• Says ‘govt is paying for rejecting my advice on Boko Haram’
Leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Alhaji Mujid Asari-Dokubo is known for his fearlessness and knack for saying his mind on any issue. In this chat which coincided with his 50th birthday anniversary, he opened up on a number of controversial issues and incidents. He vowed to continue to fight on the side of justice and fair play.
Would you say at 50 you have achieved your set goal?
Ah! My life at 50. My experience? How am I going to put it? Well, I got into the university at the age of 21 in 1985; the University of Calabar. And from that age of 21, death became my constant companion at every turn. During the anti SAP riots after the demonstration in Jos, students in the University of Calabar also demonstrated. We were demonstrating outside the main campus when the police started shooting. And there was a female student, Nnenna, behind me. She was shot. She fell. I started wondering. I was taller than her. How come she got shot standing behind me? How did the bullet pass me to hit her? I carried her with all the blood and everything. Though it was not fatal. From that day, I decided inside me that the Nigerian state must be made to explain to the people, to my people especially what they are doing with the resources of the people.
As a Law student, many laws, “quid quid planteture sele sele sedit-he who owns the land owns everything in the land. And I asked myself, how come the resources of my people now belong to everybody? A lot of questions and it was a turning point in my life. I became radicalised. In 1988, when I was rusticated from the University of Calabar, I decided to go to Libya. So, I left home. I converted to Islam, took the kalimah on the 17th of September. On the 21st of September, I took the bath and became a Muslim at the Calabar central mosque which at that time was managed by some Yoruba people. I took the kalimah at Bokobiri mosque. And from that time, I became radicalised after I became a Muslim. One goal I set for myself was the liberation of my people.
At that time, as a student unionist, as the President, National Union of Rivers State Students, I had read so much about revolution and my greatest attraction was Libya and I decided to go to Libya. So, I took a night bus and dropped at Jos. From Jos, I proceeded to Kafanchan to Saminaka, down to Leri, Zaria, so many places until I got to Kano. From Kano, I passed through Dutse. Then Damaturu was a small town. I got to Maiduguri. From Maiduguri to Marite. I was just going until I got to Gamboringala. From there I got to Gambori France. From there to Kusiri to Jamina to Eir, Eir to Agadese in Niger Republic. It was much easier for me as a Muslim because I joined them to pray and so on. I saw many deaths on the road. People wanted to go to Europe and so on. When I couldn’t enter Libya at that time, I had to come back.
My father had secured a new admission for me at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. So I had to go back to the University to continue with my Law programme. From that radicalization, I started to join different groups. I set up one called CCC- Committee of Collective Conscience which was a Marxist Movement for change in our society and I started talking to people. When I went back to school, I discovered I had lost interest in formal education. From then, I started confronting state authorities. I aligned with progressive forces. But you know, I really don’t see any progressive force in Nigeria. I was in Peoples Solidarity Party (PSP). From there, I went to Peoples Front formed by Yar’Adua. From there, I joined the NCP. I became a little bit prominent in the party because of my ideological stand. And after the wrongful annulment of June 12, coupled with the role I played during the June 12 election, I began to think more and more about confronting the Nigerian state militarily. And I believe that that is the only way that freedom can come to our people. And that was the period the Ijaws started uniting because of the movement that was going on in Ogoni land. It influenced and imparted on Ijaw people. I joined the movement for survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta. I aligned with them and put in my contribution from what T.K. Ogoriba was doing. We joined together and from there, it metamorphosed into the Ijaw Youth Council (IYM), the Kayama Declaration. But before then, we had formed another group named Kirimani which was more military than civil. But a lot of our people did not understand the ideological thrust of our struggle and most times, we kept on moving and formed other organizations. In this, we discovered that there is a lot of injustice in the Nigerian state and some of us could not stomach it. A lot of us cannot stomach it. So, in all this period, I became a regular guest of the State Security Service (SSS) and the Nigerian Police and sometimes the military because when we went out to carry out a march, the police will come. We also had confrontations with the Army. So, I became a regular face at the State Security Service. During NADECO, the role I played is well known to the people who were in the NADECO underground. From Chief Otunba Ekunba, Dr. Ekpo, Dr. M.T. Akobo to late Baba Omojola to Ola Oni and Gen. Akirinade and several others. I always like to be on the side of the people. So for me, the struggle has become my life.
Specifically speaking, did you decide to take this path of life because of the shooting back in the university of calabar or were there some other incidents?
No, no, no, I think the Calabar incident was the first time I was seeing live bullets, canisters of tear gas flying. It was the first time because being the son of a legal practitioner; at that time, my father was Director of Public Prosecution in Rivers State and having lived in Government Reserved Area for a very long time, my experience with the outside world was very minimal. As a young man, yes we interacted in school but after school you run home. A driver comes to pick you and so on and so forth. I was not living in Boarding House or alone. I was living with my parents. But it was in school that I came to realize that this struggle we were involved in, you can just die. Whether you are really involved or not, you can just die because the lady behind me was not throwing any stone. She was not doing any thing. We who were in the front, singing, shouting, clapping and jumping, the bullet did not touch us.
So, basically, what really motivated you?
What motivated me was my encounter with those things that happened and my encounter with Boro. When I read Boro’s 12 Days revolution. After reading Boro’s and Simon Ambakarderemo’s book on Isaac Adaka Boro, a play, then I decided that I wanted to follow the path that Boro took. With the student activism in school and the principal position that I took in most of the cases, it became very clear that the only way we can solve these problems is by armed struggle. But armed struggle has been suspended for some time now. For instance, have we made any dividends? Has any concession been made to us? Are our enemies not enbolded now? For one, I believe that one gun shot is more effective than a thousand years of dialogue, a thousand years of talks and endless negotiations, a thousand years of persuasion and sermonaization. One gunshot is more effective.
Even when it involves deaths of human beings?
Yes! Because if a man takes your right, he has killed you. If a man takes your property, he has killed you.
So, where would you place what Boko Haram members are doing now because they are carrying arms too?
I cannot speak for Boko Haram for whatever reason they are fighting. If they are fighting because they want to impose their ideologies on other people by force and the people fold their arms and allow them to impose their ideologies on them, why would you blame them? Did they tie the people’s hand? What they are fighting for is not a good fight. It is not because you have to respect every other person’s belief. You have to respect every other person’s ideology whether you like it or not because this is a multi-national nation. There are so many nations that are involved in this country. So, it is multi-national.
Ok. Your struggle then was full of risk. How was it like leading a group of young men in the creeks?
It is one of the most delicate and dangerous phases of my life. Having lived in GRA in Port Harcourt with so many people, having lived in that environment and now chose to go to the fishing port to stay where there are no birds, where when there is high tide, water enters. Sometimes, snakes will be hanging on the ceiling, there was even no ceiling. It was just the thatch; the sticks that criss-cross to support the house, you will live with the snake, may be python hanging, you will see water entering and you are staying there; it is completely different from the life of somebody who was living at Ernest Ikoli Street, Old GRA , very close to government . It is quite different. No light. No pipe borne water, nothing.
Did you have any encounters with the Army?
Yea. It was a hide and seek game. The military is looking for you and you are looking for the military. Sometimes, you come to a truce. The military sees you they don’t shoot you, they pretend they are not seeing you. You too, you don’t shoot them, you pretend you are not seeing them. And then, when the people in Abuja say where were you when they said there was Operation Locust Feast, where were you? Then, the military will come. They want to prove a point. They want to shoot. Sometimes, they would call us and say you, you, please ,we are just doing our work oh. We are actually doing our work oh. You want to shoot and kill us. We too we will not agree. Then they will shoot and there will be a battle. One thing leads to another and it is just a ding dong- this way, that way and it became more and more dangerous. Odili had his Militia, the militia is looking for you. They were even more than the military. So, you are tackling the military and the state sponsored militia. So, every day it was about death.
There was an incident in some oil producing communities. As we were crossing , almost reached to the centre of Sombryo, trying to enter new Calabar River when we saw two Naval Gunships as they were coming. There was no way they would not stop us. We were armed. We were just three persons in the boat: myself, my cousin Dakaro who is late and another cousin of mine who was driving. As if something instigated me, I put my hand in the water and I started raining curses on the deity of Kalabari. I said today you will be disgraced for ever. Today, you will be ashamed. Your land will be conquered and ravished. I think you said you are a god. After I did that, I threw the water into the sky and day turned into night. Darkness was moving as if it was propelled by something. And it covered the whole sky. And the naval gunships passed us. Their wave was tossing us up and down. They didn’t see us. They even had lights on. After about 30 minutes, the darkness cleared. No drop of rain. Nothing.
There are so many encounters that one had seen. You see these injuries on my body; my friends, my companion, very close aide; the bomb we were carrying exploded and his head got cut off. I did not die and I was standing with him. Nothing happened to me. Just these injuries.
Would you say that God has been so gracious to you?
Wow! I don’t even know how to say it. If I was not a believer in God, I will say that this God has been partial towards me. He has been terribly partial towards me because I never thought I would be alive by now to live up to 50. How is that possible? I could have died on my way to Libya. I could have died in the creeks. All the plots and plans, I would have died long time ago. But I did the not die. All the seventy something arrests, yet I did not die.
You were a regular guest of security agents. How did you wriggled out of their hooks each time you were arrested?
Arrest was a regular thing. I can’t really tell. I became used to arrest. In fact, the Police and SSS in Port Harcourt, maybe they advised the government, saying please, just leave this guy alone. This guy, arrest no dey do am anything. (Laughing and speaking in pidgin English). Just leave him alone. The guy enjoys getting arrested.
Yes, that was one of the greatest undoings of Obasanjo, because he thought I could be cowed. Go and look at my trial videos and see. There was trial like that where the Judge was put in the dock. I was the one questioning the Judge. It is not possible. So, the government and Obasanjo really, really, really did not understand the type of person he was dealing with. Maybe in Nigeria, there were no such people then. Today, we have Boko Haram. So, a new group of people have started.
Were you ever taken to any dungeon…?
(Cuts in) I was in SSS underground for 10 months and 11 days in solitary confinement.
So, how did you cope?
I would have run mad. Many people did. But because I had memorized parts of the Korans. So, instead of talking to myself. I just recited the Koran. That was what kept me alive. If I had not memorized the Koran, I would have been mad. Talking to yourself is a different thing. But this one, you are reading, edifying your soul. It increases your spirit. It is awakening your spirit. So, that was it.
So, while in prison, did you get to meet with any of the people linked to Boko Haram?
I met with so many people, not even the Boko Haram people. Yes, I met with a lot of them: Muda Shiru, Mohammed Isam, Yusuf Hussein, Asan Yusuf, Mohammed Bello.
Who were these people?
They were leaders of the group that is now being called Boko Haram. They were arrested and repatriated from Libya.
Do you know if they are still living?
Yeah. But some of them are no longer with them. Isam is no longer with them. I don’t have their contacts. But I believe that the majority of those people may have been dead because we had very close relationship when we were in prison, though we didn’t see face to face. They were in their cell and I was in my cell. So we hit the wall and we talked. During prayers, we prayed together by shouting.
If that is the case, don’t you get to talk to them to broker ceasefire and all that, or do we have new faces now?
No, no, no. It depends on the government approach. Someone in government thought it could be wished away, that it was easy. Boko Haram? It will fizzle away and all the warnings we gave to them, they did not accept. They misled the government into believing that it can be wished away. If they had taken a decisive action at that time, I don’t think that this would have reached the stage it is now.
But a decision was taken on their leader, Yusuf Mohammed?
That was not the sort of decisive action needed. The killing of Yusuf Mohammed was a mistake. If Yusuf Mohammed were to die, he should have gone for trial. Nobody should use his whims and caprices as the law, like what Saddam Hussein said: “whatever I wrote with my hand that is the law.” That was what Yar’Adua did. Why should you kill somebody extra-judicially? Take him to court if he had committed any offence. You have the laws. If they had followed due process, it would have mitigated what is happening. But they did not follow the law. They went outside the law. When you go outside the law, you are also telling the other person to also meet you outside the law.
With that, many quarters now think that these people are taking a revenge on the government while some people disagree, saying it is pure terrorism. You have also said they are acting on a wrong ideology. How do you reconcile all these?
Yea, they are acting on a wrong ideology but even if it was a revenge, Islam does not permit you to take people who are not combatants. When you take the lives of people who are not combatants, then you are no longer fighting the cause of Allah because Allah clearly said in the Koran that if you kill an innocent man, it seems you have killed the whole world.
Let’s go back to the struggle. Do you think, it has paid off?
Not 100 percent. May be, I will say 20 percent. We have somebody that looks like us, dresses like us, eats our food, dances the way we dance as President. It is a victory over those who feel that they were born to rule. Who says they are born to rule? It is a negation of that erroneous position.
But to everyone in Nigeria, the President is Nigeria’s president not an Ijaw President even though he is coming from that background?
Yes, it is true. But he came from somewhere. He did not fall from the sky.
The President has been accused of not really being presidential in the real sense of the word. Again, you have very many challenges bedeviling the country which most Nigerians had expected him to deal with decisively.
Yes, most of us feel that he has not done things the way they ought to be done. But there are individual differences. For instance, does Mr. President believe in things that the ordinary Ijaw man believes? The ordinary Ijaw man who was at the airport to bring the corpse of Isaac Boro; that the Ijaw nation must be liberated, must be independent? Do most of the elite share the same beliefs that we share? No.
Ok. Can you tell us what you feel about the Nigerian state?
The Nigerian state was built on falsehood, on false foundation and it cannot stand the test of time. The British fraudulently stole the sovereignty of various nations, like the Kalabiri country was an independent state. We signed treaty of protection with Britain. We never ceded our independence to them but they fraudulently included us in Nigeria without reference to the treaties they signed with our forefathers. So, that is a fraud. It is built on falsehood. It is built on fraud. So it cannot stand the test of time. It cannot stand the moral test, that’s why it will fall and it is falling.
You were quoted as saying that the abduction of the school girls in Chibok is a scam. Some people feel shocked by that statement coming from you even when we have seen the international community coming in…
(Cuts in) which international community? The United States of America with her allies Britain and the European Union cajoled the whole world and told us that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At the end of the day, were there weapons of mass destruction? There was none. So the international community for whatever intent and purpose that is compelling them to do what they are doing is best known to them. But it will not be far from economic interest. How can you believe that 270 girls will be taken? How? It is not possible. If you tell us that 20 girls were taken, 30, maybe 50 girls were taken, fine. How will you tell us that 270 girls were writing physics exam? How? In which school? Where? Even in the most educationally advanced part of this country, can you find any school where even 20 students are writing Physics? I run a school. How many of my students are writing Physics? They just finished their WAEC? And this is an elitist school, we make very good results. How many people are writing Physics? Who are they telling this? So, if you are not into education business, somebody can cajole you and tell you a lot of stories. (Mimicking) When they took the students, the Principal who said she thought they were Army, she changed, again saying she was in Maiduguri for medical treatment when they came. Her daughter too was in the school. Why didn’t they take her daughter? Why did they take other peoples daughters? Em! The military was aware four hours before the attack; the people who sent the information that Chibok was to be attacked four hours to the military, why did they not inform the chairman of Chibok, SSS representative, DPO or anybody in Chibok? The Chibok community leader who has been talking, why didn’t they say, please, move the girls, we are suspecting that there was going to be an attack on the school? Move these children out of the school. Why? Why was it only the military they told? They couldn’t reach any other person but the military? What are they telling us in this world now? Ok, today, one of the girls said, she ran and jumped the fence. (Continues mimicking) She climbed the tree and then, the man was saying come down, come down oh. What sort of thing is this now? So, the girl can climb a tree faster than a man with a gun? Why didn’t you just simply shoot her. He left her and went away? And some four persons were found in their houses and they said they escaped and came back? What sort of stories?
You are known as one who insists that Mr. President must come back in 2015. With this array of turbulent issues in the country, do you see that happening still?
Look, Mr. President has won. He has won the election. Just forget about it. All of them will just fizzle out. He will win clearly for another four years, fair and square.
Now, what if he changes his mind not to contest again as he has not even declared?
He cannot do it?
What if he does it?
(Speaking in pidgin english) Where him go come naa? If he do am, where him go return naa? Niger-Delta land? Him go stay for Abuja with them naa when him finish. Him go come carry us reach for center of the river, then, him go come jump enter river, leave us without paddle? Carry our paddle jump inside river, come leave us for inside boat for center of ocean? Ah! No oh.
Do you think Boko Haram was designed to stop President Jonathan?
Initially, Boko Haram had nothing to do with politics. But now, Boko Haram has become more of a modern political movement geared towards supporting the northern Gambari hegemony, over and above all of us. When you say Boko Haram, look at the killings that are going on and people say give amnesty to people who have murdered so many people. So, when you grant them amnesty, another group of people will come up. It is a vicious circle. That was why when they wanted to start this amnesty bribe in the Niger Delta, I said no, it was wrong and immoral to do it. Amnesty for what? Pardon for what? What crime have the people committed? So, now you move from people whose crimes were minor, who were stopping the production of oil and gas to now people who are killing people, committing mass murder and then some people come out because nobody in their family has been killed to call for amnesty and then the Presidency wants to buy peace? Any peace that is bought cannot last.
So, what do you suggest the Presidency should do?
Very clear. Meet them at the point where they want to meet with you, strength for strength. But for me, I don’t have any advice for any government because whatever Boko Haram is doing, it is also hitting us. Look, let me tell you, (Speaking Pidgin) all this matter go stop the day there is one bomb explosion in Warri or in Onitsha and 20, 30 people die and they say that bomb explosion na Boko Haram. That day na the day everything go scatter. Mark this word.
At 50 years, do you have any regrets?
A lot of regrets. Like Shakespeare said, “there is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.” So, that is what I believe. A lot of times, we take a decisive step. Until we take decisive steps and in most cases, one has not taking it. When you want to go forward, your people want you to go backwards. They want you to apply brakes. With the way we started, if the tempo of our struggle had continued, may be today, Nigeria would have been history. But the elders and everybody said break, break and we kept on breaking. But God has His own time. My advice to Nigerians on my birthday is that we should go for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). We should sit down and tell ourselves that we cannot live together. The ongoing National Conference is rubbish.