Reactions to the latest show of determination by Nigerians of South East origin to negotiate a better deal out of the Nigerian federation, through the instrumentality of a one-day boycott to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra, have been varied, depending on whom, when and where. However, the most disturbing of all reactions came from some quarters in the north of Nigeria. An obscure group of elderly looking people, claiming to be Arewa youths, had issued what has been described as a quit notice on all Igbo people living in northern Nigeria to leave the 19 northern states because they too were tired and no more 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 youths in Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, to Kashim Shettima the governor of Borno State, who is also the chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum and Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, the message from the North was the same re-assurance of the protection and guarantee of security of life and property of Nigerians of South East origin. The traditional leadership of the North added its voice when the Emir of Katsina vowed to defend fellow Nigerians of South East origin with the last drop of his blood. The quit notice is an open invitation to anarchy that clearly puts the life and property of Nigerians of South East origin living in northern Nigeria in grave danger because 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 by mob action. The reaction is also filled with venomous hate otherwise why should a northern group take upon itself the sole responsibility of reacting to an agitation that is directed to the entire Nigerian state?
As the North was still basking in the euphoria of leading the way when it comes to sacrificing for the unity and stability of Nigeria, there came a big boost for the forces of destabilisation, from Ango Abdullah, 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 indications 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 money from the North that was used to construct Nigerian railways, refineries and other facilities.
“First, oil exploration was conducted using money from groundnut pyramids, 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 statement credited to Abdullahi opened a floodgate of hate materials, both written and oral, against Nigerians of South East 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 suspicion brought about by fear-mongering based on half-truths, misrepresentations and outright lies. On this occasion, the 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 someone 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 oil mineral resources of the Niger Delta because of the sustained claim that oil and gas exploration and infrastructure, including refineries, were constructed with proceeds from the groundnut pyramids of the North. 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 was a 50-year business venture that was funded by private equity with government only providing exploration licenses to the various international oil mineral development companies. 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 the 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 and the discovery of oil in 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 would aid the evacuation of crude oil from production in Oloibiri and other oil-producing sites to the export terminals for international sale. The first oil refinery in Nigeria was not built with money from groundnut pyramids; it was built by Shell-BP in Eleme community, Rivers State, in 1965. Similarly, the 1970s was the beginning of the oil boom and Nigeria’s oil and gas production infrastructure would be expanded rapidly with oil money. The construction of the Warri refinery was awarded at a cost of $478 million to Snamprogetti Spa Milan of Italy by the Gen. 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.
The above presentation of facts against fiction as espoused by Ango Abdullahi should help rid northerners of like mind with him 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. 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 that. The sit-at-home action was just a way of drawing attention of the state to the underlying 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 East origin. These issues are rooted in a very 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 187 local governments. Apply the principles of federal character and quota system, it would be clear that Nigerians of South East origin would work the hardest for the least reward. This institutional marginalisation is worsened by President Muhammadu Buhari’s highly divisive doctrine of 97 per cent and 5 per cent 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.