Nigeria: Biafra war echoes in claims for resource control, independence

News and Press Release
Originally published
Théophane Patinvoh

The Biafra War seems to be part of Nigeria's distant past, but the fear of violence and the idea of partition are still present among citizens of Africa's most populous nation. Nigeria's nascent democracy and crusade against corruption have not calmed agitations for independence nationwide. Calls for self determination have played a subtle role in the debates over resource control at the national conference, as southern delegates push for more proceeds from oil to be spent in oil-bearing areas.

But outside conference halls and diplomatic circles, the push for "self-service" has already taken over the minds of youth in the Niger Delta, Africa's largest oil reservoir. Military forces are highly visible in protecting the state land administration while huge business is in progress offshore. Youth organizations are also highly armed, with all the necessary tools for oil bunkering. Foreign oil dealers and petroleum giants like Shell and ChevronTexaco share the same turf, and used their economic influence last year when one Niger Delta leader -- Alaji Mujaheedeen Asari Dokubo -- threatened to bomb all petroleum installations. They successfully pressured Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to send his presidential aircraft to bring Dokubo to Abuja for negotiations that ended with a peace deal. Both state and federal governments recognize Dokubo's legitimity as a charismatic leader of the Ijaw, the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta region.

Dokubo says he still hopes for independence from Nigeria as soon as possible. AllAfrica's Theophane Patinvoh met him at Kalabare forest reserve last spring where he has established dozens of military camps, and Dokubo spoke about his view of Nigeria's political arena and his vision for the Ijaw nation. Since the interview, the national dialogue fell apart, largely over claims by southern delegates for control of 25 percent of oil receipts. Dokubo's comments illustrate the position of one southern leader on the issue of resource control. Excerpts:

Alhaji, there are a lot of stories about you this time around. You claim not to be part of Nigeria, but I've just seen you with a top police officer and all your properties are registered in Nigeria with Nigerian symbols. What happened?

Nigeria has conquered my people. My people are under occupation of the Nigerian military and government. So since we are under Nigerian occupation, we continue to use Nigerian signals and Nigerian symbols. Until we get our sovereignty restored to us, we will make do with whatever is provided by Nigeria.

You seem resigned. What next can we expect from you as an Ijaw?

I can not tell you for now. But I did not create Ijaw. Ijaw is a nation: a natural nation with a defined territory and a people who have a very long history of struggle behind them.

When you mention Ijaw as a part of Niger Delta, where do you think the Niger Delta will be in five years time?

The Niger Delta is just a region formed by the tributaries of the Niger River. And Ijaw is one of the nationalities. We have Ogoni, we have Urhobo's, we have Itsekiri, and we have the Isoko's and so on. So these are various nations that are found in the geographical area known as the Niger Delta. My aspiration in life is to try to bring an agreement amongst all the nationalities in the Niger Delta so that we can join together and have a common struggle.

What can be done to improve the situation in the Niger Delta?

The sovereignty of the Ijaw people is not negotiable. It does not depend on any improvement or anything. Our sovereignty is our life and our very existence. It is not negotiable. Ijaw sovereignty must be restored to them in whatever way necessary.

There was publicity over yourself and your activity as you have met with President Olusegun Obasanjo. Was it true?

Yes. We met with General Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja and we had serious discussion on how to solve the problems. But General Olusegun Obasanjo was not sincere in his approach towards addressing the fundamental issues that we had put forward before the world. These issues are issues of self-determination, resource control and convocation of a sovereign national conference.

But what particularly did you agree with President Olusegun Obasanjo that he did not attend to?

The only agreement we had with President Olusegun Obasanjo -- General Olusegun Obasanjo, I'm sorry -- because I do not believe he is a president, because he never won any election. He stole the votes of the people. The only agreement I had with him is [to] provide a constitutional space for us to carry out our agitation and campaign for these fundamental issues of self-determination, resource control and convocation of a sovereign national conference. And I don't think that General Olusegun Obasanjo has defaulted in this thing. He has not. But in his approach, he abhors the sovereign national conference which should lead to the twin demands of self-determination and resource control.

What fell apart in your agreement with him?

General Olusegun Obasanjo had attempted to gather a group of people for a national dialogue which goes contrary to our demand for a sovereign national conference. This charade that he wants to use as a conference in place of a sovereign national conference doesn't have legal backing. It's ad-legal.

Don't you think that the Federal Government's national dialogue in Nigeria will be very successful in terms that every nationality will define together what Nigeria should be tomorrow?

The conference Olusegun Obasanjo and his cohorts in Abuja are trying to put together is very clear. It has created no-go areas. These no-go areas are as follows: --The sovereignty of Nigeria is non-negotiable. --The federation of Nigeria is non-negotiable. --Everything is non-negotiable. --The resource of Nigeria is non-negotiable. Etc.

So people like us have been precluded from coming to the conference.

So you don't think the national dialogue is an opportunity for ethnic groups to express openly their vision for Nigeria's future?

I don't think there's any room for that because the issues we have raised over the years have all been precluded from the dialogue. So what are we going to discuss? The issue of self-determination, the issue of resource controls and convocation of a sovereign national conference to discuss the restructuring or the total dismemberment or disintegration of the Nigerian state has been precluded from the conference.

To what extent does oil bunkering exist in the Niger Delta?

I don't know who they said is bunkering the oil. The people who own the oil have a right to take the oil which has been stolen from them by a small clique in Abuja for the advancement and betterment of that clique that siphons this money to foreign bank accounts in Europe and the United States of America and the Caribbean. So as far as I'm concerned, oil bunkering has nothing to do with our people. The oil belongs to them and they have the right to take the oil.

Let me ask again. Who are the people who are really involved in the process?

I don't need to know who is involved. I'm saying that everybody from any oil-bearing community has the right to take the oil the way he likes and I advocate it and I encourage them and I tell them to take it because the people have illegally run pipes through our land. They are flaring gas, degrading our environment. So it is our duty to make sure that we sabotage all their efforts in taking our resources. And if bunkering is one of the ways of sabotaging their efforts then it is acceptable to every self-respecting Ijaw man, every self-respecting Itsekiri man, every self-respecting Urhobo man, every self-respecting Niger-Delta to be involved in the process of taking that which belongs to us. It is an affirmative action to say- this doesn't belong to you. It belongs to us. We have the right to take it.

What role does the oil bunkering play in your community and in the activities of your group?

Oil bunkering plays next to nothing in the activities of my group. My group is an organization with the sole aspiration and aim of bringing independence to the people of Ijaw nation and all those other nationalities that identify in our cause. So, oil bunkering as far as we are concerned is secondary to our demand. Our demand is the installation of our sovereignty and identity as a people.

Many readers may believe that your becoming Muslim has to do with the cause of the Niger Delta. To what extent is that true?

I will not say it has to do with the cause of the Niger Delta. As an individual, I wanted to serve God and to know him but there was a contradiction. I was not ready to turn the other cheek and I became a Muslim. I was not ready to believe that all authority is from God and we must be submissive to that authority. The only religion I saw that is suitable to my nature is Islam. It is only Islam that says we must resist evil wherever we find it. The prophet Mohammed said and I quote: "When you see evil in the land, you must resist it with your hand, you must speak against it with your tongue or you must hate it with your heart." That is the weakest of it. Mohammed also said: "The best thing to do to a tyrant ruler is to speak the words of truth." So that is it. Islam has helped me in my agitation because Islam accepts my role as somebody who should correct the ills of society and the fight against oppression even with my life.

Recently, you seemed to urge Nigerians to follow the leadership of a Muslim leader. Are you still standing by it?

I've never said they should follow the leadership of a Muslim leader. That's not true. What I said is that there are three people, all Muslims, from the north, who want to be leaders of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, of the Nigerian state. There is General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who cancelled the freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria won by Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola. Atiku is serving in the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo who is an enemy of our people and has shown open enmity against our people. Then, General Buhari who during his short span restored a form of discipline among the populace of the various nationalities that have also constituted into Nigeria. So as far as I'm concerned from the credentials, if they are going to choose somebody among them, General Muhammed Buhari has a better credential than any of the other two.

Is General Buhari supportive of your activities?

I don't even know him. I don't know him. I only read about him in the papers. It is just an assessment of the gang of jostlers. I'm just assessing them and there's nothing personal.

What do you think about the implementation of Sharia, or Islamic law? Do you think Sharia should be implemented in the Niger Delta region?

There's no room for implementation of Sharia in the Niger Delta because among the Ijaws the Muslims are less than 1 percent and they do not have political control of the Ijaw people. So how will Sharia be implemented? As far as this land is concerned Ijaw is not by rule Islamic. Ijaw is not antagonistic to Islam. It is not also an Islamic nation. So the issue of Sharia does not arise in Ijaw land. Personally as Muslims we can advocate for Sharia in our personal lives to govern our lives in whatever we do. We can appeal to the government of an independent Ijaw nation that we the Muslims of Ijaw land, we want to live under the Sharia. And in every democratic free society, the people will be allowed to live under their beliefs.

As a Muslim leader, because I can call you now a Muslim leader, do you know Tareeq Ramadan?

Tareeq Ramadan? No I don't.

You don't know Tareeq Ramadan? But do you know Osama Bin Laden?

Yes. I've read so much about him. I've read his statements and I admire him.

How do you relate with him?

I don't know him personally. I'm only reading about him and from reading about him I admire his courage as somebody who is challenging an arrogant, big bully called the United States of America.

Does your group share the same ideology with Osama Bin Laden?

Definitely not! My group is 99 percent made up of people who are not Muslims. About 3 million forms have been sent out. Muslims who have collected forms and have returned are not even up to 300.

What about you personally, since you named one of your children after Bin Laden?

Not after Bin Laden. Osama. Osama is an Islamic name. But in admiration of the courage of Osama I named my child Osama. But that is my own personal belief. I admire Osama. But there are certain activities that, whether rightly or wrongly, are credited to Osama Bin Laden. Like the 9/11, the beheading of people. It cannot be done by an Ijaw man. But 90 percent of the people who follow the Niger-Delta, people who volunteered for us, believe in Egbesu. The war deity of the Ijaw people that have some rules and regulations concerning the conduct of war in Ijaw land. And killing of innocent, unharmed people is not part of it. It abhors killing of innocent, unharmed people. So no Ijaw man will commit 9/11. No Ijaw man. No Ijaw man will also commit Hiroshima and Nagazaki. Except he does not believe and he does not bring himself under the protection of Ebgbesu. For somebody like me who do not have to believe or who is not under the protection of Egbesu who believes in Allah, even me I cannot kill an innocent man.

Coming back to the Ijaw philosophy now and coming back to you as Ijaw national. You seem to become a very controversial character nowadays you see, following your meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Controversies always trail the lives of people who are leading. So I am not bothered about those controversies. I met Obasanjo as a man and I spoke with him and I discussed with him. And as far as I am concerned, that is it! If he likes to take a part of honor by restoring that which belongs to us back to us, good! But if he does not then the struggle will continue until the victory is placed in the hands of our people.

What are you doing so that peace will prevail in the Niger Delta?

We are mobilizing the people. Serious mobilization is going on.

Is this mobilization of the people for the permanent peace or is it ahead of the 2007 presidential elections?

We are not concerned about any election. We are concerned about restoration of our sovereignty as a people. We are not concerned about anything Nigeria does. It is none of our business. Nigeria can go ahead and do whatever she likes as long as that which Nigeria is doing does not affect the well-being of the Ijaw people. So if Nigeria wants to destroy itself, fine. We will applaud them. We will even assist them. So our mobilization has nothing to do with any election. It has to do with the restoration of the sovereignty of our people.

In your personal record we got to know that you are very influential in this region and even government has to call on you sometimes to solve some crisis. What is your relationship with the government -- both the state and federal government?

During the crisis my relationship with the state government was not cordial but today it is very cordial and I meet with the governor anytime I want to meet him if he wishes to see me. I have no ill feelings. We've forgiven ourselves for whatever has happened. I have forgiven him. I hope that he also does not bear any grudge towards me. I don't bear any grudge towards him. For the federal government, I don't have any personal differences with General Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who has stolen the mandate of the people. I have no personal problem with him. On personal basis, if he relates to me, I will relate to him on that personal basis. But where I have my problem with him is very clear. Let my people go! That's my problem with General Olusegun Obasanjo.

Do you believe in democracy?

I don't know what democracy is. Democracy that has to do with the restoration of the rights of the people. Democracy that gives one man, one vote. Democracy that respects the fundamental rights of a people to their resources to their way of life, to their life, to everything. Then if that is democracy, I respect it. But it is not the democracy of the United States of America that you will go and occupy a sovereign country and order the whole world to follow suit. That democracy I don't accept. It is not the democracy of Abuja that comes and disfranchises the people; take their votes and right vote. That democracy I don't accept. It is not the democracy of Togo where a son will succeed a father. That democracy I don't accept. But if its democracy of government of the people, for the people and by the people, that democracy I accept.

You know, if you accept that kind of democracy, what is your relationship with the state of assembly and other local elected officials?

They are not elected by anybody. They are criminals. They stole the mandate of the people. They were never elected. They are usurpers and impostors who have seized the mandate of the people and are illegally occupying power/governance and forcing themselves on the people.

Would you like them to be replaced by a grassroots organization?

I don't know. What I am interested in is let us sit as a sovereign national conference instead of fighting and shedding blood. Let each of the nationalities live peacefully because Nigeria is a dubious legacy left by British imperialists.

If you were granted just one wish, what would it be?

Let my people go!

Go where?

To their own nation. To the restoration of their sovereignty as a sovereign Ijaw state.

Do you believe that an Ijaw nation can be sustainable?

100 percent I have no doubt about it.

Do you think the international community would recognize any Ijaw nation leaving Nigeria?

When the time comes. You don't try to anticipate what will happen. You will say when the time comes. When the time comes surely, inshaAllah it will come to pass and it will stand.

What is the relationship of the Ijaw nation with the international community now?

Ijaw people are relating very well all over the world with the government of the country in which they reside. Whether it is the United States of America, whether it is Great Britain, whether it is Italy: wherever Ijaw people reside, they have Ijaw organizations that relate very well with the government of the country in which they reside.

We are aware that you are about to create a political party. When will you register your political party?

Our political party exists. It does not need any registration from anybody. It is a party of the people. It is known as Niger-Delta People Salvation Front. It is recruiting people and it is creating offices. It has no relationship with the Nigerian political system.

Will you run for any coming election?

In Ijaw nation. In a sovereign Ijaw nation, yes! But in an occupied Ijaw territory, no!

When is the Ijaw nation starting?

I don't know. That is only known to God. Inshallah I have told you, it will come to pass and it will stand.