We Dare To Be Different.
Oil Block Distribution in Nigeria: Perquisites for the Selected Few and the Implications
Strategic Factors and Options: The Appointment of an Ijaw to Head the Army
By Priye Torulagha
It is indeed gratifying that an Ijaw, Lt. Gen. Owoye Andrew Azazi, has been appointed as the Chief of Army Staff. Of all the armed services in Nigeria, the army is the most politically dominant. Hence, the North used it to wield tremendous power and dominate the country for over three decades. In fact, not until President Olusegun Obsanjo assumed power as the leader of the country, before the army was taken away from the control of the North, since the second military coup of July 1966.
By reading through the commentary on Ijawnation@yahoo.com, it is inferable that the Ijaws are really delighted about the appointment. However, the delight should be tempered with caution because, if one were to play the devil’s advocate, the appointment of an Ijaw at this time to head the army is like a gift comparable to the Trojan horse. The Ijaws could be swallowing a very big fish bone.
Caution is needed for the following strategic and tactical reasons:
1. President Olusegun Obasanjo and the national players played a masterful Byzantine diplomacy by appointing an Ijaw at this time. It shows that they are not sleeping and will do whatever is necessary to maintain their hold.
2. It is a well calculated move intended to neutralize the Ijaws politically and cause disarray among their ranks.
3. It is intended to divide the Niger Delta, pitting other ethnic groups in the region against the Ijaws and destroy the moral high ground that the Ijaws have been standing on. If the army commits any brutal act during the tenure of Lt. Gen Azazi, the Ijaws will no longer have the moral ground to argue that they are victims of a brutal military machine.
4. It is intended to neutralize the struggle for resource control
Reasons for taking the above positions on the appointment:
1. The appointment is motivated by the need to destroy the demand for resource control. The Ijaws have been the most problematic group to deal with, in terms of managing the Niger Delta. They have been the most aggressive in recent years in expressing the desire for regional resource control.
2. The Ijaws inhabit the most impenetrable terrain in the country. The army, navy and police forces have not been able to successfully operate in Ijaw areas of the region. Comparatively, Ijaw territory is to Nigeria what Afghanistan is to foreign invaders. No foreign army has been able to successfully capture and dominate Afghanistan due to the terrain. Ijawland too is highly unfriendly to outside military forces, due to the topography. Not too many people in the world feel comfortable being around water. On the other hand, the Ijaws are very familiar with the terrain and can operate very successfully, just like the Afghans.
3. The success of MEND in paralyzing oil operations in the Ijaw areas show that the Ijaws are capable of actually crippling oil operations in the region since land-based ethnic groups find it difficult to operate comfortably in riverine areas.
4. The stalemate over the inability of Nigerian security forces to secure the hostages and move freely in Ijaws areas embarrassed the country in the eyes of its international oil partners.
5. Based on the tactical difficulties enumerated above, the powerwielders invented a strategy that will enable an Ijaw to lead the military effort to contain the Ijaws. Thus, as the head of the army, an Ijaw will now make the critical decisions on how to contain Ijaw youths.
In the past, when the military launched an operation in the Ijaw areas, it was very easy for the Ijaws to condemn the effort as an attempt by Nigeria to wipe them out. The Ijaws were able to make such a statement because the commanders of the military forces sent to the areas came from other ethnic groups and other regions. Now, an Ijaw person from the Niger Delta would make the decision to send security forces into Ijaw and other regional areas. The president and the national powerwielders will put pressure on the Ijaw son to take actions that they will not take on their own for fear of being portrayed as anti-Ijaw and anti-Niger Delta. Machiavelli had suggested that leaders use others to do their dirty work so that the blame will not go to them.
6. Since the army is going to be led by an Ijaw, the Ijaws would have to lessen their demands to avoid embarrassing their son. This means being more accommodating of the Nigerian side. If the Ijaws become more accommodating to the Federal Government, other ethnic groups in the region would accuse them of betraying the region. It should be noted that Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, an Isoko, from the Niger Delta, was the Chief of Army Staff and later the Chief of Defense Staff when the Ijaws launched some of their demands on Nigeria. Now, if the Ijaws suddenly deescalate their demands, the other ethnic groups would accuse them of being tribalistic and not serving the interest of the region.
7. On the other hand, if the Ijaws continue their struggle at the same frenetic pace as before, despite the fact that their son is now the head of the army, it means that they will definitely embarrass him and make him look very weak in the eyes of other Nigerians.
In a situation like that, he will be left with no other option than to send troops to Ijawland to deal harshly with those considered to be ‘troublemakers’, as the power-wielders often say. If the army carries out any Odi or Odiama-like operation, theIjaws will have no other person to blame but their son. Thus, his clan would be pitted against the victimized community. This will lead to Ijaws fighting against each other.
8. At this critical time in the history of Nigeria where the country is rife with political hotspots, with an Ijaw being the commander of the army, those who hate the Ijaws
can intentionally create a conflict either among the Ijaws or incite anti-Ijaw violent reaction if the army is sent to keep order in various communities. For instance, to embarrass the Ijaws, in the event that a unit of the security forces were sent to an Ijaw area to keep the peace, a military officer who does not like the Ijaws can intentionally commit serious violent acts against the Ijaw community and blame it on orders from the high chain of command. It should be noted that at Odi, after the soldiers had committed atrocities, they justified their actions based on orders from the high chain of command. Hence, Maj. Gen. Victor Malu was held responsible for the atrocities at Odi. Six months after the Odi operation, his own community was engulfed in a conflict and somebody within the army decided to give him a dose of his own medicine.
Currently, the people of Okrika are going through the ritual that so many Ijaw communities have gone through as the army intervenes to supposedly arrest Ateke Tom and his boys. Innocent civilians are forced to flee to avoid being caught in the cross-fire. Now, an Ijaw is going to lead the army that is trampling Okrika.
8. Similarly, to create an anti-Ijaw hatred in Nigeria, it is very easy for those who do not like the Ijaws to concoct a crisis in Itsekiriland or Urhoboland or Ikwerreland or Ogoniland or Igboland or Yorubaland or Hausaland, thereby, requiring the army to intervene. If the army intervenes and crackdown very hard on the area, the Ijaws will be blamed just as the Ijaws have blamed others for causing havoc in Ijawland. Can any Ijaw person imagine the backlash that will follow if an army unit were sent to an Igboland or Yorubaland to maintain order and the unit use excessive force to brutalize the community? Such incident can easily spark immediate counteraction against the Ijaws since their son is the head of the army.
President Obasanjo and the national power-wielders should never be underrated, at any given time as the Ijaws struggle to have a fair share in Nigeria. The rationale which led to the appointment seems to be taken from Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE. After all, there was actually no need to change Gen. Ogomudia and other service chiefs at this time. The president has only one year to go before handing over power to the next president since his third term bid did not go through. Due to almost a decade of neighborly conflicts, the Ijaws have many enemies in Nigeria at the present time, therefore, making an Ijaw the head of the army can create numerous problems if the situation is not well-managed. Consequently, the joy of having an Ijaw head of the army should be tempered with caution due to the unpredictable political minefields that dot the landscape.
Managing the Situation to Avoid Potential Pitfalls.
1. The new Chief of Army Staff should immediately consult with Ret. Maj. Gen. David Ejoor and Gen, Alexander Ogomudia. The reason being that being an Ijaw, he is an outsider in the corridors of Nigeria’s power base, just as Ejoor and Ogomudia were. He needs their understanding of the majority/minority politics in the Nigerian Army. In particular, Ejoor had a very enlightening interview about his experiences dealing with officers from the majority groups and the constant threat to his life. Gen. Ogomudia was very professional and quiet, knowing full well that he is from a minority group, surrounded by officers from the majority groups.
2. The new Chief of Army Staff must be very bold in order to avoid political disaster for the Ijaw ethnic nation and Nigeria. In this regard, he must make it known to the president and the national powerwielders that the army should only be used as a last resort, not as a political tool. In other words, the army should only be deployed after genuine effort has been made to solve a problem politically.
3. The new Chief of Army Staff must advise the president and the national power-wielders to resolve the fundamental issues that have plagued the Niger Delta. The issues include the termination of the Petroleum Act, The Land Use Decree, and the Gas Re-Injection Decree, 50/50 percent resource control, development of the Niger Delta, creation of employment for the youths, and the demilitarization of the region. If these issues are not resolved, the regional problems will fester, thereby, leading frequently to military confrontations. An Ijaw cannot afford to lead an army designed to perpetuate the status quo in the region. The status quo does not favor the region and must be changed and not perpetuated.
4. To be successful, Lt. Gen. Owoye Azazi must act like a statesman rather than as a military general. The reason being that the army hierarchy is dominated by people from various ethnic groups who are opposed to Ijaw efforts and can easily make things unbearable for him. He must communicate across the chain of command and learn to listen to the junior ranks, as well as the senior ranks.
6. He should try to improve benefits for members of the army, especially, the lower ranks. Housing, medical benefits, retirement benefits, education etc are important services that the lower ranks need.
Finally, to make the appointment of Lt. Gen. Azazi a success, the Ijaws need to persuade the president to act very quickly in resolving the Niger Delta issues. Otherwise, he will be forced to use the army to invade Ijaw and other Niger Delta ethnic communities, thereby, incurring the wrath of the people of the Niger Delta. Moreover, as the 2007 elections are coming, the army will be forced to be deployed in many parts of Nigeria to avert conflict, thereby, increasing the chances for army brutalization of the citizenry.
The Ijaws need to be sensitive to the fact that they are being held to a higher standard due to their moralistic positions on the issues of rights in Nigeria. Consequently, while being appreciative of the appointment, watch out for any political clouds in the horizon.
Oil Block Distribution in Nigeria: Perquisites for the Selected Few and the Implications
By Priye S. Torulagha
One of the major reasons why Nigerian leaders have not been able to effectively utilize the oil wealth for the development of the country is due to the manner in which they distribute oil blocks (shares) to highly connected individuals in the country. The system short-changes the Nigerian state and the people by rewarding a selected group of individuals with millions of dollars worth of oil shares due to their association with the leadership of the country. This is possible because the leaders use oil blocks as a form of political perk or carrot to solidify and perpetuate their selfish interests. The oil block formula converts national resources (oil and gas) into private ownership without constitutional approval. The system encourages those who own oil blocks to also lift oil (bunkering). Thus, the national security of the nation is subverted through the backdoor giveaways which contribute to the corrupting of the elites and truncating of national development. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it appears that exponents of resource control, transparency, and accountability do not seem to recognize the importance of oil block politics in the exploitation, and marginalization of the Niger Delta, in particular and Nigeria in general.
Therefore, it is arguable that the struggle for resource control, an equitable distribution of the oil revenue, and a balanced national development will not succeed due to the current oil block distribution system. The above position is taken based on the following negative impacts of oil block politics: (1) it leads to an ineffective management of the oil wealth as well as poor national development, (2) it perpetuates vested interest, (3) it feeds and reinforces corruption, (4) it serves as an instrument for transferring the oil wealth, from the oil-producing region to the non-oil producing regions and from the Nigerian people to the selected few, (5) it leads to sycophancy, (6) it encourages oil bunkering, (7) it is used as a carrot and stick to punish and reward certain individuals, (8) it is unconstitutional and discriminatory, and (9) it threatens the democratic system.
1. Poor management of the oil wealth and national development
It is necessary to eliminate the current oil block distribution system in order to ensure an effective management of the oil wealth for national development. The citizens need to know that the primary tool for transferring and exploiting the oil-producing region and depriving Nigerians of the opportunity for national economic development is the oil block distribution system. Similarly, Nigerian citizens need to recognize the fact that the main reason why they have not benefited directly from the oil boom is due to oil block politics. Basically, an oil block is like an investment stock. An oil stock is convertible to liquid cash when the stock (block) is sold. However, quite unlike a traditional stock in which individuals take the risk to invest their own monies by buying stocks in various companies, products, and economic concepts without any guarantee of success, in Nigeria, the oil block is almost given freely to those who are highly connected to those in power. These individuals then sell the blocks to international oil companies and earn substantial income. It operates like a government-subsidized welfare program for the selected few.
Translated politically, Nigerian leaders use oil blocks as a form of reward and punishment to compel or elicit certain behavior from certain individuals. It began during the military era. The military leadership attempted to buy support and stability by granting oil blocks to selected individuals in the country, including friends, influential high-level government officials, emirs, traditional rulers, military generals, wealthy businessmen and women, perceived troublemakers, and members of their families. The oil block system works in the following manner: if support for a certain national plan or policy or action is needed in a certain region, an oil block is granted as a form of carrot to some leaders in that region or states to get their support or approval. During the military era, selected senior military officers were given oil blocks in the hope of preventing them from mounting military coups and to encourage them to be loyal to the heads of state. Oil block was also used to perpetuate vested interest for the status quo so that no one would threaten the existing order. Those who benefited from the distribution of oil blocks did everything possible in their power to perpetuate the status quo so that their access to the oil wealth remained undisturbed.
Nigerians expected civilian rule to break the military habit of corrupting the elite through oil block distribution. They also expected civilian rule to usher in an era of democratic practices, including freedom of expression, individual and group rights, transparency, accountability, and responsible leadership. These expectations have not been fulfilled. Instead, when President Obasanjo took over in 1997, he continued the corrupting habit by rewarding certain individuals in order to gain their support while punishing others for refusing to play along with his political ambitions. Hence, oil blocks and Ghana-Must-Go-Bags (GMGBs) became the primary means of manipulating people to do the bidding of the president and the Peoples Democratic Party. Thus, throughout his first term (1999-2003), the president basically got his way, regardless of the unconstitutionality of the action, by distributing oil blocks and Ghana-Must-Go-Bags to those he needed their support. Whenever he wanted something, certain individuals were contacted and promised a certain number of blocks and GMGBs, depending on the individuals support for the president’s effort. Despite the on-going war on corruption, in his second term, the president continues to make decisions through the manipulation of the citizens by distributing oil blocks and GMGBs.
Due to the corrupting nature of oil share ownership and GMGBs, since 1997, the National Assembly has not been able to pass any major legislative act intended directly to benefit the generality of the Nigerian public. The members of both houses seemed to have spent most of their time deliberating on special pork barrel issues designed to reward the president, themselves, and special interests in the country. It is not surprising that many of them were at the forefront for the elongation of term of the president and governors, instead of legislatively cleaning the country of corruption by removing the immunity clause and subjecting every Nigerian to the same legal standard. As can be seen, the National Assembly has been ineffective in serving the Nigerian people as a result of the fact that the leadership of the Senate and the Lower House, as well as committee chairs, seemed to have been corrupted through oil blocks and GMGBs. However, fortunately, for once, some courageous members of both houses refused to play along with the carrot and stick game, hence, stood firmly against third term for the president and the governors. They should be congratulated for taking a stand against third term and defeating the bid to amend the Constitution, despite the pressures, threats and tempting oil block and GMGBs offers from the supporters of the president (Ologbondiyan, May 17, 2006). The defeat of the third term agenda marked the beginning of the independence of the Nigerian national legislature from the suffocating grip of the executive branch and the PDP. The defeat of the third term strengthens the democratic political system and forces the president to realize that he cannot always get what he wants from the legislature.
2. Perpetuation of vested interest
The burning desire to acquire wealth through possession of oil blocks is turning the country’s political and military elites into crooks. Those who have been fortunate enough to grab some oil bocks do not want any change in the management of the oil industry, regardless of the harmful nature of the oil block distribution system on the national economy. The present arrangement benefits them so much that they are willing to poison or kill anyone who threatens the status quo. During the military era, those who gained oil blocks and embezzled public funds were the ones who supported the military dictatorship and did everything possible to make sure that Gen. Ibrahim Babangida remained in power for life. When Gen. Babangida left after the June 12, 1993 election fiasco and Gen. Sani Abacha took over power, after tactically eliminating the caretaker regime of Earnest Shonekan, the same people who had campaigned for the continuing stay in power of Babangida, again, insisted that Abacha was the only suitable candidate to rule Nigeria. It is the same people who supported third term for President Obasanjo. They are afraid that if the president leaves office, their highly lucrative oil block arrangement could be threatened. As a result, just as they had insisted that Babangida and Abacha were the best things that had happened to Nigeria, they continue to insist that President Obasanjo is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria. They are responsible for the ‘babanization’ of the president and creating the impression that he is a demigod and cannot be challenged in any form, even in a democracy.
Those who have not had the opportunity to obtain oil shares yet but are working hard to acquire some blocks supported the president’s third term bid so that the president would look kindly to their desire and reward them with oil blocks. It is evident, as things stand now that Nigeria will not change for the better if the oil block system is allowed to fester on. Unchecked vested oil interest is responsible for the poor management of the oil wealth and the pitiable state of affairs in the country. It prevents the articulation of an effective National Development Plan since current government policies and actions tend to benefit a selected few. It is also understandable why the Nigerian Police Force was very antagonistic to anti-third term demonstrators during the heated debate to amend the Constitution. In Katsina State, for example, the police killed some anti-third term demonstrators in February, 2006 (Ogbu, February 26, 2006). The police even invaded the premises of the African Independent Television (AIT) in an attempt to stop it from reporting anti-third term news (Akinrefon & Odeyemi, May 16, 2006.
3. Oil blocks feeds and reinforces corruption
It is not an understatement to say that the oil block system contributes to the perpetuation and reinforcement of corruption. If oil is a national product, as the Petroleum Act, the Land Use Decree, and the Gas Re-Injection Decree tend to imply, then there should be no room for selected individuals to end up with oil shares that supposed to belong to the Nigerian people. Generally, throughout the world, when a product or an item is considered to be a national property, it is always the government that manages it in the hope of spreading the benefits across the socioeconomic spectrum. Under governmental ownership, selected individuals are not allowed to benefit directly from the public goods and services, at the expense of the general population. Yet, in Nigeria, while President Obasanjo, the architect of the Land Use Decree, justify national ownership of oil and gas, by depriving the indigenes of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers States the right to enjoy the fruits of their resources, he does not mind allowing selected individuals in the country to make tremendous profits from resources that supposed to belong to the entire nation.
Those who own oil blocks use their newly found wealth to hijack the government and subject it to serve their selfish interests. For instance, most federal government properties that are being sold today under the privatization scheme, seem to be bought by Nigerians who acquired most of their wealth through direct embezzlement of state funds, oil block ownership, and or oil lifting (bunkering). Therefore, throughout the country, well-placed individuals are allowed to control the entire wealth of the country. These individuals have no qualms about using their wealth to subvert the state or threaten public officials who oppose their selfish interests. Anambra State, for example, went through an excruciating political experience when a powerful individual who is connected to the president and the Peoples Democratic Party sponsored an abortive coup carried out by police officers and others to effect a change of political leadership in the state. Despite the severity of the crime, the president, PDP, and the police did not feel that the individual had committed any crime. Similarly, the National Assembly was forced by self-serving individuals with dubiously acquired wealth to waste time and money to deliberate about amending the Constitution in order to allow ‘baba’ to run for a third term.
On the other hand, Dokubo Asari , Uche Ukwukwu, Ralph Uwazuruike, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, and Gani Adams are being tried for treason for speaking their minds about the country while those who have actually threatened the national security of the country through the subversion of the economy and national development are left to go about their normal businesses because either they are members of the PDP or are friends of the president. If the purpose of arresting and trying Asari, Ukwukwu, Uwazuruike, Fasehun and Adams were to stop armed groups from proliferating and threatening the nation, then, why are leaders of other armed groups allowed to roam free? In the Rivers State, for example, there are more than “100 smaller armed groups, locally known as “cult.” (Human Rights Watch, 2005). The selective arrest and trial of five leaders while ignoring others, could be interpreted, as an attempt to achieve a particular political goal and not directed toward the preservation of the national security of Nigeria. Some Nigerians have theorized that the five were arrested, since they lead some of the most potent armed groups, as part of a strategy to secure third term extension for President Obasanjo.
The president uses oil blocks to get his way. In other words, while he is fighting corruption in one hand, he is encouraging corruption on the other hand. Those whom the president and his supporters think are on the political sidelines or not supportive of the president’s polices and actions are invited to Abuja and are promised oil blocks if they cooperate. Those who refuse to cooperate after being given or promised oil blocks are punished in various ways. Consequently, it appears that Ret. Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma is being threatened for not supporting the president’s third term bid. As a result, the Federal Government announced recently that Oil Prospecting License #246 that was awarded to the South Atlantic Petroleum Limited, a company owned by Danjuma, will be put up for new bidding (Famaknwa & Onyebuchi, May 10, 2006). Although, the national Special Adviser on Petroleum and Energy, Dr. Edmund Daokoru, denied the allegation that Danjuma is being penalized for refusing to support third term, nonetheless, the timing of the announcement was more than a mere coincident. In fact, to demonstrate the government’s determination to punish Danjuma, the Federal Government has declared that Danjuma’s oil block has ceased to exist (Amanze-Nwanchuku, (May 24, 2006).
One wonders how Mallam Nuhu Ribadu maintains his sanity, as the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He must be disturbed by the fact that while he has put his reputation on the line by fighting the war on corruption, the president, on the other hand, continues to perpetuate corruption through the distribution of oil blocks. Thus, the war on corruption appears to be selective since only those who seem to be antagonistic to the president’s polices and actions are being pursued and prosecuted while those who are supportive of the president are untouched, even if they are massively corrupt. How can he justify arresting, detaining, and prosecuting some Nigerians for corruption while ignoring those who are also corrupt but are friends of the president? How can he fight the war without telling the president to stop perpetuating corruption through oil block distribution and GMGB bribery? If he continues the selective prosecution of some Nigerians while leaving others to continue to loot, one day, the mess could catch up with him if the political circumstances change suddenly against the existing order. To maintain his honor, it is hoped that he truly keeps to his words when he said: “Deceit is too much in this country. Nobody will be spared in this anticorruption crusade, including those who think they are coming to take over power”(Usman, E. & Amalu, C., May 30, 2006).
The oil business in Nigeria is mired in corruption. The Federal Government continues to find it exceedingly difficult to estimate the total quantity of oil being produced. Similarly, it continues to fail to properly account for income generated through oil. For instance, the chairman of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) alleged that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) withheld N290 billion from crude sales in 2005 (Ogunmade, January 25, 2006). Concerned, the Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere, called for an investigation, alleging that in the first four years of the PDP regime, the government had spent $800 million on Turn Around Maintenance of refineries (ibid). Similarly, the Federal Government always seems to have problems in accounting for all the taxes collected from oil firms. Recently, Mr. Chris Nurse, the managing director of an audit company stated that “For the year 2002, there were $250m that the companies say they paid to the central bank that do not appear in central bank records”(BBC News, April 12, 2006). Mr. Nurse further added that different branches of the Nigerian government provided different figures due to very low accounting standards in the government (Ibid.). Again, the NNPC is alleged to have not remitted the sum of N310bn to the Federated Account. Even the managing director of the government corporation, Mr. Funsho Kupolokun, seems unable to standardize the accounting procedure needed to properly estimate oil income earned (Fiakpa, Aderinokun & Ezigbo, May 28, 2006). The lack of an agreeable standard accounting procedure opens the door wide open for financial mischief to take place.
4. Transfer of wealth
There is no doubt that the current manner in which oil blocks are distributed is designed to transfer wealth from the oil-producing region to the non-oil producing regions and from Nigerians to the selected few. Nigerian leaders, it seems, do not want the citizens to know how they enrich themselves and their associates, hence, the allocation of blocks is done almost clandestinely. The bidding process is manipulated to favor chosen dindividuals.
Through the Petroleum Act, e Land Use Decree, and the Gas Re-Injection Decree, the citizens of the oil-producing region are deprived of the resources of their lands. On the other hand, the decrees empower the national political leaders to become the sole managers of the oil wealth. The national leaders then use the wealth to manipulate the people. If the president wants a particular deal to be executed, certain individuals are promised and rewarded with oil blocks. If the individuals cooperate, they return home to their states much richer than they were when they first got to Abuja. However, by receiving or agreeing to receive oil blocks, they seriously undercut their integrity and must support the president or who ever is in power one hundred percent. The implication being that instead of the oil wealth being used for national development, it goes into the pockets of individuals. Evidently, the individuals become rich and the nation becomes poorer.
In particular, oil block ownership by indigenes of the oil-producing region has a devastating effect on the Niger Delta. As soon as any individual from the region agrees to receive oil blocks, the person immediately enriches himself/herself. However, by doing so, the person seriously undercuts the bargaining power of the Niger Delta since the recipient must support the president and the national power-wielders totally. Thus, while the individual becomes wealthy, the region and the people are sacrificed. Obviously, it is understandable why the Niger Delta has been neglected for such a long time. The national power-wielders got away with doing nothing to develop the region because they greased the palms of some influential regional leaders in the oil-producing region through oil block awards, high-level governmental appointments, and GMGBs.
It is obvious that the oil-producing region has nothing developmentally to show for the massive wealth that has been generated from it. Similarly, the generality of Nigerians have nothing to show, in terms of socioeconomic enhancement, from the massive wealth that has been generated in the country through oil. On the other hand, a selected group of individuals from various zones of the country can freely gloat about their personal wealth generated through the exploitation and pilfering of the national wealth through oil blocks, oil lifting (bunkering), outright stealing, and GMGBs.
5. It leads to sycophancy
The oil block distribution system and Ghana Must Go Bags have turned Nigeria into a massive warehouse filled with political charlatans and sycophants. It appears that a culture of sycophancy has developed and cultivated by the leaders to encourage Nigerians to want to get rich without doing anything tangible, apart from showing and demonstrating an unflinching loyalty to the national leadership. Consequently, Nigerians who want to get rich are encouraged to praise-sing and support the leaders in power, regardless of the morality or ethics of the circumstances.
Despite the debasing, corrupting, and unethical nature of oil block politics, no serious effort has been made by any public official to highlight the negative impact of oil block distribution in Nigeria. Similarly, no concerted campaign has been mounted or initiated by public interest groups to halt the practice of greasing the palms of some selected Nigerians with oil blocks in order to buy their support. One could attribute the quietness to the fact that a sizable number of well-connected Nigerians from various regions or zones of the country, including the oil-producing zone, have benefited from oil blocks and do not want to arouse public opinion or incite public debate. In short, those who have oil blocks and those aspiring to get some blocks, it can be argued, do not want to arouse public debate, fearful that such a debate could threaten their government guaranteed welfare checks that come in the form of oil blocks and oil lifting. The general quietness about oil blocks is even more puzzling, considering the fact that no one in the Niger Delta, despite recent tumultuous events (including repeated confrontations with the security forces, communal strives, hostage taking, and general restiveness) that have taken place in the region, has made concerted and categorical demands on the Federal Government to stop using oil blocks as a tool to corrupt and manipulate the leaders of the region and the country.
Due to lack of discussion about the negative impact of oil block distribution to the selected few, many of those citizens claiming to represent the people of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers States that have oil blocks or are working frantically to obtain oil blocks are greatly responsible for helping to perpetuate, exploit, and marginalize the oil region. By supposedly claiming to fight for resource control and at the same time begging for oil block ownership, they betray the region because the national power-wielders know that they can easily manipulate such people with oil blocks and Ghana-Must-Go-Bags to betray their own communities. Thus, they are responsible for lack of change and progress in the Niger Delta. President Obasanjo and the national power-wielders know those oil block and GMGB beggars from the oil-producing region, hence, they are not eager to change policy on resource control. Instead of changing policy, the president and his advisers seem to think that Abuja can get away with the resource control matter by further corrupting the leaders of the region through oil block give-aways to selected individuals. In this regard, rumors abound that the president has been clandestinely trying to offer oil blocks to some regional elders and youth leaders in the Niger Delta in order to encourage them to stop militant opposition to oil exploration.
It is also inferable that many public officials from the oil-producing states ( governors, senators, representatives, and local government chairs) are not too eager to pick a fight for resource control and better management of the oil revenue because they have already compromised themselves through PDP connection, oil block ownership, and GMGBs. They are not eager to pick a fight, fearful that they could be exposed by the president and the national power-wielders. This assertion is buttressed by the fact that a majority of the senators and representatives from the Niger Delta actually voted for the extension of term of office for the president and the governors in the recent legislative action in the National Assembly. In particular, while Ijaw youths have been risking their lives to challenge the national management of the oil business, Ijaw elected officials at the National Assembly from the three (Eastern, Central and Western Ijaw) zones were very quiet about the third term debate. In legislative politics, quietness is a diplomatic tactics for indicating an acceptance of a proposed legislation without uttering a word. This means that the Ijaw representatives were in agreement with term elongation.
Thus, it is understandable why a majority of the South-South legislators supported elongation of term even though the general opinion in the region was against extension of term for President Obasanjo. Unfortunately, by supporting elongation, the South-South leaders threatened the democratic system and the notion of national rotation of the presidency. For purpose of narrow personal interest, they ignored the fact the President Obasanjo is actually a product of rotation. He was chosen because he is from the Southwest zone of the country. Third term would have destroyed zonal rotation, to the disadvantage of the country. The region sacrificed a fundamental pillar of constitutional democracy by trying to extend the rule of one person beyond an allowable period. If President Obasanjo had succeeded in extending his term of office, then the South-South would have been accountable for helping to destabilize a principal cornerstone of the democratic system. Having supported elongation of term for President Obasanjo, the region should not cry foul when in the future, another president, who is not favorably inclined toward the region, decides to remain in power for more than two terms. Consequently, to avoid ‘what goes around comes around’, it is always preferable to take a principled position on matters dealing with the constitution rather than take a narrowly defined personal or regional interest. By supporting elongation, the South-South has demonstrated once again a tendency by the region’s public officials and most public figures to run away from any position that might offend Abuja. This cowardice enables the president to insult the region’s political leaders whenever he feels like doing so. This accounted for why Governor Obong Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State was treated disrespectfully by the president during the conference of the Presidential Council on Coastal States in the Niger Delta held in Abuja (Ijawnation@yahoogroups.com, April 19, 2006)
Likewise, due to the lack of resolve in challenging Abuja over resource control, the Niger Delta is being divided into two opposing camps. One camp seems to represent high-level public officials and well-positioned public figures and the other camp seems to represent the disillusioned masses who have been frustrated by the behavior of their public officials. Those in the first camp live a double life. They pretend to be serving their people while at the same time being very loyal to the national power-wielders in Abuja, as represented by their uncritical support for the president’s third term bid Some of them already have oil blocks while others are working toward attaining blocks. Many of them are afraid that the youths could threaten them for acting like ‘Abuja agents’, hence, want military presence in the region. The other camp wants a change in the status quo so that their lives could be improved through development. The members of this camp are increasingly viewing Nigeria as a foreign country that treats them as colonial subjects. They are proactive in their demands and view those in the first camp with great suspicion. The second camp is most visibly represented by armed youths who are losing patience with the slow pace of change. The youth wing of this camp view the regional public officials as traitorous and do not want to associate with them. Eventually, if the issues concerning resource control and regional development are not amicably resolved, there could be a clash between the two camps in the future.
In any case, anyone from the oil-producing region who has an oil block or is working to get an oil block should realize that receiving an oil block from the president or the Federal Government is tantamount to receiving a stolen property. Basically, the oil block system is comparable to thievery. It is like somebody coming to your house to steal. After successfully committing the act and being caught, the culprit decides to make a deal by promising to give the owner of the stolen property a share of the loot. If the owner of the stolen property agrees to have a share of his own stolen property, he/she actually loses and the thief wins in a big way. That is exactly what the president and the national power-wielders are doing. They confiscate the oil wealth from the Niger Delta region through forceful expropriation. Having been caught by the owners, the president and the national power-wielders decide to strike a bargain by promising to give some owners a certain percentage of the stolen property in the form of oil blocks.
Nationally, sycophancy is at its peak. An increasing number of the elites want to be on the good side of the president and the PDP. This means allowing the president to roam free while they clap in support, whether for good or bad. In return, they expect to get oil blocks, high-level government appointments, GMGBs, and contracts.
6. Oil block ownership and oil bunkering
Oil bunkering is intricately associated with oil block distribution. Bunkering seems to be a by-product of oil block ownership. As a result, large scale oil lifting is actually perpetrated by those who are associates of the national political leadership who own oil blocks or want to own some blocks. Due to their connections, the Federal Government does not mind allowing such high-level individuals to lift oil undisturbed. This is why the owners of the African Pride did not face the wrath of the law when the ship appeared and disappeared in the navy yard like a mirage or phantom.
By allowing highly connected individuals to lift oil, the Federal Government opens a pandora’s box. Those who are unable to make the right connections also try to seek the oil wealth. They justify their actions by saying, “We have a right to the oil wealth just like those Nigerians who are making millions of dollars because they are connected to the president and the powers-that-be in Abuja. Therefore, if they become rich because they know the powers-that-be in Abuja, we too have a right to become rich, whether we have connections to Abuja or not because we are Nigerians and the oil belong to all of us. What right does the political leadership has in deciding that some Nigerians have a right to steal the oil and others do not have such a right? Well, if the well-connected steal by lifting oil, we too will follow in their footsteps.” Similarly, the indigenes of the oil-producing region justify their actions to get a piece of the oil fufu by arguing, “if non-indigenes of the Niger Delta can easily become millionaires through oil blocks, oil lifting, and outright stealing of the oil wealth through embezzlement, what stops us, the real owners of the oil wealth, from taking what is in our backyards? By the way, who are the oil thieves, we, the owners of the lands where oil is found or the outsiders who use their positions of power to expropriate oil from us? How can a property owner become a thief for taking his/her own property? ”
It is obvious that the behavior of Nigerian leaders has immensely contributed to amorality over oil wealth ownership in the country. By embezzling the oil wealth and encouraging the illegal distribution of oil blocks among the elites, Nigerian leaders create the environment for any Nigerian to attempt by any means necessary to acquire some wealth through oil. Leaders cannot blame citizens for criminal misconduct while they are accumulating wealth through criminal behavior. This is what is leading to the rupturing of oil pipelines in the country. Despite the danger of explosion associated with tampering with oil and gas pipelines , many Nigerians risk their lives by lifting oil from pipelines in order to create some means of economic livelihood for themselves and their families since Nigerian leaders are not using the oil wealth to make live better for the citizens. It is not convincing to tell those Nigerians who engage in oil bunkering at the lower scale not to rupture pipelines when it is an open secret that those who have connections to the leaders are doing the same through large scale oil bunkering and oil block distribution. In other words, Nigerian leaders have no credibility in matters dealing with oil since they are also massively involved in some way in looting of the oil wealth.
7. Oil block serves as a perk or carrot
Generally, it is expected that leaders utilize the natural and manpower resources of their countries strategically for national development. In Nigeria, the leaders do not seem to realize the importance of using the country’s natural and manpower resources for national development. Instead, the natural resources, particularly, oil and gas, are used as perks or carrots to perpetuate selfish interests at the expense of the nation. In this regard, the leaders use oil blocks as a form of reward and punishment mechanism to induce certain expectations. Anyone who is considered to be a leader in some form that supports the the national political leadership in various ways receives reward in the form of oil blocks. On the other hand, any individual who oppose the leadership or is antagonistic to certain government policies and actions ia punished by depriving him of the right to own oil blocks. Thus, by using oil as a carrot, national development is sacrificed since individuals end up with the bulk of the oil wealth while the nation gallops along like a wounded horse. This is why nothing is working in the country. The roads are terribly bad and public transportation is very hazardous. Public educational institutions are falling apart. Health care is almost nonexisting, and there is no rule of law. The police abet and perpetuate crime instead of fighting it. The police and the armed forces enjoy inflicting maximum pain on the Nigerian population through excessive use of force. While nothing works for the ordinary citizens, the leaders are growing extraordinarily wealthy. While Nigeria is going down politically, socially, and economically, certain individuals are becoming multimillionaires and billionaires. This is what happens when the wealth of a nation is merely used as a political perk or carrot by the leaders to advance their personal financial and political interests.
8. It is unconstitutional and discriminatory
As an investment stock, it is perfectly legal to sell oil blocks to potential explorers. However, in Nigeria, the manner in which the system is operated makes it illegal and unconstitutional. Instead of offering the bid openly so that all potential bidders have the same chance of landing an exploratory stock, it is done secretly or awarded without any objective criteria as to determine whether the bidder is qualified or not. Quite often, those without any exploratory or technical skills are awarded the blocks. These individuals are often associated with the leadership of the country, including military generals, contractors, traditional political leaders, opinion leaders, and family members. Most of them have no experience whatsoever in oil exploration. After obtaining the oil blocks, they sell the stocks to the real oil companies and make substantial profit.
It is discriminatory because oil blocks are offered as special perks to highly connected Nigerians while other Nigerians have no chance whatsoever to compete for the bidding. It is done very quietly, thereby, violating the rights of Nigerians to know what their leaders are doing with their most critical natural resources. Thus, a national resource is converted into personal ownership without the authorization of the Nigerian people through the legislature.
9. Oil block threatens the democratic system
The distribution of oil blocks to favored individuals threatens the fragile democratic system in the country. It does so by hindering freedom of expression, individual rights, openness, and the right of the opposition to participate fully in the political system.
a. Freedom of Expression: Basically, anyone who has received an oil block or GMGBs automatically deprives himself/herself the right to freely express critical opinion on national matters. The fear is that any expression that does not support the position of the president and the Peopled Democratic Party will be viewed as anti-Obasanjo. An anti-Obasanjo position can lead to punishment in the form of expulsion from the PDP, cancellation of oil blocks and contracts. The political danger of openly disagreeing with the president accounted for why a newspaper report which claimed that Gov. Peter Odili of Rivers State was opposed to third term was immediately disclaimed by a spokesperson of the governor within forty eight hours after the news report. There is no doubt that the change of heart was compelled by the fear that the president and the PDP could have punished the governor for openly opposing third term. Vice President Atiku Abubakar continued to be treated as a no body by the president and the PDP because he opposed third term and wants to compete for the presidency in 2007. Chief DSP Alamieyesiegha is paying for openly supporting the vice president and criticizing the oil companies and the national power-wielders over oil management. It could also be said that Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police, Prof. Fabian Osuji, the former Minister of Education and Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo, the former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, were mere sacrificial lambs designed to create a certain impression nationally and internationally. After all, these men and woman are not the only corrupt public officials in the country. The EFCC has a list, yet, does not go after all the corrupt individuals.
b. Those who are desirous of gaining oil blocks cannot openly say anything that is antagonistic to the president or the PDP. This forces quite a large segment of the Nigerian personnages to shut up or avoid making commentary that might be beneficial to the nation but not to the president or the PDP. These individuals are enslaved by their selfish desire to own oil blocks, hence, must dance and sing in praise of the president. The moment they speak the truth about what is going on in the country, their shopping bags for oil blocks would remain perpetually empty or their oil blocks would disappear as in the case of Ret. Lt. Gen. Danjuma, as far as this regime is in power.
c. The oil block system and GMGBs make it very difficult for other political parties to thrive. The reason being that the president and the PDP are buying loyalty from members of other political parties with oil blocks and GMGBs. Thus, people jump ship and join the PDP in the hope of receiving compensation in the form of power, oil blocks, GMGBs, and contracts. This forces the opposition parties to lose important members to the PDP. As can be seen, Nigeria is gradually turning into a one-party state as other political parties become less effective as their members jump ship to join the PDP or support President Obasanjo, against the interest of their own parties. The growing strength of the PDP and the dwindling influence of the opposition parties enable the PDP to push the third term agenda on the Nigerian people, at will. Unfortunately, it appeared that the PDP overstretched its tentacles, resulting in a political backlash in the Senate of the National Assembly.
Since the elites are at the top of the socioeconomic and political order in their communities, they are basically the opinion leaders and spokespersons for their people. The people need them to speak forcefully on their behalf on public policy matters at the state and national levels. However, having been entrapped with the award of oil blocks and GMGBs, some become incapable of truly representing their people. Obviously, the democratic system is threatened because the exchange of ideas and the freedom of expression are short-circuited through national baits distributed by the political heavyweights in Abuja. This is why a vast majority of public officials and traditional leaders in the oil-producing states are afraid to speak their minds. This accounted for why the third term agenda was pushed along, even by those who really did not support the idea.
In the final analysis, it is obvious why Nigeria has not been able to effectively utilize the oil wealth for national development. The country’s leaders do not view the oil wealth as a national resource that should be used to develop the country. Rather, they regard it as a political perquisite or carrot that could be used as a tool to perpetuate their self-interest by manipulating the elites. To avoid arousing public sensitivity to oil block distribution, the sharing is done quietly by the leadership of the country. Recipients become political storm-troopers for the president or the nation’s leadership at all times. By taking away the oil wealth from the people and giving it to the selected few, national development is sacrificed. At the same time, godfatherism, as Prof. Wole Soyinka indicated, is promoted by the political leadership. This is why millions of oil dollars are always missing from some government agencies.
If the president is really serious about stopping corruption, developing the Niger Delta and improving the standard of living of Nigerians, he should work with the National Assembly to do the following:
a. Publish the names of all the oil block owners in the country. After all, the president has argued that oil is a national resource, so, Nigerians need to know who has an oil stock. In short, the list should be a public record.
b. Immediately abolish the distribution of oil blocks to selected individuals in the country. The Danjuma case should be applied across the board to all oil block owners.
c. Compel those who have received oil blocks to pay interest on the money accumulated as a result of selling their oil blocks.
d. Award oil blocks directly to the oil companies that have the technical wherewithal to explore for oil and gas. This is intended to maximize the accumulation of oil and gas income for the nation.
e. Alternatively, share the value of the oil blocks between the Federal Government and the oil producing states on a 50/50 percent basis. Instead of giving individuals oil blocks, let the Federal Government and the oil-producing states share the blocks.
f. Abolish the Petroleum Act, Land Use Decree, and the Gas Re-Injection Decree.
g. Adopt a 50/50 revenue sharing formula with the oil-producing states.
h. Create a Marshall Plan for the Niger Delta.
i. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission should develop a uniform standard and apply the same standard to all cases of corruption. Any Nigerian who violates the standard must be subjected to the same legal process. Currently, the anticorruption war seems to be like a political witch-hunt against the opponents of the president and the PDP.
j. The National and State Assemblies should proactively protect their ‘Right of the Public Purse’ and not allow the president and the governors to dictate to them financially.
k. Avoid using the military to solve political problems, especially in the Niger Delta.
l. Invest more for education.
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