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I Am The Architect Of Niger Delta Amnesty Programme – Amb. Sam Edem

. . . Niger Deltans Haven’t Shown Enough Seriousness In Oil Block Ownership



. . . Nigerians, Not Our Leaders, Are Nigeria’s Problem

Characteristically, Sam Joe Edem is an interviewer’s delight. He exudes his background as a seasoned diplomat, administrator, strategist and conflictologist with glaring wits, candor and astuteness. Despite his accomplishments in public life as a career ambassador who has served in several countries of the world, the Akwa Ibom born former chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), lives a moderate lifestyle.
He had his B.A at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; M.A, University of Montreal, Canada and a participant of Course three of the National Defence College, Nigeria.
Ambassador Edem served at the State House – Office of the President on Special Duties; acting deputy director – General Directorate of Planning, Research and Statistics (PRS) and acting deputy director, General Regions.
His foreign service spanned over 10 countries including Belgium, Algeria, Tunisia, Former USSR, Canada, Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
One of his special duties was working to restore diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Canada after a diplomatic row between the two countries, which had led to the severance of relations. Crystal Express met the diplomatic doyen in Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State on Wednesday, October 16, 2019. The exclusive parley covered wide ranging issues of interest.

Briefly tell us about yourself.
My name is Ambassador Sam Edem, Fellow of National Defence College. A strategist by training, a methodologist and expert in diplomacy, former chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Nigerian ambassador to many countries including Canada, East Africa and Senegal. I have equally engaged on global trips spanning over a hundred countries in the world. I have seen it all.

As a former chairman of NDDC, can you recall your experiences and challenges on the job?
When I got to the NDDC, militancy was the order of the day in the region and I did a thorough research which revealed that there was a long term, short term and immediate causes of the menace. I went to the creeks, saw the way they live and the challenges in the creeks and I concluded that these boys are not militants but aggrieved Nigerians and that we have to settle their grievances to make a change. My mission in the NDDC was to make a change. I am the architect of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme.
Can you explain why you said you are the architect of the Amnesty Programme?
I started it. It started after my close interaction with the boys in the creeks. I told the then President that these boys require amnesty and equally assured the boys of their freedom if they completely embrace the deal. Nobody else should ever claim that he initiated the amnesty deal. If such a person exists, then he is a dreamer.

Are you satisfied with the implementation of the Amnesty programme as you conceived it?
I am not really satisfied. I have made that known to the authorities time without number that it wasn’t meant to be a salary paying venture; it was to create jobs for the boys to do. I mean to help them create jobs that will ensure their financial independence not getting salaries monthly, and till now, I have not told the authorities the plans I had for the boys because I was not consulted after I left NDDC.
So if they fail to consult you, will the idea remain with you till the end?
Life is dynamic and changes are also dynamic. So whenever they need my input, I will be ready to give it to them.

What is the thing required to give Niger Delta a facelift now?
The question is too general. If you talk of facelift, there is a facelift already but if you said further development; yes, because there is ongoing development.

Are you worried that oil wells in Niger Delta belong mostly to Northerners than indigenes of the region?
Do you believe in one Nigeria?
Yes we do.
When you go to school you see people have 1st class, 2nd class and 3rdclass, they are all results of hard work at different levels. It is only in the church that you go and stretch out your hands for communion and get it free; in life you have to fight for everything you need. How much have our people fought to get oil wells in the Niger Delta. How much efforts have they made to get oil wells? I am a very detribalized Nigerian and I don’t believe in sensationalism. I strongly believe that if you make the right contacts and moves you get what you desire. You cannot fold your hands and expect miracles. Since the biblical days thousands of years ago when manna dropped for the children of Israel, it never dropped again. You have to fight and work for your manna before you get it. Niger Deltans must fight for what they need.

You sounded patriotic but are you ruling out politics from the way and manner oil wells are allocated in the Niger Delta? We are aware that President Buhari cancelled some of the oil wells allocated to the Niger Deltans in 2017?
The media should never be biased; he did not revoke oil wells given to the people of the Niger Delta but across board. I saw the list, it was across broad and that opens a new chapter for our people to continue striving for it. Have the governors of the Niger Delta states ever sat down to conceive a master plan to benefit from the oil gas sector in the region? Do you know the efforts Akwa Ibom has made to bring Mobil Headquarters to the state? I have told you that there is no free lunch anywhere. This is global politics and global economy, there is no free lunch. God has given us the brain, energy to solve our problems and cannot come physically to assist us.

Years after the creation of the NDDC you once chaired, do you think they have done enough to justify their existence?
When I got appointed, I tried to refocus the commission. I took my focus to agriculture and planted 1,000 plus hectares of rice. I planted cassava in all the nine Niger Delta States. I wanted us to have factories here for the production of rice and went to Thailand and brought them to repack our rice. The largest rice field was in Ini Local Government Area; over 600 hectares and brought the machinery plant to Mbiebet Ini for milling. But the soil was too soft and could not carry the machines. We now moved to the boundary community between Ikono and Ini local government areas and started the foundation of the rice mill. Ini boys got up and became wild. I brought them to my house and negotiated and offered them 50% employment in the rice business but they returned home and almost killed their paramount ruler whose house they burnt down. I used all my negotiating skills to assuage them but they burned the rice field. The machine laid idle for two years before we were forced to move it to Elele, Rivers State. So who is to be blamed?

Could the crisis at the time not be traced to lack of adequate awareness on the side of the people from NDDC management?
(long laughter) when we got to Mbiebet Ikpe in Ini Local Government Area, I told the contractor that every job in the farm belongs to the natives and within three months there were cement houses there and money was coming into their hands and roads constructed to the farm . I was even ready to do aqua-culture for them in the area too. The then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, came and flew over the massive rice farm in a helicopter and when he got to Calabar Airport, he was speechless and thanked me. So there was enough awareness. Do you remember that portion in the Bible where God sent serpent to bite the Israelites after going against His commandments? Do you remember that even after bringing an antidote of a molded serpent for the people to look upon and live, many still refused to look upon it and died? That is the human factor.

What can be done to permanently curb youth unemployment in the region?
Unemployment would have been reduced if they had allowed the rice factory I brought to survive. It would have absorbed at least 25% of unemployed youths. I brought in British and Indians and we worked because I believe in hard work.

What was the monetary value of the project we missed to have in Ini in terms of naira and kobo?
I said we tried to create employment for youth and whether you like it or not, they must eat everyday and we have what we called soft target. Everybody needs food and so you can equate the monetary value.

Are you worried that since the creation of NDDC till date, they are still squatting in rented apartment?
Well I am no longer in NDDC but I have heard that they are building their permanent structures now. I said I just heard, I am yet to confirm.

The President recently brought the NDDC under the supervision of the Niger Delta Ministry. What can you say about the action?
When they said that Niger Basin Authority is under the Ministry of Agriculture, what did you say about it? It is very normal; I wish to thank late President Yar’adua for creating the Niger Delta Ministry. Obasanjo created NDDC which is also commendable.

As a career ambassador, do you think the response from Nigeria after the xenophobia attack on her indigenes in South Africa is enough?
You don’t bite your nose to spite your face. I was one of those who covered strategic operations during apartheid in South Africa to make it an independent nation. In diplomacy, we always say, there is no free lunch. What it means is that if I am giving you flower with my right hand, I will need something from you with my left hand. So when we were promoting independence for South Africa, what was our underground demand or were we just being philanthropic? Maybe we didn’t get our act right on that, but Americans are very strict on this. They can’t give you aid without conditions. He who pays the piper dictates the tune.

Didn’t you suspect any foreign manipulations knowing that South Africa as an upcoming economy emergence with Nigeria will bring about African renaissance?
If we are looking for excuses it will never work. I am a man that doesn’t give or search for excuses. If you talk of foreign manipulations, are they visible or invisible? Are they physical or spiritual? You address physical problems physically and spiritual problems spiritually. So you know the answer. So I rest my case.

Africa has always been at the centre of Nigerian foreign policy. Do you think it should remain that way with our present circumstances?
You know that the world is dynamic and so you upgrade your policies in terms of the contemporary developments. Nigeria’s policy has not changed and we are still promoting the Economic Communities of West African States (Ecowas) and African Union. I heard news this morning of food stuffs moving out of Nigeria to neighboring countries and I was marveled. If I am in charge I wouldn’t allow that. If others cannot grow what they will eat, let them starve. Every country should plant what they eat; it is the same soil and land everywhere. I went to Israel and saw what they did in agriculture and since my return, each time I drive through Akwa Ibom State I see fallow lands lying waste yet we are hungry. Will God come and plant food for us? Israel has maximized every bit of their land; the sandy soil they changed to humus soil to plant. But we have better soil to grow any type of citrus fruits or food. A former Russian president acknowledged that Nigeria is blessed with the best soil in the world.
Gentlemen, I know of only one God’s own country and that is Nigeria, which has all the minerals in the world under their soil. We have uranium, gold and so many untouched. We even have oil sands in which we can produce oil from sands in Ondo State in commercial quantity; we have so much untouched wealth in Nigeria.

So could our problems be traced to leadership which has failed to harness all these resources?
I will not talk about leadership but will talk about Nigerians. Nigerians are Nigeria’s problem. In Britain if you see a vulcanizer who pumps tyres and after a month put up flyers that he wants to go to House of Commons, the people will see that as a big joke and the security will carry out adequate investigation on him even to his intestines. But here if you are able to break the Central Bank and pick money, you have arrived and nobody cares how you arrive. The church gives you Elder, the paramount ruler gives you chieftaincy title, the higher institutions give you doctorate. So, in situation like this who is to be blamed?

But we think it is still the leaders….
Don’t blame the leaders. The university has a vice chancellor that is educated, the church has pastors that are anointed, so why should you blame the ills of honoring ill gotten wealth for instance on leaders? Nigeria has no problem. The only problem Nigeria has is Nigerians.

How do we get out of this mess?
How do you get in there, get out the same way.
But late Professor Chinua Achebe blamed leadership as the major problem of the country.
Gentlemen, I am not an ordinary man you are interviewing. I have said emphatically that when you go to the university, you go through a process. What is the process you go through to become a politician? None. So, who do you blame? There is a boy I gave money to do business and he went into oil bunkering and made money. The next thing he opted to contest for Senate. This is a young man that cannot speak one correct sentence and he almost got the election. Who are you going to blame? I don’t want to speak more on this.

During your chairmanship of NDDC, there was this allegation that you burnt a billion naira in a cemetery to achieve some political feats. You are yet to react on this allegation years after.
That was one of the low points of journalism in this country championed by one of you from Akwa Ibom State. I had then reacted to that junk publication through a press statement and the purveyor of that news was jailed. If you said about one billion naira was burned in a cemetery, former CBN Governor Charles Soludo said it will take over a month to burn a billion naira. The Federal Government sent security agencies to all cemeteries in the country and there was no trace. Every bit of that write-up was done here in Government House and the boy they used called me to apologize after, but I told him to just go.

Have you forgiven the perpetrators of that act?
It is only God that forgives.

But Pope John Paul visited the man who attempted to assassinate him in prison and forgave him?
But you call him Pope (laughs). I am not a Pope.

Did that act discourage you from contributing to the success of the country in anyway?
If a man is stupid, must I be stupid with him. The persons involved are daily dying of guilty conscience. The founder of the magazine they used was founded on investigative journalism but was compromised by the man who took over when he died and started using it to do a hatchet job for money.

Could it be the reason why the magazine could not survive?
But the Almighty God is not sleeping either.

Akwa Ibom State has just celebrated 32 years of state creation. What is your take on her progress?
I feel good about the progress of Akwa Ibom State. We have a performing governor doing excellently well in-spite of all the challenges he faces.

What are the indices to justify this claim?
The number one index is security which is so paramount. Our people are now sleeping with their two eyes closed. If you don’t know the impact of the security we have enjoyed here, try Borno State and you will understand what insecurity is. Development in terms of industries, he is trying. Nigeria has a problem with industries because you can’t run industries on generators. So if there are a thing to be addressed, power is one, infrastructure is another and in both the governor is trying. Akwa Ibom State is doing well even though we have had our own share of challenges. There was a time people were kidnapped in churches in this state in broad day light which the incumbent governor has done away with through adequate security.
But the spate of insecurity then could have been a sudden occurrence anchored purely by criminally minded and jobless youths.
You are talking to a fellow of the Nigeria Defence College. Do you think the AK 47 the criminals were brandishing came from the sky and do you know how much it takes to acquire one AK 47? Who armed the criminals? As journalists go and find out.

You appear to be more of a statesman now without interest in politics anymore?
No. I am still active in politics but I have changed my style and strategy.

Akwa Ibom State creation is a product of collective efforts. Can you recall the history behind the state creation?
I thank God for being one of the instruments used by God for the creation of the state. When the idea was being mooted, I was one of the special assistants to IBB and one man who played a major role then was Obong Asuquo Etukeyen who was the Secretary to the Military Government which is today known as SSG under Governor Ibim Princewill of the then Cross River State. Another man whose contribution then was enormous but late now was Obong Uyoatta Akpabio. All of us worked hard to get Akwa Ibom created and we succeeded. On the day of broadcast, I sent in an advance copy of the broadcast and when we are talking of Akwa Ibom State creation, the people who should be mentioned are not mentioned.
I am not even talking about myself. But one man that deserves honour in this state is Obong Asuquo Etukeyen. Then the means of communication was difficult and challenging unlike now. But he kept in touch with the authorities. The Akwa Ibom Hall you see today was people’s contributions. I personally contributed my three months salaries to build it but nobody remembers our contributions. But you cannot suppress the truth for long. This was done in the then Governor Godwin Abe’s era, go and ask him. Have they ever called a meeting to review the history of the state? No. So what I am saying is factual not academic. Today, who remembers Lt. Gen. Udokaha Esuene in this state? In his time before you go to Calabar, you must go to Oron and take MV Oron ferry or MV Eket, which can only carry two or three cars to Calabar. But Esuene flew helicopter through St. Patrick’s College and discovered the route and built the bridge which links Calabar-Itu Road which is what you are enjoying today. Who remembers him? What has been named after him outside a small street in Uyo? Who remembers Eyo Uyo? We kill our history and exalts what we don’t have and play down on what we have. But the Bible said we must blow our trumpets. Are we blowing it now?

(Cuts in) I never did. What happened was that there was intensive pressure on me to contest and some people even bought nomination form for me to contest. My posters were printed by people I don’t even know. They saw my qualities and wanted me to contest but I had a greater task in the NDDC where I crafted the amnesty and had the task to stabilize peace at the time in the Niger Delta region and supported who emerged as the governor then in the state in form of sponsorship.

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