By: Andy Akporugo Jr

On Thursday last week at the high-hatted Radisson Blu Hotel, I sat in the company of some of the finest Urhobo minds mainly resident in Lagos. We were guests of ‘‘The Urhobo Foundation’’, sobering over a lecture, one in a series, delivered by perhaps the foremost Urhobo ‘nationalism-intellectual’, the redoubtable Professor G. G Darah, under the theme ‘‘The Urhobo Nation and the Restructuring of Nigeria’’.

As discussants was a carefully selected assemblage of the very best of the varied expertise of the Urhobo tribe: Prof. Joe Abugu, professor of Commercial Law, University of Lagos; Mr. Ese Onosode, who amongst many descriptions, is the Chairman of a very ambitious Delta Economic Summit group [about which purpose I shall return to, somewhere in this offering] and son of the very venerated Dr Gamaliel Onosode, who as an individual perhaps had more corporate business experience than the whole of Delta State did; Mr Ede Dafinone, accomplished professional and scion of the very accomplished Senator D.O Dafinone’s family and Professor Mrs Okobia, Vice Chancellor of the Western Delta University, Oghara. I now struggle to recall the name of the last discussant.

At the end of the presentation of what was a very well received paper, I had been able to pen down a few pieces of education, some of which I now volunteer as follows:

i. The Urhobos are comprised in 24 kingdoms, 9 local government areas in Delta State and also settling in parts of Bayelsa State, are the 5th largest ethnic group in Nigeria; certainly large enough to own their own state, their land area measuring almost double the size of Lagos State’s 3,577 sq Kilometres

ii. Its area is rich with the finest crude oil [especially from Kokori], 400 oil wells, 8 huge rivers which directly access the Atlantic ocean, a Refinery, a steel plant, a power plant, vast agrarian land etc etc. It is said that if you savoured an orange and carelessly spat its seeds outside your house in the evening, you would require a cutlass to weed an orange plant the following morning instead of a broom to trash the seeds!

iii. Lagos which bridges we still count until today, was built majorly up till the 70s, almost exclusively from the revenue of a richly producing ‘Urhobo oil block’, OML 30, an unthankful provision which was similarly enjoyed by the whole of Nigeria in its successful prosecution of its civil war and the gluing of its disparate parts.

iv. The Urhobo people are true federalists, being already congregated for many years along its tenants within its 24 kingdoms and the first ethnicity to break-off from the Benin kingdom, in search of its own destiny.

v. The first hostility towards the Urhobo people by Nigeria was in 1968 when the Gowon government scapegoated them for Ojukwu’s intransigence, when it ordered oil companies to relocate out of Urhobo land to Lagos State for safety

vi. A further act of belligerence was soon to follow in 1969 via a directive that every revenue from oil and gas should be owned by the Federal Government, at a time when other tribes owned their own natural resources. The expropriation has since received consistent constitutional protection and now nestles in Section 44[3] of the 1999 Constitution.

vii. Currently, all the Urhobos are allowed is only a part of a measly 13% of the revenue from oil which they have 100% ownership of! The rhythmic representation of this travesty was expressed in choruses of ‘‘13% derivation being 87% deprivation’’!

viii. The Urhobo demand is that Nigeria must return to its constitution of 1963 by which the regions had considerable autonomy, the proposed revenue sharing formula for emphasis, being 50% to the regions, 20% to the Federal Government and 30% to a pool from which we shall again share.

I produce the above being my paternal Urhobo claims, mainly to buttress the Ijaw claims to which I associate [being myself grand-maternally of the purest Bekederemo stock] as well as those of tribes of the Niger Delta area, which insist on justice principally on the basis of a restructuring premised on the devolution of more powers to the states – truly only a pretentious phrase which in fact, starkly translates to more or total control of the oil revenue from the area.

While I recognize that the above arguments for restructuring/resource control may be premised differently elsewhere, especially in the Southeast where their natural resources lie more in their commercial venturing than in their earth, I do however believe that the relevant good governance issues I shall raise here do not diminish by the difference of premises.

Quickly, I propose to question the claims of state ownership of the resource. By the history of the Urhobo land and elsewhere, migration upon which most virgin lands became owned was an individual effort. The lands by the natural progression of ownership soon became communal. To that extent therefore, the most ambitious manner of ownership of Urhobo land was communal. That being the case, it would appear that the States cannot claim a better ownership of the land, and thus the resource buried in it, than can the federal government. They are both artificial, expropriatory interventions by strangers, whether in the form of Midwestern State or Bendel State or Delta State or the Federal Republic of Nigeria. if we push the logic of the restructure activists therefore, the true owner of oil caught flowing beneath my land ought to be me, my family or community sired by me! I shall return to complete this argument presently.

Beyond the issue of true ownership, it is my further argument that the heart of the current agitation for restructure does not beat in the chest of a demand for good governance! In truth, the agitation tends to raise more of ‘‘rights issues’’ whether human or economic, than good governance ones. In a sense, when I sat in the hall that day listening to the dominant rhetoric, it felt as if I was sitting at a pre-Nigerian independence sensitisation class. The argument being that we should be allowed to manage our resources or that we are a viable state are simply the same as for the quest of the independence of nations. Yet we know, don’t we, that independence in Africa has not necessarily given the people good governance. While the independence and control argument may overlap with the ‘social contract’, good governance one, it doesn’t necessarily make a compelling argument for it.

If you will forgive my French, the truth is that the problem that ‘‘squeezes our balls’’ in the NigerDelta is an ethical one more than it is structural! It is in fact the anxiousness to talk about the structural and leave the ethical and the insincerity that it represents, that deals a more ghastly blow to the agitation than all the guns of Abuja and elsewhere.

We currently are entitled to receive 13% of revenue from our oil. And we have received it for many years, along with revenue from elsewhere, all of which amount to billions of Naira in their hundreds in the last 18 years in the least, but what have the communities or the people of the NigerDelta states enjoyed on account of this revenue. Hasn’t almost all the revenue been looted? Can we honestly say that there is absolutely no state sponsored infrastructure in my community as indeed in most, simply because power has not properly devolved from Abuja on the states or because more funds have not been restructured into the hands of our governors who are in the main, primitive in their voracious greed?

My training advises me not to hope that a man who has criminally mismanaged little and literally eaten the rest, leaving us with a stinking belch from his overfeed, will suddenly call us to table when more is brought. This is the burden of our agitation and until we provide a response that provides guarantees to the contrary, our effort will only be seen as self-serving, almost criminal, especially because many of its champions are the same people who have perennially exploited the people off the little that have been provided. Let’s make no mistakes about this: the fact is that although ironic, it is yet a valid self-preservation prescription for the ordinary man to wish that the exploiter is kept far away in Abuja, than that the powers of a local tyrant are reinforced in such a way as to provide him with a real and urgent capacity to rob the ordinary man’s home of the function of providing some refuge for him, even if for the time being only pretentious and unenduring.

If we are not probing the criminal gluttony of our governors, we must interrogate their competence. Does power have to devolve to the states before they can be enriched from agriculture or commerce and industry or taxation for example? I trust that somebody is following the exchanges between Pat Utomi and former Governor Uduaghan from which we now understand in sum that for the apparent absence of the possibility of immediate personal aggrandizement, the government of Delta State refused to give a company intending to build a huge school and hand over to it for maintenance. A thief with some humanity will be patient enough to facilitate the building of the school and hope to loot from maintenance allocations, but No! Our brother thieves will steal seeds instead of harvests! Certainly, the issues raised in their bitter dialogue cannot be answered by arguments for restructure. Their answers will be found somewhere in the wickedness of man.

Surely, I vote for devolution of powers or restructure or resource control or what my dear friend Professor Edoba Omoregie would rename the ‘‘refederaton’’ project, but certainly, if the object of governance is the individual, they would be highfalutin words, until they are demanded, and we are assured that they will be operated, by those who by their ethical values we trust to have hearts that beat in their chests and not at their backs!

[to be continued]