Asari is a complicated figure. Born Dokubo Melford Goodhead Jr. in the early 1960s to a Christian family, he dropped out of the University of Calabar in 1990 and later the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, citing problems with university authorities who apparently disapproved of his activism. He converted to Islam and changed his name, spending much of the 1990s in failed attempts to win regional political positions. As a member of the Movement for the Survival of the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEN), which remains a militant activist organization today, fellow activists say he was already vocal about what he regarded as the need for an independent Ijaw nation. Asari claims to have been influential in founding the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), the pan-Ijaw group that has tried to coordinate activist and militant efforts to force greater political and economic rights for the ethnicity. Yet he was not present during the IYC’s Kaiama Declaration of December 1998, which asserted that all land and natural resources within Ijaw territory belong to Ijaws and warned oil companies they would be considered “enemy” if they relied on military protection. The declaration resulted in a military crackdown against the organization. Asari was elected vice president of the IYC in 1999, just days after Odili was himself elected governor of Rivers state. Although rivals have said Odili politically backed Asari then, Asari has refuted this, reportedly saying “Odili was clearly not strong enough then to influence my election”.
During the early 1990s, Asari spent a brief period in Libya where he claims to have received basic military and political training. He came away from that experience with a negative view of Libya’s government, which he felt understood and cared little about Nigeria and less about the Niger Delta. Attempting to dispel rumours that he was being supported by Libya’s President Muamar Qaddafi, Asari said he also did not have a positive impression of the Libyan leader: “He is inconsistent. He should not start something he cannot finish”.
In 2001, Asari was declared the winner of elections for IYC president. However, the organisation’s spokesman, Isaac Osuoka, contested the legitimacy of the vote, claiming that there had not been a valid voter’s list. For a time thereafter, Asari and his predecessor, Felix Tuodolo, both claimed the IYC presidency, a standoff that turned briefly violent, with several people wounded, reportedly including both Asari and Tuodolo. Asari’s leadership was considerably more radical than moderates in the IYC were comfortable with and he made a number of enemies who subsequently tried to oust him. In or around 2003, Asari increasingly focused his attention on his own organization, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, its name modeled on the late Ijaw rebel Isaac Boro’s Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) of 1966.
Shortly after the militant leader’s public falling out with Odili in 2003, Asari claims the governor retaliated by launching a violent campaign by proxy through Ateke and his supporters, who attacked Asari’s camp. Officials in Odili’s government have refuted this, saying they regarded both Ateke and Asari as gangsters, although the Rivers state information commissioner later conceded that Asari at one point “worked with us” prior to the 2003 elections.
From mid-2003 to late 2004, Asari and Ateke Tom engaged in a turf war that killed hundreds and left tens of thousands homeless. The sizeable, centuries-old towns of Buguma, Bukuma and Tombia were badly damaged and areas of the Rivers capital Port Harcourt also razed. Some residents have alleged that the fighting cantered on control of areas noted for their oil theft. The conflict also allegedly revolved around competing bids for control of tribal chieftaincy titles in Buguma and Okrika and other positions with access to government and company oil revenues. By mid-2004, Asari was living in riverine hideouts, while also meeting with journalists. By the time he issued his declaration of war against the Nigerian federation in late September 2004, his bases had been the target of Nigerian military air raids on several occasions and Asari’s supporters and allied cult group members had managed to cause panic in Port Harcourt with targeted attacks against members of Ateke’s Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV).
Advisers to President Olusegun Obasanjo recognised the destabilising effect the conflict was having on the oil industry and responded in early October 2004 by flying both Asari and Ateke to meet the president in Abuja. Obasanjo gave amnesty to the militant leaders and their supporters and reportedly made payments of more than $1,000 for each rifle and $10,000 for each machine gun handed in to the government. The president is said to have told them he would crush them if they did not accept. Although Asari claims he did not make a profit from the weapons sub mission and amnesty program, he soon afterwards moved into a comfortable villa in Port Harcourt and acquired several SUVs to accompany his fleet of speedboats. Some of his more radical supporters began accusing Asari of having used the struggle to enrich himself with payoffs from the government and oil companies.
Asari continued to anger the Nigerian government by joining other separatist leaders from the southeast and southwest under the banner of the Pro-National Conference Coalition (PRONACO), who publicly demanded a sovereign national conference of elected representatives to debate the future of the federation. Addressing rallies of supporters, Asari sharply criticized the federal and state governments as being illegitimate, urging civilians not to be afraid to support the separatist militancy and claiming that once civil war began the government would retaliate against all Niger Deltans regardless of whether they supported the rebel cause or not.29 Asari also accused the Nigerian government of plotting to arrest or kill him, on one occasion telling journalists he would be honoured to share the fate of the late Ijaw rebel leader Isaac Boro and the executed Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
On 20 September 2005, nearly a year after his amnesty deal, Asari was arrested and subsequently charged with treason, conspiracy and unlawful assembly. Evidence provided by police included a newspaper interview in which Asari was cited as threatening to wage armed separatist struggle.30 Asari’s lawyer was also arrested and detained for a short period when he came forward to represent the rebel leader. Asari’s supporters declared the arrest was on dubious grounds and a betrayal of the amnesty conditions agreed upon nearly a year previously, while Ijaw militants held street protests and briefly occupied two Chevron oil platforms. Yet after initially threatening to destroy oil installations, Asari’s NDPVF announced a unilateral ceasefire, explaining later that they believed to do otherwise would further jeopardize their leader’s fate.
As conflict management consultant, and strategic security analyst, I have been predisposed to more raw material evidence than any security agent in Nigeria.
But the question is, is this man to serve the country from the brick of innuendos which he was party to? I just do not get it. These are the generation of lost youth I have often time referred to in my several interviews and articles. I still wondering if any apologist can provide a credible rationale to the scandalous activities of persons like tompolo, Henry Okah, Ateke Tom, and their likes, who have frustrated development in Niger Delta, and has plague the country into an oil chaos, are these the generation of youth leaders to be relied on? I am still waiting for a suitable answer.