Photo : Jackson
Bayelsa State Government celebrated the 2013 Isaac Boro Day recently with activities in Boro’s home town, Kaiama and the state capital, Yenagoa. Two-time presidential aspirant in the United States, and civil rights activist, Rev. Jesses Jackson, was the guest lecturer at the colloquium. He took time off before the lecture to grant interview to selected journalists. Jackson spoke on a wide range of issues, including Boro’s struggles for justice for the oil-rich Niger Delta, Nigeria’s democracy and the need for economic justice. Our Correspondent, IGONIKO ODUMA, was there. Excerpts:
What informed your trip to Nigeria and Bayelsa State?
I have been to Nigeria many times over the years. I was here during the time of Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and up to the present President, Goodluck Jonathan. We have spent a lot of time last year to press forward in the continent. There was a case in the Gambia in which some persons were to be executed and we called on the President on the need to allow us into the country to make an appeal to stop the execution process. He allowed us to visit him and agreed to do two things. He agreed to set free two African-Gambians and two African-Americans. We also went to Kenya and during the election of President Uhuru Kenyata. About a month ago we were in South Africa to receive an award that was given to a non-South African. We have also been to Zimbabwe. We tried to work on building bridges at all time. We are also expecting to have people at a coming event from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria. Last year, Governor (Sullivan) Chime of Enugu State was at the event and we expect to have a delegation from Bayelsa state at the event this year. The event seeks to keep tearing down walls of fear and violence. It seeks to build the bridge of hope. When we receive the invitation to come to Bayelsa State, we were so honoured and because we have so much respect for Governor Dickson of this state. He means so much as a young, strong and intelligent leader. Other focus is also on environmental hazards to health and the needed development to the region. The governor is appreciative of the need to build infrastructure so people can have a good house and habitable environment. His commitment to literacy should be commended for these forward steps. The celebration of the Isaac Boro Day is also taken to a higher level. It is a big deal because the root of the freedom of the Niger Delta region is in the life and model of Boro. As I watch the Play last night on Boro,I can not but think that the Dr. Luther King legend of 1955 on the state side and was killed in April 4,1960.Isaac Boro emerges in 1959 and was killed May 16,1968. Isaac Boro was fighting for the liberation of African people in the Delta region. He was fighting for a fare share of the development from the Federal Government and fighting for Independence from SPDC’s exploitation. When I think about the period of Dr. King and Isaac Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa, it promotes the struggle but it is not over. Today, we are free but not equal. That becomes a great challenge because we can now say we are free to demand for a sovereign state. Now the Niger Delta region is free, but the coast of equality should drive great teachings and the walls of inequality must come down and the bridges must be built in the region. With such abundance of resources in the soil, there must be refineries here. Nigeria should not be importing oil and food. It should be a part of the right to self determination. Freedom is a vast step in fighting for the next level of equality and a burden on its trading partners over the need to be compelled to accept international standards as in the case of Shell Petroleum that cannot have gas flaring done in the United States. The oil company cannot engage in gas flaring in the United States and if they do, they must pay a fair price for the action. If the trading partners globalism capital, they must globalize Human Rights, women rights, children rights and environment security. The next stage of the struggle is to fight for equal rules in South Africa, Nigeria, United States and other countries of the world. There must be fair and equal rules in world economics and development. Nigeria means so much to all of us in the world. Every human race in Africa depends on the wing spread of Nigeria. Nigeria drives the big engine in the continent. I came here some years ago during the Babangida administration and he gave us an airplane to fly across the frontline states. Nigeria was a big factor in the freedom of South Africa. The country has been prosperous in this role and it is a great nation.
You are from one of the oldest and enduring democracies in the world. How would you describe the Nigerian democracy?
First of all, American democracy is 40 years old. It is not hundreds of years old as acclaimed. Because when the African-Americans were in slavery and they call it democracy, it was not. Hundred years of John Crow’s racial marginalization, they call it democracy because whites can vote and we cannot. In 1965, because of our struggle, like Isaac Boro, redefined American democracy and make it the first time an inclusive democracy where African-Americans can vote. Two years later, black women could serve on the jury. In 1970, 18-year old could vote. In 1974, students can vote on campuses. By 1975, people can vote by-lingually. Ours has always been a democracy in the making. If you look at your young nation, Nigeria, it has attained a lot with the common belief that Democracy must strive. It is now a common belief that the votes does matter and should count. We should not let ethnicity or tribalism limit someone participation in something good called Democracy. But the right to vote necessarily means the right to economic security.
Great thinkers will say the right to reconstruction means the freedom to starve, freedom to be malnourished and freedom is not enough. It goes beyond freedom to fight for economic equality and economic justice. And that means that some of the oil multinationals operating in the Delta has engaged in a show of shame with the importing of oil. This must be changes because there is no logical reason why refineries should not be opened as a part of the partnership between the oil companies and the country. Without these, there can be no level playing field.
But the evolving democracy in America has been promoted by the level of education there. What would say about the development pattern in Bayelsa and Nigeria?
I must say Nigeria has a stable government. And violence has been reduced. That is significant because violence and democracy don’t go and hand in hand. Violence and Investment don’t go hand in hand. People don’t invest where there is violence. They don’t invest where there is fear. Where there is fear, there is no growth. And where there is no growth, there is no development. And so, that why a non-violent resolution of conflict is supported rather than a terrorist resolution of conflict is supported and a way to go. Part of Democracy is to fight for the right and have checks and balances of power, legislative, executive and judicial. There is a way you express oneself through election, litigation, legislation and peaceful protest. If in fact, one addresses grievances in these manners provided by democracy, it makes a country investment attractive. I want to say Governor Dickson’s commitment into seeking for American and European investment is a good thing. The investment must be about partnership and the partnership will provide learning from one another and we grow.
The struggle for self-determination in Niger Delta is similar to the past struggle for freedom in the United States. With the volume of resources in the region, would you say the people of the Niger Delta are right to seek for self- determination?
Absolutely. The beauty of the dream of Isaac Boro is the dream that the Niger Delta be recognized as a region unto itself where it has the right to a fair share of the Federal Republic. Those are logical progression of the democratic process. What we have discovered in Nigeria, South Africa and the United States is that when you remove the outer layer of skin exploitation and refuse to deal with the skin exploitation to the bone marrow, you have missed the point. You can be free of skin colour humiliation but then there is trade, economic and health apartheid, education apartheid, engineering apartheid and banking apartheid. One must remove the various layers until you get what the people of the region feel God has given them what they asked for. Bringing people and utilizing the God’s abundance in the soil. These are God’s gift and you must give God peace and justice in return. And the resources shared fairly among God’s people and the people must appreciate that it is of God. It was greed and jealousy that is destroying the nation. I heard Governor Dickson talking about environmental degradation, he is right. When the World War 2 was over, the bridges must be built.
Terrorism has become a global phenomenon. Would you say this is the reason the United State built a drone in neighbouring country of Niger in preparation to the doomsday prediction of Nigeria disintegrating in 2015?
Yes, terrorism has become a global phenomenon where some people believe killing innocent people will get attention like the bombing at the Boston Marathon in the United States. The bombers now claim they are upset about the war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, they have to bomb to get attention. When one has a democracy, one has to resolve conflict with non violent means. You can create leadership. You can change leadership with all the transfers of power. You have the right to protest. You have the right to Free Press. These are the real fruits of democracy. There is no need to kill somebody before you can be heard. You can be heard by simply sitting down and talking. And that is the beauty of democracy. When a democracy is oppressed, and people can’t talk and can’t change things, they speak in the voice of the unheard. That is why Nigeria looses so much oil that led to the pollution of the rivers because people can not participate. Democracy has some real key values. They are the right to participate and the right to protest for the right.
What about the deployment of drones and troops against insurgents?
That is a decision a country has to make. The drones and the troops must be determined by each country. They must determine their military relationships. My recommendation is that we should be very sensitive to the deployment of drones because it kills so many people and cause collateral damages. You must spend more time on conflict resolution. You cannot put out the pains of the suppressed people in that way. You must resolved conflict with justice.
You mentioned that it is better for US and others to remain a unified country. But we observed that some of the doomsday prophesies emanate from the US about Nigeria and it heats up the polity. How can big countries encourage Nigeria to remain a major contributor to world economy?
Nigeria must be determined to achieve a united Nigeria to achieve joy. That is a Nigeria decision. United States have their place and their traditions. But the ultimate protection should be one Nigeria. One Nigeria must be achieved for the country to achieve power. Nigeria must not disintegrate and must remain strong. With or without doomsday predictions on the acts of violence and terrorism, the issues must be resolve through negotiation and must not result into separation. In America, we had the South threatening to secede, but President Lincoln fought to keep the Union. The Union is worth fighting for. In the end, you see Isaac Boro being stopped from getting the Delta free because he was threatening the Union. And fighting for a fair formula is a fair fight. If states (in Nigeria) fight for their fair share, it is fair democratic fight. But you only have the power of victory if you have the state to fight.
You must have been following the leadership style of President Goodluck Jonathan. He recently declared emergency rule in some states and declared Amnesty for the insurgent. And it seems not to be working. What are we not doing right?
I think the amnesty must work and the conditions fully honoured. Amnesty must involve economic restitution, the jobs and the training. On the other hand, within the United States, when there was civil unrest, there was a kind of State of Emergency. But I hope the country will soon get back away from the battle field and get to the negotiation table. In the end, it will be the bargaining table. It is not the battle field that wins victory. You cannot battle forever. You can bargain and resolve the conflict in the North. That’s why I believe so much in non-violence. Non-violence does not mean fear, but courage, thinking and it means the ability to figure it out and fight it out. You must have the ability to resolve conflict and not fight aggressively. It must not result into killing and being killed.
Would you suggest that Nigeria practice true federalism to solve the issues of agitations from states and its people?
There remain in the constitution state rights and federal rights. It is two layers and state must be encouraged to participate and not to disengage. In the United States, a state like Texas is an oil state. In other state, it could be Agriculture. And different state makes different contributions and at the end all these must make the part whole. The whole contribution must make the country strong. You cannot have a strong state and a weak Federal Government. Not have a strong Federal Government and weak states. That is insensitive to the force that binds them. To me, that is what true federalism should be. It is a stable and fair formula between federal and state.
Where do you see Nigeria and US fostering more ties aside from the ongoing fight against terrorism?
Part of our struggle with the government is to free the occupiers of corruption. We cannot imitate the behaviour of our occupiers. We must have a set of values different from theirs that will make the revolution complete. We must reside as family with set of values against corrupt behaviours. We have been doing that in the United States with groups formed with the purposes of talking to the people. We may not be able to stop it but we can check it. We can ensure that accountability is a fact in democracy and it must apply to the rich and the poor. It must apply to those who are in and those that are outside. That is what happens. You must have checks over some people’s tendencies to ensure fairness.