‘Niger Deltans becoming endangered species’

Interview from Daily Independent

Joel Bisina is the facilitator of Niger Delta Professionals for Development (NIDPRODEV), a non-governmental organisation. In this interview with reporters including Correspondent Harris-Okon Emmanuel, he talks about the recent raid on Ayakoromor community in Burutu council of Delta State by the Joint Task Force (JTF), calling for the agency’s probe by local and international human rights organisations, and the Nigerian government. Though acknowledging some crime fighting achievements, Bisina reasons that the agency needs to rework its strategies to effectively deal with insurgence and other internal security matters in the volatile oil-rich region.

 Excerpts…

Although you were not a member of the amnesty committee, you participated actively in the process. So, are you in support of John Togo backing out of the amnesty programme?

It was so obvious that we needed an enabling environment for peace and development, so I worked actively with the committee. On whether I support John Togo; I don’t in any form or manner. But then, there is no rationale for backing out of the programme. You see, the issue is that we need to look at the economies of war, of conflicts in the Niger Delta. Let us look at most of the militant leaders who have emerged; how many truly represent the interest of the common man in the Niger Delta? In the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, though killed in a raid, he (Togo) came out of the 1999 attack more powerful, stronger with more money in his pocket. The JTF also came out with much funds in its coffers because the body was provided with money and equipment.

Other colleagues of Togo like Tompolo accepted amnesty; why do you think Togo backed out?

In the case of Tompolo in 2009, he came out more powerful, with more money and more equipped, in the sense that he accepted amnesty. He uses escorts wherever he goes. Now as to John Togo, they couldn’t even track him down. But who is suffering it now? I don’t subscribe to violence. They know why John Togo chose to back out. They should not deceive the ordinary people. They should find a way to deal with those issues at their own level without dragging innocent people into it. I have continued to work in the Niger Delta trying to promote peace and development. It is not in my character to support violence in any form or manner.

What has your organisation been doing to handle the humanitarian crisis arising from attacks, particularly the recent one?

In this attack, we have done nothing. We have done nothing because, first, it is very difficult to know how many people are affected. We, as part of coalition of civil society groups, demand and call for a humanitarian effort to be deployed to the victims of the crisis. We are in consultation with a number of civil society organisations to begin to look at the option available. You know, we need a long-term strategy to deal with the situation. I think the people of the Niger Delta are gradually becoming an endangered species. If we allow this trend to continue they will go into extinction. In terms of direct humanitarian effort, we have done nothing. We can’t even go even to the community because there is no access. Anybody that wants to go into the community has to get JTF’s permission to enter. And some of them who managed to escape, are still afraid psychologically and are still in hiding.

You talked about exploring legal means to seek redress. How do you think the region should go about this?

We need to look at the various conventions, treaties that Nigeria is signatory, to see if their rule of engagement in Niger Delta is consistent with the international documents that they have signed. Two, there is need to look at the issue of human rights violation, which is fundamental. They should look at those documents, the force, JTF used on innocent citizens, is it proportional? Was there any threat at all? I don’t care what they do with John Togo. If they are able to track him down, good luck. All that we want is peace in region but the killing of innocent civilians, what was the threat they posed to the JTF that warranted that high level of bombardment? You may say it is not war but what could a war look like? If this is not war, where troops were deployed on air, on land and in the sea. So, as far as I am concerned, we need to look at all these conventions and options available. Nigeria is signatory to almost all the UN conventions and treaties, that protect, promote the rights of the human being.

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