BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
Ateke Tom was a general in the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND. In this interview, the soft spoken ex militant General bares his mind on his expectations from the incoming All Progressive congress, APC led government at the centre. He dismisses fears that hostilities may resume in the region when President Goodluck Jonathan finally bows out of office on May 29. He fielded questions on why he rears lions in his Okrika residence. Excerpts:
What are your expectations from the President Elect, General Muhamadu Buhari
I expect him to lead the country on the right path, provide quality leadership. And I am sure the President Elect will make positive impact.
I am sure he knows what to do, he knows what the country expect from him. He should give all Nigerians opportunity to contribute meaningfully to his government.
There are fears that some boys in the Niger Delta may resume hostilities, militancy at the end of President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure
No! No! I don’t see militancy coming back again in the region. Niger Delta will be very peaceful than what it was under President Jonathan.
Well I want to say that nobody will go back to the creeks. Anybody who does that has no reason for that and should be treated as a common criminal. We don’t have any reason to resume militancy in the region. So there will be peace.
Speculations are high that the President -elect will cancel the pipeline surveillance contracts awarded to individuals and groups recently. You have something to say on this ?
We got the pipeline security job for our area. And we are doing the job very well.
My advice to the President elect, General Buhari is that he should not cancel it when he formerly assumes office. Those who got the job are taking care of the pipelines and are doing the job commendably. If he cancels it I don’t see who else can do it better. We hail from these places where the pipelines run through and so are very familiar with the terrain. He should allow us continue to render this service to the country.
You are a leader of so many youths in this region. Any advice to Buhari on now to tackle challenges facing youths?
My message is simple. He should create jobs for people. This will reduce crime. Job will keep them busy. When the youths are engaged their minds are busy. When they are idle they think of bad things sometimes. So jobs will help.
What kind of Rivers state do you see under the incoming government of Barr Nyesom Wike?
First, there will be jubilation all over the state when the Governor elect, Barr Wike assumes office as governor of the state. You know Rivers people have been clamoring for change. We need change and we want it dearly in our state. We saw how President Goodluck Jonathan is cooperating with those who say they want change at the top. But here in Rivers state they are doing as if they don’t want to vacate the seat for the man who won the election. We want the change in the state so they should cooperate.
Rivers people will come out to dance that May 29 , to celebrate the change in baton.
I see a new Rivers state where everybody will be happy. You know we have been in hell in the last eight years. Judiciary shut down, House of Assembly not functioning. A lot of police cells over stretched because no court to try cases. We have been in hell since. So I see a new Rivers state where everybody will be happy.
There have been cases of violence all over. What are you expecting ?
I see a state that will be very peaceful. People will not believe the story of peace that will be coming out of the state. Though they recorded minor violence in some parts of the state during the last election but you know the violence was below the expectations of many outside the state. People had thought that the state will burn so they were surprised that we recorded peaceful elections in most parts of the state.
In Okrika nobody threw a stone during the elections. We had very peaceful elections here in Okrika. Remember many people had listed it as a likely flash point during the elections. But finally no violence was recorded.
The thing is that some people in power fail to recognize that some persons can contribute positively to their government. They ignore these persons. This is why you see some things I call, nonsense in some areas. Engage the right people, everybody has a role to play to build a healthy state and nation.
As one of those in the Wike government I will make sure the youths see the beauty of peace. If you fail to embrace peace we will see that you are handed over to government for necessary action. Because we cannot compromise the peace of our dear state.
Is there anything the outgoing government did that you will advise the incoming one to avoid in the state?
The outgoing government was unfair in several ways to the people. People were bundled into jails, dumped in Police cells. I am sure the incoming government will not do all these. It will be a friendly government.
You command a very large follower-ship of youths. A large number of them are always around you. The old also identify with you in your community. How are you able to sustain the loyalty of this army of youths?
Leadership is ordained by God almighty. And when he makes you a leader he gives you wisdom to lead the people. In Okrika I take care of most people in this community. Parents come to me for assistance to pay school fees for their children, hospital bills. The list is endless. I am often there for people when they come to me for assistance. This is why when you come to my house you see crowd of people waiting to see me. It is the same thing when I am in Lagos. I don’t mind your tribe when I render assistance.
My loyalists are increasing everyday from all parts of the country. In Lagos, my house is like a big church. You see people coming and going because of the milk of human kindness in me.
What advice do you have for the rich
I know there are those who are richer than me. I advise them to be there for the poor. There are so many challenges of poverty in our country so they should be there for them. I also had rough period while growing up so I know what it means to be poor. That is why I always assist needy ones who come around me.
I pay fees , I run a scholarship scheme for many indigent students. I fund wedding ceremonies for many. I assist many to complete their buildings. So many things I can’t recall.
I see animals of all kinds, including lions in your compound. Tell us a little about your love for animals. Particularly why you keep lions . Meanwhile, accept my condolence over the death of one of the lions today.
He laughs. This lion story is good. I like animals. If you walk round my compound you see several animals except snake because I fear snake a lot. I was in Dubai for a wedding there I saw a man playing with a lion and I told myself I will keep some in my compound. I finally got two from South Africa. I built a special place for them in my compound. One just died today.
Does your wife go close to them
General laughter. Even me, I don’t go close to them. We have a way we feed them.
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