Ankio Briggs is an activist. She spoke on the recent conference organized by South-South and South-East under the aegis of lower Niger and the stand of the group on the Nigerian nation as it concerns resource control. Excerpts:
WEEKLY TRUST: You hosted a conference recently under the aegis of Lower Niger Delta. What is it all about?
Aniko Briggs: The Lower Niger Congress is not a concept. It is a group giving a position of an organization that has been on ground for a very long time. Tony Nnadi brought it to my attention two years ago and I have worked with the group and I have seen their position, I have seen their agitations and aspirations and it is not different from the desire and aspiration of our people over a very long time. It incorporates a concept of true federalism and self-determination,Self-determination simply means that states are truly federated units of a federation called Nigeria and that all the states should be able to look after themselves and also get whatsoever they have and pay tax to the federal government. I was invited to the programme, where I spoke.
WT: Why is this conference coming shortly after the elections where a northern candidate, Gen Muhammadu Buhari was elected president?
Briggs: This is not the first time the Lower Niger Congress Organization has called for a meeting. They called for a meeting some years ago in Lagos. I don’t know why they tied this particular meeting to coincide with Buhari emerging as the president , but I am not opposed to people having positions on any issue if they feel they need to have a position.
People are standing by what they want. Buhari did not have 100 per cent votes. People voted for Jonathan; we were told that Buhari had won and that he will take over the reins of government of Nigeria. That does not mean people cannot express their views anymore because there is a new leadership in Nigeria. So I don’t think the timing should concern us. What I am concerned about is the content of what people are saying.
WT: You participated in the just-concluded national conference and one of the demands of the Niger Delta people, which you are part of, is resource control. How do you relate the demand for resource control and the issues discussed at the Lower Niger Conference? Do they have the same concept?
Briggs: Of course they have the same concept. Resource control is no longer a new issue and it did not emerge because Jonathan became president in 2011 and was substantive president since 2010. No, this concept hovered around ownership of a resource and its control.
People want to be mischievous when they tend to spread misinformation that because the Niger Delta people are saying they want to control their resources, it means Niger Delta people are calling for self-determination; then that means that Niger Delta people want to break away from Nigeria. No, that is far from the truth. The truth is we want to control our resources and pay taxes to the federal government.
We have always said there was the basis for which the call for Sovereign National Conference has been on for years and eventually, Jonathan is not the only president who had the courage to say ‘Nigerians let’s talk’.
We want to sit on a round table and hold discussion about ourselves and agree or disagree on issues but don’t raise the issue of secession which was a no go area in the 2014 National Conference, but we were allowed to discuss other things which we agreed on. So I think it is misinformation and mischievous for people to point fingers at Niger Delta people, to rain down abuses at Niger Delta people and the people that are driving this process to say that what we are doing is a call for the breakup of Nigeria, that is not true.
WT: What is the main thrust of the lower Niger Congress? What is your intention?
Briggs: First of all, let us put the record straight. It was not a conference, it was people of the South-South and South-East getting together. Getting together to discuss the way forward for us because the way the election was conducted, it has critically placed the South-South and the South- East in minority politically.
If you look at the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, you will see that not only the North and now the South-West are more than the South-East in terms of representation, it makes it very difficult to get anything we will want to aspire for in the next four years.
We are looking at how the election has placed us. As a people we are in a political minority and we are in opposition whether we like it or not. And if we are in the minority, we need to find out very quickly that our survival and our rights are going to be upheld in such a minority stand in a political position for the next four years.
The people that have disassociated themselves are either from the South-South or South-East. We also disassociate ourselves from their position. Everybody does not have to agree with us and we cannot wait for everybody to agree with us before we fight and agitate for justice for our people. So I am not disturbed by the fact that there are groups that do not agree with us and our position.
If the whole of Igbo agreed with Ojukwu’s declaration of Biafra, it would have been a much different story.
So I saw what he felt and what his people needed and if it does not work that way, it does not mean that people should not continue to agitate for justice for their people.
WT: Before the presidential election, you and some Niger Delta militants threatened that if Jonathan loses the election, there will be a problem. Now that he has lost, what will you do?
Briggs: Very clearly, there are people in the Niger Delta that voted for Buhari and they are people in the Niger Delta that did not vote for Buhari. There are people that voted for Buhari in the South-West and in the whole of the Northern states there are people that voted for Jonathan. So that is politics, that is the beauty of politics and the beauty of democracy.
If really what we have been practising in Nigeria is true politics, Buhari won the election and Jonathan lost and he has conceded. Now based on all of those things, if anybody expects that Niger Delta people will take arms immediately Buhari is declared and shut down our oil, I think that people have willingly misunderstood what we presented to the public in that manner. But the reality is that Buhari’s emergence as the president of Nigeria raises some concern for me as somebody from the Niger Delta. How can we keep quiet when allocation is by local government, region and state?
We are in the minority and therefore need to very quickly see how we can maintain our survival so that we are not extinct, politically and economically in Nigeria. It is more of an interest to us that is the three South Eastern states that are producing wealth of this country and the six Niger Delta states that produce the wealth of this country. So I think that it will be foolish and detrimental for our survival for anybody to say that we should keep quiet.