You have to hand it to the North. Knowing the extent of the Niger Delta’s sense of injustice through the unconscionable expropriation of its nature-given oil and gas wealth, and knowing that just nine years ago the South-South delegates to General Obasanjo’s constitutional conference walked out of proceedings rather than accept a derivation formula of less than 25%, the northern delegates to President Jonathan’s national conference insisted on not only reducing the laughable 13% already entrenched in the 1999 military constitution to 5% (that’s right, FIVE percent) but also on wiping out any other grudging concession. Mounted atop the high horse of power they know how to ride so well, they presented their southern counterparts a choice: accept 5 % or accept a reinstatement of the onshore-offshore dichotomy in the calibration of oil output, give up the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the amnesty programme.
It was yet another brazen act of political arrogance writ large. So when I saw the headline “Why we agreed to retain 13% derivation,” attributed to Obong Victor Attah, a resource control stalwart and co-chairman of the devolution of powers committee at the conference, I read it attentively. Only to be deeply disappointed. The great capitulation was done, says Attah, in order “to ensure that certain things were protected within the entity called Nigeria and to guard against what may lead to secession or further inflict wounds against the backdrop that the country was, at the moment, facing security challenges.” Attah tries to make us believe that the South’s delegates won a tremendous victory in the face of the North’s deliberate provocation. All it could do “was more or less . . . to accept 13%.” For, you see, they had to “Look at it from the angle of destabilizing the polity.”
Who knew that a proper derivation formula can lead to insecurity, or inflict wounds of any sort? Let’s face it: what the North did, and has consistently done ever since it discovered that it was easier to wait for federal allocations from the proceeds of oil and gas than develop a local productive economy was to dare the South. It is as if a tenant were to threaten to withhold part of her rent, or to unilaterally reduce the sum payable, unless the landlord gave up the renovations, new building under construction, or even, damn it, his lavish lifestyle.
By a wide margin, only three issues were seen to constitute the agenda of the national conference: fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, and the geo-political restructuring of Nigeria: their resolution would lead to the proper determination of the myriad other problems that plague the nation and constitute the so called “national question.” They form the blueprint of a federal system of government. And I think the time has come to return the North’s stare and demand a clear answer to the question whether or not it wants one Nigeria, a free and fair federal republic (and we must emphasise the republican character given the Shari’a and Maitatsine-Boko Haram debacle). The “North,” it must be remembered, was dragged into Nigeria screaming and kicking. Its disdain for Nigeria has been evident right from when Sir Ahmadu Bello would not deign to come down south to Lagos, the capital of the newly independent nation. It seems Bello’s political children now see what he famously called “the mistake of 1914” as not merely Lugard’s amalgamation but also their failure to stay out of Nigeria. This is how Bello explains the feeling, just before independence, in his autobiography: “Lord Lugard and his Amalgamation were far from popular amongst us at the time. There were agitations in favor of secession; we should set up on our own; we should cease to have anything more to do with the Southern people; we should take our own way.” If I’m right, then that makes two mistakes for which the North insists on exacting the price of fiscal unitarism. Through its manipulation and control of political power, its deep understanding of the psychology of power, and mastery of the power game dating back to the Sokoto caliphate, the North will take one Nigeria only on its own terms.
Thus, with every effort at renegotiating Nigeria, we move farther and farther from the goal of fiscal autonomy. In the period of regional government from 1957-1960, there was never a doubt that the regions owned what was produced or “derived” from their land. With independence came the need to cede substantial rights to the centre in a bid to nurture the infant nation, however conceived, into a functional political entity. Unfortunately, by this time oil had been discovered, leading to the death of fiscal reason. Yet even then the framers of the Independence Constitution had not completely lost their heads and in its Section 134 reserved for each region 50% of the proceeds of royalties for any minerals “extracted in that Region” or for any mining rents “derived . . . from within that Region.” But they betrayed the dubiousness that had crept into our political thinking in the definition subsection: “In this section ‘minerals’ includes mineral oil.” Dubious because no other mineral is mentioned in the entire section, making it odd to define a plural term as including only one thing. But it is to their credit that they made it clear “the continental shelf of a Region shall be deemed to be part of that Region.”
And we must ask the South what price it is prepared to pay for the perpetuation of a false and manifestly oppressive federation, for its continued emasculation. By present indication, 87% of revenue derived from its region, any region—never mind that wash-water of secession and national security. A hater of hats, I would nevertheless borrow one of President Jonathan’s whose national conference has unveiled yet again the South’s susceptibility to blackmail and doff it to the Northern ruling class!