Pastor Bassey James, a renowned criminologist, security expert and clergy, is also the National President, Southern Youths Development Forum. James, a man passionate about Nigeria, Niger Delta region and empowering the youths for leadership is confident that with President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent olive branch to the Niger Delta region on peace, things will soon take a new positive turn in the region and development will be evident. He also speaks about other issues including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Ministry of the Niger Delta and what his group is doing to re-orient the youths of the Niger Delta and Nigeria towards building a positive mindset in this interview with PATRICK OKOHUE.
The President recently, while receiving some people on Christmas visit to him, reached out to the people of the Niger Delta, urging them to lay down arms and work with him for the economic progress of the country, do you see sincerity in that call?
You know a few weeks ago I granted an interview to some media houses and spoke about the issue of the Niger Delta and how the President is tackling the issue and I also commended the President for inviting the Niger Delta elders and leaders of thought to Aso Rock for a meeting. I believe that this is a follow up to that meeting. I have seen that this President is sincere in the issues of bringing peace to the table of Nigerians and also coordinating the affairs of Nigeria in good light, so we are happy. As the President of the Southern Youth Development Forum, this is the biggest news for the year 2016. The biggest news in terms of what the results will be, because a singular statement from the President is enough to calm the nerves of the people, so, as a Niger Delta person and as a stakeholder in the Niger Delta youth matters, I want to commend the President for the move and I also want to commend the leaders of the Niger Delta for continuously creating an avenue for peace and I can assure you that the Niger Delta youths are going to work round the clock to make sure that there is stability in that region and we have been talking from the point of the Southern Youths that I preside over, we have been reaching out to the churches and some of the youths of the Niger Delta on the issue of security. You can’t have a society that fight itself, we want to see development in our region, we want to see stability, we want to see progress, we want to see maximum re-alignment of the people of the Niger Delta with their brothers in the North, South, East and West. We know that the issue of Nigeria cannot be discussed except there is stability, for me this is a new beginning, we will move on from there and spread the message of hope and reconciliation to the whole of nation, for our people, because Niger Delta by the grace of God lay the golden egg and we must be able to protect it through prayer, through talking to them, meetings, discussions and this is part of what we are trying to do over the years, creating an avenue for people to talk. The advantage of talking cannot be over emphasised and we are doing everything to make sure that there is peace in our region, because peace in the Niger Delta means development in Nigeria, instability in the Niger Delta will directly affect the national pulse, so I am happy for that and I am sure everybody will take it from there, and I want the religious leaders to take the message of the President, the youth leaders from my own point will also do the same thing.
But, how do you intend to go about that?
We are planning in the next few weeks to have what we call a stakeholders meeting, the National Youth Impact Conference which will take place in Akwa Ibom State and in that meeting we will bring in political leaders, youth leaders, market women, students, to discuss on the peace project, because peace is a project and it must be discussed, it has nothing to do with government or certain forces, everybody from the Niger Delta must come together to build our region and also connect our region with other regions.
The President making this call is an indication that he want to find resources for development across the country, but do you think that he has done enough for the Niger Delta region to make the people want to corporate with him?
Don’t forget that this President is less than two years in office, that is number one, number two, this President has just constituted a very powerful board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
And what is so special about the board?
Yes, it is about the caliber of people that are on the board, that is very important for us, we have the chairman of the board, a seasoned administrator, a democrat per excellence, who was a commissioner at a very tender age, a senator and has been around the corridors of power, he understands the political issues, he understand the region, he understands the workings of government from the Senate point of view and, he also has contacts across board. Also we have the Managing Director, a man who is we call Mr. Strategist, he understands the issues of the Niger Delta. Mr. Nsima Ekere, former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, a man who understands almost all the language of the Niger Delta and a man that is also very at home with the average young man in the Niger Delta and a man that understands the strategy of the issues of development, the issues of empowerment. When Obong Nsima Ekere was appointed as the MD of the board, there were wild jubilations in the Niger Delta area, because he is a man that understands the people, that understands the politics, a man who is very much at home with everybody. I think that is a plus for Mr. President and other members of the board, we have never had any issues about any part of the Niger Delta complaining about any member of the board. The President did a very wonderful job by carefully selecting those that will lead the board, because the Niger Delta represents about 40 percent of the change that we are talking about. If you put the Niger Delta Ministry right and you put the NDDC right, you have absorbed more than 50 percent of the Niger Delta problems, because the Ministry of Niger Delta will secure development for the people, the NDDC will go a long way in building the structures that will have the face of the people and also empowering the people, all we need in the Niger Delta is empowerment, it is strategy to see how the region will develop, from Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and other states of the Niger Delta coming together through road network, communication, ICT, issues of financing small and medium enterprises.
Having the right people on board is one thing, having resources to do what is right is another, with the 2017 budget still before the National Assembly, do you think the provision for the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry is enough for it to achieve its purpose?
Well, I have not seen the budget for the Niger Delta, but when I do I will look at it very closely to know how much was allocated to the NDDC and the Ministry. But the most important thing is not even about the money, you can have a N100billion or even N500billion, if you don’t have people with the technical knowhow, the experts to manage the money, you will end up throwing the money into the larger ocean of the Niger Delta. We have seen that over the years monies allocated to the Niger Delta has gone through the pipelines, crossing the river into the Atlantic Ocean, people have not felt the impact of the resources, since the creation of the NDDC we have never really felt the impact of the NDDC in our region. It is not about presenting the issues on television, we want to see development. For me it is about the prudent use, total use of the resources, not anybody taking advantage of the people of the Niger Delta by diverting the funds to other use. If you put a N100billion in the Niger Delta today and you monitor the development, I can assure you that every state will go home happy. The President is a man that understands the Niger Delta also, he has been in the Ministry of Petroleum, he has been a Head of State, he has been at the corridors of power, he understands the politics of every region, so by appointing this NDDC board I think the President also have an eye on what is going on in the Niger Delta. Again it behooves us as the people of the Niger Delta to begin to ask questions, we must begin to ask questions consciously, we begin to know how development is distributed across the Niger Delta region and I think that one of the things we should begin to ask in the next few months is state by state development. The Southern Youths Development Forum is also going to put up a structure to begin to monitor what comes to Akwa Ibom, what goes to Abia, what goes to Rivers and so on and how this fund is being used to the benefit of the people.
Besides the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the NDDC and what they are expected to do, will you say your people in Akwa Ibom are yet feeling the impact of this government?
Like I said this is a government that is less than two years in office and because of the state of the nation when they came in it will natural that they take time to set things in motion, but I believe that they are moving in the right direction. But, for my people in Akwa Ibom, I will say we are happy with the President, because besides giving us the position of the MD of the NDDC, he also appointed one of our very bright minds in the legislative arena to be his Special Adviser on Senate Affairs. Distinguished Senator Ita Enang is one Nigerian who has gone through the rudiment of legislative practice and there is no area of the legislature in this country that he has not operated from and so making him the liaison officer between the Presidency and the upper chambers of the National Assembly speaks volumes of his capacity and the trust that the President has on him. So, I am confident that it is only a matter of time that these caliber of people will begin to attract development not only to Akwa Ibom State, but also to the entire region of the Niger Delta.
Recently the President announced the final rooting of Boko Haram militants from the Sambisa forest that has hitherto been their operational base, but people are saying it is not enough to tell us about the dismantling of Boko Haram and use that as a reason to score the government high on security, when there is still the issues of the rampaging Fulani Herdsmen, militancy in the Niger Delta, though on the low for now and other such challenges. How do you think the President can leverage on the success with the Boko Haram to tackle other security challenges?
As a criminologist, one of the things I must say to the President is Mr President you have done well, I commend him. Because Boko Haram is like a guerilla warfare and defeating Boko Haram by the grace of God is a plus to Nigeria, an average Nigerian will be very happy that the Boko Haram is defeated, because the destruction, the lives wasted, the financial resources that Nigeria deployed to rebuilding the North East is enormous and if that funds was applied to building structures across the larger part of Nigeria it will be a plus. So for me the President has done well. On the issue of the Herdsmen I think the President is tackling that. There is also the issue of people building ranches across parts of the country that should also be taken seriously. On the issue of the militancy in the Niger Delta, by the grace of God the statement of the President has already given us the signal that there is hope for the Niger Delta people and that the Niger Delta people should also lay down their arms to embrace peace. Do you know the average Niger Delta person is a very peaceful person, we are not troublesome, the fact that you have one out of twelve disciples misbehaving does not mean that the entire disciples of Jesus are bad. So for us there are more good people in Niger Delta that are praying for peace and I believe that the same thing is happening in the North. You cannot have development without peace, so for I strongly believe that 2017 will mark the end of this insurgency, militancy and all forms of distraction, because these are distractions to the President. Imagine if there is no herdsmen, no militancy, no Boko Haram, what the President would have achieved. It is not easy for anybody to sit down when a part of his community or village is in crisis, so I pray and believe that something good is coming out in 2017.
As president of the Southern Youths Forum, what are you doing in your capacity to mobilise the youths towards creating a new mindset and keying into the President’s peace agenda?
Since 2009 I have been having conferences, don’t forget that I am also the chancellor of Akpabioism Centre and I am also involved in youth development. We have been talking, reaching out, preaching, sharing handbills. I have had conferences in Abuja, in Akwa Ibom and in Lagos. We have over the years created an avenue to talk to our youths and to also give them a strong hope of a better Nigeria. Do you know that everybody in the Niger Delta should be an ambassador of peace? For us in the Southern Youths Development Forum we have done our beat and we will continue to do more. Currently what I am putting on the table is called National Youth Impact Conference, I think it is the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria. The idea behind the conference that will be coordinated by the Southern Youth Development Forum is that it will be done in five regions in the country, we will do it in Abuja to cover the FCT and states around that corridor, we will also go to Kaduna to hold the conference, aimed at seeing how we can build synergy and build a bridge across North, South, East and West, because the independence struggle was for a purpose. The spirit of independence, the spirit that made Tafawa Balewa and the Sadauna and Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and the likes of Eyo Ita to come together to build an independent state was very powerful, so we must do everything to stand behind the founding fathers of Nigeria. I read so much about the struggle for the independence of our great country and the struggle was for unity, it was for peace, it was not about ethnicity, not about religion and why must that be happening in the 21st century, that Nigeria should be talking about the issue of religion, the issue of ethnicity and the issue of herdsmen, militancy and the issues of Boko Haram and all that. We must come together as a people to see how we can support the government to have a united Nigeria. So, we will kick start the National Youth Impact Forum in Akwa Ibom State for the South South and the centre is ready. We have the biggest centre by the grace of God in the South South, it can host close to 10,000 people and we are reaching out. I want to appeal that everybody should be involved, it is not about money, it is about giving us your moral support and see how we can connect with several ministries, like the Ministry of Youths, the Ministry of Niger Delta, the NDDC, state governments and other relevant bodies to see how we can reach out to the youths of the South South, on the issue of security, on the issue of empowerment, on the issue of infrastructure, on the issue of unity and living together. This is what we are trying to achieve, once we finish in Uyo by the grace of God, we will move to Enugu, and in Enugu we will try to bring in the ministers from the South East, governors and everybody that matters from the South East to see how we can build a new fabric, a new bridge across our different regions. From Enugu we will go to Lagos, where we will talk to the South West youths on the same ideology on the principle of living together peacefully, then we will move to Kaduna and finally we will move to Abuja, the idea is to see how we can build a strong synergy among our youths and to spread a message that beyond politics, beyond ethnicity, beyond religion we are Nigerians and that there is the need for every Nigerian to see themselves first as Nigerians, not based on religion, not based on region or tribe.