The Convener of the Conference of Nigerian Civil Rights Activists and a leader of Campaign for Democracy, Mr. Ifeanyi Odili, in this interview with BAYO AKINLOYE, says allegations linking former President Goodluck Jonathan to the Niger Delta Avengers are grievous and that the ex-president should seek legal redress to clear his name if he is innocent.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and the Reformed Niger Delta have accused former President Goodluck Jonathan of being sympathetic to the Niger Delta Avengers and that he’s using the Avengers to destabilise President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Do you think that the allegation was proper, considering the fact that he willingly conceded defeat to Buhari?
Yes. People should be curious because they seem not to realise that in Nigeria, everything is possible. The question of whether it is right or wrong (to accuse Goodluck Jonathan of sponsoring the Avengers) has not arisen. The question should be: can he possibly allow himself to be involved in such unpatriotic act? The answer to the question can go either way. I am from the Niger Delta; I know what some of us can do. Who was Jonathan before he became the vice president? As a nation, are we aware of his security antecedents? No Ijaw man is free from militancy. And besides, do you think that Jonathan willingly accepted defeat? That belief (that he graciously accepted defeat) is nothing but mere fallacy. The man was not to leave the stage (hand over power to Buhari). The voice of rejection was too loud and clear for him to risk clinging on to power through either a Machiavellian approach or any other guise. He had no option than to quit, otherwise his case would have been worse than that of Laurent Gbagbo and Muammar Gaddafi. He had been rejected. So, refusing to relinquish power would have been disastrous for him and the entire nation. The country would probably have been at war at that moment. In other words, he did not sacrifice his presidential ambition; rather, he was rejected and he knew it. If you study the body language of some of his followers, then you will infer that the accusation could be true.
Do you think it is important for Jonathan to seek legal redress if truly he has no link to the militant group, to clear his name?
What Jonathan should have done is to sue those who levelled the allegation against him for their intention to defame and damage his character; that is if his hands are clean. I cannot give an undertaking for anybody from that region on issues like this. But from a legal point of view, if someone is accused of a certain criminal act, it is the duty of the government to investigate this weighty allegation against an ex-president.
There’s been destruction of oil facilities in the Niger Delta by the Avengers and violent attacks in the South-West by other militants. No one has heard the ex-president openly condemn such actions. What do you think about Jonathan’s body language?
His body language speaks volume; it is conceived of so many meanings. At his level and being an elder statesman, such actions should not have come from his domain. He could have urged the militants to sheathe their sword. He cannot openly condemn the attack going by his body language. Some of us from the Niger Delta believed before now, that it was (President Muhammadu) Buhari who was sponsoring or instigating Boko Haram against the Jonathan’s government, being a southerner. Now that Buhari, a northerner is there, someone from the Niger Delta might think this is a time to revenge. I think that is what we are witnessing today. However, that notion ought to have been deleted from their memories since the soldiers allegedly killed over 700 members of Shiite Muslims and continued detention of (Ibraheem) El-Zakzaky by the Nigerian Army under the watch of Buhari.
Are you saying the inaction or silence of the former president on the militants’ activities is deliberate?
One would not be off the mark to say emphatically that his silence is deliberate because it is said that ‘silence means consent.’ What would have prompted some prominent South-South leaders to approach Buhari and demand the suspension of the ongoing prosecution of Jonathan’s aides as part of conditions to stop the destruction of oil facilities by the NDA? Who do you think was the mastermind of such irresponsible move? Those leaders could not have taken such step without due consultation with Jonathan. What has dropping of corruption charges got to do with destruction of government properties which is regarded as our collective heritage, inasmuch as we remain as one indivisible nation?
Do you think he can be instrumental to resolving the Niger Delta crisis?
Obviously, not. As an aggrieved and ousted president? He cannot and can never be instrumental in the resolution of the crisis because what we are seeing today is what they (Jonathan’s supporters) termed ‘Plan B’ following his loss at the presidential poll. So, anyone who thinks Jonathan can be instrumental to resolving the ongoing destruction of our properties and the Niger Delta crisis is committing a huge political and economic blunder. Solution to Niger Delta Crisis is that the government should deal directly with the common people, not the likes of (Government Ekpemupolo, aka) Tompolo, (Kingsley) Kuku, Asari Dokubo, and Edwin Clark, among others. There cannot be any solution until justice is done. The real owners of these resources must feel the impact of their resources; I mean the masses in that region.
What do you make of the ex-president’s alleged relationship with Government Tompolo?
That is one of the things I have just said. If Jonathan and Tompolo did not have a robust relationship, what is Tompolo doing with the billions of naira which belonged to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency? It was also alleged that contract to import ammunition to fight Boko Haram insurgents was given to him. When did Tompolo become importer of arms? When did he become a registered fire arms supplier in the Ministry of Defence? Let me tell you, Buhari’s earthly sojourn will not be complete if all these looters are not apprehended and jailed – if possible, executed – because their act, have sent many souls to their untimely graves.
Don’t you think that linking Jonathan with NDA is APC propaganda to discredit him?
This is not propaganda; it is a reality and a fact that should be properly investigated. Such allegation is not what the government will just overlook or sweep under the carpet – or else, this country is doomed. But while I hold that view, I cannot allow my sense of reasoning to be clouded because I also have a second reflection about it. Don’t forget that a petition was written against Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Ogonis (his own people) to the then Federal Military Government under (Gen. Sani) Abacha over what was termed treason and arson upon which he was sentenced to death. Consequently, he was hanged. So, the allegation could be out of jealousy, hatred and vengeance by his (Jonathan’s) own people. This we cannot be ruled out completely. It can also be a ploy as you have rightly suggested, by the government to cause harm or damage to his image, because the world sees him as a hero for relinquishing power ‘willingly.’
So, to prove his innocence, he should go to court?
If Jonathan was not willing to clear his name on the matter, legally, and the government sees the allegation as something to act upon and as a threat to the Nigerian nation – namely, our corporate existence. It (The Federal Government) should ask the security agencies to invite the erstwhile president (for questioning); investigate and prosecute him for treason and economic sabotage, if found guilty.
Could it be that the ex-president doesn’t care about what people say about him?
I don’t think so. I think he wants to display some bit of maturity and intelligence but I am afraid this is really a serious allegation that he should not have ignored.