First published in The Punch Newspaper, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009

President of the United States-based Newstime International, Mr. Tony Oyatedor, is involved in the training of ex-militants in the Niger Delta. He speaks on leadership in the region, especially the post-amnesty program of the federal government. He also suggested ways of tackling militancy and achieving electoral reform, among other issues, in this interview with Mudiaga Effe.  Excerpts;


What is your take on the insinuation that the country’s leadership has not displayed the much-needed commitment to change the face of the Niger Delta region?


It is not always that we must criticize. You will agree with me that President Umaru Yar’Adua and his vice, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan recorded huge success as a result of the amnesty granted to militants in the Niger Delta region. However, people from the region are the laughingstock of the nation due to bad leadership. God in His infinite mercies, has shown love to the people of the region by blessing them with abundant natural resources, but hostilities and bad leadership have always been the problem in the region. It is for that reason that my organization, Newstime International Company, will be organizing a seminar on rehabilitation, and reintegration for the Niger Delta militants that we refer to as freedom fighters. This seminar is aimed at re-enacting the negative effects of violence as a means of solving problems. The seminar has the theme; “Peace Attracts Development’. It will take place in Warri, Yenagoa, Uyo, Port Harcourt, and all other state capitals in the region. Most times we partner with corporate organizations in the region, and we insist on human capital development first and then simultaneously, infrastructure, mainly in the oil and gas sector, agriculture, banking, and business. This time we will monitor all implementation programs,  and also insist that grants be given to the people of the region for agriculture, not loans. But grants. We will teach leadership and the art of loving one another. Leaders from the North, for instance in Katsina state, refer to themselves as the good people from that state, but unfortunately, leadership in Niger Delta refers to their people as criminals. We will show people how to love one another. The problem of militancy that resurrected again in the region will be curbed. It is imperative for the leaders of that region to invest in their people, not just properties. The property that you have today may not save you in the year after, it is the good things that you do today that will save you in the future. 


There were renewed hostilities in the region recently, do you think the federal government’s inability to keep its part of the deal responsible?


I will neither condemn nor cast aspersions. By just going to the church or the mosque without reading the Holy Book, brings far more danger than advantages. After you have read the Holy Book, you will be deeply shaken by the fact that you have fallen from the darkness. The agreement we are talking about now is that evil can only thrive when people of good conscience keep quiet. President Umaru Yar’Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, on behalf of the Federal Government, have done a good deal for my people, but it is the people in the region that is the problem. We hate one another, but I am propagating that we have to love one another. We are insisting that the leaders in the region should love their neighbors as they love themselves, that is the only way we can come out of this quagmire we are facing now. This will make us not to be the laughing stock of the nation, but the envy of all.


What is your post-amnesty assessment of the region?

Whatever the leadership of the Niger Delta does or fails to do, to sustain peace, will have a tremendous effect on the entire people of the country. So I urge the people of the region to embrace peace without which there cannot be development. For any pipeline vandalized at your backyard, you are destroying your home. The Federal Government should call on all the companies in the region to invest in the people of Niger Delta. Fifty percent of workforce companies in the region should go to the people of the area. We have a situation whereby all the banks, oil companies, telecommunications, and others are being managed by people who are not from the region. They say the people do not want to work, yet they have not given them the opportunity to work. How many Ijaw, Urhobo, Itshekiri people are in management positions in banks and oil companies in the region? But, I do not blame the Federal Government; the people should be blamed because they do not love one another. I challenge ministers from the region to declare whom they have brought from poverty to prosperity. However, we cannot continue to pass the buck because our people suffer for lack of knowledge.


How do you hope to attract the people’s attention with this campaign of yours?


Well, this campaign is from God, for God and by God. We are calling on the people of the nation to please join us in this onerous endeavor to bring peace to the region. Our President is but one man, he cannot do it alone. The ministers, lawmakers, special advisers, are all in this together to help the president who initiated the moves. God will not come from heaven to do it. The country can only change when everyone takes up the challenge to address the issues, not by complaining. Again, it is unfortunate that our leaders do not read books, newspapers, if you go to their offices, their television is tuned to foreign stations. How would they know the problems surrounding them if they do not read? So, the leaders should make it a point of duty to read all the local newspapers around them before going on to foreign ones, by that way they will feel the complaints of the citizenry. The public says what they say through the media, it is a powerful means of disseminating information. The leadership of the Niger Delta is not reaching out to get this information. We pray that the federal government, departments and agencies, oil companies, and corporate organizations should join us in this struggle.


Now, the buildup to 2011 general elections will commence as from 2010. Do you see the possibility of having a refurbished electoral system before that election?


Well, it depends on what you mean by change. Every four years in an election circle all over the world, you hold the leadership accountable. In doing this, it is incumbent on us to ask the people what they have done. In the last four years would you say the President, his Vice, The Peoples Democratic Party have done well? It is only when you give them a pass mark that they will remain in power, if not, they should be voted out. You must let people know, especially through the media, that these people are public servants, not public masters; so they are accountable to the people. We have a situation in Nigeria where the entire public servants see themselves as public masters. They forget that every four years or maximum of eight years, you would be thrown out. Some of them cannot stroll freely in the streets after leaving positions of authority because people will stone them with all sorts of things.


But one major problem with the system is that the people’s votes don’t count, how then can we effectively carry out the change?


Again, I am an optimist, I will not join the bandwagon of those who only blame the situation without preferring solutions. Now, I watched the campaigns during the 2007 general elections. The Peoples Democratic Party is the only party that has the infrastructure in place in all 774 local government areas in the country. Some people who contested for the presidency for instance, had their party structures only in Lagos and Abuja, yet they hoped to win the election. How can that be? Because PDP is all over the place, they won the clear majority. Other parties should endeavor to have their presence felt in all the 774 local council areas and field credible candidates during the election, and see if there will not be the difference. Unfortunately, now the margin is so wide that you are talking of electoral reform, but how do you achieve that when the people are not ready? It is only in Nigeria that people do not prepare for something and yet they expect to win elections, how? It is only in Nigeria that the super eagles will be unprepared when they know they have a major game coming up – three weeks to the game that is when we start training, whereas your opponent has been training for two years before the event. We blame everyone else but ourselves, for lack of preparation. If you want votes to count in this country, I urge the other parties to be well-prepared to fight the PDP from toe to toe. So, when the results is given, even if it is a unanimous decision when there are split votes, the PDP itself will say the other parties have tried. But to talk about electoral reform without preparing for it, then they are not a party to the change. Today in Anambra State, you have over 100 aspirants vying to be governor of that little state. How many people want to be governor? It is left for the other parties to put their house together and critically bring one person to fight against the majority party. Look at the case of United States President Barack Obama, despite all the odds in that country, one man with encouragement rose from poverty to prosperity today. If you see one man who is passionate about leadership, who wants to rule for the people and not for himself, then choose that man, encourage him, and vote for him to make him win.


Do you see the opposition party as capable of whittling down the powers of the PDP?


That is where i will say that the opposition parties must come together and find out a way in unison and stand firm, just like you have in the US where you have Republican and Democratic Parties. So when they go head to head, one person will win and another will lose at every given circle. This they can do by fashioning out programs that will differentiate them from what the ruling party has on the ground – they can say we have better ideas, these people have been ruling for four or eight years look at what they have given you, but we have better programs for you that will make us progress faster. That is where the opposition parties should come out with the questions for Nigerians – are we better off today under the PDP-led government? If the overwhelming answer is no, then it is incumbent on the people to vote them out, but if the reverse is the case, then PDP comes back to power. That is the name of the game. So, we can only rig elections when those questions are not answered favorably. Of course, that is why we have the courts to address cases of election malpractice. 



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