Tribalism in N.N.P.C. and Rivers State
Many years ago the names one heard in NNPC were Marinho, Lolomari, Edem Duke, Olu Fubara, Green, Dakoru, Adams, Akpeyi, Itsueli, Okon, Okonkwo, Jack, Briggs, Effiong, maybe a Dapchi, Musa, Mongonu, Lukman, Bello, Mohammed etc. It did not seem odd to us- mainly perhaps because the oil was in South-South, therefore those from there maybe had primacy: Etete, Etiebet, David West, Hart, Itsueli Deziani were Ministers of Petroleum but it was clear that all these men and women were not only qualified but also had the political power of the North backing them. But that really is not the point I wish to make: the point was that the men and women were entitled to benefit from oil and NNPC in the way no other Nigerian could claim. The staff was in their terrain.
We still come to the truism that perception is ultimately politics; or, as it is usually described, all politics is perception. No one felt that NNPC was dominated by Southerners. I am sure that many Northerners may well have resented the predominance of the South.
The Southerners have never dominated anything in Nigeria (even the beauty of South-South women was not dominating). After all, they are in the minority and cannot, therefore, dominate i.e. powerful minorities have in some societies dominated but not in Nigeria.
Again it was appreciated that oil was a specialist scientific enterprise requiring some knowledge in science, physics, engineering and so forth. If the North resented the dominance of the South it was felt that this was acceptable because of the relative number of Southern engineers compared to Northern engineers.
It is then possible that what is now happening in NNPC and indeed in the whole of the Government, is the coming of age of Northern intellectuals who are fulfilling their quota. Even so, some acceptance of these repositions is inevitable. Both sides have to understand the changes. What is not acceptable is the wholesale replacement of Southerners in NNPC, especially in the topmost hierarchy.
The optics is just not good, especially in an organization that needs all the expertise it can get- to work towards a policy of an efficient delivery organization.
Of late the table has been turned. There is only a handful of South, Southerners in NNPC and even fewer after the NNPC Ltd was created. There is only one South Southerner on the Board of 7 Northerners.
The North has exercised the prerogative of their political power by filling NNPC with Northerners, who like the South-South people described above, see no reason to apologize for taking what rightfully belongs to them; what their grip on political power has bestowed on them. But are they right? When the South-South complains about poverty the rest of Nigeria is impatient and condemns the South-South for misappropriation and failure to develop their areas from the 13% derivation they get from oil revenues.
People from the oil-producing areas are bitter at the crushing poverty of their areas: they see and feel the environmental degradation, the black soot and smug which colours black their clothes and homes and clog their refrigerators and cookers, oil sheen floating on the water in their wells and all their rivers. They see no redress from the oil they live with, they are dissatisfied with the handouts given to them in the states where oil proliferates: the leaders and Governors of these states e.g. Rivers are almost always people who have no oil in their homeland – their Governors are whimsical popinjays, always displaying wealth to non-state people, who are too eager to take from people who have no idea of wealth or how to use it to create new and more wealth. Their ambitions are defined only to use the oil wealth, so corruptly acquired, not to develop their people and their areas, but to punish them by utter neglect while chasing phantom positions in Abuja, such as the office of the vice President or President.
Why can the oil-producing areas not have institutions that excel in academics, medicine, microbiology, and even mangrove forest development? Where are the architectural wonders of Dubai, Baku, Qatar, Malaysia, etc. in the oil-producing areas?
Insecurity has blighted the oil-producing areas: all the IOCs (International Oil Companies) have fled to Lagos and elsewhere. The companies which service the IOCs have equally fled, again, because of insecurity. None of these South/South Governors has no plans for enticing the IOCs to come back.
Abandoning their offices in the oil-producing area has put up the price of production: worse still, insecurity has pushed up to the theft of 80% of oil production now missing. Unemployment is rampant: poverty is a constant experience even when specialized agencies are located in the area, like NDDC- capital flight is the order of the day, and each appointee sees his job as looting as much as soon as possible. Each appointee thereafter departs to Lagos, the UK, the US, or Dubai. Many purchase foreign nationalities. Those who stay resort to cultism which politicians encourage as a means of control of the youths.
The South/Southerners are equally nearly absent in the myriad organs, parastatals, commissions, and authorities of government. The Petroleum equalization commission, RMFAC, Petroleum Trust Fund, Education Trust Fund, etc.
Why is Lagos so successful in enticing international oil companies? Security was the answer.
When NNPC was engaged in searching for oil in the North, many people from South/South prayed for success in that endeavour in Chad and elsewhere because they felt that if oil was found there, the knee they felt on their neck would be somewhat released and good would eventually come to them just as it would come to the North.
The fortunes of the Ibo in Rivers fell dramatically after the civil war. The intrepid people that they are, took it on the chin, moaned about Abandoned Property, but thereafter went after bigger fish – the rest of Nigeria. They have succeeded remarkably well. This in no way nullifies their belief that they were wronged. But they had let that be and sought recompense by employing their genius in the opportunities offered by the rest of Nigeria. The Rivers people spend time recounting the past, fearing the Ibo, looking for allies in the West and the North and squandering the riches so easily bestowed upon them on frivolities and conspiracy theories about vulnerability they were if not protected by the federal might.
People say money is a stranger. If it feels unwelcome it moves on. The South-South people have not welcomed money- welcome here means using it to get more. Money has therefore moved on. We are now in a theoretical situation where the area with the richest resource is competing to be the poorest part of Nigeria. South-South people are extremely good at blaming others for their failures. Their women, by the way, have a good nose for money and follow those who can provide it. The numerous inter-tribal marriages and other liaisons and morons attest to this.
The Igbos with a justifiable sense of grievance have taken to crying out loud about their plight. They have written many books on the subject. The Yorubas relatively have written next to nothing. To compare with the Ibo; the Hausa/Fulani have written even less, although there is no shortage of apologists of the North from European writers.
In doing so, they have subconsciously warned that what happened to them in the 60s and 70s may be the precursors of what may happen to others, unless action is taken to stop this headlong hypocritical and arrogant descent into tribalism. It is easy to be tribal. What we need is brotherly love, neighbourly concern and a general sense of fair play, justice and humanity for all.
One thing that could be said about Obi’s candidature is the widespread support he is getting from all over Nigeria- in much the same way as M.K.O. Abiola.
Would we, at the expense of being prudish get the same support from the Ibo, should the contestant not be Ibo? The Ibo answer is that they supported MKO unconditionally- many went into exile with him.
Cole PhD, OFR is Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Brazil.