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The ongoing efforts by the Federal Government geared towards the ownership of modular refineries may have received the blessing of the militant Ijaw youths who have been agitating for the control of the natural resources, especially oil and gas found in commercial quantities in their communities. In this interview with John Meze, Barr Pereotubo Roland Oweilaemi, President Ijaw Youth Council, (IYC), speaks of the intentions of the youths with regards to the ownership and operation of modular refinery among a host of other issues. Excerpts:
There are concerns that Federal Government’s drive to have more modular refineries cited in the Niger Delta may not yield result because it is considered not to be economically viable for investors. What is your take on this?
I don’t want to agree that modular refineries if properly handled are not viable. I don’t agree with the proponent of that ideology. Modular refinery is a good gesture and initiative by the Federal Government. It will help us to move away from oil theft, to move away from illegal oil bunkering, but the worry is that the people who are supposed to be empowered to do this, to operate modular refineries are not the people in charge- I mean the Niger Delta people, the Ijaw people, who are involved in one form or the other but are not doing the oil business properly. This is the essence of modular refineries. We find out that the government is not giving the sons and daughters of Niger Delta the opportunity to own and operate modular refineries, because the conditions to get modular refineries are very stringent, the financial involvement is very huge and we do not have that kind of money. So we are calling on the Federal Government to relax these conditions to enable us also own and operate modular refineries, so that the peace we expect will continue to be part of the Niger Delta region.
Are you aware that Department of Petroleum Resources has reduced the initial deposit for establishing the refinery from one million dollars to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars?
Yes, I am aware and..
Is that still not much?
It’s too much; we want further reduction. We have the oil but we have not been managing this oil. We don’t have a stake in it so it should be relaxed, it should be brought down that we might also participate as equal owners in the project.
Alright, do you have colleagues in the Niger Delta who have actually applied to the DPR, because what the agency is saying is that, they are waiting for people to submit application for (cuts in…)
How can you apply for something that you knew from the onset that you cannot start? You know the requirements, you have given the requirements and from the word “hey, go!” you know that you can’t do it. There is no miracle, conditions are stringent. We can’t apply and get it concluded logically, that is why we are saying that they should relax the conditions for us to be co-owners. You can’t say that the process is open and they expect people from Niger Delta, people from Ijaw extraction to apply. How will they apply for something that they know that they won’t get at the end of the day? You already know the condition. The involvement, the logistics to put together to get a modular refinery is huge, that is why we are saying they should bring it down please.
Are you expecting intervention funds or..?
That is what we expect, that is what we expect, as a matter of fact we are calling on the government to give us a time frame about five to ten years, get the modular refineries set up for a group of youths in the Niger Delta and say that from a particular time of the year, say a certain amount to the Federal Government and at the end of the payment, you will become the owner of the refinery. That is palliative.
What are you doing to reach out to those in authority with regards to this particular issue?
Yes, we were talking to them some days ago, I was with my elder brother the Special Adviser on Amnesty and we had fruitful discussions on how we will ensure that there is peace in the Niger Delta region. Of course, you will agree with me that where there is no peace, you can’t attract development, so it is our responsibility to ensure as youth leaders that there is peace in the Niger Delta. That is the only panacea for development in the Niger Delta and we expect the government at different strata to do some basic things for us to get this peace we are looking for.
On marginal field, the Federal Government is planning to roll out marginal fields before the end of this year. How prepared are the youths of Niger Delta to control one of the fields?
We are very ready and capable to own and operate marginal fields, but the problem is that some people are saying that we are not capable. We have gone through a lot of skill acquisition. We are being trained. We have Ijaw sons and daughters, people from the Niger Delta that can own marginal fields and operate it successfully.
We’ve had different groups in Niger Delta after MEND which can one actually identify as the authentic voice of Niger Delta?
What is important is that, irrespective of whether it is MEND or not, we are all from the same region. We are from Niger Delta. We are all saying the same thing in different ways. We want to get to the same destination through different ways that is the meaning. No matter the number of groups we have, what we are simply saying is that we want to control our own resources, we want true federalism. So, it is not an issue of how many groups we have, if we have ten groups, it is the same thing being said. If we have twenty groups, it is the same agitation: that we want to control our resources.
How soon do you actually intend to take over the control?
It is not going to be taken by force. It is a process and that is why we have started the process, so it is not correct to ask how soon. We are discussing with the government. See, let us discuss, so many things are wrong. Let us sit down and discuss the future of this country. We want to continue to be part of Nigeria but there are things that are wrong; let us sit at the roundtable and discuss our future. For anyone to say that “no, we will not discuss because you have a National Assembly”, that is wrong. The destiny of the National Assembly lies in our hands, the National Assembly is not properly elected to decide where we should go at this point in time. Members of the National Assembly are politicians; of course, the composition of the National Assembly is not even. What I mean is that the number of representatives that you get from Bayelsa State is not at par with the number of representatives that you get from a place like Kano State. So, if I am an Ijaw man, and I want to get justice, I will not get it from the National Assembly because it will be put on vote, when that is done, we have the Northerners as the majority and will push other people out. What I am saying is that, irrespective of the fact that we have the National Assembly, let us sit down and discuss our future.
Talking about cleaning up of Ogoni, do you see the project being executed to completion?
It is unfortunate that we don’t seem to see what should be happening now on site. The process is slow and we are not pleased about it. Ogoni is not the only place, it is peculiar but it is not the only place that requires cleanup in the Niger Delta. There are so many places that are bastardised, our farmlands are gone, our aquatic life is gone, everything is done. Our mothers cannot farm, they cannot fish. So, we need cleanup in almost every place in the Niger Delta but you must start it from somewhere and that is why government has decided to start from Ogoni. However, the speed we expect is not the speed we see on ground. I am calling on the government to ensure that Ogoni cleanup exercise is given priority attention.
Two years after Buhari, what do you have to say about peace in the Niger Delta?
Peace in the Niger Delta. It’s inevitable and must be achieved irrespective of who is at the helm of affairs. It is important and we are working tirelessly to ensure that there is peace in the Niger Delta and Ijaw territories, and the government at the centre is trying to settle down to attend to some of our demands. It is expected that we give them some time to dress the table and attend to the problems of the Niger Delta people.
At a time, there was a threat by one of the groups in the Niger Delta in response to the call for southerners, especially Igbos to leave the North, then another group came out to say that they wanted to send some people away……
Yes, that’s an unfortunate notice that was given to the Igbos by the Northern Youth Forum. It is uncalled for, we are a country and we have vowed to live together. I am not part of these people that are saying that, the Niger Delta people are not saying that they want to leave this country as at today. We are simply saying that we want restructuring, we want resource control, and it is an abomination for a group of people to say that the other people residing in Kano and Kaduna should relocate to Imo and Anambra state. I weigh it with all amount of seriousness, because today we might be saying that it is Hausa, or North and East; tomorrow it might spread to the entire South-South, that is why I said the warning to the green leaf; the falling of the green leaf is a warning to the red one. When the green leaf begins to fall, the red one should know that it might be the next one to fall. So that is why, all of us, irrespective of where we are coming from should take this quit notice seriously, and we should guide against it. We should not allow it to happen, it is a warning and we condemn it in its entirety.