The Nigerian albatross

Posted by News Express | 13 October 2016 | 3,022 times

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It will not be out of place to call it the Nigerian albatross. That is oil, that inflammable liquid that leaves no discrimination in its trail. Students of political history will readily admit that Nigeria’s politics, from inception, has largely been defined by oil. Since oil is, by its very nature, combustible, Nigeria has been a burning furnace since the discovery of oil on its shores.

The Biafra debacle was, for instance, in some ways, a struggle for the oil resources of Eastern Nigeria. When the Biafran Head of State, Emeka Ojukwu, was reluctant to, and indeed refused to submit himself for negotiation with the Nigerian Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, Nnamdi Azikiwe,  in one of his letters  to Ojukwu reminded him that oil in international politics was very combustible. Zik was merely reminding Ojukwu of the need to be less recalcitrant in a war in which oil was the main bone of contention. Whether Zik’s advice was well taken by Ojukwu or not remains a major point of disagreement by commentators on the Biafran adventure.

But what is hardly debatable is that the oil of combustion, after all said and done, took the flesh out of Biafra and left it badly mangled. The result was that the republic went out of shape and ceased to exist. But its bone has refused to be interred. And only very recently, the bones of the defunct republic have risen again to haunt Nigeria. Indeed, the ghost of Biafra has refused to allow Nigeria to have a good sleep. It all looks like the oil of combustion that consumed Biafra is on the trail of everything Nigerian. The country has always been bruised and battered due to its unpalatable relationship with oil.

The present state of affairs in Nigeria is easily traceable to this malaise. We will recall that the military which held sway in Nigeria throughout the war years and many years after recognised the centrality of oil in Nigeria’s politics. That was why they plundered and appropriated the country’s oil to no end. They ensured that the goose that lay the golden egg was left with nothing. Oil revenue was wholly appropriated by the government at the centre, leaving the other component units with nothing. The ruling junta did so primarily to have enough revenue to prosecute the war. But there was a secondary reason. It wanted to create a situation of economic siege where no component of the federation, except the Federal Government, would have any financial muscle to flex. It remained so throughout the period of the interregnum.

But a shift has since taken place. The return of civil rule in the country has sought to dismantle the old ways. The battle for a new order has been tough. But it is ongoing. From zero revenue allocation from oil to oil-producing states during the war years, we have something called 13 per cent derivation for the oil states at the moment. The push has continued. But it is being stoutly resisted, especially by the old brigade, who were part of the plundering of the war years but who, by sheer chance, are still at the commanding heights of our politics and economy today.

The Olusegun Obasanjo years as civilian president was the beginning of the bold quest by oil-producing states to have a fair chunk of the oil revenue derived from their territory. Some concessions may have been made to them. But that, to a large extent, remains a token. They were to achieve a major leap in this direction when Obasanjo set up his political reforms conference. Delegates to the conference made reasonable concessions to the oil states in terms of revenue allocation. But it remained stillborn because Obasanjo did not mean well. The conference ended in a fiasco. Nothing came out of it.

The situation remained so until Goodluck Jonathan set up his own conference. Again, the delegates to the conference had sympathy for the plight of the oil states and made valuable concessions to them. Like before, oil was at the centre of their recommendations. The conference sought to topple the applecart in some other ways. But a certain whirlwind swept Jonathan away. He was, in some sense, a victim of the oil of combustion. Those who felt that the reforms would weaken their hold on Nigeria massed up against him. He fell. But the fire continues to rage.

With the ouster of Jonathan, opposite people took over. One of the first things they went for was the report of the Jonathan conference. They consigned it to the ash heaps of history. Now, the concerned are kicking. They want a validation of the report of Jonathan’s conference. But it appears that the flame from the oil of combustion has engulfed the atmosphere. There is no more room for a breath of fresh air. Those who thought that relief would come their way through improved oil revenue were disappointed. The new order is not disposed to their expectation. In their disappointment and fury, the deprived have returned to the creeks and the combustion from oil is taking a new dimension.

At moment, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria is in a state of conflagration. Oil and gas installations are being vandalised on a daily basis. In many cases, oil is going up in flames, consuming humans and property in its trail. The deprived are insisting on a fair deal. They have, over the years, borne their deprivation and degradation with equanimity of spirit. But their patience has been stretched to the limits. They are now making a statement with the violence in the region.

But if you expected our government to show understanding, you are sorely mistaken. Government is angry that they dared to ask for a fair deal. The establishment is insisting on retaining the old order. It is not prepared to make concessions. Rather, it said it was prepared to meet the Niger Delta militants with force. Government has declared its readiness for force of arms. President Muhammadu Buhari said this much in his Independence Day broadcast. He told the militants that they could not hold Nigeria to ransom. He threatened them with military attacks should they continue in their destructive ways. That is the type of temper you get when oil is involved. The combustion hardly allows for sanity. You cannot enjoy serenity in the face of fire.

For a country whose national politics has, for 56 years, been defined by the flame of a burning oil, it is expected that our leadership should take stock with a view to mapping out a new strategy to deal with the combustion. But we appear to be more interested in stoking the fire.

But the present situation signals danger. In the beginning, anger boiled over because we did not appear sufficiently interested in quelling the conflagration. The result was the fratricidal war that left the country’s unity eternally fractured. Somehow, the military, through sheer force of arms, intimidation and harassment, whipped everybody into line. But there is a new beginning. There is a new consciousness, which rejects and repudiates the age-old intimidation and harassment. It has risen against the stifling and debilitating system. But the problem here is that none of the opposing tendencies is shifting ground. Will this lead to a repeat of history? Is the beginning returning to impose itself as the end? The albatross, that white ocean bird that can pass for a stormy petrel, is still flapping its wings. Danger is truly lurking in the shadows.

•This piece column originally appeared in today’s edition of Daily Sun. Amanze Obi can be reached via

Source: News Express

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