Prof. Benjamin Okaba
Prof. Benjamin Okaba is an old Professor of Rural and Environmental Sociology and currently the Director, Institute of Foundation Studies, Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State with over 250 published books, book chapters, Journal articles and public lecture presentations on various aspects of Ijaw History and Culture, Democracy and Good Governance, Development Administration and the Niger Delta Question. He has post professional training in Human Resource Management, Organisational Leadership, Resource Diversification, Collective Bargaining and Peace Building in world class institution in United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates. He is UN Ambassador of Peace, a Trade Unionist and Human Rights Activist. He is a fully registered member of the Ijaw National Congress, INC and have since 2001 participated actively in INC activities at the Zonal and national levels. It is on record that he was actively involved in the preparation and presentation of some critical INC and Niger Delta position papers. It may also suffice to note that he has taken advantage of his service in the University and public office positions to advance and defend the Ijaw cause.
In this interview with our man our Lagos man, Obire Onakume, the erudite professor said that he is in the race to uphold Ijaw’s collective dreams and goals as a people united in their fight against all forms of injustice, oppression, exploitation and environmental degradation; the qualities the Ijaw people should seek from one desirous to be president; the political dynamics that will shape 2019; that the Global Terrorism index classifies the Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, the first three being Isis, Al-shabab and Boko Haram; that rampaging Fulani herdsmen fit into the description of full blown terrorists and should be proscribed; that the present administration has not done anything differently to ensure lasting peace and sustainable development in the Niger-Delta beyond the usual; that the Buhari’s administration must address the needs of true federalism which implies political restructuring, resource ownership and control and devolution of power, among other sundry issues.
Are you in the race for the President of the Ijaw National Congress? And why are you running?
Yes indeed. I arrived at the decision to run for the presidency of the Ijaw National Congress after due consultation with the Almighty God, key stakeholders and my fellow compatriots across the clans, chapters and zones of the Ijaw Nation
I am offering myself to serve our motherland in the capacity of president in order to first and foremost, reposition and rededicate the INC as a truly not-for-profit, non-governmental, non-partisan, non-religious, self sustaining, masses-driven, socio-cultural platform for the promotion of our core values, dignity and integrity.
I am also in the race to uphold our collective dreams and goals as a people united in our fight against all forms of injustice, oppression, exploitation and environmental degradation. Furthermore, to change the present Ijaw narrative portrayed virulently as renegades, war-mongers, agents of destabilization, idle and a people whose existence is solely dependent on agitation, militancy, economic sabotage and insurgencies to that of a people who are truly trustworthy, enterprising, principled, industrious, cultured and resilient in our legitimate fight against oppression, exploitation, intimidation and defence of equity, justice and fairplay.
Finally I am assured that together we can build internal true reconciliatory bridges across our various interest divides and strengthen strategic and diplomatic ties with other socio-cultural organizations with similar aspirations for socioeconomic justice.
What qualities should the Ijaw people seek from one desirous to be president?
I am of the candid opinion that in view of the enormous task ahead of us as a people who are still experiencing various forms of neglect, deprivation, oppression, marginalization, social and environmental injustice and gross underdevelopment and also to deal with the plethora of internal problems and challenges we have as a people, the Ijaw nation should earnestly seek for a president of the INC who is a servant-leader and shows strength of character and courage, intellectual sagacity, has local and international exposure, agility and is sensitive, accessible and accountable to the people.
The INC president of our dreams should be one who has over the years practically demonstrated uncommon passion for the Ijaw cause and the Ijaw people and has participated in driving the goals and aspirations of the INC and Ijaw people.
What in your view are the major challenges before the aspirants or better still the incoming president?
The key challenges the incoming president of INC will need to deal with in order to reposition the organization as the voice of the masses of the ijaw people will include;
First and foremost, addressing the problem of multiple factions and interests groups within the INC. The second critical challenge is that of political and economic self-sustenance. The third is the issue of confidence building of the masses of the Ijaw people in the INC’s leadership ability to effectively and selflessly articulate, represent, protect and defend our collective dreams, goals and aspirations. Fourth is the absence of the masses’ participation in INC decision making process. Finally the incoming president will also need to deal with the issue of overbloated electoral college which makes INC elections too expensive to be undertaken independently by the INC as at when due.
What is your reading of the political dynamics that will shape 2019?
There seems to be no hard and fast rules or issues that will shape the political dynamics in 2019 though certain critical issues are signposts to cause a paradigm shift among which include reactions to the state’s management of the activities of the rampaging herdsmen and Boko haram insurgency, accusations of nepotism, increasing youth exclusion from political participation, a growing social and economic dissatisfaction with the status-quo and the clarion call for political and economic restructuring across the country.
How would you task the federal government on the standard of living of Nigerians?
A deliberate and informed focus on incentivizing and promoting Small and Medium scale enterprises as well as promoting patronage of made in Nigeria products and the indigenous manufacturing sector as opposed to perpetual importation will create more local jobs and in turn better equip our teeming and hardworking youth population for better and prosperous living.
How do you see to the herdsmen activities in Nigeria? Do you want President Buhari to declare the rampaging herdsmen as terrorists?
The Global Terrorism Index classifies the Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, the first three being Isis, Al-shabab and Boko Haram. The declaration or non-declaration of any group or organization as terrorist has nothing to do with one’s personal opinion but the assessment of the activities of the group as it fits into to the universally prescribed classification.
According to Amnesty International as at January 2018 the Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria had killed 168 people across Nigeria especially the Middle-belt, with 549 deaths in 2017. Last week in Benue state, 2 catholic priests and 17 parishioners were killed by the herdsmen during an early morning Mass.
Since terrorism is the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence and intimidation as a means to create terror among masses to achieve an ideological, religious or political aim; it is clear therefore that the rampaging Fulani herdsmen fit into the description of full blown terrorists and should be proscribed.
How do you see to the state of the Niger-Delta at the moment? Do you think Buhari is committed to Niger delta development and peace?
It is obvious that the present administration has not done anything differently to ensure lasting peace and sustainable development in the Niger delta beyond the usual rhetorics. For instance PANDEF and other notable socio-cultural organisations in the Niger delta have at various instances presented demands and a roadmap to sustainable peace in the Niger delta which the government is yet to implement.
Ignoring the recommendations of the 2014 confab on the Niger delta is another way of expressing a lack of interest in addressing the critical problems of the Niger delta. To show commitment to the problems of development and peace in the Niger delta, the Buhari’s administration must address the needs of true federalism which implies political restructuring, resource ownership and control and devolution of power.
If elected President of the INC what will you want to be remembered for at the end of your tenure?
I will like to be remembered for my success at true reconciliation and unification of the Ijaw people under the platform of the INC and IYC, the promotion of research and publication of the Ijaw people, our cultural heritage and the Ijaw National Congress, good quality representations at municipal, regional, national and international levels, for proactiveness, accountability and accessibility to all especially the down-trodden village dwellers and providing linkages for empowerment of our women and youths.
How would you end this interview?
I express my special appreciation to the heroes of the age-long Ijaw struggle, the founding fathers of the INC and other Ijaw leaders of thought, our ever-resilient freedom fighters, the peace-loving Ijaw people, present and past governors of Bayelsa state for their individual and collective commitment to sustaining the Ijaw cause and struggle. I pledge to build on and consolidate the impressive gains made so far.