Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor is a frontline human rights activist and a prominent Itsekiri leader. In this interview with journalists, she talks about the 2023 general elections, the appointment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and the crisis in the Niger Delta region, among other topics. ANAYO EZUGWU reports

What do you think of the state of the nation before the general elections?

The state of our nation is very bad and I agree that it takes a man who has a total picture and concept of how we’re going to run the nation, and that’s where I want the nation to go. That is the first step. He is a man among our people who is campaigning now and we must all have in us even some ideas about the type of leader we want. We know who we want as our next leader. We may not have dated or are still contemplating the person to support but to me he is a man who has an idea to move the country forward.

That man himself should start from the beginning and we should look at his story from his background. Does the person have a record in a good house? Has he built a house? How is his house? Who are his sons? How do the children behave? Has he been able to instill Nigerian values ​​in his own children? We should look for these things because we know that we have many leaders whose children are in contravention of all that Nigeria’s values ​​are.

They are the ones who want to have their families abroad. So, we must look for those people; How are your children? Do their wives have a maternal inclination? Can they instill good values ​​and ideas in their children? If you have a man who has a wife and she is sitting in London with her children, what is that woman going to say to her children?

How do you instill African ideas in them? So, it starts with our families. Take for example the National Guidance Agency (NOA), the agency is not doing its job. It should be in the forefront because the whole problem we have today is that we are imitating white men. Our children are imitating white; our girls want to be English, so that’s where our problem is. That’s why young women are looking for money and don’t have time for a young man who is struggling. But then the bottom line is that we have this rot that has become our politics.

I grew up in the Western Region under the tutelage of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and in those days, if you are not qualified, you cannot join Awolowo’s group, you must be brilliant. The second problem we have is that the people in charge of governance at the local level are not educated.

In the local government areas that are supposed to build the country, most of the presidents are uneducated, and if they are uneducated, how do they know how to start education because they are supposed to be in charge from the bottom up? They have not educated themselves and are supposed to build education, economy and other things from the bottom up. If they are not educated, how are they going to do that?

What should the people do about it because it is the governors who appoint the presidents of local governments in most cases?

That’s what I’m saying; the people above are the ones who encourage him. Governors especially are encouraging the uneducated to go into politics. That is what the governors are encouraging now; idiots and get paid to work with idiots because they think they can control them better. They give them money because those uneducated people will take anything because they didn’t know they were going to get there.

So whatever money you give them, they are glad and the governors will take the remaining money for themselves. And they have full control of the presidents who don’t know any better. This is the situation. So the rot is from below and these are the same presidents who will grow up to become governors. In those days there was power in the states because it was in the states that we had agricultural activities.

But most of these governors don’t even know because they don’t have any vision. So, they haven’t been able to grow their states because they don’t know how to develop their states. Which of these states can boast of development? But our biggest problem today that is going to drag this country down is the Niger Delta because if you go to the region, you will see what is happening. With all the money from the Niger Delta, the region is a complete mess. The Federal Government gives them money, but the governors should take responsibility for the disaster in the Niger Delta because there is enough money.

What happens is that the governors are totally unaware of the development and what they do to keep the money is to appoint 1,000 personal assistants and 1,000 special advisors. Everyone is calm and all they do is distribute the money among everyone. And that is why you see that there is no eruption in the region and that is why you think that there is peace in the region but there is no peace where there is no development. There is no development in the Niger Delta and I want the government and the people of the Niger Delta to know that they are heading for trouble. Today, all over the world, people are talking about clean and renewable energy, and whether they like it or not, we will move there.

How do we resolve the crisis in the region regarding the reactions that followed the recent appointments to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)?

The Federal Government has said that they have found oil in the North and the President of the Senate has said that they have learned many lessons from what happened in the Niger Delta and that they are not going to allow it to happen in the North. While approving the NDDC leadership appointment, the Senate president advised the appointees to work hard and not make the commission the cash cow it now appears to be.

So if he knows that, why aren’t they appointing people according to the law that creates the commission because they are appointing people who have nothing to do with the problem of the place? If I’m not from the north, how do I know what the region’s problem is? If he designates me to go there, I don’t know the problem of him, so how can I solve the problem?

So that’s why I think the Nigerian government is insincere and that’s why President Muhammadu Buhari has failed. Another thing that is worrying me at the moment is in one of the tributes for the 80th birthday of the president. One of the men said that Buhari is a simple man, a good man, but when he gives a job, he doesn’t look back to see if the job has been done.

I was wondering if this is a tribute. What you are trying to say is that Buhari is not a thief and I agree with that. In one of my letters to Buhari, I told him that ‘the latest NDDC list is not your list because I think you are not that kind of person. In other words, you are a simple person, but if you name thieves, what’s the difference?’ This is what has killed the Niger Delta and the Niger Deltas should now know that whatever they do, they are the ones wearing the shoes. And when the shoe breaks, they will walk barefoot. Recently, they uncovered more than 1,000 illegal fueling sites.

How are they going to do this because unless they solve this problem because the productivity of this country today is still with the Niger Delta. So unless the Niger Delta wakes up and starts producing oil, Nigeria will not find its way and there will be anarchy. There is already lawlessness in the Niger Delta.

The region is waiting to explode; it’s a mess and a problem waiting to catch fire. So whatever anyone does, short of the Niger Delta being fixed, no amount of personal assistants are going to fix the problem. We want to work and the Niger Delta has to work.

The whole country has to make the Niger Delta work for the good of all. If the Niger Delta doesn’t work, people will start fighting. I am from there and I know it. So the whole country should help me tell the government that they need to make the Niger Delta work. And it can only work when the governors are responsible.

They must take care of their states and begin the development of their states because it is not the Federal Government that produces the money. It is the states that produce the money. That is why people do not know that productivity belongs to the State.

People run to the Federal Government for the oil money. So, that the governors do not hold the Federal Government responsible. They should take responsibility. The Federal Government is a creation but the states are realities.

The states are the productive organs of the country. It’s not the Federal Government because it’s just the collectors and if the state governments know what they’re doing they should sue after cooking the food. They should tell the Federal Government that ‘we have cooked the food and this is what we want’ instead of sitting back and waiting for the oil money and hoping that the Federal Government will share it with them. That time is over. So despite all this talk about productivity, the truth is that the productivity of the country is not in the federal government but in the state governments and unless the states are led by men with vision, Nigeria will collapse.

What is your opinion on the calls to the Federal Government to eliminate the Amnesty Program for the repentant militants of the Niger Delta?

The idea is a good idea; It is like Christ who said that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. The idea is good but the men who ran the program are not there. If you cancel it, there will be problems. It’s a shame we don’t have hard-working, selfless men, men who love God and humanity, and men who love their country to run the program. As a mother, all I will say to the federal government is please continue with the program and let’s find a way for good men to run things.

What’s your advice to young women who look up to you, especially how you’ve grown from one stage to the next in your career?

What our ladies are missing is that life is not a bed of roses and they are reading a lot of English magazines, which are not keeping up with our tradition and culture. I have heard many people say that I should go into politics and Nigerian women don’t go into politics, our culture is different. An upright woman, above all, is a woman who has children.

It is important because Nigerian woman has to have children, and to have children, you have to think about their education to become men and women before they can go into politics. So, you have to choose between politics or your children and I want to say this because I am a Nigerian woman. Many people thought I had no children, but I have three men and two women and my grandchildren and I was married until my husband died last year. If Rita Lori hasn’t gotten into politics, it’s because I’m from the media and I avoid scandals and I have children to protect. I have to protect my husband.

So, people only see Rita Lori on the surface, but Rita Lori is much deeper, she is hard-working and diligent and she doesn’t have time to take care of unnecessary things because I have to help my husband pay for the children’s school. I am thinking about how to take my children to university and in all these things, do not forget that your husband has to help you.


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