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South-South: Moving Beyond Littoral Politics

By Ikenna Onyekwelu
03 May 2015   |   7:02 am
WHEN posterity and geo-political arithmetic combined to throw up a Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan presidency in Nigeria, the historical feat greatly altered the political equation of the country.
Jonathan and Buhari

Jonathan and Buhari

WHEN posterity and geo-political arithmetic combined to throw up a Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan presidency in Nigeria, the historical feat greatly altered the political equation of the country.

After five years on the saddle, coupled with the stringent campaign to ensure that the first Nigeria President from the minority does not enjoy a second term in office, the people of South-South must have come to full realisation of who their real allies are.

Earlier, the region seemed to be content with its littoral politics, concerning itself with just the politics of petroleum resources and the immediate impact on the environment.

As such, given this constricted mandate, it was the style of the region’s politics to be dictated by the magnanimity of the ruling oligarchs from the northern part of the country. Consequently, for almost four decades, the South-South continued to see of the north a benevolent ally.

The issues surrounding the 30-month fratricidal Nigeria-Biafra war also enhanced that tendency. Despite the existence of regions as the basis of Nigeria’s federation by the time of hostilities between the Federal Government and the secessionist Biafra, the war was cleverly profiled as an affront against the expansionist and dominance of the Igbo.

To some extent, the South-South, which membered between the Eastern and later Mid-Western regions, seemed to have swallowed the argument.

And irked by the sad discovery that almost 73 per cent of landed property in Port Harcourt was owned by the Igbo, the people of South offered the necessary support for the Federal side in its campaign to pull down the Biafran insurrection.

That could be why even after the cessation of hostilities, the abandoned property issue recurred as a great dividing wall between the South-South and their Igbo neighbours.

With time the North continued to appropriate political capital from this division, using it as a design to continue the political emasculation of the Igbo. Yet unwittingly, the North was applying that subtle division to maintain the political subjugation of the South-South.

It was this fraternal political arrangement that Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, referred to when the argument over whether or not Dr. Jonathan should be supported for the presidency raged. As sanity prevailed, Dr. Jonathan gradually scaled up from the position of Acting President to a substantive President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Make-belief turned to reality, and political power had ultimately changed hands.

It was metaphorical that a major outfit in the Jonathan-for-President electioneering campaign, was styled as Neighbour2Neighbour. Through a combination of factors as well as the marketing strategies of Neighbour2Neighbour, the Igbo of South East embraced the Jonathan candidacy, not minding the erstwhile dividing wall separating South-South and South East.

And as Jonathan mounted the saddle as Nigeria’s president, his politics and permutations factored-in Igbo economic and political interests. Under the Jonathan presidency, the glass ceiling against the Igbo for certain critical political positions was shattered.

For the first time, and contrary to the designs of those who felt that as those who lost a war, Nd’Igbo should wait for 200 years before accessing such positions as the Chief of Army Staff, Inspector General of Police; qualified persons from the South East occupied those positions.

To the chagrin of the so-called traditional allies of South-South, Igbo was provided easy access to the commanding heights of the nation’s economy.

It was against that chequered background that on the approach of the 2015 general election after all efforts to frighten the President away from contesting for a second term in office failed, ethnic sentiments were whipped to no end against Dr. Jonathan berthing a second term in office.

Yet in a rare show of uncommon solidarity and support, states of the South-South and South East stood solidly behind the incumbent. But no sooner than President Jonathan conceded the March 28 presidential election to his main challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari, than a new orchestra started to sound.

What options are open to the South-South now that their son has lost to a northern candidate? Should the South-South hide its tail between the hind legs in search of fresh negotiations with the north?

How would a new alliance with the north affect the socio-political standing of the South-South? What could be the terms of such a proposition, assuming the South-South chooses that option? Can the South-South sustain its solidarity with the South East and wage a principled opposition to the party in power?

It could be, perhaps, after analyzing the various optios open to the South-South in the emerging political realities that Dr. Usman Bugaje weaved his dubious theory that the north controls Nigeria’s coastline. According to Bugaje, “the North controls over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass and by the extension, the coastline.”

There salient reasons to believe that either Bugaje was flying a kite with the intention that asking the South-South to fuel the kite, would bring the zone to discuss a superfluous agenda or he merely wants to rub in the loss of the Presidential power to the zone. From history, Bugaje must have reckoned that the South-South relates to oil the same way the British Empire protects its businesses.

“If you touch our oil, we touch your heart,” is a famous British saying. What Bugaje did therefore was to touch a sensitive matter to the South-South, which is oil.

However, over and above mere geopolitical grandstanding, Bugaje may have given serious hints about the policy direction of the incoming federal government.

This is because being a learned man, Bugaje should know that there is no fact to support his wild claims that the North controls the resources of the South-South. At least the West African red Book recorded that prior to the attainment of flag independence by Nigeria; the British colonial administration was appropriating as much as 50, 000 pounds from the economy of Southern Nigeria to augment the budget of Northern protectorate. The South-South Peoples Assembly, stung by the fallacies contained in Bugaje’s assertions published a fitting reply.

In the statement signed by Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga and Dr. Ayakeme Whisky, Acting National Chairman and National Secretary respectively, SSPA stated: “We of the South-South geopolitical zone view Bugaje’s averments as a negative show of bravado, to orchestrate a long existing desire by a section of the North to alter the geopolitical map of the country and set an agenda for the incoming northern administration of the federal government.

We had since recognised that the paltry 13 per cent derivation paid to oil producing states, which is not even adequate to compensate for the monumental ecological degradation and environmental ruin, has been a source of perennial agitation by some northern leaders of this country.”

When a United States think tank predicted that Nigeria would unravel in 2015, many a patriotic citizen believed that the election, which was under intense pressure and ethnic division, could serve as the tipping point.

The election has come and gone without as much as a whimper. But the danger signals are still there. With such provocative utterances as Bugaje’s and the likelihood that the incoming administration may try to tinker with existing revenue sharing formula, such are probable landmines to Nigeria forward march as a united nation.

Though, the All Progressives Congress (APC) does not possess the absolute majority to undertake drastic legislations, it would be interesting to see how the Southwest, which had been strident in its call for the restructuring of the country would fare under the Buhari presidency. Can the South West have the boldness to canvass for fiscal federalism as it hinted long ago?

What would be the response of South-South in the likely event that the Southwest alliance with the North goes asunder? Despite the volatility in the price of crude oil at the international market, the South-South would remain the agenda setting zone for the nation.

The debate has just begun. Things are no longer the same; the South-South geopolitical zone has gone beyond its littoral politics. The zone holds the ace in showing which direction Nigeria would follow to the future, oil or no oil!