In an interview with Daily Trust, Briggs outlines the issues of economic and environmental injustice that has plagued the oil-rich region of the Nigerian Delta for decades. She warned about the implication of the group’s activities on the country’s economy and also advised against pursuing a military solution.
“My responsibility is to talk to them. But, you can’t talk to people you don’t know,” Briggs said, indicating the anonymity of the group which, last week, declared a Niger Delta Republic, and promised more attacks on oil installations in the region.
Excerpts from the interview are below:
What do you know about the new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers? Who are they and what do they really want?
Personally, I don’t know them. I wish I knew them, my responsibility would have been to talk to them. But you cannot talk to people you don’t know. You cannot talk to people without identity. Honestly, I don’t know who they are.
What is your reaction to some of their demands?
The issues they are talking about are very old issues. From Adaka Boro to Harold Dappa Biriye, the issues have been there. They have to do with injustice, equity and environmental matters. People like the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and Oronto Douglas spoke about these issues. Asari Dokubo and Tompolo have also spoken about these things. So it does not surprise me that a new group has emerged in the Niger Delta.
This group came because the issues we have been talking about have not been addressed. The issues in the Niger Delta have been there for a very long time. Don’t forget that the issues we are talking about exploded into the scene before the civil war. We are looking at close to 50 years. Harold Dappa Biriye was among the people who went to England to deliberate on matters that led to the Wilkinson report.
This group has come up at a time Nigeria is grappling with difficult economic realities. They are blowing up pipelines, which is disrupting crude oil supply. Don’t you think their action is having a negative impact in an already dwindling oil revenue?
This is not the first time people are expressing their grievances over their frustration and disappointment in the Nigerian government, which has been exploring oil in the Niger Delta since 1958. So it is not a surprise that we have another group with such demands. But first of all, we have to identify the true identity of this group of people. Are they truly Niger Delta people or fifth columnists who are claiming to be Niger Delta people and who are expressing their frustration, their demands and desires about a particular region. And the only means they felt they could be heard is by blowing up oil pipes. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that the heartbeat of the people is oil revenue. To me, they are trying to prove a point.
Do you think that blowing up oil pipelines is the best way to get attention for their demands?
Definitely, blowing up oil pipelines is not the best way to get attention. Personally, I have been agitating for justice for my people since 1998. That is almost 18 years. And throughout the period of my activism I have never considered blowing up oil pipelines. But having said that, it is a fact that some people feel that the only way they can be heard and get attention is to blow up the pipelines. It is based on this fact that anytime something like this happens, I recommend and appeal that we should look for other better means of addressing the critical and valid points they have raised.
You are one of the key stakeholders in the Niger Delta struggle. Whose interest are these militants representing? Who are the people behind them?
As I said earlier, I don’t know them. Secondly, you know that Niger Delta is made up of so many ethnic groups, such as the Ishekiri, Ikwerre, the Ogoni, the Ijaw etc. Any of these people have the valid right to get up and speak up on behalf of Niger Delta. Their number is immaterial. What qualifies them is the fact that they are from this region. They can fight for their right.
But I do not support any violent means of getting attention to whatever demand one intends to make. The devastation in our environment is quite enormous. If you looked at what happened in Odi, Odioma, Umuechem, you would find out that it was one act of violence to another. Lack of health care, quality of education, unemployment and all that can trigger violence; but I don’t subscribe to that. I have the responsibility to ensure that violence is not perpetrated as a form of agitation. My appeal is that we should not go violence in our agitations. We have the right to agitate for a better deal, but not through violence. To me, what they are agitating for is an issue of injustice, but they should not be violent.
We are gradually getting to another point of amnesty. Former President Yar’Adua granted amnesty to about 30,000 people. People like us tried to make the government understand that because you were able to get about 30,000 people to lay down their arms did not mean that you dealt with the core issues that made carry arms in the first place. There are thousands of youths in the region that have the capacity to do what the 30,000 youths did.
You see, somebody like Tompolo has disassociated himself from the group, just as the group disassociated itself from him. If contact was established, it would be very possible to know them. That was how people like Tompolo, Ateke Tom and Boyloaf were identified and brought into the amnesty programme. And they came out of the creeks.
The truth is that the political setup of Nigeria, as it stands, is completely against the Niger Delta people. The Niger Delta is completely devastated. People feel very aggrieved the way political issues played out between 2010 and 2011, which culminated in 2015. There are a lot of groups that are highly aggrieved and government cannot run away from it. The federal government and oil companies that have investment in the Niger Delta cannot run away from it. We the Niger Delta people who are so impoverished cannot run away from it.
The price of oil has gone down. The allocations coming to Niger Delta states have gone down. What a state like Bayelsa gets cannot pay salaries. There is a very big problem.
President Buhari has given a marching order to the military to crush the group. What do you think this portends?
It is a very worrisome situation. If I may ask: Who are you really crushing? Who have you identified? What community have you identified? Where are you going to crush them; in the streets of Port Harcourt, Bayelsa, or are you going to Abonnema? Are you going to take the military to Garamatu the way they did few days ago? This is not the way to handle this thing. That the president could call on the military to crush the people of his country is worrisome.
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