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By Kali Gwegwe
Published August 27th, 2009

2009 is not a year for any serious Nigerian to sit on the fence and watch the political class plunge the nation into an avoidable danger. This is indeed the time for every Nigerian to come out and talk the nation out of trouble. I wish to therefore state unequivocally that except our political leaders properly trace the root of our problems; they would end up leading us into yet another ditch.

For sometimes now, the activities of Niger Delta militants have posed serious concerns to the Nigerian nation and the international community. But strangely, the presidency has continued to act in manners that clearly suggest it does not understand the root causes of militancy in the Niger Delta region. For the avoidance of doubt, militancy in the Niger Delta is a response to the grave injustice in the sharing of oil and gas revenue between the federal government and the oil bearing states. President Yar’Adua must therefore dig deeper or else; he would end up in a shallow pit.

The foundation of the problems threatening the survival of Nigeria goes beyond militancy. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka was right when he picked holes in the presidential offer of amnesty to Niger Delta militants. From all indications, amnesty will only succeed in temporarily reducing the activities of militants owing to the manner the peace deal is being pursued. I am not too sure if it would succeed. From the look of things, the presidential offer of amnesty is fair in spirit but arrogant in nature. Even the timing too is very faulty. It has therefore turned out to look as if the presidency is deliberately ignoring the main source of the problem. This has caused many people- natives and non Niger Deltans to lose confidence in the amnesty deal.

To begin with, there is already a very deep and faulty assumption by many in government and the military that militancy is the main challenge being faced by Nigeria. It is for this reason that the federal government has appropriated huge amount of human, material, and financial resources towards maintaining peace and security in the Niger Delta region in the last two years. It is most pertinent to note that no amount of guns and bombs can bring about genuine peace and security in the midst of grave injustice. There is an overwhelming reality of injustice in the sharing of oil and gas wealth. To many discerning mind, the offer of amnesty to repentant militants is a clever way of suppressing genuine demands of the Niger Delta people. To achieve this goal, the issue of criminal elements in the “struggle” have been placed on the podium of national discourse. The element of injustice against the Niger Delta people has been placed in a shallow grave in Aso
Rock. Justice and fair play have been murdered! The truth is that; even if the federal government succeeds in using amnesty to suppress genuine agitations of the Niger Delta people, the Nigerian nation would still be hunted by the ghosts of justice and fair play.

The greatest threat to the survival of Nigeria was the civil war of 1967 to 1970, where about 500,000 people died either from hunger or military operations. It is necessary to point out that this unfortunate war was fuelled mainly by deep tribal sentiments. The wanton scaling down of derivation principle from 50% in 1960 to the current 13% too is induced by profound tribal sentiments. There is a strong belief among the Niger Delta people that derivation principle would have remained at 50% if God had blessed the nation’s super tribes with oil and gas. Therefore, after several political efforts failed, militancy was introduced to make the Nigerian nation allow the Niger Delta people too taste the same kind of benefits the super tribes enjoyed when groundnut, cocoa, and palm oil where the main stay of the nation’s economy.

The voluntary offer of amnesty and unconditional pardon to repentant militants by President Yar’Adua is arrogant in nature because the presidency has deliberately chosen to put the cart before the horse. It would have been more appropriate if the offer of amnesty had come after the consideration and part implementation of the recommendations of the Ledum Mitee led Niger Delta Technical Committee (NDTC). In trying to find solutions to the Niger Delta question, the federal government is bent on digging from the bottom of the problem. This is wrong. The massive weight of injustice may collapse on the labourers under. These labourers are mostly Niger Deltans; genuinely desirous of lifting the region out of the pit of insecurity and underdevelopment. It would therefore be proper that President Yar’Adua first remove the mud of injustice covering the sharing formula of revenue from oil and gas. As recommended by the NDTC, derivation principle should be
raised to 50%. With this, there would no longer be any justification for militancy. Oil installations would no longer become targets of militants. Rather, militancy would be domesticated. Local politicians would be forced to become accountable to the people. This is the surest way the presidency can effectively solve the problems of militancy and insecurity in the Niger Delta region.   

Let no one be deceived by the false opinion that the Niger Delta people are dissenting because of neglect by succeeding Nigerian federal governments. This is clearly a deviation from the truth. In fact, it is a very huge distraction. We must realise that Nigeria is a federation. As such, no federating unit(s) is supposed to wait for Abuja to dictate the pace and direction of its development. By the instrumentality of both the NDDC and Ministry of the Niger Delta, the pace and direction of development of the region would conveniently fall into the hands of the federal government. This is risky and not in the spirit of federalism. It is even perilous for any group of people to have their destinies in the hands of others. Despite the fact that the NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta are manned by natives of the region, it is non-Niger Deltans that dictate the tone.

While moving a motion to amend Anthony Enahoro’s historic independence motion on the floor of the Federal House of Representative on the 31st of March, 1953; the leader of the Northern People Congress (NPC), Sir Ahmadu Bello submitted that: “Every community is the best judge of its own situation. In this regard, Mr. President, the people of the North are the best judges of their own situation and we cannot commit ourselves to fixing a date for the attainment of self government. We are fully aware of all the implications involved and we want to make it abundantly clear that the destiny of the North is in the hands of the people of the North and for the 1956 date, it should be amended to substitute as soon as practicable.” The real implication of Sir Ahmadu Bello’s submission as it relates to the Niger Delta question is that both the newly created Ministry of Niger Delta and NDDC cannot naturally address the developmental challenges of the region.
This is simply because; Niger Delta people are the best judges of their own situation. 50% derivation is the only way the Niger Delta people can have their destinies in their own hands.

Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Martins Elechi- governor of Ebonyi State and many other prominent scholars have argued that since Nigeria is a federation; every state in the country was supposed to develop at its own pace and direction. This is the beauty of fiscal federalism. As against the fears of many, fiscal federalism will encourage healthy competition among states. A healthy competition will promote diversification of the economy. There would also no longer be the traditional “waiting” for the monthly federation account allocation from Abuja. We must not forget the fact that there is no part of this country that is not naturally endowed. Our leaders are only lazy and non creative. There are very countries on the face of the earth that do not have oil and yet, doing better than Nigeria. 

Let me at this point emphasise that tribalism is the foundation of Nigeria’s numerous problems. Because of tribal interests, our past military and political leaders could not locate proper solutions to combat the hydra-headed problems of corruption. It is now strictly unNigerian to indict or expose a fellow tribesman for corruption. Colonial Britain planted the seed of tribalism in Nigeria. She did this for her own selfish economic interests. Before the birth of the Nigerian nation following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, the numerous tribes were not offered any opportunity to discuss their future. Such discussion would have enabled the tribes to set safeguards and standards on how they would co-exist. This arrangement would have also helped to protect the rights and privileges of both the major and minor tribes so as to avoid conflicts.

The whole world is aware that Isaac Boro decided to pull the Ijaws out of the Nigerian nation in 1966 owing to the domineering nature of Nigeria’s super tribes. Tribalism seeks to give undue advantage to tribal interests. At some point in time in the history of Nigeria, tribalism became so popular that derivation principle was reduced when crude oil took over the place of groundnut, cocoa, and palm oil. It took various efforts, including militancy for derivation to climb to 1.5%, 3%, and the present 13%. The raw message the super tribal zealots are now preaching to the Niger Delta people is: “Half bread is better than none.” This half bread is represented by the NDDC and the newly created Ministry of Niger Delta. The question following all of these is: “Why give half, when the full would suffice?” 50% derivation is the full loaf of bread the Niger Delta people are demanding. This is the reason for militancy in the region. Unfortunately,
criminal elements were able to infiltrate a genuine struggle that was aimed primarily at righting the wrongs caused by the nation’s past leaders. It is also necessary to point out that high-level youth unemployment, poverty, and do or die politics were the holes through which the criminal elements entered the Niger Delta struggle.

It is my humble opinion therefore that for Nigeria to move forward, the presidency should not isolate and deal with the problems of militancy in the Niger Delta region alone. This selective action would not take Nigeria any further than where we are presently. It would rather push us into a ditch. I am calling on President Yar’Adua to dig deeper by ignoring tribal sentiments in finding genuine solutions to the Niger Delta question. He should quickly sponsor an executive bill that seeks to increase derivation principle to 50%. He should also intensify the war against graft. The EFCC and ICPC have gone to bed since he took over from Chief Obasanjo. It is only then that Nigeria would experience peace and progress.

Should the president fail to do so, it would appear to mean he does not appreciate the evils of tribalism and corruption. Without any fear of contradiction; tribalism and corruption have done Nigeria more damage than militancy. So why fight only militancy? If the amount of force used to fight Niger Delta militants are directed at super tribal zealots and corrupt Nigerians, this country would enjoy peace, unity, development and prosperity.

*Public Affairs Analyst
*Chairman, Bayelsa State YSFON
*Premier League Match Commissioner
*Former Chairman, Bayelsa United FC

No. 6, Gwegwe Street,
Yenagoa, Bayelsa State
17th August, 2009.

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