It was a journey of fear and apprehension as the GbaramatuVoice team travelled from Warri, Delta state, through some feared roads in Rivers State to interview one of the once feared ex-agitators in the Niger Delta struggle but now a repented and peace-loving personality, Hon. (Amb.) Sobomabo Jackrich, who was a former Caretaker Committee Chairman of Asari-Toru Local Government Area. In this first phase of this exclusive interview with GbaramatuVoice, the Peace Ambassador and Leader of Kengema Unity Forum, KUF, talked about how the upland hijacked the government in the state to the detriment of the riverine area.
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Hon. Sobomabo Jackrich (popularly known as Egberipapa). I am from the Kalabari speaking part of the Ijaw nation in Rivers state. Buguma to be precise. I am one of the leaders in this area. I have been supportive in terms of building peace among the youths. Over the years, this area was volatile but by the grace of God, after the presidential amnesty, we have been able to curtail the restiveness. I am also the leader of Kengema Unity Forum, KUF, which is a socio-cultural organization that was formed by my humble self to push and vie for everything that is of interest to the Kalabari.
The Kalabari people in this part of the country are really marginalized. They need a voice and that was what compelled us to form KUF. I am also, by the grace of God, a former Caretaker Chairman of Asari-Toru Local Government Area (LGA).
What is the motive behind the formation of Kengema Unity Forum?
The forum is a pressure group. It was formed because we wanted a voice, a platform to agitate for our right as a people. River state is made up of several ethnic nationalities. We have the Kalabari people, Bonny people, Andoni people, Ikwere people, the Ogoni people. Just name them. But we came to understand that Rivers state hadn’t been fair enough in giving the Kalabari people the opportunity to lead even though we have more credible people in Kalabari.
Let us look at our leader and father, the former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili. He led successfully and handed over to Celestine Omehia who later handed over to Rotimi Ameachi – the current Minister for Transportation; and he did his best as governor. But remember that River state is classified into two polarities – riverine and upland. It will be wise enough if riverine is given the right to also lead so that the area can develop. Celestine Omeha, who did his part no matter how brief it was, handed over to Amaechi, and it was wise enough that after Rotimi, power should go to other part of the state.
The Kegema Unity Forum was formed because we perceived that another Ikwere man wanted to succeed Amaechi and that was what made us to come up to sensitize our people. Of course, and the people of the state about the anomaly, because it was not proper. It does not go well when some people take all the benefit that is supposed to be for the entire state for themselves alone, denying the other areas the right to participate, the right to lead.
Does it mean the other areas do not have credible persons? We tried our best, though our best wasn’t enough. Governor Nyesom Wike, the current Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Project, as they call him, emerged. We supported him as a people when he became the flagbearer of PDP in the state, because as at that time every son of Ijaw that was aspiring to attain the position of the governor came under the platform of the PDP. This made us, the Kegema Unity Forum, seemed as though we were pro-PDP group, but we weren’t.
The Kegema Unity Forum was formed by people from different platforms. Some came from PDP, APC and others; all in the interest that Kalabari people must be united to ensure that they had the ticket to the Rivers state Government House.
Unfortunately none of these persons emerged flagbearer. None of them also pulled out to another party to see how they could pull through. That was what compelled us to, even though the governor visited us then to plead for our support knowing that without our support he wouldn’t scale through. So that was what made us to support the governor.
Right now we have come up again to say that it is high time people from the riverine are given a chance to lead so that the development that has engulfed the upland could also be seen around the riverine.
How far has the forum gone in meeting the motive of its formation?
As a person, I have tried as much as I could to impact on the youths. Giving back to the youths has been my priority. I have the passion to support our brothers and sisters, and that is done from the little businesses I do and not from the support of companies. I am a contractor and when we do these businesses we get profits; and you have to keep encouraging the youths from these profits, because there is a saying that the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. So the little that comes in, we use it to support our people around.
There are some people that are in school and because of finance they may not be able to graduate and they come crying. These are some of the reasons why I stay around the communities. In this place people look at us as never do well people, but we want to change that narrative. Thank God we have the likes of Jackrich Tein Jr, Longjohn, Dumo Lulu Briggs around this area today. Though we have lost Late Chief Dumo lulu Briggs and he has not been buried. These are the people that have on their own changed the lives of people around them.
The way they play politics here in Rivers state is winner takes it all. We don’t have any visible projects here. We keep hearing Mr. Project but they are all in the urban. Mr. project does not extend to this area, and this is why I have been saying that the 13% derivation fund that is being given to the state, is given because the state has communities that are oil producing and the money is supposed to be for those communities producing the oil. But you see the mistake is when this fund is given to the government, already the governor has his own allocation which is supposed to be used to develop and improve the living standard of the people.
Now that one is not done. They also brought in 13% derivation funds, maybe the governor’s community does not have a drop of oil. But the money will be in the hands of the governor and he will use that money to develop the areas the funds are not meant for and deny the oil producing areas of development.
This is why my prayer is that the Federal Government should form a board and pay the money directly to the board, and set up a monitoring team to follow up on the usage of the money, so that it can be felt directly by the oil producing communities. These are some of the things that we have been talking about. Just recently the governor built a roundabout and several billions were put in it.
The governor was also querying Chibuike Ameachi for investing in projects that are not fruitful like the monorail project; and he has abandoned every project that was initiated by the Rotimi-led government. He brought his own; he did this roundabout putting billions everywhere. And as I speak to you, the same roundabout that took several billions, the governor said the roundabout is no longer good enough and now he wants to build a flyover at the same roundabout. Now I ask, which money are they using to do all this? They cannot continue to enrich a particular sector and believe that the development will go round. As I speak to you, the Kalabari people are producing about 56% to 60% of the revenue in Rivers State, but we don’t have anything to show for it.