You were arrested and detained by the Netherlands authorities some few weeks ago, what was really the reason for your arrest and detention?
The Assistant District Attorney that came with the beehive of police and secret agents claimed that I was being arrested most especially for Human Trafficking, forgery, supporting illegal Nigerians with accommodation and political asylum advice. As the interrogation continued they even said they suspected I was involved in blowing up of pipelines in the Niger Delta which was laughable and goes to tell you their desperation to criminalise me.
They started wire tapping my two cell phones since late 2009 and also tapped my office telephone and internet lines. They basically sat on all my conversations while separating any conversation they think could be sufficient enough to bring charges against me. In the cause of investigating me they did some very nasty things which I can only reveal should they bring the alleged charges to court.
These are the summary of what I know so far but the full content of their investigation according to the Public Prosecutor will be sent to my lawyer by the end of April and until then I can’t discussed much details about the case itself.
The Netherlands authorities are claiming you are involved in human trafficking and were at the airport to receive a Nigerian man travelling with a lady under false passport, how true is this allegation?
I was not involved in any form of human trafficking of a lady according to the Public Prosecutor. I was at the airport in Amsterdam to meet a friend who was only transiting Amsterdam enroute Prague, Czechs. I had arranged to meet this friend at the airport to discuss the possibility of inviting his boss to The Netherlands to attend a Peace conference on the Niger Delta that I was organising in The Hague.
We should first note that this event happened in 2009 and the lady travelling with this friend was actually his girlfriend and I was later told by him while in detention that the Dutch border police convinced the girl to claim that she was being trafficked so that charges can be brought against him and in return the lady will be granted permit to leave in The Netherlands.
The lady according to my friend agreed and the case lasted almost six months or thereabout and in all this time the man was in custody here in The Netherlands. He was eventually returned to Nigeria and the girl according to reports, was granted residence permit and now live in an undisclosed location here in The Netherlands. I had nothing to do with this case. This is all I can say about it for now since the case is still under investigation. More details will emerge when we finally go to court.
Can you give us a descriptive explanation how they came for you?
It was in the early morning around 5 am on Tuesday 22nd February 2011, I had several hard banging on my door and the next thing a voice saying Police, and if you don’t open we will break the door. I immediately opened and they all came in took their positions in my house. They were more than twenty and some went downstairs and took positions in the different rooms.
My wife and kids woke up from the shock and fear and they started to tremble. I was immediately told to hand over my car key and my office keys. Some went to my car and others left for my office. They took my telephones and insisted that I must not call anyone. They told me the charges against me and asked me to clothe myself. I did that and they took me away in their vehicle to Schiphol airport detention facility. I was kept there for three days without access to anyone and also no phone call except to me lawyer under very strict supervision.
It was a commando styled invasion that brought embarrassment to me in the face of my neighbours who heard the banging on the door and also saw the people with their painted police van parked directly in front of my house. They searched my whole house for more than 5 hours, searched my car in the open and also searched my office. They went away with my computers, laptops including that of my children, ipad, documents, receipts and anything they think could make sense to them.
They have still not returned all the things they took from my house. I insisted through my lawyer in getting at least my computers back and I finally got a call from them on Friday 25th March 2011 asking for the passwords to the computers. You can imagine asking passwords more than a month after taking my computers away.
When you look at the charges they now alleged against me and you compare with the resources and manpower involved in the operation carried out to arrest me, you wonder if it was justified. They could have as well come like visitors quietly and take me away without funfair. This is part of the harassment tactics to intimidate me and criminalise me even before we go to court.
What was going on in your mind all the while you were locked in?
First of all, this happened two days to when I was suppose to travel to Nigeria for the final funeral ceremony of my late mother who was assassinate in Nigeria in 2007. The date for the funeral had been fixed for Saturday 5th March 2011 in Benin City and I was all packed and set for my trip on the 24th February. The invitation for the funeral had already been circulating and maximum preparations had been put in place and then this raid occurred.
Of course, the first night was terrible and traumatic for me. It became even worse when I was locked down in isolated custody. They blocked my access to television, there were no reading materials and I was not even allowed pen to write. I was there until the next day when interrogation started. I desperately tried to explain to them the significance of my trip to Nigeria and the need for them to allow me go and return back to them but they refused claiming to have so much against me. I was really paranoid and distraught considering the colossal loss of not having to go for the funeral.
I also considered the character assassination and reputation damage that such a scandal could bear on my personality. I had in the years tried to build a reputable name for myself considering the stigma and prejudice that Nigerians suffers in Europe. I was pretty confident that when the dust settles my name will not only be restored to its glorious position but some people will be put to a final shame.
As the day went by, I settled myself and resorted to writing my prison memoir and at this time I had been transferred to a penitentiary that was about three hours from my house. It offered better facilities but I was still in lock down with all restrictions upheld.
I knew that the plans of those behind the ordeal was to broke me down and eventually portray me as a disgrace to the struggle but I was resolute believing that God was using the occasion provided by the “attack” to promote and prosper me. I kept my cool until they also came and said I was free to go home. I stayed precisely 14 days in detention.
You were allowed to call your lawyer and also take a shower; did that affect you psychologically in any way?
I was allowed to only speak to my lawyer under a very tight scrutiny and I could only come out of my cell when I need to take my shower in the morning. Yes, it affected me psychologically but with time I adjusted to the situation and started encouraging myself by thinking all positivity from the scenario.
You know, part of my everyday campaign has a lot to do with advising people who are facing tough moments. I also spend quality time reading the bible so all these became handy for my situation and I was able to handle both my emotional and traumatic conditions.
I have always believe in life that the ladder that takes you to the next level will always require a climb, for some it could be a difficult climb while to others it could be an easy climb. In my case, most of the time it is always a difficult climb but the end always justifies the means. When forces prevail on you to fail then you must show to them that it’s not how many times you fall that matters but how many times you are able to stand when you fall.
A friend recently told me that the ocean can only toss the calabash but it can never sink it and you will remain on your sit while the person who wants to shave or barb you will be running around you! My enemies will dance the macabre dance at the end.
You claim that your travail has to do with the last parliamentary hearing where you accused Shell of environmental degradation issues, are you saying that Shell can influence the authorities?
I want to state this for the record, I never said my travail was as a result of the last Dutch Parliamentary hearing in The Hague but I said it could have been the icing on the cake for those against me. Remember I said my phones and internet lines have been tapped since 2009. I have been engaged in many events, demonstrations, documentaries and speaking in conferences condemning the role of the multinational oil companies, the Nigerian government and even the leaders from the Niger Delta.
Of course, I can’t say everyone is comfortable with this fearless criticism and as such you could attract enemies along the way. The one thing that I have consistently said is that there are higher powers and a combination of different bodies behind this ordeal when you look at how I was followed and how they carried out the arrest. It is clear that some powerful people are not happy with me but God will expose them very soon.
The police have been making contacts with people and organisations that I am close to in the guise of investigating but the tactics is to scare them away from me or put a strain on our relationship. I am very confident and I believe in the justice system of The Netherlands. I will go any length to clear my name. I have paid the highest price for the struggle with the assassination of my mother in 2007 so nothing can stop me from the cause.
What exactly did you accuse SHELL of doing wrong in the Niger Delta?
I spoke quite frankly at the hearing and said all what I see as the wrongs done by Shell and I also praised their GMOU program. I pressed on them to be more transparent and allow their critics the chance to have access to data’s that could help check whatever progress they may be making.
Remember, I was in Nigeria last year December with a Dutch member of Parliament and Shell insisted that I must not take part their planned meeting with the team in Port Harcourt and also was dropped from their helicopter ride over the Niger Delta airspace.
I have never tried to use my campaign in a confrontational way to attack Shell unnecessarily. I engage them in meetings because all I want is for the situation in the Niger Delta to improve and the livelihood of the people bettered.
It is a known fact that the Niger Delta environment has been devastated by oil spills resulting from old pipes and sabotage, the issue of gas flare producing greenhouse gases that has affected the climate change. The resulting impact has affected farming and fishing which is the main occupation of the people. This was the issues that I shared with the committee members in addition to the massive corruption that has inhibited the flow of the oil profits from reaching the people.
What demands did you present to Parliament that SHELL should see to?
The main demand was for the Parliament to compel Shell by way of legislature to adhere strictly to internationally accepted code of operations. Shell has an oil refinery very close to my place and the standard there in operation is in no way compared to how they operate in the Niger Delta.
We also demanded transparency from Shell particularly in the area of their joint operations with the Nigeria government. The issue of corruption must be tackled only if Shell is willing to expose government bottle necks that allow very few people to enrich themselves at the expense of the local populace.
The issue of gas flare which has since been outlawed but never adhered to by the oil companies was also another demand. We were unanimous in our call for Shell to declare a permanent end date. It is bad for the environment and it’s a shame that in the 21st century after more than fifty years of oil operation in the Niger Delta, the region is still considered the second most gas flared area in the world.
On the 27th April, the plenary session of the Dutch Parliament will invite both the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Economic Affairs to an open debate relating to the questions of the Parliamentarians. We expect something meaningful will come out of that debate.
In the meantime, on 20th April 2011 there will be another European Union Round Table on Niger Delta in which I will also be speaking and pushing home the same point but this will mainly focus on corruption and how the EU can help tackle this endemic parasite. This time Total and ENI will join Shell during the round table. These are nonviolent measures aimed at policies from EU government compelling the oil companies to act appropriately.
9. Looking at the poverty in the Niger Delta region, will you say SHELL is also responsible for the slow rate of development going on there?
The poverty situation in the Niger Delta is the collective responsibility of not just only Shell but also the Nigerian government and the Niger Delta political leadership. The massive corruption in the oil and gas sector has made the region lack development and basic human needs despite the more than 300 billion dollars of profit made by the Nigerian government over a period of 50 years!
There is nothing in the Niger Delta today that reflects the region’s oil and gas potential that has made Nigeria the 8th largest OPEC member exporter in the world. Let’s look at Qatar and the United Arab Emirate, the people are not complaining because the government has been able to evenly distribute the oil wealth and make provision for major infrastructural development and advancement.
The Niger Delta I know as a kid growing up is even better than the Niger Delta today. When you operate in a region over 50 years and there is no development, you must change your policies in a way that the people can feel the impact of your operations in the area. The region has not experiencing paucity of policies but the political will to execute the policies are what has been lacking.
Some of the Niger-Delta states get some of the highest allocation but little or no development is done, does your organization HOPE FOR NIGER DELTA CAMPAIGN also beam your search light on the government?
We are very much aware of the huge allocation received by the Niger Delta states like the 13% derivation which has not contributed to any developmental expansion. The derivation has not benefitted the people in any way and some agitators are even demanding for an increase to 25%.
HNDC has consistently been calling on the Niger Delta states government to be more transparent and show accountability in the spending of this allocation. There should be zero tolerance on corruption and graft, show to campaigners and other states in the country that the Niger Delta political class can administer governance to their own people in a patriotic way.
The political class in the Niger Delta has lost the respect of their own people. When you look at the elections coming up, you will find out that there is no sitting government that has majority support in their own state. The schism between the political class and the people is as a result of corruption by the former and this separation can only be bridged if the leadership can make accountability their watchword.
It is this campaign on corruption that we are taking to the floor of the European Union Parliament in Brussels on 20th April. I believe the EU can increase their financial support and invest in the Niger Delta but we must also prove that leadership corruption will not swallow any financial inducement in the region.
The EU members of Parliament helping us to push for this meeting are well respected for their zero tolerance on corruption. I am talking about people like Dennis De Jong (MEP from The Netherlands) and Eva Jolly (MEP from France). There is a saying that whoever must go to equity must go with clean hands. If I am to use my network in Europe to push for international assistance to the region then the leadership must avoid watching their dirty linens in the open.
Many people expressed concern when you were arrested in the view that you are based in Europe and fighting for the good of people in the Niger Delta, why should you and your family remain very far from the problem? (B) What advantages does residing in Netherlands give you concerning your cause?
You know that for the 14 days I was locked up by the Dutch police, they made sure that I had no access to telephone or even contacts with any other detainee so that I cannot communicate with the outside world. I didn’t even have access to my family because of course after tapping my phone for that long they knew what I can do to raise awareness to my ordeal. So, for the 14 days I didn’t know what was happening outside until I was released.
I was in tears the whole night after my release when I started going through the internet and saw how people reacted. The likes of Joseph Evah, Tony Uranta, Annkio Briggs, Chris Ekiyor, Nnimmo Bassey and many others that I can’t mention their names here. I praise these people because they trusted me and sticked their neck out for me even without hearing details of the charges. There were other close people that I also expected this same level of trust from but they played the cautious game.
The role of the press was quite impressive and I must thank Sahara Reporters, Vanguard, The Sun, The Guardian and other international news media like Radio Netherland World, The Telegraaf, Algemeen Dagblad and many others that I can’t mention. All this further justified the fact that people are appreciative of my campaign for the betterment of the Niger Delta from abroad.
Many people have said that I should come home and carry out the struggle and now you ask the same question. I know many activists in Nigeria who are doing very well in Nigeria, they are my mentors and I sometimes call them for advice because I consider myself still very young in the struggle. Must everybody be in Nigeria to raise the awareness?
If I was in Nigeria, would I have been able to play the role I played at the Dutch Parliamentary hearing? Would I have been able to raise the Niger Delta question at the European Union level? Would I have been able to reach out to the average Europeans who have so many questions on what is going on the Niger Delta? Would I have been able to contribute my bit in the ongoing landmark lawsuit against Shell in The Hague by the 3 local Niger Delta farmers supported by Friends of the Earth Netherlands?
Is there any campaign or governance that can exist only when you have internal structures based at home? Why do countries have diplomatic missions abroad when the government is at home? I consider the question naïve because I cannot succeed in the struggle abroad without working with committed activists in Nigeria and also the other way round.
I know how many distinguished Nigerians I have invited to Europe either directly or indirectly to speak on events relating to the Niger Delta. This are people that I know have a voice and need the European platform to tell our problems. If we can encourage more people to push our cause like I am doing here in Europe, the resulting impact will be felt positively back home.
The advantage I get in the struggle from residing in The Netherlands is that I can reach out to international NGOs’, government and individuals in the call to focus international policies and supports that can help improve the situation in the region. The Niger Delta topic is now a burning issue in the Netherlands and Brussels through our efforts in raising the awareness.
What successes have you recorded since you started your campaign and what benefits reached the people in the Niger Delta?
I am not a position to evaluate my success story. I can best leave this question for those who have been monitoring the progress of my campaign. It is a clear fact that before I started this campaign here in the Netherlands, nothing was known or heard about the Niger Delta despite here being the base of Shell. The only time you read about the Niger Delta is when there is an attack on pipelines or kidnap of foreign oil workers.
But today the story is different; Dutch MPs have visited the Niger Delta. There has been a hearing on the Niger Delta at the Dutch Parliament where Shell was brought to answer questions relating to their mood of operation in the region. Again, the train is moving to the EU for another Round Table discussion. The international media are all scrambling to get the Niger Delta story from the eyes of the people and more international NGOs are moving to the region.
It has been one step at a time but the steps have been a giant stride. Remember, I am a nonviolent campaigner and the only tool I use is engagement and dialogue.
There are many activists using the Niger Delta struggle to make money for themselves. Do you make money or enrich yourself by collecting money from European government, organisations or individuals?
I am not in the category of those activists who enriched themselves with the struggle. We must be careful how we make our conclusions about activists. I have heard so many rumours that I am doing all this because I get money from the Dutch government. Even the Nigerian embassy in The Netherlands is among those spreading the rumour that I collect money from the Dutch government and organisations. You know people will always talk about you and very few talks about you wrongly.
This is pure calumny and baloney and an attempt to carry out character assassination on my personality. How do you reckon the fact that I get money from the Dutch government with my recent arrest by an arm of the Dutch government? I have sacrificed my own money and resources to maintain the temple of the struggle. I was even accused that I got huge money from the Dutch Parliament for the role I played during the hearing. I didn’t even get my transport cost to the venue. They don’t operate like you will think in Nigeria.
The EU will only be covering the cost of my transportation at the next EU event in Brussels; does that mean that I will not spend more money? I have not collected money from anybody whether here in Europe or in Nigeria. I am not in the struggle for the money but I have the passion and patriotic spirit to help our people in my little way.
I can never be deterred by this sort of rumour because it will only distract me. I am much focussed because I see this as a mandate from God and that is why he has been protecting me all along.
With the preferential treatments been given to the repentant militants that accepted the amnesty granted by FG, don't you think it would be counter-productive in the long run?
I am not against the treatment being given to the militants by the FG but what I encourage the government to do is also to remember citizens who commit so much to helping societies. I know many committed activists who run foundations that help the common people in Nigeria but don’t get government support.
These set of people must have a government program that should ensure adequate funds are appropriated to them to help them dispense the humanitarian commitment to the ordinary people. They cannot continue to rely on donations from international organisations. In Europe, the majority of funds to NGOs’ come from their government.
The risk of using money to entice the militants will backfire if there are no sustainable programs which should include development of the region and job provision for the youths. There are many unemployed youths who are watching how the government manage the amnesty program, if it goes on forever then it will encourage more youths to take up arms.
The world is very interested in the amnesty program and they are following the progress so we must prove that for once the government can get this right. I have been invited to speak on the amnesty program in Paris on 3rd May by the French Institute of Foreign Relations a think tank that advices the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It tells you how much interest it has generated from the West.
We hear of many of the repentant militants going to school and preparing for elective positions, will having these category of people in government bring positive outcomes for the people in the Niger Delta?
Nigeria is democratic country where we are suppose to expect full compliance to electoral rules and that is why we must encourage INEC to conduct a very free and fair election. I admire the credibility of Prof. Attahiru Jega at the helm of affairs and people like my friend Barrister Mike Igini who has defied pressure from political rogues to dance to their tune.
You know under a free and fair election, everyone must be free to exercise their right to either vote or be voted for. Having said this, should any of the militants think that they have what it takes to rule their people then they can run. Haven’t we been let down by the educated elites? President Evo Morales was not of the educated elite but he is doing very well in Bolivia today. Haven’t our Ministry’s been headed by Professors? What has been the outcome, stupendous corruption isn’t it?
So everyone must get their chance should they think that they will get the support of their people.
What will be your model for the rescue of the Niger Delta?
My model for the rescue of Niger Delta is simple; there should be emphasis on transparency and accountability on how public funds are spent. The massive infrastructural development and provision of basic social amenities should be in the front burner. There should be policies for the creation of jobs and encouragement of vocational education. Micro financing that will provide funds for the locals to carry out their own businesses.
The environment must be remedied for the people to return to farming and fishing at a large scale. If these steps are honestly followed, peace will return to the region and security will be greatly improved.