Chief (Mrs) Rita Lori Ogbebor is a frontline Nationalist and Niger-Delta leader of Itsekiri extraction and requires very little introduction. She has always spoken out fearlessly against any government policy that is not people-friendly either at the state or federal level; she fought for the current 13 percent oil derivation to Niger-Delta states as well as the enthronement of the present Government during the tail end of the Yar’Adua administration. In this explosive interview with Sweetcrudereports the Igba of Warri opened up on a number of burning issues. She asked the federal Government to scrap the 13 percent oil derivation to all Oil producing states as it has out-lived its purpose and usefulness, She claims that while the federal Government doles this funds out religiously, the Governors have nothing to show for the huge billions of dollars handed to them in that regard. Chief Ogbebor expressed fears of a looming implosion as there is a huge stockpile of arms in the South-South even as Political thuggery has become a way of life in the region, a development she blamed exclusively on the visionless leadership of the South-South Governors. She had no kind words for the Governor of Oil rich Delta State whom she described as a colossal failure who has more projects in the media than on the ground! She also expressed regret that the Itsekiri Nation may not be opportuned to lead the state again for decades to come even as Itsekiri land has nothing show for his governance of the state in almost 8 years. The fiery Itsekiri leader opened up on all these, the controversial Ibori $15 million bribe money and the much talked about Uduaghan Christmas gift to her which was outrightly rejected and vehemently returned.
We really want to talk about your love for activism and your persistent calls for the enthronement of good governance in the country, can you really point out to us those things that you think are not really going on well in the country?
Thank you for observing that I am a role model, I hope others also see me in that light. I am not a politician but I am rather concerned about how good governance can be enthroned at all levels of governance in Nigeria. Some say I am a leader in the Niger Delta, while others say I am a national leader. But whichever way it is viewed, I am a concerned senior citizen, who is sad about how the country is being governed by those in the position of authority. So, that is why I have always stressed for good leadership. Today, what I am seeing in the country at every level of government is bad leadership without focus and vision. And this leadership that is being driven by selfish interest is ruining the country, most of the leaders in the country today are bad leaders and they have also brought about bad followership.
So, we have the problem of leadership and followership. It is because of the situation we found ourselves that I have been calling on those in the position of authority, to be selfless, dynamic and visionary. If these qualities I just mentioned are present among the leadership class, there will be good governance. And I would not be persistent on the calls for a better leadership.
The Niger-Delta issue bothers the country so much. And that is your primary constituency and today God has blessed the country with a President from that region. It is no mean achievement for the people of that area. From our analysis it seems that most second term governors from that region are not doing enough, in terms of providing purposeful leadership as you highlighted. And you have not shut your mouth on that. If this trend continues don’t you think it portend s a danger for the future generation?
I thank you for coming to ask me these questions at this hour. This is the most dangerous period in the history of that region because; all the gains of our fight are not being sustained by the governors. And I am scared because the people are becoming aware of this and if the trend continues another form of resistance might come up, because the people will be demanding for the result of all the funds accruable to the region. This issue is very important because it is going to make or mar this country. When the Niger Delta problem explodes, it will be worst than Boko Haram. And finding the answer would be difficult because the answers will be hydra-headed. They are trying to find the answer to the problems of insecurity but they have not, because one answer leads to another. The bottom-line of the problem in the Niger Delta now is the leadership class, who are not addressing important issues. They should not fold their hands and relax because there is amnesty and Niger Delta ministry. The people in the region want development and empowerment. The communities should be developed to reflect the kind of resources being explored from that area. What the leaders don’t know is that if they offer good leadership, people will follow them and that will continue even after them, For instance Mandela was away for twenty seven years and his followers remained with him, because he had a purpose. In the Niger Delta, the leaders deceive the people that they are fighting for Niger Delta but they are not. If they were fighting for the region, all the money that has gone into the region from the federation account would have made the area a better place. If they had the focus we had when we were fighting for thirteen percent derivation, the region would have been better-off.
The governors of that region are not focused, dynamic and patriotic in the manner they go about the quest for the development of the region. The amount of money pumped into the region, would have been enough to calm the nerves of the people there, but the funds have not been judiciously used. Where are the billions pumped into the region? They have all gone into the pockets of the so called leaders, who are claiming to be fighting for the region. The federal government should take the issue of the funds being given to the governors serious; the funds need to be monitored to ensure judicious use. We fought for thirteen percent derivation, but the conditions there are still in its pre-thirteen percent derivation era. And who is to be held responsible for that? The governors of course! This is because the funds go to them. In that region we have different types of tribes, who before now were leaving in harmony, but the politicians now play one tribe against the other. This trend has been causing disharmony in that region. And if you look at them, you will know that they are very ignorant leaders, who don’t know where they are taking us to. For instance during the Warri crisis, the Ijaws fought the Itsekiris. But at the end they discovered that what they were told was false. They were told that the Itsekiris were the ones receiving all the proceeds from oil in that locality. They were also told that it was because of local government. But they have now found out that the Itsekiris were as poor as themselves against what their ignorant leaders told them. So, if this trend of bad governance continues, that kind of Warri crisis might happen elsewhere. But I pray it does not happen anywhere because I experienced it and know the pains of the crisis. I saw rape, killing and kidnapping of innocent children then. I pray that it will never happen again. I am glad that you have come. And I want the world to know that a lot needs to be done in the Niger Delta. If something is not done, our children will still remain poor. The Niger Delta youths are still as ignorant as their leaders. What has been given to them is violence. The youths are still at the mercy of the big men, who keep ships at the high-seas and ask them to fill the ships with stolen oil. The big men are the ones responsible for the bunkering you hear that is going on in that region. Our children therefore are not the bunkerers, because the politicians make them to become oil thieves. So if issues that brought about the current challenges in that region are not addressed, the region will continue to be a source of worry to the nation. The oil bunkering which is becoming another dimension in the Niger Delta question should be taken seriously by concerned authorities because there is international interest in it. It does not end as a local matter because there are people, who receive the oil. So, in view of this, people of good will should prevail on President Goodluck Jonathan to take corrective measures on the Niger Delta question, especially the manner in which the thirteen percent derivation is being utilised by the state governors.
Do you fear for an implosion against the background of the picture you just painted? I don’t want to drag you into politics but there is something that is striking now. We have a President, who is of Niger Delta extraction, yet it is not reflecting on the level of development in the region. What does that connote?
I am scared because the aftermath of bad governance in that region, might be uncontrollable. The president is not doing enough. And it appears he will not be able to do enough because it appears that most of the advisers that he listens to are from the Niger Delta. They are the governors and politicians from the region, who are fighting for themselves. He cannot abandon them because they are from his primary constituency. Even if he has the focus, there is the problem of implementation because the governors are the ones to implement his vision in the states. The business and the concern of the president are to put in funds into the region, and I can tell you that he has done enough in that respect. He has ensured through making funds available, that the region becomes somewhere better, but the governors are not helping to realise this dream because of the misuse of the derivation fund.
You are highly revered in the Itsekiri nation and the governor is also an Itsekiri son, and you have not hidden your displeasure on the way the Itsekiri nation is being treated by his administration. Can we know some of the issues you feel he should have addressed as an Itsekiri son?
I am glad you know that I have never hidden my feelings about the governor. It is not because he is an Itsekiri person. If you go back memory lane, you will remember that I was the first to start pointing out the excesses of Ibori when he was the governor. When Ibori’s tenure ended he brought in Uduaghan. There was a battle then between Ibori and Edwin Clark over the matter because Clark did not want Uduaghan there, because he is Ibori’s cousin. I was one of those, who said he can be Ibori’s cousin and also a Deltan and an Itsekiri man. Hence, he was entitled to be the governor of the state. Clark was also against it because he claimed that Uduaghan was coming to do the bidding of Ibori and to cover up all the things that Ibori did. I was among those, who said no to that, because I know Uduaghan. The fight went on until Uduaghan was elected. When he was elected, we had hopes that he would help the Itsekiri nation, particularly the riverine communities. The Itsekiris own the largest share of oil deposits in Delta state. He never did. Most of the times he came to this house, I usually bring the plight of our people before him. The Itsekiris left their homes for other parts of the country because of the Warri crisis and we expected him to make this people return to their fatherland. But nothing was done. But he had time to finish all the jobs Ibori left uncompleted. In Oghara we have the university teaching hospital. Is there any need to site the hospital there? Ibori was advised against it at the time he was planning to do it, because a teaching hospital; must be within certain radius of an existing teaching hospital. The University of Benin Teaching Hospital is just a stone-throw from Oghara. We all used UBTH in the then Bendel state. Why the choice of Oghara that is very close to Benin. Why it was not cited in any other Urhobo land or Itsekiri land? There must be a general hospital anywhere you are sitting a teaching hospital. Oghara did not have a general hospital; that will be a catalyst for the development of a teaching hospital. You can imagine how people can get to Oghara when something happens in Burutu, Ogidigben or Escravos. They will have to get to Warri before taking another vehicle to Oghara. And that movement involves water and land transportation. Ibori acted against NUC advice. He used his power and the money of the state to construct it. He did not finish it, but Uduaghan was able to finish the hospital. In Oghara, there is the Naval Logistics School, which is the responsibility of the federal government. But Delta State had to build the school. Uduaghan finished the school with our oil money and dashed it to the federal government. There is also the Western University in Oghara. I have called his attention to all these. And he always gives me the assurance that he will perform but we haven’t seen anything. Oshiomhole does not earn what Delta state earns, yet the man is performing creditably well. Delta is among the richest state in this country, but there is nothing to show for it. What Delta State earns, most West African countries can’t boast of it. It is because of the failure of the present administration in the state that you have kidnapping in Delta State. If there was job creation for the youths there would not have been kidnapping. If there is anywhere kidnapping should flourish, it would not have been Delta State, because the state is a land of opportunities and promise. The only thing that they know in the state now is politics. That is why you have more thugs in the state than any other place. The two professions in the state are thuggery and bunkering and all of them go with violence. It also spread across other Niger Delta States. You can imagine a situation where youths take pride to call themselves political thugs. Go to Excravos, nothing is happening there, Warri is just being called oil city but the infrastructure there does not reflect it. The situation has degenerated so much in place like Excravos, to the extent that the people kill themselves over fallout from oil companies.
My worry is that Uduaghan is in his second term and when he leaves, that would mean the end of the Itsekiri tenure, are you now saying with what you have just highlighted that the governor is a failure. Supposedly he should be your son, don’t you think that Edwin Clark is vindicated with the turnout of things and have you called him to apologise for not supporting him when he opposed the choice of Uduaghan?
Yes he is a failure and has wasted the opportunity of the Itsekiris. I have not done that. And I will not do that because Edwin Clark eats and dined with Ibori until the last minute that was why I did not support him. At the time I was fighting Ibori, Clark never called me to say that I was doing the right thing? At the end when Ibori brought Uduaghan, he was now saying what he ought to have said earlier. How was I to trust him under such circumstance?
So do you regret supporting Uduaghan earlier?
I regret it. And I am extremely pained that I supported him because I know that I have usurped the chances of the Istekiri people for many years to come. He has taken our wealth to Oghara. Apart from ruling the state on the pages of newspapers, I challenge him to show us the projects he had started and completed. I am saying this because I know the kind of funds that goes to the state. We want him to show us physically, because we don’t want to be deceived with snap shots of houses built elsewhere or prototypes. If he can’t do that, then he is a failure.
So, you support the EFCC stand that Ibori’s $15 million bribe money should not be returned to the state?
Yes. I am in support of that. Ibori is denying the money, so the money should go to the Federal government. And if the federal government is not taking it, they should summon Delta State elders to know the kind of project they would want the money to be spent on. But they should not give it to the state government.
Has Uduaghan reached out to you since you rejected his Christmas gift?
He cannot reach out to me because I am not interested. He brought me a cow I was in Lagos on December 24, 2013 when I was called from Warri that Uduaghan has brought me a cow and some Christmas gifts. I was so angry and I did not want the cow to remain in my compound for one minute. I summoned Itsekiri women and told them. The youths took the cow and other gifts back to Uduaghan’s house.
Don’t you think two years is enough for him to change and remember his people, why don’t you give him the benefit of a doubt?
He has the options to change. That will help him to write his name in the good books of his people If he can do that, it will be of advantage to himself and his generation unborn. He does not have to please Ritalori. I am only after good governance and nothing more.
Are you saying that you cannot point to any project that Uduaghan has embarked on in Itsekiri land?
If I have given you so much money and all you could do is to build a ramshackle house for me. Is that what you call development? That is why I have challenged him to any meaningful project he cited in Itsekiri land since becoming governor. He should take me and journalists to the project site so that the world will know if he did anything.
It seems there is a conspiracy against the Jonathan presidency and particularly the leaders, especially the governors from the Niger Delta are not doing enough in advising the president on this conspiracy. How do you think the president can come out of this?
What I believe is that God is always with the ignorant man. A man who is good and willing to do good, but held hostage, usually finds favour in the sight of God. Among the bad leaders there must be one person, who will be talking to him, but politics is very vicious. But how did he get there in the first place? I am one of those, who fought for him to get there in every way that I know because we felt that he deserved it. But he seems to have forgotten those people, who stood up for him to be there. It was not only the Niger Delta people that fought for him to be there. The whole nation did that for him. Have you forgotten the likes of Femi Falana, Wole Soyinka and others? These are the people he should listen to. Even some northerners fought for him. These people fought for him on principle. The president appears to have misused the goodwill that made it possible for him to be there against all odds. There are certain things that I want him to do, particularly on the thirteen percent derivation. I want him start an inquiry into it. He does not have to depend on the governors to do that; he should depend on the people, who voted him in. When we were marching for him in Abuja, which of the governors did that with us? We all stood behind him, so how can he blow that goodwill because he wants to please the Niger Delta governors, who want to become president and vice president.
There have been reports that the south south governors’ don’t have projects to show for the thirteen percent derivation. And these people are clamouring for twenty five percent. Do you think this clamour for twenty five percent is right?
We know what we did to get all these people to establish oil producing communities’ development organisation. I also did same for the actualisation of thirteen percent derivation. What has happened since then? Even though the governors created oil producing areas development commissions but that has not in any way improved the lots of the people. The riverine areas are still the way they have been over the years. So the matter of twenty five percent does not come in. Except they want to create division between North and South, because they have not managed thirteen well. If they cannot mange thirteen percent properly, what is the assurance that twenty percent would be judiciously utilized?
I am not going to say that president should spend his time prosecuting the governors for their failure on the thirteen percent derivation fund, but God will prosecute all those that are making the poor to suffer. He should however, stop disbursing funds in the name of thirteen percent. Or better-still he should be directly in charge of the disbursement and monitoring of the utilisation of the funds. The president should address the thirteen percent question properly, so that he would be able to walk the streets of the Niger Delta a free man.
On the PIB
The inactivity of the governors in respect of the development of the region, has a made it difficult for people like us to speak in their favour regarding the PIB and twenty five percent derivation. They have mismanaged our affairs, and that has made us be less enthusiastic about the PIB. However, I know that the terrain of the Niger Delta requires much money for development. For instance, I am not just talking for talking sake. I am an employer of labour in the Niger Delta. I have mechanized farming that also involves animal husbandry in the region. So, I know what it requires to do business in that region, because of the difficult terrain. The oil companies know about the peculiar nature of that region that is why they are taking it serious. The area require a lot of attention, I am even of the opinion that the region should have an office on environmental degradation, because of the level of damages oil has done to that region.