A renowned activist, Comrade Sunny Ofehe in this interview with Harris Emanue talks on sundry topical issues.
Nigeria just celebrated her 59th Independence Day and you were part of the event to mark it in The Hague. With all the current increase in poverty and insecurity in the country, do you think there is anything to celebrate about Nigeria?
Nigeria has a lot to celebrate in the 59 years since our independence. First we must celebrate our democracy that has taken over from military dictatorship. We must also not forget our history so soon. Remember that six years after we gained independence, the military staged coup which eventually led to civil war in 1967 which lasted until 1970. This three year old war claimed an estimated three million people.
The whole of the 70s was dominated by military rule until the country returned to democratic rule in 1979. This democratic transition only lasted four years when the military took over power again in 1984. A country with a young history enduring a three year old civil war and more than thirty years of military rule still very much united as one nation, should be proud to celebrate at 59.
I very much acknowledge the high level of poverty and insecurity in the country, I believe the current government is taking decisive steps to alleviate the suffering of the people. However, it will take time for the people to start feeling the impact of such economic policies.
The celebration of independence is not only to enjoy the merriment but also to look back at our journey since independence and critical call for national unity in dealing with the existing threats and chaos that may destabilize our corporate existence as a people.
When you look at the current situation of countries like Sudan, Libya, Iraq and Venezuela, that are facing political and economic crises resulting from conflicts, you will appreciate the situation of Nigeria today. As a proponent of a united Nigerian, I see a lot of reasons to celebrate Nigerian 59 Independence Day celebration.
You have lived in Europe now for almost 24 years and during your campaign, you talked about how Europe has evolved from the ashes of the Second World War to become a global economic super power. Do you think Nigeria can become a global super power?
I believe so much in Nigeria and its people that is why in my more than two decades of living in Europe, I have refused to be disconnected from the country. Today, we talk about emerging economic countries like India, Brazil and even Malaysia. Let us look at China that is now a global economic power rising from the ashes of a closed Communist country to becoming a liberal economic hub with emerging billionaires in the last two decades. What is the secret behind these countries success story; it is their population
Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world with a population of almost 200 million people with enormous human capacity. There is no renowned citadel of learning around the world today that doesn’t have Nigerians as tutors or students exceling at the highest level. We are blessed with abundant natural and mineral resources, crude oil and natural gas has been the mainstay of our economy earning us almost 80% of our foreign exchange. We are so blessed with natural resources that we do not even utilize most of them.
Take for instance the illegal mining in Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria which was relatively secret. Despite the huge deposit of gold, Nigeria also has considerable reserves of tin and zinc, although many of these deposits are undeveloped, and it is estimated that up to 80% of mining operations in Nigeria are illegal or small-scale projects. The influence of mining on the national economy has tumbled in recent months, with the sector contributing just 0.3% to the country’s total GDP. If we harness our mineral resources and ensure that the original concept of our two major steel companies in Aladja and Ajaekuta are made to function in full capacity, do you know how much revenue Nigeria can generate?
What about agriculture, we have a very big expanse of land and flat in most part of the country. The country has enough capacity in agriculture to feed the country and become major exporter of agriculture produce. Today, in The Netherlands we buy beans, palm oil, yam, garri from retail shops. I am always proud when I see processed in Nigeria on their labels.
We can do more if the government can mobilize global support for our farmers and subsidize them like the Dutch are doing today with their farmers. The Dutch farmers get subsidy from the Dutch government and also from the European Union and that is why food has become the cheapest and affordable thing in the country. They understand the significance of quality and affordable food to human health and existence. Such subsidy will help bring down the cost of production and eventually reduce the market price for consumers. So, Nigeria can indeed become a global power house in the world.
You contested as a Delta State Governorship aspirant in the last election and stepped down for the APC candidate Chief Great Ogboru and he lost the elections woefully. Today you have Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as the Deputy Senate President and also your longtime friend Barrister Festus Keyamo (SAN) as a Minister in this cabinet. How do you think the people of Delta State can benefit from this appointments?
I have no regrets stepping down for Chief Great Ogboru. As I have always said, I have so much respect for him and I see true leadership in him. I was even more convinced of his leadership acumen during the campaigns because it afforded me the opportunity to study his true character.
You cannot say he lost woefully because there were clear evidence of voting malpractices and rigging from the PDP. I personally monitored a few polling units and I saw what happened. He contested the election at the election tribunal, even though the tribunal ruled in favour of PDP, he has taken his case to the court of appeal where we are all hoping for a positive outcome.
Before I will answer this question, we need to look at the character of this two great personalities that you have mentioned; Distinguished Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and Hon. Minister, Barrister Festus Keyamo. They are one of the greatest political exports from Delta State to the country and they have distinguished themselves first as lawyers and now as politicians.
I have known Senator Ovie Omo-Agege from when he served at various capacity in previous Delta State Executive cabinet before he was elected as a Senator representing Delta State. My first encounter with him was when I consulted him at his residence in Asaba during the campaigns and subsequently we met at political rallies where he clearly stood out as a grassroots politician and one sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of his people. Remember, he became a Senator under the Labour Party in a State dominated by PDP and APC.
His meteoric rise to the position of Deputy Senate President today is a testament to his political astuteness. He knows how to reward hard work with success, when you look at the quality of those he has chosen as aides, for instance his Chief of Staff Dr. Otive Igbuzor who is a human rights activist and Executive Director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development. There is also another young vibrant activist Comrade Henry Efe Duku who is also his aide. I have visited his office twice since he became the DSP and I must say that I am very impressed with the conduct of his staff and how things are managed.
Barrister Festus Keyamo (SAN) needs no introduction to Nigerians. He has worked his way to the top solely on his belief on equity and fairplay. He has never hidden his admiration for the current President H.E. Mohammadu Buhari, he was the spokesperson of the Presidential Campaign Committee and today he is a cabinet Minister. We all saw what he did for the party and the President’s campaign. I mean, knowing Keyamo from our days of humble beginning in Ughelli, Delta State where he was two classes ahead of me, it is no surprise to see him attain such enviable height in both legal and political career.
I have also visited him as a new cabinet Minister with investors from Europe and I can testify that he has a magnanimous policy for the common man.
Therefore as a citizen of Delta State and you have this two great personalities representing you at the national level, you can only be more proud. This is because they understand the needs of the people they represent and the willingness to deliver on their promises will always remain paramount.
A new Board of NDDC has been announced and the Managing Director Mr. Bernard Okumagba is from Delta State. However, the President has suspended any further action on NDDC until a forensic investigation on it activities from 2001 till date is carried out. Do you believe in this new board and do you think the step taken by the President is the right thing to do?
I saw the composition of the new board and this time the MD slot has been given to Chief Bernard Okumagba who is from Delta State. Firstly, I am very thrilled that Delta State is getting the chance to produce the next MD but most importantly I applaud the choice of Chief Bernard Okumagba as the nominated MD.
Chief Bernard Okumagba is a man of exemplary qualities who has attained a great height as a financial mogul and a successful businessman yet unassuming and God fearing. I recently met him and had the chance to discuss several issues including the perennial challenges of under-development in the Niger Delta region. I can categorically state that he is the superlative choice for the position and NDDC as it is now need an experience manager that embodies quality and accountability to run the day to day affairs of the commission that has been ridden with massive corruption and mismanagement. He will definitely restore the lost confidence in the board of NDDC.
I have always advocated for the holistic review and audit of NDDC since inception (2001). Therefore, I fully support the bold action taken by Mr. President to carry out a forensic audit of NDDC since 2001. Remember that the enabling Act establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) clearly state among other things that the Commission shall “conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger-Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications;’
The House of Representatives passed the sum of N346.5bn budget for Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the 2019 budget. According to reports, the NDDC has received several trillions of naira from the Federation account since 2001 with no meaningful projects within the Niger Delta region to justify such revenue.
It has also been reported that not less than 5,000 NDDC projects costing the Commission billions of naira have been abandoned within the region and contractors still being owed in billions. It is estimated that NDDC total debts to bogus contracts is more than a trillion naira. The Commission’s poor performance can be blamed on lack of proper monitory mechanism, over inflation and non-execution of contracts.
The Commission was setup to improve the lives and environment of the ordinary citizens of the Niger Delta region but what we see today is poverty, degraded environment and non-existing infrastructure. No responsible government will continue to watch a commission such as NDDC to remain a conduit pipe for corrupt government officials and politicians to syphon monies meant for developmental projects.
Therefore, I personally believe that the President has acted good faith and in the interest of the good people of the Niger Delta region and that is why his action has received massive support from everyone including even the opposition PDP.
Nigerians are facing serious hardship with high unemployment rate, poverty and lack of basic life necessity such as access to healthcare and crumbling infrastructure. How do you think the government can deal with the issue of poverty and health challenges?
You have just mentioned two vital issues that are pivotal to the growth and development of any country; poverty and healthcare. Poverty can simply be defined as the lack of basic life necessities such as food and access to Medicare. Do you know that major Western European countries faced hunger and health challenges after the 2nd World War? They were able to conquer this challenge with massive investment in agriculture and giving the people access to quality and affordable healthcare services.
In a recent report by a very good friend of mine and a renowned European doctor of psychiatric and mental health Prof. (Dr.) Ernst Franzek titled; “Prenatal Malnutrition and Its Devastating Consequences on Mental Health Later in Life.” published in the Open Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. This article is a must read for any policy maker in Nigeria.
What the reports says is that wars, armed conflicts, incompetent and corrupt governments, lack of infrastructures for agriculture, lack of economic development and lack of adequate health care and education are besides natural disasters like severe droughts, flooding and earth quakes the main consequences for hunger, malnutrition and starvation of millions of people around the globe. Hunger, malnutrition and starvation does not only have terrible immediate consequences, but have also devastating long-term consequences on affected people’s health including mental health during their whole life.
The study also shows that the long-term consequences of exposure to starvation and malnutrition during prenatal life in their mother’s womb revealed that the offspring have significantly more often suffered from a variety of somatic and mental diseases including addiction and antisocial personality traits and disorders. If you look at Nigeria today, there is so much addiction and antisocial personality disorders which can be interpreted as “functional antisocial personality traits” of environmental adaptation such that a severe prenatal exposure to famine and maternal stress may produce offspring with prominent antisocial personality characteristic.
Therefore, the solution necessary to stay alive is by acquiring and maintaining food and safety for our population group that are exhibiting high levels of impulsivity, lack of remorse for opponents when fighting against other population groups, disregarded for their own safety. The significant excess of boys is hypothesized to be a consequence when fathers and mothers are exposed to severe famine already prior to conception
The natural consequences of starvation and severe stress caused by armed conflicts and other catastrophes account for a high prevalence of criminal and drug related problems in hunger and stress affected population groups. However, the criminals, the addicted and other mentally ill people should not be the only focus of interventions by governments, but the real underlying problems like lack of enough and healthy food, lack of clean water and adequate housing, lack of midwifery and adequate baby care, lack of adequate sanitation, lack of primary and secondary education have to be tackled intensively as well.
The government must invest massively in our agriculture sector to ensure that we produce what we eat affordably. The pregnant woman must have access to food and medicine before, during and after birth. This way, our next generation of children will be born without stress to avoid traits of antisocial personality disorder. Also, the government must improve policies that will ensure that citizens have access to quality and affordable healthcare services.
You have just mentioned that Prof. Dr. Ernst Franzek is your friend, how can they help us achieve the solution you just mentioned? In your last visit to Nigeria, you came with some Dutch investors who want to setup a football academy in Delta State. What is your role and interest in this “FixDelta” mantra you keep promoting?
It will shock you that before I entered politics to contest as Governor of Delta State, I critically studied the State to understand why we are blessed with so much resources and accruing so much in federal and internally generated revenue but yet the people are living in abject poverty. During the cause of moving around communities and engaging the people, I saw and spoke to people living in hopelessness. The healthcare and education system were dead. There were almost no existence of factories and industries.
Delta State has the highest number of tertiary institutions in Nigeria with most youths roaming the streets jobless. Nearly all the youths have become politic boys since they cannot find jobs. Therefore relying on politicians for crumbs to meet certain basic life needs.
I compared Delta State to Rotterdam in The Netherlands which is the city that I live and found so many similarities. I saw a developed Rotterdam and an under-developed Delta State with difference only in patriotism and good management of resources. It then don on me that with good leadership, Delta State can be fixed. That was how I made “FixDelta” my campaign mantra.
I believe that as a State if we must create jobs for our youths, we must attract foreign investments and make our State attractive to visitors. Even though I stepped down from the Governorship race, I still kept the mantra and have tried to use my connections in Europe to woo investors to the State.
You have mentioned my friend Prof. (Dr.) Ernst Franzek and how he can help us achieve the solution mentioned. He has a strong passion for Africa and when we met he found so much interest in Nigeria and since then we have visited Nigeria twice together. We organized a public lecture at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital and the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Benin City where he gave lecture on this report.
This year we decided to form an organization called “Legionnaires for Mankind’s Health” along with Prof. Kingsley Akhigbe of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Benin City. This organization will among things look at the basic human rights for everyone including enough and healthy food, clean water supply, adequate sanitation for every household and in public places, midwifery and adequate baby care. We intend to launch the organization in May 2020 during a visit to rural communities in Delta State.
My target for Delta State is to ensure that we commence football academy also in the first quarter of 2020 and also begin acquiring licenses for the installation of modular oil refinery in the oil rich Isoko region of Delta State. We already have an existing modular refinery in Europe and the funding for the project. We are just busy at the moment working on the business plan.
I am also busy discussing with a construction company in Germany and also a greenhouse farming company in The Netherlands. I am hoping that we can conclude our talks before the end of the year and they will likely visit Delta State early next year for feasibility studies of our environment. The interesting thing in all my discussions with these investors is that they will not rely on government for funds but will back their investment with their own funding.