Urhobo Historical Society


u.b.a. plc

I have just read Professor Ekeh’s  interesting write-up titled “Organized Campaign in Defence of Bala Usman and the breakdown of Nigeria’s national consensus.” I intend to respond briefly at this point for reasons that will be obvious presently.

Let me first start with a couple of disclaimers. After reading my paper “Usman, Ekeh and the Urhobo ‘Nation’”, Dr Yusufu Bala Usman spoke to me and confessed that he had never even heard of Ekeh’s paper “Colonialism and Social Structure”. Indeed I then faxed him a copy thereof. This explains why there was no reference to it and, more importantly, strengthens the thesis of both Usman and (I insist) Ekeh, in view of the independent routes to the same conclusions. In these matters it is almost pedantic to argue that Professor Ekeh’s paper was one in Political Theory and not Nigerian History. Bala’s paper was also a paper in “Democratic politics” and not in History. Both writers seem to me to have discussed in part the same subject matter, objectifying ethnicity in terms of its evolution by reference to the colonial milieu which problematized the very concept of identity.

It is noteworthy that Professor Ekeh did not succeed in refuting my principal thesis. He did say, correctly, that he never claimed that “there was no African history before colonial rule”. No one attributed this level of insipidity to him. What he did, however, was attribute it to Bala Usman even though it is evident that Bala never made such a claim. Intellectual acrobatics notwithstanding, the similarity (or rather the substantial identity) between the two positions is such as to make any attempt at
proving the contrary futile and elusive.

It seems to me Ekeh fully recognized this fact and therefore made other statements to which I intend to respond in this write-up. The first point Ekeh makes is to suggest some kind of “organisation” or “orchestration” behind the defence of Bala Usman. This assumption is a logical fall-out of the almost paranoid belief in the existence of conspiracy where northern interests are concerned. I have never met or spoken to any one called Sola Fasure. The first time I came across his defence of Bala Usman was AFTER I had posted my own comment to the webmaster@nigerdeltacongress.com . For some reason my contribution was drowned in a deluge of articles excavated from his archives. Had I read Fasure’s response I probably would not have bothered writing mine.

The second point is that I did not address the other critics of Bala Usman in my comment. A simple answer is to say none of them to my knowledge had a 1980 paper expressing the same view they were criticizing. On a serious note, I made it clear that my interest was not so much to defend Bala Usman (he is perfectly able to do that himself) or his premises, but to expose Ekeh’s volte-face in this matter. This I believe was effectively done.

The third point made by Ekeh is the most significant one, with which I am in full agreement. It is that the issues involved in the “Niger-Delta” question transcend academic niceties. In effect, and this is a respectable position, Ekeh says that the Niger-delta question is greater than Ekeh and he refuses to let us lose sight of that. In this I am in full agreement with him even though the gravity of the matter does not justify the lowering of standards of academic discourse. Where he errs, is that through a series of logical leaps he pretends to decipher my own position on the Niger Delta. First, my criticism of Ekeh’s histrionics is equated with holding identical views with Bala Usman in every material particular. Through a second (in my view most preposterous and presumptuous) leap- this debate between Ekeh and Sanusi is magnified to the extent that it serves notice of the total “breakdown in Nigeria’s national consensus”. In flattering himself, professor Ekeh does me the honour of sharing the glow of those who represent Nigeria- a nice feeling, despite its fraudulent and most pernicious rooting in a bloated ego. But there is no harm humouring ourselves (and each other) from time to time.

Let me state briefly my own position in this matter. The first point is that, from where I stand, it is absolutely immaterial if the thesis proposed by Usman and Ekeh is true or false. It is immaterial if the Igbos, Urhobos, Fulanis, Hausas etc existed as nations or ethnic groups before colonialism. What is important is that no one can deny that in Nigeria today, there are a people with a national consciousness that is rooted in identities called Urhobo, Igbo, Hausa-Fulani or Yoruba. It is these people, with this consciousness who inhabit Nigeria today. At what point that consciousness was formed and under what circumstances is debatable, but the question itself merely affirms the essential contingency and fluidity of that consciousness. The point I made in my paper was therefore valid but, as Ekeh says, academic. What is more important is that the question of Nigeria and its future can not be decided in a vacuum. Urhobos exist today, even if the Urhobo nation as we know it has not always been in existence. The Fulani exist today even if 400 years ago their ancestors were not even living in the territory called Nigeria. To me the point made by Darah  staking the claims of the Niger Delta people on their being in the Niger-Delta from time immemorial, and the response it elicited from Bala Usman miss the point. Even if the Nigerdelta groups had no existence at the turn of this year, the fact is that they exist today, they inhabit the oil producing areas of Nigeria today, and this existence is sufficient to raise political, environmental and economic questions which can only be swept under the carpet at the nation’s peril. My own position is not whether there are issues to be discussed, but whether the problems of Nigeria result from the historical fact of diversity. Diversity is a strength, as are resources. The problem is that in the hands of a selfish and corrupt national elite these strengths have become curse.

I did start by saying my response will be brief. This is because I have elsewhere articulated my own position on the national question. The paper below, which I presented at a conference in Kaduna in September 1999 details my thoughts on Nigeria and its future. If Professor Ekeh would take time to read it he will see how wrong he is in drawing some of the conclusions he did. There is nothing like a “northern” perception of Nigeria.

Happy reading.


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