UNPO President speaks of his work with the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People and the issue of oil wealth.
Below is an article published by the Vanguard:Mr Ledum Mittee is the chairman of the Niger Delta Technical Committee charged with reviewing reports on the region with a view to coming out with recommendations that would bring sustainable peace and socio-economic development to the oil-rich region. In this interview, Mittee, who is also the president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP), says the task before his committee is how to translate oil wealth from its current position as a source of affliction to the Niger Delta people to a source of affluence that brings happiness to them and all Nigerians. Excerpts:
COULD give us a brief review of your work so far?
Our mandate is reviewing past reports and we are also reviewing the several memos that have come in; after that, we will now be able to look at the gaps, see what recommendations have been overtaken by events, which ones have been implemented, which ones have not and the gaps available to see what we can now offer.
Clearly, things about Niger-Delta are quite well known. But people are coming up with the issues about militancy, decommissioning, disarmament and re-integration, issues about resource ownership, distribution and management of the resources.
Governance issues are coming up and not only resource in terms of distribution of the revenue but also issues of sustainable development, after all, what next? How can we generate resources that will sustain the region? These are issues that are coming up in some of the memos under review.
The Federal Government announced additional one week for you to complete your job. Can you do all of that within the next one week?
If you look at the work, you know it is extremely challenging to even think of doing it within the time frame. So we will do our best within the available time to do what we can, because if we look at the volume of reports obtained from the internet, the work that has been done, it is enormous.
And, past reports, particularly government reports are hard to come by, there are some that were done under previous administrations and it’s difficult to access them. So within the enormity of the work, we will be doing about 2000 memos, it is quite challenging particularly under the very tight schedule we have and the conditions under which we are working.
That means that your members have been working round the clock.
Yes, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. almost every day. After that, there are meetings that even stretch sometimes to 12 a.m.
We understand that at a point you had to break the committee into sub- committees.
Yes, we are now in sub-committees, several committees, each with different area of work.
What do they do?
We have eight sub-committees looking at critical infrastructure; health and education; economic development and agriculture; environment, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility; governance, rule of law; corruption and democracy; community, youth and women empowerment; resource ownership, management and distribution, conflict, militancy and decommissioning.
What specific roles do you expect the sub-committees to play?
The sub-committees are now to analyse the memos, the recommendations in each of the areas relevant to them and then ask the questions-what have been the recommendations in that area in the past? Have they been implemented? If not, do we know why? What are the gaps between past recommendations and present day reality and what are the recommendations that the committee should adopt to deal with this problem?
In essence, each sub-committee will handle each of these areas. After they come back to give us interim report, then other members will be able to interface with what they have done, then they go back to the sub-committee to look at those things and come back to the committee of the whole house.
Have you received any report from any of these groups, so you can say that this section has been dealt with?
The first phase has been completed. Each of the sub-committees has given interim reports which we all have already inputed into. The next phase is to now take what others have said into your work as part of the input and then put it also in relation to the memos. But it is important to say that the memos keep coming in even till today. You see them, people are still posting things to us, so it is quite challenging.
Did you have to ask certain people that you consider are key stakeholders in the region to make inputs?
Of course not only in the region but also outside the region. We have dealt with people who are not in the region; we have dealt with organizations like the United Nations, the World Health Organisation. We asked for resource persons outside the committee, that is what we have been doing.
We have also interfaced with people from the North, West and East to exactly get their own inputs, also the National Assembly. We have also met with some of the governors to have their views, including past governors who have ruled the areas for eight years, they have insight into this matter.
You were saying that not many of the governors have impressed you in the area of supporting the committee. What exactly do you mean?
We have not been able to meet some of them. There are some that have not taken the issue of assisting members seriously but some have actively provided back up team for their representatives and some of those people are quite helpful even to the committee as a whole and enrich the resources that are there.
Militancy continues to escalate. What kind of recommendation are we to expect on how to bring about lasting peace, particularly with regard to the activities of militants?
It is difficult for me to say what is coming out because it will not be fair to pre-empt further discussion there, but even from the committee that you see, that we have conflict, militancy and decommissioning, that brings the question that one of the things you should expect is, what will be the process of decommissioning? What should be the credible process of disarmament, mobilization and re-integration? So, you should expect that recommendations will come from those areas.
Has the government been funding your committee properly?
That is an area I wouldn't want to make a comment about.
What would you as an individual and a leader expect from the proposed Niger-Delta ministry?
It would be difficult to make comment on it. When I gave you the eight different sub-committees, one of the things that was decided yesterday (last Thursday [16 October 2008]) was to set up another sub-committee to look at these issues of the new ministry and the NDDC and come up with recommendations. So, in such circumstance, it will not be fair for me to express my own personal opinion when the sub- committee has been charged with that responsibility.
Members of the committee will expect that whatever is going to be the implementation process, that your recommendations will be taken. Clearly, it depends on what you want to do if it is to bring up something to say you are dealing with the problem. We are actually empowering a group in several ways, but I have said that these are things that when the committee comes up, it will be inappropriate for me to make my comment which could pre-empt the committee that was set up.
We are expecting that by next week (this week)[October 2008], hopefully, you will be able to turn in your report.
You know about turning in a report by next week, I don't think that is what we are planning. What we are planning is the reverse timetable. Sub-committees are meeting again on Monday (this week) [October 2008[, then we will now have a discussion on issues, then we will adopt the sub-committees reports on Wednesday [22 October 2008]; then the members will depart on Thursday [23 October 2008].
Confronting the problem hopefully, looking at the time they have given us, we think that now is the best time for the secretariat to be involved and then members may be called to now look at the draft.
On a final note, what is the antidote to ensuring peace in the Niger Delta?
We take this assignment seriously and, clearly, that is why every Nigerian should take this matter seriously. It is not just Niger-Delta because it will become a culture that will swallow the rest of the country. If you look at it, those kidnapping first went after white men, people were making fun of it. After that, they went after oil companies workers. Now, they are going after everybody.
Almost all people know that it is there. Now, people think okay it is Port Harcourt, so they run to Lagos. Soon, the kidnappers will get to Lagos and people will run to Abuja and soon they will get to Abuja by which time it will be terrible.
So, the idea is not running away from the problem but to confront the problem and solve it, and this is not the only country where you have this sort of thing, where you have disproportionate levels of income, poorest of the poor and the gap between them and the rich, which are very few, and then there is the availability of cheap money through the sort of politics we play.
If you go to areas where there are diamonds, there is illegal mining of diamond. So, we need to confront the problems and solve them because, if we keep running, it will spread to other places. Come to think of it, it is not only people who are born in the Niger-Delta that are involved in this problem, so it is no excuse to say I am running away from that area.
And countries have solved their own problems; Liberia confronted its situation and tried to deal with it in a way that is transparent, that does not show that you are rewarding violence but at the same time you are dealing with it as part of the obligation to the youths and to the society in which they are.
I think these are critical issues which everybody needs to understand. If we don't solve the problems, we are only postponing the doomsday and, when it comes, the implosion will not spare any one of us.
Without attempting to take undue advantage of this interview, I believe the issue of wealth re-distribution would be one of your recommendations.
I won't be the one to make the recommendations. The committee as a whole will do that. But, clearly, there are some areas that we must look at. If you get governance right, you get the issue of militancy and peace right, you are likely to get some of the other things in the area right. But, as you said, we need to find the balance that wealth should not be the cause of our affliction.
That seems to be the current situation. The enormity of resources has become a problem. An elder statesman told us that he was discussing with a former governor who said that the more money in their hands, the more conflicts are likely because, in his own analysis, the youths know what you have. These are some of the things. How do we translate the wealth we have, instead of becoming an affliction to become a source of affluence, an affluence that would be a source of happiness.
That is the challenge. It is not the challenge that is left to one group of people, all stakeholders must be involved:The communities, the local governments, the states, the Federal Government, the oil companies, the donor agencies and all of us.
Even the faith-based organizations have a role to play. We will come out with recommendations that would touch the faith-based organizations. They are clearly involved in the battle of the minds. There are many times you go to churches and you hear preaching that tells people clearly that you don't need to work- you can get blessings and get that contract that you want by paying your tithe or something.
We must change this sort of thing.