I said if the FG doesn’t tread carefully, they may be playing with a loaded gunpowder which will blow up because in doing this you now get this set of people negotiate with them, get their pocket full and create something that they manage. Once we see that, every ethnic nationality will break away from each other and we will manage our resources on our own, and if the FG fails to do that, then there will be a breach of peace that will cut across the Niger Delta region.
Q: Do you see the Avengers as invincible or their threats to blow up convoys of governors and launch missiles to Aso rock as actionable?
A: Avengers, I will say in their own capacity, they believe in themselves and know what they are saying and can do. But one thing the FG must not forget is that Avengers live among us, they are not ghosts, they are not aliens, and they are within us. So, if they tell you they will do whatever they need to do, I have always believed, never doubt the capacity of any man, but I think Avengers are representing their personal interest and if they continue to represent their personal interest with the request they are putting in place, we may have no option than to go after them because, like I said, they are not aliens, they are human beings and if the government do the needful, if they do what is right, we look out for them wherever they are and everybody will come out in his territory to defend his territory, and we will see at the end of the day, who comes out superior.
Q: Kindly give an advice to the Avengers
A: My advice to the Avengers is for them to come out clear; it is only a coward that fights and makes things look stupid. I will prefer if they have started on the interest of the Niger Delta people, it should be so. If the Avengers are being promoted or sponsored by some selfish persons who think the best way to address issues affecting them is by bringing little boys together and giving them peanuts to cause environmental degradation and breach of peace across the country, I think they should desist from that. But if it is a thing that they want to do, we know across the Niger Delta that over decades we have suffered too much, we see it every day; if it is a collective thing that the Avengers are doing I will say yes, we reason together. But in every war there must be a dialogue. I think if they are passing their message rightly, they have passed the message enough and if they are sincere in their cause with the message they have passed, it is time now to come back home and let us give government a chance to see if for truth, they are ready to address the issues of the “Niger Delta”, not the issues of the Ijaws. But if the government addresses the issues of the Ijaws,n we may then pull out of the Niger Delta with whatever assets that is in our region to say that these assets are not important to the government, let us put them out of our land so that we can farm.
Thank you very much.