Chief Sheriff Mulade dreamt up the idea to save the Niger Delta environment from the degradation caused by Multinational Oil Companies about two decades ago, and since then, he has not looked back.
In this interview with CHARLES EMENI, he expressed worries over the poverty level and underdevelopment in the region, even though it produces over 80 per cent of the wealth of the nation. He also took a critical look at the leadership in the region and the proposed National Water Resources Bill 2020 before the National Assembly.
Shall we get to know you sir?
I’m Chief Sheriff Mulade from Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State, an activist, the voice of the voiceless and the hope of the less privileged. I stand for the promotion of peace among Nigerians and I am an advocate of human, environmental and economic justice. I stand for the growth and development of the Niger Delta region and its people. And for almost two decades I’ve been in this journey for better and safer environment and health of the people of the Niger Delta.
You have been championing a number of struggles concerning the Niger Delta, what is the driving force behind this?
Yes, that is very correct. The driving force is the passion I have for my people- The Niger Delta people that are so blessed by God with a lot of natural resources, yet have been made poor. I love them, I fight their course and I would continue to do so as long as God keeps me alive.
The popular view is that you have been very outspoken and often times, fearless on environmental issues, particularly as they affect the Niger Delta, what informed this?
I am an activist with passion for environmental justice and protection and like I did say, I have been in this for almost two decades. The Niger Delta environment is very rich and blessed with abundant natural resources like oil and gas that have formed the backbone of Nigeria’s economy for decades. Beyond that, the major occupation of our people is farming. For many years, our people went about this traditional occupation unmolested. The land was rich and when cultivated yielded abundant food to feed our people and they sold some in exchange for other goods that they needed. There was peace in the land and our rivers had enough fish for eating and for sale. There was nothing like oil bunkering or kidnapping. But with the discovery of oil in the region, all that is almost gone. Our God-given rivers have been polluted; no more fish for our people and no good water to drink. Our soil has also been destroyed and no longer fertile for farming. This is as a result of the negative effects of oil exploration and exploitation by multinational oil Companies in the region. The effect of this is that, the Niger Delta is plagued by serious unemployment, famine and because the traditional occupation of our people has been destroyed, many of our people have gone into oil bunkering and even taken up harms and have been tagged militants. There is therefore a degree of insecurity in the region, that some well – meaning individuals and government have been battling to address. To say the Niger Delta environment has suffered degradation is to say the least hence, some of us have taken it upon ourselves to pay the price in order to protect the region’s environment with a view to making it safe. We have become the voice of the voiceless and the hope of the less privileged in the region. The region produces the wealth of the nation, yet it is so underdeveloped to the extent that there is nothing to show for the amount of oil and gas resources that are taken away from there. We had taken some of these environmental issues to court for justice while some were dealt with at the local level.
What’s your assessment of the leadership in the Niger Delta region, particularly in championing the affairs of the region in the area of revenue derivation / resources control, true federalism and environmental degradation?
To a great extent, we have challenges with the leadership question in the Niger Delta region, but this is not peculiar to the region. Some of our leaders in the region had done and are doing well in championing the issues of revenue derivation, resource control, true federalism and environmental degradation but I think there is still much to be done. Perhaps it is important to mention Niger Delta leaders like late Ken Saro Wiwa, Nimi Bassey who had pushed for the region at national and international levels.
But the fight for the Niger Delta cause, particular the environmental degradation and injustice requires a lot of finance and time, and sometimes, one gets frustrated when some of the locals exhibit trait of indifference, thus making it look an if it is an individual struggle.
It did happen to me, when I was determined to push and fight for the people and all of a sudden, I realised that the support wasn’t coming from them. For example, recently Forcados Terminal had dead fishes floating everywhere in the river. We took up the matter. With our investigative team, we got some samples, did some tests and finally Shell Company owned up to it that it was gas pipeline that caused the damage. We challenged Shell to apply environmental best practices in addressing the issue, spent millions of naira to carry out the investigations, the impact assessment but at the end, the communities affected failed us, they compromised.
As a Niger Delta Activist and an Environmentalist, what is your take on the proposed National Water Resources Bill 2020?
The bill is against the people, particularly those living along the coastal areas and humanity and should therefore be put on hold. ‘’It is dead on arrival’’. Beyond that, the bill is another form of Land use Act, and if allowed to scale through on the floor of the House, would mean that all our water bodies in the country, the Niger Delta region and the resources in them would be supervised and ‘owned’ by the Federal Government. “The bill negates the very essence of true federalism as communities would no longer have the freedom to develop their God-given water resources to their own advantage, and water may become an expensive commodity to the extent that one may have to begin to pay tax for his own borehole water and even for the river he fishes in.” I, therefore, appeal to Nigerians and those in the Niger Delta region to wake up from their slumber and speak in one voice on the bill because, if it is allowed to scale through on the floor of the House, it would amount to forcing it down the throat of the masses, therefore, the National Assembly should listen to the voice of the people and stop it. The good people of Nigeria and in particular, those of us in the Niger Delta region must rise up in one voice to reject the bill in its entirety. Our Lawmakers should speak up and take a position on this matter. Our Political Leaders and traditional rulers should do same because, their continued silence is disturbing.’’ Though, the bill may seem good before President Mohammed Buhari and some top officials in his administration, I appeal that it should be stepped down for now in order to avert chaos or national crisis that may not be easy to contain. “Let me say it again. This bill, if allowed to scale through, may cause mayhem and increased insecurity in the Niger Delta region. We’ve had enough troubles in this region. Our environment has been badly polluted by multinational oil companies’ exploration and exploitative activities and our people have been denied their traditional occupation of farming in general. We have water everywhere, but there is no good one to drink, because our rivers have been polluted and we no longer have fish in them, therefore, our people are hungry and allowing the Water Resources Bill to scale through would amount to denying us the freedom to harness our God-given rivers. This would mean adding salt to injury. Therefore we say, ‘NO’ to the National Water Resources Bill.” It is indeed painful that the Niger Delta region generates a greater percentage of the country’s wealth, yet the people are the most deprived. They are exploited and poor’’.
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