By Ochereome Nnanna
ONCE again, a Northern leader issued a familiar query to his peers from the Niger Delta: what have you done with the money “channelled” to the region over the years? Hardly does a major political leader from that zone pass up the opportunity to issue this query, especially in addressing issues of resource control or demands from militant groups and other agitators for the development of the heavily-polluted oil producing areas of the country.
This time, it was Aminu Masari, the Governor of Katsina State and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives bestriding the self-assigned magisterial podium. He was granting an interview to The Interview, a monthly magazine. Masari oscillated between preening patronisingly as to how the House of Representatives under his watch was “friendly” to the Niger Delta and how former President Goodluck Jonathan failed to develop his home region. He tasked the Federal Government to publish an account of all the funds that went to the Niger Delta since the 13 per cent derivation principle became operational in 1999.
At about the same period, the media quoted the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, as disclosing that $40 billion (forty billion US Dollars) has accrued to the oil producing states (which are generically referred to as “the Niger Delta States” under the law. Some interest groups in the zone associate it more closely with riverine/coastal oil-producing states, while many Ijaw groups equate the “Ijaw nation” with the Niger Delta. It is obvious that the Niger Delta that Masari and other Northern commentators refer to are those areas from where the heat (both militant and non-militant) of agitation for resource control billows from.
In a sharp repartee, some leaders of the Niger Delta, including the traditional ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu and retired Major General Don Idada Ikponmwen, asked Masari and his fellow Arewa nosey parkers to tell the nation what they have done with 40 years of political leadership “channelled” to them. What has been the effect on ordinary Northerners and Nigeria as a whole?
I add my own question: what has the North done with its own billions which it unilaterally allocated, just as it liked, through censuses, creation of states and local governments and the sharing of federal electoral constituencies? Through these, the North zaps the oil-fed Federation Account every month based on “population” and landmass which were also used as the criteria for the creation of states and local governments.
All these were done under Northern military rulers. In spite of this, the North remains the most underdeveloped in most areas of the human development index as evident in all available statistics, particularly in education, health, rural development and the welfare of the girl child. The North is also the most violent part of the country due to wrong religious orientation which appears to encourage intolerance.
On the other hand, the top echelon of the Northern society is the most affluent in the country. The emirs and titled men live in heaven on earth, usually off the oil wealth of the Niger Delta; while the common people toil all over the country as shoe shiners, farmers, petty traders, artisans, water vendors, gate men (maigad) herdsmen for the big Alhajis and ready to tackle any job that locals look down on. Some of the cities in the North are more beautifully appointed than most cities in the South because they are the abodes of the ruling class, while the rural areas are dumpsites of destitution. So, the question is valid: what has the North done with over 40 years of power, and the moneys of the nation which they shared, keeping the lion’s share for themselves?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against bringing the leaders of the Niger Delta – or any leader for that matter – to account. But I don’t think Masari and other Northern leaders intend to bring their Niger Delta counterparts to account for altruistic reasons. I will tell you why shortly, but let me admit that the leaders of the Niger Delta have been utterly irresponsible with the way they have run the affairs of their states with their (albeit tokenist) share of the nation’s oil resources mined in their homeland.
When they won the battle for the 13% derivation and money flowed in over the years of oil boom, they did not try to do better than the Northerners, their so-called “traditional allies”. They merely emulated them in the foolish habit of keeping the oil wealth in the hands of political leaders, traditional rulers and now, militant leaders. Little goes into the welfare of the common people.
As Northern leaders use their almajiri to fight their enemies through religious manipulation, the Niger Delta leaders raised cult groups, armed them, used them to acquire political offices, and dumped them. The “boys” simply took their arms and went into the creeks to grab by force the promised goodies said to be in the pipeline. When chastised, they use the obvious underdevelopment of the Niger Delta as both their alibi and bargaining chip for more control of the oil wealth, to the utter chagrin of the North.
The question now is: why is the North always angry when Niger Delta agitators ask for resource control? Why is it the only region that issues these arrogant queries to Niger Delta leaders?
The answer is simple. The North sees the oil wealth of the Niger Delta as their booty of the civil war in which they led other Nigerians to push out their ethno-regional rivals – the Igbos, the dominant political force in the defunct Eastern Region – from its control. Most Niger Deltans saw the defeat of Biafra as their liberation from Igbo domination, but they were blind to the fact that they merely changed “masters”. It was not until Ken Saro Wiwa saw the light and started the Ogoni self-determination struggles in the late 1980s which was later joined by the Ijaw youths around 1996 that the North’s imperial grip on the oil wealth of the Niger Delta started being stiffly challenged. Saro-Wiwa, a rabid anti-Biafran, was summarily hanged in November 1994.
It was at the Mkpoko Igbo Summit in April 1994 which Saro-Wiwa attended in Enugu as an intending delegate to Abacha’s 1994 Constitutional Conference that he reconciled with ex-Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Ojukwu, along with Dr. Alex Ekwueme, led the Igbo delegates to the Conference. They agreed to table the 13% derivation as part of the agendas of the Igbos and Niger Delta people.
The North VEHEMENTLY opposed this proposal at the Conference amidst unconfirmed rumours of physical altercation between Ojukwu and Professor Jibril Aminu. Conference rejected the 13% leveraging on the North’s majority votes, but General Sani, desirous of winning the loyalty of the Southern Minorities for his self-succession plots, led the Provisional Ruling Council,PRC, to adopt “in principle” the derivation policy in the Draft Constitution of 1996. Northern leaders were furious, but as Abacha was their son who wanted to extend his rule, they swallowed their angst.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar, a man who did not want trouble, allowed the derivation principle to be reflected in the 1999 Constitution which he signed into law just before he quit on May 29th, 1999.
It is no secret that the Northern elite believe the oil in the Niger Delta belongs to them, but not in the same sense that it belongs to all Nigerians. Even their professors who should know better claim the oil was washed down from the desert to the coast! Others say it to remind everyone, especially the Ijaw and other Niger Delta agitators, that they led Nigeria to defeat Biafra in the war, therefore it is their booty.
“What have you done with all the money you have been given” is a query from a “master” to a “vassal” justifying his refusal to “give” more. And the now genuinely liberated Niger Deltans are replying: “what business of yours is it”?