Let’s not forget
Nigeria was better than we are now. We recognized our responsibility to bring the African from slavery, discrimination and to imbue Africans with pride. Walter Rodney and a host of other African intellectuals and freedom seekers saw Nigeria as African’s champions and Nigeria responded. We led the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia and Zambia and South West Africa. We contributed men and materiel to all the liberation wars in Africa – Angola, Mozambique, East and North Africa. We had shouted from the biggest bulling pulpit in the world that discrimination against one Africa is discrimination against all Africa, especially against us. We gave hope to Black Americans in their 400 years of struggle. We could not do that and then be tribal, or spin hopeless conspiracy theories. We were Nigerians and unspeakably proud of it and of Africa. We spilled our blood in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Tanzania etc. We contributed nationwide to free black Africa. Now, look at us – Fulani, Ibo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Tiv, Idoma etc. We are better than this. If because a South Southerner is the Minister of Petroleum in Nigeria and all the position went to South Southerners, there would be people from the South South who would protest: that this is not the Nigeria we want. Let me remind ourselves of who we really are.
2. Nigeria for over 50 years had a programme for locust eradication from South Sudan, Chad, and Niger on the principle that if we did not, the locust would eventually devour Nigerian farms. When Nigeria planned its steel programme in the 1970s – six rolling mills and the Ajaokuta plants – we had planned to import the raw iron ore materials from Liberia and Sierra Leone. There was no talk then of empowering the Fulani: Nigeria saw itself as a regional power able to develop steel mills which she would sell to neighbouring countries. That failure to build and sustain the supply lines and system of both the rolling mills and steel plant and its supply
chains is what has been holding us back in moving out of the dark ages of subsistent agriculture, to rudimentary industrialization.
2B. If a little real politik had been applied in Bakassi and Akwa Ibom then all four entities – Cameroon, Bakassi, Cross River and Akwa Ibom would have benefited with something from the deal and oil wells in their areas. Real politik ingenuity was applied in the oil disputed area between Rivers State and Imo State which ended up with oil wells and areas that properly did not belong to it. (Please note that I am not campaigning for oil given to Imo and Abia to be returned to Rivers State. I merely point out that with good will on all sides, there are possibilities with which we have all had to live with it). If the relationship among Rivers State, Imo State and Abia State were as toxic as the relationship between South – Northern Nigeria as it is now, success would be impossible: instead that toxicity would then thereby encourage bitterness and instability.
2C. Cameroon had the full support of France in their negotiations and proposal for Bakassi oil. There may have been a subtle feeling that helping Cameroon would help keep restive the Muslim/Fulani fringe from North Cameroon. The British maps that Nigeria relied on, clearly including Bakassi as part of Nigeria, which had a local government, schools, health centers, tax offices and other auxiliary institutions manned and paid for by Nigeria. We could have sought a more realistic compromise.
3. Nigeria gave its oil to Cameroons – the Bakassi oil – and this deterred one of the most able Government visionaries, the Cross River Governor, from developing Cross River into a prosperous state. Cross River suffered a double whammy, when at the boundary adjustment level the rest of the oil claims of Cross Rivers State were extinguished and given to Akwa Ibom. Cross River contested the claim but lost out in the Supreme Court which gave the balance of oil in its territory to Akwa Ibom.
4. The situation was very different from our negotiation with Equatorial Guinea when dividing the deposits in the Gulf of Guinea. If we had followed the Equatorial Guinea formula, in the Cameroon, Cross River would have reserved some oil. It is true Cameroon went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but nothing in that decision was binding. Indeed we could have negotiated with Cameroon, come to a decision and asked the International Court of Justice(ICJ) to confirm our decision. Again I had not seen a lot of argument and disputation that Southerners gave away oil to Cameroon to the detriment of the North.
5. Our then talented Government may have triangulated harder for Cross River. If the case for a compromise was dangled before them. If wisdom and fair play had been allowed to dictate our policy, it would have been possible to agree to retain considerate oil for Cross River State depending on how the boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon were drawn; and internally the adjustment between Cross River and Akwa Ibom – if for example, 10% of oil given to Akwa Ibom had been adjusted in favour of Cross River and had Nigeria negotiated best interest for Cross River while accepting the ruling of the International Court of Justice(ICJ).
6. As the political debate hots up blaming the constitution – an old ploy is in play: what was the exact provision in the constitution that deter development? The gap between what the constitution says and what really happens is political. Best example of this is the US constitution which proudly proclaims that all men are created equal and thereafter for 400 years goes on to act on the basis that Black men are inferior and that White men are superior. In Nigeria today, there is a lot of talk about changing the constitution – rather than changing the attitude to the constitution that is asking what the intendment of the constitution was. I would submit that the 1957 constitution that led to independence – 3 strong Regions and one relatively weak center – if that had continued till today – the center would have evolved much stronger than the Regions. Chief Awolowo saw this and moved to the center. The plebiscite of 1959 – Southern Cameroon left Eastern Nigeria to join Cameroon– Sardauna Province/Adamawa joined Nigeria. Even so the center continued to grow in strength relative to the regions.
7. What is the nature of federalism – even when designed such that the state can be stronger, the center weak, practice has always reverted the will of the framers of constitution such that the center becomes relatively stronger, the regions weaker. In India – the constitution is clear about no discrimination: – yet the Brahmins clearly are upper class with lower castes relegated into the background. Marring into this tribal response too easy encourages conspiracy theories and deters cooperation.
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. Cole, OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.
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