•‘Nigeria’s structure oppressive, unjust, cruel, corrupt, anti-democratic’
•Says only oil region, Lagos ought to produce nation’s President
•‘Of the over 1, 000 oil wells in Nigeria, none belongs to N-Deltans’
By Harris Emanuel
G. G Darah is Emeritus Professor of Oral Literature, Folklore and Cultural Sciences, Delta State University (DELSU). A former Chairman of the Editorial Board of Daily Times and The Guardian newspapers respectively, he served also in various capacities in former Governor James Ibori’s administration.
The literary icon was a delegate to the 2014 National Conference representing Delta Central where he rekindled the struggle for resource control and the struggle for 13 per cent derivation. Darah, who is currently the Delta State Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), spoke with Sunday Vanguard on the sidelines of a conference by Niger Delta leaders and communities tagged, ‘Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence’’, where issues of socio-ecological justice were addressed.
What is the outcome of the jaw-jaw on the Niger Delta?
Our resolution is that we are determined and prepared to disengage the Niger Delta region from Nigeria. This means to struggle and win the battle to become an autonomous region. The minimum we will accept after due negotiation with other political parties in Nigeria is to restore the old federal system operated between 1954 and 1966. There were four regions in Nigeria then. These were Northern, Western, Eastern and Mid-Western regions.
And all these four operated four separated constitutions. There was the federal constitution which everybody subscribed to, but each region, as a measure of its autonomy and self-governance, had its own constitution and even had ambassadors appointed to foreign countries.
They had no inference from the Federal Government except to go to the parliament in Lagos and debate issues like the budget. They had their own police system. That federal arrangement, which suited Nigerians because of Nigeria’s multinational, multi linguistics, multi-cultural situation, was debated between the British colonial authority and the Nigerian people for over 20 years before a consensus was reached in 1957 at a constitutional conference and the parameters of disengagement of Britain and declaration of independence were set out.
The Western and Eastern Nigeria were granted independence first in 1957 and the northern people said they were comfortable with the British people and that they didn’t like independence, so they had to persuade, compromise, so they became independent on May 29, 1959 and then on October 1, 1960, total independent was granted to Nigeria. The regions governed themselves. They made their own laws and did their own budgets. So, to return to the question, the minimum the Niger Delta would accept is to restore that system that was abrogated by the military adventurists in governance.
Do you think the present governance structure has the political will to accept and implement such a proposal, so to speak?
The present governance structure is unitary, it is military, it is oppressive, it is suppressive, it is unjust, it is cruel; it is anti-democracy and corrupt. The present arrangement, which is a product of military fiat, has taken away that autonomy and freedom from the people and concentrated it in the hand of the President in Abuja, who is like an emperor.
The federal system that we are advocating is the one that would give autonomy to the people and also run a parliamentary system as we did during that time. The parliamentary system is different from the presidential system, so we have to disengage from this system. Now, the infrastructures are the federal and states and the states are called the federating units, but the states are made powerless and impotent because of the imperial power of the Presidency at Abuja.
That has to stop. So, for those who are younger, it is important to highlight the advantages that that federal system brought to Nigeria. It enabled the regions to plan their own developments, the diverse structures they needed for the advancement of their people.
For instance, Eastern Nigeria was governed by the NCNC, headed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and later Azikiwe became the President General of Nigeria and Dr. Michael Okpara took over. Then administration of Eastern Nigeria established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with their own money from oil palm and timber. They ran their schools. They had the best secondary schools in the country. And these schools were competing with the ones in Cambridge. They didn’t have to wait for Lagos which was then the federal capital to approve those things for them.
But the greatest success story was the Western Region which was headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the most astute, and highly coordinated, and intellectually profound rulers that the world saw in the 20th century, not just in Africa. 20 years before independence, Awolowo had written about what Nigeria would look like as a student in England reading law.
So, he came to power prepared. He was not smuggled in by corrupt delegates as we have now. And he turned Western Nigeria into a paradise. The structures are still there: The first skyscraper in West Africa, Cocoa House Ibadan, the first television station in Africa, WNTV, Ibadan, and the first most beautiful campus in the whole of Africa till today, University of Ife. Then he made Lagos the industrial capital because the ports are there. He ruled for only nine years but he turned Western Nigeria around. If you go there now, some of the industries have been shut down.
So, what is the problem with Nigeria now?
The problem is the military regime. The military regime came and abandoned development and only cultivated corruption and acquisition of wealth. And the regime appointed zombies on the basis of favoritism or ‘they are my boys’ whereas before you became a parliamentarian in Eastern Nigeria or Western Region 50 years ago, the campaign you go through and the parliamentary system is different because the Minister every month would give an account of what he has done and journalist would come there, firing him with questions and he would be sweating. Can you talk to Timipre Sylva about oil now? Can you talk to any of the Ministers?
They are accountable to nobody. That’s the structural damage that has happened to Nigeria to the extent that we don’t produce anymore. That’s the core issue. How come that we just consume? After the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1956, the Federal Government had only little tax from there. It was Shell and British Petroleum that were in charge.
Shell spent 20 million pounds to search for that oil in 20 years. They started from Ondo and finally found oil in that place. The Federal Government did not contribute one kobo to that investment. It was a private enterprise. The government only received some tax. Then in 1958, they started selling the oil overseas and they built the Bonny Port to ferry it out.
The derivation system was entranced by the British. The British put the derivation there in 1946. What that meant was that the region that the investment was coming out from would take 50 percent first, and again that region, the Federal Government and the other regions would share the remaining 50 percent. That was equitable. Now, only the Federal Government earns the oil and the gas money. You asked me about the Niger Delta, that is why I am coming from this angle.
Now, the Federal Government used force to nationalize the oil in 1969, the second year of the civil war. The argument was that if they left the money to the oil company, Ojukwu would use the money to buy guns, so it was an emergency decision of the war to take over the oil 100 percent and that, after the war, it would revert, but they never reverted. That is where we are now. Niger Delta is the one that has suffered, plundered, pillaged, oppressed and marginalized. On the basis of our contribution which is 80 percent as export earnings, Niger Delta should be the only people producing the President of Nigeria, no other regions.
If we want to concede, we concede to Lagos because of Apapa and Tin Can Island, but we are powerless. The stealing of the oil money from us has made us to be underdeveloped and that is the cause of our saying that 50 years under this Nigeria, we are the losers. We have to return to the struggle of our hero’s past who were advocates of federalism because we are always sympathetic to Nigeria and Nigeria does not sympathize with us. They take us for granted. But they have no right to do so because the first Nigerians who were educated in the world were Niger Delta people.
I can say without contradiction that the first West African to have a degree was Don Domingo, an Itsekiri, and that was 412 years ago. 1610, that was the year he got his degree in theology from the University of Cumbria in Lisbon, he became a king in 1625, the same year Charles the first of England also became king.
After Domingo, the next ethnic group to produce graduates is the Ijaw, Hubert Jumbo from Bonny 1856, and his brother John Jumbo, also 1856. I can go on. By 1820 or 30, the people of Efik already had Professor Eyo Ita. He was the first Nigerian to be a professor. And not forgetting the fact that our ethnic groups along the coast had married Europeans. We were the first Africans to wed European girls. If we were not civilized, they would not give their girls to us. No Fulani man will talk to Europeans 100 years ago, no Hausa person would have married a European, 100 years ago. From Kanuri, Bichama, names of the big ethnic group there, they were all in the forest. So, we have enjoyed what I call universal civilization, then 60 years after independence, we are being reduced to foot mats. If we are not worried and angry, then we don’t have human blood in our body.
So, what is the way forward?
I said two options. The option I prefer is the Niger Delta should disengage from Nigeria and forget about the union and establish its own country. We call it the Atlantic Republic.
What is your take on the set of leaders coming in 2023?
The set of leaders coming are worse than the ones we have had before. If you concede to Buhari in terms of corruption, the ones that are coming are dead woods. People who are billionaires without industries, where do they get the money from? It is the same oil. It is either they are selling or negotiating it or have the facilities to export it. And the oil wells, over 1, 000, no Niger Delta person has oil wells and if its business acumen that qualifies people, we have many enterprising people here. Michael Ibru was the richest African and he had no oil well. There are five oil wells in Agbarra Utor where he comes from in Delta State.
The biggest gas manifold is in Agbarra Utor. But they never gave the man but a northerner. There is the other woman who has.
So, the military were dashing it to their cronies. Lulu Briggs from Kalabari is the only Niger Deltan who owned a portion of it 32 years ago. The rest of the Niger Delta region, from Calabar to Benin, nobody qualifies. So, if we don’t know what injustice is, then we don’t know what injustice is, we are not supposed to be called parents.
The issue of total clean up of the Niger Delta environment has remained a talking point. How do you react to the seeming apathy from the government?
The issue of environmental degradation is concomitant with these looters’ ideology that they have conquered us. They are using this centralized military constitution, and put inside the constitution in Section 44 subsection 3 that any oil and gas from the Niger Delta under the land, under the sea, on top of the land, in the air, belongs to the Federal Government.
Now, the infrastructures are the federal and states and the states are called the federating units, but the states are made powerless and impotent because of the imperial power of the Presidency at Abuja. That has to stop