Dancing on the Abacha, Yar’Aduas’ graves – Prof G. G . Darah

In Commentary
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POLITICAL and ideological divisions were expressed from the take-off of the National Conference on March 17. There were several manifestations of these alliances. There were broad coalitions of regional and ethno-national groups. Religious antagonisms often masqueraded as “national interests”. There were also class, gender, and generation ridges and valleys to be surmounted. To be sure, there were some cabals that sought to abuse the conference privileges to mount campaigns of calumny against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. The violent conflicts and wanton killings that swept through some Northern States in April offered wings for some to fly their sinister plots. Of course, the bomb blasts and boko haram massacres and kidnappings presaged premature terminus for the confab deliberations. But four months after we  have been able to rise above the temptations and diversions.

     All this was due largely to careful and dedicated skills displayed by the Confab Secretariat under the leadership of the Chairman, Justice Idris Kutugi and his astute companions. Like President Jonathan whose bravery and foresight made the confab possible, Justice Kutigi surely has his eyes on history and the judgement of posterity. When the conference ends, the distinguished delegates, with names of many festooned with honours and titles, will eventually return to their various constituencies, caucuses, states, and places of nativity. But the final outcome of the conference will bear the insignia and imprimatur of Justice Idris Kutigi, a minority man from Niger State who rose from relative obscurity to become Nigeria’s Chief Justice and now the Chairman of undoubtedly the most significant national conference in Nigeria since that of 1957-58 which prepared Nigeria for independence in 1960. Lest we forget, Frederick Lugard, the conqueror and designer of Nigeria, was also from obscure background in Scotland. The spirit of adventure and auspicious luck elevated him to become the imperial ruler of Nigeria, Africa’s most endowed British colony. Just as we now refer to his amalgamation of 1914 and dual mandate regime (1914-1922) as the Lugardological era, so shall we, in future, memorialise this experience as the Kutigian National Conference.

    The early storms of the confab were recycled in the 20 committees appointed to examine details of themes and major issues. The report of each committee was presented at plenary sessions for further debate and deliberation. With the magical wand of consensus, many of the recommendations and proposed amendments were approved. Aware of their controversial nature, the reports of the committees on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government as well as that of Devolution of Power were scheduled for the final weeks. With dexterous handling divisive matters of political restructuring sailed through in favour of pro-federal delegates. But last week, as the confab approached the final bend of the river of derivation and resource distribution, ideological and regional conflicts exploded with volcanic combustion.

   For ease of reference, let me designate the division into pro-federal versus status quo groups. The pro-federal side insists that having agreed by consensus that Nigeria should operate a federal system, with a central government and states as the only federating units, it follows inevitably that federalist principles of equity, fairness, and justice must prevail. Resource ownership and control as well as an equitable derivation formula are sine qua non of federalism. Three decades of military dictatorship had liquidated these essential features of Nigeria’s federation. The pro-federal delegates further demand that, with 15 years into democratic rule, the conference has a duty to demilitarize the system by restoring the principles of equitable and fair contribution and allocation of public revenue. The contentious clause is in Section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution. It states that in the distribution of revenue in the Federation Account, a portion not less that thirteen per cent must be set aside for areas of the country from where the revenue is derived. In 1960 and 1963 Constitutions, the derivation proportion to Regions was 50%.

   These points were valiantly canvassed at the Devolution of Power Committee by mostly delegates from the Niger Delta, the South-west, and the South-east. But they did not constitute a significant number to match the stone-wall opposition from the pro-feudalist delegates from the North and the Middle Belt. Our experience there showed that the most vociferous and intransigent antagonists of federalism and resource democracy are the pampered elite from the least productive states of the North. They are not the only financially famished states in Nigeria. In the south of the country, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Cross River, Anambra, Enugu, and Ebonyi states have lean budgets. But these states do not exploit their economic handicap to haunt and provoke the ten revenue-yielding states, nine oil producing and tax-rich Lagos.

   In the Devolution of Power Committee, the anti-Niger Delta delegates threw education and logic to the winds. They fabricated tables of bumper budgets of oil-endowed states to intimidate us that any increase in derivation percentage would annihilate their insolvent states. They did this with such animus that it was clear they regarded the revenue-strong states as economic vassals of the political hegemons of Northern Nigeria. Unfortunately for these conquistadors the figures they paraded did not reveal that the states with comparatively heavy budgets are also the ones that contribute the bulk of the revenue that is shared by the Federal, State, and local governments on monthly basis. For the records, the ten states that contribute all the public revenue are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River (not much now), Delta, Edo, Imo, Lagos, Ondo, and Rivers. Even with the 13% derivation formula, each of these states loses about 87% of its oil revenue that is husbanded in the Federation Account. There is no justification for any of these states to suffer the loss of 87% of money earned from its natural resources. Those who insist that the status quo in Sections 44(3) and 162(2) of the 1999 Constitution must remain are brazenly boasting to the victim states that they are economic colonies of the privileged states. It is true that the North-dominated military regimes from 1966-1999 enacted wicked laws to disinherit the Niger Delta of its oil and gas resources. But as our delegates demonstrated in the conferences of 1994-95, 2005, and the current one, the Niger Delta and Lagos are the colonies of any part of Nigeria. We shall win our freedom.

   What is it that the other states contribute to the Federation Account that emboldens them to treat their benefactors with impunity? An aggregate of percentage contribution by geo-political zones for four years (2009-2012) reveals that the South-South recorded an average of 68% per year, the South-West 23%, the South-East 8.5%, while the North-Central, North-East, and North-West scored zero each. In plain language, the 19 states in the three zones survived for the four years under reference through the generosity of the three southern zones. In which other federation in the world do half the number of constituent units exist on the generosity of others. The time to end that injustice is now.

   This iniquitous situation did not operate during British colonial rule. From 1946-1960, the derivation quotient was no less than 50% for each region. Only 20% was allocated to the government at the centre. The remaining 30% was put in a distributive pool from which the region that earned 50% also shared. It was the Gowon-Awolowo diarchy that abolished the derivation principle and funnelled all the revenue to the ravenous central government under the guise of depriving the breakaway Biafra Republic of 1967-1970 of funds to prosecute the civil war. This is the infamous Petroleum Decree 51 of 1969. Rather abrogate the apartheid decree after the war, the North-dominated military juntas retained it and is now entrenched it in Section 44(3) of the 1999 Constitution. It is a slave mandate and it shall not stand in a free, democratic Nigeria.

    The obnoxious law stands today because the inheritors of the military usurpers of power are still glued to the honeycomb of oil wealth and would not concede through civic negotiation. The predators forget that the glutton bee that stays too long inside the palm wine jar eventually drowns in it. Nigeria had been close to this suicidal threshold several times. The first phase was the Major Adaka Jasper Boro “12-Day Revolution” of 1966 that dovetailed in the 1967-1970 Civil War in which over one million innocent souls perished. The Ogoni agony, the death of their leaders and the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his compatriots in 1995 marked the second stanza of the resistance against exploitation by the government and the oil companies. Remarkably, Generals Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Sani Abacha (who hanged the Ogoni Nine) worked together to douse the flames of popular uprising. The two rivals to power were instrumental to the adoption of the “not less than thirteen per cent” clause in the 1999 Constitution. 

    The third phase of self-determination agitation was ignited with the proclamation of the Kaiama Declaration in December, 1998, by the Ijaw Youth Council. The Declaration clearly stated that all the kingdoms of Ijawland rejected the Petroleum Decree 51 and the Land Use Decree of 1978 that disinherited their people of the right of ownership and control of their territory and natural resources. The phrase “resource control” derived from this manifesto. When the government resorted to crude force to suppress the agitations, the Ijaw groups re-invented the Adaka Boro formula of armed struggle. By the time the elected governments assumed office in 1999, the stakes had been raised to include kidnapping of expatriate oil personnel for ransom and damage of oil facilities. President Olusegun Obasanjo inherited this insurgency and he compounded the crisis by his ill-omened invasion and destruction of Odi community in Bayelsa State in November 1999. Obasanjo reluctantly set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000 but deliberately underfunded it to a point of impotence. He had provoked all the oil-producing states from Ondo to Cross River by deliberately reneging on implementing the 13% derivation clause in the constitution he swore to defend. At this point, even the elected governors and legislators of the Niger Delta joined the fray and applied the “Resource Control” mass campaign to compel him to do so in April, 2000. 

    The NDDC gesture was too little and too late. The short-lived truce evaporated by 2005 when armed guerrilla groups sprang up in the creeks, among them were those by Alhaji Dokubo-Asari, Ataka Tom, Generals Boyloaf and John Togo, and later the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The groups combined the chemistry of advanced ideological orientation and sophisticated weaponry to paralyse the oil industry. Nigeria’s daily oil production nose-dived from about two million to a third of that figure. Consequently, the economy was heading to bankruptcy and social explosion.

    This was the dire situation that confronted President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He took sagacious and audacious measures to halt the country’s descent into the brink of collapse. With the indefatigable support of his Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Yar’Adua reached out to Ijaw patriots for intervention. The likes of Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha and Timi Alaibe did a yeoman’s job of mediation and persuasion. The prime negotiator was Jonathan who braved the mined marine routes and creeks to connect guerrilla commands. These heralds of peace dialogued with the youth in Ijaw language and they appreciated the depth and candour of Yar’Adua’s patriotic intentions. Like the angelic dove that he was, the President signed an armistice with the militias groups and proclaimed the Presidential Amnesty Programme in October, 2009. Weapons were publicly surrendered and oaths of allegiance taken by the militia commands. The guns went silent in the hitherto rumbling creeks; notable leaders of the Ijaw freedom movement like Government Ekpemopolo (Tompolo) and Kingsley Kuku were incorporated in the Federal peace-building agenda. Over 26,000 former freedom fighters dropped their bayonets for the ploughs of education and professional training. The oil wars were over, at least for now. The Yar’Adua peace plan worked and by 2010, oil production had peaked again at over two million barrels per day. The bumper production has continued unabated ever since and Nigeria is swooning, once again, in the deluge of petrodollars.

COMMITTED to peace like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, President Yar’Adua took a pro-active step early in 2007 by creating the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. As further proof of his statesmanship, the President appointed Chief Ufot Ekaete, an Akwa Ibom technocrat and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation as the pioneer minister. He immediately toured the area to hold talks with various stakeholders. The President knew that this was a token gesture with little material substance, yet it sent a pacific signal to the Niger Delta and the international oil market. I have written elsewhere that the Nigerian Amnesty Programme is the most successful of such initiatives in all post-war settlements in recent history. Just as South Africa’s former President W. F. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1990s, President Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan have earned their place of honour in the pantheon of Africa’s greatest statesmen of peace and nation-building. It is regrettable and unpardonable that the top echelons of the Northern elite who ought to be polishing Yar’Adua’s credentials for a post-mortem award of a global peace diadem are the same ones desecrating his memory and vilifying his compatriot, Goodluck Jonathan. History will not forgive these short-sighted ingrates.

   Here are the sinister schemes that shall witness against the anti-Niger Delta plotters. From the first week of the work of the Devolution Committee, it was clear that delegates from the resource-famished states were determined to divert more oil wealth from the Niger Delta to irrigate their ailing economies. In clear disrespect to the memory of Generals Musa Yar’Adua and Sani Abacha, and President Umaru Yar’Adua the jingoists called for the scrapping of the NDDC, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the Amnesty Programme. They demanded more pounds of flesh, namely, that the 13% derivation quota be reduced to five per cent and that the onshore-offshore dichotomy resolved in 2004 be reinstated. At this point, we knew that an adversary who hauls stones at your hat is actually aiming at your skull.

   Thus we the federalists countered their specious arguments with more scientific statistics. On the onshore-offshore dichotomy, we drowned their cacophony about the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Sea by citing the actual wording of the legal definition of what constitutes land and its water-logged extension or the sea. Article 76 of the Convention states that “the continental shelf of a coastal State comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial area throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles (360 km) from its baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend to that distance”. 

   Professor Itse Sagay’s studies on the matter became handy to the federalist delegates. According this international scholar of jurisprudence, “…the law of the continental shelf simply follows the physical fact of coastal state adjacency to the sea and continuity of its land mass and resources under water. If land territory is submerged by rain water it does not stop being part of the territory of the relevant state for the duration of the submersion. As the Atlantic Ocean gradually advances into Lagos State coastal areas, particularly in the Victoria Island area, those areas being submerged by the sea do not lose their character and status as part of Lagos State to become part of the Federal Government territory simply because they have become covered by water”.

   Here is Sagay’s clincher as the Convention applies to the coastal states and the rest of Nigeria: “within the context of Nigeria, made up of a Federal State (Government) and 36 States, each of these 37 entities has its territorial space over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction. Some of these territories have coasts and others do not. The States that have coasts are Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Ondo, Ogun, and Lagos…Again, within the context of Nigeria, these are the only States with continental shelves and margins. Specifically, and especially, the Federal Government and the remaining 28 states are landlocked. Again, within the domestic of Nigeria, the other 28 States and the Federal Government have no continental shelf.”

   These legal explanations put to rest the politically corrupted judgement of the Supreme Court of April 2002 that disinherited the coastal states of their inalienable right to the continental shelf and all its riches. President Obasanjo who claims to be an internationalist, knew his grave error in the legal defect of that judgement. That was why he quickly atoned for his political sins by signing the National Assembly law of 2004 that restored the rights of resource democracy to the eight coastal states. Otherwise distinguished anti-Niger Delta delegates in our Committee ignored these glaring facts and asked for the return to the regime of illegality of the onshore-offshore dichotomy. Their gambit failed. But we know that they were not done yet as they are desperate to appropriate waterlogged wealth of the Atlantic coast. 

    The federalists responded with more counter measures. The conservative Northern establishment wants to possess the oil wealth of the coastal states. But they have no right to it. The inheritors of the Northern militariat want President Jonathan out of office by fair or foul means. The 19 landlocked states in the North contribute close to nothing to the Federation Account. The figures for four years (2009-2012) from the Federation Account Allocation Committee show that the South-South Zone contributed an average of 68%, the South-West 23%, the South-East 8-5% while the North-Central, North-East, and North-West zones accounted for zero per cent. Yet not minding their impecunious situation, the Jonathan Administration has done more for the Northern States than it has done for the Southern or even the Niger Delta of his nativity. 

   Here are examples of Jonathan’s pro-North programmes: (1) several multi-lane highways and boulevards completed in three years in all Northern States; the East-West federal highway in the Niger Delta started eight years ago is yet to be completed (2) the first-ever Nigerian standard gauge railway from Abuja to Kaduna (3) 10 Federal Universities opened in 2012 in the Northern States, including areas where secondary school attendance is dwindling due to violent conflicts and insurgency (4) over a dozen water dams and irrigation projects being constructed in the North only; there is no comparative one in all of the South as if people there do not need potable water and irrigation for agriculture (5) not less than N195 billion spent by the Petroleum Equalisation Fund in four years (2009-2012) to ensure that fuel is sold at the same official price on the coastal areas as on the fringes of the Sahara Desert (6) Billions of Naira committed to the over 1,000 km-long Green Wall tree-planting project to check Desert encroachment. This money-guzzling afforestation effort has yielded minimal results and the beneficiary State governments cannot account for the funds they have received. No Northern pressure group or mass media has demanded accountability from their less than prudent governors handling these huge funds. But the persecutors of Niger Delta people torment us with charges that monies meant for the region’s development are misapplied by our governors.  (7) An average of N100 billion budget per year for the Office of the National Security Adviser whose engagement is nearly entirely in the Northern sections of the country (8) periodic “dash” of cash to so-called victims of boko haram and other violent conflicts. Contrast this generous carrot with the failure of the same Federal Government to pay the compensation for the 1999 military destruction of Odi community in Bayelsa State as directed by a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

   No less incomprehensible is the scandalous fact that the Federal Government owes arrears of about N600 billions of its statutory subvention to NDDC. The Federal Government contributes only 15% of the NDDC funds; the rest are subscribed by the nine NDDC states (50% of their Ecological Fund) and three per cent of the annual budget of the oil companies operating there. The much-trumpeted funds devoted to the training and rehabilitation of the 26,000 ex-militants are no more than four weeks of oil revenue. If the Northern hegemons truly want a similar post-conflict scheme for their boko haram insurgents, they have to first fulfil two conditions: (a) identify the insurgents and make them surrender their weapons in public (b) source the money from the revenue from the insurgency-infested states to fund the programme. Niger Delta oil money and taxes from Lagos shall not be diverted for the purpose.

   The antagonists of the Niger Delta people want all the federal intervention agencies in the region scrapped so that more oil money will be available for their states to share. None of them thinks of fairness and equity by similarly advocating the termination of all the numerous federal intervention agencies and programmes located in the economically dependent North. Some of the elite involved in this tendentious propaganda are products of the best universities and administrative institutions in the world, including Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello, Harvard, Stamford, Cambridge, Oxford, and London. As the saying goes, in politics, there are only interests, never justice and equity.

   Owing to the selfish pressure of the non-revenue-contributing States in the Confab, the delegates are being persuaded to create a five per cent stimulus fund for mineral exploration. This is aimed to open up the vast vaults of mineral deposits in all parts of the country, particularly the Middle Belt States of Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Niger, and Benue. In spite of this historic concession to the cash-strapped states of the country, some die-hard opponents of the oil-producing states are obstinately resisting the proposal to raise derivation from 13% to about 20%, calculating from the 20 years since the 13% was introduced in 1995. Despite these fraternal handshakes across the Niger and Benue Rivers, their delegates are deaf to the request by Lagos State for 50% of its consumer tax revenue seized by the omnipotent federal government to spoon-feed states that do not even know how to tax consumption. The revenue-contributing states of the South have made more than enough sacrifice to accommodate the less financially viable states. We now demand that the beneficiaries of these pro-federal gestures should cultivate our understanding and show appreciation; on the contrary, some of them are exhibiting imperial arrogance, ignorant of the fact that what the conference fails to achieve amicably will be settled in other theatres of self-determination and freedom struggles. But we nurse the faint hope that the spirit of nationalism and consensus will overwhelm that of parochial hatred and colonial impunity.

  If the Confab plenary is able to resolve the derivation debacle fairly and equitably this week, then the entire enterprise would have merited the energy and time invested in it. When this happens, the souls of the late General Sani Abacha, General Musa Yar’Adua and President Umaru Yar’Adua might regain the right to rest in more perfect peace. Thenceforth, those dancing on their graves now, in and out of the conference, may soon find themselves alone on a deserted arena! We are rest assured that history will absolve us.

• Darah, Professor of Oral Literature and Folklore

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