The Niger Delta and Nigeria

The future of the north lies in our hands. We should today begin to shape our destiny. As a Nigerian of Northern extraction, I feel very unhappy when somebody describes me as a parasite because of oil, when I know that I have the capacity to solve my problems and probably do even better through agriculture and education.” – Dr Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu, Chief Servant of Niger State.

The above statement is, in my own opinion, probably the Declaration of the century as far as Nigeria unity, progress and development is concerned. It was well said, although with many hidden meanings and insinuations. The Governor rightly echoes the feelings and insinuations of other parts of Nigeria that has been going on for decades, and which had never been fully addressed or even acknowledged by previous leaders, military or democratic.

It has been an issue that we Nigerians dodge and wont to speak about publicly as to initiate debates but which we like to discuss in pepper-soup joints and with friends only.

The questions that arise are multifaceted. How united is Nigeria as a country? If we are not united, why? What steps can we take, the whole divisive 140 million of us, to unite the country? Despite fighting a very debilitating and divisive civil war, which instead of splitting the country, still kept us together, we do not seem to have learnt much from it. It is that inability and unwillingness to learn from our experience and mistake that is one of the roots of our problems almost fifty years on as a country.

In most countries that discovered oil, that was never a problem. It is a God-given wealth which needed to be harnessed, by the right leadership, to alleviate the problems of its people. In Nigeria, it became a curse, simply because we had poor leadership all our history. These leaders, military or democratic, were selfish, greedy, corrupt, murderous, and parasitic, devoid of ideas, unfocused, visionless and lacking in foresight. But it is no surprise that they were all these. Most of them either forced their way into power through the barrel of a gun or rigged elections to get to power. All because they want control of these natural resources.

With such people in control of the government and the country’s resources, it had always been an accident waiting to happen to Nigerians. And sure, the accident had been happening for the past forty eight years. I do not need to recount how many lives have been lost unnecessarily directly and indirectly through the actions of these bastards. They fan the embers of both religious and tribal hatred to keep Nigerians subservient to them. This is another of their crimes.

Now, the Niger Delta, the source of Nigeria’s wealth. The people of this region have had a very raw deal, and that is putting it very mildly. They deserve much more than they are getting now. All they are asking for is very simple: if they can produce the wealth that is oiling the machineries of government and keeping other parts of the country going, then they deserve to get more than what they are getting now, which is virtually nothing. Their environment has been damaged, probably beyond repair; they have been maimed and killed; they have been abandoned and no iota of progress of any type is seen in the area.

Now, if we put the shoe on the other foot, which is, the oil is in the Northern or even Western part of the country, would we have shared the wealth equally with the Niger Delta? The answer is probably No. This is because we are all selfish and tribalistic. In fact, it is probable that the North would have left Nigeria by now, or the Yorubas would have called for their own country. The Ibo’s will definitely have their own Biafra by now.

What the Northern governors, and the Arewa Consultative Forum did not address is the fact that if the North had been more subtle in their quest to continuously rule Nigeria, and not keep on saying that it is the birthright of the North to rule Nigeria, Southerners and even the disenfranchised Niger Delta people would have been a bit more patient with them in their now-averred intention to develop the North through agriculture and education. There are other issues that contribute to this resentment of the North from the South, as put succinctly by Dr Reuben Abati (The Guardian, 01 August 2008) “the population of the north, the political delineation of the North, resource allocation, the relatively low contribution of the North to national GDP, and the unusually large presence of the north in positions of power and authority. At the centre of this is the politics of oil, the allocation of federal revenue accruing mainly from the sale of crude oil”.

Again, for the past forty eight years, when the North had been for most of the time, the rulers of Nigeria, what impact has this domination of Nigerian politics and governance had on the development of the North? Col Abubakar Umar, himself a scion of the Northern elites, rightly and eloquently gave the reasons for the North getting left behind. If the 43 local governments in Kano State contribute 2 million Naira each to the Emir of Kano every month, how is this helping to develop the North? It is not even constitutional for this to happen. Since he said this, nobody in Government, Federal or Kano State, has come forward to explain this or deny it or assure us that this matter will be looked into. Everybody in government circles was quiet.

In the same Northern Governors Forum, Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State has recently approved for himself and his predecessor in office a sum of N200 million as “executive pension”. Please tell me what Gombe State contributes to the GDP of Nigeria. That N200 million Naira is coming from the oil of Niger delta, where the Ijaw and the Ogoni men and women and children are finding it difficult to even catch fish in their own rivers and lakes to eat. They do not even have N200 Naira in their pockets, but their so-called brother in Gombe want the cushion of N200 million Naira after he has left office, not to count the amount he would have embezzled whilst in office.

All in all, the Northern governors, in order for us to take them seriously about this new-found quest to develop their region, must tell what us happened to the billions and billions of naira that have been pouring in from the Niger Delta, ostensibly to develop the North, all these decades. What happened to the numerous River Basin Authorities, many World Bank grants, the Wheat Initiative of the Shagari era, the Dairy Initiatives, the famous Kano Pyramids of groundnuts, the Sokoto Gudalis, the White Fulanis and the Red Bororo cattle, and more recently, what were the Governors doing while their traditional rulers, senators and other Northern elites were getting over 84.5 percent of the allocation, while the whole of the South got 15.5 percent? (“2008 Grain Release Beneficiaries” Submitted to the Nigerian Senate ad-hoc Committee on Food Crisis by officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources – 81 (?) beneficiaries) I suppose the Southerners do not like or eat grains, abi?

It is such waste of money which they do not work for or deserve nor appreciates that ignites such resentment amongst all of us, not only the Niger Deltans, to be fair to ourselves. In fact, most Northern Governors and elites see themselves as more of feudal lords than democratic leaders, and their lifestyle and attitude to life is not commensurate to their aptitude to govern and be leaders of men and women.

Again, walahi talai, the problem of the North with other Nigerians is not with the common talakawas, it is with the parasitic feudal lords and latter-day elites which spring up everytime. The common Northerner suffers far more than the common Southerner. This is because of the neglect and selfishness of their elites. Their elites and feudal lords treat them as slaves, not worthy of any progress or development to invest on. They prefer to call them to their vast palaces every Friday to feed them, rather than teach them how to read and write or to do other things in life which will make then independent and self-sufficient. In such a way, the elites and corrupt politicians can easily manipulate them, as we have often seen, to carry out religious and tribal riots, for their own selfish ends. They want it that way, and as long as this feudal practice, and many such others, continues, the North will always be behind the rest of Nigeria, and we will have no peace or unity in this country.

This is the opportunity and the time to change things in the North. I am glad that a man of such intelligence, capabilities and eloquence as Governor Aliyu, supported by Gov Murtala Nyako, recognised their deficiencies and decided to say it out. What is now left to them is to put their words into action. Let us forget that they probably said the Niger Delta should go to hell with their oil, or that the North can survive without oil, I am sure that if the rest of Nigeria started seeing improvement and a change in the attitude of the North towards the rest of us, we will support them in their quest to educate their people as well as to make agriculture their forte and mainstay of their regional economy. You produce the food, and let the Niger Delta produce the oil, ba wahala! The North must give up their policy of their inalienable right to be the rulers of Nigeria.

The Niger Deltans, militants or no militants, are not opposed to sharing the oil with other Nigerians, all they are asking for is that they are compensated for the destruction of their lands and rivers adequately, in order that they will not become displaced or extinct. All they asking are that the future of their children is guaranteed under a Nigeria that appreciates their almost 100 percent contribution to its wealth. I do not subscribe to the popular call these days that Nigeria is stealing from the Niger Delta. Niger Deltans, as far as I know are still Nigerian citizens, holding Nigerian passports. The Vice –President of Nigeria is a Niger Deltan, and there are enough Niger Deltans in government to ensure that this region is well represented nationally. They also have their leaders. What they are not getting is fairness and equality in the distribution of Nigeria’s wealth or dividends of democracy, as we like to call it. Those other holier-than-thou Nigerians saying that Nigeria is stealing from the Niger Delta have enjoyed the benefits of Niger Delta oil for decades in one way or the other, be it through education, scholarships, good roads in their areas, jobs, healthcare, electricity, etc.

Countrymen, despite the acknowledgement by the Arewa Consultative Forum that Northerners are indeed “lazy and parasites who rely on other regions for survival and that there is no reason to run away from the truth”, Northerners are no more lazier than the Southerners, and I think it is a bit unfair for the North to be specially targeted and labelled an unproductive part of the country. Nigerians all abandoned farming and other areas of constructive activities when oil became our main source of income and we all started getting on the act of sitting on our back waiting for the money to roll in easily. This unfortunate phenomenon was not helped by corrupt leaders who fought tooth and nail, by hook or crook, to get into government, where the money is, and then started to steal the money, neglecting or totally abandoning the rest of us, instead of utilising the income from the oil for the benefit of their people, be it Northerner, Niger Deltan or Southerner.

Look at it this way: How many of our 36 states are actually viable? Are Oyo, Ekiti, Osun, Abia Edo, Gombe, Borno, Anambra states viable? Yet people are still clamouring for more states. What is viable about the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where a lot of Niger Delta oil money has gone into, and in fact used to build it from scratch? The only state that could be said to be viable in Nigeria today is Lagos. Not even the Niger Delta States are quite as viable as we think although the reasoning here is that if they are left to control their resources wholly or in greater part, they will be viable, but knowing the leaders of this region, who are every inch Nigerian in behaviour, thinking and attitude, if left to them, the problems of the region has just started. That is the truth.

One positive outcome of the Northern Governors’ Declaration is the hope that we are becoming mature in our politics and the way we relate with each other in the country. For Arewa Consultative Forum and the 19 Governors to come out publicly and admit to many faults and resolve to tackle their many problems with the rest of Nigeria and in their own regions, not minding the strange balancing act of the ACF, as Dr Abati put it, has shown a lot of political maturity and it offers hope that our leaders are perhaps listening to us and are aware of the holes in our shoes. Now that it is out in the open, and practically from the horse’s mouth, we can only hope that action will follow without the necessity to be ambiguous or pretentious about the problematic issues at hand and what actions need to be taken.

Another outcome of this is that the North may possibly be inclined to embrace the inevitable change that is now washing across the face of the earth and possibly move them into the modern ages. This is perhaps going to be more difficult, painful and slow, but this is certainly a path that must be taken, an opportunity to be seized, because, as Barack Obama said, change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Those of the progressive Northern Governors are probably the ones the North have been waiting for or seeking, and may be catalytic in a new dawn, not only for the North, but for Nigeria as a whole. I really do hope I can believe in my own optimism.

To my mind, we can no longer dodge the issues surrounding the Niger Delta, even as slow and indecisive to take positive action as the Yar’Adua Administration is; we can no longer evade the issues of Northern underdevelopment and it’s real underlying causes, and not shifting the blame to other parts of Nigeria; we can no longer shy away from the fact that Nigeria is not a united country, though we all seem to love being called Nigerians. One thing is certain; Nigerians want change, we want something different; we do not want a government which wastes, mismanages and steal the oil money and neglect where the oil money is coming from. We do not want that anymore. The truth is that for decades, it is the Northern elite, NOT the Northern common man and woman, who have been benefiting from the oil wealth of Nigeria, more than any other region in Nigeria, while the Niger Delta have been short-changed, abused and neglected for the same length of time. Even my own unproductive state of Oyo benefits more from the oil than the people of Bayelsa State, it would seem.

Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, especially with the Niger Delta and all the issues surrounding it. Things are degenerating very fast in this region and only sincere, focused, impartial and committed leaders will be able to defuse these problems, or else there will be no North, South, Niger Delta or indeed, Nigeria for anybody to call their own. This is as simple as I can put it.

The truth must be said always.

One thought on “The Niger Delta and Nigeria

  • Well written article, but I am sure that space did not permit you, otherwise you would have mentioned other factors contributing to this problem. The North have been riding roughshod over the rest of Nigeria for decades and if you remember Major Gideon Orkar, who incidentally was from the Middle Belt, which we also commonly classify as part of the North, in his coup-de-etat speech against Babangida, he wanted to “exercise” the North from the rest of Nigeria. That tells you not even the North is not as united, or the same, as we think.

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