12 February 2013

Nigeria: Old Discontent As Dark Cloud Over Centenary Celebration


As Nigeria begins the celebration of its 100 years of nationhood, certain complications remain the bane of her nationhood, writes Shola Oyeyipo

As far back as 1900, the southern Nigeria, a British protectorate which comprised the coastal areas of what is now known as Nigeria, emanated from the union of the Niger Coast Protectorate with territories chartered by the Royal Niger Company below Lokoja (now Kogi State capital) on the Niger River. Shortly after, the Lagos Colony was added and subsequently named the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

By 1914, the Southern Nigeria and the Northern Nigeria Protectorates were amalgamated to form a single colony called Nigeria. The amalgamation was, however, spurred by economic interest as what later discovered. Sir Fredrick Lord Lugard who supervised the union was believed to have done so because the northern protectorate reportedly had a budget deficit and the colonial administration needed the budget surplus in southern Nigeria to offset the deficit in the North. Unfortunately, this factor has continued to haunt the nation, 100 years after the forced union.

Today, the entity, which emerged from the two protectorates, is called the 'Giant of Africa'. It is the most populous black nation, sitting on a total land mass of 577,355 square miles and is estimated to accommodate no fewer than 170 million people from about 250 ethnic groups with over 380 various dialects. The people are spread across the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The ethnic groups include Hausa, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Fulani, Igala, Kanuri, Tiv, Ibiobio, Ijaw, Edo, Efik, Urhobo, Idoma and Itsekiri. Nigeria is secular in concept and plural by political inclination. Its diversity is reflected in its multiplicity of creeds, views and counterviews, stretching from the deserts in the North to the Atlantic waters in the south.

Poised to mark its 100 years of existence in a way that encapsulates the memories, from the good to the bad, as part of activities marking the yearlong celebration, President Goodluck Jonathan and five former presidents and heads of state, recently inaugurated the centenary anniversary celebration. The grand finale of the activities would be on January 1, 2014 when Lugard was believed to have carried out the amalgamation of the two protectorates that made up Nigeria.

At the inception of nationhood, successive British governors-general were at the helms of affairs until November 16, 1960 when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was named the first governor-general and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister. Azikiwe held sway until October 1, 1963 when Nigeria became a republic. Since then, however, there have been a plethora of events defining Nigeria in the last 100 years, especially within the over 50 years of its independence. The events, no doubt, have shaped how Nigerians act and talk today.

Not long after the country became republic, the quest for power among the various sections of the country began. As a result, in January 1966, there was the first military coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. But in July of the same year, there was a counter coup led by Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon. This was followed by the civil war, which started in May 1967. The war lasted three years before federal forces suppressed the Biafran soldiers, led by the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

Since then, the story has not changed. Nigeria has remained a mere geographical territory recognised in name. Its people have remained peculiarly disunited without a people-oriented constitution. Blessed with abundant human and material resources, neither of these had been annexed for the commonwealth. Injustice is prevalent while corruption remains entrenched, thus implanting poverty among a significantly larger proportion of the populace. Illiteracy, inadequate healthcare delivery, dearth of infrastructure, youth unemployment and insecurity are still its lot. There is also distrust and intolerance that have sparked rows of religious and political violence.

In 1908, German engineers drilled the first oil well in Nigeria, and thereafter, a buoyant, viable industry sprang up. Oil is today the bedrock of Nigeria's economy, accounting for more than 80 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings. The nation's oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world. But the oil deposit has been a combination of curse and blessing for Nigeria as the clamour for leadership is inspired mainly by sectional interest.

Other critical sectors, especially, agriculture, which was the main source of the income before the oil boom, have suffered setbacks. There is also the presence of neo-colonialism. Most European nations still want to participate in the exploration of the country's oil reserves. And the people in the oil producing areas have continued to agitate for a better deal.

Prior to the take-off of the 1999 Constitution, the principle of derivation, which was what was due to the oil producing areas from the income earned from the sales of oil, was cleverly avoided by previous administrations because there was no governing formula. Until 1970, derivation stood at 50 percent. Decree No.113 of 1970, put forward by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and promulgated by the Gowon administration reduced it to 45 per cent while at the same time, appropriated the entire offshore oil revenue to the Federal Government. That sparked the campaign for the abrogation of the onshore-offshore dichotomy.

It was thought that the arrangement would end with the Gowon regime, but in 1977, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) took another 20 per cent to the centre, thus reducing the derivation to 25 per cent. In 1981, the then President Shehu Shagari, removed yet another 20 per cent, further reducing the derivation to five per cent. In 1984, General Mohammed Buhari (rtd) further removed 3.5 per cent, thus leaving it at 1.5 per cent.

But the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime later introduced an interventionist agency called OMPADEC, and set aside three per cent of the nation's earning for the development of the oil region. This effectively raised the total due to derivation to four per cent.

Babangida proceeded to amend Decree 106 of 1992. But there were those who claimed that the decree was not gazetted and therefore, should not apply. The dissatisfaction arising from the neglect of the region bred agitation that gave birth to militancy in the Niger Delta, which the like of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa spearheaded. As part of the remedy measures, the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, convened the 1994-95 constitutional conference to, among others, find solutions to some pressing national problems, including the state of the Niger Delta.

The initiative provided a formula for the administration of the derivation principle, which contained three significant embodiments. The first is that allocation to derivation shall stand at a minimum of 13 per cent. The second is that the dichotomy between onshore and offshore exploration shall not be taken into account for the purpose of revenue allocation. The third is that the boundaries of littoral states were clearly defined as extending to Nigeria's exclusive economic zone, which at the time stood at 200 nautical miles.

But the nation's problems had since grown in quantum, the crux of which is the agitation for good governance and the institution of fiscal federalism. This has given rise to calls for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). It also explains why the nation experiences sectional agitation for presidency, which the proponents see as a way to protect their interests. Above all, some of the dissatisfied groups in the country have often mooted the idea of breaking up of Nigeria if the issues are not addressed.

Babangida recently alluded to this when he urged Nigerians, especially decision-makers, to ensure the continued togetherness of the country.

"As Nigerians, we are aware of the great doubts that have even been cast about what 2014 portends for the continued existence of our nation. I'm aware that Nigerians have taken great umbrage at these predictions. Even Lord Lugard who founded what has been called Nigeria gave it a lifespan of 100 years. I regard it as a challenge to our intelligence to ensure that these prophesies do not become self-fulfilling. We should engage these predictions on an intellectual level, testing whether the facts justify the conclusion," he had said.

But now that the nation contends with fresh challenges, especially the Boko Haram insurgency, the quest for power shift and the increasing opposition politics amongst other contemporary national challenges, Nigeria may have justified the theory of its critics that it is an accidental creation. But whether or not she survives, the phase is a challenge for both the leadership and the followership.

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