American civil rights leader, Baptist Minister and two-time Democratic Presidential nominee, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, as a Guest Speaker at Isaac Boro Day lecture. He spoke on a wide range of issues in this interview with journalists. MIKE ODIEGWU was there. An excerpt:
You are from one of the most advanced democracies in the world, how much of democracy have you seen in Nigeria and Bayelsa State?
The American democracy which is just 40 years old is said to be hundreds of years old. Over 246 years, Africans in America were in slavery, they were not full citizens, they called it democracy but it was not. Hundred years of Jim Crow racial marginalisation, they called it democracy because white could rule, we could not, but it was not.
But in 1965 because of our struggle and because of the martyrs of that struggle most, like the Isaac Boros, these martyrs helped to redefine the American democracy and made it for the first time inclusive democracy. The first time African-Americans could vote and two years later in 1967 white women could serve on juries. In 1970, an 18 years old could vote and in 1974 you could vote on campuses and in 1975 you could vote bilingually. So, ours was democracy in the making and that has happened since 1948.
If you look at your young nation, you are here where we were at age 20 or 25. The process has been long but there is now a common belief in democracy in Bayelsa State and in Nigeria. A belief that the vote does matter and vote must count. We should not allow ethnicity and tribalism to limit our participation in democracy.
So, the right to vote means little without right to economic security. The feeling is that the freedom of our reconstruction is not freedom to starve, freedom to be malnourished, freedom to be unemployed. The freedom is not enough. We should go beyond that and fight for the freedom of economic equality and economic justice.
This means that these corporations that are operating here must have a real sense of responsibility, partnership. The source of shame frankly is that you have this abundance of supply of resources but we import oil and gas as well. That mentality must change. There is no real logical reason why refineries are not opened in Nigeria as part of the partnership. You must have a refining capacity if you have to be on a level playing field.
How do we get Nigeria to be at par with the developed economies?
You have a stable government and violence has been reduced. It is very significant because violence and democracy don’t go hand in hand. Violence and investment don’t work together. People do not invest where there is violence. They don’t invest where there is fear. Where there is fear and violence there is no growth and where there is no growth there is no development.
That is why democratic resolution of conflict as opposed to violent suppression of terrorists is the way to go. Part of democracy is the right to fight for the right and we have checks and balances, balance of power, the legislature, executive and judiciary. There is a way to express oneself which is by election, protest and litigation. When we address those matters in democracy, it makes a country investment attractive. I want to say that the governor Dickson’s commitment in seeking regional, American and European investment is a good thing. That investment must be about partnership.
Is the struggle of Niger Delta region for self determination justified?
Absolutely. The beauty of the dream of Isaac Boro is the dream for the Niger Delta to be recognised as a region unto itself, show kingship to the Federal Government and also independence as a state. Those are logical progressions of democratic process.
But what we have found worthy in America, Nigeria and South Africa, is that if you remove the outer layer of skin exploitation and you don’t deal with exploitation down to the bone marrow, you have missed the point. You can be free of skin, colour humiliation as in skin level apartheid but there is also trade and economic apartheid, education apartheid, engineering apartheid and banking and shipping apartheid.
God has given you everything you could ask for, industrious people and fertile soil. This is the kind of God endowment to you. You must give God something in return, peace and justice. These resources must be shared fairly among God’s people. The people must appreciate that this is the gift from God and this gift must be treated as precious and all the people must benefit from it.
There is so much greed, jealousy, violence and that is where man has failed. So fighting for a system of economic justice is a struggle of your time. When your governor talked about environmental degradation, he is right on the need to build roads and bridges. You cannot rebuild without infrastructure so this emphasis on infrastructure is not for housing development alone, your port must be strong. The roads and bridges are the great key of European reconstruction after the World War II.
Terrorism has assumed a global dimension and it is present in Nigeria, could it be the reason why the USA set up a drone port in Niger Republic?
Terrorism is a global phenomenon. People are killing innocent people to get attention. The Boston bombers said they were upset about the war in America and Afghanistan and bombed America in a bid to get attention. But when one has democracy, one can resolve conflict through aggressive non-violent means. You can create leadership, you can change leadership, you can have all the transfers of power or you can have the right to protest, right to a free press, and these are the real fruits of democracy.
There is no need to kill someone to be heard. You can be heard just by sitting down and talking and that is the real beauty of democracy. When democracy is suppressed, people can’t act and can’t talk, they can’t change things then they speak with the voice of the unheard. That is why in this region, over 3000 barrels of oil, are lost in the pollution of rivers. Obviously that must stop, you cannot develop when people are afraid to invest and participate. Democracy has real key values. One key virtue of democracy is the right to participate, the right to protest for the right.
What about the drone port?
That is a decision each country has to make. Each country will need to make decision about military relationship. My recommendation is that we are very sensitive when drones kill many innocent people in what is called collateral damage. We must spend more time on conflict resolution. You cannot put out the plan to suppress people that way. We must resolve conflicts.
You said it would be in the best interest of big economies like the US for Nigeria to remain together. How can big economies help Nigeria to remain as a united country?
Nigerians must be determined on a united Nigeria to achieve joy, that is a Nigerian decision. States have their place and tribes have their solutions. But the ultimate protection is one Nigeria. One Nigeria must be achieved for us to achieve power. Nigeria must not disintegrate. It must remain strong. Reports about violence and terrorism and oil and the criminality around there must result in negotiation but it must not result in separation. Within America, the South sometime sought to secede but Lincoln did not allow it. He fought to protect the union. You see that Isaac Boro was the one being a freedom fighter for the region again he fought to save the union because there is strength in the union. Fighting for fair formula is a just fight. So, when the states fight for their fair share, it is a fair democratic fight.
How would you appraise steps taken so far by President Goodluck Jonathan to address terrorism?
The amnesty must work and for it to work the conditions of amnesty must be fully honoured. There is a need for economic restitution. The jobs, development and training must be there. Within our own country when there was civil unrest and a state of emergency, l hope that you will soon get back to the bargaining table away from the battlefield because in the end, is the bargaining table not the battlefield that wins the victory.
You cannot battle forever; you can bargain and resolve conflicts. It is the bargaining table that wins victories. So, l believe so strongly in non-violence. Non-violence does not mean fear, it means courage. It means figuring it out, your ability to figure it out and then to fight it out. It is better you figure it out than fighting it out; better figuring it out than shooting it out.