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Asari Dokubo, the self-styled Niger Delta activist and revolutionary who came into prominence during the struggle for self-determination in the Niger Delta, finally got the attention that he may have been looking for. He came into prominence in the 2000s as an activist, until the Umaru Yar’Adua administration launched an amnesty programme and the embattled militants were later allowed to have a look at what is “in the pipelines of Abuja”, turning former warlords of the creeks into overnight billionaires and contractors. He was one of the warlords who made good on the wings of the Niger Delta agitation. During the 2023 general election campaigns, he openly declared support for the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as he described Tinubu as his benefactor, whom he would do anything to support. Tinubu reportedly took care of his family while he was in detention. He gave his wife a house in Victoria Garden City (VGC) and paid his children’s school fees. One good turn deserves another – for him it was pay back time. Hence, in March, he led a solidarity march for Bola Tinubu and the APC on the streets of Port Harcourt.
In May, just a few days ahead of the inauguration of the new President, Dokubo again led a group of Niger Delta Youths to the Presidential Election Tribunal sitting in Abuja to declare that nothing on earth would stop Bola Tinubu’s inauguration as Nigerian President. Dokubo was stoutly praised by Festus Keyamo, erstwhile spokesperson of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation for leading the “ground forces” to support a long-time friend and brother. Without a scintilla of doubt, in a democratic setting, every individual is entitled to his or her own choices, and as far as loyalty matters as a societal value, it is clearly within Asari Dokubo’s rights to support any candidate of his choice, express his views and summersault acrobatically in so doing, if that is convenient for him.
What I find curious would be the kind of monstrous sycophancy and attention-seeking antics that have attended Asari Dokubo’s recent exertions in the public space and the need for some of his claims to be closely interrogated. Sometime last week, Dokubo was quoted as saying that Nigerians should hold him responsible if Bola Tinubu fails. He reportedly said: “If Ahmed Bola Tinubu fails, hold me responsible. I am unapologetic. I have known him since 1992 and I know what he stands for, and I can stand in the gap between him and the people and say this. This is a step my brother Goodluck failed to take when he had the opportunity. The same step Buhari could not take and Tinubu took it from his first day at the office.” Asari Dokubo was referring to the removal of fuel subsidy by President Tinubu. He has, however, just provided a strong reason why Nigerian history should be made a compulsory subject in our schools. Some of the so-called big men in our society who have the capacity to smuggle themselves into front page news have no clue about contemporary history. Asari Dokubo wants to be held responsible if Tinubu fails. In his capacity as what, please? Who has appointed him into the role of the King’s Horseman?
Has he ever heard of a man called Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who was even much finer in his expression of loyalty? Has he heard of all those people who said they should be stoned if Buhari disappointed them as president? When Nigerians started looking for people to stone, all the early-day Buhari champions had gone quiet, or were playing deaf and dumb. Many of them had learnt to remain quiet, forever. Asari Dokubo may make the headlines, in the euphoria of the moment, but let him be careful what he asks for. In any case, Nigerians have no business with him. Our business is with President Tinubu. He will be the one to be held responsible for his own performance because the buck stops at his desk. In a fit of unbridled self-ingratiation, Dokubo, in fact, added a snide comment about President Goodluck Jonathan whom he calls “my brother”. The kind of wonders I have seen in Nigeria’s political space, I simply cannot fully tell it all. Et tu Asari? Many Nigerians would sell their own brothers for a mess of porridge, and lick their tongue doing so. Not even Engineer Joe Igbokwe, the Igbo man from Nnewi, turned Yoruba spokesperson, has been so uncouth. But it is not only President Goodluck Jonathan that Asari Dokubo has thrown under the bus in recent days. He finally got rewarded with a visit to the seat of power, the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja. It is not as if he is actually a new visitor to the premises, but this time around, Tinubu apparently laid out the carpet for him. And he wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. He upped his game. If na you nko? The thing to note though is that his visit fitted perfectly into the Rose Garden politics that the Tinubu administration has been playing very well. While some people are going with lawyers and boxes of materials to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, a judicial process that may not end till next year, President Tinubu is busy “seizing the day” – to borrow a phrase from the Canadian-American writer, Saul Bellow – making appointments, and pronouncements, and receiving visitors. Who has not yet visited?
Traditional rulers, former government officials, members of the opposition, former Presidents and Heads of State, a former CBN governor, have all visited to pay homage to Nigeria’s new King. Even Tinubu’s arch-critic, Chief Olabode George of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been quoted as saying whereas he does not need anything from Tinubu, if he has to make any recommendations to him, he would do so for the good of the country. Nobody should panic if we wake up one day and hear that the National Judicial Council of Nigeria (the NJC) is having an audience with Tinubu. Maybe President Olusegun Obasanjo would also visit very soon, some day. Tinubu is a great student of power. Is former Governor, former Minister, Rauf Aregbesola not now singing his praises to high heavens, and attributing everything he has been in his life to Tinubu and Buhari?
Apparently shot in the arm with a good dose of a wonder drug to be known for the purpose of this writing as “Tinubumycin”, Asari Dokubo was taken straight from the President’s office to address the state house press corps. Ordinarily when non-state actors visit the Villa, they are never seated directly below Nigeria’s coat of arms. They can be seated to the left or the right, with a state official co-ordinating the media interaction, and in most cases, the visiting non-state actor is even interviewed on the corridor or just by the entrance to the media briefing room. I was shocked seeing Asari Dokubo sitting below Nigeria’s coat of arms and making pronouncements. In what capacity, please? The Media Department in the Villa shares the same corridor with the Protocol Department. Protocol and Etiquette are important aspects of state diplomacy. If the new guys along the corridor do not know how state diplomacy works, they only need to ask. The point is that diplomacy is based on rules, not the preferences of the official in charge. Asari Dokubo had no business seating directly under Nigeria’s coat of arms, a symbol of state, symbolism being an important part of diplomacy as stated in Article 20 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). Whereas Dokubo was not an envoy, our point is that state activities in every circumstance are governed by protocol. Symbolism is important. And what exactly did he say? He used the platform to vomit.
Last Friday, revelling in the excitement of the audience that he had been granted to visit the Nigerian president, Asari Dokubo told the media that he had advised President Tinubu not to release Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who has been in state custody since his extraordinary rendition from Kenya in 2021. Dokubo reportedly said: “Releasing Nnamdi Kanu is rewarding criminality and rewarding gruesome murder of innocent people. He should face the law for the actions and instigations he carried out… His release would fuel impunity. During EndSARS, Nnamdi Kanu was walking free. What did he do? He poured petrol on the flames of ENDSARS. Now, he has been caught. What of the people who have died? This is a criminal. He should face the law.” If this was just reported speech, I would have assumed that perhaps Asari Dokubo would show up later to say that he was quoted out of context, which is the standard practice in Nigeria. After all, Senator Muhammad Adamu Bulkachuwa, who was recorded on tape and whose submissions at the valedictory session of the 9th Senate have been widely circulated, is now saying that he was misquoted, and that he was not allowed to complete his submissions. He should be grateful to Senator Ahmad Lawan for cutting him short. He has done more than enough damage already, and if he has nothing important to say, I advise him to keep quiet! Why is Nigeria always having leaders in high places who cannot think straight? Does Senator Bulkachuwa expect us to believe him, especially now that his wife has publicly contradicted him and his so-called “unfinished valedictory speech” has thrown the integrity of the entire judiciary into question? As for Dokubo, he has not denied his statements on Nnamdi Kanu, but the irony is writ large.
He seems to have forgotten his own antecedents and personal history. Asari Dokubo could not complete a simple university education but he gained prominence as a freedom fighter defending the rights of the marginalised people of the Niger Delta. He was a prominent figure in the Niger Delta struggle for self-determination, as president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), and later as founder and leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPF). He was the General of Generals, Lord of the Creeks, who became a folk hero and a champion among his people. He was involved in direct action on behalf of his people – the Kaiama Declaration, Operation Climate Change, resource control and self-determination. Asari Dokubo’s team took on the Nigerian state and fought it, making life and business near-impossible for the oil multinationals operating in the Niger Delta. In effect, oil production activities in the Niger Delta dropped. In 2007, Asari was arrested and charged for treason. President Umaru Yar’Adua would later “settle him” and his boys. This piece of recent history is necessary to underline the fact that there are key parallels between the struggle led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and before him, the struggle led by Asari Dokubo. In the years between 2001 and 2007, many described Asari Dokubo with the same words that he is using against Nnamdi Kanu today. His anti-Kanu outburst is clear evidence that his gentrification is now complete! He used to speak against the Nigerian state. He is now helping the same state to look for criminals. Kanu’s counsel, Aloy Ejimakor, Emma Powerful of IPOB and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, have already responded to Asari Dokubo in robust measure. He is yet to respond to them, particularly their allegation that he is using Nnamdi Kanu’s name to look for oil pipeline contracts from the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Ejimakor, IPOB and Ohaneze Ndigbo are not alone. Last Friday, Asari Dokubo also accused the Nigerian military – the Navy and the Army – of being behind the menace of oil theft in Nigeria. He offered to help the Nigerian state to check oil theft in the Niger Delta. This is the story of our lives. A non-state actor comes forward and accuses the Nigerian military of being an army of thieves, stealing Nigeria’s most prized natural resource, and he offers to succeed where the Nigerian military has failed. The international community must be laughing at us. I had dealt at length with this subject in a previous piece titled “The Oil Thieves of Nigeria” (ThisDay, 4 January, 2022). Nigeria loses about 193 million barrels of crude oil in 11 months, about $3.5 billion, and about 10% of the country’s foreign reserves. This has been confirmed by players in the oil and gas sector, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), and by the multinational oil companies that have had to divest from Nigeria. The question is: Who steals the crude oil? Oil theft is certainly not a small operation. To steal crude from a particular platform and move it to an evacuation point is a highly technological venture, and to even ship it out of Nigeria’s maritime territory requires a heavy deployment of men, resources, technology and capital. And this happens every day, throwing Nigeria’s monocultural economy adrift and all we get is the trading of blames? Asari Dokubo has been consistent in blaming the military for colluding with other elements to steal Nigeria’s crude oil. The Navy and the Army have exercised a due right of reply and asked him to name the military officers involved. They have similarly accused him of looking for oil pipeline surveillance contracts. High Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, who he probably considers his “boy” in street parlance, has a similar contract. Why shouldn’t he hustle for one for himself?
Asari Dokubo’s outburst speaks to the failure of the Nigerian state to protect its own resources. There is a body called Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority – how efficient has it been? Why is the Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission asleep? There is the Federal Government Investigative Panel on Oil Theft and Losses led by General Barry Ndiomu (rtd.), which submitted its report to the National Security Adviser in March. Since then, mum has been the word. The exchange between the Nigerian military and Asari Dokubo may have generated some interest, but I do not think the matter should be allowed to die down. Dokubo must be made to share what he knows with the Nigerian government. He may or may not get whatever he is looking for – Nigerians are always looking for things – but we need to get to the root of the evil of oil theft and address it once and for all. It is time we heard from the operators – Sterling Global, Aiteo, Seplat and the IOCs. They should come and tell us what they produce in actuality. There is something somewhere that runs counter to business economics. Yesterday, President Tinubu showed his readiness to continue to act swiftly by making new appointments, including changing the service chiefs. More persons would have to go. Of all the 23 appointments announced yesterday though, I looked in vain for an Igbo name on the list – may be one from the South-East. And why is the President appointing commanders for the Brigade of Guards, the Garrison and the Artillery – which are supposed to be routine military postings?
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.
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