ORGANIZED CAMPAIGN IN DEFENCE
OF BALA USMAN
THE BREAKDOWN IN NIGERIA’S NATIONAL CONSENSUS
Peter P. Ekeh
In several pockets of human history, groups and individuals who assume the status of aristocrats have claimed the significant privilege of insulting others. They are so used to the exercise of this privilege that they get agitated when their targets of insults reply. Indeed, they expect those whose dignity they assault to calmly play patsy, bowing in genuflection. Apparently, our lordly neighbours in Nigeria assume more than that. They are claiming the privilege of deciding which academics are worthy of their vocation. All of these traits seem to emerge from Bala Usman’s blatant affronts on the Niger Delta and the angry reactions from his peers against those who have dared to challenge Bala Usman’s misconceived theories and assertions.
Bala Usman’s two instalments of insults were published from his “Centre for Democratic Development, Research, and Training,” which is virtually the only remnant of the Centre for Democratic Studies that Omo Omoruyi founded and headed under Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime. Although it has received substantial financial backing from the Federal Government of Nigeria, the main achievement of this Centre has been a spate of abuses of various individuals and ethnic groups, mainly those of Southern Nigeria. The authors who publish in its medium are few and unvaried. The latest instalment in this tirade was an unprovoked attack by Bala Usman on the Niger Delta, pinpointing the Urhobo and describing as “laughable” the thought that Urhobo existed before 1938.
This “Ignorance” diatribe was circulated in the internet on April 18, 2001. My reply to Bala Usman’s assertions appeared in the internet on April 29, 2001. A week later, I received an email message from an intellectual of Yoruba origin living in the United Kingdom to the effect that those whom he described as “Arewa mandarins” were unhappy with my essay and that they will reply in full force. Since then several other Niger Deltans have responded to Bala Usman’s claims and attacks on the Niger Delta.
Now Bala Usman’s supporters and defenders have come forward with their defence, at least two of them for a start. A month after Niger Deltans’ reactions to Bala Usman’s claims began to pour in, Sola Fasure’s premier defence of Bala Usman appeared in the Comet of June 5, 2001. It was simply titled “In Defence of Bala Usman.” Nine days later, and published in the internet in the first instance inhttp://www.gamji.com and http://www.nigerdeltacongress.com, an angrier defence has come from a more formidable personage in the aristocratic firmament. Using similar phrases – such as “laughable” -- as in Bala Usman’s original essays, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi defended his peer with pronouncements and judgement of doom over the qualifications of the man he saw as Bala Usman’s primary critic, in a field far removed from his banking profession. Apparently doubting its authenticity, his title of ‘Usman, Ekeh, and the Urhobo “Nation”’ uses quotes to support Bala Usman’s abusive characterization of a whole ethnic group in the Niger Delta. These two defences of Bala Usman appear formatted from a common talking point and are remarkably similar in their strategies.
THE DEFENCE OF BALA USMAN
First, Bala Usman’s defenders do not accept in any shape or form that Bala Usman has offended Niger Deltans. Sola Fasure has grievances against Bala Usman. But they have nothing to do with the complaints of Niger Deltans that they have been unjustly disparaged. Instead, he narrates how Bala Usman used his enormous influences during the Sani Abacha military dictatorship to cancel a conference that he was organizing at the University of Ibadan, because Bala Usman disapproved of its French funding. It is amazing to me that Fasure could rate so high the inconvenience of not holding a conference that was cancelled at the behest of Bala Usman and yet brush aside complaints from Niger Deltans that Bala Usman has made grossly insupportable claims about their existence and their ownership of the lands in which their ancestors have lived from times immemorial.
Second, Bala Usman’s defenders support his claim that the Nigerian State owns the Niger Delta. While this support is implicit in Lamido Sanusi’s praise of “brilliant points made by Bala Usman,” Fasure was explicit in support of Bala Usman. He says: “the Nigerian state is superior to the ethnic groups and therefore have a superior claim to the land and the resources there-in.” This is the essence, of course, of the interests of those fighting for the control of the Niger Delta. It is striking that throughout Fasure’s remarkable essay, there is the incredible assumption that the Nigerian State means Abuja. The truth of the matter is, the states of the Niger Delta are part of the Nigerian State and their control of the resources of the Niger Delta would in no way violate Fasure’s dictum. This is an intellectual stance that neither Bala Usman nor Lamido Sanusi nor anyone else can validly argue against from the premise of political science and its understanding of the meaning of the state. No one in the Niger Delta has asked for the control of the resources in the Niger Delta by ethnic groups in the region. What Niger Deltans have asked for is that their states, rather than the central government at Abuja, should control their resources. What is wrong with such reasoning in a federation? Is that not what happens with groundnuts and cocoa? Was that not the position of Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello whose dominant influence led to the construction of Nigerian federalism in the 1950s?
Third, Sanusi and Fasure brushed aside any issues raised by Niger Deltans that did not touch on the all-important matter of resource control and the related issue of the definition of Nigerian ethnic groups vis-a-vis Nigeria. Fasure did take important matters into consideration in these two areas. The banking chieftain Lamido Sanusi was more limited in his angry essay. He was satisfied with issuing pronouncements and further insults. Both Fasure and Sanusi also ignored the important corrections by several Niger Deltans of faulty claims by Bala Usman. Sola Fasure allowed only one item of inaccuracy, which probably inconvenienced him the most. It was in my reaction to Bala Usman. Fasure turns to the portion on the Yoruba in my essay, in which I was least interested, and says as follows: “[Ekeh] tries hard to fault Usman's data on the authorship of the word ‘Yoruba’ and used the inaccuracies he identified to upend Usman's principal thesis that: ethnic identity as we know it in Nigeria today is a recent historical development.” Is this the only inaccuracy in Bala Usman’s essays that Sola Fasure could read from all the reactions from Niger Deltans? Does he accept that the British donated the term “Urhobo” to the Urhobo in 1938? Or is it just possible that Fasure thinks that this inaccuracy from Bala Usman is of little consequence, whereas the “Yoruba” inaccuracy was more consequential?
Various important contributions on this subject included those by Nigerian Publius, the pen name for an Ibibio chieftain [The Guardian May 7, 2001: “CEDDERT and The Misrepresentation of Facts”], Andrew Edevbie [Vanguard, May 24-25, 2001: “Bala and His Rule-Book for Nigerian Politics”], G. G. Darah [The Guardian, May 14, 2001: “Bala Usman: History Will Absolve Us”], and Chris Akiri, [The Guardian, May 22, 2001: “Bala Usman and the Urhobo Nation.”] These contributions posed important questions with regard to Bala Usman’s assertions on the Niger Delta. It is unclear whether Lamido Sanusi and Sola Fasure accept the various points raised by these authors or whether they considered their contributions as unworthy of their attention. Sanusi’s position that he treated my essay as representative of Bala Usman’s critics cannot help matters when my objections to Bala Usman’s claims do not overlap with those of these writers. Instead of answering these writers’ worthy points of protest, both defenders of Bala Usman took the calculated decision to concentrate on what they perceived as inconsistencies in my scholarship.
Colonialism, Ethnicity, and Precolonial Nations
I am intrigued -- and amused -- by Fasure’s and Sanusi’s mystification of my Inaugural Lecture of 1980 at the University of Ibadan, titled Colonialism and Social Structure, in their defence of Bala Usman’s claims. Sanusi was particularly excited, declaring that I had committed “intellectual suicide” and that I had made an “intellectual blunder.” Essentially, these men have made two claims. The first is that my inaugural lecture was a source of Bala Usman’s assertions on the lack of any history or nationhood for the Yoruba, Urhobo, Ijaw, and the Igbo – his prime examples -- before the arrival of colonialism. The second is that my position of 1980 was the same one that Bala Usman was stating in his two essays in 2000 and 2001. Let me take on these specious contentions, one after the other.
Sanusi makes the first argument as follows. He argues that given the position I took in my inaugural lecture of 1980, I ought “to boldly support Bala Usman whose thesis was nothing but a reproduction of the theme of Ekeh's own brilliant 1980 paper” [emphasis added]. I am fairly well known in Nigerian academic circles. If what Sanusi asserts here is correct, how was it that Bala Usman did not cite this “brilliant paper” whose theme was allegedly reproduced by him? Bala Usman cited a huge number of Nigerian authorities in his expansive contentions. I was not among them. I am sure that Lamido Sanusi is a brilliant man. But he is a banker. I do not expect him to have read my inaugural lecture or any other publication of mine before this 1980 paper was handed over to him in the wake of my response to Bala Usman. It is clear to me that he was confused in his understanding of that paper.
Both Sanusi and Fasure say that what Bala Usman has written is identical with my 1980 position. It is fair to say that my 1980 lecture has been widely used and cited in academic circles in Nigeria and in the wider sphere of African studies. It has not been attacked in any serious fashion up till now. I can assure both Sanusi and Fasure that if I had made the same arguments as Bala Usman, my theory would have been shredded by now, just as Bala Usman’s obnoxious positions are now being challenged. I have no desire to cite passages from my lecture of 1980 nor its 1975 predecessor, “Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa: A Theoretical Statement.” But I will state its arguments in a way that will inform the reader of my theoretical position. I regret that I have to resort to the tedium of theory, but I suppose I have no choice in the circumstances of the present campaign on behalf of Bala Usman’s position that relies solely on the vilification of my scholarship.
I was a witness to colonialism, having been born in its midst and having been educated in its schools. It was my contention in the 1970s and 1980s that colonialism had impacted our history in ways that had not been fully recognized. I will give two examples here from the 1980 lecture. First, consider rulership in African societies. Before colonialism, the British dealt with African rulers as kings, addressing them in correspondence as “Your Majesty.” But under colonial rule, they became chiefs, losing their title of “majesty” and now addressed as “Royal Highness” – the title reserved for minor categories in British royalty. Moreover, in precolonial times, traditional African kings were dependent on the people for their legitimacy, and indeed were accountable to their people in their behaviours. Under colonial rule, the chiefs were accountable to the alien rulers, not to their people. This is an epochal change. That does not mean that it was good. On the contrary, I believe that it was bad. The same logic applied to ethnic groups. Before colonial rule, nations -- which British anthropologists, retrospectively, were pleased to call tribes -- existed on their own. Under colonial rule they were conjoined in the same political space, reducing their status to those of ethnic groups. Before colonial rule, there was no interaction between the Igbo and the Yoruba. Under colonialism, they became ethnic groups in the same political process – ideationally, a diminution in status from nationhood to ethnicity.
I believe any Nigerian of my generation will agree to the validity of this formulation. And it has largely been accepted. Let me give further examples from the cases of the Igbo and Yoruba because Lamido Sanusi seems particularly exercised by my views in these cases. There has always been a core Igbo nationality – with its base in the Anambra Valley. In the nineteenth century, that is before the British arrived, Igbo societies were being transformed from two directions. Western Igbo was under Benin hegemony, politically cut off from eastern Igboland. But there was a greater upheaval in Igbo history that Kenneth Dike has recorded. In the later part of the 19th century, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s, there was a huge population movement from the Benue Valley into Igboland. This is how Kenneth Dike recorded this aspect of Igbo history:
The northern branch [of increase in Igbo population] was a direct result of the slave trade. The indigenous home of the Ibos, which lies mainly to the east of the Niger valley, is within the forest belt where the calvary used . . . in annual slave-raids could not operate. These raids were conducted mainly in the plains north of the forest region, and were organized from Kano, Sokoto, Bida, and Ilorin. They inevitably led to the movement of tribes, south of the Benue to inaccessible areas and places of safety such as the Ibo forest area provided. (Kenneth Dike, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830-1885. An Introduction to the Economic and Political History of Nigeria, 1956: 27)That is, according to Dike’s view, there were fresh immigrants into Igbo country who were still learning to access their ways into Igbo culture at the onset of British colonialism. There was therefore nothing mysterious about Eluwa’s position that I quoted from David Abernerthy in my lecture. What colonialism did was to provide space for the recomposition of Igbos from both sides of the Niger as well as to enable the fresh immigrants from the Benue Valley to integrate steadily into Igbo culture.
The Yoruba case was more settled. But Ekiti was distant from hardcore Yoruba in Oyo, for which the term Yoruba was applied in precolonial times. Again, the Benin presence was significant in eastern Yoruba periphery. Under colonialism, there was an expansion of Yoruba ethnicity, even into the periphery.
Now, clearly the above statements do not represent Bala Usman’s position. First of all, my lecture was on African political theory, not on Nigerian history. I used Nigerian cases to illustrate theoretical positions that I enunciated. The lecture is one of three well-known papers of mine that have dealt with colonialism in Africa. (The other two papers are “Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa: A Theoretical Statement” and “Social Anthropology and Two Contrasting Uses of Tribalism in Africa.”) None of these three papers was about the history of Nigeria. Bala Usman was not enunciating a theory of African politics. He was dealing with his understanding of the political history of Nigeria.
Second, there was no place, even by way of examples, where I contended that there was no African history before colonial rule. Four years before my inaugural lecture, I authored a chapter, titled “Benin and Thebes: Elementary Forms of Civilization,” in a book published in 1976 by Yale University Press. It was a comparison of Benin royal practices to Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex of ancient Greece. That was an academic piece that acknowledged connections between Benin and Yoruba histories dating back to several centuries. On the other hand, Bala Usman contended that the Yoruba had no name until it was given to them in the nineteenth century. Let us quote him again: “But it was from a book of the Sarkin Musulmi Bello, written in the early nineteenth century, that the name [Yoruba] became more widely used.” That is a pretty serious statement.
I must stop this train of analysis here. I have no desire to lend any weight to the trivialization of the Niger Delta situation by reducing its seriousness to mere academic arguments. We are dealing with endangered human lives and human cultures in the Niger Delta. It is not some smart academic matter. I have said enough to calm down Lamido Sanusi – if ever he will listen – from his brash judgement that my attack on Bala Usman’s claims on the Niger Delta constituted an “intellectual suicide.”
THE BREAKDOWN IN NIGERIA’S NATIONAL CONSENSUS
Of the many letters that I received on the Bala Usman episode, one was particularly perceptive. Ayo Obe, President of Civil Liberties Organisation, sent a note on this issue that included the following thought: “I am glad, though, that Usman's article got read by some people other than the converted. The sad thing is that most of those who will read your article are those who would agree with you in any case. What we need is more preaching to the unconverted - and perhaps some attempt to change minds?”
I doubt that any amount of persuasion will change Bala Usman and Lamido Sanusi’s attitudes towards the Niger Delta. I first came across Lamido Sanusi’s views on the Niger Delta in 1999. G. G. Darah had written an article in The Guardian of May 31, 1999, complaining that the "real and original Niger Delta" had been slighted in government’s appointments to key positions in the petroleum industry. A few weeks later, Lamido Sanusi wrote a rejoinder rebuking Darah. This was my comment in another venue on July 4, 1999, on Sanusi’s rejoinder: “What I found troubling in reading Mr. Sanusi's well-reasoned article was his tone of reference to the [Niger] Delta areas. There was considerable condescension.” Neither Lamido Sanusi nor Bala Usman seems to have any less spite for the Niger Delta today than Sanusi displayed in June 1999.
Are we therefore not engaged in a conversation of the deaf? Are we listening to the points of view offered from the opposing side? I believe that the problem is deeper and more fundamental than the views of a few individuals at opposite ends of a national spectrum of ideas. What the Bala Usman episode confirms in my mind is that there is a complete breakdown in Nigeria’s national consensus. A nation exists and survives because there is at least a modicum of a national consensus embodying a measure of agreement on the principles on which its state’s apparatuses should be run. There is no longer any such consensus in Nigeria. Instead, there are two imageries of what the Nigerian State should look like. Even if it is impossible to maintain mutual conversation on the issues of ethnicity and other academic niceties, we all may profit from understanding the outlines of the two contrasting imageries of the Nigerian State that have emerged in our public affairs. I will try my hands at their characterization.
Nigerian State as the Epiphenomenon of Military Rule
The Nigerian State that Bala Usman and Lamido Sanusi are fighting to preserve is the outcome of prolonged military rule. It is a state that has departed from the principles on which Nigerians fought for national independence from Great Britain. At least, it is a organizational phenomenon that is distant from what we experienced and expected at the point of independence. I do not see any benefits or sources of strength in this epiphenomenon of civilianized military rule. I will therefore characterize it by its deficiencies. Maybe Bala Usman and Lamido Sanusi will try their hands at displaying its strengths and its benefits.
First, the post-military Nigerian State is now completely hostile towards the ordinary individual. The purpose of a progressive state is to advance the welfare of individuals and to recognise and enhance their humanity. The Nigerian State has lost this definition of its purpose. Although it has signed tons of international treaties that preach respect for the dignity of the individual, the Nigerian State now engages in bestial treatment of the individual. It now appears that the Nigerian State exists in its own essence, with no obligation towards its citizens.
All these points may sound theoretical. So, let me give examples. I never imagined that I would be a citizen of a country in which a man’s hand is cut off for stealing a goat or in a Nigeria in which amputation machines become a priority in the budget reckoning of state officials. I thought such wicked things happened far way in primitive Eurasian societies. The other day, an old colleague from Scandinavia sent me an email complaining that Nigeria had degenerated so badly to the point where a judge could order that a man’s eye should be removed from him. He asked me to do something about this sad development. I did not even reply, because I have no response. The truth is, even formidable and privileged people like Bala Usman and Lamido Sanusi cannot do anything to stop this madness, if they are opposed to it. Nor can President Olusegun Obasanjo. That is what is so frightening in this new and unexpected disregard for human dignity in Nigeria. For now, the poor Hausa peasant is the main victim of these outrages by the Nigerian State. But its masters do not intend to have such a narrow boundary. We can catalogue this matter further. Years ago, when he still cared about such matters, Bala Usman produced a terrific book (Political Repression in Nigeria, 1982) that detailed how ordinary people, including Ghanaian immigrants, lost their lives in the hands of state officials. That was shocking then. It no longer shocks. How many Nigerians die daily in Police custody? How many Nigerians die yearly in Nigerian prisons? It would make news if a Nigerian died in a UK prison. But Nigerians who die in the hands of state officials seem fully qualified to be disposed of carelessly. The Nigerian State, as of 2001, has become the epitome of illiberalism in its total disregard for the value of human lives and for its disrespect for the dignity of the human being.
Second, the Nigerian State that has emerged from years of military rule is unjust. The political arrangements that were worked out at independence have been violated and discarded. Instead, arbitrary and perfunctory mechanisms have been substituted for the principles that were carefully hatched out by Nigeria’s founding fathers. Although we are supposed to be a federation, much power is concentrated in Abuja. Abuja, which was built to wall out the ordinary citizen, rules all of us from a distance. It does poorly and yet forbids other units from trying aspects of governance in which it cannot cope. Just consider the Nigeria Police, which is completely overwhelmed. The rational thing to do would be to have a slim and efficient Federal Police that would cope with Federal crimes, while leaving state and local matters to State Police. But no, the Nigerian State must remain a feared leviathan – so it pretends that it can cope with the problems of violence and crimes all over the country.
The Nigerian State is unjust for another reason. It is arbitrarily uneven. Some areas have tremendous and unchecked powers, while others are barred from exercising their elementary rights to basic existence. I will give two examples. Consider what President Olusegun Obasanjo did to Odi Town in the Niger Delta. For no just cause, the innocent people of a Nigerian town plying their lowly existence, disturbing no one, were attacked by a mighty military machine because the Government said it wanted to teach Niger Deltans a lesson. Now, we in the Niger Delta know fully well that President Obasanjo would not dare carry out such an arbitrary operation if Odi Town were in Sokoto State or Katsina State. Indeed, in the very period in which the President ordered the invasion of Odi Town, Zamfara State was defying the President’s views that a Sharia regime would be unconstitutional. Let us put the matter some other way. Can anybody doubt what President Obasanjo would do to any Niger Delta state that attempted a Sharia regime in its realm? It is such disparities in the dispensation of elementary justice that brings disrespect from citizens to their “government.”
Let me give another instance of this type of injustice that maltreats some citizens while treating others with reverence for doing the same thing as those victimized. In his article under review, Lamido Sanusi introduced Bala Usman as the “firebrand northern intellectual.” So he has been, from the early 1970s – from the regimes of Yakubu Gowon and General Obasanjo through Babangida and Abacha unto the present civilianizied regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He has spoken his mind, canvassed his views, fought Vice-Chancellors at ABU, and enjoyed privileges. We should congratulate him. That is how things should be. But there were many other firebrands, especially in the South, who could match Bala Usman’s fearlessness. Where are they now? They have been vanquished by the military. Many were hounded out of universities. Many were jailed or detained for no just cause. A system that discards its intellectuals because they have no protective aristocracy behind them is unjust and will suffer the consequences of its evil deeds. As Nigerian Publius wrote in his rejoinder to Bala Usman’s threats against the Niger Delta, the quickest way to destroy Nigeria is to “Drive your intelligentsia into exile in foreign countries, which they then help to advance even faster than your own.”
That is my portrait of the Nigerian State that exists today. I can see it clearly because I come from a disadvantaged region of the country. Can Lamido Sanusi and Bala Usman not see it through the same lenses? I fear that as beneficiaries of this flawed system, they are fighting strenuously to protect it. My prayer is that they will relent so that full reforms can occur for the restoration of a Nigeria that we all can be proud of and work for. But let no one be urged to respect a state system that is fast becoming an evil enterprise.
Reforming the Nigerian State: A New Imagery
I can be brief here. We need to reverse course. I know that it is not easy. At the very least, we need to manage our destinies at the local and state levels. The whole premise of Bala Usman’s original essays was that only a solidified and unified Nigerian State, ruled from Abuja, would be useful. My knowledge of history tells me that such a system – which is the existing arrangement -- would not last. For Nigeria to last and prosper, it must restore its purpose.
The greatness of Nigeria was that its diverse units had freedom to govern themselves in their distinct ways. In the 1950s, Eastern Nigeria decided to dispense with the House of Chiefs, whereas it was a great institution in the North and West. We must recover that spirit of diversity. Let every zone or state have its own constitution. Let no one be afraid of diversity. We all should be Nigerians because we want to be Nigerians, not because we are forced to be Nigerians. Legislated and enforced patriotism has never worked anywhere or anytime in history. In my days I have seen Nigerians who loved the country with a passion. Today, many such people have given up. Let us have new arrangements of a genuine federalism that will allow us – and our children – to renew our faith in a nation whose spirit has been wounded, severely.
Such a system may help to fight the expansion of the corrosive disregard for the dignity of the individual human being. Let those states that value their citizens invest in their welfare. At the present time, Nigeria’s logic is to opt for the least common factor of development, compelling all Nigerians to move at one slow pace. Let Abuja become a small place, not another megalopolis from where orders are issued to local and state governments.
Such a model of the new Nigeria will require that we all work for what we own. The present system where some believe that wealth will come to them automatically because they control Abuja will be reversed by true federalism. This compact portrait is a viable and just alternative to the present unjust and unsatisfactory system that dominates and terrorizes our lives.
SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: NIGER DELTA AND NIGERIA
On June 14, 2001, naijnews, Nigeria’s premier internet news service, circulated an article by George Orwel of Dow Jones Newspapers on President Olusegun Obasanjo and the oil industry. Its first three sentences are worth quoting:
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo once sought advice from Fidel Castro, Cuba's president of 40 years, on survival tactics. Castro reportedly told him to identify a cash cow, then keep a close eye on it. Obasanjo related the story to reporters recently and said oil was his cash cow, which he plans to watch over closely.
Before Olusegun Obasanjo became a civilian President, other groups of Nigerians had identified Niger Delta’s oil as their cash cow. It is doubtful that the chummy relationship between President Obasanjo and his allies, many of whom supported his unjust invasion and destruction of Odi Town, would exist at all if the largesse of Niger Delta’s oil was not available for spoliation. The current fight against the notion of state governments’ control of mineral resources, including petroleum oil, is fuelled by their determination to continue to direct the way Nigeria’s wealth would be exclusively controlled from Abuja. Indeed, I doubt that Bala Usman, Lamido Sanusi, and their peers would bother to fight for Nigerian unity if Niger Delta’s oil were not available to them. Bala Usman would not bother to spend his intellectual resources for mounting his incredible theory of the geological formation of the Niger Delta if there were no oil in Niger Deltans’ lands and waters.
What is so very frustrating in all of these circumstances is that these beneficiaries of oil wealth now treat Niger Deltans, whose lands and waters produce petroleum oil, as an inconvenience. They do not even listen to cries of lives ruined by oil exploration. None of them would have the courage to visit the Escravos to see the sludge and the utter devastation foisted on the people by oil greed. Shell and Chevron are unregulated in their conducts. Some compassionate foreigners have taken up the battle for the survival of Niger Deltans affected by oil exploration, while privileged Nigerians from a distance enjoy wealth whose source they care little about. You will not come across anything about Niger Delta’s huge problems of environmental degradation in the pages of publications sponsored by Bala Usman’s well-financed “Centre for Democratic Development, Research, and Training.”
The people and cultures of the Niger Delta may not last into the next century if the current frenetic pace of destruction of their lives and lands and waters continues unchecked. The Federal Government of Nigeria, from Abuja, is uninterested in any propositions that will not increase its largesse from the Niger Delta. It is very sad that Niger Deltans now rely on foreign environmentalists to fight injurious policies mounted by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Elsewhere there are threats that if Niger Deltans do not stop complaining, military force will be used to crush them. One of the most aggravating portions of Bala Usman’s “Ignorance” essay was the barely hidden threat that Niger Deltans would be reduced to the same amount of wretchedness as has been visited on Native Americans. I must cite Nigerian Publius’s statement on this score, in his reply to Bala Usman. He says,
It is far more preferable for those behind [CEDDERT’s] deception [of teaching true history] to state their threats to the people of the Niger Delta, in a very blunt manner, as they did recently while purporting to pay tribute to Alhaji Aminu Kano. In their subsequent paper (Ignorance, Knowledge and Democratic Politics in Nigeria), Niger Deltans . . . were told that if they want to be like America, non-indigenes would march to the Niger Delta and kill off the original inhabitants and take their oil.
Is it only Niger Deltans who are outraged by this brand of immoral intellectualism? Has the rest of Nigeria become so immune to such outrages that Nigerians cannot see the looming catastrophe in the Niger Delta? No one should minimize the dangers. African history is replete with instances of ruined lives and cultures for no reason other than the fact that mineral resources were present in certain places. The population of the Congo was reduced by half in three decades of King Leopold II’s greedy rule in search of natural resources and wealth in the Congo at the end of the nineteenth century and for a decade in the twentieth. The Afrikaner’s apartheid regime in South Africa was fuelled from that country’s gold mines. Niger Deltans would be most foolish to leave things as they are simply because there are some brilliant intellectuals, from “Centre for Democratic Development, Research, and Training,” who will concoct theories in support of an evil state system. Niger Deltans must embark on a campaign that will assure them that their cultures and their people will survive into the next century and beyond. The stakes are that high.
Peter P. Ekeh
June 20, 2001.