So was Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa literally turned himself into a sacrificial lamb for his people. He loved to say that the Ogoni people were no more than half a million and that even if the Ogoni wanted to, they could not take on the military might of the rest of the nation. It made sense therefore for the Ogoni to engage in non-violent activism. In doing so, Saro-Wiwa tried to shield his people from the onslaught of the federal military. He reasoned that the military dictators would come after him, but he was willing to bear whatever they threw at him. He would take it for his people. He reasoned that so long as his people did not engage in acts of violence against the state, the state will have no moral grounds to engage in acts of violence against his people. Yes, he was wrong that the state will not engage in acts of violence against his people if they did not engage in violent protest, but, at least, apart from the mob violence against the Ogoni Four, the Ogoni did not fall under the terror of their own children. Their villages and towns were not made unlivable as a result of the terror of their own children. Such is the mettle of leaders who put the interests of the people before their own.
Brothers, you will hear the separatist rhetoric of people whose idea of humanity does no go beyond the interests of their immediate clans, tribes, and ethnic groups. To these people, as long as their ethnic groups prospered, the rest of humanity could go where it pleases. Such diasporas have done incalculable harm to multi-ethnic nation-building not only in Africa but elsewhere. For many years the Tamil diaspora in the West used their wealth to support the Tamil rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, even as the majority Sinhalese government offered concession after concession to create a better society for the minority Tamils. They wanted their own nation. The irony in all of this is that many of these contributors lived in the United States, a multi-ethnic nation and the world’s most successful country, where they have had no problem living with people from other ethnicities.
Brothers, so it is with a significant portion of the Ijaw diaspora in the West. They want an Ijaw nation for the Ijaw, and like Prabhakaran’s supporters, they are ready to turn a blind eye to any atrocity perpetrated by any one who wields a gun and calls himself a freedom fighter, after all, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn would put it, it is ultimately for the good of the nation. I will take these people seriously when they leave the comfort that living in a multi-ethnic United States affords them, and relocates to one of those islands where groups like Okoloma Ipangi hold sway. I will take them seriously after they have borne the rape, and murder, and violence of Okoloma Ipangi.
Brothers, armed militancy can only take us so far. No less a person than our own WS (the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka) came to the Niger Delta and advised us that it was time to drop armed militancy and turn to intellectual militancy. Armed militancy may have won us some concessions from the central government, but when everywhere we look, our villages and towns have turned into ghost towns, our people carry scars inflicted by their own sons, and some of our largest villagers and towns are only livable because the JTF is there to take on disturbers of the peace, it is obvious that whatever the benefits of armed militancy may be, it has run its course. Aside from the harm that it has caused to our own people, a generation of opportunities is fast slipping away from us. We need to build on the concessions that we have won from the central government, even as we continue to fight for a more equitable society through intellectual militancy.
What are some of these concessions? We already have thirteen per cent of oil revenue as set aside as derivation revenue for the oil-producing states in addition to federal allocations to the states. Furthermore, the NDDC Act stipulates that the federal government and the oil companies send a stipulated amount of their revenues to the NDDC for the development of the Niger Delta. A federal ministry has been created for the sole purpose of the development of the Niger Delta. However, by far the most important concession of all was when President Yar’Adua voiced, I think, through his media assistant, that he was open to ceding some of the federal government shares in the oil companies to oil producing communities. How much? We do not know yet. But this is a very significant concession that we could urge President Yar’Adua to implement as quickly as possible.
Brothers, of course, some of you will say that President Yar’Adua continues to hold back a certain percentage of the federal government’s contribution to the NDDC every month, thereby making nonsense of the NDDC Act. It is true. It is also true that we can continue to put non-violent pressure on the president until he stops the practice. And, brothers, some of you will point out that the president continues to withhold over four hundred billion naira of money meant for the NDDC, and claims that it has expired, even though he has released all the money that his predecessor illegally withheld from Lagos State, and today, thanks in part to those funds, Governor Babatunde Fashola is recreating Lagos in salutary ways that many Nigerians had thought impossible. Yes, we can non-violently fight for those funds, if necessary through international channels to show that we are not troublemakers, until the president releases them. And for such a project, I am more than willing to offer my services.
Brothers, we must also realize that we have come a very long way from the time when the central government took away 50 percent revenue derivation from us, and gave us only 1.5 percent, and that while full resource control is the stated goal of many of you, a concession such as the allocation of federal-government-owned shares in oil companies to oil-producing communities will be a very important milestone in the history of our nation and the quest for resource control. And if other oil-producing states follow the example of the governor of Delta State to establish a commission to use fifty percent of the 13 percent derivation revenue to develop the oil-producing communities, we will have several streams of development revenue: local government; state; NDDC; Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs; shares in oil companies operating in our communities; derivation revenue. If astutely managed, these streams of development revenue will ensure the rapid development of the Niger Delta. If they are corruptly managed and used as sources of patronage, nothing will change in the Niger Delta, and that will be the case even if we have full resource control. The quest for full resource control, then, need not be a distraction to our full exploitation of these revenue streams for the development of the Niger Delta.
Brothers, as a great lover of Nigeria and Africa, and as one who believes in the development of the rest of the country and Africa, I must not fail to offer the advise that as we fight for our interests, we must not also lose sight of the fact that we are our brothers’ keepers, and that if the tables were to be turned, and we should find ourselves in the position of the non-oil producing sections of the country, we would find it obscenely vulgar that those sections of the country decided to keep all the oil revenue to themselves. It is, of course, true that very few of us hold this position, but it is also true that while the ideal would be for the other sections of the country to develop their non-oil sectors and make their contributions to the nation’s coffers, it is hardly worth stating that they need revenue to develop those sectors.
Of course, we as a country have engaged in the sorry practice of abandoning viable sectors such as agriculture, gold, tin, bitumen, and rubber to concentrate solely on the oil industry, putting all kinds of p
ressures on the environment, on the oil-producing communities, as well as keeping our economy in a state of infancy, a mono-product economy, after forty-nine years of independence. And we need to do very serious soul-searching in order to avoid the disaster that would befall us when the new race to space, the search for a viable alternative to fossil-based fuel, yields results. Nonetheless, brothers, the sad truth is that until there are other available revenue streams, the oil-producing sections of the country must continue to act as their brothers’ keepers. The development of the rest of the country is in our own interest, just as the development of Nigeria is in the interest of a highly underdeveloped Africa.