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Fresh wounds in the Niger Delta

South South and the Presidency

Ijaws, Niger Delta vs The Rest Of Nigeria

Why Niger Delta deserves 50 per cent derivation, by Adegbite

Terrorism, neo-colonialism and the Nigerian state



Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dokubo-Asari is facing trial in Abuja. Kenule Saro-Wiwa before him was murdered by the military junta of General Sani Abacha, and Issac Adaka Boro was conscripted into the Nigerian Army and died in strange circumstances after he demanded a nation for his people who faced poverty and deprivation. The minorities have rights too, but the Nigerian government (running a monolithic economy) has never cared to respect these rights even as oil exploration and gas export is on steady increase bringing in more than $150 million (20,250,000,000 Naira) a day from crude oil sale. Despite this huge income from oil the minorities have absolutely nothing to show for the oil wealth as they wallow in poverty, have a higher than normal unemployment rate, and lack the very basic necessities of life.

There has been no plan by the national government to support and fund water transportation, the development of road networks, rural electrification, and health services. Even as gas is flared with reckless abandon, the federal government and the oil companies could not trap the gas and use it to generate electricity for the people of the Delta, and introduce some medium and small enterprises to employ these people. Rather all the billions of dollars from oil and gas profits are moved overseas by Shell, Chevron, Agip, Mobil, Texaco, Elf and the other foreign oil-greedy companies, and the rest go to Abuja with substantial (over 50%) going to Northern Nigerian States that contribute less than 10% to the national treasury. It is just not right and makes nonsense of the basic tenets of fairness and decency. For so long the rights of the minorities as outlined by the United Nations in several of its declarations, particularly the declaration of the rights of the minorities are disregarded and ignored by the Nigerian Government. This is why there is unrest, restlessness and agitation from the Niger Delta. The youths of the Niger Delta need jobs, they need to be meaningfully and profitably engaged.

The General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) on December 18, 1992 adopted resolution 47/135, the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/d_minori.htm), partly with the goal to eliminate all forms of intolerance and discrimination. Inspired by article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, it was with the view to promote the survival and involvement of minorities in the nations they belong to where they are likely to be crushed, denied, deprived, displaced and eliminated. A total of nine articles were declared and approved as central to the protection and survival of small groups, nations and minorities, but articles 3 to 7 speak to the problems in Nigeria so clearly. Though long articles 3 to 7 are reproduced below:

Article 3

  1. Persons belonging to minorities may exercise their rights, including those set forth in the present Declaration, individually as well as in community with other members of their group, without any discrimination.
  2. No disadvantage shall result for any person belonging to a minority as the consequence of the exercise or non-exercise of the rights set forth in the present Declaration.

Article 4

  1. States shall take measures where required to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.
  2. States shall take measures to create favourable conditions to enable persons belonging to minorities to express their characteristics and to develop their culture, language, religion, traditions and customs, except where specific practices are in violation of national law and contrary to international standards.
  3. States should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue.
  4. States should, where appropriate, take measures in the field of education, in order to encourage knowledge of the history, traditions, language and culture of the minorities existing within their territory. Persons belonging to minorities should have adequate opportunities to gain knowledge of the society as a whole.
  5. States should consider appropriate measures so that persons belonging to minorities may participate fully in the economic progress and development in their country.

Article 5

  1. National policies and programmes shall be planned and implemented with due regard for the legitimate interests of persons belonging to minorities.
  2. Programmes of cooperation and assistance among States should be planned and implemented with due regard for the legitimate interests of persons belonging to minorities.

Article 6

States should cooperate on questions relating to persons belonging to minorities, inter alia, exchanging information and experiences, in order to promote mutual understanding and confidence.

Article 7

States should cooperate in order to promote respect for the rights set forth in the present Declaration.

Article 4 (5) is actually where the problem in Nigeria calls for urgent attention. The minorities in the Niger Delta and the resource bedrock/cornerstone of the Nigerian nation have not been given any room to participate or allowed any involvement in the economic progress and wealth that their rich soil provide; they have been turned into mere on-lookers in the oil and gas activities and the huge businesses and opportunities that comes with it. This is criminal and unacceptable in a nation where the "legitimate interests of persons belonging to minorities" have not been addressed through adequate policies and programmes as required by article 5 (2) of this resolution. The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Rights to Organize Convention (No. 87) concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Rights to Organize (adopted on July 9, 1948) is at the heart of the trial of Dokubo-Asari, being made to look like a common criminal by the Nigerian government.

Open agitations are of right, democratic and clear expressions of choice - the freedom to choose should and can be taken for granted, and a people or a race, a nation or a state should be free to go it alone. A nation can be born by a people who feel the strong and urgent need, possess the determination and the united front, and common will to go it alone; to take their own future in their own hands and to elect to separate from a brutish, bigger unit. It is in fact undemocratic to force, subdue, crush or deny a people the freedom to choose, the freewill to elect who to live with and who to deal with. All around the world in the last two decades new nations have been created from huge states and various nationalities have gone their way. The most wonderful and best example of this was the break up of the former Czechoslovak Federation. The Federation broke up through peaceful negotiations. As pointed out by Jon Elster, there was no threat of violence and there was no violence of any sort! Nigerian leaders must learn from this. The Czechoslovak Federation was founded in 1918 and it split into two in 1993. Like Nigeria after the amalgamation by Lord Lugard for reason of economic exploitation and convenience, Czechoslovakia was equally an artificial creation which strewed together the Bohemians and the Moravians. It should be noted that it was democratic and legislative steps that helped propel Czechoslovakia into an easy separation and bloodless breakup.

On July 1, 1867, four provinces including Quebec came together in a confederation to create the nation of Canada. Other provinces and territories later joined the federation. For decades the confederation held firm together and the nation grew very prosperous and powerful, becoming one of the eight richest nations in the world with a size ten times that of Nigeria and a population of about 31 million. The first sign of separatist feelings came in the early 1960s when Rene Levesque formed a separatist, Quebec political party, the Parti Quebecois. Levesque encouraged Quebecers to vote on separation and there have been two referenda since then, both approved and organized by the Government of Canada. The first referendum was in 1980 when 59.5 per cent of Quebec voters objected to sovereignty and the second in 1995 when 50.58% said no to separation. It was actually a narrow escape for Canada and a much painful feeling for those who have been dreaming to have a Quebec nation. The question put to the people of Quebec during the referendum in 1995 was:

"Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995, Yes or No?"

The Federalists led by the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Jean Chretien and his party chief in Quebec, Mr. Daniel Johnson campaigned vigorously in Quebec while the separatists led by Mr. Jacques Parizeau who was then the Premier of Quebec and leader of Parti Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard, a chieftain of Parti Quebecois and Mario Dumont, the leader of Action Democratique went all over Quebec asking their people to vote for the creation of a sovereign Quebec. It was a fierce campaign and there were fears that Canada will be divided even as the whole world witnessed democracy in action. It should be noted that the government of Canada introduced the Clarity Act on December 13, 1999 which now outline the rules of separation, in view of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Succession Reference. I feel strongly that interested parties and leaders of Nigeria's government and the Minster of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo in particular who is prosecuting Dokubo-Asari, should visit http://lois.justice.gc.ca/en/c-31.8/text.html to read the Clarity Act.

Said to have conspired with some faceless and unnamed accomplices at Samsy Hotel, Benin City, Edo State to wage war against President Olusegun Obasanjo's government, Dokubo-Asari is made to look like a coup plotter of some sort. I do not see how agitation for fairness, equity and separation for the Niger Delta can be interpreted or equated with a coup plot. We just don't address issues and rather seek the easy way out. Millions of Nigerians are not happy in the rickety federation that we belong to. The only people eager to see the nation kept together are those milking it and taking the loot; it pays them, the rich and powerful, the politically powerful, the legislooters, the Ghana-must-go governors and local government chairmen and councilors, the businessmen moving crude oil and those prospecting for crude oil and gas. It pays these few people but it pains the masses, the majority of Nigerians in the South West, the South-South, the East and maybe the North too. It hurts the sensibilities of the fair-minded to see so much deprivation and poverty among the minorities while a section of the nation that has nothing to offer actually enjoy so much development in terms of road network, electricity, infrastructures and also take the lion share of the nation's budget.

It is strange that the powers that be in Nigeria will make strangers of the landowners, the minorities of the Niger Delta in particular, the Ijaws, Ikweres, Ogonis, and others; turn them into beggars in their own land, drive them away from the land and dot the place with pipelines, oil wells and oil rigs. Then the rest of the land is polluted, made inhabitable, the soil ruined to a level where fishing and farming becomes impossible. With the means of livelihood of these people taken away from them and no compensation coming their way, poverty sets in and idleness becomes a way of life. When they ask for reparation and compensation they get sudden visits from soldiers plucked from the far North to deal ruthlessly with the 'trouble makers' (as was in Odi and Ogoni land) who are branded subversive elements, and treasonable felony charges are thrown at them to prevent others from standing up to demand justice. For how long will these powerful people who only want to control the oil and gas and who are not even decent and human enough to acknowledge that these minorities must be given something back, must be allowed to eat, drink and live, must be availed small mercies of infrastructures and opportunities, some meaningful derivation funds to reward them for the land they have provided and lost.

In 45 years, the Nigerian government has made life impossible for the minorities and during the same period force has been elevated as the wonder answer to these problems. Isaac Adaka Boro and Kenule Saro-Wiwa were crushed by military governments, but today it is a civilian government that is using the same method used and abused by military dictatorships to address the problem of the minorities and the Niger Delta. But this problem will not go away; it will magnify and blow out of proportion one day; it will blow up in the face of some people and become too big and too dangerous to control. Many of our people discuss the creation of nation-states from Nigeria in the secrets of their rooms, beer parlours and peppersoup joints. People talk about it freely at home and abroad in secret, and they sure have some wonderful views about how they want the nation to be divided! There have been talks about the creation of Odua, Biafra, Middle Belt, Ijaw nations and many others. Nigerians talk about which ethnic nationality will join together with another and which ones will not want to have anything to do with a major ethnic group.

These are open talks and these are talks we must do more of; not run away from them. We must embrace these talks as a reality of life with the realization of the fact that the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are now divided into several nations and the Balkan has witnessed several divisions in recent memory. Those who think things will go on like this are just kidding themselves and living in dreamland. The idea that some nationalities will be baking the national cake while a few others sits down and consumes the most, pushing crumbs to the others will end, and it will end sooner than imagined. It will be sensible for this government to find an easy way out to free Dokubo-Asari and do the right thing for and to the minorities. The government must make the oil companies recruit more people from their areas of operation rather than bringing in unqualified people from their home countries to take jobs Nigerians can do. The multinational oil companies must put back substantial part of the wealth they make from the oil region to create small and medium size industries, employ indigenes and build infrastructures in the Niger Delta. Texas in the United States and Alberta in Canada are rich and well developed today because of their oil resources, but the same is not true for Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Ondo, and other oil producing states of Nigeria. The Federal Government is heavily culpable in this regard by design, omission and poor policy initiatives. The wonder that is Abuja today is from this monolithic oil wealth and you wonder why this wealth has not been extended to the Delta Region, at least some reasonable part of it.

Copyright by Nigeriaworld.com

Fresh wounds in the Niger Delta

By Reuben Abati

THE current crisis in the Niger Delta in form of the transformation of that region into a mini-Iraq with aggrieved citizens taking oil workers hostage, and demanding ransom as if they were disciples of Osama Bin Laden is the inevitable outcome of the failure of the Nigerian state and the professional political class to address the politics of oil. It can only get worse and it will. It would appear that the youths of the Niger Delta have finally discovered how best to treat and beat the Nigerian state. In the past week, they have kidnapped four oil workers: a Briton, a Honduran, an American, and a Bulgarian. They have seized two vessels, and attacked three flow stations. They are threatening to move from one oil major to the other. They call themselves Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

Each time radical militants of the Niger Delta seize oil flow stations, kidnap oil workers and inflict punishment on Nigerian security forces, the international price of crude oil shoots up. The daily production output of the oil companies in the Delta drops, and so Nigeria loses revenue. Oil theft is made easier, and perhaps more important for the purpose of the militias, the international community focuses afresh on the problems of the Niger Delta. Their action is dramatic. The effect is even more so. Shell which depends on the Niger Delta for ten per cent of its global oil production, as well as the other oil majors are already used to crises of this nature. There can be no doubt that they consider violent attacks on their processes and installations, part of the price to be paid for doing business in Nigeria. Shell has evacuated over 300 of its staff. Chevron has suspended some of its operations. But they will return either as partners of the Nigerian state or of the commanders of the Niger Delta, depending on how the coming showdown is resolved.

The main challenge lies in how six, seven years into civilian democracy, the

Nigerian government has not been able to make any progress in the Niger Delta. The situation in that region worsened during military rule especially under General Sani Abacha who unleashed a regime of terror and repression on the people, killing Ken Saro-Wiwa, the MOSOP activist and eight others. Abacha turned the people against one another and sacked communities. There was some respite under General Abdusalami Abubakar whose main contribution was to organise fresh elections and hand over to civilians. But with the return to civilian rule in 1999, it was expected that there would be ample opportunities for addressing the injustice, the abuse of human rights, the repression and the exploitation which had driven the people of the Niger Delta to the wall. Unfortunately, the response of the Obasanjo administration has been characterised by a disconnect between form and substance.

Take the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) set up by Obasanjo administration in 1999 to replace the ineffective Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (1992). This is the ad-hoc structure which is supposed to facilitate development in the Niger Delta by identifying and addressing the urgent needs of the people as a complement to the efforts of the state governments and the Corporate Social Responsibility contributions of the oil majors. There is a lot that the NDDC has been able to achieve: schools that have been built, bridges and other social infrastructure, chairs that have been taken to schools, new access roads, but all these do not amount to much. Years of neglect, inequity and deep-seated contempt make whatever is done for the people of the Niger Delta appear too little too late, and coming from the same Obasanjo that has not shown much sympathy, mere sop.

Besides, the NDDC is grossly under-funded. It is saddled with an assignment that covers about nine states, over 300 communities, each with its own peculiar and costly needs, lack of adequate funding limits its capacity. And because its commissioners are political appointees representing different states and interests, NDDC is further hobbled by the placement of politics before the development agenda. The oil companies are not helping to fund the NDDC adequately since in any case they have their own community development projects or so they claim. The state governments are of no help either. In the last six years, states of the Niger Delta have received more money than at any other time in Nigerian history, but this has not translated into any concrete difference. The youths of the Delta are aware of the existence of the NDDC, but when they see a road there or a school there, and they place that beside the amount of oil that has been taken from the Delta since 1956, they are not impressed. They want more. When they are snubbed or asked to go and ask their state Governors for greater accountability, they get angry.

Take also the government's peace-making strategies: Each time the people revolted either as aggrieved farmers or housewives, both the oil companies and government were wont to negotiate with and make peace with the local elite in the persons of traditional rulers, or youth leaders for whom something is packaged either in form of contracts or cash inducements. Thus, a self-seeking kleptocratic elite has since emerged in the Niger Delta which does not in any way represent the interests of the people. It is even a cheated elite.

The angry youths who have since formed themselves into formidable militias have exposed the limitations of that rent-collecting elite and its manipulation by the state. The other year, one traditional ruler was chased out of town by aggrieved youths who accused him of stealing money meant for the community. Youth leaders have also been sanctioned in many communities. Unlike the rent-collectors, the angry youths of the militias see themselves as revolutionaries. They are the ones now dictating the pace of the politics of the mangrove forest. No one should be surprised that there is no Niger Delta elite who can confidently condemn what these angry youths are doing. Such a leader may find it difficult to return home. So, in that sense, the strategy by the Nigerian state of using selected Niger Delta leaders against the people has failed.

A third grand strategy against the Niger Delta has been the use of violence, and the harassment of the rebels. The scope of repression in the Niger Delta is enormous. Even in ordinarily peaceful circumstances, soldiers are stationed in the region. Ordinary persons going about their businesses are searched. In their own environment, the people are subjected to constant harassment by agents of the state. Human rights abuse in terms of the despoliation of the environment, killings and the pauperisation of the people over the years have combined to create in the average Niger Deltan a feeling of discomfort and resentment towards Nigeria. Between 1996 and 2000 for example, more than five military Task Forces were set up to keep the people of the Niger Delta in check. These include the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, Operation Salvage, Operation Flush, Operation Storm, Operation Sweep, and Operation Restore Hope. What the militias of the Niger Delta have now advertised is the limits of the use of repression as a tool of state engineering. The militias in the current confrontation are obviously as equipped if not better equipped than the Nigerian army. They are turning their guns and rockets on Nigerian soldiers.

They are mowing down these soldiers and collecting oil company workers as hostages. They are speaking up for all marginalised minorities who are not recognised in Section 55 of the Constitution. They have even given an ultimatum. They want their leader, Asari Dokubo released or by February 1, they would hit at the soft underbelly of the Nigerian state and halt all oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta. If President Obasanjo had thought that by arresting and charging Asari Dokubo to court, the militias of the Niger Delta would be cowed, he is now mistaken. The Niger Delta militias are waging a kind of Holy War against Nigeria. It is a war of nerves. It is a costly war. For every Asari Dokubo that is arrested, there are many more in the creeks who are willing to take up arms. When Asari Dokubo is taken to court, he wears an Isaac Adaka Boro T-shirt. He abuses the judge that is hearing his case. His T-shirt is a symbolic statement. His attack on the judge is an attack on the Nigerian state. So what would the President do? Will he declare war against the Niger Delta? Or a state of emergency? Or will he eat the humble pie?

Now we know: no one has a monopoly of madness. This is the answer to the crazy failure of the Nigerian state to give the people of the Niger Delta an opportunity to articulate and canvass their aspirations. Under civilian rule, the psychological assault has been particularly intense. At the National Conference, delegates from the South -South had to stage a walk-out because the North bluntly refused to entertain their demand for resource control. The 19 states of the North even went to court to challenge the derivation formula. South-South leaders are insisting that the President of Nigeria must come from the South-South in 2007, the Northern elite have more or less told them to shut up.

When the people of the Niger Delta further remind the Nigerian state of their contributions to the Nigerian economy through their ownership of crude oil, which accounts for 90 per cent of national revenue, they are told that the oil belongs to the North. This was mouthed by Northern leaders at the National Conference but it is given an intellectual coverage in a booklet by Yusufu Bala Usman and Alkasum Abba: The Misrepresentation of Nigeria: The Facts and the Figures (May 2000) under what the authors call "the geological and hydrological realities of Nigeria" and "the formation of the Niger Delta". The young men in the creeks hear all these, and they are convinced that the only language that Nigeria can understand is that of violence.

Where now are those loud mouths, those arm-chair geologists who always claim that the oil in the delta is no more than sedimentary deposits flowing from the North to the South. Where are those oligarchs who push the view that the Presidency is too good for the South-South? The Niger Delta is the most vulnerable part of the Nigerian fabric. The present drift requires more creative thinking on the part of the state. Who are the sponsors of the militias in the Delta? How did they manage to smuggle their sophisticated arms into the country? Do they keep any bank accounts? If so, who is their banker? Are there fifth columnists involved? Is the conflict stage-managed? President Obasanjo in six years has succeeded in offending so many stakeholders, should any one or group feel determined enough to ambush and sabotage his government, the easiest battlefield is the Niger Delta where the hunted is now the hunter. If anyone wants to disrupt Nigeria and make it ungovernable, all he needs to do is to rent the militias in the Niger Delta and stop the oil pipelines from flowing. Armed robbers, saboteurs and professional terrorists can also take advantage of the situation. By refusing to allow dialogue on the issues of resource allocation and power sharing, the Nigerian state has created war within its own borders. Until the Niger Delta question is resolved, Nigeria sits on a carton of explosives and turns its face towards fire.

Copyright by Author/Guardian

Why Niger Delta deserves 50 per cent derivation, by Adegbite
By Charles Coffie-Gyamfi

DISTURBED by current developments in the country, which he insists is heating the body polity and thereby threatening the stability of the nation, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA) has warned the government against forcing third term on the citizenry.

In an interview with The Guardian in his Abeokuta residence the constitutional lawyer also backed the 50 per cent derivation crusade of the Niger-Delta.

Speaking on the alleged third term agenda regional agitation for power, Niger-Delta crisis and religious riots in some parts of the country over a cartoon published by a Denmark Newspaper on Prophet Mohammed, he warned that care should be taken so that the country is not plunged into civil war.

Asked if it was in order to amend the constitution to extend the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo by another term, he said: "The constitution does not say it cannot be reviewed anytime. Everybody knows that this constitution is not the people's constitution so it certainly needs amendment. But the amendment must be genuinely done through the proper procedure.

"Concerning the alleged third term agenda, if the review is to indicate that office holders should be eligible for re-election, then there is nothing wrong with it but the elections must be seen to be free and fair to enable the electorate reject or confirm them.

But I must explain that the President has not told us that he wants third term, so the issue so far remains hypothetical.

"However in case the President is considering having a third term as being speculated, then he should weigh the pros and cons and make his position known as soon as possible if only to calm the polity.

On the Niger-Delta problem, he said "the people of the Niger-Delta are being cheated and the NDDC (Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is not doing enough. The government should sit down and dialogue with the people in the area to reach a compromise, that is the only way-out of the problem. The solution to the problem is both political and constitutional. Constitutionally we should go back to the pre-military formula of sharing oil revenue."

He expressed the view that 50 per cent of the oil revenue in the area should be given to the people there as against the present 13 per cent.

"But it should be gradual, may be from 13 the present percent to 25 percent, to 40 percent until it gets to 50 percent. And this can be achieved by increasing it every two or three years" he suggested.

He continued: "We must solve this (Niger-Delta issue) not only nationally but also internationally by referring to international standards. The agitation by the Niger-Delta people now is for attention and correction. But if the attention is not given or the correction made, it would lead to a struggle for self-determination, resulting to full-blown resistance and before we know it, we are plunged into civil war. The Federal Government should engage in meaningful dialogue with the affected people."

Condemning the hostage taking by the militants in the area, Adegbite urged the militants to eschew violence because "the action is counter-productive."

"The Federal government should be careful in handling the issue. It is better the government uses diplomacy and political tact to get the hostages released. Whatever agreement is reached between the two parties (government and militants), must be implemented after the hostages' release to avoid recurrence.

"It is not enough for Nigeria to be leading negotiations in Sudan, Darfur Cote'de Ivoire and Liberia and fail to use negotiation in solving our own problems," Adegbite added.

According to him, every negotiation must involve the leaders in the area because "we should know that the militants are not on their own they are being supported by their leaders. One major issue about the crisis in the Niger-Delta area is resource control but unfortunately it is still hanging after the National Political Reform Conference and this needs urgent re-visitation."

On regional agitation for power, Adegbite said the struggle is heating up the polity and urged that merit should be the criteria. "We must select our leader purely on merit, no matter where he comes from. Let us see all of us as Nigerians, no matter where one comes from, if we do this such agitation would cease."

On the Religious riots, the NSCIA scribe said: "What is happening is embarrassing and disturbing to us the Muslim leaders. Islam is clear that no believer should attack an innocent soul. What happened in Denmark has nothing to do with us in Nigeria and therefore such needless destruction of lives and properties must ceased immediately. We Muslims must try to keep to the tenets of the Islamic religion.

"We as religious leaders also should go back to the drawing board to educate our members to eschew violence in what ever form as a way of expressing our displeasure on any issue. We can do this through lectures, seminars and sermons. The authorities should do everything to fish out those behind the riots and punish them. It appears as if there are other motives behind these riots. It could be political or economical but that is no excuse for anyone to kill his fellow human being.


Terrorism, neo-colonialism and the Nigerian state

Friday, February 03, 2006 Personal View
Mobolaji Sanusi

“The country of every man is that one where he lives best.”

THE captors of just released four hostages in the Niger-Delta have opened a new vista in government and activists/militants relationship in the country. Patrick Landry of United States, Harry Ebanka of Honduras, Nigel Watson-Clark of Britain and, Molko Nichev of Bulgaria, all workers of an American firm, Tidewater contracted by Shell Petroleum Development Company( SPDC), were for 19 days held hostage by Ijaw militant youths.

It is a good thing that lives of these foreign nationals were saved from the noose of the Movement for Emancipation of Niger-Delta( MEND), that claimed responsibility for the kidnap. This was achieved through intense negotiation between a panel set-up by the government and MEND.

However, dangerous dimensions were being introduced into the matter by the State. President Olusegun Obasanjo in Switzerland described the Ijaw militants as terrorists. The government has also promised to get them tracked down for punishment.

Ordinarily, whoever commits an offence deserves to be punished by the State. For every offence commitment, the Penal and Criminal codes have specified sanctions and the offence of abduction committed by the militants in this regard is no exception. Nonetheless, the State does not negotiate with criminals. No country does. Hostage taking has political colouration. This brings out the peculiarity of the case under focus. But this is not enough reason for the President to refer to them as terrorists.

Terrorism is a neo-colonial concept aimed at further subjugating developing countries to the lordship of the developed countries. The developed countries comprising United States of America and Britain now use the concept as a ploy for forcing less powerful countries to obey their dictates or as an excuse to invade such countries. The search for terrorists was used as excuse for invasion of Afghanistan by the United States after the 9/11 incident. The search for weapons of mass destruction used by terrorists was given as excuse for the invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq under Saddam Hussein inspite of world condemnation of the act.

Countries of the world are now scared stiff whenever the United States or Britain accuses them of harbouring terrorists in their territory. Terrorism in today’s world is defined from the microcosym of what these two countries think it to be. It was for neo-colonial convenience that the President described those whose region’s deplorable conditions have turned them into militants as terrorists. Shall we then fold our arms and allow the goose that lays Nigeria’s golden eggs to be appellated as havens of terrorists?

It is obvious that government’s intervention agencies like the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission(OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC), due to under-funding and distorted focus could not address the menacing poverty and environmental degradation ravaging the region. The oil companies too have failed to duly respect the Memorandum of Understanding ( MOU), signed with communities where they operate. One should not forget that most of these oil multinational companies are from United States, Britain and France. So, whoever or whatever group or community is out to fight for justice that could impede the operations of these oil companies easily becomes a terrorist in their view and that of the national government supporting them.

This is the dilemma of the Nigerian government that has elevated terrorism into state weapon against citizens fighting for protection and guarantee of their welfare and interests to satisfy neo-colonial powers.

There are dangers inherent in this development as the 2007 elections, third term agenda and protests against inhuman economic reform policies in the country gather momentum. I foresee a situation where members of the opposition against the hidden agenda of the Presidency would be branded terrorists by the Nigerian State. The country is almost getting to that stage. As commendable as the present effort at ridding the nation of financial corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is, many discernible eyes are already getting fiery and frightening traces of witch-hunting in its activities. The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary, 2003 edition defines terrorism as “a system of government that seeks to rule by intimidation.” In Nigeria today, EFCC with all sense of modesty has been turned into an instrument of intimidation. In its pursuit of a just cause, most times, its timing, modus or conclusion gives room for suspicion.

Beyond financial intimidation, the next stage might be political victimisation and intimidation of those likely to constitute strong opposition to deleterious official intents. It won’t be surprising to see Prof. Wole Soyinka, Abubakar Umar, Anthony Enahoro and other activists branded terrorists by the Presidency as 2007 elections draw closer.

Some politicians too might soon be branded terrorists by the government with their opposition to the heinous political plan of this administration.. Bola Tinubu in Lagos, Segun Osoba (former governor of Ogun), Orji Kalu in Abia, Boni Haruna in Adamawa and their likes whose principled opposition to official irredentism could lead to their being accused of terrorist activities. Some governors who are afraid of being so tagged have been whipped to line.

Whether in the Niger-Delta or in the South-South, whether in the South-West or South-East. Be it in the North Central, East or West, the elevation of terrorism into state policy as required by neo-colonial powers should be vehemently condemned by well meaning Nigerians. It is a big disappointment for the President to brand his citizens “Terrorists” in their own land. I wonder the defence the President will proffer when neo-colonial powers wake up one day to tag Nigeria a terrorists haven. His declarations of today will be used as evidence of facts tomorrow.


Greek mythology says that "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad"

The entity called Nigeria is MAD and on a high profile romance with self-destruction. A country that would destroy its environment to sell off its precious, depletable natural resources so that its future generation would be destitute is really MAD. Like a drunk driver in a temporal euphoric ecstacy of invincibility and arrogance, she speeds at 100 miles per hour without a care, on a romantic collision with her destiny, self-immolation. Yes! Sell off the damn oil and gas as quickly as possible, forget the future generation and enslave the noise-making owners of the resources with lethal military power.

It now appears that Nigerians learned nothing from the Biafra-Nigerian conflict. The romantic course of nihilism begins in the creeks of the Niger Delta with the military occupation and subjugation of Niger Deltans by Nigerian security forces encompassing the Army, Navy and Airforce.

The questions any reasonable person would ask are these:

1. Where is Nigeria heading?

2. Why is Nigeria rapidly selling off its precious, depletable oil and gas meant for its own present and future use? India and China and numerous other countries are buying up Nigerian oil blocks to obtain the oil for their further industrialization and diversification into alternative energy sources. What is Nigeria doing with its oil, besides sharing the proceeds amongst the States or maybe Governors?

3. If Nigeria with significant amount of oil and enormous amount of gas cannot generate enough electricity to industrialize for more than forty years, how can she industrialize in the foreseeable future when these energy sources are exhausted?

4. Does Nigeria have a roadmap for the next 50 years and in fact, the next 20 years beside sending an Armada of security forces to intimidate or even detroy Niger Deltans in order to sell their oil and gas to foreigners?

5. Are foreigners in Nigeria more important than Nigerians on Nigerian soil to warrant the most recent massive deployment of troops in the Niger Delta, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of Niger Deltans? If so, how many Niger Deltan lives are equivalent to the lives of one American, one Briton, one Bulgarian and one Honduran?

10 Niger Deltans?
20 Niger Deltans?
50 Niger Deltans?
100 Niger Deltans?
1000 Niger Deltans?

6. Is the Niger Delta a conquered territory?

7. Is the Niger Delta a foreign country?

8. Is the Niger Delta at war with the rest of Nigeria? If not, why are the Nigerian security forces not occupying and militarizing Ogun, Osun and Oyo or alternatively, Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto but mainly Baylesa, Delta and Rivers?

Even the blind can see beyond the charade.

When Nigeria orders 15 more armed naval boats to terrorize or destroy Niger Deltans in the name of security, instead of using the $15 million (cost of the boats) to build Schools, Power Plants or even establish Fish Farms to hire the teeming unemployed youths, her romantic interlude with self-destruction has just intensified and right on the money.

When Nigerian society values oil more than the blood of its Niger Delta citizens, she is romancing with self-immolation.

When one generation's greed, selfishness and material comfort threatens the well-being of later generations, the romance with self-annihilation is accelerating.

When a nation loses its soul, its conscience and its compassion for the down and out, the romantic pact with destruction is sealed with uncanny precision and prediction.

When a ruling clique imposes a constitution of the few corrupt and privileged elite, by the few corrupt and privileged elite for the masses, the romantic macabre dance is in full swing.

When a corrupt and crooked ruling elite protects itself through a constituionally fraudulent immunity clause, the romantic death knell is boldly spelled out in its own blood.

When those who hold Power over others define justice in ways that serve their interests only, the romantic fatalism is well assured.

When Political Office Holders fraudulently impose themselves on the masses through massive vote rigging, the diabolical romance with nihilistic forces has taken root.

When the Powerful manipulate externals, so that the most aggressive, crooked and cunning get the rewards and avoid the punishments, the romance of death is just around the corner.

When Bini, Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, Ijaw, Isoko, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Yoruba and all the other ethnic Nigerian Youths are forced to roam the streets for survival, the romantic intercourse has borne the fruits of violence, crimminality, thuggery and anarchy.

When these hungery, angry and futureless teeming unemployed youths begin to question their very existence and through reflection realize the fraud being perpetrated on them by the perpetually self-recycling ruling Cabal, the romantic fireworks of destruction will unfold and continue to gather momentum.

When a society openly operates on naked injustice, unbridled unfairness, gross inequity, outright cruelty and insipid hatred for the resource owners and downtrodden masses, the romance is elevated to a passionately violent masochism.

Violence begets violence and a society reaps whatever it sows. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. These statements have stood the test of time and will continue to stand the test of time because they are natural laws.

Kudos to the ruling Nigerian Cabal for their lethal use of State violence to oppress the hapless, hopeless, helpless and penniless Niger Deltans who are just unlucky to be sitting on one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world or at least in Africa. It is a crime to be lucky, if you are a Niger Deltan. Yes, if you are a Niger Deltan, do not complain or you are a crimminal. Yes, if you are a Niger Deltan, do not protect yourself from environmental pollution or you are a noise-making lazy bum and trouble maker? Yes, if you are a Niger Deltan, do not fight for your rights or you are a militant. Yes, if you are a Niger Deltan, do not fight for your very existence as a human being or you are an insurgent. Yes, if you are a Niger Deltan do not defend yourself against the oppressive and atrocious Nigerian security forces or you are a terrorist. Yes, if and if and if.......

If the gloomy eyes of the hungry child scavenging for food in the slums of the Niger delta do not grab your attention:

If the sorrow of the homeless family in the Niger Delta does not grab your attention:

If the cries of the unemployed woman in the Niger Delta who turns to prostitution to survive do not grab your attention:

If the final tears of the young Niger Delta mother dying during delivery or childbirth because there are no hospitals for caesarian operation do not grab your attention:

If the suffering and hopelessness of the abandoned man in the Niger Delta dying of AIDS do not grab your attention:

If the excruciating pain of the 7-year old Niger Delta girl dying of Leukemia resulting from oil and gas pollution does not grab your attention:

If the palpitating whimper of the 9-month old Niger Delta child dying of brain tumor resulting from oil and gas carcinogens does not grab your attention:

If the wailing middle-aged Niger Deltan, dying from asthmatic complications due to the gas flare does not grab your attention:

If the massive pollution of the rivers, fauna and soil of the Niger Delta does not grab your

If the eyesore of Bundu Waterside in the Niger delta, unfit for even pigs to live does not grab your attention:

If the collapsing and roofless schools, and deskless classrooms in the Niger Delta do not grab your attention:

If the constant gas flare poisoning the atmosphere of the Niger Delta does not grab your

Then, extreme violence, the vigilante of the vanquished will.

Let the ruling Cabal in Nigeria keep elevating the rythmic romantic macbre dance of fatalism to a higher masochistic crescendo. Let Nigeria keep romancing with Self-Destruction. It's just a matter of time before the vicious cycle of man's inhumanity to man gathers sufficient momentum to consume itself.

But there is another path. The question is, will the ruling Cabal and the few privileged and corrupt elite who thrive under the present chaotic atmosphere choose this path? This path starts with:

1. Convening or supporting a national conference of all ethnic Nationalities in Nigeria to decide their future and the way forward.

2. Creating for once, a people's constitution.......a living constitution of the people, by the people for the people and ratified through a national plebiscite.

These two starting points will lay the foundation for a virile, progressive and dynamic Nigeria.

Alternatively, the Powers that be can continue on the present course and it will just be a matter of time before events unfold. Just a matter of time before the cataclysmic implosion of Nigeria reverbrates throughout the world to prove to mankind once more that the downtrodden who are violently oppressed, suppressed, enslaved and disenfranchised will eventually respond in kind by paying the ULTIMATE PRICE but with such ferocity and viciousness that humanity will hold its breath. For the down and out at the bottom have nothing else to lose. In fact, displaying a sardonic glee of utmost satisfaction, they would go down with their kicking and screaming OPULENT oppressors, carrying the rest of Nigeria along.

Only time will tell how Nigeria romances with her destiny.

Article contributed by Bright Harry from Silicon Valley in California.

Edgar Daniel
“The wind of change has started blowing in the Niger Delta” – Rowland Ekperi, President   IPA- Ijaw People’s Association of Great Britain and Ireland and Ambassador plenipotentiary of Ijaws in the Diaspora.

Foaming at the corner tips of his mouth like somebody suffering from a fit of bad lies- erstwhile General and military dictator- current despot of Nigeria- Olusegun Matthew Aremu Obasanjo, speaking to members of his hurriedly put together “Niger Delta committee of stake holders”  read out a speech laced with unbridled pathos and new found concern for Ijaws and Niger Delta, read this…
The President said and quote “ I have discovered certain things, some of them really heartbreaking. I have discovered the collapse of communities, community values and ethos, communal life and spirit, I have discovered multiplicity of militia groups. I have discovered painfully, violence being extolled to the level of economic interest. I have also painfully discovered a situation where leaders have not been able to lead for whatever reasons. Where followers have wrecked the function of leadership from leaders. Where leaders have been made impotent and where immaturity has been enthroned with a lot buck-passing. We are here to move forward ”
One is obliged to see through this sudden and cultivated concern to a people and region that has long suffered untold hardships- paradoxically for the wealth they have wholly helped in creating for Nigeria- as nothing short of playing to his selected gallery of yeah Sayers and a cosmetic dressing for international consumption- the real stakeholders are far away in the swamps of the Niger Delta in their disembowelled communities. See the names of those in Obasanjo’s committee led by rtd AVM Larry Koinyan, this is like a who is who in the grand circle of Ijaw subverts- Rear Admirals Porbeni and Victor Ombu, AVM Ombu, AIG Sawyer, Generals. Maxwell Appah, John Ebi Yeri, S.W. Diriya, Olotu Maxwell Appah. Colonels Timidi Boroni, M.F.Komonibo, P.A. Larry, F.E.Lelei, P.A.Okubotin, L. Berezi, G.P.Okila, M.W.Itonyo, Sam Inokoha and Major Oputa. DCP’s Awotua Efebo, Nibo Komonibo, Johnbull Kontigo, Cecilia Olisa, Joan Alek, CP’s Dennis Ikoli, Kent Ikio and Goodluck Major, Navy Capt. Walter Feghabo and G.Capt. P.T Atin. Why these retired Military and Police personnel? The majority of them disconnected to their People and communities, some would need a radar navigator to locate their community and pass through an initiation ritual to establish their purported pedigree of Ijawness- they are as distant to the problems of the Ijaws and Niger Delta as the President himself.

What good will this ilk do this President? Unless he has ulterior motives of logistic reasons for integrating these willing ex-service men to prepare a systematic military solution or brutal onslaught on their kinsmen. Could this President listen once and for all- these are no stakeholders or leaders of their communities, some of them are the same Persons who have scuttled entreaties and provisions made for the Ijaws. Before the mark we could all discern the meaning of this ill-conceived divisionary ploy- what E.K Clark has long termed a jamboree- a plan to deny the real stakeholders and their communities any chance for effective change.

 If there is one factor capable of making mince of Obasanjo’s third term ambition, it’s the Niger Delta uprisings, he will not conceive to institute a constructive committee that will usher in a new dawn in the Niger Delta- for it will change the political grip of the already  falling arrangements of the old order and empower a new breed of activist politicians that will route out his structures in the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta if not handled sincerely- goodbye third term.

The demands and position of the Ijaw militias, activists, leaders and People couldn’t be louder and articulate than in this moment- has as been often stated publicly by spokespersons. The Obasanjo Government should explore these real channels of Niger Delta advocacy, not some misguided felons who runs the seats of power for contracts and are perpetually inclined to nod the positions of Abuja.

Chief E.K Clark, the father of the Ijawnation has refused to be part of what he has termed a jamboree- it’s a rope he has walked before, he knows the thin lines and trappings, he understands the marks, it’s like walking a political minefield, he has chosen the part of meaningful dialogue, political maturity and brinksmanship. INC-Prof. Kimse Okoko, youth organisations and leaders, MEND, IRA, IYC, NDPVF has stood by Chief Clark- The Ijaw community en masse stand by you all- we stand shoulder to shoulder- our resolves is unbent. Our will power to define and chart our destiny does not rest with the latitude of this President or others but in our vision and strength.

Oronto Douglas paper- “A Guide To A Politically mediated Settlement” should be seen as highlighting some of the previously put forward panacea and reinforcing the position of the Ijaws and Niger Delta communities- other than this, his paper without consultations with Chief Clark, Prof. Okoko, MEND, Ijaw NGO’s, youth groups and their leaders, would be seen as an undercurrent slapping the shores of Abuja for recognition and political grandstanding to the collective interest of the Ijaws- the need for a consultative forum of our leaders and activist is underscored in this defining moments in the history of the Ijawnation, unilateralism would not be encouraged, the positions of individual and groups without the fiat of the consultative forum would be discarded

When Rowland Ekperi aptly and amply coined the above phrase, little did he or most of us knew then what was to be the domino effect it would have on Ijawland, the Niger Delta, and entire Nigerian landscape- the region has since developed a new political awareness, a new class of restive youths, well articulate in their demands and forever established to re-arrange the old house order- we are still at the incipient stages of this new consciousness, the full import of Ekperi’s  well thought out diction is yet to manifest- words could be powerful and applicable eternally.

The Niger Delta, home to Nigeria fourth largest tribe- the Ijaws, 14 million and still counting- is the host community of oil exploration and exploitation, responsible for 95% of Nigeria’s foreign earnings and GDP respectively, but unfortunately this region and people have been systematically excluded from the dividends of the oil wealth.
 In the last ten years this has led to hostility between host communities-oil Conglomerates- and Federal Authorities, sometimes escalating to downright serious arms confrontations with the magnitudes of civil war proportions. The summary trial and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa by the Abacha military junta regime, for the first time brought out an unbridled outrage of the People of this region and somewhat measured response by the West. Then there were the massacres of Odi and Odi Ama respectively, pogroms at other communities- all carried out on the orders of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Thought at that time to be an intimidating action directed at the people to cow and subjugate them to docility while they are further subjected to vulnerability and exploitation. But history itself has thought us differently, not too long ago there was Isaac Adaka Boro- freedom fighter and resource control champion- then there was Kenule Saro Wiwa -enter Mujaheed Asare Dokubo and other splinter militant groups.
What has these strong arms tactics thought us in dealing with indigenous People who call for social justice and a more equitable remunerations of natural resources found beneath their very soil?  It is evidently clear that the application of violence in dealing with People who call for peaceful and constructive changes for a better society for all is like creating and breeding a monster with all the combustible element of explosion for a later day revolution.
Crisis unending has since engulfed the Niger Delta, it has now assumed international proportions. Kidnapping of foreign hostages is an added dimension to this already volatile region. Splinter militant groups before unknown has since given a new definition to the struggle for equitable oil resource distribution, we are all now faced with an Herculean task of finding workable ideas and solutions to the Niger Delta quagmire.
What does it take a nation to right the unforgivable wrongs done a People and region?- genuine disposition to reconciliation, even as I hate the word, release Asare Dokubo and other political prisoners from the Niger Delta, a demonstrative will by the Nigerian Government to listen, concede and implement the fair and legitimate demands of the Ijaws and Niger Deltans.
For a President like Obasanjo- who thinks he is on a messianic mission to rule Nigeria, a man with a monumental taste for empire building, a man who loves to display a false sense of international diplomatic grandeur and importance, a man that could not be taken for his words- ironically he is finding himself in a pit of cynicism in which he as always held others, who can trust this man to be sincere to the Ijaws and Niger Delta People?
Nigeria should give the Ijaws and Niger Delta People their fair chance in the stake of the Nation. The Niger Delta quagmire could as well be Obasanjo’s and Nigeria’ cul-de-sac.
Ijaws won't attend stakeholders meeting in Abuja

The Ijaw in Niger Delta will not honour the proposed all-stakeholders meeting being planned by the federal government in Abuja. The meeting of all Niger Delta stake-holders which would hold on April 5, 2006 according to the federal government would enable all the parties including to critically look at the Niger Delta Problem and proffer solution on how to end the restiveness in the region.

Ijaw national leader and former Information Minister, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark said on Wednesday at his country home in Kiagbodo, Burutu local council, Delta State, that the Ijaws in Delta State and in other Niger Delta states would boycott the meeting. Clark told journalists that all Ijaw leaders in the Niger Delta had been directed not to honour the meeting. Clark said that Ijaws were learning from past experiences. He said Abdulsalam set up a committee headed by Maj. Gen. Popoola to look into the problems of the Niger Delta but the comprehensive report submitted by the committee was never implemented due to the divergent views and demands by the various groups in the Niger Delta.

Clark added that Abdulsalam promised to spend N15 billion between April-May 29, 1999 in the Niger Delta before leaving office but no one knows the whereabouts of the N15 billion till date. Adding that the decision to establish a federal university in the riverine Ijaw areas and to step down the national grid from Owerri to Yenagoa in Bayelsa state never materialised.

Describing the proposed meeting in Abuja as another gimmick to doge the pertinent issues raised by the Ijaws of Niger Delta Clark said the decision by the federal government to call the "jamboree meeting or conference" came to the Ijaw as a shock. Another reason why the Ijaw would not honour the conference, according to Clark, "is that each governor has been directed to nominate five representatives to attend the proposed conference in Abuja.

He argued that most of the governors might nominate people from the state who have no stake in the present crisis due to the heterogeneous nature of the states. Clark therefore urged President Olusegun Obasanjo to open dialogue with the ijaw leaders and youths to find a lasting solution to the Ijaw problem in the Niger Delta

South South and the Presidency
By Reuben Abati

The struggle for the post of the President of Nigeria by 2007, now effectively vacant, has begun with the North and the South South as front-runners both in terms of their insistence and the articulation of their preferences in the public domain. The South West is automatically out of the race having spent the last seven years in office (?). Some other geo-political zones, particularly the Middle Belt, are not as enthusiastic. The South East makes some occasional noise about its interest in the Presidency, but Ndigbo is disunited, and this is its biggest problem, its leaders sound ambivalent, those who have expressed interest in the Presidency from that zone have too many internal enemies who are determined to stop any other Igbo man from rising.

Beyond this internal division, the North has never hidden the fact that it is opposed to the idea of an Igbo Presidency; it is an option that the North never considers. Other ethnic groups have also never really forgiven Igbos for the civil war. But whenever it is eventually the turn of Igbos to be President, Nigeria would have become a far more politically enlightened country; the ghosts of the past would necessarily have been laid to rest. But that is a subject for another day, lest some ethnic wrestlers misinterpret my true position in the matter.

What is indicated in the present circumstance, however, are the same old issues about power rotation, power shift, and the need to run this country in a manner that every stakeholder will feel a sense of belonging. It is now incontestable that one possible way to ensure national unity in this country is to allow power to rotate among the various stakeholders, including the smallest groups. Ethnicity is an eternal albatross that Nigeria must carry like the load of Sisyphus. Section 55 of the 1999 Constitution which recognises only three major ethnic groups: Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa, makes other Nigerians look like passengers in the Nigerian arrangement.

In the past decades, the marginalised, minority groups, owing to the spread of Western education among them and their awareness of international human rights, have very radical in responding to all images of internal colonialism. They are opposed to internal colonialism, especially the type that is endorsed by Section 55 of the Constitution and which is given full effect in governmental operations. They want this displaced in order for us all, as individuals and citizens to have a proper country, and build a nation. The minorities began their struggle long before now, and that is the import of the Willinks Commission and successive protests by that region (Adaka Boro, MOSOP and Ken Saro Wiwa, Niger Delta Volunteer Peoples Force, MEND etc) , but it seems certain that the future of Nigeria is tied to the resolution of the anxieties of the minorities. When one minority in a particular geo-political zone is offered a sense of belonging, other minorities, who indeed collectively represent the majority in Nigeria, would have been granted a sense of possibility. Human beings are driven by a sense of possibility. They are driven to desperation by a sense of denial and closure.

Am I speaking in parables? No, and I guess the thing to do is to immediately contextualise the present struggle for power. The North wants power desperately. It is already fighting as if its life depends on it. Power is the oxygen that keeps the North alive. For 35 years, the North held on to power at the centre, and ruled Nigeria as if it belonged to one particular group. That is the Fulani, for it would be wrong to assume that power in the hands of the North we knew meant the Hausa (who are not even accepted as an ethnic group by the Fulani) or any of the other marginalised groups in the North who must be subservient to the Fulani to gain any form of attention. The Fulani are in more than twelve countries in Africa as a nomadic group and wherever they are either as majorities or minorities, their acute interest in power is a permanent aspect of the power equation. In more than seven years in power in Nigeria, they have been shut out of the corridors of power, and access to the control of Nigeria's economic resources.

Obasanjo who suffered immensely in the hands of his Fulani successors in power has not been very kind to the general Fulani group since he came to power in 1999. One of them jailed and humiliated him. Obasanjo has also further displaced the Fulani hegemony. He destroyed the LPO system which sustained that hegemony; he offered positions to children of the North but he refused to put them in charge of the economy. The economy, he handed over to Ndigbo, thus creating an ironic balance. The North's bid for power in 2007 is in part a response to this withdrawal factor; this marginalisation of the North by the Obasanjo government.

To worsen matters, he who used to be their man and candidate has refused to be manipulated by them. He has for the most part ran his own show in the last seven years, the defects of that show are singularly traceable to his own limitations, already well-defined elsewhere. In addition, the average Nigerian continues to nurse a deep-seated grudge against the North and its principal icons. Thirty-five years of Northern domination of political power brought few advantages to the North, if anything, it further divided the North. Is there any guarantee that the return of power to the North would create a different situation? This is the basic issue that the Northern elite must worry about even as they search for a candidate that would represent the interests of a non-existent monolithic North.

But where do we stand in relation to this as Nigerians, as ordinary Nigerians who are not looking for power on an ethnic basis but who are just interested in being citizens of a country that works? It is not difficult to know what ordinary Nigerians want. They want a country that is properly managed. They want a country where the human being can feel a sense of humanity. They want leaders who are motivated by a sense of the common good and an interest in history. They want a united country where a Yoruba man can woo a pretty Ijaw woman and not feel that he is doing something strange. They want to live like the people of London and New York where even the poorest of the poor do not have to worry about those details that give ordinary Nigerians the greatest anxiety. They want to live like human beings, and this includes those rude Nigerians who abuse others on the internet with their terrible, ill-mannered prose. Ordinarily, it should not matter where a leader comes from as long as he is a leader, but nations are not the same and societies must manage their own circumstances.

By far, the South South seems to have prepared a more reasoned claim to the Presidency through both advocacy and militancy. The latter method represented by the likes of MEND and its band of hijackers and the Asari Dokubo group on the other end of the scale may have attracted much criticism but no one can claim not to know what the South South wants. This remains clear even if some of the elites from that region nearly diluted that message with their open, may be insincere declaration of support for the Third Term agenda. They have however since recovered their voice, heard loudest during the National Conference and almost simultaneously through such groups as the South South Peoples Assembly, with their articulation of the compulsory need for a South South President in 2007. The South South probably has the largest collection of advocacy groups seeking justice and equity for the people of that region and the power question is right at the centre of that agitation. Nigeria's refusal to listen to the complaints of the South South and by extension the cries of the minorities is largely responsible for the instability in the country. There is no other place like the Niger Delta in the world. At the moment, the South South's search for power at the centre can be linked to ethnic power politics, and it actually looks like a credible entry point into resolving the national question. But perhaps not exactly as the South South elite is currently phrasing it.

It seems to me that the South South search for power is predicated on the woolly assumption that once a man from that region becomes President, the fears of the people of the Niger Delta and their neighbours would be addressed automatically. Our experience with political power in Nigeria has shown that ethnic anxieties are not necessarily addressed by the kinsman in power. It is possible to have a South South man in power and he could prove to be an enemy of South South interests and a good promoter of his own selfish ambitions. It is true that if the South South were to win the Presidency in 2007, it would be a great revolutionary development indeed.

But the South South must never be under the illusion that the North would willingly grant it that opportunity simply because there is violence in the Niger Delta. South South leaders must take their search for power beyond the level of rhetoric. They must organise, organise and organise. They must also reach out to other Nigerian constituencies, groups and stakeholders. A minority South South President will be kept in power not by MEND and the Asari Dokubo group or Egbesu boys but the consensus of other stakeholders. Such insular and regional methods adopted by the ethnic militants in the South South can only in the long run prove to be politically counter-productive.

The other challenge before the South South is to identify the right and proper candidate, and build a consensus around that candidate. The SSPA after its last meeting in Port Harcourt had said that its plan is to appeal to every political party to choose a South South Presidential candidate. That kind of wild goose chase makes no sense to me. To gain power the South South must operate as a united front if it is serious about its ambitions. But having won power, it would then face the bigger task of ensuring that the man who gets to power on the South South platform will be not just a nationalist, but a nationalist with "a local base".

For sure, a South South Presidency will be resisted by the North which claims a superiority of numbers, and has shown a tested capacity for power politics. Strategists of the South South Presidency must begin to worry about how to sell their candidate(s) to the average man in the North who may have been tutored to believe that the presence of a South South President in Abuja could mean a reversal of all inherited advantages. Can the South South find a bridge-builder, someone with the political savvy and maturity to navigate Nigeria's troubled waters, a man or woman that can be trusted with Nigeria? If such candidates exist, the South South must move beyond media posturing and sentiments and name such persons without any further delay...