Comrade Ebilade Ekerefe, the spokesman of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, in an interview with vanguard spoke on the state of the nation and the kind of president Niger Delta people want among others.
Ekerefe said this of the 2023 election season:
As you are well the Ijaw Nation and by extension, the Niger-Delta is a very critical component when it comes to Nigeria’s politics and its development considering the very large deposits of crude oil and so whoever becomes the president of this country is of much interest to the Niger-Delta people especially taking into cognizance the socio-economic challenges that the country is currently facing.
So, we are looking at a president that will first prioritize the issue of the Niger Delta, first as Ijaw Youth Council, we have been on the front burner in agitating for a restructured Nigeria that will reflect the true principles of fiscal federalism.
So, if the presidential aspirants are not talking about a restructured country that will devolve power from the center to the state and local governments, we don’t think the Niger Delta people will want to align with such presidential aspirants. If a presidential aspirant is not talking about how Nigeria as a country will be secure with a strategic roadmap, not just this rhetoric as we are seeing around but a strategic roadmap of how the country will be secured; a strategic roadmap on how the will be the industrialization of the Niger-Delta region, a strategic roadmap on how the Niger-Delta region will be cleaned up, and restore the lost hope of our people.
What we are seeing clearly shows that the political class or those who are aspiring to become president of this country are only campaigning on the basis of rhetoric. We have not clearly seen any desire of these presidential aspirants to solve the problems of the Nigerian question and the Niger Delta in particular. And so, we are very much concerned, we are worried because what is currently going on is a charade. People are not really serious but as we make progress, we will be coming up with our plans on how we desire to engage but fundamentally the Ijaw Nation and the Niger Delta will only mobilize, support for any presidential aspirant or candidate that will prioritize the issues highlighted.
What Ekerefe Thinks of Zoning to the South
Nigeria is a pluralistic country and you cannot take away ethnicity out of our body politics because of the various ethnic nationalities making up the country. So, if the North has got its fair share, the South should also have its fair share but beyond the principle of zoning, our concern as a people is a leader that will be able to unite the country and restore hope, provide employment, eradicate corruption and fight insecurity headlong. For us, that is the kind of president we are looking for, a president that will make the Niger Delta a major priority like late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did with his Seven-Point Agenda. The Niger Delta was a top cardinal point of his agenda and we saw what happened.
The man came, stabilized the region, and brought in the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, created the Ministry of the Niger Delta, and other interventions too numerous to mention. But we have a president who in his inaugural speech made it emphatically clear that the region that did not vote for him will have less than five percent of attention from his government and that is exactly what we have seen.
So, the underdevelopment of the Niger-Delta region is a reflection of the statement of Mr. President. For us, we are not surprised but going forward we are looking for a president that we can hold to account for the issues that affect us as a people.
Fundamentally is the issue of a restructured Nigeria that reflects true fiscal federalism. We are looking for a president that will hold multinational oil companies accountable, secure the country and attend to the developmental needs of the Niger-Delta people. Basically, that is what the Ijaw people and the Niger-Delta people are interested in, it is not necessarily on the basis of zoning. What if your zone and the president that emerged through that process do not prioritize the issue of the Niger-Delta question?
I think we should begin to look at the bigger picture, think of a leader that will unite the country, de-emphasize religion and ethnicity, and take a look at the entire nation as his constituency.
However, the presidential aspirants that have indicated interest to run are not resonating with the ordinary man on the streets of the country, and until we see that we will not make any commitment as to the presidential aspirant or candidate that the Niger-Delta people will mobilize for.
We have some presidential aspirants from the South-South including governors. Do you think they have what it takes to lead the country?
Of course, it requires leadership and that is why we are challenging them to go beyond the rhetoric and talk about the real issues of setting a template for development, especially in the Niger-Delta region and we have not seen that.
All the governors who have indicated an interest in to contest are just running to the North, so they think that the Niger-Delta people will just give them free votes. They say charity begins at home. They should not have this belief because they think that they are from the Niger-Delta region and that they will have automatic votes solidarity and support from the people, but the answer is no.
They should know that if they are from the South-South and they are prepared to lead the country, they should be able to prove to us that if the opportunity is given to them that they will prioritize the Niger-Delta region. Clearly, we have not seen that. All that we are seeing are presidential aspirants from the South running to the North to go and get blessings thinking that if they pledge their loyalty to the North automatically they will become president of this country. That era is gone.