The news of a letter written by the Ijaw nationalist, Chief E.K. Clark, to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the latter’s reply have dominated online news platforms in this yuletide season.
Clark in his letter condemned in strong terms Obasanjo’s position that the oil in the Niger Delta belonged to Nigeria. So insistent was Obasanjo on this point that he continuously interrupted Clark’s representatives at a recent meeting, frustrating their every attempt to argue to the contrary, including having to bang the table in anger!
It was quite impressive that nature conspired to have the two elder statesmen “quarrel” in public; two elders who traced their management of the affairs of Nigeria to when they first met 46 years ago in Gowon’s government, in 1975. That providence chose a period like this, just before a new year, heralding another round of futile political activities to vote in new sets of homo sapiens to manage and twist our destinies as it suits their whims; show indeed that nature and the gods are wise.
While not interested in joining issues or taking sides with either of the elderly chiefs, I would simply identify four salient age-long misconceptions which have now resurfaced following the eye-openers from the open letters.
1. Nigeria is a shame of a federation
Nigeria purports to be a federation but in her actions, she is everything but one. The country has continued as a unitary state in line with Aguiyi Ironsi’s Decree 34 of 1966. This same clause has been disguised and sneaked into Section 44(3) of the 1999 Constitution while the leaders carry about with the toga of a “Federal Republic.”
I was appalled by the instance cited by Obasanjo in the event of oil being discovered on his Ota Farm in future: “If any mineral is found under the ground on my farm, Federal Government will ask the State Government to revoke my C of O for overriding public interest… The Federal Government would issue a licence to any company that had been allocated the right to mine the mineral. It would not matter what I grow on the farm, and what development I have carried out…”
There are roughly 25 countries operating federal constitutions in the world. They include some of the largest and most complex democracies – India, the U.S, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, Russia, Canada, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Austria, Australia and others. Obasanjo should have mentioned one such federation which hijacks the resources of its federating units, siphons them to the capital, drops them on the laps of the Commander-in-Chief, and then shares the booties as a bonanza to those around the corridors of power, as does Nigeria.
And the fact that he could so defiantly and confidently use his Ota Farm example as a proud instance of how Nigeria carries on, reveals how ignorant our supposed leaders and elders are on the ideal global standards for managing society of a heterogeneous nature as Nigeria.
2. The Niger Delta refers to no one but to flora and fauna
The term “Niger Delta” is a language of colonialism and imperialism. Colonialists adopt such anonymous names to undermine the true identities of those they wish to colonise. It is a Machiavellian strategy to format indigenous peoples’ memories and render them rudderless, confused and empty.
The terms “Gold Coast”, “Ivory Coast”, “Nigeria” (Niger-Area), etc. are such imperial nomenclatures. The term “Niger Delta” describes the flora and fauna, and the vegetation of a place within the Nigerian enclave; never the peoples therein. Oil, therefore, does not belong to the “Niger Delta”.
There are authentic national groups in that region to whom the oil belong, and any attempt to anonymise them through using inconsequential tags such as “Niger Deltans”, “South-southerns” is an injury that reaches the soul.
The Urhobo, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ijaw, Ogoni, Kalabari, Efik, Ibibio, etc. are the owners of the oil. The term Niger Delta is nebulous and imprecise and has been used as an instrument of deception both by outsiders and their accomplices from within to loot the region dry and do much harm to the peoples. The story of the NDDC and its fainting dramatists is just one of such instances of the ridicule and damage such anonymity can lead to.
Clark must now also learn to speak for his Ijaw and Urhobo peoples rather than carrying about as a voice of the Niger Delta. The Urhobo and Ijaw have peopled nations with a history, identified territory and boundaries, language and a psychological trait. These four qualities are the indices that qualify any people for independent statehood anywhere in the world. The English, French, Spanish, etc have no more than these.
The term Niger Delta represents no one. Even Nigeria represents no one. Nigeria has no territory, no resources, no people, no culture, and no language. It appropriates the peoples, cultures, languages, resources, etc. of the authentic national groups within her enclave and claims these as hers. This realisation alone suffices to show that Nigeria is simply a passing phase to a future bliss.
3. In praise of “tribesmen” over “statesmen”
One of Obasanjo’s admonitions to his fellow elderly colleague was to strive to be a statesman rather than a tribesman. Hear him: “I fear God and I respect those who respect themselves and I hope it is about time you change from a tribesman to a statesman of character.”
The term “tribesman” is a derogatory colonial concept used to intimidate victims towards submission to a supposed more authentic identity. It is a term chosen to denigrate a stubborn patriot who insists on being true to his identity. The coloniser’s objective is to ridicule the victim to submission into an artificial inauthentic identity, which ultimately alienates and uproots him/her from his/her God-given identity. When the mission succeeds, the alienated individual is then “honoured” with the sweet-sounding tag “statesman”.
The statesman connotes for us a sad reminder of yesterday’s colonial hangovers that must be expunged. He is an either-or, neither-nor, confused and alienated individual tormented by a crisis of identity. A fundamental problem created by the colonisers in Africa was the deliberate attempt at the annihilation of the peoples’ culture through the creation of artificial state superstructures misconceived as nations and superimposed on the true, authentic nations which had developed socio-historically and to which the patriotism of the people naturally belonged.
By convincing the indigenous peoples to accept that it was possible to transfer this patriotism – a task which they knew was practically impossible – from the true natural societies to the artificially created ones, they sowed the seeds which have turned out to become our albatross in Africa. The strategy was to refer to those successfully deceived as “statesmen”, and those who stubbornly refused to cave in as “tribesmen.”
This is the reason in erstwhile colonised societies like Nigeria which have failed to overcome their colonial structures and disadvantages, nation destruction is taken for nation-building, and culture annihilation for culture development. Or how else do you describe a situation where we are admonished, even compelled to embrace the abstract at the expense of the concrete? Who can point to anything as a Nigerian culture outside the sum total of the cultures of the peoples on whose aboriginal territories the artificial superstructure is imposed?
• To be continued tomorrow
Ogheneochuko Arodovwe wrote in from Warri.