* I don’t want another Ijaw/Itsekiri war
* They‘ve threatened to bomb my Tank farm, but I’m unmoved
*We want to build Refinery, Gas Plant to create jobs for 3000 Deltans
WARRI—THE Ajuwaoyiboyami of Warri Kingdom, Delta State and business tycoon, Chief Ayiri Emami, aka Akulagba, has opened up on the reason for his disagreement with ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and former General Officer Commanding, GOC, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. Chief Ayiri, past chair of the Delta Waterways Security Committee, DWSC, Warri and stalwart of the All Progressive Congress, APC, in the state, alleged that ex-President Jonathan declined to create the much-needed opportunity for Niger-Deltans to acquire Oil Mining Licenses, OMLs to develop the area, whereas outsiders were empowered, while Tompolo’s idea of activism was purportedly violence-inclined.
The Itsekiri leader, who spoke to Niger Delta Voice in Warri, asserted that he does not believe in using pipeline vandalization and kidnapping to draw attention to the problem of the region, but it is unquestionable that government has wickedly neglected the region.
He, however, observed that few misguided Gbaramatu-Ijaw persons and his Itsekiri tribesmen were blackmailing him because he was against their bunkering and kidnapping activities and prepared at all times to expose their criminal acts. Excerpt.
AS chair of the erstwhile Delta Waterways Security Committee, DWSC, Warri, Delta State, you battled kidnappers, sea pirates and oil thieves to submission, but some people still count you as one of them, why?
Before the former governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, appointed me to that position, he must have done a lot of study. He knew that I am an activist but my activism is within the boundaries of the law.
Whatever affects the people of the Niger Delta affects me and our major problem is underdevelopment, be you Ijaw, Itsekiri, Ilaje, Ogoni and whoever. We are suffering the same thing, but while agitation, I do not support kidnapping and I do not have to vandalize pipelines to tell somebody that I am angry. For instance, Chevron Nigeria Limited is working in my area, if I feel that the company is employing people from Lagos and leaving my people, there are legitimate ways of challenging the action.
Therefore, my own orientation right from time is not taking up arms against the government. This was the reason that Uduaghan chose me as chair of that body. When I got to the office, it was a big task because illegal bunkering was very rampant in this area and it happened to be people of my age group, some of them, my friends were involved in it.
However, I stood boldly against them, I fought them day and night with soldiers without payment, but government provided logistics. If I found out that anybody was cooking diesel, I call the Navy; I call the Army and ensure that they go to the place. One of my primary responsibilities then was kidnapping.
It was becoming something else, so we were essentially doing is to get information from our informants and we go to the security agencies.
So, how do you see the latest bombing of pipelines in the state?
I think the present governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who was part of the Uduaghan administration before he went to the Senate, knows the effectiveness of the Delta Waterways Security Committee and that is why he expanded and appointed my then deputy as the new chair since I had defected from Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Coming to your question, the man in question, I do not care whether you are my brother or not, I fought Itsekiri people, who were doing bunkering too, but the man in charge now might feel very reluctant now because the person in question is an Ijaw person.
Maybe he does not want to go into it, but I do not care, whether you are Itsekiri or Ijaw, once something is wrong, it is wrong when you come to bunkering and kidnapping.
You joined the Joint Task Force, JTF, to inspect a bombed pipeline at Egwa community, last month, but Ijaw people interpreted your mission to mean that you led soldiers to their area to show them where to attack. Did the task force invite you?
First, I do not need the military to call me to join them before I give them information when I know that what they are doing is for the good of all of us. If something is happening in my area, local government and state, which all will suffer, if we do not assist the security agencies, it will be wrong.
I volunteered myself without anybody asking me and nobody will come out and tell me that he has the best knowledge of the riverine terrain than some of us. That is where we stay, we grew up and we go there every day. And we know the ins and outs of the creeks and we all know what is going on, whether in Ijaw and Itsekiri communities, we know ourselves, we are all friends, we are brothers and we interact.
However, many have nonchalant attitude toward what happens and if you look at it, some of us have billions of investment around and if this happens and continues to happen, at the end of the day, it will happen up to my tank farm. Threats I have received several threats that they would come and blast my tank farm, so if they were willing to do the job, I would not have volunteered myself.
Even I made calls to people that they need to assist the military to stop the blowing up of pipelines, but as I said, many are reluctant.
Ijaws’re my best friends do not harbour hatred towards the Ijaw with regards to what I did; some of my best friends today are the Ijaw people. We relate together but for me what is wrong is wrong, what they did at that time was wrong, but it is not the entire Ijaw, not the entire Gbaramatu, those things that they were doing was a particular person that was doing it, who we all know. Nevertheless, people do not want to talk.
However, there is antecedent that I fought the people extorting money from those passing the waterways to Escravos. How did it stop, it was when some of us came out and said we cannot pay them money when we were going to our place.
However, some Itsekiri people were already paying them security money, the military had to intervene and I told them one man said I should be paying before I go to my place. Is that possible, the military looked at it and said no and Chevron saw it too.
They came to the negotiating table and said all of us should use convoys and that was why all contractors going to Chevron and Shell began to use convoy at that time. After sometime, everybody was now free to move and that was how we stopped it. If not, at a time in this River, you can attest that you must pay security money before they would allow your boat to pass. Therefore, we are living in a lawless country, you understand. New lease under Buhari I think the first development in life is for you to have adequate security and that is why I have confidence in this government.
I believe that they are ready to protect life and property. For instance, when former President Goodluck Jonathan said he wanted to come and commission the Export Processing Zone, EPZ, project and a person just directed that they should get boats into the river and the President called off his visit. Can that happen in any part of this world, it cannot, but can such a thing happen under this dispensation.
If it was before that the court said somebody should come and he said to hell, nothing will happen, but today, it is not so, he had sent lawyers to the court to vacate the warrant, which is the right thing to do. However, in the past, police invited us and we went to the police station to clear ourselves.
Therefore, we have not put ourselves above the law, we are submissive to the law and we pay our tax.
Is it true that you want to foment another war between Ijaw and Itsekiri?
There is one thing I do not like, former National Security Adviser, NSA, Dasuki was arrested, does that mean that the Arewa want war, who do they want war with, Igbo or Yoruba.
In addition, they arrested Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra, is that another war between Igbo and Hausa or Hausa and Yoruba. Therefore, if somebody is invited and he refuses to go, does that mean that I want war between Itsekiri and Ijaw. Those saying these things are blackmailers trying to cover the issue on ground.
To me, I do not see any war and I know that the government today will not condone anybody that takes up arms against anybody. The government has shown capacity to deal with anybody no matter whom you are. Therefore, there is never a time that I will want Ijaw and Itsekiri to fight, we all know what we suffered at that time.
I can tell you that with the way things are going, that can never happen again. You have your issue; you go to court and address it. When I have issue over the Deep Sea Port, I went to court over it. So, if you have an issue, there are means of addressing issues, it is not by blowing pipelines or by killing Itsekiri people. Gone are those days that one will do that, nobody will condone it now, many people involved in that got amnesty and if you do it again, that amnesty has expired.
So how do you see the demand that the Olu of Warri should call you to order?
Yes, I think it is because they know that I am a very loyal Itsekiri person and the best way of blackmailing me now is to go and tell the monarch to call Ayiri to order. However, I think the monarch knows my character.
They know I will not disregard him, we are the ones that go out, we see what is happening, and so we should be able to speak out to let the world know what is going on. You see, I do not want to get the monarch involved in these matters because these issues have been on ground before he ascended the throne.
When the late Ogiame Atuwatse was alive, that was how they were asking him too to call me to order, saying that I was writing against Jonathan. But once I know that what they are doing is not right, I will speak out, I am a politician and a businessman and we need a conducive atmosphere to do politics and attracts investors to our area.
You and Tompolo almost fought when Jonathan came to Delta last year, what really happened?
These are some of the things that are still playing out now, even before the matter came up for discussion, some Itsekiris had already given up.
They agreed that they should name the Deep Sea Port after Gbaramatu. Some Gbaramatu people even suggested that they take the project to Oporoza area and I said they could not name the Deep Sea Port after Gbaramatu because the EPZ project is on Itsekiri land.
You see the project had been going on for over one year but because they want to have a strategic agenda to control the project, that is why they came up with certain things. It is like having a government within a government. Moreover, what that means is that before one can even come to the EPZ project proper in Ogidgiben, you would have to pay homage to one person and some of my brothers unfortunately had even surrendered their sovereignty to him. I said no and I will not.
If this project is in Oporoza and I need to go and work in Oporoza, I will go through the appropriate channel, so he should follow the law. If you are coming to Ugborodo to work, nobody will stop you.
He (Tompolo) equally worked in Chevron that is in Ugborodo, he worked there during the construction of EPZ, we gave Ijaws their quota, nobody stopped them, why this one, you want to come and dictate because you had the President. My problem was not even mainly with them, but some of my brothers from Ugborodo, who were actually with them in the scheme, drumming from behind that they should go after Ayiri because he is the one that said they should not name it after Gbaramatu. However, I still stand until today to say that government should not name that place Gbaramatu Deep Sea Port.
I learned that the altercation between you and Tompolo almost degenerated to fisticuff, how correct is this?
Yes, it almost become a physical fight before we met former President Jonathan. We met the President, instead of him hearing from both sides, he said he was going to do the groundbreaking and when he said that, I said if you do it, well, you are the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, I would go to court, which I did.
As I said in a previous interview, I do not have any personal scores to settle with Tompolo, it is just that the way I see the means of prosecuting the Niger Delta agitation is not the way he sees it.
I proceeded to the court and there was an order of restraint by the court on naming that land after Gbaramatu people. My own case is that if investors are coming, since the Federal Government had acquired the land, they should come and do their business quietly and nobody should take laws into their hands. There should be no blackmail and nobody should say that because of Ayiri, that is why investors do not want to come.
Where Jonathan failed us One of my fights with Jonathan was about the OML because if they had given those of us from this area the first Right of Refusal, this place would not have turned a junkyard when Shell deserted Warri. Those were my fights, it was not personal, if you are divesting, first, think about the people that stay here. When you sell to somebody that stays in Lagos, automatically, you are killing the entire state.
With the opportunity the present government is providing, we are in the process of building a gas plant and refinery to create jobs for Deltans. I am looking at providing 2000 to 3000 for people in all my outlets. My plan is to establish mega floating petrol stations in the riverine communities, which I want to discuss with the Minister of Petroleum.
Presently, we are building a tank farm and I had the opportunity of meeting the Minister of State for Petroleum, he said those that have the capacity should go ahead and put themselves together to stop bunkering so that investors can come in. I want to work with those type of people because if they give us opportunity, we will be able to create jobs in our place.
If we are going to stop bunkering, we need to take the refined products to the doorsteps of the villagers, which is why I will continue to fight anybody that wants to kill our dream for his personal interest. However, we are in the process of building a Refinery and Gas Plant.
Ultimately, if there is one reason why I must give my 100 percent support to President Buhari, it is because of the way he is handling the security of the nation…nobody is now above the law.