One of the most intense narratives of the marginalisation thesis in Nigeria is that of the Niger Delta. In the first phase of the story, the Niger Deltans lived in fear and suspicion of the aggressiveness and hegemonic intentions of their Yoruba, and in particular, their Igbo neighbours. In his autobiography – “The Twelve-Day Revolution”, the Ijaw legendary hero, Isaac Boro explained that he was not ready to live in a Nigeria that was under the control of Igbos following the January 1966 coup. On 23rd February 1966 therefore, he declared the Independence of the Niger Delta Peoples Republic. Boro had become very disturbed about perceived Igbo domination of Eastern Minorities since his days as a student activist at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His Republic lasted for only twelve days, the time it took the police to round-up his rag-tag army of 159 volunteers. Isaac Boro and two of his colleagues were charged for treason in March and condemned to death in June 1966. Boro was eventually released at the on-set of the Nigerian civil war when he joined the Federal side and was killed in battle in 1968, fighting for the liberation of Rivers state from the Igbo, on the platform of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
It was this fear of domination from the Igbo and Yoruba that pushed the Niger Deltans into political co-operation with the Hausa-Fulani ruling elite in the 1960s. Throughout the period, the political leadership of the COR group – Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers were firmly in alliance with the Northern Peoples’ Congress. The creation of the Mid-West region and subsequently of twelve states of course changed the political equation. Since then, the identity struggles of the Niger Deltans has been re-directed towards the petroleum issue. Most of the Nigerian petroleum resources are produced in the territory of the Southern Minorities and they gradually developed a high “oil consciousness” directed at getting more benefits from this mainstay of the Nigerian economy. According to Ben Naanen, the Southern Minorities have long suffered from “internal colonialism” which is not carried out through economic domination but through control of political power which has been used to transfer resources from the numerically weaker groups to the numerically stronger ones, creating in the process “an economically advantaged powerful core and an impoverished and weak periphery”. Central to the argument of the Niger Deltans is that they are the major providers of Nigeria’s oil wealth and the major victims of pollution due to oil spillage and gas flaring. This paradox deepened their feeling of marginalisation. Their movement took a radical and politically organised form with the declaration of the Ogoni Bill of Rights demanding for political autonomy in 1990 and the uprising that has since been on. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the Ogoni political struggle and eight of his colleagues were hanged by the Abacha regime in November 1995 but the Southern Minority struggles have not abated since then.
As we are all very much aware, when Olusegun Obasanjo failed in his bid to get a third term in office, he imposed a duo – Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as President and Vice President respectively. Yar’Adua died in office and the rest as they say is history. An Ijaw man, a Niger Deltan is today our country’s President. How and why it happened has been the object of deep introspection and many are the mind readers that have attributed all sorts of motives to Obasanjo’s action. Whatever the motives, I believe it is great that the Ijaws are today in power. We no longer have to speculate about what happens to Nigeria when the southern minorities are in power, we can see it.
We were promised a breath of fresh air which is yet to become evident. One element of the promise was a committed combat against corruption. That did not happen. In any case, it could not have happened given the frightening amount spent on the President’s campaign which must have come out of somewhere. Nigerians became disillusioned with the Administration following the January 2012 fuel subsidy uprising. As we were to discover later, fuel subsidy was used to steal trillions of Naira from Nigeria’s treasury. Indeed, fuel subsidy revealed a new trend of corruption in Nigeria. In the past, corrupt transactions took place mainly through contract inflation, over- invoicing and receiving of kickbacks. But the fuel subsidy corruption has witnessed situations whereby people collect subsidy payments without making any supplies, collect foreign exchange without supplying petrol and collect subsidy payments for not supplying petrol having collected foreign exchange for the purpose. Nigerians are still searching for the breath of fresh air that will contain public corruption which has run out of control.
Other elements of marginalisation remain very much on the front burner since the advent of the Jonathan Administration. When in February 2011, promotions were carried out in the NNPC, Daily Trust (17th February 2011) reported that forty five percent of the total number of management positions in the promotion exercise conducted by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) went to officers from the South-South geopolitical zone. The newspaper reported that “the home region of both President Goodluck Jonathan and Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Allison-Madueke grabbed 17 new management staff positions out of the 38 on offer.” The South East came second with seven posts equivalent to 18 percent while North West came third with 5 new posts or 13 percent. South West and North Central zones occupied the fourth position with 4 new posts each which or 10.5 percent, while the North East was left holding the hat with only one post.
The most significant impact of the Jonathan Administration might well be in handing over the franchise to control Nigeria’s coastal zone to the Niger Delta militants. The country woke up one day to discover that some of these militants – Tompolo, Dokubo-Asari, Boyloaf and Ateke Tom are being paid respectively N5.1 billion, N1.44 billion, N608 million and N608 million yearly by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to protect the pipelines from oil scooping and control the coast line. Alhaji Dokubo-Asari for example, is being paid N1.44 billion a year to pay his 4,000 former foot soldiers to protect the pipelines they once attacked.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior NNPC official said the corporation is giving about N608 million a year apiece to two former rebel leaders, Gen. Ebikabowei “Boyloaf” Victor Ben and Gen. Ateke Tom, to have their men guard delta pipelines they used to attack. Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a. Tompolo, a former militant has also made his transformation from pure militant to militant and a billionaire businessman. We recall that it was three years ago that he was a fugitive. Indeed, in May 2009, Brigadier-General Sarkin Yaki Bello, commander of the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, in the Niger Delta, had declared Government Ekpemupolo the most wanted man in Nigeria. He was alleged to be the leader of a band of militants in the Gbaramutu creeks of the Niger Delta suspected of killing of eleven soldiers including an officer. They were also suspected of engaging in illegitimate bunkering, operating illegal refineries, vandalising oil pipelines, engaging in kidnapping and doing piracy.
Yes indeed, Nigeria is changing. Today, government has invested the Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, GWVSL, a firm widely believed to be owned by Tompolo, with a contract worth $103.4 million to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. Many wonder what the political agenda is in offering sensitive contracts that border on national security private companies led by former militants. Next week for my sixth piece in this series, I will address the North East with a focus on the Kanuri and the marginalization thesis.