We Dare To Be Different.
Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy: Why the Locus of Power Lies in the North?
Priye S. Torulagha
The political drama concerning whether the president should sign or not sign the amended Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy Abrogation bill submitted by the National Assembly for signature reveals unequivocally where does political power lies in Nigeria. The North definitely commands supreme authority and the South is powerless and is woefully submissive to the North, at every level of interaction between the two major regions of the country. It can, therefore, be said that the debate about the bill is more or less a debate about who controls power in Nigeria. Of course, who controls Nigeria also controls the oil resource. Since the North controls Nigeria, the North sees the bill as a Southern effort to wrest control of the country from it through resource control. The South is seriously disadvantaged in confronting the North due to lack of regional unity and political consensus on what should be the agenda of the region.
The imbalance of power between the two major regions is uniquely strange or appears to be an anomaly because it defies common logic about power. Generally, it is believed that power is always in favor of those who have the necessary resources to enhance their positions vis-à-vis others. In the case of Nigeria, currently, the South seems to be richer than the North. For example, oil that has been the economic mainstay of the nation for about thirty five years is wholly located or found in the South. Thus, firstly, the availability of oil, the most crucial economic element in the country, in the South, would have automatically catapulted the region to the apex of political power in the country. The North, due to its current lack of oil, is supposed to be less powerful. Secondly, the South has a higher level of educational manpower. This means that the South has more educated citizenry at all educational levels (elementary, secondary, university, and professional etc.) than the North. This would imply a greater Southern control than the North in matters relating to politics, government policy, professional and technical know-how, and the economy. Thirdly, due to the higher educational level among Southerners, Southern politicians, leaders, military officers, and bureaucrats etc. are expected to be much more effective in enunciating their positions or views on issues relating to the state. Fourth, Southern Nigerians seem to spread and travel far more widely than their Northern counterparts, throughout the world. For example, a Southern Nigerian is more likely to be found anywhere in the world than a Northern Nigerian. Therefore, the South is supposed to have a greater influence in the management of the state, especially on matters of policy, technological development and transfer, international relations, and international trade.
Behold, this is not the case. The South is quite unable to apply the advantages of its abundant resources while the North has perfected its ability to apply power in such a manner as to yield maximum benefit to the region, despite its gargantuan disadvantages. As a result, the North that is severely disadvantaged or handicapped, is actually the greatest possessor of political power and the South which is greatly endowed with resources is the most handicapped in the exercise of power. The power imbalance between the two regions has been amplified following the politicking for the president’s signing of the amended version of the onshore/offshore dichotomy bill. To avoid losing control of power, the Northern political establishment simply said “No” to the bill and the South trembles timidly. The president, although a Southerner, refused to offer any challenge and agreed with the North, claiming that the bill, if signed, would violate international law. He maintained that the National Assembly should amend its bill to enable his original proposal to stand.
An examination of the political reactions of the various political actors in the country on the onshore/offshore issue shows why the North is the supreme political authority in Nigeria. To accomplish the objective of this article, the paper is divided into two parts: Part1 and Part 2. Part 1 focuses on the reasons why the North has been able to dominate Nigeria and why the South has not been able to do so. Part 2 focuses on the characteristics or factors, strategies, and tactics that have been used and are being applied toward the onshore/offshore abrogation bill debate.
First, the fact that the North has politically dominated Nigeria since independence is indisputable. The evidence is clear: Prime Minister Abubakar, Tafewa Balewa, a Northerner, ruled during the First Republic (1960-1966); Major Gen. John Aguiyi Ironsi, a Southerner only rule briefly (January to July 1966); Gen. Yakubu Gowon, a Northerner ruled from 1966 to 1975; Brigadier. Murtala Mohammed, a Northerner, ruled briefly (July 1975 to February 1976); Maj. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a Southerner, ruled from 1976 to 1979. President Shehu Shagari, a Northerner, ruled from 1979 to 1983; Gen Muhammadu Buhari, a Northerner, ruled from 1983 December and was overthrown or replaced by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, a Northerner, who ruled from 1985 to August 1993; Gen. Sani Abacha, a Northerner, ruled from 1994 until his sudden death in 1998; Lt. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, a Northerner, ruled from 1998 until May 29, 1999; President Obasanjo, a Southerener, began his current leadership on May 29, 1999
As can be seen, President Obasanjo is the only Southerner who has ruled Nigeria for more than three years. For most of its 42 years of independence, Nigeria has been ruled by the North. This shouldn’t have happened in a country in which most of the ingredients of power are located in the South. Moreover, the North is as ethnically diverse as the South. On top of that, the North also has a major religious problem in the sense that Islamic fundamentalism remains a constant major threat to both Moslems and Christians. On the other hand, the South seems to be more tolerant of religious differences, even though a sizable Islamic population exists in the Southwest and Edo State. Consequently, in theory, the North is supposed to be much more disunited than the South.
Second, however, despite its disadvantages, the North has a very critical element which the South does not have. The North has a greater ability to homogenize its political goals and objectives than the South. The North is able to accomplish homogenization through the pragmatic application of political resources. For instance, immediately before the Civil War, the North abandoned ideological ethnicity and religious purity and appointed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, a Christian, from a minority Northern ethnic group (Ngas) to rule the country after overthrowing Maj. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi in July 1966. Thus, despite ethnic and religious differences, the Islamic North and the Middle Belt teamed up to produce a compromised candidate who was acceptable and capable of holding the country together.
Third, the North is able to speak with one voice whenever the strategic interests of the region is threatened. Northern leaders are able to see beyond the immediate need and thereby encourage members to think alike and act alike in a groupist or groupthink manner. As a result, it is not surprising that former head of state, ret. Gen/Dr. Yakubu Gowon is the head of the Arewa Consultative Forum. When he speaks, the entire North listens and acts accordingly. The North also listens to former President Shehu Shagari on national issues. Hence, when former President Shehu Shagari advised Northern presidential aspirants to wait awhile, they listened (Ajanku, 2002, September 28).
Unlike the North, the South speaks with many voices. The South does not know what it wants, hence, is unable to articulate pragmatic and achievable political goals and objectives. In addition, the South has many regional, inter-ethnic, and intra-ethnic leaders. Southern leaders compete fiercely among themselves in an effort to dominate each other. As a result, the ethnic groups in the South can barely coexist, hence, are constantly at each others throat. To curry favor in the struggle for preeminence, Southern leaders and organizations always rush to the North to seek support so as to boost their significance back home in the South. The North plays the classic role of a balancer as the Southerners compete among themselves.
Fourth, despite ethnic and religious diversity, the North has been able to bridge the gap between various political stakeholders in the region. This means that Northern traditional rulers, political, religious, military leaders, and youth groups have successfully harmonized and integrated their political perceptions of what needs to be done in order to achieve the goals of the region. Therefore, a tug-of-war among various sectors of the Northern political landscape is minimized even though religious differences continue to threaten peace in the region. The elders are not sacrificing the interest of the region and the youth groups do not want to rock the boat by incessantly challenging the leaders. The traditional rulers and political leaders are politically aware and active in their pursuit of Northern goals and objectives. Of course, this does not mean that there are no internal political problems in the North. In fact, ethnic crises have been as severe in the North, particularly in the Middle Belt, as in the South.
In the South, there is no harmonization and integration of political perceptions of what needs to be done in order to enhance the strategic interest of the region. Consequently, the traditional rulers, political leaders, and youth groups are constantly fighting each other . In particular, Southern traditional rulers are not politically as aggressive as their Northern counterparts. They are almost invisible to the members of the public and prefer to make deals behind closed doors. Northern traditional rulers are not afraid to make public declarations about their position on any national issue. For instance, in the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy issue, the Kano Elders Forum took a public stand and insisted that the president should not sign the bill. Traditional leaders in the South are working diplomatically through political alleys and backdoors to convince Northern leaders about the need to support the passage of the bill.
Northern governors do not shy away from carrying out controversial mandates of their citizens, regardless of whether such mandates are contradictory to the national constitutional order. Their Southern counterparts are not eager to carry out controversial mandates of their own citizens in such a fashion When Moslems wanted a Sharia legal system to be instituted, the political leaders of the Islamized Northern states acted aggressively to enact laws legalizing the Sharia in their state constitutions. On the other hand, the citizens of the Southern states have been clamoring for resource control but their political leaders are very lukewarm to pursue the agenda vigorously. In particular, in the oil-producing states, the establishment political leaders at all levels seem to be half-hearted in their commitment to resource control. It should be recalled that it was the youths of the Niger Delta, especially after the Kaiama declaration, who enunciated the need for resource control through derivation. The governors of the oil producing states only joined the resource control debate after they realized that the youths were very committed and willing to fight for the course.
Fifth, just like their civilian counterparts, Southern military officers, in the past thirty years, tended to be passive in expressing and protecting Southern interests when officers from both regions congregated to make critical military decisions about the nation. Hence, they allowed most military installations to be sited in the North. Likewise, they allowed political decisions that stifle Southern political and economic aspirations to be put in place. This is a drastic change from the era of the Ist Republic and during the Civil War when Southern officers were very dynamic, like their Northern counterparts. Officers like Maj. Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Maj. Ifeajuna, Maj. Alali, Maj. Bayo Ademoyega, Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Lt. Col. Ayo Ariyo, Col. Mobolaji Johnson, Col. Samuel Ogbemudia, Lt. Col. Fajuiyi, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, Maj. Isaac Boro, Col. Akirinade, Biafran Col. Achuzia, Maj. Ekandem and Archibong of the Ikot Ekpene sector etc. were very bold, fearless, and willing to sacrifice themselves. Not until the abortive coup of April 4 1994 did some Southern officers demonstrate that they still have the nerve to challenge the status quo without fear of being killed. However, Southern officers now seem to pay more attention to saving their careers, lives, and interests to the exclusion of the general interests of their communities. Hence, the Southern struggle for political equality has been waged by militias and activists organized by non-establishment! organizations and individuals.
Sixth, the South is hampered by its educational successes. The educational achievements actually serve as impediments to the proper utilization of manpower, resources, and political tools. Southerners tend to suffer from “I am more educated and knowledgeable, therefore, I am more intelligent than you” syndrome. Basically, due to their voracious appetite for “Western education,” they tend to assume automatically that they are smarter or more intelligent than Northerners. This leads to uncontrollable super ego, arrogance, a sense of righteousness, and inability to see beyond their own view of things. It leads to a false sense of power about what should be done to achieve a particular goal. As a result, it is quite impossible for individuals who think that they are more educated or intelligent to compromise. For instance, it is always very difficult for Southern (South-East, South-West and South-South) leaders to compromise on who should be the leading presidential political candidate because each political aspirant feels that he/she is more educated and intelligent than the others. Whether in the South-East or South-West or the South-South zone, potential presidential and gubernatorial candidates always feel that they are more qualified than the others, therefore, cannot compromise their positions. Instead of compromising, they tear each other apart and rush to the North to form political alliances in the hope of outmaneuvering their Southern opponents. As they scramble to outwit each! other, they enable the North to choose and pick those Southerners who are most likely to serve Northern interests. It is not surprising that the newly formed All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) party is already going through a power struggle among its founding leaders.
The “I am more educated and knowledgeable, therefore, I am more intelligent” syndrome
makes it very difficult for the Yorubas, Igbos, and the South-South ethnic groups to work together. Each group assumes that it should be the one to lead because it is more educated, intelligent, and knowledgeable and not the other way round. It should be recalled that when citizens of Akwa Ibom protested over the severe underrepresentation of indigenes at the top executive management positions in Mobil, a Yoruba countered that the Ibibios did not have the intelligence or knowledge to serve in senior management capacities since they were more gifted in low occupational skills . This prompted the citizens of Akwa Ibom to remind the Yoruba writer that Nigeria was well-managed financially when a son of the state, Dr Clement Isong was the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Likewise, during the political struggles for the presidency in 1998, even though many Southerners preferred Chief Olu Falae, they could not actualize a strategy to enable him to win. On the other hand, the North preferred Chief Obasanjo and they made sure that he won.
While the North lacks behind the South educationally, the Northerners seem to work together because they do not allow a false sense of education and intelligence to make them arrogant toward each other. They are able to compromise and allow a collective decision-making process to work itself out in a practical manner. This is why the Hausa/Fulani are not afraid to appoint a non-Moslem to lead them. They are not afraid to appoint a non-Hausa/Fulani to lead them if they think that such a person is the most capable leader to lead them to a promised goal. In the South, it is extremely very difficult for the Yorubas, Igbos, and the minorities to work together because each group feels that it is the most gifted to lead and the others should follow behind.
Seventh, the North has been able to dominate Nigeria due to the fact that it is much bolder in expressing its desires than the South. For whatever reason, the South seems to be cowardly and confused. Northern traditional rulers, political and military leaders, and youth groups are not afraid to act forcefully to get what they want. They are also not afraid to take risks if such are needed to enable them to achieve their goals. Southern traditional rulers and political leaders tend to be passive and fearful of rocking the political boat, hence, are beggarly in their dealings with Northern leaders.
Eighth, the North fully understands what power entails. The Northerners know that politics is a struggle for power. In fact, politics is often described as a struggle for “who gets what, when, and how” (Dye, 2002). Since politics is a struggle for power, Northern leaders are not afraid to do whatever it takes to control power in the country. If it requires staging a military coup, Northern military officers will not hesitate. Likewise, if it requires bribing or intimidating or forming an alliance, the North will not hesitate. The North is willing to risk the shedding of blood to achieve its goals. On the other hand, Southern leaders expect the North to hand over power to them without a fight. They intellectualize and rationalize excessively without having the nerve to carry out their intentions. Increasingly, it is the youths who are now willing to adopt militant tactics to achieve the political and economic goals of the South, particularly in the South-South.
Having enumerated some of the reasons which have made it possible for the North to dominate Nigeria, in this section, the purpose is to show the factors, strategies, and tactics that the two regions have used and are using in reacting to the onshore/offshore dichotomy bill
First, as soon as the National Assembly released its version of the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy Abrogation bill, the North immediately reacted by saying that it opposed its passage. The Kano Elders Forum, (a meeting of Northern traditional and political leaders) said that the bill was unconstitutional because it would give the littoral states an extended political and economic advantage over the non-oil producing states (Nazeephy, 2002, December 18). The forum warned “We members of the forum calls on the members of the national assembly not to pass the law in the overall national interest. We also call all Nigerians not to support this ….form in the interest of national unity, security and stability”(Ibid.).
As soon as the Northern elders had made their position known, the governors of the nineteen Northern States (19-Northern State Governors Forum) followed by declaring the onshore/offshore oil dichotomy abrogation bill unconstitutional (Nwankwo, 2002,December 22). Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi of Kaduna State explained Northern concerns by arguing that the National Assembly bill, if passed, will enable the resources of the Southern states to rise greatly against those of the North. According to him, under the proposed arrangement, Kaduna state would only receive N9.7 billion as statutory allocation while Delta State would get N66 billion, Lagos state would receive N87 billion, and Bayelsa State would end up with N47 billion in the new budget year (Akhaine, 2003,January 2). Since the elders and the governors have taken a similar position, it is obvious that not many Northern groups would oppose their position. It is evidently comforting that a group like the Northern Democratic Alliance (NODA) criticized the Northern political establishment for opposing the presidential signing of the amended National Assembly bill. Malam Muhammed Dutsinma, Coordinator of NODA stated “We strongly believe that the stance of the northern governors and Kano elders is not in the interest of the common people in the north… we urge most strongly and sincerely that Kano elders, including the 19 northern governors, to make a sober reconsideration of their opposition to the amended on-shore off-shore dichotomy bill” (Ogb! odo & Ebiri, 2003, January 3).
However, due to the Northern opposition to the bill, it appears that the Northern members of the National Assembly who had joined their Southern counterparts to pass the legislative bill are now dealigning, thereby, making it difficult for the National Assembly to override the president’s veto. In fact, Governor Makarfo castigated the Northern members of the Assembly for joining forces with the oil producing states “The passing of the bill has put the credibility and competence of Northern representatives to question as they have abandoned their fundamental responsibilities to their people” ( ibid.).
Second, the South reacted to the Northern opposition with apprehension and anger. The president immediately refused to sign the bill even though he was the one who initiated the process. He argued that the amended bill would violate international law concerning maritime waters. He said that he would only sign his original version, which was within the bounds of international law. His refusal sparked a negative commentary about his leadership of the country. Many Southerners, especially, from the Niger Delta, commented that the president does not like the people of the Niger Delta. Mr. Oronto Douglas, Chairman of the Bayelsa State NBA Human Rights Committee and leader of ERA stated “Mr. President has proved himself to be an enemy of the people of the Niger Delta” (Oyadongha, 2002, December 31). Mr. Ledum Mitee, the president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) remarked “ I think the message should be clear to all of us from the South-South that this is a President who, given the chance, would sacrifice our interest for others. This adminisration seem to be poised to ensure that even the little that the Niger Delta gets should be taken away’ (Ebiri, 2002, December 31). Some said that he is a stooge of the North and was put in place by the North to enhance Northern domination of Nigeria. Some said that the president is too eager to listen to the Northern point of view and very unwilling to listen to the Southern point of view.
Is it true that the president is pro-North and biased against the South, particularly the South-South? Let the actions and perceptions speak for themselves.
(a) Many people in the South had wanted Chief Falae to become the president, it was the North which negotiated through the backdoor to put President Obasanjo in power. It should be recalled that a substantial number of people in the South-West actually opposed him and were not receptive to him when he began as the president in 1999.
(b) Although, the president denied making any deal with the North in order to become the president, reports have indicated that the president or his representative signed a promissory note which guaranteed certain ministerial positions to the North. According to the reports, the Northern caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PGP) met at Agura Hotel in Abuja on February 23, 1999 and discussed ways of enhancing and protecting the interests of the region. The meeting was alleged to have been chaired by Alhaji Lawal Kaita (a prominent Northern politician). Southern presidential candidates were asked to respond to certain Northern demands which included the Northern control of the Ministries of Defense, Finance, Petroleum and possibly Agriculture. Southern presidential candidates responded by signing the list of demands, although, President Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekueme were critical and hesitant. The Southern candidates included Chief Don Obot Etiebet, Chief Alabo GrahamDouglas, Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (Esajere, September 29). By the way, the Ministries of Defense, Petroleum, and Finance are headed by Northern ministers. Evdiently, whether the president signed the promissory note or not becomes irrelevant since the North got the ministries it asked for.
© The president seems very eager to use military force in the South to solve political problems but is quite unwilling to use force to solve political problems in the North. In the first religious riots in Kaduna in 2000, the president did not deploy any military force until more than a thousand Nigerians had been killed. He also did not blame anybody in the North for instigating the religious riot. On the other hand, the president castigated the revenge killings at Aba and Onitsha, ignoring the fact that the Southerners were responding to the killings of their kith and kin in the North. He destroyed Odi and ordered a shoot to kill policy in Lagos. He has officially apologized for the military killings and destruction of property in Benue State and has not officially apologized for the killings and destruction of Odi (BBC News, 2003, January 2). The 83rd Mechanized army division, the NNS Umalokun and the NNS station near Choba are now permanently deployed to protect oil facilities in the Niger Delta. In other words, he has militarized the Niger Delta while ignoring the political and economic problems which are causing the anger and rebelliousness in the sub-region.
(d) Whenever there is a riot in the North, the president responds very quickly by sending aid to alleviate the sufferings of the victims. Federal aid was sent after the religious riots in Kaduna in 2000. Federal aid, totaling about N48 million was approved by the federal government and sent through the National Emergency Relief Agency (NEMA)to alleviate the suffering of the victims of the beauty queen riots in Kaduna and Abuja in November 2002 (Onuorah & Obinor, 2002, November 27). . In the Niger Delta, victims rarely receive any federal aid. The victims of military attacks in the Niger Delta are left to take care of themselves. Odi which suffered greatly from a military attack has not received a Kobo from the federal government.
(e) Constitutionally, the Sharia seems to be a great violation and a threat to the continuity of the country, yet, the president has not done anything to stop it. Consequently, Nigerians in the Sharianized states are subjected to two kinds of laws – the secularized constitutional laws of Nigeria and the Sharia. Technically, the Sharia is actually breaking Nigeria into two countries. Yet, the president is not even talking about going to the Supreme Court to seek a legal opinion on the matter.
(f) While unwilling to challenge the Sharia legally, the president did not hesitate to go to the Supreme Court to challenge the states, particularly the littoral states over the right of ownership of oil revenue from off-shore exploration. Thus, his refusal to sign the onshore/offshore dichotomy abrogation bill is a further testimony to his hesitancy to do anything for the Niger Delta while he seems very eager to do everything for the North and other parts of the country.
(g) Instead of sending negotiators to resolve the onshore/offshore dichotomy bill crisis, the federal government sent the State Security Service (SSS) to interrogate the non-establishment leaders of the South-South Peoples Conference, including Chief Edwin Clark, Sen. Tari Sekibo, Mr. David Akpamka, Mr. Inwang Ekpo, Maj. Gen. O. T. Obada (rtd,), Mr. J. M. Aseh, and Brig. Gen. Idada Ikponmwen (rtd.) at Abuja (Adebayo, 2003, January 3). This implies that the president is more concerned about the security of the oil rather than the political problem. Sending the SSS is a symbolic way of warning the leaders of the South-South to be less proactive in their opposition the president.
Third, the Northern elders and governors acted immediately the North felt that the onshore/offshore bill was a political and an economic threat to the region. In the South, the traditional leaders reacted very gingerly by sending a team to negotiate with the Northern leaders. The Southern political governors initially seemed to wish the issue away so that they did not have to do anything about it. Governor Obong Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State appeared to be the most outspoken while the others spoke with measured responses. He blamed the president, rather than the North, for the lack of understanding of the situation in the Niger Delta. He warned that the political authorities would increasingly find it difficult to contain the youths who could turn militant and react forcefully (Okpowo, 2002, December 21).
The initial lack of strong official reaction from the Southern states, particularly from the South-South prompted a Niger Delta activist, Mr. Joseph Evah of the National Coordinator of the Ijaw National Congress to lament about the lack of southern resolve “Where is Governor Alamieyeseigha, where is Ibori whose northern counterparts took that position. Where is Oba of Benin, the Amayanabo of Bonny, the Diete-Spiff, Amayanabo of Brass, the Odeji of Okpe, the Olu of Warri, the Ebenanaowei of Operemor” (Nwankwo, 2002, December 22). He pointed out that the Northern governors instituted a constitutional means to include the Sharia in their state constitutions while not a single Niger Delta House of Assembly has instituted any resource control measure in their constitutions “Our State Houses of Assembly are playing politics with the resource control issue. Yet, apart from Zamfara State, over eight other states in the North have passed the Bill on Sharia, a complete religious criminal code which had been condemned by even the nations chief legal officer” (Ibid.).
Fourth, due to the cautious nature of the political authorities in the South-South, the void is being filled by nongovernmental organizations and youth groups. The South-South geopolitical zone, represented by the South-South Peoples Conference (SSPC), sent an eight-person delegation to the North to discuss with the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). The delegation included ret. Brig. Gen Idada Ikponmwen, Mr. B. O. Imoghai (legal adviser to the SSPC), Comrade Ekpo, and Amassador Larry Ikpebu. The Deputy Chairman of the SSPC, Chief Edwin Clark explained the motive of the delegation “The South-South decided to send the powerful delegation to meet with ACF, which we have worked with harmoniously to brief them on our position…We are mobilizing our people, trade unions, market women, children, youth organizations, everybody. They will brief them on how we see the activities of the Kano Elders Forum and the 19 Northern governors, who have opposed the signing of the bill” (Amaize, 2002, December 18). Chief Clark went further and warned “Those of us in the South-South will never accept Obasanjo’s veto. We will react if they think they can continue to oppress us, exploit us and exclude us from everything. Look at it, they will not employ our boys, our people won’t be appointed into key positions in the oil industry and the board of the refineries are controlled from the North, East and West”(Ibid.).
Incensed, a constitutional lawyer and a human rights activist from the Niger Delta, Mr. Festus Keyamo launched a Republic of the Niger Delta to enable the indigenes of the region take control of their destiny, after many years of neglect and marginalization (Akpan, 2002, December 19).
Akwa Ibom Youths, under the umbrella of Commonwealth of Akwa Ibom State Youth Worldwide (COMMAYA) praised the National Assembly for passing the dichotomy bill and called on the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to render apology on behalf of the Kano Elders Forum and the 19 Northern Governors for opposing the bill. The youth organization advised the “pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, to call their son, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to order over his refusal to sign the onshore-offshore dichotomy bill as passed by the national Assembly into law” (Bassey, 2002, December 25). The group then urged the National assembly to override the president’s veto, reminding them of how they overrode the president when he opposed the Niger Delta Development Commission. The Akwa Ibom Professionals too called upon the president to sign the bill.
The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) blamed the president for failing to inform the National Assembly about the changes he had made to the bill. Mr. Ledum Mitee explained “It is the Presidents’s job to explain what he means by those fundamental changes, not the National Assembly. The national Assembly in their wisdom judged that what he proposed was not enough to solve what they saw as the problem occasioned by the onshore/offshore dichotomy,” (Ebiri, 2003, December 31).
The Student League of the South-South States also reacted by giving an ultimatum to the president to sign the bill not later than December 31, 2002. The president of the SLSS, Mr. Mathew Ibadin announced “we are transferring this struggle from the legal interpretations to the socio-political arena and by the expiration of our ultimatum, we shall declare the President a persona-non-grata in the South-South and disrupt any of his campaign activities in the entire Niger Delta states”(Wilcox, 2002, December 25). The Niger Delta Youth Coalition, led by Mr. Edet Nkaene also called on the president to sign the bill.
The Zone B branch of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) joined the political battlefront and gave the president until December 30, 2002 to sign the bill or face student opposition from the South-South and South-East States. The spokesperson for the NANS said that a student protest would begin as soon as the deadline expires without the president signing the bill. He accused the president of having a secret agenda to blame the National Assembly for not being patriotic enough to override his veto (Amaize & Adebayo, 2002, Decemeber 27).
Fifth, even if all the Southern regional zones decide to act forcefully, the impact would still not be so much. The reason being that the Southern zones are highly fragmented politically. For instance, there is no single organization which represents the entire South. Instead, there are three subregional organizations: the Afenifere representing the Yorubas of the South-West, the Ohaneze-Igbo representing the Igbos of the South-East and South-South, and the South-South representing the minority groups in the Niger Delta. Thus, sub-regional organizations dominate political affairs in the South. This makes it very difficult to create a united Southern strategy. On the other hand, despite the ethnic and religious diversity in the North, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) represents all political interests in the North. This means that the North has an inclusive political organization while the South does not have such a body. The ACF can speak for the entire North while the Afenifere or the Ohaneze or the South-South Peoples Conference can only speak for a particular zone. The ACF is not ethnically based while the Afenifere and the Ohaneze are ethnically oriented. The AFC can cover a wide range of issues while none of the Southern organizations can do so.
Likewise, the 19 Governors of the North represent the entire Northern Region while there is no such organization in the South. Even if the South has its own league of governors, it will not be as powerful and influential as the 19 Governors of the North. The reason being that each governor in the South would be greatly influenced by the sub-regional organization which represents its geopolitical zone. This means that the Governor of Rivers State would be impacted very greatly by the SSPC than by any overall Southern organization. It also means that any governor in the South-West would more likely to be influenced by the Afenifere than by any Southern regional organization. As can be seen, the geopolitical zones in the North are not as powerful as the ACF. Another way to put it is that the Northern geopolitical zones are comfortable playing secondary roles to the regional organization (the ACF). The Middle Belt Forum is not an exception even though it represents the largest bulk of Christians and non-Hausa/Fulani in the North. In the South, the sub-regional organizations are much more active and the governors identify with them.
The same conditions or characteristics apply to the traditional leaders. The Southern traditional leaders are much more likely to identify with their sub-regions rather than with the region. On the other hand, the traditional leaders in the North are much more likely to identify with the entire region rather than with the sub-regions. The reason being that identification with the region accords them more power and influence than by identifying with the sub-regions.
The same could be said of the Southern military officers. Southern officers tend to have a sub-regional view rather than a regional view of the country. They are influenced by the nature of the ethnic and zonal politics in the region. This problem is endemic and goes way back to the pre-Civil War era. The National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG) represented the Eastern Region (now South-East zone) and the Western Region(now South-West zone) respectively during the First Republic. These two political parties derived their main support from the two major ethnic groups: Yoruba and Igbo. They competed for both regional and national power until the first military coup (January 15, 1967) stopped them. Even though stopped, the seeds of rivalry, suspicion, and mistrust/distrust were laid through the political infighting. On the other hand, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) represented the entire North, even though the Hausa/Fulani dominated it. It was not strictly ethnic as the NCNC and AG. Of course, the United Middle Belt Party (UMBP) which represented the Middle Belt opposed it, yet, it was able to wield a Pax Northerner front against the South political parties. The regional focus helped to mobilize the entire Northern military officers to view themselves as belonging to the same region of origin.
Consequently, the effort to establish a Southern Front with the aim of separating the South from the North immediately before the Civil War in 1966 –67 did not succeed because of mistrust and or distrust between the East and the West. Likewise, the minorities in the South too were afraid of being swallowed up by the two giant ethnic groups, so, they wanted their own separate states. When the Civil War broke out, the East, particularly the Igbos, bore the greatest brunt of the civil war. They felt betrayed by the South-South and the South-West for joining the North against them. In the Second Republic, the rivalry between the East and the West was reborn with the establishment of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The NPP represented the South-East and the UPN represented the South-West.
As a result of the failure to establish a regional political front, a cold war developed between the East and the West. Evidently, when the June 12, 1993 presidential elections were annulled as it appeared that Chief M.K.O. Abiola was winning the race, the South-West became the principal stakeholder in resisting and pressuring the federal government. As a result, many of its citizens were targeted for detention and assassination, especially by the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha.
On the other hand, concerning the issues of state creation and revenue allocation, the minority groups have been the greatest agitators in an effort to equalize political and economic opportunity. It is understandable why the South-South is particularly responsible for waging a political war to terminate the Land Use Decrees, the OnShore/OffShore Dichotomy, and Resource Control.
Thus, Southern military officers are not able to form a united front to help the South due to the political divisions within the region. They tend to be more involved in the sub-regional efforts to assist their respective zones. This renders them weak compared to their Northern counterparts who are able to work together to safeguard Northern interests in the military. Most of the retired Northern military officers live in Kaduna, The Post Express reported in one of its news stories that 50 or more retired Northern generals live in Kaduna (Bukoji, 2001, June 25). This number does not include officers of other ranks. The congregation of a large number of retired high-ranking military officers in one Northern capital city means that the North can easily put up a military-cum-political plan and mobilize militarily than the South.
Sixth, due to the successful unification of interests, the North is able to continually dominate Nigeria than the South. The North relates to other parts of Nigeria as if it is a sovereign state competing against another sovereign state. It does not necessarily see itself as part of Nigeria. Consequently, the North plays to win all the time, in favor of itself, regardless of how other parts of Nigeria feel. Part of the minutes of the meeting of the PDP Northern caucus which attempted to force Southern presidential aspirants to sign a list of Northern demands read:“We (Northern elders and politicians) have a duty to all Northerners to ensurethat we protect the vested interest of the North as a political entity within the federation of Nigeria. For this reason, this committee of the northern caucusof the PDP has the onerous responsibility to identify what are these interests (Esajere, 2002, September 29).
It is very doubtful whether Southern elders, political leaders, and intellectuals can come up with such a magnificent political strategy and tactics to dominate Nigeria. Southerners seem quite incapable of devising such a united political front to put the region in a dominant position due to their tendency to compete and fight among themselves to make sure that their individual and sub-regional interests supercede the regional interests. In an effort to catapult their individual and sub-regional interests, Southern political leaders, military officers, and high government officials betray themselves and their people by individually trooping to the North to seek support against their own sub-regional opponents.
There is extensive historical facts to say that Southern organizations and leaders always take pilgrimage to the North to gain support against each other in the South. In the First Republic (1960-1966), the NCNC aligned with the NPC against the AG. The minorities in the North tended to align with either the NCNC or the AG and the minorities in the South tended to align with the NPC in the North. During the civil (1966-1970), the South-West and the South-South aligned with the North against the South-East. After the civil war (1970-1979), the South-West continued to align with the North through the military. In the Second Republic (1979 to 1983), the South-East, through the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), aligned with the North by way of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) against the South-West’s Unity Party of Nigeria UPN). When the military took over in December of 1983, the South-West realigned with the North (Buhari/Idiagbon). The Abiola fiasco fractured the alliance and forced the South-West to become oppositonal against Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime. The Obasanjo’s current (PDP) regime appears to be a coalition of the South-West and the North. It is clear that Southern sub-regions always align with the North while the Northern sub-regions have drastically reduced their alliance on Southern groups. The last major Northern alliance with the South was through Major Godwin Orka’s abortive military coup of April 1994 in which Middle Belt! officers aligned with Southern officers to launch a frontal attack against Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and the power of the Islamic North.
Seventh, it can be said that the South suffers from a serious case of political and psychological low self esteem, to the extent that many Southern leaders feel that they can only become a political somebody by going to the North to receive political and financial blessings from the Northern political elite. It is therefore, understandable why many Southern, particularly, South-South establishment leaders (governors, party officials, local office holders, and high government officials) have been very lukewarm to challenge the status quo, in support of their constituents demand for resources control. It appears that their political careers were probably sponsored one way or another by outside interests, especially, the rich and powerful Northern elite who want things to remain the same.
Eighth, the passivity of Southern establishment leaders, as stated before, is forcing a change in political dynamics of the country. In the South, nongovernmental human rights, environmental, legal, and political groups and youth movements are spearheading a political change by taking over the responsibility of formulating policies and politicking actively to have those policies implemented. They have become the legitimate representatives of their people and the establishment political officials are being illegitimized and sidelined due to their lack of strong support for the people. In the North, the establishment elders, political and military leaders and high government officials are able to maintain their legitimacy because they are not very depended on outside forces to maintain themselves in power. In other words, Northern establishment leaders are able to focus their goals due to the fact that they are not torn by a divided loyalty. Southern establishment leaders are divided in their loyalty. They do not know whether to support their constituents or those who sponsored them from the outside. Many are frantically calling on the president to sign the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy Abrogation bill on the recognition that their political fortunes are meshed with those of the president. Sensing danger to their political careers, they are gradually becoming active in deciding the fortunes of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by opting to vote for someone other than the president, in the ongoing PDP Convention in Abuja.
Evidently, the South depends greatly on the activities of nongovernmental organizations and leaders to move the agenda of the region forward while the North does not necessarily depend on the activities of the nongovernmental sector. This does not mean that nongovernmental organizations and leaders are not positively contributing to changing the political culture in the North. Northern NGOs actively participated in enabling a civilian system to be instituted in Nigeria. Likewise, Northern activists are becoming very active and willing to criticize Northern leaders. For example, Malam Sani, the president of Civil Rights Congress (CRC) criticized President Obasanjo and those Northern leaders who set up the Northern pact. He stated “The revelation about this pact, is a clear indication of the kind of democratic system we are operating and the kind of government we have today. We are more or less playing a script that was written by a few people and dictated by a carte of power wielders and we all thought that everything is well and fine about our democracy”(Akhaine, 2002, October 7). In addition, the opposition of the Northern Democratic Alliance (NODA) to the Northern establishment is indicative of the growing power of NGOs in the North. Also, the growing number of progressive thinking individuals in the region is shown by the attitude of Alhaji Habib Balarabe Yakubu, the Executive Chairman of Kaduna State Board of Internal Revenue, who did not mince words when he threatened to take generals who had not paid their taxes to court, reminding them that “we are no longer in military regime. We are in a democratic setting. And you know the Generals and the politicians are also the super-rich and they are also in the private sector” (Bakoji, 2001, June 25). Generally, it appears that the NGOs have a greater influence in the South than in the North since the Northern political establishment seems to do a better of job protecting the interests of the region than the Southern political establishment.
Ninth, it can be said that the fight over the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy Abrogation bill is a blessing. It can also be said that the Northern opposition and presidential veto are political manna to the South, particularly the South-South, since the opposition actually helps to galvanize the non-establishment political forces to set the political and economic agenda of the sub-region. The non-establishment forces in the South-South are also enabling the people of the Niger Delta to reclaim their lost political rights to set the agenda. The opposition also helps to invigorate the democratic process as the battle for resource control lays open the corrupt nature of establishment politics in Nigeria. The Northern opposition and presidential veto are helping to produce a cadre of fearless, straightforward talking, dedicated, and bold leaders which have been very lacking in the South for sometime. Hence, the recent gathering in Bori which resulted in the Bori Accords. The Bori Accord sets the stage for a South-South political strategy to deal with the Nigerian situation. The North has always been fortunate to have very bold and fearless leaders.
The opposition to the bill is most particularly helping to unite two forces: nongovernmental organizational activists and retired military officers. The North has always enjoyed the benefit of retired military officers working with the Northern political establishment to consolidate Northern interests. Now, retired military officers in the South-South zone are joining forces with the political activists to advance the zonal interests. Retired Admiral August Aikhomu, responded to the reports about troop mobilzation by saying “ By amassing troops, if it is true, Obasanjo should be made to understand that his troops cannot go against the will of the people and his executive might cannot take him anywhere. The people of the Niger Delta are resolute on this matter” (Amize, 2002, December 30). An Itsekiri leader, Mr. Buwa-Udah advised the president not to engage in a war because “No nation survives two civil wars. If he is not correct in the handwriting already written on the wall, that is too bad He should not make the mistake at all” (ibid.). Retired Brig. Gen. Idada Ikponmwen added that “signing the bill was not a military affair but a constitutional duty which Obasanjo must perform because he had no justifiable reason to withhold his assent” (Ibid.).
When Chief E. K. boldly advised the six governors of the South-South “to distance themselves from the Obasanjo re-election project or face a similar fate [as the interest of the region takes precedent over their party]” (Amaize, 2002, December 22), it is a clear indication that the establishment politicians in the sub-region should better behave or face the wrath of the people. Likewise, when the B Zone of the National Association of Nigerian Students gave an ultimatum to the president to sign the bill, it is a sign that timidity will no longer be accepted among Southern leaders. When the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) party included a requirement that the presidential candidate for the APGA “must be bold, courageous, fearless, selfless, committed to unity and progress of Nigeria and a progressive in the content and character of his personality…be the defender of the defenceless and marginalized of Nigeria,” it is a testament to the fact that Nigerians are fed up with the status quo and that the South no longer wants timid and passive political leaders ( Edike, 2002, December 27).
Tenth, it is evident that the locus of power lies in the North. The North has dominated Nigeria for most of its existence. If Nigeria continues to exist as a corporate sovereign entity, the North will always have a slight advantage over the South due to its ability to concentrate its political forces and the South’s inability to utilize its resources in a focused and determined manner. Even if the South-South were to win on resource control, the North will still be able to out-maneuver the South due to its ability to clearly define its goals and pursue them with fearlessness. Most likely, due to the divided nature of the South, the probability that Southern leaders would continue to seek outside help remains very great. Also, the probability that some of the non-establishment activists would fall prey to the constant temptation to betray their people by engaging in behaviors and activities that serve the interests of the outside remains very great also.
Eleventh, it is significant to point out that while the North refers to the amended version of the National Assembly’s bill as “unconstitutional,” it did not mind being “unconstitutional” when the Sharia was instituted in the Islamized states. The North has not commented publicly on the constitutionality of the Sharia. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the Southern states have not attempted to use legal means to challenge the Sharia, apart from screaming about its unconstitutionality. Likewise, after the federal government sued and won in the Supreme Court over the offshore/onshore revenue allocation, the oil-producing states did not file class action suits against the federal government for financial and economic exploitation, environmental degradation, and human rights abuses. After the destructive military attacks in Tivland, the Benue State government demanded N500 as compensation while Bayelsa State has not officially demanded compensation for the destruction of Odi, Liama, Okpoma etc.(Onuorah & Obinor, 2002, November 27). Likewise, neither Rivers nor Delta State has asked for specific compensation over oil spillage, pipeline explosions, and armed attacks.
While the South shies away from taking legal actions, some Nigerians, including Dr. Olusegun Agagu, a former Minister of Power and Steel, is worried that if the president signs the Onshore-Offshore Abrogation bill, the North could take the matter to the Supreme Court. He stated “I am sure we don’t want a situation whereby the bill is now signed and the Supreme Court would in turn make it a nullity, because this will again generate more tension and may cause anarchy” (Johnson, 2002, December 30). Why is it that the federal government and the North can threaten to use legal means whenever they feel like doing so and the South does not seem to think about using legal means to redress their concerns? Again, this testifies to the Northern ability to aggressively pursue its interests, using every means possible and the Southern inability to do so due to lack of unity and confusion.
Twelfth, the North/South political equation can change drastically if Nigeria were to undergo a major political change, following the successful rearrangement of resources control. This will depend on the South’s ability to consolidate its interests without intra-regional fighting. This is easier said than done because the South has inflicted so much injury and pain upon its body politics. The North, like a very talented boxer, understands very clearly the weaknesses of its opponent in the political boxing ring of Nigeria.
Thirteenth, it is very interesting to note that in Nigeria, those who do not have oil exercise the greatest amount of national power over oil and those who have oil have no power whatsoever. Likewise, those who do not have oil have the power to tell those who have oil that they must live according to the dictates of those who do not have oil. It is also interesting to observe that of all the mineral resources available in the country (PETROLEUM, COAL, TIN-ORE, COLUMBITE, MARBLES, GOLD, DIAMOND, MANGANESE etc.), only PETROLEUM (oil) is the most federalized resource. Oil is the only mineral in which the federal government wants a total control of the revenue accruing from it. The federal government does not seem to care so much about revenues accruing from the other minerals, hence, revenues from such minerals are allowed to be equitably shared according to market principles. Of course, the other minerals are located in the regions of those who wield power in Nigeria while oil is located in the region of the powerless. Such is the nature of power in Nigeria.
Fourteenth, as far as the North continues to wield a formidable power, it will able to control Nigeria. However, there is a danger that the North is over wielding its power. This could backfire as the South-South is aroused by such a naked demonstration of power to develop effective countermeasures. Already, the Bori Accord is a formidable political tool toward self-determination. However, the South-South should be very careful and not overreact over the presidential unwillingless to sign the bill.. The Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy Abrogation bill seems to be surrounded by political traps intended to coax the South-South to overreact militantly so that the region can be fully controlled through extensive militarization. It appears that political detractors intentionally set the bill to cause a violent backlash in the Niger Delta. If the Niger Delta were to react violently, that will enable the president to use massive force to crush the rebellion. Having done so, he will then go to the North to gain political support for the coming presidential election. If he wins the North by telling them how he crushed the Niger Delta, the South-West would most likely vote for him because he is the son of the land. After gaining Northern and South-Western support, he will only need a partial support from the South-East to win the presidency a second time. It should be noted that in a democratic political system, the minority is easily disposable. Likewise, it appears that the National Assembly was attempting to pick a fight with the president in order to continue presidential impeachment by other means, using the Niger Delta as the political staging ground. If not, why did it not consult with members of the Executive branch to seek clarification before putting up the amended bill?
Indeed, there are so many questions surrounding this bill. Why did the president send the bill to the National Assembly without communicating his concerns and reasons? Why were the Northern Representatives so eager to sign the amended bill without first consulting with their political leaders and constituents? Were they genuinely interested in changing the nature of Nigerian politics or was there an ulterior motive? Is the political crisis a staged event by those who opposed the president, in an effort to make him pay in the coming presidential election? Did the president intentionally instigated this drama as a way to bolster himself against the South-South in the coming presidential election? Is the president wanting to destroy the power of the North by arousing Southern counterreaction? Is the North genuinely afraid of the disparity that might take place if the bill is passed, on the financial wherewithal of Northern states, as indicated by Governor Makarfi? Was the bill designed to generate the controversy so as to deny the South-South the right to have a greater control of the revenue accruing from oil?
The South, particularly the South-South, should probe these questions before jumping into an unforeseeable political fire. Dr. Agugu’s position on the matter seems unacceptable to those who are emotionally committed to resource control but it is wise to listen to his point of view concerning the contiquous zone and the 200 nautical miles if the issue is to be resolved without violent confrontation. All the stakeholders in the South-South should work together to develop strategies and not attempt to work individually. To strengthen the subregion, all intra-regional problems should be resolved as quickly as possible so that a united political front is maintained as the struggle for resource control goes on. The youths must be encouraged to work through designated political and legal channels so as not to provide any excuse for the federal government to declare a martial law in the Niger Delta.
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