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Killer herdsmen are criminals, Gumi’s comparing them with Niger Delta militants, ridiculous – Robinson, PANDEF spokesman

In this interview with the spokesman for the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Mr Ken Robinson, bares his mind on the increasing level of insecurity in the country and the way forward

What is your view on the claim in some quarters that most governors in the Niger Delta are profligate and not showing much interest in developing the oil bearing communities?

Well, it’s a Nigerian problem; it’s not about the Niger Delta region. We must also acknowledge the fact that what you use to construct a 10-kilometre solid road in the Niger Delta that will last over time can be used to construct a 100-kilometre road in some parts of Nigeria. We have very complex terrain and some people have said very seriously that it is nature that skewed the developmental difficulties in the area and put resources in that area as compensation. Unfortunately, the Nigerian state has captured the resources that nature has given the Niger Delta people and in turn returned peanuts to the people in the name of derivation from one per cent to three per cent and now, 13 per cent.

Oil bearing communities are already agitating that a large chunk of the 13 per cent oil derivation fund be given to them directly. Do you think the communities’ position is justified?

PANDEF is very sensitive about some of these issues. We are aware of the concerns and agitations. Beyond the Federal Government’s neglect and indifference to oil and gas producing communities, they think that the state governments are also not doing enough; that could be true. But when you begin to agitate that the 13 per cent derivation or some of it should go to host communities, there are other determinants and challenges that can come up and situations like that can throw up more crises in the Niger Delta region.

So, our appeal to people of the Niger Delta and those particularly advocating for this change in processes is that let’s be careful; let’s do that with some understanding of the complexities of the Niger Delta region, because the truth of the matter is that for crude to move to export terminal, they don’t fly over the air.

But going forward, the people of the Niger Delta are going to strongly insist that we will no longer be spectators in the petroleum industry business; we want to be co-owners; we are asking for equity participation. So, instead of giving us 2.5 per cent to the host communities from the Petroleum Industry Bill as it is suggested to the trust from the unprofessional cost of the operators, we are saying give us 10 per cent equity participation or shares in your operations not from your operational costs and that’s very critical; how can we change the economic situation in the Niger Delta? Today, the Niger Delta is a story of struggle for survival because of the extent of poverty and unemployment. The livelihoods of the people, which are mainly fishing and farming, are being degraded; environments have been destroyed and there is little or nothing to show for all the years that Nigeria has depended on oil and gas for national revenue.

Is your organisation comfortable with the Abuja venue of the public hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill?

We have imagined that beyond having a single meeting, it would have been proper to go to the Niger Delta region to also have some level of direct engagement with the people, because we are aware of the realities of the times and so, it can be sufficient to say that’s why they decided that it should be a public hearing in Abuja. Having said that, it is important to note that the whole concept of the PIB is an extension of the continued economic enslavement of oil and gas-bearing communities by the Nigerian state and by the IOCs.

Suspected herdsmen have been attacking innocent Nigerians, including farmers, but the northern governors and elders are insisting that no particularly ethnic group should be branded as kidnappers and killers. What is your take on this?

Yes, no particular group should be tagged as kidnappers and killers. But it is very evidential or apparent that this is the story; if we avoid saying it the way it is, they want us to call black white, or white black, or they want us to say it is farming implement instead of calling it a spade.

When you say it is evidential, what do you mean?

The stories are there. In Rivers State, someone very close to me was working on his farm in March last year and he was kidnapped and killed by herdsmen. We are all Nigerians; if you see somebody from the South; if you see a Yoruba man, you will know from his looks and language; the same for an Igbo man communicating among a group of Igbo people, you will know they are Igbo people. If you see someone from the Niger Delta and they are speaking among themselves, you’ll know they are from the Niger Delta; and if you see a Fulani and Hausa man, you will know he is a Fulani or Hausa man. We are distinct; we know one another, we are Nigerians.

If they are not Nigerians, how did they get into the country? They have taken over illegally and forcefully forests and land in various parts of southern Nigeria and are already setting up what they call colonies, because that’s what it is. You go to a forest in an area, you set up a camp; yes, it’s a camp. For God’s sake, rearing cattle is a private business. Let those who are involved go and set up ranches and stop terrorising communities and taking over peoples’ land.

Do you think Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho, should have been arrested for giving killer herdsmen an ultimatum to leave his community?

Is that a crime? The law is explicit; people are being terrorised, community women and farmers are being terrorised and when the government fails to live up to responsibility, nature throws up the likes of Sunday Igboho.

In all these, do you think the Muhammadu Buhari regime has shown enough commitment towards addressing the killings and kidnapping by herdsmen?

Have you seen any of these supposed so-called herdsmen? They are marauders. Have you seen any of them being arrested and made to bear the consequences of their actions? I am not sure. We want to be told that so-so person was arrested, prosecuted and has been sentenced somewhere and serving a jail term? I am not sure. It clearly appears that there is some kind of tolerance of these activities and some of the body language and statements made by officials of government, including the northern state governors, clearly show that there is some sympathy for these people. Perhaps because of where they come from, and we have heard people say that some of them are not even from Nigeria. So, why are we defending them?

What should the Federal Government do to end the killings and kidnapping on the highways?

Let the security agencies rise up to the task. We understand that the Nigeria Police Force is understaffed; less than 500,000 police officers for a country of about 200 million people! The police are also overstressed and overwhelmed. The other security agencies are also facing the same problems of ill-equipment, inadequate motivation, poor payment and all that. So, the challenges are many and that’s why PANDEF and several other patriotic Nigerians have called for a change in the leadership of the military high command in the country, and belatedly, the President has done that. We are hoping that the new persons will come in with fresh ideas and a new momentum and impetus to rejig the entire security architecture of the country, which needs to be overhauled.

It is not just about changing personnel at the top, but the issues of attitude and motivation. We have seen where soldiers are resigning en masse from the Nigerian Army and it may not be far from issues of lack of motivation, and of course, poor treatment. So, the Federal Government also needs to have the political will and determination to stop this men, who are parading as herdsmen, but they are marauders and terrorists disguised as herdsmen and the government needs to sit up and discard this ethnic sentiment and act as a Federal Government of Nigeria and protect the interest of Nigerians, no matter where they come from or where they live.

Sheik Gumi is saying that the northern bandits should be granted amnesty the way the Niger Delta agitators were given amnesty and funds. How will you react to this?

It is ridiculous to compare what killer herdsmen and bandits are doing to what Niger Delta militants did. The Niger Delta militants were not destroying and killing people. They were not plundering cities and livelihoods. They were only protesting against the neglect of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the IOCs. They were not going about killing innocent people. What is happening in the North-West is purely criminal and those people should be treated as criminals. We totally condemn that comparison by Sheik Gumi; it is ridiculous and should be ignored.

It shows that they know these bandits; banditry has become an enterprise. Unfortunately, even Boko Haram is an enterprise. Some people are feeding fat from it; millions are being made; funds are being misappropriated and misdirected, and that is why some of these crimes have continued. That Gumi could go to their so-called forest and meet with them, they are collaborators and they know what they are doing. I also think that it is high time that people like Gumi should be arrested.

The herdsmen are attacking farmers; what effect will it have on food production and food security for the country?

These are some of the ramifications of what is going on and that’s why the government needs to sit up and be realistic and face facts as they are and become less sentimentally attached to this group of people. If the farmers don’t go to farm, there will be food crisis and when there is food crisis there can be a lot of other ugly things that can follow and so for the best interest of Nigeria, the government at all levels must ensure that they make the safety of lives and livelihood a priority.

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