Bassey James, a renowned criminologist is a cleric and president of the Southern Youth Development Forum. He is one man passionate about peace and development of the Niger Delta and Nigeria, in this interview with PATRICK OKOHUE, he speaks of his passion for the country and why governments across board should not abandon governance at this time because of politics. He also speaks on why governors of the Niger Delta must collaborate to create an economy for the region outside oil.
Toward the 2019 election, a lot has happened, especially the party primaries for the various political parties, President Muhammadu Buhari running unopposed in APC, Alhaji Akitu Abubakar emerging as PDP candidate and all of these things. It seems to create so much uncertainly about what is coming in 2019. How do you look at this scenario?
I think the issue has to do with performance. The issue has to do with the way Nigerians look at political leaders and the performance of the APC government, especially the performance of the President, but so far so good in terms of infrastructure, the President has demonstrated very strongly the capacity to develop the Nigeria nation.
In the area of infrastructure, you know the road network is becoming very visible, the railway is working and so many areas, this is important in so many areas and Nigerians will now compare and take a decision on what to do.
But from my own point of view, one thing that will give the President pass mark is the area of security, Boko-Haram has been decimated, but even though we have some attacks here and there, but it is no longer taking urban territories.
So I would commend the President and ask him to do more on the issue of security, especially the issue of the herdsmen that are already dying down.
There is need for government to build the network of relationship between Nigerian peoples and assure Nigeria of safety and togetherness, because the greatest achievement of any government is the unity of a nation.
If we are united, if we live in peace, if we stay together, our strength will become a plus in terms of development.
Nigeria is a great nation, so we need great leaders, for me I must give kudos to the President, especially in the area of returning the money so many of the states use in constructing federal roads, and also the Paris Club that he has paid to states.
From the point of the Niger Delta, I think I must also commend the President on the Ogoni Cleanup.
But I want to challenge him to make sure that the contract for the Ogoni Cleanup is done by the people of the area.
If the Niger Delta indigenes are involved in the Ogoni Cleanup, it would have reduced the tension and empowered the people, you know, to see to the development of the region
But you realise that the Ogoni Cleanup is highly technical not just what anybody can do.
It is highly technical I agree with you. The job will not be done by spirits. Technical does not mean the call off.
Technicality is a language. The experience is required. The issue is that if you engage the Niger Delta people, they have contracts.
Niger Deltans are some of the greatest people on the face of the earth. They have contacts. They have business people across boards. All you need to do is add partnership.
They must be able to, they can create partnership with foreign companies, with foreign contractors and bring them to come and do the job. Either you pay commission.
But let me tell you, if you encourage one, two, three, four, five and ten people from the Niger Delta region, it will go round the Niger Delta region, it will go a long way in the minds of the people, and engaging the youths.
It is not a spirit that will come to clean up the Ogoni area, it is human beings, and human beings in America in Nigeria is the same thing, you now have expatriates that can pair with our people and in any case, it would have been better,
it is better to engage the people so that when this issue occur again, our people can come in to do the cleanup, because nobody can take care of your property than yourself.
Having said that, I want to commend the President on giving our people good positions in government, of course you know that the Niger Delta people didn’t vote for him massively in 2015, for the President to come on board to say Nigeria Delta,
I want to do business with you, I want you to be part of my story, we have most of the choice ministries and I thank him for that and we would reciprocate when the time comes, but we need him to do more,
we need him to empower our people more, create enabling environment for our people, also the issue of pipeline protection, I want to appeal to the President to consider the Niger Delta people to engage themselves manage, engage either from the point of the community,
and also the NDDC, and ministry of Niger Delta and the Amnesty programme, you know the President is doing a lot, he is funding the key Niger Delta parastatals that sees to the development of the Niger Delta region.
In your state, Akwa Ibom, there is some power play since the defection of the former governor Godswill Akpabio to the APC, some people are defecting here and there, how do you look at politics of Akwa Ibow State towards 2019.
The politics of Akwa Ibom State is getting interesting, I am from Akwa Ibom State and a major stakeholder, so I would not like to comment on the personalities, because I know them, they are my leaders.
But some of the things that I am trying to do is to pray and seek for God’s direction, but I can assure you that every issue that has to do with Akwa Ibom will be resolved in favour of the people of the state.
You know I have been part of the government of Akpabio and I am part of the government of Udom Emmanuel, the fact that I’m from Akwa Ibom State means that I am part of what goes on in my state, so every Akwa Ibom is part of the government.
When you say part of the government, what do you mean?
You know I’m from Akwa Ibom State. For the fact that I’m from Akwa Ibom State means that I am part and parcel of what goes on in my state.
So every Akwa Ibom person is part of the government, whether our entire government or Akpabio or Udom Emmanuel. So for us we believe, I believe that we will not, I should not go out to talk about the state from the point of what is goig to happen in 2019.
Because, I believe very strongly that polities will solve itself. The issue would in the next few months work out itself and the people would be happy for it.
Like you said, you are a major stakeholder in Akwa Ibom and also in the Niger Delta region; you were planning a youth empowerment programme Youth Impact Assessment Conference. What stage is it at, are we still looking at that before the year runs out?
Off course yes. We shifted it twice because we wanted to engage and bring in the major stake holders too and by the popular demands.
There is need for us to even extend it beyond the Niger Delta and to do one or two things across board. Today Nigeria needs people of like minds.
I have looked at the whole issue, I have looked at my state, to my Niger Delta, I have done programmes, I am the president of the Southern Youth Development Forum,
while you are looking at the Niger Delta, there is need also to look at the West, to look at the East, and extend the relationship to the North,
so what we want to do in the next few months or weeks is to have a pan Nigerian youth conference where the issue of security will be discussed, the issue of empowerment will be discussed and the issue of living together will be discussed.
The conference is about to take place, we will start either in Abuja, Lagos or Akwa Ibom or Rivers and Owerri.
We have done almost all the necessary things and we are just waiting for one or two things to take place. We believe that the support will come. Not the financial support.
We need to talk now that Nigeria is going into election. There is need for everybody to come on board. Nigeria is beyond APC and PDP and APGA and other parties.
You know Nigeria is bigger than the Niger Delta, bigger than the North, bigger than the South West. And bigger than the South East, the issue should be Nigeria now.
If there is peace in Nigeria, there will be peace in the North, South, East and West.
My emphasis today is how we can unite the northern youths, southern youths, middle belt youths, the Yoruba youths and all the youths of this country and let us see how our leaders and elders can come together to key into the issue of youth development.
This is because I have discovered in the last few years as a young man and as a citizen of Nigeria that we have spent more time playing politics
and we play polities and from the day one that the people are sworn into government, they play polities till the last day and as they enter, they plan to enter the next government.
There is need to deemphasise politics and talk about governance. We should put emphasis on government Nigeria has no reason to be poor.
The young men in this country have no reason to be poor. There is so much poverty.
It is not caused by this government, it has been there, it is like the direction is lost somewhere in the middle of the sea because there is so much emphasis on politics rather than governance and politics is seasonal. It comes and goes every four years.
You know, what do you do after four year? It’s not too late for the government to partner with the Southern Youths. It’s not too late for the government to do something and the President can say tomorrow, what are the banks are doing for the youths.
Let the Bank of Industry the Bank of Agriculture, Nigerian banks wake up from their slumber. They are sleeping for too long, waiting for government funding and I challenge them to wake up.
You know I’m also happy that the President through the Ministry of Finance ordered that all government funds should be sent to the Central Bank, let the banks begin to develop products, not waiting for state government accounts.
I think the state governments should follow suit. Let the government account from the states, even the Local Government Areas be deposited in the Central Bank. That will allow the banks to engage people in businesses.
Today he banks only wait for the governors to return from FAAC so the money that comes in from FAAC across the state is enough for any bank to make commission to live with, so for me, I think that something must be done.
I came up with the idea of the Southern Polytechnic which if we are able to commission in the next few weeks would create a lot of idea for the people of the region and Nigeria, because we are coming up with different ideas.
It’s never too late for us to do what is right, because right now there is need for us to start talking about development and see how we can use it to make a difference in states.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in favour of some states in the South-South, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa on the derivation issue, what’s your view about that ruling? Do you think it would help to make positive impact in the benefiting states.
It will, I want to thank the President for not interfering in the Supreme Court and I want to thank the Supreme Court judges for not looking the other way.
The President must be commended for not trying to interfere by sending the Minister of Justice to stop the proceedings, that is way we the Niger Delta people are very happy with the President
and I also want to thank the governor of my state, Udom Emmanuel and the governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson and that of Rivers for pulling resources together to pursue this case.
This three states produce the oil, they lay the golden egg that is feeding Nigeria, so it is good for the South to have more, because without oil the salary of the people will not be paid.
In actual sense it is the oil money that they use in feeding the Nigeria nation and that is why an average Akwa Ibom person must be rich, must be very powerful, must be well connected and that is why an average Akwa Ibom person, Niger Delta person must have what it takes to live well. Because God did not make mistake by giving us oil.
So we must begin to enjoy what God has given to us. And this President has given us the opportunity to enjoy that and I thank him for that.
The governors on their part must save us from crisis by engaging the youths on massive development. The money that is coming should be added incentive.
The Rivers governor, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa governors must have a central business district, because these states are just two close to each other.
The Akwa Ibom State government and the Rivers government can meet across the Ogoni area and pull up an international business development center with banks, police station, market, international market,
you know and hotel where the white men, business people and expatriates that are living in Akwa Ibom can come there to enjoy the facilities, coupled with the fact that we will have a massive revenue area. The government must take advantage of that and develop the people.
There is nothing stopping these three governments to say we want to have a university, it has happened before, you know, we want to have one common business that can see to the development of the region and other states will come to join.
The Niger Delta region must be developed, it’s a must do, that is why I talk about the NDDC.
Is this line of thought part of the reason why you developed or why you are in the process of developing the Niger Delta Emergency security network?
Yes, because I spent three years doing a study of the Niger Delta region and Nigeria security and also with the fact that I am in charge of the security systems in Akwa Ibom State.
I installed and inspected it over the years and in 2012, when the joint task force was set up in Akwa Ibom State, I donated equipment worth millions of naira and in 2016, I donated a state of the art Police Station to Akwa Ibom State Police command,
what also motivated me was the letter written by the present Inspector General of Police to me after the donation, on the day of the commissioning he sent me a message.
So that letter is what challenged me. The letter is more than Hundreds of millions to me, that the IGP sent me a letter of appreciation, thanking me for donating communication equipment to the police.
But before that I have done a study, if you are travelling from Akwa Ibom to Rivers, you will see that Nigeria police are doing so much, trying to protect the people, but what are the people doing when there is crisis. Who do they run to, you know I did a study in Akwa Ibom, in Rivers in Bayelsa and in all the Niger Delta states on why we have militancy and I discovered that we are not militants.
The Niger Delta people, we are businessmen, we are entrepreneurs, out of 100% if only 2% or ½ % is involved in crime, it doesn’t mean that Niger Delta people are all so bad.
So God gave me the idea of the Niger Delta Integrated emergency that it is possible for an Akwa Ibom man to relate information with the Bayelsa man,
and it’s possible for Akwa Ibom man to talk to Akwa Ibom, to pass information on crime, violence or issues of boundary dispute to the system and having passed that it is also possible for the information to be disseminated across to different network. This is my area of specialization, it is possible.
One thing that will give the President pass mark is the area of security, Boko-Haram has been decimated, but even though we have some attacks here and there, but it is no longer taking urban territories. So I would commend the President and ask him to do more on the issue of security, especially the issue of the herdsmen that are already dying down. There is need for government to build the network of relationship between Nigerian peoples and assure Nigeria of safety and togetherness, because the greatest achievement of any government is the unity of a nation.