A former militant leader in the Niger Delta, Ebikabowei Victor Ben, a.k.a General Boyloaf, speaks to PREMIUM TIMES’ Aderonke Ogunleye about the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, and the incoming Muhammadu Buhari government. Boyloaf says the oil rich Niger Delta did not benefit from the Jonathan Presidency. He pledges to work with Mr. Buhari, and explains why former militants in the region did not carry out their threats to go to war if Mr. Jonathan lost the March 28 presidential election.
PT: Do you think the South West and the Northern part of Nigeria were marginalized under the leadership of Goodluck Jonathan?
Boyloaf: Did people from the South-South benefit? If you come to Bayelsa State, can you count how many people benefited? That is the president’s state. When the APC was going for campaigns, they made a statement that there is a town that they didn’t have light, and people said Otuoke. Then (Gov. Chibuike) Amaechi said “I didn’t mention name”. But can you imagine that in that place there is no road? You see, what Jonathan did was that he favoured the North and West. Go to the Niger Delta and see. He favoured the North. He did Almajiri. Then go to the West you will see the railway, you will see all what he’s doing there. What is happening in Niger Delta? Nothing! It is better to go there and see things for yourself. Jonathan did not do anything for his people, for his region.
PT: Maybe he planned to do that in his second term in the office?
Boyloaf: I don’t believe in that. Charity begins at home. Jonathan was supposed to have started from his area because anything can happen the next day like what has happened now. So, what are you telling me? What about (late President Umaru) Yar’Adua? He did the airport in Katsina. He started from his own area. See, that is what Jonathan was supposed to do to. I have that belief right from time because they never wanted a Niger Delta person to be in government. We know that one because they will seal a lot of deals. I am a mariner. I know what is going on at the sea. For instance, like we are talking about subsidy, we know the people that do deals.
PT: What about the East West road?
Boyloaf: If Buhari comes and if he wants the Niger Delta people to work with him, we will be ready to work with him. It was not Jonathan that started the East-West Road. Obasanjo started the road and then Yar’Adua inherited it. Also, after the death of Yar’Adua, Jonathan inherited it and it continued from there. Governance is continuous process. As Buhari comes on board he will also inherit it and finish it. That is my belief for sure.
PT: Are you afraid that the incoming government will terminate the pipeline contract?
Boyloaf: Well, to me I am not afraid of anything. I am fully confident and if they terminate it the better for us because we will know that the government doesn’t want peace. So, that’s my own belief. I’m not afraid of anything. We will be ready to work with any person that has the Niger Delta people at heart. If you come with good ideas I think we will also work with you.
PT: What if he terminates it?
Boyloaf: We will see what will happen. God is not a man. If he terminates the contracts, I think there are other ways we can make it from. So, nobody cares.
PT: How would you want to work with the incoming government?
Boyloaf: Well, we are one Nigeria. Since we have taken amnesty we are bound to take up and follow all the processes. If he (Buhari) wants to work with us we will be there to work with him. I think there is nobody that will come into this country that will not want the assistance of the Niger Delta. This is because that is where the major resource of this country comes from. So, you must need the Niger Delta people except you want division in the country. That is when you don’t have the love for the people of this nation.
PT: What do you expect the Buhari Government to do about the Amnesty Programme? Some people are pushing that it should be suspended?
Boyloaf: There is one thing you need to know. Let me tell you something – the production this time around compared to some years back is increasing and the amnesty is something that has come to stay. And if the government wants to scrap the amnesty it means the government doesn’t mean well for the nation. That’s my own belief. Let me tell you something – people were also inciting others that the government wants to scrap the amnesty. I have been in the Niger Delta trying to pacify them and telling them that it is a lie and that the government will work with them. They wanted to start destruction. There is no way that you will come out and say you will scrap the amnesty. How many people can you kill? How many? The Niger Delta terrain is very different and our struggle is very sacrosanct. That is one thing you get. So you cannot kill everybody. Look at Boko Haram – their area is a desert and it is easy for vehicles to move.
When you talk about our area it is not a desert. It is not passable by vehicle but strictly on water and by the time you use your chopper in the night and come and finish and go, what will happen in the night? All these are just sycophants that don’t mean well for this nation. With what I have seen in Buhari, he will want peace. That is my belief.
PT: What if he insists on scrapping it, what will happen?
Boyloaf: Nothing will happen but God is not a man. We will remain in Nigeria and see how Nigeria will be. That is my belief.
PT: Will you go back to the creeks?
Boyloaf: Time shall tell.
PT: Some people believe that the South West and the North worked against Goodluck Jonathan, what do you think?
Boyloaf: Really, our struggle is beyond the presidency and it was Yar’Adua that gave us amnesty. When he gave us amnesty there were some things he pronounced and some infrastructural development that he was supposed to put in place like the coastal road and all of a sudden he died. May his soul rest in peace! And when Jonathan came on board and you know just for the fact that he (Jonathan) is from Niger Delta, we just embraced him. But he is not the best. That is one thing that I will assure you. I believe more in Yar’Adua who was even on his sick bed. There was no way sycophants will go to Yar’Adua and say all sorts of rubbish. Yar’Adua will confirm from the end and know the real thing to do, not our brother Jonathan who surrounds himself with sycophants. And there is no way we will destroy his government because tomorrow other people from other ethnic regions will say the Niger Delta people are the ones responsible for the destruction of their own
government. So we just let everything like that. Since Buhari has emerged the winner, I think we will be there to work with him if he wants to work with us and put in place all what Yar’Adua was supposed to do. That is my own belief.
PT: Would you work with Buhari himself?
Boyloaf: Well, in Niger Delta we need so many works to be done. In Niger Delta we have some kind of security programme we are supposed to indulge our people in to also protect the system especially the oil facility in the region. I think all these things are there and also the infrastructural development that Yar’Adua was supposed to put on. It will be the responsibility of Buhari to carry on what Yar’Adua started. So, there are so many things to be done.
PT: You and other former militant leaders boasted that if Jonathan loses you will go to war. So, when are you going to war?
Boyloaf: Who will go to war? Is Nigeria for one ethnic region? Nigeria is for everybody. It is not for one ethnic region. When you want to oppress one region that is when the region will stand up for their right. But we are all Nigerians. Nobody will go to war. Who will go to war?
PT: What is your view on the outcome of the elections?
Boyloaf: Well, it has come and gone as you can see. Every man has its game to play but the only advice I will give this incoming government is that they should beware of sycophants and don’t listen to people that would create problems for the administration. With what I am seeing, you know people have been saying that during the time of Buhari, during his military era, when he took over from Shagari, the governors that were working with the South-South people were the people he jailed. So, people are saying that now as he is coming on board he wants to make sure that he deals with many of the South-South people in this government to recover so many things.
PT: What, if he wants to scraps the Niger Delta Ministry?
Boyloaf: Well, we will watch what he is coming with, not that we will draft something and say you want to push it. Gone are those days when you just want to intimidate some people from the same region. Nobody is scared of anything. That is my belief.
PT: Are we going to see you in a political party soon?
Boyloaf: I am not a politician. I think any government that comes so long as they have the interest of the Niger Delta at heart, we will work with them.
PT: Do you work with any particular party?
Boyloaf: I work with everybody. For instance, when the APC came to my place in Bayelsa state, I received them. Even my former governor, Timipreye Silva, slept in my house. I received many of the APC people. I even gave them breakfast and dinner before they left. I also received PDP people. I sponsored my younger brother to contest the House of Assembly election, which was rigged. You know the system of Nigeria where people hijack ballot papers and work without even using the card readers and they went and thumb-printed. I think we are going to the tribunal.
PT: How will the Niger Delta receive Jonathan now that he is coming back home?
Boyloaf: To me, as a matter of fact Jonathan disappointed us. That is my own opinion. He disappointed us. To me, he disappointed us. He might be good to some people. There is nothing to tell if you get to my own state. We didn’t benefit. People like us did not benefit from his government. His government focused on one side. The Bayelsans did not benefit. It is only the Arugbos – that is Ondo State and Delta State – that benefited from his government. So, someone like me will not welcome him. I will not welcome him at all. The struggle continues.
PT: Do you speak for a large number of people?
Boyloaf: They are even more bitter than I am. Jonathan empowered many foot soldiers, the Niger Delta ex-agitators, foot soldiers. But in Bayelsa, he didn’t empower people and that is the state he comes from.
PT: What of the importation of oil?
Boyloaf: We know about the importation; we know how they killed the refinery system just for them to be importing products. Government should be subsidizing for them. All those types of bad deals we know. We are not kids; they are just telling people they are increasing fuel price. That is rubbish. We know what is going on. I am a full mariner. We know what is going on. They know what they were doing. When Jonathan stopped all these things, that was when they were mad. Look, these people import 30 per cent of fuel into the country and they know their landing costs. As soon as they get to the country they will queue. Sometimes, they don’t come with the 50, 000 metric tonnes. They will come with 30,000 metric tonnes and sign for the 50,000 metric tonnes. They will look for a tank farm pump into it and take 10,000 aside to the neighbouring country and sell.
That is what is done. So, the masses don’t know because they are not in the river. We know the deals they are doing. So, when Jonathan came and saw these things and stopped them they were mad. They are ready to throw Jonathan. We know everything going on. So, that’s the deal they’ve been doing. Even Diezani (Petroleum Resources Minister) that you are talking about saw all the rubbish they are doing and she sacked some people and stopped so many things they were doing. That is why they are accusing Diezani. She didn’t do anything. She is from my region. They thought we are fools. Who are the major beneficiaries of the oil blocks? It is the northerners and a few from East and West. The northerners are the major owners of oil blocks. Is it their region? What are you telling us? Are we fools? Were we born to be a second class citizen in this our country?
PT: What is your impression about those stealing the oil?
Boyloaf: Nobody is stealing. Can you steal your property? Who are the people stealing oil? Does the oil belong to them? I don’t believe in the saying that people are stealing oil.
PT: What about the Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke?
Boyloaf: No matter her stand she is from Niger Delta. Even if she didn’t take care of her people we don’t care but sometimes Niger Delta people unite and I believe Diezani is a trap set for the Nigerian Government. They believe the Buhari Administration would want to deal with her and so she is like a trap, and that is my own belief. I have heard people talk about it and if you are a northerner in that position if he leaves they will not touch him. What about that man Diezani took over from? What is his name again? I think he is dead now. They did a lot of deals, oil blocks and all the rest. People are aware of it and even the northerners. When Yar’Adua was even sick, even dead, they forged his signatures and did all those things, nothing happen. So, Niger Delta people are not fools.