Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani, in this interview with some newsmen, speaks on the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region, among other issues. ANTHONY UBONG brings excerpts:
During your tenure as the Cross River State chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), you were accused of shutting out intending members from rival parties and that even now, you are making yourself inaccessible?
I will answer your last question first; I did welcome you into my private residence even when I did not know your mission. Didn’t I? When you came in, you saw all the people there or the ones I had attended to before. Didn’t you? I represent a people and I work for entire Nigerians. So, honest and good intentioned people can be sure that my doors, both in the office and at home, are open to those with genuine problems and useful contributions as to how we can move the country and the affairs of the Niger Delta towards greater good. To your second question, I had not become the chairman of the APC when the membership registration took place. I only became chairman during the rescheduled congress and have since then followed the party guidelines to admit members into the party. Before the elections, I made deliberate and conscious efforts to woo some persons whom I knew we could midwife to victory into the APC but such persons, apparently feeling that they will be automatic winners if they got PDP tickets, rebuffed my overtures and went to wrestle it in PDP. Now tell me, are you talking about those who used all their might against APC?
I had at no point refused anybody membership of APC. Where a man comes because he lost election in PDP or any other party and begins to insinuate that there were no persons in APC, this is not fair to the foundation members of APC. As the state chairman of the party, I owed my party men a duty to protect them and fight for their benefits. How does it feel for a man who ate and broke the pot to immediately go to another man’s cooking pot and want to even dish food ahead of those who have been patiently waiting and persevering starvation when the food has been prepared? I still maintain my stance, which is that benefits should be served first to those APC members who have suffered and worked because anything short of that will be a betrayal of the resilience and hard work of those who hoped when others scorned and some despised. This was also, the maiden pronouncement of the president after election. Let the so-called “no names” be known. For example, I was Personal Assistant and Commissioner before I became 35. It means there are many talents untapped in APC that we can harness, because, out of conviction displayed in their resilience, these groups of people have the integrity to drive the agenda and ideology of the present government. I tell you sincerely, strengthen a small name with character and watch him become a giant.
But, it is assumed in many quarters that new and influential members of the APC in Cross River who you feel should join the queue, are the ones offered choice appointments by the Buhari administration.?
Well, I am a party man, a product of the party. If the leadership of the party so decides, I will not have any contrary stance. But I stated earlier that we have evenly qualified persons in the members that hoped when others scorned and despised APC and so, those people should be considered first for appointments, if we want to prove that there is dignity in labour, in resilience and in contentment.
What is your advice for all APC members in Cross River?
Unity! Let them unite and be able to call any leader to accountability. They should be able to speak out through all known civil media. They should be able to take collective positions and speak same without intimidation by any leader, without fear or favour. They should also resolve to individually and collectively ensure to live the ideology of APC. They should ensure to win all elections, even as they complain daily about the PDP government in Cross River State.
We seem to hear less of your activities as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, what is happening?
Well, I don’t work to be heard but to achieve results.
Can you briefly tell us about your activities since assumption of office?
I have done what I will say I am happy with. But, the ministry is new and so much is yet to be done. Unfortunately, we assumed office to meet the budgeting process and the budget has just been passed, so you should expect more action now. I am however, worried that no project has been commissioned or completed since the formation of the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs except a cassava processing plant in Ondo State, which we commissioned recently; it has been re-focused. That has framed my burden whose jinx I want to immediately break. Recently, I formed a technical audit committee to audit all projects awarded by the ministry so far. Though they are yet to submit the full report, the preliminary report will shock you. I think that’s the way to begin, that is, to know what job was awarded to whom, how much and what has been done. Does it conform to what has been paid, if not when was the job supposed to be completed and all that? You will realise that the observed differ remarkably from the claims we have.
There is resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region of late. What is your ministry doing to stem the tide?
My ministry is deeply involved while the operational action is performed by the security Agencies. So, the ministry will continue to do what we have been doing before now. But, I must say that the environment is ours and destroying it will not do us any good. Imagine the Ogoni reclamation is going to take 30 years, yet we have not learnt. Rather than support President Muhammadu Buhari to do more, we are adding to the destruction of the environment, our ecosystem, fresh water and aquatic lives. It is a condemnable and unthinkable approach that should be desisted. Imagine of all leaders that this UNEP report has been made known to, in just one year in office, this President has implemented it. I can say that the Niger Delta region is benefiting more under the APC regime led by President Buhari than it benefited from any other regimes.