Not yet change
WITH elections stressing us again, as we exercise our one claim to being a democracy, anyone wanting to know how Nigeria is governed should see the system which the majorities on the land have skewed in their favour to the detriment of the minorities. The National River Basin Development Programme report for the years 1979-83 alone states it all. Here are the figures, under the presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari whose career mirrors Nigeria. Indeed, this collection of government documents may well be seen as stating a policy of politics of numbers dictating the economic development of the country, regardless of where the natural resources are to be found.
Chad River Basin Authority got a total allocation of N296,597,606; Hadeija-Jama-ara River Basin Authority N286,819,966; and Sokoto-Rima River Basin Authority N650,670,441. All three are seasonal rivers that, combined in volume, will not fill any of the one thousand and one rivers that form the Niger delta. Now, what allocation was given this vast basin of countless streams, creeks, and rivers? N76,662,210! And this drop goes to some river, not specified by name. All the rivers there are just run into one, unnamed, and counted as the equivalent of each of the seasonal streams in the president’s own part of the country.
The one area, from which the oil and gas in millions of barrels flow daily to provide the annual revenue, that keeps the federation afloat, is openly short-changed, leaving all living there to the blight of polluted land, water and air.
This has been the practice, if not openly stated policy of all governments, before and after Shagari, at both federal and state levels. It is a case really criminal in character. Gowon’s Petroleum Decree of 1969, under the banner of a Civil War, swept away the principle of derivation that held together the old regions, set up as a fiscal federation for Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe. Then, in 1978, the Mohammed-Obasanjo regime, a la Lugard, came up with the Land Use Decree, removing the people’s right to their land in the South. That sword struck deep into the heart of the Niger delta; and all successive governments, military and civilian, have not cared to stop the bleeding. This is the source of all the pleadings in papers and petitions by the people of the area over the years.
The irony is that the Willinks Commission report made their case at Indepen-dence. By its usual curtain call for colonies, leaving matters behind for natives to solve among themselves, the British admitted here that they were handing power over to majorities, living on land, and therefore not in a position to appreciate problems of their minorities neighbours on water. So, in this epilogue, they invented an authority, not a new region, for the special area of the Niger delta; but oddly gave it no executive power by law to develop it.
No wonder, from Balewa to Yar’Adua, through military regimes of some thirty odd years, with all their intervention agencies, the situation went from bad to worse. Is there hope now Jonathan, a son of the Niger delta, has promised transformation, in our time, for all the land that is Nigeria, his own wetland included? He will have to be Hercules.
Now that we are about to choose a new Chief Executive Officer to manage our national estate, let me say that the man of humble beginning I came to know in Bayelsa and his compatriots there claim no divine right to rule others, a doctrine, I fear, my friend General Buhari believes in, descending from the dynastic heights of our western Caliphate. Choosing between the two as rulers, the one required reading I would recommend is the fable of King Log and King Stork of the Kingdom of Frogs. It is told by the old African slave Aesop in ancient Greece. Our social media savvy ones should go to their Google.
But for a local demonstration of how the majorities have made one sprawling colony of all the minorities in this country, there is this collection of papers Delta Briefs which includes the River Basins Report. It is put side by side, as scientific slides in a laboratory, by Mofia Akobo, a medical doctor. Once upon a time in the Nigerian military, Gowon drafted him to serve as Nigeria’s first Federal Commissioner for Petroleum. His collection clinically illustrates the task of getting clean our country turned into a cesspit. He has the other distinction of being one of the world’s first victims of the high-jacking of planes to push a political cause. Of course, Nigeria does not remember the PLO hostage incident of the flight from Vienna to Algiers, nor the Tiresias, blind and without pension today in Port Harcourt, after sitting at OPEC.
The answer to the chronic neglect of a people by their own government rests finally with themselves. Numbers are stacked against minorities in our present political structure, the so-called majorities claiming power over them, giving it up only as a temporary favour. This then is the setup today in the political parties, all formed with the sole ideology of winning elections, disputed, because of rigging. But minorities, together, are more than all the majorities.
So minorities should stop flocking to political parties in the hands of majorities. In whatever colours these power mongers come, hustling for votes from them as individual citizens, the clothes remain the same. Minorities must know that only as a group can they get their rights realized, whether in a parliamentary or presidential system. They have each other to hold for strength as in the bundle of sticks in the tale; separated as one broom-stick, they break between two fingers. The metaphor for them, therefore, is not Zik’s beautiful bride, but the ant, a creature, full of sense, resource and industry, that believes in taking collective action, being on his own very small in size. Again, go to Aesop!
Each minorities group, standing alone as they do now, is like a girl, walking the street alone in the dark, there for the taking by gangs of boys out hunting. Minorities should not go scattered as individuals into any of the so-called national parties, not having the numbers sufficient to attract and retain the attention of a hall, packed by majorities. That is the position of every political party, and of each government it forms as trophy, after bloody battles for ballots. Sheer mass presence it is gets things done. In openly corrupt elections, minorities are diluted out of existence, and yet added up to swell, and tip the vote in favour of one of the majorities. If each of our minorities will just stand as a body and in alliance with others of their kind across the country, the majorities, behind their ethnic gates, can only come out courting them, as the necessary partners, in Project Nigeria. Nobody need carry arms.
• John Pepper Clark, a fore most poet, wrote from Lagos.