ASOGWA, FELIX C.
Department of Political Science
Enugu State University of Science and Technology
The issue of national question in Nigeria has indeed remained a thorny one. The challenges posed by the ethnic agitation in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria as typified by the Ogoni land crisis appear to be enormous. The paper therefore examined the various issues inherent in the Ogoni-land crisis and x-ray edit against the background of the larger issue of national question in Nigeria. It delved into the character and the role of the Nigeria state in this persistent conflict and finally proffered solutions on the crisis.
The final binding thought is to shape a more satisfying future for the coining generations, a global society in which individuals can develop their full potentials free from capricious inequalities and threats of environmental degradations. (Salao,1989)
By ecological problems we mean those threats to the continuous existence of mankind arising from both natural disasters and the negligence of man in the course of harnessing the gifts of nature. Nigeria has been facing myriads of these problems, ranging from desertification, drought, deforestation, erosion menace, dumping of industrial toxic waste, depletion of ozone layer, earth warming, population explosion, to pollution and land, rivers, oceans, sea, air, etc. (Donald, 1992:27)
The ecological problem in the form of oil spillage in Ogoni land has tended to be a unique case in the history of ecological problems in Nigeria. This is because not only that several years of oil exploration and hazards of spillage and gas flaring which accompany it have degraded the environment and left their communities desolate, Ogoni-land falls among minority ethnic groups in Nigeria that have been grumbling over the structure of the Nigeria federation hence their leaders have attributed the perceived injustice in degrading their environment without adequate compensation to the fact that they belong to the minority ethnic groups.
There are copious literatures on the national question in Nigeria. But most of these literatures do not relate it to the ecological problems in Nigeria. In other words, there is a missing link between ecological problems and the national question in the available literature. The few that did relate the two are not theoretically and methodologically satisfactory.
This paper examines the relationship between ecological problems and the national question in Nigeria as typified by the Ogoni-land crisis.
Specifically, it explores how the character of the dominant class in Nigeria rather than mere occurrence of ecological problems in the form of oil spillage was at the root of the crisis in Ogoni-land of Nigeria. It will be doing this with reference to the following basic questions:
- What is the national question?
- Is there any positive correlation between ecological problems and crisis of the national question in Nigeria?
- Was it actually ecological problems in the form of oil spillage that generated the crisis of the national question in the form ofagitation for self-determination in Nigeria by the Ogoni people?
- What was the response of the state and what are the implications of the Ogoni situation for the larger issues of minority politics, the national question and the future of the Nigerian federation?
Contending Perspective to National Question
Two dominant perspectives have been adopted by scholars to explain the concept of national question in Nigeria.
The liberal view on the issue of the national question is anchored on the pluralistic conception of society as developed by a number of early twentieth century English writers particularly John Figgis, F.W.Maitland, G.D.H, Cole (Verma, 1975: 161).
The major thrust of pluralism is that every society is an aggregation of atomistic groups and each of these groups pursues its own interest, which may be parallel to the interest of others. Therefore, each group struggles to ensure that its interest is not overshadowed by the interest of others. Government under this circumstance is perceived as interest balancer among these various groups. But where this function of interest balancing role of government is not adequately performed, crisis of national disintegration usually emanates. This crisis of disintegration within a nation-state as a result of assumed imbalance in terms of various (ethnic) groups’ representation in the state and its institution is what liberal scholars refer to as the crisis of national question. The central argument of this school of thought is that, when two culturally heterogeneous societies co-exist in an area, crucial conflicts are bound to arise and be followed by anarchy. (Nwauwa, 1989:31)
Thus, according to Ajayi (1992: 14) a leading liberal scholar, national question has to do with the whole debate as to how to order the relations between the different ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups so that they have the same rights, privileges, access to power and equitable share of national resources. He opined that the nationalquestion revolves around:
The debate whether our constitutions facilitate or inhibit our march to nationhood or the debate whether the goal itself is mistaken and we should seek other political arrangements to facilitate outreach for legitimacy and development [Ajayi:1992; 14]
He argues that the national question is the code-name for all controversies, and the doubtful experimentations that surround our; search for a stable legitimacy and development. He perceives it as having to do with the fundamental basis of our political existence as individuals, and cultural groups within one political system or state. According to him, therefore, it involves the sharing of power and management of our resources in terms of access, control and distribution. All these involve not only such issues as revenue allocation and creation of states, but also education, religion, language and cultural policies.
O. Ikejani and M. Ikejani, (1986) conceive the national question in Nigeria as having to do with the problem of ethnic .balancing in the country which arises as a result of the imbalance characterizing the Nigerian federation. Thus, according to themNigeria has been in crisis situation since independence because the leadership failed to create a true and just Nigerian federation where no ethnic of national groups should be dominated by another. Nigerians and their leaders did not act on the problems of ethnic or national balance which has been the precipitating factor behind most of the crisis which rocked the country since independence (Ikejani 1986: vi)
Gerrtz (1963) observes that, it pertains to the issue of how to eradicate the pervasive instability predominant in new states as a result of primordially based solidarities. He suggests that this usually arises from a sense of political suffocation and dismemberment long ethnic groups.
Olugbemi, (1994: 351) seems to buttress Geertz’s view as he arises the concept of national question to refer to the issue of how toresolve inter-group tension, resentments and syncretic movement for further splitting of Nigeria into autonomous political units, generated as a result of monopoly of power by the dominant groups coupled with the comparative neglect of the minority groups in the distribution of government favour.
Ohonbamu, (1967) sees the concept in the light of the, problems associated with ethnic imbalance among the various ethnic groups in the country. He views the issue of national question inl Nigeria, as a consequence of her colonial creation, which started with] the Lugardian policy of separating the North and the South after tht amalgamation of 1914. According to him, this has bred politics oi hatred and mutual suspicions among the ethnic groups.
For Olurunsola, (1983) the national question refers to the crisis of national integration to which the unequal westernization among the various nationalities in the different African states are exposed. According to him, African politics is that of one state^ many nationalities and this explains why most of them are vulnerable to tension, mal-integration and fragmentation.
Smock, (1971) notes that the issues of national quest should be seen in terms of the problems of instability ana1 disintegration associated with the inherent imbalance in the Nigerian political system. This imbalance, according to him, expresses its? in several dimensions, such as population distribution, education advancement, and economic and political influence among the various ethnic groups that make up the Nigerian federation.
Scholars like Enloe, (1973) Coleman (1966) Bamishaiya, (1976: 71) have all associated national question with the conflict arising from the heterogeneous ethnic character of the Nigerian state and the subsequent imbalance among these ethnic groups in terms of unequal socio-economic development. Coleman, argues that the unevenness in development can be attributed to the difference in western penetration and also the British policy of “divide and rule”, which did not allow for a common programme of development for thewhole ofNigeria. Thus, as Adejuyigbe (1992) argues, “fundaments? to an understanding of the problems inhibiting unity in Nigeria is a good knowledge of the distribution of the ethnic units”.
A critique of the views of these liberal scholars follows from their common assumption that heterogeneity of traditional andcultural forces in a single socio-economic and political system ipso facto engenders inter-ethnic hostilities, in other words, that human beings are instinctively hostile to their culturally out-going kinds (Onyishi, 1995:81). Hence, this is what generates crisis of national question in a heterogeneous state like Nigeria. But a more rigorous analysis of the ethnic factor in our body polity by a number of distinguished scholars plus records and experience of our political history seriously challenge the above assumption. If we accept the fact that the phenomenon of ethnic tension in Africa crystallized particularly during the colonial era, when inter-group interaction became inevitable, we should inescapably seek part of the explanation for this tension in social and economic conditions prevailing in those areas of interaction. Hence, we have to come to grips with the dynamics of the social and economic realities which yield ethnocentrism. Nnoli, (1974:4) while criticizing the liberalSchool notes that: of the few (authors) who have sought to integrate social structure and social process the inadequacy of their analyses arises essentially from a total preoccupation with inter-group factors and the resultant disregard for important socio-psychological variables which renders them incapable of providing a realistic basis for solving the ethnic problem, they assume that ethnic differences in themselves prompt the development of the socio-economic stratifications which leads to ethnic antagonism.
Nnoli, therefore, explains the antagonism of ethnicity in African politics as arising from the socio-economic insecurity of an individual in a society with diverse primary or communal groups. He maintains also that this socio economic insecurity is directly related to the scope and intensity of socio economic competition, the extent of economic scarcity in society; and the degree of socio-economic inequality tolerated by society.
Marxist Explanation of National Question in Nigeria
The Marxist school of thought on nationality question which centers around the Marxian tradition represents a challenge to the position taken by liberal scholars. They commonly view the problems of national question as originally generated by the dominant class or the socio-economic system in the country, or the petty-bourgeois elements who start by disguising their class interest in ethnic rationalization. Thus, as Nnoli explains, “the analysis of ethnic politics suggest that the relevant explanation lies in the class character of ethnicity, particularly the desire of the various regional factions of the privileged classes to carve out their own sphere of economic domination (Nnoli, 1978: 258). This class interest, according to him is rationalized and mystified by claims of ethnic domination of minorities. His conclusion is that the nature of the prevailing production process has a higher explanatory capacity than ethnic consciousness in understanding the problem of unity in Nigeria.
Richard, (1976: 204 205) while furthering this Marxist perspective observes, that intra-class conflict and divisions among the Nigerian national bourgeois who fought each other over the spoils left by the colonial masters led to the whipping up of sentiments from different ethnic groups which constitute the greatest obstacle to national unity in Nigeria. The search for the resolution of this problem according to him constitutes the national question. He maintains that ethnicity in Nigeria since independence is created by the bourgeois class. Thus, he sees it as a mark for class principles.
Another Marxist scholar who has provided insight into the concept of national question is Samuel Egwu, (1989). He equates the national question with the problems of ethnic nationalism which operates as a class force arising out of the intra-class struggle among the ruling class for access to the scarce national resources.
Other prominent scholars who have equally examined the concept of national question from the Marxist perspective include: Samir Amin, (1980), Alfred Cobban (1951), Micheal Lowy, (1977), Rosa Luxemburg, (1976), C. A. Macarthney, (1968), Regis Debray, (1977), Robin Cohen et al (ed) Rodolfo Acuna, etc. We quite agree with the Marxist scholars that ethnic differences on their own do not generate crisis of national question in a heterogeneous nation state like Nigerian. Therefore, as thesescholars have argued, we believe that these differences become relevant in the context of the relations of production of national resources between social classes or amongst these classes. Hence, it is our assumption that the crisis in Ogoni-land resulted from the manipulation of the ecological problems there by the faction of the dominant class therein to advance their interest in the intra-class struggle among the dominant bourgeois class in Nigeria and not necessarily that of the Ogoni masses.
From the insight provided from the literature reviewed, we can define the concept of national question in Nigeria, as the controversies and debates on how to ensure equity and balance of interest among the various social classes, or their factions in economic, social and political resources of the Nigerian state. It is the failure to satisfactorily address the problems of national question, that usually gives rise to agitation for self-determination by a given people within a political system. Hence, self-determination refers to the right to decide on their own political status, completely, freely and without any external interference and to control their economic, social and cultural development, (Heimtze, 1992:43) amongst the various nationalities in Nigeria.
The Character of Nigerian Ruling Class
It is the colonial political economy of Nigeria, which explains thecharacter of her ruling class. During the era of colonial rule in Nigeria, the hegemonic foreign bourgeois class dominated both the political and the economic activities of the Nigerian society with very
Minimal role assigned to emerging indigenous bourgeoisie. Thus, as Nnoli (1974) explains:
The colonialist dominated the commanding heights of the colonial economy through the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, controlled foreign production which unjustly exploited the labour of the vast majority of African, dictated the work roles and expropriated the surplus from production.
It is this deliberate discriminatory policies, especially, in therealm of economic affairs that served as a unifying force for the emerging bourgeoisie class in Nigeria in fighting colonialism. As Coleman (1986: 81) aptly describes:
This near-totality of economic power exercised by a small group of European firms, together with apparent governmental support or toleration of that power, gave rise to a popular image of alien collusion and exploitation… which predisposed the Nigerian elites to racial consciousness and nationalist activity.
But equally this economic discrimination against this indigenous bourgeoisie class in Nigeria was to fundamentally impact on its character after independence. As a result of this policy of economic exclusionism pursued by the colonialists the dominant group that inherited the state apparatus after independence was economically weak. This, therefore, explains why the Nigerian entrepreneurs and other elements looked up to the state and also used it as an effective medium through which they could initiate and enhance capital accumulation, (Ake, 1983). Consequently, the colonial state they inherited after independence was retained and rejuvenated. Ake, (1983) highlighted this view when he remarked:
as we have seen, with few exceptions, the petit-bourgeois leadership of the African nationalist movements was more interested in inheritance than in revolution.
This central role of the state in the political economy of the post-independence Nigeria was what set the pattern for politics and intra-class struggle and consequently for the character of the dominant bourgeois class in the country. Thus, instead of the previous existing consensus among the Nigerian nationalist elite during the colonial era, the post-colonial bourgeois class in Nigeria became atomized in the struggle to control the state power.
The intensity of this factional fight among the bourgeois class in Nigeria is therefore, dictated by the fact that the Nigerian state is “privatized” (Ake, 1983) “parceled out” (Ibeanu, 1993) prebendal (Joseph, 1987) and “means of production” (Ekekwe, 1986). Ihonvbere (1989) was to expatiate this point further when he stressed that
like the hegemonic colonial state, the post-colonial state in Nigeria has remained the center of most economic activities in our society. Therefore, the struggle for its control becomes a matter of do or dies which explains the violent character of our politics.
In this struggle among the dominant class, all forms of available instruments and
tactics such as ethnic chauvinism, religious sentiment, ecological problems
and other sectional sentiments are employed to ensure factional victory. Thus, as Arthur Nwankwo (1987:179) correctly notes:
..Political incohesion among the dominant class derives from the character of the operative socio-economic forces which render ethnic pluralism extremely dysfunctional.
Intra-Class Struggle in Nigeria and the Ogoni Ecological Crisis
One of the wrong assumptions common among commentators on the Ogoni crisis is the ascribing of its origin to the period that intensive oil exploration took root in Ogoni-land. But the history goes further than that.
The genesis of the crisis in Ogoni land, like the ones in other minority ethnic groups in Nigeria, is traceable to the period shortly before Nigerian’s political independence. At that period, the faction of the emerging bourgeois class in Nigeria located among the minority ethnic groups feared that without adequate guarantee in the post-colonial political arrangement, they stood to be subsumed by their counterparts of the major ethnic groups. This was as a result of the fact that the factional struggle among the bourgeois class shortly before independence had taken the dimension of the utilization of ethnic sentiment as an instrument for ensuring victory. Thus, laterally the faction of this class from the minority ethnic groups had; verycause to fear for their loss of relevance and subsequentsubjugation in the post-independence era. They generally expressed the fear that it will tantamount to leaving British colonialism to enter the colonialism by the faction of the dominant bourgeois class among the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Therefore, they quickly galvanized their people to agitate against the Nigerian independence on the ground that the major ethnic groups will lord it over the minority ethnic groups after independence. But this seemingly altruistic agitation was a disguise for ensuring that an enclave in form of a region was carved out for them to control (Onyishi, 1995:82).
It was this agitation that necessitated the setting up of the) Willink minority commission in 1958. The Commission was appointed basically to look into the alleged fears of the minorities and suggest the means of allaying them (Okoli, 1980: 34). However, the commission felt that:
In considering the problem within each region, we were impresses (that it is seldom
Possible to draw a clean boundary, which does not create fresh minority
(Willink Report, 1958).
The commission submitted its report recommending against the creation of new regions for these minority ethnic groups but rather that fundamental human rights should be entrenched in the independence constitution,
Since then, the minority ethnic groups inspired by the faction of the bourgeois class amongst them have always been restive, using any available means to project their views. But the whole problem of minority agitation for the creation of their own region or state ii Nigeria is usually generated by the faction of the bourgeois class which starts by disguising its class interest in ethnic minority rationalization. Thus, in the words of Nnoli (1978).The analysis of ethnic politics suggest that the relevant explanation lies in the class character of the Nigerian ethnicity1 particularly the desire of the various regional factions of the privileged classes to carve out their own sphere of economic domination.This class interest according to him, it rationalized and mystified by claims of ethnic domination minorities.
The discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria 1958 1962, no doubt enhanced the lucrativeness of the state power, thereby increasing the intensity of the intra-class struggle among the bourgeois class for its control (Tanzer, 1969).
Coincidentally, majority of these oil-producing communities are located among within the minority ethnic areas. Therefore, the faction of this bourgeois class located these minority ethnic groups had hoped to use the strategic importance of oil in the Nigerian economy to improve their position in the geo-politics of the country. This is because oil has become the economic live wire of the Nigerian state. It rose from a position of relative obscurity in the late 1950s, when it contributed less than one per cent of the total government revenue to 1970s when it shut up to about 90 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and 80 percent of the total government revenue. (Shell,1995).
Apart from totally replacing agriculture as the foreign exchange earners, it also drastically affected government economic policies. The government relied on the revenue from oil for promoting economic development and political stability. For this reason, the state began to transform its involvement in the oil industry from a position of receiving oil rent to that of a participant-regulator (Obi &Somerekun, 1993:11-12).
This was to respond to both internal and external development which made oil so central to the economic and political process of the state and also the survival of the ruling class. Thus, according to Pearson: (1970:10).
Though speculation about oil occurred before 191964, it was only about this time that rumours of the political importance of petroleum began to enter importantly into political discussions. Any relative disinterest in petroleum that remained in 1965 came to an abrupt halt when the federal minister of finance in his annual budget speech spoke optimistically about the balance of payment impacts that oil production would have in Nigeria.
As political feeling about oil grew high so also was theinterest in controlling the newly recognized benefits from oil (Turner, 1980). Thus, the struggle on who will control the new wealth began as strategies for control were clearly mapped out and perfected. Commenting on the class implication of oil at the time, Obi (1980:10) argues that:
oil therefore became strategically important in the calculations of the domestic ruling class, as a new basis of accumulation over which control must be sought and established.
It should be observed that the rising profile of oil on official Nigerian circle was closely related to the class character of the Nigerian state in which the emergent domestic ruling class used their position in state institution to capture economic resources. This was largely due to the fact that in the colonial era, Nigerians were excluded from actively participating in the colonial economy, (Ekekwe, 1986:103). Therefore, lacking the economic base at independence, they relied on political office to promote policies that would promote indigenous primitive accumulation of capital.
Thus, in November 1969, Decree No. 51 was promulgated which resulted in a very significant transfer of the control of resources from the regions of origin to the federal government. (Etikerentse,1985:6). As oil production grew, state revenue increased as well. The very existence, therefore, of these large sum of money from oil revenue gave impetus to further class factional struggle to control the state and preside over the spending of this oil revenue.
At the intra-class level, Decree No. 51 of November 1969, (transferring the control of resources from the regions to the federal government) was a major upset in the pre-civil war calculation of the ruling class faction of the oil producing states areas who saw the creation of 12 states by the Gowon administration (three for the Southern minority that satisfied their age long quest for autonomy) as an end to any form of majority ethnic domination (Obi &Somerekun, 1993:12). They therefore, believed that they would have direct access and control over the oil that is being produced in their ancestralland. This was not to be. It therefore, caused a great deal or further disaffection between the ruling class of the oil producing areas and e of the non-oil producing sub-nationalities.
Oil in the post-civil war period, has come to constitute a strategic commodity. It became a source of conflict between the ions of the Nigerian ruling class who sometimes resort to the pursuit of their factional interests by mobilizing the people along the of factional nationalist ideology or even patriotism as a means of enlisting support to get a larger chunk of the national (oil) cake.
The struggle became more intense and pronounced in the1980s. This was a result of the diminishing revenue base of the federal government, and therefore, of the other tiers of government wing the collapse of the world oil market and of the depression which ensued in the early 1980s (Olusanya, 1984:55). This immediately engendered pressure, for a drastic revision of the country’s revenue allocation formula in order to ensure that those. Immunities that contributed the most to the centrally collectible revenue (in this case, the oil producing states) gets a share of the revenue than those that were regarded as contributing little or nothing. (OIukoshi & Agbu, 1995:8).
This position was further justified by the fact that the process oilexploration and production were wrecking environmental in the oil producing areas and destroying all forms of economic activities. The oil producing communities, therefore, became more restive. Pressing the federal government for a greater share of the fly’s diminishing oil revenue, a halt to their marginalization from political power structure, compensation for increasing mental damage, and a halt to all forms of exploration and production activities with potentials for causing damages (Olukoshifou, 1995). All these are geared towards justifying the demand for greater share of the oil revenue by the bourgeois class in the oil producing areas.
The move made by the federal government to assuage the feeling of the people of the oil producing areas, were seen not to be enough as they continued in their agitation for a greater control of the revenue. They have used pressure groups, national and international fora to pursue their course within the common interest share with other factions of the domestic ruling class. They (theruling class faction of the minorities) are demanding that royalties and rent (hitherto paid to the federal government) be returned to them. They are also asking for a return to the principle of derivation, which obtained in the 160s when the dominant ethnic groups of the East, West and North were producing palm oil, cocoa, and groundnuts, respectively.
However, it is expedient at this juncture that we understand the source of conflict between the ruling class of the oil producing areas and the other members of the domestic ruling class in Nigeria. While the ruling class faction of the oil producing areas are determined in their struggle to change the status quo of allocation of revenue which is not in their favour and interest, the other members of the domestic ruling class of the non-oil producing nationalities are determined to maintain the status quo which had invariably given them access to the resources they do not produce. These contradictory interests held by both factions of the Nigerian ruling class, in the oil industry, therefore, became a major source of conflict between them as typified by the Ogoni land crisis. It is also expedient to note that because the ruling class faction of the non-oil producing nationalities are bent on maintaining the status quo, they tend to marginalize and alienate other members of the ruling class of the oil producing areas, thereby exacerbating the crisis there.
The Ogoni elite (as part of the ruling class faction of the oil producing areas) having used pressure groups, national and international for a to put across their case for greater share and control of oil revenue within the common interest they share with other members of the domestic ruling class, now resort to the mobilization of the people to fight and achieve their aim. Ken SaroWiwa, (1994:5-6) addressing a cross-section of the Ogoni elite, said:
We have taken a very important step in clearing our minds, in achieving unity in leadership, in projecting our case before Nigeria. The next task is to mobilize every Ogoni man, woman and child on the value and necessity of our movement so that everyone knows and believes in the movement and holds it as a religion, refusing to be bullied or bribed therefore. And finally, we must begin to build up action to transform our current political advantages into political score.
This is the situation that the peasants and the youths in Ogoni found themselves. The elite, therefore, cashed in on this situation. Thus, the state of their deplorable condition is brought to bear on them and they are made to believe that the cause of their woes is the “exploiters”. They are instigated to rise and tight against these exploiters of the community resources who dispossessed them of a good means of livelihood. ‘This mobilization process is made easy as a result of unemployment of unemployment of the youths, the intensity of exploitation, the ecological degradation, and the intransigent neglect by the oil companies.
To motivate them, they are promised “better life” as “spoils of war”. They are also promised a future and participation in the reparations or compensation that would follow their agitation and struggle. The mobilization is done along communal or sub-national consciousness and solidarity against the “exploiters” (even when the exploiters could be defined as the oil companies) the non-oil producing majority ethnic nationalities, or states, the government, neighboring villages and towns, or even some people within the community who appear to be compromising the struggle. In an address to the Ogoni people, SaroWiwa (1994) said:
Today the Ogoni people are involved in two grim wars. The first is the thirty-five year old ecological war waged by the multinational oil companies. In this most sophisticated and unconventional war, no bones are broken, no blood spilled and no one is maimed. Yet, men, women, children die, Flora, Fauna and fish perish, the air and water are poisoned, and finally the land dies. The second war is a political war of tyranny, oppression, and greed designed to dispossess the Ogoni people of their rights and their wealth and subject them to abject poverty, slavery, dehumanization and extinction.
Arousing the consciousness of the people to the struggle, he told them that, “the war must be won as the alternative to victory is extinction (Sarowiwa: 1994).
The Involvement of the Nigerian State in the Ogoni Crisis
In the analysis in the last section, we argued that the persistent nature of the Ogoni crisis is mainly due to lack of consensus among the dominant bourgeoisie class in Nigeria on the fundamental issues of our political existence which has given rise to intense intra-class rivalry. Ordinarily, the expectation should be that the Nigerian state through the federal government should be able to mediate these opposing interests in the Ogoni crisis. To be able to accomplish this role requires that the state should “rise above” social contradictions and opposing conditions and appear as an impartial arbiter, always striving for consensus. But an examination of the Nigerian state shows that it has been unable to become a neutral umpire. This has been attributed to the history of its constitution. Thus, instead of appearing as a representation of the general interests of the Nigerian people, the Nigerian state is “privatized”, “parceled out”, “prebendal” and a “means of production”, used in the name of regional ethnic, religious, class and other special interests. As a result, the Nigeria state and its government have been most ineffective in mediating the conflict.
The involvement of the Nigerian states in the Ogoni crisis shows a gross manifestation of the factional interests which it promotes and protects. In an attempt to resolve the crisis which no doubt impinges on the interest of the entire bourgeoisie class in Nigeria as it affects the level of oil production, thereby reducing the resources available for their primitive accumulation, the federal government of Nigeria, has employed various strategies and tactics.
Primarily, it has used palliative approach by extending a token gesture to the fraction of the bourgeoisie class and communities in the oil producing areas (including Ogoni-land) through the creation of institutional structures to ameliorate the effects of oil production in these areas. Hence, in 1982, a presidential task force for the development of oil producing areas was established under the “Allocation of Revenue” (Federal Account, etc) Act of Parliament. This law provided that a 1.5% of the federal account be set aside and administered by the federal government for the development of the oil mineral areas of the country. In 1992, following a renewed spate of agitation in the oil producing communities, the Babangida administration promulgated Decree No. 23 of 1992 which provided among other things, the establishment of the oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission OMPADEC), a full time body to address the problems of Nigeria’s oil producing communities. The allocation from the federal account was doubled from 1.5 to 3 percent (SaroWiwa, 1994).
However, this compensatory mechanism by the federal government has not assuaged the feelings of the oil producing areas, especially the Ogoni people. The major criticism of this compensatory arrangement can be summarized in the view expressed by late Ken SaroWiwa(1994:26-27)when he noted that:
We are aware that the federal government has set up an Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) to which 3 percent of oil revenue are devoted. The view of the Ogoni people is that the policy is completely unacceptable to them. We cannot accept 3 percent of our property in return for one hundred percent of pollution. Besides, our conclusion after watching the commission in operation for one year is, that our interest is not represented in the commission. The commission’s method allows room for bribery and corruption. All its contract jobs are awarded by selective tendering and we know what that means in Nigeria. The contracts so far warded have gone to the cronies and associates of commissions’ members exclusively.
The Federal Government has also employed the instrumentality of divide and rule by infiltrating the vanguard organization championing the course of the Ogoni crisis Movement for Survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP). Thus, some members of the Ogoni elites have been co-opted to jettison the struggle through award of contracts, political appointments, etc. This has tended to create internal crisis within the leadership and the rank and the file ofthe (MOSOP). Thus, some members of the Ogoni elites have been co-opted to jettison the struggle through award of contracts, political appointments, etc. This has tended to create internal crisis within the leadership and the rank and file of the MOSOP. This is an unmistakable pointer to the fact that the crisis in Ogoni-land is purely intra-class struggle for the share of oil resources. Confirming this, the unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (NPO) (1995) declared that:
as the Ogobi movement grew and challenged the government in 1990s, the conservative Ogoni leadership found their government contracts increasingly threatened as MOSOP openly challenged the government. The split, therefore; can then be seen as an attempt to moderate MOSOP’s activities in the interest of the few.
The climax of this factionalization within the Ogoni leadership was on May 21, 1994, when at a meeting in Giokoo, in Gokana Local Government Area of River State, four (moderate) prominent chiefs of Ogoni were murdered. Those murdered were mainly moderates who adopted a conservative approach to the course. In the wake of the murder, some leading members of MOSOP, including its president, Ken Saro-Wiwa, were arrested tried, sentenced to death and eventually hanged.
Apart from all these measures, the federal government has equally utilized the instrument of pernicious propaganda to arrest the crisis. In this regards, the government has used the numerous media under its control to paint the radical Ogoni leaders and their course black before the rest of Nigerians and the international community. These are all geared towards forestalling the Ogoni people and their leaders from gaining domestic and international support, thereby stifling their agitations.
In addition to these seemingly peaceful means of resolving the crisis, the federal government has equally employed a repressive mechanism. The coercive instruments of the state such as the police and the military have been involved in the application of force to suppress the agitation of the Ogoni people. Hence, the Ogoni people and their leaders have been bullied, terrorized, intimidated and brutalized in an effort to force them into abandoning the struggle.The then president of MOSOP, late SaroWiwa, was arrested four times in 1993 and held in illegal detention for 31 days. He and other Ogoni leaders were eventually condemned on trumped-up charges ad sedition and unlawful assembly. Ogoni peasants protesting against the federal government have also been shot and killed by government troupes.
In spite of all these measures applied by the federal government, the Ogoni crisis has persisted. The issue is that all these ad-hoc measures have failed to address the fundamental issue in the issue in the crisis which is the problem of nationality question in Nigeria. The government has tended to perceive the crisis as purely ecological, arising out of oil pollution. But even as the Ogoni Bill of Rights indicates, the crisis transcends the issue of mere oil spillage and touches on the central elements of our political existence. Thus, the Ogoni Bill of Rights (1991) inter alia points out that:
… The Ogoni languages of Gokana and Khana are underdeveloped and about to disappear, -whereas other Nigerian languages are being forced on us… the Ogoni citizens are not represented in federal institutions… the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, does not employ Ogoni people at a meaningful or any level at all in defiance of the Federal Government regulation. To the search for oil has caused sevre land and food shortage in Ogoni, one of the most densely populated areas of Africa, the Ogoni people lack education, health and other social service.
So, unless the Federal Government appreciates and tackles ferrying issues of national question of Nigeria in the Ogoni: will remain intractable.
Conclusion and Prescription
It is clear from the foregoing that the intense and complex of the Ogoni crisis is as a result of the contradictory nature ofinterests between the ruling class of the oil producing areas and other members of the domestic ruling class in Nigeria. This contradiction finds expression on who is to appropriate the surplus of the oil revenue, to capture power and preside over the revenue. These struggles are waged around the issues of the fairness and equity of the Revenue Allocation System, Federal hegemony in the Federal/State relations, access to federal power, oil producing minorities rights, uneven development, etc. with oil, ever so strategic as the fiscal basis of the Nigerian state, and source of capital accumulation and class formation, the struggles are much broadened, intense and complex:
Apart from the struggle for power, the cleavages within the domestic ruling class have been driven further apart, with the people of the oil producing areas openly calling for a redistribution of oil resources in their favour, and a reform of the present arrangement perceived as being unfair and unfavorable to them. They have used pressure groups, national and international fora, to press their case within the ambience of the common interests they share with other factions of the domestic ruling class,
The conflict however, was made manifest by the strategy of mobilizing the middle class, the youths and peasantry along the lines of communal and sub-national consciousness and solidarity against the arch enemies the other factions of the domestic ruling class and the oil companies. This is, however, done in the understanding that a disruption in oil activities will not only draw the attention of the oil companies but also that of the other members of the domestic ruling class who preside over the oil revenue and depend on it for class formation and power consolidation.
We saw the role of the state in the conflict. The government, on its part, tends to promote the interest of one party to the conflict against the other. The extent to which one group was able to control or influence the government determined whether its interest would be paramount or not. We also observed a symbiotic relationship between the state and oil on the one hand and oil and the multinational oil companies who produce the oil or stop appropriating the proceeds of oil and the interest of the oil companies.
To resolve this crisis requires addressing the issue of equity of allocation of revenues to the constituent units of the Nigerian federation and its sub-national entities. This should not be viewedoutside the political and economic inequalities embedded in the Nigerian state during colonial rule and reinforced after independence.
Thus, equity cannot be achieved outside the transformation of the Nigerian state. There is the need to draw up a comprehensive legislation for the protection of the oil producing environment and the need to device a people-centre environmental management policy for the oil producing communities whose basis of livelihood has been polluted and rendered useless. This process should be democratized to ensure full and maximum participation of all interested parties in arriving at an environmentally sustainable exploitation of oil and the recognition of the rights of the people to food, shelter, clean water, clothes and a safe eco-system and the rights of future generations to the resources of their land.
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