Aug 02, 2006

Ogoni: Of Oil, Presidency and Niger Delta

Oil has brought mixed blessings to Nigeria - unparalleled prosperity and increased welfare for some and for the entire Niger Delta Region where the oil is found, it has been sorrow, tears and blood.
Oil has brought mixed blessings to Nigeria. For the majority ethnic groups, especially those living in the urban areas, oil has brought about unparalleled prosperity and increased welfare. Paradoxically, for the entire Niger Delta Region where the oil is found, it has been sorrow, tears and blood.

As Olorode put it: Consequently,the oil industry in Nigeria has inflicted unprecedented agony on the indigenous communities by completely disrupting the water ways, by destroying soil, water, air, animal and plant life and indeed cutting off all the means of livelihood of the communities .

The Ogoni Bill of Rights equally lamented the paradox of poverty in the oasis of wealth in Nigeria when he declared that, ..oil and gas have only brought misery to Ogoni people. ..deprived them of farmlands and polluted their streams.. .Nigeria should be rich, and not a debt¬ridden country with education, a parlous state, its people hungry and malnourished. As Odukoya (Ibid) further argued: Following from the above scenario, it is not surprising that the potential wealth of the Niger Delta has turned into an apparent poverty. Majority of the Niger Delta people are living a subhuman life. This is because they happen to be minorities and powerless in the dynamic power calculus between the imperialist forces represented by the multinational oil corporations and the ruling oligarchy in Nigeria, represented by the major ethnic groups.

The agitation, resistance and protests of the people of the Niger Delta have been met with continuous state violence and brutalization. This started with the suppression and repression of the Isaac Jaspa Adaka Boro insurrection in the Niger Delta in 1966. The trial and death sentence passed on Boro, Dick Notti -ng ham and Samuel Owonaru for committing treason against the Nigerian state was the beginning of the massive bloodletting by the Nigerian political class against the Niger Delta people. This pattern has become institutionalized.

The massive oil wealth was not only instrumental to the attraction of the military to power in Nigeria, military rule also served the purpose of the ruling cabal in their grand exclusion, suppression and exploitation of the Niger Delta people.

The military, especially during the Babangida and Abacha regimes acted like soldiers of occupation in the Niger Delta. The people were seriously violated and suffered serious degrading abuses. The peak of this was the judicial murder of Ken Saro- Wiwa and the Ogoni eight. Without any equivocation, oil in the Nigeria political economy evidence internal colonialism and domestic oppression. No wonder international best-practices are not given consideration in the operations of the multi-national oil companies working in the Niger Delta.

It is therefore not surprising that from Odi to Choba, Warri to Yenagoa, Ilaje to Ogoniland, Okrika to Afam, and from Andoni to Eleme what we have is monumental cases of economic desolation, environmental degradation, social disarticulation, excruciating poverty and unparalleled youth unemployment and underemployment. It is within this context that the people through various organizations and platforms call for justice and the control over their God-given resources. The failure of constitutional mechanism to redress these apparent injustices was at the root of the escalating conflicts and violence in the Niger Delta area. This struggle for equity, justice and development was internationalized by the late Ken Saro- Wiwa and his Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

The demands of the Niger Delta people are simple, genuine, practical and constitutional. What they demand is control over their resources and destiny, justice and equity within the Nigerian federation as a major stakeholder providing the mainstay of the political economy, chance to administer Nigeria like other regions of the country, and more importantly, to be treated as equal partner in the Nigerian project, as well as the development of the Niger Delta whose underdevelopment is inversely related to the volume of oil taken by the Nigerian state from the soil of the region. Above all, the Niger Delta people demanded for genuine democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law in the affairs of the Nigerian state. As the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. The Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) set up during the military regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) established by the Obasanjo administration in 1999 as well as the increased derivation allocation in the 1999 Constitution to 13 % have been nothing but tokenisms to a largely oppressed community.

The inelegant structure of power in the Nigerian federation is a major factor in the perpetuation of injustice and inequity in the Niger Delta region. The Nigerian federation has been largely administered as the enclave and empire of the three major ethnic groups, whereas the minorities like the Niger Delta are treated as conquered people. It is also informative that when the interest of the major ethnic groups are involved or injustice is visited on them either by omission or commission immediate action is taken to redress these seeming injustices.

It was within this context that we can understand the post-civil war policy of no victor, no vanquished, as well as the policy of reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction towards the Igbo.

Also the return of the so called abandoned properties of the Igbo in Lagos and Port-Harcourt is another example of doing justice by the Nigerian state. The fielding of a Yoruba candidate by all the political parties in the 1999 general elections was a conscious national effort to redress the injustices inherent in the annulment of the June 12 Presidential elections won by Chief Moshood Abiola.

Not to be forgotten is the constitutional provision for federal character, the quota system for admission and recruitment into the armed forces, and the convention of religious balancing in the choice of presidential candidates and their deputies.

In other words, the Nigerian state is not insensitive to injustice when the interests of its managers or hegemons are concerned. As the situation stands now, of all the geo-political zones it is only the Niger Delta that has never produced the President of the country. The fact that the south-west has been in power since 1999 is no reason to foreclose the chance of the South-south to rule Nigeria. Out of the forty-six years of nationhood, the North has been in-charge of the affairs of the nation for thirty-five years! In the words of Shakespeare, fair is fair, foul is foul.

We cannot hope to build a stable and united nation when a part of the country is treated with disdain on account of its demographic essence. Nations like America, France, Switzerland, India, etc have similar compositions like Nigeria, but they have been able to engender a sense of nationhood through the enthronement of justice, equity, rule of law, constitutionalism, participatory and popular democracy.

If Nigeria must develop economically, socially and politically, the solution must entail the transformation and reordering of the power equation in the country. And in the present circumstance the power must move unequivocally to the South-south. This is the only path to peace.

As an anonymous writer once said, the final justice, against unjustifiable injustice, is justifiable justice. As we said earlier justice entails distributive and corrective imperatives. Distributional and corrective justice both favour power shift to the Niger Delta region.

The policy of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction need to be urgently brought to bear on the Niger Delta situation before it is too late. What has happened in the Niger Delta since independence in 1960 could be likened to a low intensity war against the people of the region with the rest of Nigeria, especially the major ethnic groups as the aggressor.

The irreducible minimum condition to redress this historical injustice and guarantee lasting peace in the country is to concede power to the Niger Delta.

Babawale, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Lagos, delivered this paper at a recent workshop in Lagos.