Annkio Briggs is a Niger Delta activist based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. In this interview with NAIJ.com’s Austin Oyibode, Briggs reveals hidden truths about the Niger Delta and was she called the insincerity of the federal government to the Ogoni clean-up campaign.
You are a stakeholder in the Niger Delta project, who do you blame over the Niger Delta crisis?
The Niger Delta crisis started years and years ago. The 1914 amalgamation of many ethnic nationalities across the land mass and the creeks of today’s North and South of Nigeria by the British Colonial government brought the Niger Delta where she is today.
The previous governments since independence have taken advantage of the Niger Delta people’s failure to see their region as their first economic and political priority.
The struggle to develop the Niger Delta and ensure equitable distribution of resources have dominated minority struggle since oil was first discovered in Oloibiri. What is the hope that the region will come out and enjoy its resources to the fullest?
As long as there is life there is hope, but it is taking too long, because our people over the years have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into believing that their priority should be Nigeria as a country instead of their priority being that of an economically and politically secured Niger Delta where the people are in charge of their region and resources.
Therefore unless our people step up and make the needed changes necessary to take control of our destiny, hope is empty. For the Niger Delta people to enjoy our resources to the fullest we must speed up hope.
The militants have been blowing pipelines despite the ceasefire agreement, do you subscribe to their continued onslaught on the oil facilities?
I continue to make it clear that l believe in non-violence and remain a non-violent agitator for justice and equity. From the day the NDA blew up the first pipeline l have appealed for them to stop blowing up the pipelines but rather embrace the path of dialogue.
Having said that, the Niger Delta people, environment and total region have suffered violence from the days of the colonial oppression and slavery to the 1960 independence of Nigeria. Let us not misunderstand what is going on, there was no ceasefire agreement as l understand it is between the various different groups emerging from the Niger Delta and the federal government.
Rather my understanding is that the NDA offered to stop blowing up pipelines while they watch the process of the ‘so called’ dialogue by the federal government.
Can you give us a description of the degradation of the Niger Delta region?
I was born in the United Kingdom but raised in the Kalabari creeks of today’s Rivers state. I am an Ijaw by ethnicity. My people are riverine people, meaning we live within the creeks, swamps, mangroves and rivers of the Niger Delta. We are a people that live off our environment.
It is our right to own, claim and protect our source of livelihood. My childhood is of wonderful memories of freedom within the riverine and creek environment, those memories are stuck in my head, l can’t see them physically nor can l show them to my children or grandchildren, though the environment still exists.
The oil companies and all the federal governments since the independence of 1960, subsequent military and the pretentious democracy have explored and exploited oil and gas in the region and the creeks of the Niger Delta with total disregard to the people, their rights, environment and their future.
Our drinking waters, agricultural lands and the air we breathe are totally destroyed. Our livelihood is destroyed and life span of the people is very low. Our desires and aspirations for development and survival are constantly denied us. We drink, bathe and cook with polluted water, the food we grow and eat is polluted, the fish and sea food we catch are polluted, we have never been compensated for spills.
The federal government and oil companies make promises and don’t ever keep their promises. Our environment, according to various independent researches carried out, has confirmed that the Niger Delta is the most devastated and destroyed delta in the entire world, and the Niger Delta is the third largest delta in the world, yet for the greed of political and economic power the Niger Delta people and region have been so destroyed that it will take a minimum of 30 years to correct. Why do we deserve this…?
How do you look at the Ogoni clean up campaign by the federal government? Do you think the federal government is sincere in this venture?
The UN research was conducted in Ogoni land not because Ogoni land represents the whole of the destroyed areas of the Niger Delta but because it was chosen as what l choose to describe as the entry point.
The federal government has taken advantage of the people by politicizing the UNEP Report in their interest and bringing Ogoni people and other ethnic nationalities at logger aheads.
No federal government is ever sincere in its dealings with the Niger Delta people and region. l don’t believe the federal government ever plans to be sincere with the Niger Delta people on any issue concerning the region.
The federal government continues with the age old practice of the colonial government of divide and rule, unfortunately the various ethnic nationalities are yet to see this as their destruction.
Not only in my opinion is this federal government insincere, in its claim to clean up the Ogoni spill, it does not have the funds nor does it have the capacity to carry out such massive, specialized and complex clean up. This government will not start the real process of cleaning up the Ogoni spill not to speak of the Niger Delta.
With your analysis, are you now saying the Ogoni clean-up campaign was a fraud?
Yes, it is fraudulent of the federal government to make such a big deal, drums and songs that the FG is about to start the process of cleaning Ogoni land, when they ought to know that they are not ready to deploy authentic professionals to the program of clean up. The government has shared the contract to clean up of Ogoni land amongst themselves. Sadly our people are blinded by a fake sense of One Nigeria as if the unity of Nigeria is tied to the security and development of the people of Niger Delta.
Let’s look at the oil firms operating in the region. Are they really meeting their social responsibility to the people of the region?
Though cooperate social responsibility is international responsibility that the oil companies adhere to everywhere in the world, but totally disregarded in the Niger Delta because they are encouraged to treat us, our livelihood and environment with contempt because we are few in number, and because we are black.
I grew up in the Niger Delta, l live and work in the Niger Delta, the claims of responsibility made by the oil companies, at best is very insignificant, and definitely in most cases non-existence.
What is the point in providing sumo pump to a community to manually pump water that you have polluted with crude oil? The water in our communities is crude oil flavored water, what sort of cooperate social responsibility is that?
What type of responsibility will make you empower two different youth groups in one community or fund two different communities and encourage them to fight each other for your sake?
Gas explosion in the Niger Delta
Do you mean oil firms are encouraging communities to fight each other?
Yes the oil companies have used the tactics of divide and rule by encouraging one community against the other, or one group in one community against another group in the same community. But this is a pattern that has been going on in the past. For example when there is a spill in one community the oil company will send materials to a community far away from the real site, and ignore the impacted community with the usual statement of “it is unsafe to go into the community” “the youths won’t let us go in” but it is never unsafe for the oil companies to take the resources.
If the impacted community complains they stop the provision to the other community and tell them the other community is objecting to their getting relief materials. The oil companies create the atmosphere for discord and mistrust.
Some people are of the view that the region is conquered specie, saying as long as the oil is still flowing, the region will remain under servitude, do you think so?
The only interest the cabal (national and international) that insists on controlling the political and economic powers of Nigeria has ever had in the Niger Delta and of her numerous ethnic nationalities was and remains based on the oil, gas and subsequent resources in the Niger Delta.
So, yes they see and control the region as the goose that lays the golden eggs, the cow they must squeeze for honey and milk under all and any circumstances.
Yes, in their eyes and minds they do everything as l have said above to make the people feel they are conquered, but we are not a conquered people or region. It is oppression and human rights abuse that is going on, while there are people such as me who will continue to highlight and draw attention to the oppression we endure, there are people who will do other things to draw attention to our plight.
The fall in crude oil price, and the low demand of crude oil the world over is in a justified way also speaking for the Niger Delta people. Sooner or later the federal government will come to terms with the fact that it must look for other sources of income to share amongst the 36 states of the federation.
But do you see the people of the region having a united voice in the fight for the liberation of the region? Don’t you see many playing along political lines?
Though our major weakness is the fact that we are different ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta, and have not spoken with one voice politically in the past, our people are recognizing that fact as an impediment and draw back, and sooner than later must see the need to get over that hurdle, if they want to survive or have a future to hand over to their children.
The people of the Niger Delta have been involved in politics, but l believe our people must see politics as a service for the greater good and not as their personal business. Until our people in politics see it as a platform for the people and region, until the politicians respect the power of politics we give them they, sadly, will not be able to use politics as the platform to free us, but finally unless the millions of people of the Niger Delta own the political power by having and controlling their own political party, politics will remain the way of only a few, and our voices will remain the only credible and effective way out of this danger of evil control by strangers of our region.
Niger Delta militants
President Muhammadu Buhari and his cabinet members have been throwing accusations of corruption against Goodluck Jonathan, what is your view? Do you agree that Jonathan is corrupt?
It is ridiculous to think that one person or groups of people, or political party or government can decide outside of the normal ways that one person or people or ethnic group are corrupt, because you say so.
I am in no position to know, but definitely l will not accept that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is corrupt because the APC government says so, or one APC governor says so, or some Niger Delta people in opposition to Jonathan say so.
The people saying Jonathan is corrupt also have people saying they are corrupt too. If you as a person or as a government have evidence that someone is corrupt what is the essence in shouting in social media, media houses, rather go to court, try them in open courts, and if they are found guilty let the law take its course.
When you say it only people of Niger Delta region are corrupt without evidence then you are oppressing them, and l won’t accept that especially if the people you are oppressing are my people. If you can’t show me proof that Jonathan or any other Niger Delta person is corrupt you can’t force me to believe what you want me to believe. If you say your own people are not corrupt general l say my own people are not corrupt. In any case the so called stolen money is stolen from Niger Delta, very clearly.