Urhobo Historical Society

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Monday, July 23, 2001

The Road From Bondage

By G.G. Darah

ON Wednesday July 11, the Supreme Court sitting in Abuja ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the case brought before it by the Federal Government concerning whether or not the eight littoral states in the country have a right to revenue accruing from oil and gas resources mined in the off-shore areas of the coast. Six of the justices supported the case while one dissented. It is remarkable that Justice Karibi-Whyte who entered the dissenting judgement is from the Niger Delta which is the main target of the Federal Government's court action. The six states of the Niger Delta account for about 90 per cent of the country's oil production and about 95 per cent of government revenue. Whichever way the case goes eventually, it will be a historic landmark in the current struggle by the nations o f the Niger Delta to have increased ownership and control of the natural resources in their land.

 What is at issue is not simply the economics of revenue distribution amongst the constituent units of a federation. That matter is unambiguously spelt out in Section 162 (1 & 2) of the 1999 Constitution. By virtue of that Section, the Federal Government should have started the payment of 13 per cent of oil revenue to the states to which the section applies. The take-off date should have been May 29, 1999, the date the civilian administration was inaugurated. The Government did not only fail to comply with the provisions, when it started to make payments it did with effect from June 2000. As if this was not illegal enough, the Federal Government arbitrarily reduced the amount due to each state by 40 per cent claiming that this represented the revenue that tousled come from off-shore oil. It is the failure of President Obasanjo to abide by the constitutional provisions that generated the current crisis. The case is therefore thoroughly political. The Federal Government is assuming the status of a military junta to intimidate its CLIENT states to submission. This is an undemocratic posture, which the Niger Delta states are determined to combat through democratic means. To use a hackneyed phrase, the crisis is an instance of democratic dividends.

 Three days before the Supreme Corut hearing in Abuja, I presented a paper at a dinner hosted by the Ibori Vanguard in Port Harcourt. It was a well-attended event at which the Governors of the states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers were present. Political war horses like Chief Edwin Clark and Dr. Kimse Okoko were there. Valiant National Assembly members such as Chief Essien added national colour to the evening. All major nationality organisations and environment NGOs like Ijaw National congress, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and Environment Rights action were represented. In a sense the evening had the semblance of a mini national conference of the Niger Delta people. I spoke on the topic: "Niger Delta: >From Bondage to Paradise" In the 32-page paper, I outlined the highlights of the arguments regarding the political economy of how a resource-endowed region of the Niger Delta has been underdeveloped through exploitative and unjust policies of the Federal Government since 1969. I leaned much on the profound views of Professor Itse Sagay in his May 19 paper delivered in Lagos under the auspices of the Ibori Vanguard.

 My conclusion in Port Harcorut is that the diversion of the bulk of oil revenue from the region is the prime cause of its backwardness. I argued that the Niger Delta region would not achieve modernisation until and unless the bulk of the oil income is retained and invested in the area. For example, Delta state which accounts for 30 per cent of total oil production loses no less than FIVE HUNDRED BILLION NAIRA per year because of the fraudulent revenue allocation formula. I proposed in the paper that the states, local councils and communities should have this money and invest 60 per cent of it in agriculture, education and industries. But to retrieve the revenue from the OMNIPOTENT federal government, the states and other pro-federal groups in the country have to engage in the politics of liberation. The path of this liberation as it relates to the Niger Delta nations is sketched in the concluding parts of the Port Harcourt paper which I reproduce below.

 The tasks of socio-economic transformation outlined in this paper cannot be accomplished within the context of the present distorted, oppressive and corruption-infested Nigeria. The Nigerian State was put together by the British colonialists for the purpose of exploitation and plunder of its people. At independence in 1960, the British handed over this imperial mandate to the three most populous nations of Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. The minority nations (390 in all) were expected to be in a servile position vis-a-vis this Trinity of Domination. The federal system negotiated at various conferences from 1950-1960 mitigated this oppressive structure somewhat. But as works by Professors Kole Omotoso, Claude Ake, Peter Ekeh, Julius Ihonvbere, Herbert Ekwe Ekwe, Inya Etteng and even Omo Omoruyi have revealed, the Hausa-Fulani coalition interpreted the granting of independence to mean a disengagement by the British so that the Fulani Jihadists could continue their Islamisation conquest to the Atlantic seaboard. The 1967-70 civil was and the various coups and military regimes helped the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy to regain the grounds they lost by the act of the British conquest of 1903 through the 60 years of colonial rule. The Hausa-Fulani hegemonists have own more ground than they ever envisaged. they have not only worsted the Yoruba and Igbo contenders for power, they have also demolished the federal system and imposed centralised control over the mineral resources found in the Niger Delta. As shown in the recent writings by their chief strategist, Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, the resource-endowed minority areas of Nigeria have no right to their lands and existence except whatever the omnipotent Federal Government at Abuja is prepared to concede.

 In the political calculus of the Hausa-Fulani leadership, the oil-producing minorities of the south of the country are colonies of the central government which they are born to rule. This is the operating ideology for whosoever occupies the Presidency, regardless of his/her ethnic origin. This is not a moral issue. Rather, it is a question of power between oppressor and oppressed. Even non-Hausa-Fulani rulers like Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha operated with this imperial brief. President Olusegun Obasanjo, although elected by popular vote, has not deviated from this path.

 This is the reality that the Niger Delta must recognise in order for them to fashion appropriate responses to whatever ways their colonial bondage manifests itself. From the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers movement of 1953, the creation of the Midwest Region in 1963 and other Niger Delta States subsequently, through the Adaka Boro0led Ijaw revolt of 1966 to the Ogoni and other resistance struggles, the minorities of the region have expressed an irrepressible desire to free themselves from this colonial yoke. But the servitude will not end unless the Niger Delta nations reorganise and constitute themselves into a united political force capable of winning freedom from the bondage.

 The thinking of the political elite that the region must be an appendage of a compassionate "brother," particular in the feudal north, is definitely not one of the ways to freedom and dignity. That approach merely offers our territory as a vineyard for harvesting landslide votes during national elections. This mistake was made in 1979, 1983, 1993 and again in 1999. In almost all of these occasions, the presidential candidate received more cotes from the Niger Delta that he received from his home base. This is an act of self-enslavement. Of course, as soon as the victories candidate settled down in office, he proceeded to intensify the exploitation of the Niger Delta.

 The experience with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999 illustrates this dilemma. The six Niger Delta states delivered 79 per cent of their votes to Obasanjo, nearly twice the figure he obtained in his Yoruba base. But the President did not only refuse to implement the derivation law enshrined in section 162 (2) of the Constitution, he did so belatedly by arbitrarily reducing the income by 40 per cent. The Federal Government has also gone to the Supreme Corut to challenge the right of the oil-producing states to their offshore assets. Obsanjo ordered the military invasion and destruction of Odi in Bayelsa State in November 1999. The same Federal Government is opposed to the clamour for a national conference to negotiate all these and other vital issues.

 In all the other areas of national affairs, the PDP governors of the Niger Delta have been on their own, having been orphaned by the party that they are helping to make a headway in good governance. In place of advice and support, the governments in the region get warnings not to threaten the territorial integrity of Nigeria. There is no reason to expect that new parties will treat the region with equity and respect. Those behind the new associations have no agenda other than to ascend to power and preside over the booty of our oil revenue.

 To leap over the crossroads, the nations of he Niger Delta must avoid appendage politics and map out a clear, autonomous political agenda for themselves. This requires a coalition or alliance of the various party tendencies, nationality political associations and civil rights organisations. As Harold Dappa-Biriye and colleagues did in the 1950s, these associations should form a political party for the purpose of electing genuine representatives to preside over the genuine governance of the Niger Delta region. That alliance coudl join forces with other pro-federal movements to crusade for and bring about a National Conference to restructure Nigeria. The party can present candidates for federal elections, including that for the president. But the Niger Delta people should not be fooled to off themselves for "follow-follow" posts such as Vice-President. If the region produces the wealth that sustains the country, it should produce someone to preside over its affairs. For the oppressed and exploited people of the Niger Delta, the road from bondage to freedom lies in fight for autonomy, identity and resource control. We need a formidable political party of our own to accomplish this historical task.