“I Don’t Regret Fighting For Nigeira”

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This is the part III of The Tide Roundtable encounter with the Chairman Rivers State Scholarship Board, Captain Elechi Amadi (rtd) first published last Wednesday. Here is the excerpts. Read On. In the last stakeholders meeting where you made this popular statement that education cannot wait-there was a debate on how to manage the social security health bill, the government has now set up a committee to fine-tune all of them. In your estimation, is the federal government, nay the other state governments doing enough to drive education? What should be done is what our governor is doing here. Yar’Adua lists education in his seven-point agenda, but lip service is paid to it. You and I know that in the universities, there are no facilities, teachers are not enough, go to the elementary schools in your village, are the students learning how many teachers are there? You need the will and the commitment, it has to come from within. No government has that commitment. I will call it desperation, if you like to see that education is number one. It is something that must be done. You can’t run away from it. No government has that commitment. They don’t care. And that is why our universities have gone down and down the drain. Elementary schools and so on. So the commitment is not there. This commitment we are talking about should start from the Federal Ministry of Education and then down the line. Of course in the state, the kind of thing our governor is doing, get textbooks for the children, get them libraries, make sure they have something to start on. If you can afford it, give them a midday meal. Let them have books; let them have teachers and pay the teachers. It is counter-productive, you say teachers are so many, in fact they are not enough as you know. We do not have enough teachers. Could you imagine that teachers who have not been paid for three months, his children are hungry, maybe his wife is sick, he has no money to send his wife to hospital; he hasn’t paid his house rent, his landlord is nagging him, he comes to the classroom he sees the world differently. A man who has not been paid for three months, can imagine such a man or woman teaching. He is angry, he is frustrated, he will nag at the students and he won’t teach. Can you imagine a child being taught by a teacher like that. Your child is in trouble, all the frustrations from the teacher will be poured out on the child. Education should be liberal. And people used to say, oh, you have too many universities, I don’t believe in it. Eventually standard will be judged by the performance of the individual institution. In the U.S, America whom we now envy, in our days, American graduate coming will be given a school certificate job. Why, because his degree was considered very much inferior to the Nigerian degree which was true. You find out that the man knows nothing why because there were so many mushroom universities in America. Over time, American government standardized things, classified the universities at various levels. You have Harvard and Yale and all such great universities and so on down the line and Open Universities is struggling to beef up standard to be recognized and so on and that is why American education is liberal. So here we should do the same thing. But we should mind standard if you want to establish a private university, yes, but we give you guidelines and we give you the minimum requirement. When once you have done that then the rest is up to you. If you like get all your relations, give them Bachelor of Arts BA after one year and so on, fine. When they come back they will be tested at the job, you find that some of them will not be employable. You understand. So private universities should exist but they should be properly monitored and given basic standard to meet. What do you say about N’Delta struggle? The two questions are not related at all. The integrity of the nation is number one. And then we now sort out our internal problems. And during the civil war the Niger Delta problem was not there. So that problem though it was there had not been brought to the public awareness. I don’t regret fighting for the Nigerian nation. In fact if it happens again I will take the same step. Because I believe that, if Nigeria had broken up, Africa would have lost one opportunity of creating a great nation to show that the black man can run a prosperous and big state. The moment you break up you are going to have all these mini states, the Yoruba Igbo, Hausa, Middle Belt and then in the Delta here, we may struggle so you will have about half a dozen countries, all of them very weak. I felt that, we are best served by a strong and big country. We have 250 tribes in this country to wield all that together as a nation is a Herculean task. UK is actually four main tribes, Scotland, Wales, English and the Irish, but look at all the problems they have been having all these years. Four tribes, they have been having those problems for centuries. We have 250 tribes and we merged only forty something years ago. So I tell people, I said we are doing very well. So I think that a big black country is necessary to lead the continent and Nigeria promises to be that country. We have the resources. We have the manpower. We wanted you to comment on the Niger Delta struggle? Well the Niger Delta struggle is a legitimate demand. You cannot get so much wealth from my backyard and you take it and go away and develop other places and you forget me. Even before this, there is an oil well in my father’s land. Shell well No. 9 Agbada one is on my father’s land. But I ever got one kobo in my own part of the village; they have taken a total of 28 acres of land. You know how much they pay for one acre per year. They are paying N50 per hectare per year. It was so bad that they were ashamed to pay this money so they wait for about five years. So what I tell you is that I am as aggrieved as anybody else because I am one of those being deprived. There is a flow station in my village with 35 oil wells and they get two thousand barrels a day. If you come to my village, we don’t have a clinic, we don’t have a school, the road Shell tarred ages ago has now gone bad and sometime, they come with scholarships, scholarships worth N10,000 pr year. But they are getting N20 million every day from our village. The Niger Delta struggle is a legitimate struggle and without that noise there wouldn’t have been the awareness. The boys may be cruel and all that but without that struggle, there wouldn’t have been the awareness of the injustice being done to the people of the Niger Delta. Every reasonable person, not just any body from here, any reasonable Nigerian should support the Niger Delta people. But dialogue is also important because if you keep fighting and fighting, you can fight for a hundred years nothing will happen. In everything there must be peace and there must be an atmosphere for development but if you just keep fighting and shooting and so on, you do that for hundred years nothing will happen. But a time must come for dialogue then when you dialogue the government can say ok. We will do this, we will do that, I submitted several papers before this Niger Delta struggle. We submitted several papers to Shell in their seminars, they never like seeing me and they don’t like inviting me to their seminar because I will speak out and accuse them of what they are doing. I told them to prepare a blueprint for the Niger Delta. Don’t just say there will be a road here. Prepare a blue print for the entire region and let the people come and study it, amend it and eventually approve then you can do it in stages. You know stage one, stage two, stage three and so on. So any project in the Niger Delta area without blueprint and knowing the schedule is not okay. By 2010 a road will be coming here, there should be a hospital here. So if you are suffering, and you know there is relief, is easier to bear the suffering is not for ever But if you are suffering and there is no hope of relief, then the suffering is intensified. Then the second point is resource control, which is to say, there is nowhere in the world, where you can go and there is oil on somebody’s land and you take everything and give to the government, and they will give 13 percent. But if you are not eating and not alive you can’t look after your children, that 13 percent does not do you any good. So there must be some money; some physical cash that will go into the pockets of land owners, the people from whose land the oil is mined. That is what I understand by resource control. Even if it is one kobo per barrel it should go to the owners of the land. So in other words, that aspect of it, the government cannot avoid it for ever. You must pay something to the land owners. The owners of the land must have some physical cash paid into their pockets to compensate them for the pollution which they suffer for all sorts of things and for the deprivation of their land. So the Niger Delta struggle is very legitimate and it can be defended morally. But I am one of those who supported the amnesty. People said no, it will not work, I said it will work, it has to work, so there must be time for us to sit down and think and some people said it won’t work, no it will work, and it’s working. One of the thing you also identified is non-adherence to budgetary provisions but before then you were a Permanent Secretary in the civil service; if it was not like that, what do you think is responsible for this problem now because most governments that come at the end of the day, make a budget and will not release it? First, during our days, the civil service had rules to which it adhered. We used to spend nights on budgets, sometimes we will be there in the executive chamber 3.00 am for the budget working out the nitty-gritty of every kobo and so on. And when it comes to executing the budget, we are thorough. I remember the first budget, after the war, we had only N2m or so. But with that N2m, we did a lot, eventually we were able to build the secretariat and all that. We adhered strictly to the budget and the Ministry of Finance worked efficiently. Now things went bad during Babangida’s era. He now made the Permanent Secretary irresponsible. You can do anything you like; when the time comes you just go. That’s where the problem started. So the Permanent Secretary used to be the accounting officer of the ministry. With the Babangida it is now the governor who is the accounting officer, and with that, the rigidity in the system broke down. I give you an example, during the time of Chief Melford Okilo of blessed memory, I was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and the governor said I should pay level 16 salary to an officer in the ministry, I said well I can’t I’m the accounting officer; I will be surcharged. He said no, he was the accounting officer, that I should pay, I said no I won’t pay and in any case I had levels 13, 14, 15, 16 officers so if I pay, this level 12 officer, pay him level 16, what do you think will happen to the morale of my workers here. And you know it led to a lot of problems; he retired me, I went to court and won and he was asked to reinstate me, and I was reinstated. So what I’m saying, that couldn’t have happened if the normal system was operating where the Permanent Secretary was not the accounting officers in the ministries, the accountant-general was, he had the purse you know, and you had the auditors, who are different from the ministries, you had the auditor-general at the end of the year, all the expenses for the ministry, the accounts will go to the auditor-general. He and his team will now go through all the accounts of the ministry and they issued queries to Permanent Secretaries or to whoever had defaulted and helped to answer those queries; he will face sanctions and whatever. But now, where is the accountant-general, what does he do? That function is no longer there. And that is why they worked according to the budget. Sir, you were sometime kidnapped. Can you tell us your kidnapped experiences? What was the reason. Money, Money was the attraction. You know when they came in and started robbing my house, they said where is the money I said I have no money. They took some money I had brought to pay my children’s school fees. They said follow us. I said are you going to kill me? Did you see any big car here? No big car, nothing and my door is not reinforced; there is no burglary proof. They opened the door, I said you think I have money? They said no, no you don’t have money, but you are now chairman of Scholarship Board. Tell the governor to give us three hundred million, so that was really what they said. They took me away about 24 hours. Now in the night in the jungle I was dialoguing with them. I was talking to them. I said look young men, you don’t really deserve to be here. This is not where you should be you blind folded me, but I know that you are young men Some of you should be in schools, in jobs and so on; they said yes, we know, but where are the jobs, even though okada that we used to do, they said no more okada. I said but this doesn’t help and you know is a dangerous game. I would die but you would also run into difficulties. So it is not a very good way to make a living. By the way, you are holding the wrong man because I am one of those fighting for people like you in the society. There were two of them guiding me in the night. The way I spoke one of them was warming up to me, and said “Oga” when you come out, will you be able to help us, I said yes, I will, then, the other one warned him look you are talking too much to this man; you better shut up, then the boy shut up. So in the morning, they phoned the Secretary to State Government. The Secretary to State Government told them, you are holding your grand father, so just release him, we will not give you any money; so at that point, they told me okay, we think you are an innocent man. We are going to release you. Then around six or so in the evening, they said okay we are leaving one man here, he will take you to waterside somewhere, there will be vehicles there waiting for you and all that. The young man who was with me said oga let us go you know 6.30pm in the jungle is getting dark, so I said young man where are you now, remove the blindfold; let’s go; where is the road so he ran away and I was left alone in the jungle. So fortunately for me, as a surveyor, I’m used to the jungle so I now looked at, studied some foot paths, I was able to take one of them which eventually brought me to Shell location. I followed one road and after walking for about two hours, trekking, I eventually got to flow station where people now saw me and shouted and then took me home. Before we round up Sir, when are we expecting the next move or project? You know I run a writing school and in every class there is a prize winner, the best story writer the best story I give a prize so over the years I have collected such stories, and I am now typing them. So I am going to ask the students, to give the power to publish a book on short stories. So that is the project I have in hand now. End.