Delta State Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Professor G.G. Darah, has called for the establishment of Atlantic Republic, and that the Niger Delta cut loose from Nigeria.

The former Chairman of the Editorial Board of Daily Times and The Guardian newspapers, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, discussed extensively on the ‘Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence’, a conference recently held on socio-ecological justice in the Niger Delta.

Asked about the outcome of jaw-jaw on N-Delta, Sarah expressed strong intentions of a disengagement.

‘Our resolution is that we are determined and prepared to disengage the Niger Delta region from Nigeria. This means to struggle and win the battle to become an autonomous region. The minimum we will accept after due negotiation with other political parties in Nigeria is to restore the old federal system operated between 1954 and 1966. There were four regions in Nigeria then.  These were Northern, Western, Eastern and Mid-Western regions. 

‘And all these four operated four separated constitutions. There was the federal constitution which everybody subscribed to, but each region, as a measure of its autonomy and self-governance, had its own constitution and even had ambassadors appointed to foreign countries.

‘They had no inference from the Federal Government except to go to the parliament in Lagos and debate issues like the budget. They had their own police system. That federal arrangement, which suited Nigerians because of Nigeria’s multinational, multi linguistics, multi-cultural situation, was debated between the British colonial authority and the Nigerian people for over 20 years before a consensus was reached in 1957 at a constitutional conference and the parameters of disengagement of Britain and declaration of independence were set out.

‘The Western and Eastern Nigeria were granted independence first in 1957 and the northern people said they were comfortable with the British people and that they didn’t like independence, so they had to persuade, compromise, so they became independent on May 29, 1959 and then on October 1, 1960, total independent was granted to Nigeria. The regions governed themselves. They made their own laws and did their own budgets. So, to return to the question, the minimum the Niger Delta would accept is to restore that system that was abrogated by the military adventurists in governance’.

He also opined that the present government structure is detrimental to the freedom of the people.

‘The present governance structure is unitary, it is military, it is oppressive, it is suppressive, it is unjust, it is cruel; it is anti-democracy and corrupt. The present arrangement, which is a product of military fiat, has taken away that autonomy and freedom from the people and concentrated it in the hand of the President in Abuja, who is like an emperor.

‘The federal system that we are advocating is the one that would give autonomy to the people and also run a parliamentary system as we did during that time. The parliamentary system is different from the presidential system, so we have to disengage from this system. Now, the infrastructures are the federal and states and the states are called the federating units, but the states are made powerless and impotent because of the imperial power of the Presidency at Abuja.

‘That has to stop. So, for those who are younger, it is important to highlight the advantages that that federal system brought to Nigeria. It enabled the regions to plan their own developments, the diverse structures they needed for the advancement of their people. 

‘For instance, Eastern Nigeria was governed by the NCNC, headed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and later Azikiwe became the President General of Nigeria and Dr. Michael Okpara took over. Then administration of Eastern Nigeria established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with their own money from oil palm and timber. They ran their schools. They had the best secondary schools in the country. And these schools were competing with the ones in Cambridge. They didn’t have to wait for Lagos which was then the federal capital to approve those things for them.

‘But the greatest success story was the Western Region which was headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the most astute, and highly coordinated, and intellectually profound rulers that the world saw in the 20th century, not just in Africa. 20 years before independence, Awolowo had written about what Nigeria would look like as a student in England reading law.

‘So, he came to power prepared.  He was not smuggled in by corrupt delegates as we have now.  And he turned Western Nigeria into a paradise. The structures are still there: The first skyscraper in West Africa, Cocoa House Ibadan, the first television station in Africa, WNTV, Ibadan, and the first most beautiful campus in the whole of Africa till today, University of Ife. Then he made Lagos the industrial capital because the ports are there. He ruled for only nine years but he turned Western Nigeria around. If you go there now, some of the industries have been shut down’.

Asked about the problem befallen Nigeria, Darah blamed the negligence of the military regime towards development.

‘The problem is the military regime. The military regime came and abandoned development and only cultivated corruption and acquisition of wealth. And the regime appointed zombies on the basis of favoritism or ‘they are my boys’ whereas before you became a parliamentarian in Eastern Nigeria or Western Region 50 years ago, the campaign you go through and the parliamentary system is different because the Minister every month would give an account of what he has done and journalist would come there, firing him with questions and he would be sweating,’ he said.

Asked about the set of individuals vying for leadership in the coming elections, the PANDEF chief stated that they are nothing to write home about.

‘The set of leaders coming are worse than the ones we have had before. If you concede to Buhari in terms of corruption, the ones that are coming are dead woods. People who are billionaires without industries, where do they get the money from? It is the same oil. It is either they are selling or negotiating it or have the facilities to export it.  And the oil wells, over 1, 000, no Niger Delta person has oil wells and if its business acumen that qualifies people, we have many enterprising people here. Michael Ibru was the richest African and he had no oil well.  There are five oil wells in Agbarra Utor where he comes from in Delta State.

‘The biggest gas manifold is in Agbarra Utor.  But they never gave the man but a northerner. There is the other woman who has.

‘So, the military were dashing it to their cronies. Lulu Briggs from Kalabari is the only Niger Deltan who owned a portion of it 32 years ago. The rest of the Niger Delta region, from Calabar to Benin, nobody qualifies.  So, if we don’t know what injustice is, then we don’t know what injustice is, we are not supposed to be called parents.

Professor G. G Darah is Emeritus Professor of Oral Literature, Folklore and Cultural Sciences, Delta State University (DELSU). He worked under the James Ibori adminstration in Delta State, and was a delegate to the 2014 National Conference where he represented Delta Central.

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