In this concluding part of the interview with a former militant leader, Dokubo-Asari, he speaks on how he became radicalised and his many encounters with the authorities.
During the anti-SAP riot, after the demonstration in Jos, students in the University of Calabar also demonstrated. We were demonstrating outside the main campus when the police started shooting. And there was a female student, Nnenna, behind me. She was shot. She fell. I started wondering. I was taller than she was. How come she got shot standing behind me? How did the bullet pass me to hit her? I carried her with all the blood and everything. Though it was not fatal. From that day, I decided inside me that the Nigerian state must be made to explain to the people, to my people especially, what they are doing with the resources of the people. As a law student, many laws tell us, he who owns the land owns everything in the land. And I asked myself, how come the resources of my people now belong to everybody? That was the turning point in my life. In 1988 when I was rusticated from the University of Calabar, I decided to go to Libya. So, I left home. I converted to Islam. I took the bath and became a Muslim at the Calabar Central Mosque which was managed by some Yoruba people. I became radicalised after I became a Muslim. One goal I set for myself was the liberation of my people and I wanted a military.
As the President, National Union of Rivers State Students, I had read so much about revolution and my greatest attraction was Libya; that is why I decided to go to Libya. So, I took a night bus from Calabar and dropped at Jos. From Jos, I proceeded to Kafanchan, then to Saminaka, down to Leri, Zaria, until I got to Kano. From Kano, I passed through Dutse. Then Damaturu was a small town. I got to Maiduguri. From Maiduguri to Marite. I was just going until I got to Gamboringala. From there I got to Gambori France. From there to Kusiri to Jamina to Eir, Eir to Agadese in Niger Republic. It was easy for me as a Muslim because I joined them to pray. I saw many deaths on the road. People wanted to go to Europe and so on. When I couldn’t enter Libya at that time, I had to come back.
My father had secured a new admission for me at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. So I had to go back to the university to continue my law programme. From that radicalization, I started to join different groups. I set up one called CCC – Committee of Collective Conscience – a Marxist movement for change in our society and I started talking to people. When I went back to school, I discovered I had lost interest in formal education. From then, I started confronting state authority. I aligned with progressive forces. But you know, I really don’t see any progressive force in Nigeria. I was in PSP. From there, I went to Peoples Front formed by by Yar’Adua. From there, I joined the NCP. I became a little bit prominent in the party because of my ideological stand. After the wrongful annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, and the role I played during the election, I began to think more and more about confronting the Nigerian state militarily. And I believed that was the only way freedom could come to our people. And that was the period the Ijaw started gathering because of the movement that was going on in Ogoni land. It influenced Ijaw people. I joined the Movement for the Survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta. I aligned with them and put in my contribution into what T.K. Ogoriba was doing. It, it metamorphosed into the Ijaw Youth Council (IYM), the Kaiama Declaration. But before then, we had formed another group named Kirimani which was more military than civil. But a lot of our people do not understand the ideological thrust of our struggle and we formed other organizations. We found there was a lot of injustice in the Nigerian state and some of us could not stomach it. So, I became a regular guest of the State Security Service (SSS) and the police and sometimes the military because when we went out to carry out a march, the police will come. We also had confrontations with the army. So, I became a regular face with the State Security Service. During NADECO, the role I played is well known to the people who were in the group. I always like to be on the side of the people. The struggle has become my life.
Specifically, did you decide to take this path of life because of the shooting back in the University of Calabar or were there some other incidences?
The Calabar incident was the first time I was seeing life bullets, canisters of tear gas flying. It was the first time because, being the son of a legal practitioner; at that time, my father was the Director of Public Prosecutions in Rivers State, and, having lived in Government Reserved Area for a very long time, my experience with the outside world was very minimal. As a young man, yes, we interacted in school but after school you run home. A driver comes to pick you and so on and so forth. I was not living in boarding house or alone. I was living with my parents. But it was in school that I came to realize that this struggle we were involved in, you could just die. Whether you were really involved or not, you could just die because the lady behind me was not throwing any stone. She was not doing any thing. We who were in the front, singing, shouting, clapping and jumping, the bullet did not touch us.
So, basically, what really motivated you?
What motivated me was my encounter with those things that happened and my encounter with Adaka Boro. I read Boro’s 12 Days Revolution. After reading Boro’s and Simon Ambakarderemo’s book on Isaac Adaka Boro, a play, I decided that I wanted to follow the path that Boro followed. With the activism in school and the principal position that I took in most of the cases, it became very clear that the only way we could solve these problems was by arms struggle. But arms struggle has been suspended for some time now. For instance, have we made any dividends? Has any concession been made to us? Are our enemies not emboldened now? For one, I believe that one gun shot is more effective that a thousand years of dialogue, a thousand years of talks and endless negotiations, a thousand years of persuasion and sermonization. One gunshot is more effective.
Even when it involves the death of human beings?
Yes! Because if a man takes your right, he has killed you. If a man takes your property, he has killed you.
So, how would you place what Boko Haram members are doing now because they are carrying arms too?
I cannot speak for Boko Haram for whatever reason they are fighting. If they are fighting because they want to impose their ideology on other people by force and the people fold their arms and allow them, why would you blame them? Did they tie the people’s hands? What they are fighting is not a good fight. It is not, because you have to respect every other person’s belief. You have to respect every other person’s ideology whether you like it or not because this is a multi-ethnic nation. There are so many nations that are involved in this country. So, it is multi-national.
Your struggle then was full of risks. How was it like leading a group of young men in the creeks?
It is one of the most delicate and dangerous phases of my life. Having lived in GRA, Port Harcourt with so many people, and now chose to go to the fishing port to stay where there were no birds, where when there was high tide, water would enter, sometimes snakes will be hanging on the ceiling, there was even no ceiling, it was just the thatched roof; the sticks that cris-cross to support the house will make the snake, maybe python to be hanging, you will see water entering and you are staying there; it is completely different from the life of somebody who was living at Ernest Ikoli Str, Old GRA, very close to Government House or at Akassa Str. It is quite different. No light. No pipe borne water. No nothing.
Did you have any encounters with the army?
Yea. It was a hide and seek game. The military is looking for you and you are looking for the military. Sometimes, you come to a truce. The military sees you they don’t shoot you, they pretend they are not seeing you. You too, you don’t shoot them, you pretend you are not seeing them. And then, when the people in Abuja say ‘where were you when they said there was Operation Locust Feast’, the military will come. They want to prove a point. They want to shoot. Sometimes, they would call us and say, ‘Please, we are just doing our work o.
We are actually doing our work o. You want to shoot and kill us. We too we will not agree’. Then they will shoot and there will be a battle. One thing leads to another and it is just a ding dong – this way, that way and it became more and more dangerous. The then Rivers Governor Odili had his Malaysia. The Malaysia is looking for you. They were even more than the military. So, you are tackling the military and the state sponsored Malaysia. So, every day it was about death.
There was an incident. One day, we were coming from St. Batholomew River. We were passing through the creeks to Idaman, one of the oil producing communities. We had almost reached the centre of Sombryo trying to enter New Calabar River when we saw two naval gun ships as they were coming. There was no way they will not stop us. We were armed. We were just three persons in the boat: myself, my cousin, Dakaro, who is late and another cousin of mine who was driving. As if something instigated me, I put my hand in the water and I started raining curses on the deity of Kalabari. I said, ‘Today, you will be disgraced for ever. Today, you will be ashamed. Your land will be conquered and ravished. I think you said you are a god’. After I did that, I threw the water into the sky and day turned into night. Darkness was moving as if it was propelled by something. And it covered the whole sky. And the naval gunships passed us. Their wave was tossing us up and down. They didn’t see us. They even had lights on. After about 30 minutes, the darkness cleared. No drop of rain. Nothing.
There are so many encounters that one had seen. You see these injuries on my body; my friend, my companion, very close aide; the bomb we were carrying exploded and his head got cut off. I did not die and I was standing close to him. Nothing happened to me. Just these injuries.
Would you say that God has been so gracious to you?
Wow! I don’t even know how to say it. If I was not a believer in God, I will say that this God has been partial towards me. He has been terribly partial towards me because I never thought I will be alive by now to live up to 50. How is that possible? I could have died on my way to Libya. I could have died in the creeks. All the plot and plan, I would have died long time ago. But I did not die. All the 70 something arrests, yet I did not die.
Do you think Boko Haram was designed to stop President Jonathan?
Initially, Boko Haram had nothing to do. But now, Boko Haram has become more of a modern political movement geared towards supporting the northern Gambari hegemony, over and above all of us. When you say Boko Haram, look at the killing that is going on and people say give amnesty to people who have murdered so many people. So, when you grant amnesty to them, another group of people will come up. It is a vicious circle. That is why when they wanted to start this amnesty bribe in the Niger Delta, I said it was wrong and immoral to do it. Amnesty for what? Pardon for what? What crime have the people committed? So, now you move from people whose crimes were minor, who were stopping the production of oil and gas to now people who are killing people, committing mass murder and then some people come out because no body in their family has been killed to call for amnesty and then the presidency wants to buy peace? Any peace that is bought cannot last.
So, what do you suggest the Presidency should do?
Very clear. Meet them at the point where they want to meet with you, strength for strength. But for me, I don’t have any advice for any government because whatever Boko Haram is doing, it is also hitting us. Look, let me tell you (speaking Pidgin), all this matter go stop the day there is one bomb explosion in Warri or in Onitsha and 20, 30 people die and they say that bomb explosion na Boko Haram. That day na the day everything go scatter. Mark this word.
At 50 years, do you have any regrets?
A lot of regrets. Like Shakespeare said “there is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.” That is what I believe. A lot of times, we take a decisive step. Until we take decisive steps and, in most cases, one has not been … When you want to go forward, your people want you to go backwards. They want you to apply brakes. With the way we started, if the tempo of our struggle had continued, maybe today, Nigeria would have been history. But the elders and everybody said,`brake, brake’ and we kept on braking. But God has His own time. My advice to Nigerians on my birthday is that we should go for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). We should sit down and tell ourselves that we cannot live together. The on-going National Conference is rubbish.