Marginalisation? What Marginalisation?


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Marginalisation? What Marginalisation?




Gbenga Olawepo





culled from THISDAY, October 9, 2004

The last three months have thrown up series of political absurdities, which have tended to open up the debate about the survival of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as an indissoluble, and indivisible entity. A debate which some of us assumed had already been settled. These serial-absurdities consist of, but are not limited to the following tragic episodes:

(i). The massacre in Shendam/Yelwa in Jos over the settler/indigene identity question leading to a declaration of state of emergency.

(2). The killings in Port Harcourt by "bandits" and the infantile declaration of "war" on the Federal Republic by a self styled liberator, Alhaji Asari Dokubo of Ijaw land.

(3). The call to rebellion by "Movement for Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra" (MASSOB) culminating in a successful staging of a sit-at home protest in the heart of Igboland on August 26, 2004.

While the genocide on the Plateau is reminiscentof the occasional communal clashes and blood-letting that we have been hitherto accustomed to, such as Ife-Modakeke, Umuleri-Aguleri, Kaduna-Kafancha, and the periodic religious massacres in Kano, the two later occurrences are clear political challenges to the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the legitimacy of the Nigerian state.

The call to resurrect Biafra and the rebellion in Ijaw, appear to be well anchored on some assumptions, which the groups' leaders base their action on. Some of these grounds are:

(i). That Nigeria as a state marginalised their ethnic stock and as a result it is not desirable to continue with the entity called Nigeria, since the arrival of democracy has not in anyway addressed the question of their marginalisation.

(ii). Nigeria is an artificial creation of British colonialists and as a result of this, it cannot work, and that the various ethnic nationalities must negotiate the basis of its liquidation.

Why the Sudden Upsurge in the Activities of Centrifugal Forces?

Before we set about examining whether the emerging warlords have any legitimate or rational grounds for their actions it will be pertinent for us to first ask ourselves why divisive issues of ethnic revanquism are taking the centre stage now with alarming frequency. Why the recourse to secessionist advocacy when legitimate constitutional platform for resolution of national issues became available with the advent of democratic governance in 1999. We shall require an introspection that is guided by honesty and genuine spirit of self examination about our conduct as a ruling elite in a developing political economy grappling with the three challenges of nation building, democracy and development simultaneously.

The first observation in my opinion is that we as a ruling elite either on the political turf, or in the arena of business have not been able to inspire and guide our society to generate the level of production necessary to address the question of poverty at such a pace that will match popular expectation that built up in the era preceding the advent of democracy.

Secondly, having failed to address poverty at a pace which can match popular expectation, we have also failed to utilise the opportunity of arrival of democracy to engage in civilised communication with our economically disempowered people on our road-map to development in such a way as to give them hope and catch their popular imagination for the task of national reconstruction.

Thirdly, our collective inability as political stalwarts, media practitioners, and professionals, to lift politics beyond mundane issues of statism, power rotation and shift, zoning and quota thereby reducing politics to the very base level, and making discussions and choices become essentially sentimental. Our politic has also been unable to throw-up charismatic symbols that can mobilise available energy for the task of national reconstruction.

Our above inadequacies have created a breeding ground for the flourish of ethno religious sentiments; we have un-wittingly created a fertile ground for ethnic demagogues and opportunists to demonise the Nigerian state as an oppressive and an-unworkable entity.

We have by our act of omission and commission created space for ethnic revanquist elements to interpret elite failure in governance as evidence of the un-workability of Nigeria as a multinational enterprise.

While the above elite inadequacies can suffice as explanation for the upsurge in secessionist consciousness they cannot and should never be accepted as basis to justify and rationalise them.

On what basis then can the advocacy for separatism be justified? Is there in truth the existence of such a phenomenon as the marginalization of the southern minorities of the oil producing area or Ndigbo, or indeed any Nigerian ethnic group as to justify any advocacy of separatism. To deal with the questions it may be necessary to look at the meaning of that widely used word - marginalization.

Who is Marginalised and What is Marginalisation?

The New Websters Dictionary of English Language defines 'marginalise' as to cause to live on the margins of society by excluding from participation in many group effort.

On the basis of the above definition could it be said that in the current dispensation, that particular ethnic group has been excluded in the political economy of Nigeria by the reason of their ethnic origin? My answer is No!

The evidence that we have in the distribution of political office does not in any way say so. Federal Ministers, Ambassadors have been appointed at least one from each state, with different ethnic groups fairly represented in different strategic sections of the economy. The former Eastern region, which today holds command of the legislature, and other vital agencies of government, cannot in all fairness complain of exclusion. In terms of public finance the strongest instrument of empowerment in a modern society, a region which holds the portfolio of Ministry of Finance, Governorship of Central Bank, and Chief of Executive of the Bureau for Price Intelligence (aka Due Process) an omnibus agency that regulates the award of almost all Federal contracts cannot in all famous complaint of exclusion, same goes for the Niger Delta who's son today sits on top of the Nigerian Army.

My analysis of this question and the term marginalisation is that it is a concept which is largely abused deliberately by different sections of the opportunist elite who from time to time manipulate that larger sentiment of the suffering and ignorant people of Nigeria in the dangerous game of power bargaining leading to occasional conflagration and sometimes progroms. A game in which at the end of the day the various sections of the elite profit from the bargain while the ordinary people - the cannon folders - always lose.

In Nigeria owing to the divide and rule politics instituted by the British colonialists, the debate about marginalisation and the manipulation of ethno-religious divisions of the country is as old as amalgamation itself.

Dominant parties of the First Republic particularly Action Group, NPC allowed this ethnic manipulation inspite of the immense credibility and contribution of their leaders to blunt their achievement. Only the NEPU, and other Labour based small parties were able to escape these dangerous game in the First Republic. The NCNC, which kicked up as the mainstream Nationalist party was itself to later recline to regionalism owing to the defeat of Great Nnamdi Azikiwe by the masterful play of the ethnic card in the Western regional assembly in the popular cross-carpeting episode after the 1955 regional election. The great Zik himself was to later recede to adopting the same measure against Eyo Ita a minority in the Eastern assembly.

The point we are making here is that the tendency to input ethnic marginalization to very basic issues of underdevelopment by political leaders and different sections of the Nigeria elite and the habitual appeal to ethnic sentiment in the contest for political power is an ever-present phenomenon in Nigeria politics in the absence of strong social, economic and welfare based platform of political engagements.

It was this familiar manipulation that led Nigeria into the civil war, after a simple civil question which would have been handled through a firm application of law, and institution of law and order was manipulated by elites on both side and allowed to degenerate to a meaningless civil war, the end of which saw the elites on different side re-integrated into opulence and the children of the poor on both side harvesting sorrow, tears and blood. Perhaps nothing best exposes the duplicity of the various sections of the elite on the ethnic or what is called the Nationality question as the changing positions of different elite on the question of federalism/confederacy depending on where they stand in power at different times.

At the eve of independence it is generally agreed that the former Eastern region dominated the top echelon of the Nigeria army, until the counter coup of 1966, which reversed this trend. It was not uncommon then for officers of Igbo extraction like late Ironsi to advocate a unitary state and strong centre while Northern politicians advocated decentralisation and regionalism. In fact, concept like regional police and army etc, were first propounded by Northern political elites who complained of marginalisation with the slogan of Araba, Aba muna mun.

It is interesting that the music was to hastily change immediately after the counter coup of 1966. The Igbo-elite the propounders of the theory of a strong centre were to commit a terrific u-turn, they became advocate of confederacy and eventually secession having lost out in the power-game at the centre.

June 12 Annulment and the Marginalisation Question

The June 12 election and its annulment is another phenomenon that has enjoined similar treatment and interpretation by the western section of the Nigerian elite.

In the build-up to the June 12 1993 election, Abiola ran the election on a national platform. Nigerians ignoring the fact that the ticket was a Muslim/Muslim ticket voted massively for the duo of Abiola and Kingibe. Infact he won, so widely that with the assistance of people like Alhaji Rimi and Sule Lamido, Tofa his rival was defeated in Kano, where he hails from.

But soon after the annulment of the election a section of the western elite and media began to give the issue of annulment an ethnic slant. The impression was soon created that the annulment was because some "caliphate people" did not want a Yoruba man to rule.

These ethnic nationalists conveniently ignored the fact that if the so called caliphate officers had wanted a Fulani man to succeed them, there would not have been a basis to cancel the NRC/SDP primary where Ciroma, and Yar Adua were leading respectively, as either way a Northerner would have emerged from the general elections.

They conveniently ignored too other fundamental hiccups in the build up to June 12, 1993, the inadequacies of the entire process, which several analysts, the student movement and civil rights groups had pointed out before the election. So thick was the ethnic cloud then that if rain did not fall in Lagos the Sultan of Sokoto was accused that he covered the sky with his Babanriga.

The ethnic differences among Nigerians became magnified, basic anthropological definitions changed gradually, it was no longer adequate to talk about Yoruba's as ethnic groups, or nationality, the Yoruba became a race!

I remembered then that in anger and in response to the prevailing ethnicisation of that conflict, I wrote an article titled "where is the caliphate" which all my friends in media organisation belonging to the Yoruba establishment inspite of their avowed dedication to the practice of objectivity, balance, and fairness refused to publish. It was only Champion Newspapers then that found it convenient to publish the article.

The Niger Delta, Oil Exploration and Marginalisation

The Niger Delta is 70, 000 Sq km stretch of dense mangrove forest and swamps hosting people now known as Southern minorities together with oil wells and oil installations.

In all honesty oil exploration in the past has seemed more like a curse to the Niger Delta people because of its devastating impact on water, flora and fauna. While oil exploration brought some riches to the Nigeria elite class, (Igbos, Yoruba, Ijaws, Urhobos, Hausa etc), it has brought squalor, hunger, and disease to majority. While most ordinary Nigerians who have been locked out of the benefits of oil earning can at least survive on bare mother-earth to ekk out a living, the poor of the Niger Delta cannot even fall back to the land for farming, and the rivers for fish as most peasants do in most other parts of Nigeria. This is as a result of the environmentally insensitive practice of oil multinationals and the lack of application of rules by Nigerian governments in the past.

The federal government and in fact most oil companies appear to have grown more sensitive to this question, following the advocacy of the late leader of Ogoni, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other environmentalists and minority right crusaders and the advent of democracy. The response of government has been both institutional and fiscal. The federal government in institutional terms responded by setting up the NDDC, which has creditably performed in the Niger Delta.

But by far the most massive response of government to the Niger Delta question is the vigorous implementation of 13% derivation principle which has made the oil producing states in Nigeria to earn money like the Arab Sheikdoms. An examination of selected analysis of earning of certain oil producing states from the federation over a four month period compared to the receipts of some selected non-oil producing states will bring this point home in bolder relief:

December 2003 Shared in Janaury 2004


1. DELTA 5, 582, 981, 123.191c

2. AKWA IBOM 4, 123, 683, 345.36

3. RIVERS 4, 364, 711, 183.64

4. BAYELSA 4, 560, 418, 961.39

5. BAUCHI 1, 446, 220, 624.59

6. EKITI 1, 049, 567, 622.62

7. NASARAWA 1, 092, 888, 461.881c

February 2004 Shared in March


1. DELTA 5, 535, 120, 405.81

2. AKWA IBOM 4, 072, 496, 117.48

3. BAYELSA 4, 526, 629, 713.56

4. RIVERS 4, 308, 134, 185.01

5. EKITI 993, 678, 404.02

6. NASARAWA 1, 034, 692, 419.19

7. BAUCHI 1, 369, 209, 730.87

March 2004 Shared in April


1. AKWA IBOM 3, 534,750,923.41

2. RIVERS 3, 741, 306,127.24

3. DELTA 4, 786, 080,862.87

4. BAYELSA 3, 909, 586,226.21

5. BAUCHI 1, 238, 450,372.39

6. EKITI 898, 782,240.40

7. NASARAWA 935, 879,422.24

Total for Months


1. DELTA 15, 904,182, 391.87

2. RIVERS 12, 414,151, 495.89

3. BAYELSA 12, 996,634, 901.16

4. AKWA IBOM 11, 730,930, 386.25

5. BAUCHI 4, 053,880, 727.85

6. EKITI 2, 942,028, 267.04

7. NASARAWA 3, 063,460, 303.31

To the above-tabulated revenue from the federation account must be added large revenue from taxes and other levies on oil operation, which are today been shared by the oil producing states.

Does the above table reflect that the Nigerian state marginalises the oil producing people of the Niger delta? Can the Hausa people of Bauchi who earned 4, 053, 880, 727. 85 be said to be marginalising people of Bayelsa hardly a senatorial district which earned 12, 996, 634, 901. 16 within the same period.

Can we say the Yoruba people of Ekiti who earned a paltry 2, 942, 028, 267.04 are oppressing the Delta State people who earned 15, 904, 182, 391. 87 in the period under review from the federation accounts?

My answer is an obvious No. And I go ahead to say that if there is still any question of no schools, no roads, no water in the Niger Delta, the people should turn to their elected representative rather than taking-up arms against the Nigerian state.

Nigeria is a Must

The time has come to answer those who say Nigeria is an artificial creation of British colonialist without the consent of the ethnic nationalities that are merged in it and as such does not have the legitimacy to continue to exist.

I am yet to see in human history any naturally created state by God thrown down from heaven at the beginning of creation. All modern states are a creation of war and the result off empire, and state builders.

Africa was not left out in the trend to create multinational states in the pre-colonial era in fact colonialism halted this trend which had been started by Great Empire builders.

Songhai, Ghana, Kanem Bornu, Sokoto caliphate, Oyo etc were multinational states created as a conscious effort of empire builders and most of them bigger than the whole of western Europe. It is therefore a fallacy to assume that without colonial amalgamation, the various ethnic groups would have existed as independent entities.

It is necessary too at this juncture to expose the hollowness in the proposition that ethnic purity, and single ethnic nation-state will be a panacea to economic marginalization. It is yet to be proved that the mere existence of a single ethnic group will guarantee development and social justice. Before our very eyes in Africa we have seen an ethnically monolithic country like Somalia explode into clannish war in modern time on the pretext of injustice. There is no guarantee that if Biafra were to be there will not be Agunleri Vs Umuleri conflict, or Egba/Ijebu or Modakeke - Ife, Ijaw Vs Itsekiri conflict if the Yoruba, or Delta state were to be independent countries. There is no guarantee too that if Ogoni were to be a republic it will record astronomic successes in development on account of its monolithism. After all tiny oil rich Kuwait has not transformed it to super-power America on account of its monolithism.

The modern reality of existence in the world and the lessons of African history have not even permitted us the luxury of a debate about the existence of Nigeria.

The facts are glaring; the reality is grim. Today Africa has the highest number of Flags in the United Nations yet it accounts for less than 3 per cent of world trade. The entire population of the continent is less than 800 million, less than the population of India. Whether in terms of labour factor, or factor of capital we are disadvantaged as a people as mega economies such as United Europe NAFTA continue to consolidate their unities. A phenomenon of the powerful still merging to derive strength, encouraging debates as to how to break up tiny Nigeria is a trend that must be crushed by all means.

Contemporary world realities have no place for Biafra, Oduduwa republic or Ijaw republic. The cost of dismemberment is too high compared to the cost of national reconstruction. National unity is a task, which must be accomplished at all costs, and on this question of indissolubility and indivisibility of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I am an extremist.

Agenda for National Integration

If we have sounded dictatorial and not willing to allow a debate on the question of existence of Nigeria as an indivisible entity, it is simply because our fate and the destiny of black people depends on it. It is not however because we do not admit that there are jobs to be done to guarantee national integration and unity in such a way in which national unity will be based more on consent rather than force, I guess this is the defining essence of a democratic state.

Immediate Steps:

1. Governments at all levels need to role out palliatives and welfare packages to cushion the pains of reform on lower income earners while the result of reform is yet to arrive in order to deny ethnic demagogues, the platform to continue to demonize the Nigerian state as an un caring and oppressive entity.

2. State governments, banks, should create more resources to support small-scale industries, and agriculture at grass root levels in order to create job's and to arrest mass poverty and pauperization.

3. We must give our people something to thrust the Nigerian state for in terms of welfare. As the American will thrust the American state for social security benefits even in the face of un-employment, as the average Cuban will thrust the Cuban state for qualitative free education and quality-health delivery even in the face of blockade, so must the average Nigeria thrust the Nigeria state for something, patriotism must have a basis.

4. Political Engineering must focus on promoting equal opportunities, issue based politics rather than divisive instrument such as political rotation of office and zoning as basis of contest for public office.

5. Conscious promotion of citizenship over indigenship through civic education and the conscious mobilization of law enforcement agencies, and the courts towards the defence of citizens fundamental human rights across the federal republic of Nigeria.

6. Creation of the National Guard as an intervention force that will act as an intermediate force between the army and the police to handle national emergencies and communal clashes.

7. The need to create an elected constituent Assembly on the basis of existing electoral constituencies rather than National Conference made up of ethnic nationalities to discuss the following issues.

(i). Should we have six regions or 36 states as federating units alongside the central government

(ii). Revenue sharing formula

(iii). Should we retain presidential system or revert to parliamentary system etc, etc. The constituent Assembly must after all this give Nigeria a constitution as the current constitution was imposed by the army and I share the opinion of those who hold the view that existing legislative houses are not qualified to handle this fundamental issue. Because they are elected to amend or modify, or make laws pursuant to the existing constitutorial system not to give Nigeria a new one.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, the above suggestion in our candid opinion, are suggestions which we think should help in the business of strengthening national integration.

Above all we need to renew the faith of our people in our nation. We need to communicate positive things about ourselves, we need to come to the understanding that we may not have arrived at where we should be, 44 years of independence has been better than 100 years of colonial rule. In 44 years Nigerian has moved from less than 52 hospitals serving the entire forty million populations in 1930's (colonial Nigeria) to thousands of hospitals serving the country now. We have moved from one university college to the whole country to over 47, we have moved from merely exporting agricultural product to a manufacturing economy even if a weak one.

In equal breath Nigerian democracy may not have solved the problems of poverty and unemployment, but we have made progress. Statistics shows that agriculture grew by 7 per cent in the last one year and industrial capacity utilization grew to 65 per cent from 35 per cent in 1999. We may not have eliminated fuel importation; no one can deny that fuel distribution has improved compared to the pre-democratic era; telecommunication has also improved so also is power generation. We may not have become Malaysia, or India; I am convinced that Nigeria is coming.


  • Olawepo, former deputy national publicity secretary of the PDP, presented this paper at a public lecture in Abuja organised by PYA to mark Nigeria's 44th Independence.



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