FIERY human rights, environmental rights and Niger Delta activist, Ms Ann-Kio Briggs, 66, is pained by the state of affairs in Nigeria and wants urgent action to avert what she described as a dangerous ride on the path to disintegration.
Briggs Ms Briggs, who is the founder and executive director of non-governmental organization Agape Birthrights, as spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, IRA, the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy, UNDEDSS, and a member of the 2014 National Conference.
In a no-holds-barred interview, the English-born Nigerian activist spoke among others on the flickering flames of insecurity, the menace of armed herdsmen and worsening threat to national unity, the suspended Ruga settlement for herdsmen, rising poverty in the country and how to save Nigeria. How do you see the state of the nation? I, as a person, and a voice of many groups across the Niger Delta, and interacting with many groups in the Middle Belt, Yoruba land and Igboland, I am not surprised at where we are as a nation today.
I don’t think that anybody who has been involved in the struggle for equity and justice in this country will be surprised at where we are as a country today. What is surprising is the failure of the different ethnic nationalities, the traditional rulers, the political leadership, and the electorate to come to terms with the fact that we cannot continue with this self-deceit that there will come a time when the Federal Government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari with the Miyetti Allah having a say in the policy of the government will bring change.
The Miyetti Allah is supposed to be a business organization of cattle rearers but it has become very clear to a lot of people that it is part of a sinister plan by the Cabal. Some of them have transformed to herdsmen, Boko Haram, bandits and militias. What is shocking is that we don’t seem to have a plan. In the 2014 National Conference, I understood the plight of the Middle Belt people and how they have endured what some of us thought were historical facts on account of the influence of Othman Dan Fodio in Northern Nigeria, sacking of Hausa kingdoms, how Nigeria was amalgamated and the role played by the then government.
It is now very clear that a deal was cut between the then colonial government and the Fulani ethnic nationality across Africa. The Fulani of Nigeria is nomadic pastoral people, who move from place to place. They have been able to move from one country to the other bearing in mind where they originated from. They don’t care that there are laws and boundaries across African nations. I don’t believe that they have passports, you can’t identify the Nigerian Fulani today.
The Fulani, under the guise of nomadic cattle rearing, have been establishing Ruga or Fulani colonies across countries in Africa. Recently, the Federal Government attempted to blatantly and brazenly support the idea and plan to forcefully go against the rule of law and Constitution of Nigeria and take land across Nigeria for Ruga for Fulani herdsmen. These are people that have 80 per cent of Nigeria’s landmass. This is not enough for them, they want to add the remaining 20 per cent that the Yoruba, Igbo and Niger Delta ethnic nationalities share.
This issue was extensively discussed at the 2014 National Conference. At that time General Muhammadu Buhari, who Nigerians rejected as president in 2003, 2007 and 2011 was running for the presidency. Nigerians were told that Dr Goodluck Jonathan was corrupt, and his government was corrupt but today it has become clear that these things were lies supported by the then USA government of Barack Obama. Today, it is very clear that Nigerians were deceived to remove the Jonathan government for the All Progressives Congress, APC, and President Buhari.
We have a senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, a Christian, and a pastor as Vice President. Many Christians voted for President Buhari because Professor Yemi Osinbajo was the vice-presidential candidate. Professor Osinbajo was the attorney general of Lagos State and was related to the family of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo by marriage. It is horrifying that under Osinbajo as vice president the attacks on Christians have heightened, Christians are being executed and up till now he has not taken a firm position as a government official or seen anything wrong.
If an advocate of civil rights takes a position it is not the same as a politician taking a moral position that is justifiable. Why Osinbajo should resign Under Osinbajo, in a government he serves as vice president, there is no rule of law. He should resign for the mere fact that he is a Christian. He should resign if not for any other thing to be seen to have dissociated himself from the negative attitude towards southerners and Christians.
For me, looking at Nigeria today, Nigeria has deteriorated to the extent that even restructuring, which some of us believe will play a major role in keeping Nigeria together, will not be done under this government. I don’t think Nigeria will be restructured. Time for referendum Nigeria has gone so far down the path of disintegration that we really need to be looking towards a referendum of the ethnic nationalities across Nigeria.
The question for the Yoruba, Igbo, Middle-Belt, ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta and even the Fulani themselves, etc is simple: Do you want to continue to stay in this country called Nigeria? The answer is yes or no. If the answer is yes, then what are the plans? The people should be able to come up with their plans under which they wish to stay in Nigeria or exit Nigeria. We just cannot go on like this.
I don’t believe we can go to December 2019 as if everything is all right in Nigeria. Look at what happened in Abuja, last week with the Shiites protests at the National Assembly. All they are asking is for a court order to be obeyed. They are not asking that their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-zakzaky, should be released unconditionally. The Shiite is just one Islamic group. I don’t think its issue in multiple religious countries should occupy the time of the president of Nigeria.
In my opinion, Nigeria is going down the path where quite honestly, we are in a speed train that has no break and at some point, it will crash. On Aremo Segun Osoba’s comment that President Buhari has endorsed the restructuring report submitted by the APC committee led by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State Chief Osoba is the not the spokesman of President Buhari or the APC. For Osoba to tell Nigerians to be patient that President Buhari will restructure Nigeria following his private meeting with the president does not hold water. It is a heavy statement.
The president should call the attention of Nigerians and tell us he will restructure Nigeria and how he will go about it. What is the timeline? When is he going to start? Restructuring of Nigeria is not the president’s personal decision. You have to discuss with those who are demanding for restructuring. During the 2014 National Conference, he said he did not believe in it and if anything could be done to scuttle it they would do it. One of the recommendations of the National Conference was restructuring of Nigeria. You cannot say two different things on the same issue.
For Osoba to say that Buhari will restructure, civil rights activists like us don’t believe him and will not act according to what Osoba said. Restructuring means many things to many people. What it means to me as a Niger Deltan may be different from what it means to a Middle-Beltan. To me, restructuring is my land, coastal land, 200 nautical miles, my resources, seaport, railway line, development of my region, security, how I will use my resources to develop my region, and how I will stop people from taking 100 per cent of my resources and giving me 13 per cent.
You don’t think the recommendations of the Governor El-Rufai committee will go a long way? El-Rufai, who is opposed to restructuring, was the chairman of the committee recommending something he is opposed to. The report is worthless. He does not believe in restructuring, the APC does not also believe in what it has the committee to look into. It was a waste of time and money. However, no matter what El-Rufai and his committee have said, it cannot be the restructuring we are asking for.
When you restructure Nigeria, the first thing that will be affected is the 1999 Constitution. There are things that must be abrogated and changed for the restructuring process to begin. For us in the Niger Delta, the Constitution has taken away our right to our resources. We are not able to use our resources to develop ourselves and our future. The argument as to whether we will waste it is nobody’s business after all they have been mining gold in Zamfara State for decades, which is illegal.
When you restructure, anybody can mine gold in Zamfara When you say restructuring, that is the first thing for me as a Niger Delta person. My oil and my gas will remain in my land and I will begin to find a solution to the pollution in my area. I will secure my state within Nigeria. I can control my resources, decide how many schools to be built, housing, etc. If we decide to throw our resources into the Atlantic Ocean, it is nobody’s business.
On Vice President Osinbajo’s comment in the US that the ongoing insecurity in the country particularly kidnapping and banditry were being exaggerated by Nigerians. I am highly offended as a Christian to hear somebody who used to be a pastor, an advocate of Jesus Christ to see what is going on in Nigeria and say they are exaggerated. He officially said that the killings, kidnapping and raping of Nigerians, and specific attacks on Christians where communities are sacked by herdsmen, Boko Haram and non-Nigerians because the Federal Government, President and Chief of Army Staff have accepted they are not Nigerians; they come to kill Christians and take over their lands and the indigenous people are refugees and IDPs in their own lands.
For the Vice President, who is supposed to represent the interest of Christians in the government to say these things are exaggerated is most heartbreaking. What he is inferring is that Christians are lying that they are being killed. A girl of 13 was kidnapped in Bayelsa and taken to Kano, raped impregnated and later brought back. The man who committed the crime is free. The daughter of Afenifere leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, was killed by herdsmen on the Benin Ore Road at the weekend.
A Yoruba woman, her husband and 10-year were kidnapped, debased and raped in the South-West. What I expect is for the Vice President to reach out to specific individuals and find out if there are true or not. You can’t without telling us if you had done that or not go to America to disgrace and humiliate Nigerians by saying that these things Americans are hearing are exaggerated. So, even if the Americans wanted to be sympathetic, here is the Number Two man telling them not to bother.
I am horrified to hear the Vice President say that and have a diplomat of another country refer to him as a liar. For him to look at his people, the Yoruba, and say that the killings and security issues were exaggerated is horrifying. The evil that has been perpetrated in this country against the innocent people, children, old men and women that have suffered in the last four years, the people may not be able to change their circumstances in the immediate but the people involved in this should know whether they believe it or not, there is a God that oversees the affairs of the world, and men and women. In His time, He will judge and He will judge fairly.
And if Nigeria is not meant to be together any amount of killing and terrorising people will hold Nigeria together. The way this government is going, something will give and it will give very soon. With the war against corruption, good governance and direct allocation to the local councils don’t you think the government has commenced moves to save the situation? Let’s start with the local government.
The mere fact that you have an allocation to local governments where a state like Kano has 44 and Bayelsa has eight, what is being shared to Kano 44 times is coming from Bayelsa and nothing is going to Bayelsa from Kano, and Bayelsa is getting eight of what it is producing, is that not corruption? What exactly is corruption? When in the appointment of service chiefs and the structure that governs Nigeria is in the hand of one ethnic group and religion, is that not corruption? When you are insisting that a business organisation, Miyetti Allah that is made of cattle rearers should have Ruga settlements all over the country, is that not corruption? And you have some educated people supporting it.
How can educated people like Professor Ango Abdullahi argue that if Igbo can have a shop in Kano he does not see why Fulani herdsmen should not have Ruga. How can someone who claims to be a professor argue like that? What will they be teaching people in their 20s? That an Igbo man who is renting a shop and paying tax, bought a land or leased a land and built on it that if that man can do it why can’t a French Fulani man, who is not even a Nigerian, stroll into Delta State and get thousands of hectares of land and then have the government build infrastructure for him? Is that not a local government?
What they are planning to do is to create local governments all over the country for the Fulani and we will wake up one morning and find that Fulani is the majority in Nigeria, so that tomorrow you will have a Fulani local government chairman in Rivers State. When statements like that are made it is amazing. What type of corruption is being fought? And you are still paying fuel subsidy and paying more than Dr Jonathan paid and one of the reasons they removed Jonathan was payment of fuel subsidy. Was it not this president that said who is subsidizing who?
That there was no fuel subsidy going on, that if they said there was fuel subsidy it was corruption? Now he is still saying fuel subsidy. How do you see the rate of poverty in the country with a report saying 130 million Nigerians are living below the poverty line? Do we need outsiders to tell us that the N30,000 minimum wage at the rate of N360 to one dollar is not up to a $100, which is not even up to a living wage? Of course, there is poverty.
The people that are counting the real indices of poverty in the world and monitoring these things are telling us that Nigeria is the world’s poverty capital. We are arguing that Nigeria is not a poor country, but the reality is that a handful of people who call themselves politicians and the cabal have constituted themselves into deciding who is going to be poor and who is going to be rich. if you compare the level of poverty today and what it was in Jonathan’s time there any comparison.
At the time of Jonathan, the dollar was less than 200 naira to a dollar but since Buhari came it has risen to N360 for the past four years and it has not come down. Most Nigerians are living below the poverty line, it just that Nigerians are resilient people and very entrepreneurial and so are enhancing themselves. How can you look at the Nigerian police and say truly that Nigeria police are corrupt? Look at the system that has produced the Nigeria police.
You say someone is pensionable and you don’t pay the person his pension. Nigeria is the only place where the police and military buy their uniform. How can you pay a policeman between N20,000 to N30,000 and expect him to pay rent, transport, and feed? You expect him to stand in the rain you don’t buy him an umbrella or raincoat and expect him to stand there with a rusted Ak-47. You expect him to stop armed robbers and killers with the Ak-47 that will jam? He won’t stop them.
Why are you surprised when you have not paid him for two-three months, he is taking his frustrations out on the people because those are the people he is seeing? Unfortunately, that is where we find ourselves. You have the army that you send to the war front to confront people like Boko Haram that have been identified as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world, they are not well catered for when they get wounded or dying.
Their families don’t know, no information and then you say Nigeria army is not doing what it should be doing. You, are you doing what you should be doing? So, there is a lot that is wrong with Nigeria and Nigerians have to accept this reality and find the solution. So basically what is happening in Nigeria is wrong but also the victims themselves are partly to be blamed because you cannot continue to roll every time and play the victim; do something it doesn’t have to be violent.
I tell my people in Niger Delta, you don’t have to blow up pipelines to make your point. We can all sit down in our community and don’t allow these oil companies to touch them. We must find a solution to Nigeria’s problems, and the problems are created by greed and wickedness.