By Emeka Asinugo
Recently in Nigeria, another group of agitators by the righteous name of “Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement” renewed the demand for the Indigenous People of the Niger Delta Region to control resources coming from their geo-political zone. The “Movement”, like the others before it, claims to be representing the interest of the people of Delta Region. One of the leaders of the organization, Ms. Ankio Briggs, said that after due consultations, the organization came up with the decision to demand for the control of their own resources. The demand for resource control, she said, was as a result of the lopsided nature of revenue sharing formula in Nigeria. A summary of her statement is that:
* Nigerian citizens of Delta Region extraction, through Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement, have determined to control revenue coming from their zone
* The organization is relying on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to push its case
* The organization is also relying on President Buhari’s contribution at the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 28 September 2015 to press its demand home
* The sharing of oil and gas revenues from the Niger Delta has always been disturbing and unacceptable to the people of the Niger Delta.
“Over the years, well-meaning Nigerians have drawn attention to inadequacies in the current Nigerian Constitution. The constitution did not take the genuine desires, wishes and aspirations of the people of the Niger Delta and other minorities in Nigeria into consideration”, Briggs said. Interestingly, Briggs was at the last National Conference when these issues were tabled and debated. I remember the spirited efforts she made in her contributions. She proved to be a tough woman. She was a strong woman who knew her use of compass very well.
However, I think that time can always overtake issues. What the times call for right now is that leaders like Briggs should lead their followers by example. Rather than help to form multiple organizations all over the place demanding one concession or another, local Nigerian leaders should rally round the incumbent President and the ruling APC party and suggest ways in which the core problems of Nigerian nationalism can be more adequately addressed. Even the opposition PDP has to do this if it wants to retain its relevance in nation-building as a responsible opposition.We do this in the knowledge that the collective interest of our nation must be pre-eminently more important than the interest of any individual citizen or political party.
For instance, we should be bothered if President Buhari sets aside the results of the last National Conference in its entirety. The previous government spent so much money to hold that Conference. Why can Buhari not have another look at the documents to see if there are any suggestions in them that can help his administration move Nigeria forward? Nigerians are still looking up to General Buhari and Professor Osinbajo to deal with at-least the major problems that have continued to stare Nigerian citizens rudely in the face. A small fraction of those problems is the oil revenue sharing formula which Ms. Briggs and her movement are worried about. How the Buhari administration gets about tackling these challenges will be a very important pointer to the possible success or failure of the APC as a ruling party. But first, let us give our fledgling democracy a chance to survive.
Nigerians voted for change. They want to see that change through an enhanced quality of administration by their new leaders who took over from the past government and not by a proliferation of “movements” agitating for one thing or another. They want to see transparency at work in the decisions and actions of the incumbent government. Nigerians know full well that, for the Buhari administration to be able to meet their expectations for the change they desired and voted for, it should learn from the mistakes of its predecessor, build upon those mistakes and deliver from that knowledge. Creating new countries from the old cannot possibly guarantee that all the problems will go away. Just like creating a Delta-born President could not guarantee that all the Delta problems will go away. We are dealing with human nature here.
When Jonathan was at the helm of affairs, he inherited and had to deal with many problems, just as the Buhari administration is expected to do. Those challenges were there before President Jonathan was elected into office. He dealt with them as much as he was able to do during his one-term tenure. Some of them are being inherited by the Buhari administration no doubt. He, too, will be expected to deal with them to the best of his ability. No one is expecting all of the country’s problems to be solved during the tenure of one government or under one term of office.
In the Deep South, respected personalities like Ms. Briggs have already begun to drum up the need to rectify the prevalent anomaly in the formula for sharing revenue accruing from oil exploration between the federal government and ethnic minority groups of the Niger Delta Region – an agitation that had given birth to armed resistance in the Niger Delta Area. The agitation didn’t start with Jonathan’s administration, and possibly will not end with Buhari’s administration. Indeed, it was the expectation of many Nigerians that a President who hales from the Delta Region would be in a better position to effect a balance between the desires of the Northern oligarchy to benefit from the enormous oil wealth that came from the Delta Region and those of the Southerners in whose land the oil was situated. Unfortunately, President Jonathan’s rule could not see to the end of the violent social conflicts that prevailed in the Delta Region. In fact, tension appeared to have escalated during his tenure, especially when twelve Northern states embraced sharia laws in their entirety, in the robust attempt to contain power shift from the North represented by the election of a Delta man as President.
In a spirited attempt to come to terms with the social challenges that were beginning to creep in on the country at the time, such armed militias as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, in the Deep South; the Oduah People’s Congress, OPC, in the South-West; the Movement for the Realisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, in the South-East and Arewa People’s Congress, APC, in the North sprang up in defence of ethnic interests. Faced with all these difficult developments, President Jonathan became inclined to over-react with heavy-handed crackdowns by security agencies – in an attempt to keep the country intact and united. Until Nigerians voted for change, armed resistance in regions continued to take its toll through human and material destructions.
Now, the Buhari administration has inherited the problem. Maybe, it will bring some measure of hope to Ms. Briggs and her movement to recollect the Administration’s appointment of retired Brigadier-General Paul Boroh as the new co-ordinator of the Amnesty programme. A prominent son of the Deep South, Chief Edwin Clark, commended the government for the appointment and said it would avert a major breakdown of law and order which would have engulfed the Niger Delta region with time. But as I have already indicated, the problem of the Delta Region is one simple headache among the serious aches that Buhari, Osinbajo and the APC will have to cure, if they can. Nigerians are still anxious to see that President Buhari’s team is effecting the desired changes that the President and his party promised them through how they handle some of the more fundamental challenges that confront the nation.
Among them, the ceding of oil wells purportedly belonging to Abia and Rivers states to Bayelsa state was a source of political tension for years during the Jonathan administration. In the same vein, the ceding of some Nigerian oil-rich lands in Bakassi to Cameroon by the International Court at The Hague equally created its own tension and even now some Nigerians who live within the territory have continued to express their unhappiness that their true nationality was “stolen” from them. No one knows the mind of the Buhari administration yet.
Disputes over land ownerships in some middle belt and northern territories remain a serious source of conflict in the country. Between the Hausa and the Fulani, increasing conflicts over land and grazing rights for cattle remain a headache for President Buhari. So also will the menace of Fulani cattle rearers coming from the North to the South to continuously defy and rape Southern Nigerian women in their farms while their cattle are left to ravage vast swathes of cultivated farmlands. These problems haven’t had closure. They are still there. Things are even getting worse. The Buhari administration will find itself increasingly facing these lingering problems. And so, it should begin early to find a lasting solution to them, if it can.
Dangerous religious clashes between Muslim and Christian communities, especially in some states of the North-East do not seem to have mellowed down in the recent past. Practically every day these days, Christians are mowed down in their dozens by the bombs, bullets and machetes of their unrelenting Muslim brothers and sisters who sometimes kill even their own fellow Muslims in suicide attacks that don’t know and don’t care to know who is a Christian and who is a Muslim. There is no evidence that the tempo of wanton destruction is ameliorating in any way.
The Boko Haram insurgency continues to make the lives of Nigerians a nightmare in the North while in the South, the menace of armed robbers, rapists, kidnappers, cultists and ritualists has continued to make many Nigerians sleep at night with their eyes wide open!
These are some of the fundamental issues facing the Buhari administration in addition to international pressure coming from terrorist organisations like ISIS. This is why it has become pertinent for local Nigerian leaders to rally round President Buhari now, and help him to help the nation. This is hardly the time to agitate for concessions. We cannot continue to fight at the home front when we know that a formidable enemy waits outside to crush us if he can, and rob us of our young, growing democracy. Indeed, the times call for deep thinking and deep reflections on the part of Nigeria’s local leaders. And as we make or take our decisions, let us be motivated by need, not by greed.