Urhobo Historical Society


By G. G. Darah


/logo_min.gif - 1122 Bytes The Guardian Online - http://ngrguardiannews.com
Monday, May 14 2001

ON the 23rd of April I received a mail from Dr Yusufu Bala Usman containing the text of apapaer with the provocative title; "Ignorance, Knowledge and Democratic Politics in Nigeria' The address bellow his name was 'Ceddert, Hanwa, Zaria, Nigeria" CEDDERT is the acronym for Centre for Democratic Research and Training based in Mambayya,House, Bayero University, Kano. The paper is credited on the cover page as a "contribution to the symposium on "Good Governance in Nigeria: The Legacy of Mallam Aminu Kano" organisied by Ceddert.on April 17, 2001. The text of the paper is eight pages. Six of the eight pages are devoted to virulent attack on me and my ethnic nationality, the Urhobo of Delta State. On the Monday I received the paper, the text was published in page 20 of the"New Nigerian" On Thursday 26 and Friday 27 April, "The Guardian" published the same text. Calabar-based Dr. Edwin Madunagu, the Leon Trotsky of Marxism in Nigeria publishhed a dialectically delectable analysis of the primary contradictions in Nigeria's neo-colonial economy as manifested in the raging debates of the reconstruction of power blocs and fiscal federalism. Madunagu wrote under his regular Thursday column with the appropriate title:"Marxists and resource control"

 By the following week, we received two rejoinders to Bala's diatribe from incensed members of the Niger Delta community in the United States of America and Canada. One was by Professor Peter Ekeh, an Urhobo scholar is currently Chair of the Department of African American Studies at the State university of New York at Buffalo. Professor Ekeh's contribution appeared on the"Politics"section of "The Guardian"last Monday, May 7. The second response from an Ibibio nationalist was used on the opinion page of the newspaper the same day. Both interventions have helped to unveil the hidden motive behind Dr. Usman's offensive as well as the unpardonable historical fallacies that this celebrated history teacher allowed to be committed to written form. In thematic reach, analytical acuity, lucidity pungency and robustness of expression, professor Ekeh's contribution is truly original and seminal. It is difficult to improve on these rejoinders, Yet there are fundamental issues that need to be pursued for the benefit of the self-education of the people of southern Nigeria in general and the oppressed nationalities of the Niger Delta.

 Those who don't know Dr. Bala Usman, where he is coming from and where is desperate to go would be thinking that the responses to his neo-feudal piece ought to warn him to cease fire.That is not the Usman that is known, revered and dreaded in Nigeria's political and ideological circles. The scion of the Katsina feudal aristocracy proved me dead right two days ago.Last Saturday he was the star of the cover story of the Abuja-based "Weekly Trust" The newspaper devoted seven of its 40 pages to him. On the front page story, Dr. Usman declares "Yoruba cannot stop coup" You may wish to ask if one were being planned, against whom and by whom. The title on Page two of the newspaper is "There is no Ijaw nation" while "Igbo politics backfired" occupies page three. On page four, Usman warns "There may be more violence" You may ask: "When, where and by whom against whom?" Page six is taken up by "American democracy is a sham" while page seven carries a familiar theme, "Oil caused the civil war "The title of "Obasanjo has abandoned agriculture" on page eight is misleading. The gist of that part of the interview is in the following sentences: "So these people who think that you cannot have a coup because the Yorubas will shout or the Lagos papers will not agree or the human rights group will shout is rubbish. You can easily have a coup. How long will it take to crush them and what can they do anyway? The moment they start shouting they will just bomb them off." Another timely counsel to ignorant leaders is in the last paragraph of the page. "There is no way ignorant people can lead. Unless something is done these nincompoops will continue to shout true federalism." The emphasis is mine.

 Dr. Bala Usman is not an ignorant man. He is a historian with solid academic credentials. It will not be accurate to describe him as a nincompoop either. He has been an ideological point man of the Fukani oligarchy for decades, a former secretary to the old Kaduna State under Alhaji Balarabe Musa's governorship, a member of the Mallam Aminu Kano's Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) which later metamorphosed into the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) during the Second Republic of 1979-83.Dr. Usman is also the leading scholar of Northern extraction in the Nigerian radical/left movement. He is well read, has travelled extensively and is known and respected in intellectual and radical circles in Africa, Europe and North America. The man is not ignorant.

 But why has he chosen to take on the Urhobo, Ijaw, Yoruba and Igbo within the short space of three weeks? He says that these groups, except, perhaps, the Igbo have no sovereign ethnographic and cultural identity. That it was the 1900-1914 Lugardian act of cloning the southern and northern provinces of the country that endowed the se groups with anything close to an identity and historical presence. The logic of this imperial historiography is that unless Nigeria survives in its present unjust and unworkable form, the ethnic groups under reference will automatically cease to exist. A more learned and sophisticated historian and political scientist, Professor Ekeh demolished this Usmanian school of falsification in his paper already referred to.

 Again,the question.Why has Dr.Usman decided to launch a visceral and wicked attack on the Urhobo, Ijaw, Yoruba and Igbo of southern Nigeria. I can hazard a guess for the case of the Urhobo and Ijaw of the oil-producing Niger Delta. In the monograph titled"The Misrepresentation of Nigeria"co-authored by Usman and Alkassum of the same Ceddert, we are told that the territories of the Urhobo, Ijaw, Ogoni, Itsekiri, Ibibio, Ukwuani, Andoni, Bini and other ethnic groups in the Niger are merely reservoirs where nature stored the oil and gas formed from dead bodies and excrements of the ancestors of people living north of the Niger and the Benue river. The two scholars argue that on the basis of this racist and political geology of hydrocarbons, at least 60 per cent of the revenue from oil and gas should be given to the northern states for being the pre-history owners of the liquid minerals. Whilst the Nigerian civil war was still on in 1969, Gen Gowon as head of state issued a decree giving authority to the Federal Government to take 100 per cent of all revenue from oil proceeds. That obnoxious apartheid law instantly deprived all the then oil-producing states of the Midwest, Rivers and Cross River of whatever proportion of derivation income they were getting on the basis of the 1963 Republican Constitution. From the point of view of political economy, those states and the nationalities or language groups in them became practically the colonies of the big and advantaged ethnic or nationality groups in charge of the Federal Government. That colonial situation has persisted for 30 years now.

 Since the failed military coup of April 1990, various interest groups in the Niger Delta have risen to challenge this internal colonialism. The Ogoni case received more limelight because of the deaths and ferocious repression that it generated. Through their Kaiama Declaration of 1998, the Ijaw youths brought a new militancy to their demand for resource control articulated by the late Isaac Adaka Boro in 1966. The Urhobo in Delta state have been active in all fronts. In three years, thety have lost about 1,500 lives to petroleum fires ignited by pipelines traversing their territory. Urhobo scholars, environmentalists, human rights leaders, political leaders and professionals have been very articulate on the triple issues of environmental accountability, fiscal federalism and resource control. The incumbent Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori is in the frontline of these constitutional struggles. I have written consistently on the matters for ten years."The Guardian" has given copious space to the expression of these fundamental demands. The publisher, Mr. Alex Ibru, is an indefatigable advocate of the positions being canvassed by the oil-producing states and governments of the 17 southern states. Mr. Ibru is Urhobo.

There is a consensus amongst the Urhobo, Ijaw, Itsdekiri, Ibibio, Yoruba, Igbo and other nationalities of the southern states that a national conference be convened to discuss these burning matters so that a fair, equitable and economically vibrant Nigeria can emerge at the end of the talks. This newspaper supports this position unequivocally. This is one of the reasons that the conservative wing of the domineering oligarchies in Northern Nigeria have decided to launch a pre-emptive assault on the institutions and persons mentioned above. The objective is to intimidate them to silence so that they can abandon their just crusade for the restoration of their God-given right to own, exploit and control their natural resources. To Dr..Bala Usman, these agitations amount to treason against the sovereignty of the Almighty Federal Government in Abuja which has hijacked the ownership and control of oil and gas resources from the people of the Niger Delta who own the land and waters where the minerals are mined. Dr. Usman thinks that the Urhobo, Ijaw, Ilaje, Itsekiri, Ibibio, Efik and others in the Niger Delta have no rights over the lands and resources because the people are colonial subjects of the Federal Government. Why some groups in Nigeria should still be treated as serfs and subjects 40 years after the country's independence will form the topic of the next sequel.


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Wednesday, May 16 2001

LET me conclude my narrative with highlights of the momentous events that shaped Nigerian politics in the last one decade. These events culminated in the June 12, 1993 presidential election and its turbulent aftermath. Since that watershed, Nigeria has never remained the same again. And it shall never until certain fundamental issues are settled through a national dialogue or by any means necessary, as the late Malcom X would put it.

 Whereas Bala has always had fundamental disagreement with what we think, say and write, this has never diminished our mutual respect for him and proteges. His book, For the Liberation of Nigeria was published by New Beacon Books of London in 1979. Our party bookshop at Ibadan took sole distributorship and sold all 3,000 copies destined for the Nigerian market. John La Rose, who owns the publishing house, has never forgotten this feat. I cannot recall any time the south-based radical intelligentsia faced a crisis that Bala rallied his cohorts in the north to give them a backing.

 Dr. Attahiru Jega of Bayero University, Kano, hails from a noble Fulani family in Kebbi State. He became the president of ASUU after Dr. Iyayi. He worked conscientiously to maintain the splendid legacy of transparency, courage and militancy set by previous executives of the union. His biggest opposition came from Bala's Ahmadu Bello University. It was there that the union began to have black legs during major national industrial actions. He suffered this handicap because the Bala faithfuls there saw him as an extension of the southern base of ASUU solidarity. In a question of power, ethnic brotherhood can be bombed by the higher concerns for the survival of feudal domination.

 The June 12, 1993 presidential election redefined Nigeria for all of us who had nursed utopian dreams of a strong and indivisible country. Africa and the democratic world rose in unison to denounce Babangida's perfidy in annulling what was popularly acclaimed to be a free and fair election. The only difference was that the victor in the polls, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, was neither a Fulani nor a trusted surrogate. The national and international human rights constituency rose in protest the way it did against apartheid in South Africa. Neither Bala nor Balarabe whose tribulations engendered southern support twelve years earlier joined the vanguard in the struggle to redeem June 12. The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) founded to spearhead the agitation was branded by them as Yoruba tribal and secessionist junta. Surely, Yoruba politicians dominated the body because it was their national spirit that was hurt most by the annulment, but NADECO was not a Yoruba ARABA (Hausa word for secession).

 The victims of the June 12 struggle included people on all sides of the Niger and the Benue rivers. But the bulk of them were in the South-West and Niger Delta regions that have been safer havens for human rights and democratic movements. I do not remember any occasion that Bala and his group called a press conference or issued a statement demanding the release of Abiola and others from detention. I do not know when they called a stop to Abacha's systematic attempt to eliminate opposition. NADECO's Chief Anthony Enahoro escaped arrest narrowly and became "a fugitive offender" twice in his lifetime. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was on the danger list. Sani, the north co-ordinator of civil rights coalition, was arrested and detained. Comrades Frank Ovie Kokori of NUPENG and Milton Dabibi of PENGASSAN languished in Abacha's gulag for years. I did not hear Bala's voice of protest or solidarity.

 The Ogoni lost four prominent chiefs in 1994 and Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in 1995. Bala and his group did not join the rest of the world to condemn Abacha for the judicial murder. The Guardian newspaper was shut for more than a year for its unswerving support for the cause of June 12 and democracy. An attempt was made to burn the paper's premises and the publisher, Mr. Alex Ibru miraculously survived an assassination bid. I don't have any evidence that Bala spared any distress or sympathy over these tragedies. Mrs. Kudirat Abiola was murdered on June 4, 1996 on account of her support for the cause. Even organisations from Iceland and New Zealand protested this heinous crime. What did Bala and his friends say at the time? Were all these people also vermins who could be wasted so that the sovereignty of Nigeria would subsist at all cost?

 In 1998, the Director of Bala's CEDDERT, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, published an essay exposing details of how Abiola used money to corrupt the electoral system, arguing that the man did not deserve to be rehabilitated through the validation of the results. When I first saw the document in London, I was startled that a Nigerian leftist could do such a demolition job on a cause that we ought to back in principle, even when we did not like the bourgeois politician that won the election. There is no doubt that Siddique's demystification of the June 12 episode would have helped Gen Sani Abacha to dig in more tenaciously in his trenches of self-succession. On November 3,1999, Siddique caused to be circulated on the Internet a devastating critique of another Yoruba frontline politician with the title: "The Role of Bola Ige in the Destabilisation of Nigeria". This was apparently provoked by Ige's writings in "The Nigerian Tribune" where he once dared to refer to the Fulani as the Tutsis of Nigeria. The Tutsis are the minority ruling ethnic group in war-torn Rwanda. The pamphlet, "The Misrepresentation of Nigeria" by Bala and Alkassum was a 2000 sequel to the liquidationist pieces by Siddique. As you can see, this vile avand-guard propaganda offensive did not start with attacks on the Urhobo, Ijaw, Ogoni and other Niger Delta peoples. It is a programme.

By his latest attacks on southern nationalists and organisations, Dr. Yesufu Bala Usman has helped to redraw the political map of Nigeria. He says that the British conquered every ethnic group about 100 years ago. That by that act of conquest, these groups lost their self-worth and identity forever. He is wrong. Between 1950 and 1959, Nigerians through the platform of various political parties negotiated a new term of living together under a federal constitution. The British imperialist did not hand over the various people and their territories and resources to the Fulani in 1960. That federal system was bastardised during the civil war years when the omnipotent military Federal Government stole the oil resources of the Niger Delta. Later, the same clique in the government appropriated all revenue from port facilities and value- added tax. Thus the basis of the federation the founding fathers negotiated over 40 years no longer exists.

 The anthem of the moment is for a national conference to be convened where all the distortions and iniquities of the past 30 years can be discussed and set aright. All the ethnic groups and socio-political formations in southern Nigeria demand this conference. Most of the 300 ethnic groups in northern Nigeria support the conference. The Urhobo nation that Bala likes to vilify is in the vanguard of this national redemption project. The Urhobo are irrevocably committed to this option because in their national anthem composed 70 years ago, they describe their land as one of liberty and plenty, a land in which every dead Urhobo would want to reincarnate. Their land also accounts for over 70 million barrels of oil a year. The Urhobo are the majority group in Delta State that accounts for about 700,000 barrels of oil production daily. The Urhobo want a country where they will own, exploit and control these and other resources. As Mahatma Gandhi of India said, the day the colonised asks to know his true identity indicates that his freedom is near. The Urhobo and other victims of oppression in Nigeria have arrived at that historic juncture. In the struggles ahead, they will have nothing to lose but their chains.