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On Biafra; Ango Abdullahi Did Not Speak For the North – By Majeed Dahiru

The…presentation of facts against fictions, as espoused by Ango Abdullahi, should help rid Northerners of like minds as he’s, of the false sense of entitlement over Nigeria’s oil mineral resources…and foster a sense of understanding and empathy towards the peoples of that region who are asking for a greater share of oil revenue, and the neighbouring people of the South-East asking for a just and equitable structure.

Reactions to the latest show of determination by Nigerians of South-East origin to negotiate a better deal out the Nigerian federation, through the instrumentality of a one day boycott to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of Biafra, have been varied, depending on whom, when and where. However the most disturbing of all the reactions came from some quarters in the North of Nigeria. An obscure group of elderly looking people, claiming to be the Arewa youth issued what has been described as a quit notice to all Igbo people living in Northern Nigeria, to leave the entire nineteen Northern states because they too were tired of and were no longer willing to co-habit with them. Condemnations of this group and their statements were swift. From the host governor of the Arewa House venue of the press conference of the elderly youth in Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai, to Kashim Shettima the governor of Borno State, who is also the chairman of Northern governors forum and Yahya Bello of Kogi State, the counter message from the North was about re-assurances of protection and guarantees of the security of lives and property of Nigerians of the South-East origin. The traditional leadership of the North lended its voice to these, when the Emir of Katsina vowed to defend fellow Nigerians of South-Eastern origin with the last drop of his blood. On this occasion, as always, the Northern establishment showed leadership in nation-building. The quit notice is an open invitation to anarchy that clearly puts Nigerians of South-Eastern origin living in Northern Nigeria in grave danger. It is unfortunate that while the federal government has consistently insisted that the unity and oneness of Nigeria is non-negotiable, yet a section of the country is asking another to leave its territory or be subjected to mob action. This reaction of the Arewa youth is one barely concealing venomous hate, otherwise why should a Northern group take upon itself the sole responsibility of reacting to an agitation that is directed at the entire Nigerian state?

As the North was still basking in the euphoria of leading the way in sacrificing for the unity and stability of Nigeria, then came a big boost for the forces of destabilisation. This was through Ango Abdullahi, a former university don and politician, and a member of the Northern Elders’ Forum. His words: “I am disappointed in the decision taken by Northern Governors’ Forum disowning and condemning the agitation by this young, agile and progressive youth groups. Let me ask these Northern governors, who are they representing, are they representing spirits, ghost or people of the North? Recently, people from Eastern part of this country, specifically Igbo, were busy calling for the Sovereign State of Biafra and from all indication, their leaders including governors are behind them.” He said whoever feels Nigeria “is not conducive for him” should quit, adding that “what the Northern youth groups did was not a sin”. Abdullahi also said it was the money from the North that was used to construct Nigerian Railways, refineries and other facilities. “First oil exploration was conducted using money from groundnut pyramid, cotton, hide and skin among other cash crops from Northern Nigeria. However, these people tend to forget all these goodies provided by the North toward ensuring the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria. They always look down on us, feeling that Northerners are parasites in this country,” he said.

The false claim that oil exploration in the South-East and Niger Delta region was financed by monies from agricultural produce like groundnut and cotton from the North is a dangerous narrative that is being propagated by person who should know better. The danger in this false narrative is that it has fostered in some Northerners a false sense of entitlement over the ownership of the oil mineral resources in the Niger Delta.

The statement credited to Ango Abdullahi opened a flood gate of hate materials, both written and oral, against Nigerians of South-Eastern origin. The stench of hate is so thick that it chokes all sane minds. Hate for people of different ethno-geographic backgrounds is usually made real by suspicions brought about by fear-mongering based on half-truths, misrepresentations and outright lies. On this occasion, the Ango Abdullahi statement is not in short supply of all these. The false claim that oil exploration in the South-East and Niger Delta region was financed by monies from agricultural produce like groundnut and cotton from the North is a dangerous narrative that is being propagated by person who should know better. The danger in this false narrative is that it has fostered in some Northerners a false sense of entitlement over the ownership of the oil mineral resources in the Niger Delta. It is this false sense of entitlement that explains why such agitations as the aspiration for a fairer and just structure by the South-East and resource control by the South-South are met with reactionary defiance by some elements in the North.

Oil exploration in Nigeria has been a decades old business venture that was funded by private equity, with government only providing exploration licenses to the various international oil mineral development companies, and it began in the oil rivers protectorate, around the bight of Bonny and Biafra in 1907, seven years before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 and several years before the appearance of the first groundnut pyramid in Kano. Oil exploration was initiated in Nigeria by Nigerian Bitumen Corporation, a private firm, which left Nigeria after a failed venture in 1914. Between 1937 and January 15, 1957 when international oil giant, Shell-BP, began exploration of oil, which was discovered in a commercial quantity in the Niger Delta community of Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, over six million pounds was spent by the company. Shell-BP would go on to construct the basic oil and gas infrastructure (network of pipelines) that aided the evacuation of crude oil from production in Oloibiri and other oil producing sites to the export terminals for international sales. The first oil refinery in Nigeria was not built with money from the groundnut pyramids but was built by Shell-BP in Eleme community, Rivers State in 1965. Similarly, the seventies was the beginning of the oil boom and Nigeria’s oil and gas production infrastructure was to be subsequently expanded rapidly with the oil revenue. The construction of the Warri refinery was awarded at a cost of $478 million to Snamprogetti Spa Milan of Italy by the Yakubu Gowon regime at the height of the oil boom in 1975, when the groundnut pyramids had almost disappeared. The Kaduna refinery was awarded at a cost of $525 million to Chiyoda Engineering and Construction Company in 1976 by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime and the new Port Harcourt refinery was commissioned in 1989.

…it is clear that Nigerians of South-East origin work the hardest for the least amount of reward. This institutional marginalisation is worsened by Muhammadu Buhari’s highly divisive doctrine of “97 percent and five percent” as a reward formula, in a clear case of vengeful triumphalism, which has left the South-East that voted against his candidacy marginalised.

The above presentation of facts against fictions, as espoused by Ango Abdullahi, should help rid Northerners of like minds as he’s, of the false sense of entitlement over Nigeria’s oil mineral resources, buried deep in the land and waters of the Niger Delta and foster a sense of understanding and empathy towards the peoples of that region who are asking for a greater share of oil revenue, and the neighbouring people of the South-East asking for a just and equitable structure. I am aware that the majority of Nigerians of South-East region love Nigeria and don’t want to leave the union. This is evident in the fact that they remain the most cosmopolitan group among Nigeria’s diverse population. They only want Nigeria to love and embrace them in return and it is the duty of all patriots to reassure them of this. The recent sit-at-home action ordered by IPOB was just a way of drawing attention of the state to the underlining issues of institutional and political marginalisation of the South-East.

By his statement, Ango Abdullahi has successfully put himself in the same category with Nnamdi Kanu. Clearly, Ango Abdullahi didn’t speak for the North because Nnamdi Kanu is not and cannot be our teacher. In resolving the Biafra question, it is very important to look beyond Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB farther into the prevailing socio-political conditions that appear to have conferred legitimacy on his message among Nigerians of South-Eastern origin. These issues are rooted in a highly unjust political structure that has left the South-East shortchanged among other geopolitical zones. For emphasis, the South-East zone has the least number of states and local governments (five and 95 respectively) as against the North-West, which has seven states and one hundred and eighty seven local governments. In applying the principles of federal character and quota system, it is clear that Nigerians of South-East origin work the hardest for the least amount of reward. This institutional marginalisation is worsened by Muhammadu Buhari’s highly divisive doctrine of “97 percent and five percent” as a reward formula, in a clear case of vengeful triumphalism, which has left the South-East that voted against his candidacy marginalised. The Biafra question should be seen as a Nigerian problem that needs a collective solution and not as an Igbo problem that should be scorned.

 

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com

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Adeeko Ademola

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