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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Nsikan Ekong

Department of Political Science,

University of Calabar, Nigeria


culled from THISDAY , May 9, 2004


Looking at the Nigerian political landscape critically, one cannot but admit that the Niger Delta question will continue to linger, at least into the near future. And that Nigeria's bellyache is not likely to find a lasting cure if the Niger Delta question remains unanswered. It is however sad that the cause of Nigeria's bellyache has long been diagnosed, except that it has deliberately refused to apply the prescribed political pills.

Otherwise, Nigeria's political wobbling can simply be arrested, should we harken to the political prescription offered by Emperor Haile Sellasie. Though this description was later made popular by the late Reggae Maestro, Robert Nesta Marley (aka Bob Marley) of blessed memory. And it is in the revolutionary speech that reads in part _until the philosophy which hold one race superior, and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; everywhere will be war; that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; everywhere will be war' Though the speech at the time was directed at the white imperialist, it is no doubt a universal postulation that should prick the conscience of every repressive group, regime and dictator anywhere in the world.

Nigeria therefore has a lesson to learn from the quotation above, if our current search for political stability must be taken seriously. This is because the current political arrangement in the country is not only mischievous, but selfish and visionless. Otherwise what is the rationale behind a system where three ethnic nationalities lord it over more than 244 other nationalities simply because they are in majority. A system where a citizen, depending on his cultural background cannot aspire to certain offices of the land. Yet in all these, the Niger Delta (South-south) seems to have been offered an extra dose of these political inequities. The people seem to have been merely regarded as the canon fodder in the Nigeria experiment. In fact, the dangerous nomenclature of minority has over the years become a ready tool employed in robbing Peter to pay Paul, in a country that erroneously professes a federal system that is supposedly fashioned after that of the United States of America.

Yet the South-south geo-political zone has over the years remained the goose that lay the golden egg. Paradoxically it also remained the worst developed even by Nigerian standard. Irrespective of its being the economic lifeline of the Nigeria project, there seem to be a deliberate political will to perpetually put the South-South down. Yet, its economic importance which dates back to the colonial era cannot be over emphasised. Its role as the catalyst in the trade of palm produce and groundnut between Nigeria and Europe before independence earned it the Oil Rivers. The Niger Delta was therefore an indispensable and vocal entity prior and after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, which gave birth to Nigeria in 1914. Though it has also ironically remained an object of political emasculation in the contraption called Nigeria.

Conscious of this political prejudice, the region has ceaselessly remained on the front burner of political agitation in Nigeria. More so, with the criminal exploitation of its God-given natural resources to its detriment. At the point when Britain was contemplating self government for the colony of Nigeria, it was the people of the Niger Delta that led a delegation to the Constitutional Conference of 1957, with the view to ensure that the minority rights are entrenched in the constitution in the emerging independent Nigeria. The records also bear witness that this move triggered the Sir Henry Willinks Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the fears expressed by the minority tribes. Interestingly, the commission in part, reports as follows "we were impressed by the argument indicating that the needs of those who live in the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta are very different from those of the interior. We agree that it is not easy for a Government or Legislature operating from far inland to concern itself, or even fully understand the problems of territory where communications are so difficult, building so expensive and education so scanty. That, however, is not to say that a separate state is the last means of achieving the ends desired by the people of the creeks". Therefore, though the commission acknowledged and admitted the veracity of the fears being expressed by the people of the Niger Delta, it conservatively turned down their legitimate request for a separate state in the following submission, "we cannot recommend political arrangements which would unite in one political unit the whole body of Ijaws We [rather] suggest that there should be a Federal Board appointed to consider the problems of the area of the Niger Delta". "However unscrupulled, the above recommendation would have been preferable to any brash dismissal of the fears so expressed, except that the British government lacked the political will to ensure their recommendation of "A special Federal Territory" for the Niger Delta people for the purpose of a focussed development. Still the major ethnic groups weren't at home with the watery recommendation of "A special Federal Territory", until it was further watered down to a toothless declaration of a mere "Special Area". Since then, it is either a board or commission is created to allay the fear of non-commitment, even when such boards only exist in name without any practical attempt geared at tackling the problem of this Special Area. As usual, they are still being emasculated with political bottlenecks, while the region is left alone to groan under the yoke of environmental degradation and extra-judicial killings of her illustrious sons and daughters. One wonders what would've been the lot of the Niger Delta people should the area be barren of the natural resources that is presently carrying the full weight of Nigerian economy.

It is also on record that the first secession attempt in independent Nigeria came from the Niger Delta region. All these are eloquent testimonies of an oppressed and aggrieved people. A people that have been through the worst political marginalisation in political history. Yet the Niger Delta remains the goose that lay the golden egg. It is indeed no exaggeration that political, economic and social data available have shown that the people of the Niger Delta are regarded as second class in a country where it single-handedly provides over 90 per cent of its foreign earnings. Otherwise how could a country whose derivation principle was at 100 per cent in 1953, instead of an upward review, nose-dived to zero per cent with the shift from palm produce, groundnut and cocoa to oil as the country's economic mainstay from where it now begins to creep the upward scale with a snail speed of 13 per cent at present, unlike the astronomical downward reversal. Sadly enough, these are the resources of the hapless minority (Niger Delta) who bear the pains and brunt of oil and gas exploration activities. It is only in Nigeria that benefit and burden do not run together. While the Niger Delta oil is good, the people of the region are not seen by other Nigerians as capable of primary leadership of their country.

While the list of deprivation remains inexhaustible, the people of the Niger Delta have continued to wallow in poverty and threat of extinction, following the inhuman exploitation of their resources. Yet the most worrisome of all this is the outrageous manner with which the three majority tribes view political offices in the land. They literally arrogate to themselves, the exclusive preserve of the office of the President and other most prestigious appointments, irrespective of the federal character principle.

And it is against this backdrop that one applauds one enduring legacy of the late Gen. Sani Abacha's regime whose policy of balkanising the country into six political zones could be considered as a step in the right direction. If not for anything, it unwittingly demystified the political monopoly of the tripod. In fact, recent political developments in the country are pointer in this direction. At least the South-south now has the deputy speakership position in the House of Representatives zoned to it. And the West is no longer the exclusive of the Yoruba party. The North cannot now boast of being born to rule, while the East now takes over the cry of marginalisation, with a bigger voice, although it is still not yet uhuru for the Niger Delta.

After all, the Niger Delta question has remained unanswered. For instance, why would the office of President remain the exclusive of the Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba? Otherwise, what is the rationale behind the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoning the presidency to any other geo-political zone outside the South-south that is yet to have a feel of the exalted office, in a system that is supposed to be running on the pillars of equity, justice, fair play and political transparency.

If Nigeria could consider it politically expedient to preclude all other political zones from contesting the 1998 presidential elections, but for the two Yoruba candidates, what then is the herculean task in giving such support to the Niger Delta people, if this is one Nigeria? If between Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, head or tail Nigerians must choose a Yoruba to atone for the 1993 annulment of election results, and the eventual demise of Chief M.K.O Abiola, what stops the Niger Delta from being so considered? Not only as the country's breadwinner, but the only zone that is yet to have a feel of the exalted office. After all, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

It will interest Niger Delta people to know where they are lacking in occupying the exalted seat. It is definitely not the area of proven leaders. After all, Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State has proved such notion unfounded. His track record as the Golden Governor in Nigeria, coming from the South-south is an eloquent testimony that the region is equal to the task. Beside Odili, Governor Donald Duke and Obong Victor Attah are not doing badly.

Our plea is that we've come a long way in our unflinching contribution towards ensuring the unity, integrity, progress and indivisibility of the Nigeria nation, and in return ask that we deserve equal opportunity in the service of the nation. To this end, it is our prayers that the South-south should be considered for the Presidency in the spirit of our federalism come 2007, Nigeria's next election year.



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