Onengia Erekosima is the president, Foundation for Peace and Non-Violence in Nigeria, a body that promotes peace and harmony. In this interview with ANTHONY AWUNOR, the former reintegration officer in Presidential Amnesty Office, explains how and why he evolved the federal government’s Amnesty Programme and why he chose to take the idea to the then President Umaru Yar’ Adua. Erekosima spoke on how he brought peace to the Niger Delta through reconciliation of all the warring militant groups in the region; also on the renewed agitation for the actualisation of the sovereign state of biafra, restructuring and others.
What is your position on restructuring of the country?
When you talk about restructuring, I see it as when they talk about rebranding. But I ask a question; how can you restructure a thing that don’t even have a structure. My opinion is that there must be a foundation for that restructuring, there must be a structure and a change of mind for any restructuring to take place. We cannot restructure without changing our mindset and with the same kind of people and system. That word restructuring does not go down well with me; we should not take the place of God. It is either there is a change of mind from the leadership or the people demand for change. To demand for change, the people must begin to realise that they have the strength, the power and the will to vote out people or to vote in people. We must put in place a way that our people must have power to make practical change. It is not when you impose leaders on people and you say you want to do restructuring; it is controversial. The only restructuring I think we can do is to get our people know that they have power to vote people in and vote people out too.
Recently, Arewa youths gave Igbos a quite notice from the northern parts of the country. What are your views on such, even though steps are being taken to discuss on the resolution?
That is the mindset of our people. When you don’t have laws on ground, these are the things that would happen. I am sure we are yet to see things; I am sounding like this because I have experienced a change that happened and the whole world is celebrating that change. I am talking about Yar’ Adua’s amnesty programme. I practically worked the amnesty and took the amnesty proposal to Yar’ Adua. I reconciled all the warring lords in the Niger Delta. I reconciled the Ateke Tom, Soboma George, Fara and Boy Loaf. I practically went and reconciled them. Is the Boko Haram worse than these people? These people were worse than Boko Haram. Let me tell you why. Somebody who knows another person; I will take my group, come to your house, your people will know that it is me who kill their person. I will kill your person and kidnap your person. They were not hiding their face in the Niger Delta. They were killing themselves and a lot of cult groups came up. I was able to reconcile such fearful people.
They were all feared and I was able to reconcile them. On the other hand, Boko Haram has no issues; so it would be much easier to solve but our people keep going round the bush because nobody wants to go back to us that are experienced to know how we got peace in Niger Delta which was very impossible to get. I am saying that Nigeria will see more of those Arewa statements because our country is ungrateful and we don’t appreciate good people. Right now militants are celebrated but if you are a peace maker you must not be recognised. That is the problem we have and until we begin to change our mindset, and do what is proper, the problems would not be solved. If Nigeria will listen and find out the truth about what happened in the Niger Delta and how we brokered peace, there will still be problems because the war is coming back . As long as I live, militancy cannot return to Niger Delta. However, cultism, criminality will increase because the government did not appreciate how militancy ended. Militancy cannot come back because we uprooted it from the root. I talked about amnesty when Nigeria was talking about rebranding. The strength we have is our ability to make peace.
Nnamdi Kanu was released on bail recently with certain conditions. With the way it is, it seems the IPOB leader has flaunted some of the conditions given to him. What can you say about that?
When Nnamdi Kanu accepted bail, I just knew that the whole thing was over. Nobody should be bigger than his family, community, town and state. When Nnandi accepted bail, I knew that Nigeria has got him where they wanted. He has provoked Nigeria with all these things he is doing now. You will be surprised what will happen and nobody will cough and they will kill people. The non-violent approach he is using is superb but he would not have taken the bail conditions for release and now come out and start saying he is no more taking the conditions. A non-violent approach to solving some of these problems is still the best. What he has done now is violent against the Nigerian constitution. To start with, he is not supposed to have accepted the conditions at all. So he is already guilty. I love what he is doing in a non-violent way but I cannot take a bail and say I wouldn’t do certain things and I now do it. This is the law we have. When the law is ready to deal with you; so I am afraid for him. I was Asari’s spokesman when he was in prison and I know what I stood for and I never took to violence. I discouraged others from violence and 70 per cent of Asari boys are non-violent today. I have converted them because they have seen the gains of non-violence. So we cannot continue to make mistakes, we want something and we are demanding for something; yes but there are ways to go about it. Martin Luther King and Mandela and all those people fought all these things and we saw it. Let’s go back about reading about Mandela and Martin Luther King, you will found out that instead of accepting some conditions, they refused to come out. That is how they get it, so we should not be doing something and supporting our brother that are doing somethings to prove a point. You think the masses are with you but the masses cannot face the Nigerian Army. Let’s not follow sentiments because people would die. But must people die foolishly for something that you would have taken a step to say at the beginning, that I would not. Nnamdi would have been released whether there is condition or no condition. They cannot lock him there forever. Now they know there is nothing to hold him down and they now brought in stringent conditions and you now accept. Why didn’t you say that you will not accept the condition because you are not guilty? You accepted the conditions and signed documents and the whole world was watching you. If they attack Nnandi now, nobody will attack you for attacking him because they will tell you that he has failed the constitution of the law.
Are you saying that biafra will not be realistic?
Biafra cannot be realized, the way it is going. We should learn that foundation is important. If we get it right in the foundation, it will go the first way. We only kill ourselves because we prefer to kill people, biafra will be realistic if they take the non-violent approach. There is time for everything and the world is now smaller than it used to be then. If you go through all the means of discussing and nobody listens to you, the whole world will say this man has tried to discuss with you and you are not responding, then anything can happen from there. There is a way you can push a man to the wall and he will react. Nigeria has not pushed Nnamdi Kanu to the wall, So why accept something with Nigeria and you are breaking it. It was a gentleman thing to go on bail. You can go on bail because you are sick or because you are not well but now, you are doing all these things and it means you are well now. Let me tell something; though I hate to say it. Do you know that Asari is on bail till tomorrow? So there are certain things Asari should not do because if Nigeria remembers you, you will come back. Asari’s case has not been struck off, but he has not made anything that would make you remember that he is no more sick. We used wisdom to do all these things. The wisdom is not to punish that man whatsoever but to make peace and go our ways. For now, if you think you want to take biafra by force, it will not work. Many of us may not live to see it. So I am pleading that we should all go back to track.
Let us look at the National Assembly. Do you think they are really there to represent the people?
When the same system and corruption have put you there, that is not the peoples’ power, how things work and that can is what we have to restructure. I never voted for Goodluck Jonathan during the last election because I know Goodluck. Yes he is my friend. Not because he is a bad man but because he did not listen to me. I will stay in this my office and Goodluck will call me as vice president to ask me what was happening. When I started this amnesty programme people purposely removed my number from Goodluck Jonathan’s phone. I called him on this programme and somebody picked the phone and told me that it was not the vice president. That was the last time I spoke with Goodluck. That was why I tool amnesty to Yar Adua, if not I would have taken it to my brother. But our people don’t love ourselves. The greatest battle I had in getting amnesty was with my people. They would say militants are not criminals and that amnesty is for condemned criminals. All among the in Niger Delta governors were ready to give Yar Adua conditions and never to accept amnesty. Some will come out today and say they know about amnesty and that it was their idea because they are governors. I took these things to them after reconciling all the militants practically. So when this government is talking about change, I just wonder why we have an amnesty office there eating billions of naira for very few persons. Can you imagine what will happen if 30,000 people from this part of the nation are empowered. Why wouldn’t this people go back to cultism and criminality?
You have pointed out that one of our problems is our inability to understand the strength we have to vote politicians in and vote them out. How do you think then that government would make the electoral process credible?
President Jonathan tried in that line and if that step had been taken, it would have been the best thing that would have happened to this country. These are some of the changes we needed but we are now back to zero. Only the strong head would survive; if they like you, they take you but if they don’t like you, you are nowhere. We don’t have the structure to empower the people. Till tomorrow, the presidency will still continue to choose the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) boss. These are some of the things that are wrong.
Some people are of the view that the federal government should replicate the attention they gave to Kaduna Airport to that of Port Harcourt, considering that the airport is dilapidated. What do you think about that?
It is still because of the bad system, once you get there, you get it all and you don’t care about others. The decay is not only PHIA. It is all over. Corruption has eaten up everything. There is a cabal. That is why we cannot restructure until we are able to empower the people. For example, I told Yar Adua to give us one year for amnesty and no one would see a single gun in the Niger Delta, but they gave us only six months. That is why we were unable to achieve some of our targets and lots of things happened. They also purposefully schemed me out of the amnesty programme so that I will not say the truth while they continue to eat the money. If we can solve the issue of Niger Delta, Boko Haram is a child’s splay.