ADDRESSING THE INEQUALITY OF MINORITY COMMUNITIES…
…THE NIGER DELTA CASE
By Dr. Steve Azaiki
…Blessing or Curse?
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Since the discovery of crude oil by Shell BP in a little village called Oloibiri in 1958, Nigeria has earned well over $250 billion from oil exports, but life has never been the same for the indigenous communities around the Niger Delta region – their conditions have worsened, what for the blatant desecration of the eco-system and destruction of livelihood without meaningful alternatives. Pollution and water-born diseases are rampant, abject poverty and unemployment is disproportionately high, recent civil unrest and incessant youth restiveness have lead to frequent disruptions in production activities by Shell Petroleum and Chevron Texaco resulting in price volatility in the world market – last year women in Warri threatened to take-off their cloths in protest and the world took notice.Empirical evidence suggests that one of the hardest hit population groups in Nigeria is the economically disenfranchised rural inhabitants of the underlying areas from where oil wealth is derived in the Niger Delta region. By the analysis of Italian multi-national company – Eni Group/Agip Petroleum, the Niger Delta region is one of the four largest such zones in the world, with a complex terrain spanning about 70,000 sq. kilometers (approximately 43,000 square miles or the size of Virginia). About 80% of the territory is habitable; the rest is a mass of rain forest, swamps and creeks through which Niger and Benue River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The region spreads across eight Nigerian States – Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Imo, Edo, AkwaIbom, Ondo and Abia States with an aggregate population of over 5 million people.uite truly, according to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Nigeria like most poor (but mineral resource-rich developing) countries suffers from a case of “natural resource curse” syndrome. Which can be buttressed by the inverse relationship between national income generated over the years from the exploitation and export of crude oil and quality of life of its citizens – the irony is that real income and standard of living have deteriorated tremendously since the 1960s in the face of growing export earnings – examples abound of poor countries without natural resources that have faired better.
…A Tradition Of Inequality.
A new book captioned INEQUITIES IN NIGERIAN POLITICS by Dr. Steve Azaiki, (Current Secretary of State to the Bayelsa State government and pioneer Commissioner for Agriculture in the State during the 1990s), launched on April 22nd 2004 by President Obasanjo in Abuja has succeeded in highlighting some of the unspoken truths about this region and Nigerian politics. The book offers an altruistic first-hand account of the historical, political and economic events that have lead to the neglect of the Niger Delta Region.
True to form, much of Nigeria’s history over the last four decades has been rife with a fair amount of bickering and violence, beginning with the first coup plot in 1966 through the bitter civil war of 1967-1970 and more coups in the 1970s and 1980s – it was all for power, the power to control the natural wealth. More recently, the heightened violence and youth restiveness experienced in the Niger Delta region – Ogoni, Odi, Warri etc. since the mid 1990s underscores the pent-up anger of local people against the indifference of successive governments and oil companies operating in the area and their inability or unwillingness to address key issues regarding their well-being.
A plethora of linguistically and culturally diverse communities such as the Ogoni, Ijaw, Okrika, Kalabari, Bonny, Opobo, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Ikwerre, Efik, Ekpeye, Andoni, and a host of others inhabit the Niger Delta region. By virtue of their respective numerical strengths vis-à-vis other major ethnic groups (like Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Fulani, Kanuri) these smaller tribes, clans or whatever you may call them are considered the so-called “minorities” in the Nigeria context.
Quoting from the book, the 1958 Nigerian Constitutional provision for the Niger Delta states succinctly that “to allay the fears of the minority indigenes of the Niger Delta and address the developmental needs of the peculiar terrain of the Niger Delta, before granting independence to Nigeria, the British Government proposed that the Niger Delta be declared a Special Federal Territory”.
This proposal wasn’t entrenched in the new constitution of independent Nigeria nor has it been actualized ever since. Be that as it may, this particular proposal has become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophesy – the minority tribes have indeed been poorly treated in Nigeria’s political dispensation and in the disbursement of national revenue, the “principle of derivation” which was practiced during the period when cocoa and groundnut (grown in the western and northern regions of the country respectively) were the mainstay of the economy has long been abandoned. According to Dr. Azaiki, now that the Niger Delta region is the cash-cow of the country through crude oil production, a different revenue allocation formula that grossly under-estimates the needs, under-minds the sufferings and negates the impact of the minority oil-producing communities has been adopted.
Dr. Azaiki attributes this situation to misrepresentation and under-representation of the Niger Delta communities in the body polity and due to the acquisitiveness and ineptitude of the political leaders and military hunta who quite often than not are from the so-called majority tribes. According to Dr. Azaiki, not until the restoration of democracy and election of President Obasanjo in 1999 was there a serious attempt to address this in-equality.
With the recent return to democratic governance and power shift to the South Western region, it is commonplace to hear other larger ethnic groups speak about their marginalization. An objective analysis of the wealth distribution process and geographical spread of economic opportunities in Nigeria would lay bare such claims. Dr. Azaiki argues that, under a true federalist state, component units or states volunteer to form a union, exercise control over their resources and internal affairs and then remit a mutually acceptable share of their earnings to the central government. Dr. Azaiki offers a vivid example of the USA where under such a federalist dispensation; the people of the constituent states maintain 100% control over their resources and pay taxes to sustain the federal government.
In the Nigerian experience, the reverse is the case – the central government controls most of the resources, which helps, perpetuate power tussle and high-level corruption, so the practice falls short of that ideal, resulting in the utter neglect of the minority groups who ironically are the “goose that laid the golden egg”. To be sure, a single industrial complex located in the Niger Delta – Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas Plant (LNG) generated over 15% of Nigeria’s export earnings in 2003. Development of other parts of the country has taken precedence over the Niger Delta region.
To address these problems in the national interest, Dr. Azaiki advocates the entrenchment of federalism (in its true sense) and to engender practical resource control as a sine qua non for fair and equitable revenue allocation towards tackling the intractable problems of the rural communities of the Niger Delta.
This assertion still seem far fetched, especially weighed against the backdrop of the long-running squabble on the on-shore/off-shore dichotomy, that enunciates that revenue from off-shore oil production should accrue to littoral states (i.e. states in whose territorial water or coastal region the crude is extracted from). A bill to that effect was passed by the National Assembly in 2002, but only recently signed by President Obasanjo in an amended format.
…A Recommended Reading.
Overall, INEQUITIES IN NIGERIAN POLITICS is a well-researched and nicely written book, which contains a wealth of historical data and insights on the fight for resource control by the ethnic communities of the Niger Delta. It offers very unique ideas on addressing the burning question of peaceful co-habitation by the various ethnic groups and equitable economic progress of not just Nigeria but also other native people around the globe.
Therefore, I strongly recommend this book to every fair-minded individual, irrespective of nationality, ethnic origin or political orientation.
Chamberlain is the Founder/CEO of New Era Capital Corporation and MyCompleteFinance.com. He was previously a Financial Advisor in the Global Private Client Group of Merrill Lynch in NY. Cpeterside@aol.com.