Barrister Roland Oweilaemi Pereotubo was recently inaugurated by Ijaw elders, led by Chief Edwin Clark in Abuja and was consequently handed over the mantle of leadership of Ijaw Youth Council by the Bayelsa State Government as the 7th president of the council, an umbrella body of youths from the Ijaw extraction worldwide. In this interview with GbaramatuVoice, Barrister Oweilaemi made known how he is going to promote education and other cultural heritage of the Ijaw ethnic nationality. The trained lawyer also bears his mind on the relocation ultimatum given to the Igbos by northern youths and other sundry matters.
We have heard of another IYC faction who were in charge before the declaration?
I want to correct that impression that another faction of the Ijaw Youth Council had been in charge. Nobody in IYC has ever been in charge before me. I am elected by Ijaw people and by the special grace of God I am the president of IYC.
Were you really optimistic you were going to be victorious during the election as IYC president?
From day one that I decided to go in for this election I have been very sure about where I was going to, because this project is not mine but God’s project. I started this project with God before I even decided to talk to the people that were going with me and so my God cannot afford to disappoint me.
Tell us more about IYC. What does IYC stand for?
The Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, is a mass movement. IYC is not a tea party. It’s a body of vibrant Ijaw youths that are out to ensure that in this nation called Nigeria, the Ijaw people must be given their right of place, and that is the responsibility of IYC. It’s not a political party. Anybody anywhere in this country that feels to go against the progress of the Ijaw nation, it is the responsibility of the IYC to move to you to ensure we take our place. If you are conversant with the Kaiama Declaration, it is stated that resource control by any means necessary. That is to say we are a country, fine, but we must be respected because we are a stakeholder in this country called Nigeria. The Ijaw nation is aware of the very important roles that are given to the IYC. The Nigerian government is aware what IYC can do when we are ready to do something.
A lot of persons see IYC as a violent body. What can you say to that?
That is a very wrong perception. I am carrying the symbol of IYC. Now, merely looking at me, you can’t see me as president of IYC and then go to your office or house and say IYC is a violent body. No. It is not true. But you might have some pockets of very aggressive and energetic youths; that is not to say we are violent. People that are energetic and aggressive are not violent. These are people that are simply asking for their place in the country called Nigeria. We are not violent and we will continue to preach peace. We will continue to ask for our own in Nigeria until we get to where we are meant to be.
What are your programmes for the Ijaw Nation as IYC President?
I have a lot, though I cannot do them alone in three years but I will try to see I do things differently. First, I would promote and encourage education because we are not where we ought to be educationally as Ijaw youths even though we have the resources around us; for some reasons, we got to know about the importance of education quite late. So, I will ensure that people take education serious. Secondly, another thing that is paramount to us as a people in the Niger Delta and Nigeria in general is peace. I will continue to preach peace because where there is no peace, there is no development and empowerment. On this, we are going to interface with government and other agencies; the International Oil Companies, IOCs, to ensure that there’s peace in the Niger Delta for them to operate hitch-free. Thirdly, we intend to promote our culture. These days our children don’t speak or understand our native dialect. Most of them don’t even know how to swim. And as an Ijaw man who was born and brought up in the village, nobody taught me how to swim; you have to fend for yourself. Wrestling is part of our tradition and culture. All these things are fading away. I intend to promote wrestling contest, swimming competition and our mother tongue in our climes. The IYC has structures from community to clan, and then zonal to national. So, we have these things on ground and to get our clans structure together. Let us encourage people; our children in the urban cities on how to speak our dialect and know how to swim. We cannot afford to allow our cultural heritage to go with the wind.
What are the modalities you are going to use to encourage education?
I am going to set up a team, a committee that will go round and be shadowed with the responsibility to encourage our brothers and sisters, the younger ones to go to school. How am I going to do that? We will source for funds to assist the less privileged children that are intelligent but don’t have the means to go to school. We will pay school fees for them, purchase WAEC, GCE and JAMB forms for them, even if it is little. Every year in my three years reign as president of IYC, we are going to do that.
Regarding the IOCs, Ijaws play host to oil corporations, but their communities are not developed. What do you think the Ijaw youths should do to ensure the IOCs give them what they deserve?
What we should do at this time is not physical confrontation. We have been involved in personal and physical confrontation. In my reign we are going to try to engage the IOCs; discuss with them and tell them the importance of them respecting the social corporate responsibility aspect of their operational areas. It’s funny that an oil drilling company is working at the backyard of one Ijaw man or woman, and there is no electricity and pipe borne water. It’s an abomination. It’s not fighting yourselves but choosing to talk to them, the IOCs, to do some basic things. But we are not going to do that through violence. We will continue to talk to them. By the grace of God we will convince them. There are so many ways to get to your destination point. You may decide to go from either side or front. But I think that we will get to constantly engage them. It’s a step by step approach. We will try to do our best to see that we get some things right with the IOCs in our territory.
There is this agitation for the International Oil Companies, IOCs, to relocate to the region and that modular refineries to be established. What step is the IYC taking to make sure that these things come to pass?
The Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has directed some time ago that all IOCs in the Niger Delta should immediately relocate their operational head offices to the Niger Delta. In one of my press release, I commended the Acting President. He is somebody that meant well for the Ijaw nation. For the few times he has been going round the Niger Delta region, we have seen a level of peace as a result of the tour. I am still expecting that the IOCs relocate. That is one avenue that will bring peace in the Niger Delta as youths will be gainfully employed. It is an idle mind that thinks of evil. On the aspect of modular refinery, it is unfortunate we hear that the Federal Government has issued about 56 licenses to people to build modular refinery. From our findings, the core people, the Ijaws, are not beneficiaries of these licenses. We are still investigating it. I have discussed it with somebody in Abuja and we are still talking. If that is true, it is something that will not fly! We will not allow it. I have said that operating a modular refinery, the condition to get the license is very cumbersome and stringent, and the Ijaw people may not have the means. I have called on the Federal Government to relax the conditions. The only way to get this done is for the Ijaw people and the Niger Delta people to be part of the functionality of these modular refineries. Until they are part of it, I am not sure the Federal Government is really ready to do that.
As a Barrister, we have some Ijaw youths that are incarcerated unjustly. What are you doing to make sure Ijaw youths don’t suffer unnecessarily?
In my manifesto, it was stated that injustice would not be tolerated. Under my reign as president, whether somebody is alleged to have done something or not, until the person is proven guilty by a competent law court, no institution or government is by law allowed to put that person in detention for more than necessary, whether right or wrong. And Ijaw youths are victims of this situation. You discover that sometimes when you wake up in the morning, security agents will come around and whisk Ijaw youth away and you don’t know where they have taken him to. Before you know it, they have taken the person to prison formation or facility and the person is just there for days; sometimes years, for no just cause. I have already taken it up with some security agencies quietly. I am not saying all is well with us but there are some of them that have good cases. Even for someone that does not have a good case, you should approach the courts, and the person should be given the opportunity to get a lawyer and pursue his case in a competent court of law. You don’t have the right to just dump somebody without giving the person fair hearing. It is a matter that is very dear to my heart, maybe because of my profession; I will take it very serious.
As IYC President, how are you trying to build an unseen wall around Ijaw nation in a way that the Ijaws are not invaded, her youths arrested and elders beaten up by security agencies?
Yes, Gbaramatu Kingdom is very unique in this aspect. The kingdom has paid the price for Ijaw people and they have taken the bullet for and on behalf of the Ijaw nation. I am working on modalities to pay a courtesy visit to His Royal Majesty of Gbaramatu kingdom. The other day, Gen. Boroh (retd) Coordinator of the Amnesty Office, was in Gbaramatu Kingdom and he was there because of the fact that some military personnel went to Gbaramatu and were doing certain things that people protested against. When I saw what he (Boroh) did, I called him on phone and appreciated him and also promised to partner with his office. I was telling him that I want to appeal that if he hears anything that a particular community in Ijaw nation is harbouring criminals that should be exposed, you can get to the leadership of IYC or you can get to other stakeholders that can work with government. Ijaw people are not known for harbouring criminals and Ijaw people are not criminals. The civil police are there. If there is a situation, send them. The military is a last resort when the situation is out of control. The military should have a rethink and get their dignity back. You can’t come to Ijaw communities and brutalise Ijaw people unlawfully, that is illegal. And we will continue to condemn it. We are ready to work with the military agencies but to ensure that people that are saddled with responsibility to keep the law, peace and order are doing that within the ambit of the law.
What is the IYC stand on the quit notice issued recently to Igbos residing in the northern parts of the country? And do you think any Ijaw person is safe in the north?
The IYC, sometimes ago was in Abuja for an ethnic nationalities president conference. Even before the conference, I condemned the quit notice. It is unfortunate that a group of persons will come up to say the Igbos should leave the northern part of the country. I told them in the conference that we have come a long way as a country. In my words then, I said it is treasonable. It is a crime against the state for somebody to say your brother, because he is an Igbo man or woman, should leave the northern part of the country. The IYC under my watch condemn it in its entirety and I have also called on the northern leadership to speak up if they are behind the notice the youth body has given. We expect to hear from the northern leadership and we will continue to condemn it. We are a people that are living together as brothers and sisters in one country. There is this proverb that says, “The falling of the green leaf is a warning to the red ones.” Quit notice that the Arewa Consultative Forum or whatsoever they called themselves have given to the Igbos goes beyond that. If we don’t guide it now as a people, it will spread like wild fire. And we must work to protect it from growing big. Today it’s the Igbo; tomorrow it might be the Ijaw nation. It could be the south-west the other day. So, it’s a national issue that bothers all of us. It is something that the government of the day should take up, with the people that have given that notice. We are putting measures together to ensure that it doesn’t get out of control.
One major means of transportation in the oil bearing communities is by water. What can the IYC do to alleviate the high cost of transportation by ensuring facilities existing in the hinterland are made available in the riverine areas?
Providing transportation in the riverine areas is not my direct responsibility as IYC president but IYC can assist in talking with the authorities concerned. For instance, if government of Delta State is buying buses to ease up transportation in the upland, we can make a case that we are from the riverine area, so why not make boats available for the Ijaw people to be able to go to their villages? And I want to commend my brother, Hon. Julius Pondi for doing a wonderful job in the House of Representatives by calling on the government through a motion he moved that the mega filing stations built everywhere can also be built on Ijaw territories. The few ones that we have are there but nothing is happening. We don’t have the means to do it but we can interface and talk to the government to do that.
What is the blueprint guiding the IYC?
You call it blueprint but I call it the Ijaw agenda. I didn’t just wake up from my bed to contest for the president of IYC. I have told the Ijaw nation, the youths, the elders, that in conjunction with Ijaw National Congress, INC, which is the parent body to IYC, we will make sure we have what is called the ‘Ijaw Agenda’. When you have such, anywhere an Ijaw man is talking, you are talking from the Ijaw Agenda, whether you are speaking from the US, the UK, Europe, or in Nigeria, we are all saying the same thing. Whether you wake me up in the night; in as much as I am an Ijaw man, it is the same thing we are saying. And that is something I intend to do. I am not going to do it alone. But I am going to do that with the stakeholders so that we can have a document. It could be like a bible or pamphlet to guide ourselves.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?
The funniest thing that has happened to me after my election is that when I go to places people will come and meet me requesting to take photograph with me. I thought that was done only to celebrities. Initially, I was embarrassed. It was later that I understood that shows the importance of the office of the IYC. It was shocking to me but I got to realize that is what goes with the office of the IYC.
What is the saddest thing that has ever happened to you?
My saddest moment is when I heard that some persons were beaten up because they choose to support me as somebody that contested for the position of the IYC president. I wasn’t taking it to that dimension. It was very painful for me as a person but I am a leader, I should be able to have what it takes to absorb most of these things and we have moved beyond that.
What advice do you have for Ijaw youth?
My advice is for every Ijaw youth to be peaceful, law abiding; to see your neigbour as your brother and sister and don’t be violent. If somebody comes to see you to make trouble, tell the person you are not ready for the trouble. But if somebody insist that he is ready to make trouble, of course even if you are not going to make trouble with the person, you will have to defend yourself peacefully. Ijaw is synonymous with peace. We are peace-loving people, but when the Ijaw nation says yes to a thing, we get to where we want to. Thank you.
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