Being a Paper delivered by D.I.G. Potter L. Dabup at the Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Conference held at Calabar, on the 18th – 20th October, 2001.
I consider it a great privilege to be invited to grace the Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Conference. It is even more so when it is realized that I am not a Niger Deltan. On behalf of the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement, I thank the Union of Niger Delta (UND) for the invitation in the spirit of shared values, common hopes and experience.
Background: The present six geo-political zones were arrived at by the Abacha government, following the vicarious pressure exerted on it by pro-democracy forces such as NADECO, MOSOP, Human Rights groups and a few other non-governmental organizations. This resulted in the 1995/96 Constitutional Conference on which the 1999 Constitution was based. If the six geo-political zones are an achievement, the credit out to go to the aforementioned organizations.
Stabilizing Structure: Let us ask ourselves two questions before we go further into the issue of geo-political zones. Why was the six Geo-political Structure not put into the 1999 Constitution by the Abdulsalam government, which succeeded Abacha? And why six – why not more?
The first question is relevant in view of the fact that Part One, Section 3:1 and 3:6 of the 1999 Constitution stated the number and names of the existing states and the number of local government councils as 36 and 768, respectively. If the states and local councils are so important as to be inserted in the Constitution, why not the six geo-political zones?
With due respect to the good people of the Niger Delta, I beg to submit that neither the government of Abacha nor of Abdulsalam wanted the geo-political zones to have power or administrative structure. In other words, the six zones were created to give a semblance of ‘autonomy’ to the zones, an autonomy without authority! If they intended to grant political or even administrative autonomy to the zones, the six geo-political zones structure would have been inserted in the Constitution just like the states and local councils.
The reason for naming local councils in the Constitution is to make it impossible for states to create more local councils as they must go through the National Assembly, since it requires a Constitutional amendment to accommodate more local councils! Part Two Section 8:1-3 requires that new states and local councils may be created only, if the National Assembly passed a bill to that effect by a simple majority! Where, then, is Federalism in Nigeria?
It is understood if state creation requires an act of the National Assembly because it is the responsibility of the federal government to create more states upon request. But why must the creation of local councils be subject to the acts of the National Assembly?
It is because the powers-that-be had given undue advantage to their own ethno-geographical zones in the exercise of states and local council creation in the past. To protect, preserve and maintain that undue advantage, the exercise of local council or state creation must now be made very difficult, if not impossible, for others!
Given the fact that the number of states and local councils form the units for the purpose of constituency delineation, polling booths, number of wards, etc., the geo-political zones with undue advantage are already having a larger number of representation in the National Assembly, out of proportion to what they ought to have. If these people in the National Assembly will have to vote and approve proposals for more states and/or local councils from zones other than their own, will they willingly approve same??
The structure of the Government-At-The-Centre is designed to maintain the undue advantages already granted to the North. If the geo-political zones were to be granted administrative, political or constitutional powers, the advantages of the favoured North could be wiped off. That is why the six geo-political zones were not inserted in the Constitution, and the prospect of it being accommodated in the Constitution by the National Assembly is very remote.
Based on the foregoing, seeking the Constitutionalisation of the six geo-political zones is to be oblivious of why it was created in the first place, and the limits set for it by those, who created it. Following the cry for power rotation by the pre-1998 civil political forces, it was expedient for the government to assuage them by seemingly granting geo-political units some autonomy, while retaining the levers of power in the hands of the favoured North – by the structure and composition of the National Assembly.
If we take time to examine the six geo-political zones, two realities will down on us without much efforts. The first is that the South-South or Niger Delta zone is meant to be a ‘”talking shop” and not a viable zone, for the benefit of the people of the zone. Let me explain before am misunderstood.
The concept of geo-political zones was a design by the powers-that-be to alienate the people and economic resources of the Niger Delta from the control of their two neighbours, i.e., the Igbo and the Yoruba. Of course, most people in the Niger Delta or even elsewhere – would love to control their own resources or destiny.
The zones were deprived or denied of power so that the people and their oil resources will now be controlled solely by the North; so that, instead of having a zone or region where resources could be harnessed for the development of the area, the zone will be a mere taking-point or shop, while the resources remain in the hands of a “federal” Hausa/Fulani National Assembly!
Moreover, the creation of the South-South zone, in particular, has now made it easier for the powers-that-be to identify, isolate and deal with individuals, ethnic groups or states that are prone to being subservient to their interests and those antagonistic to their suzerainty. Being masters of divide-and-rule, such cleavages will then be exploited, widened and their relationship poisoned such that, while they remain divided, the ‘master’ will continue to ‘share’ the oil money, while the Igbo and the Yoruba are kept at a safe distance.
We may argue that the South-West and South-East zones by sheer numerical strength and resources can take care of themselves. But it should not be a reason why a group of minorities such as the South-South live for the benefit and wellbeing of the North. And this brings us to the in-equality in the six Geo-political arrangement.
Up till 1966, there were four geo-political regions in Nigeria, namely: the Midwest, the West, the East and the Northern region. The reason and purpose of keeping the North one was to monopolise and utilize the manpower resources of minorities merged with the North to keep the wheel of commerce, industry and administration for the benefit of the Hausa/Fulani Muslims.
If there were three regions in the South and only one in the North, the creation of 12 states in 1967 by Gowon – six each way – introduced equity into the geo-political engineering of Nigeria. This, the Hausa/Fulani North considered unacceptable and, so, eight years after, in 1975, they overthrew Gowon. They soon altered the equation by creating more states, ten in the defunct North and nine in the old South. This slant in state creation was carried into local councils in subsequent exercises in 1976, 1987, 1991 and 1996, respectively.
It should be recalled that the local councils created by the democratic government of Shagari era were reversed by the Buhari regime, because it was perceived to have favoured non-Hausa/Fulani states people. And this was why subsequent governments of Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalam did their best to satisfy the Nigerian Caliphate by giving them ore states and local councils, thereby further compounding the in-equity in the polity.
I respectfully submit that if the six Geo-political zones were constitutionalised today, the South-South zone will be expected to support the existing in-equity and will be subjected to the vagaries of institutionalized violence – resulting from the same political in-equity.
The six Geo-Political Zones pretend that Central Nigeria known as the Middle-Belt does not exist. That’s why the Middle-Belt was subsumed in the so-called North-West, North Central and North East zones, respectively. This arrangement serves the Nigerian Caliphal purposes, both economic and political.
First, the oil resources of the South-South will continue to serve the needs of the Caliphate until oil is depleted. Once the oil income is no more enough to satisfy their appetite, they will now use the available resources of all Nigerians to develop the iron/steel or solid minerals sector, which of course, are in their ‘North,’ East, West or Central. The second purpose is that once the South-South is alienated from their neighbours and, once their oil resources is gone, the South-South will no more be viable economically and, therefore, rendered useless, politically. These then are the calculations of the Caliphate, which gave birth to the six geo-political dummies.
The fact is that we, in the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement, for reasons adduced earlier on, reject completely the states and local councils as they are, and regards the Six Geo-Political Zones as totally useless and unacceptable. Whatever is designed to hold down a people, no matter the gains of the movement, is not good and should be rejected. The constitutionalisation of the Six Geo-Political Zones means the entrenchment of institutionalized in-equity and cheating. Neither the South-South nor the Middle-Belt stands to gain from it.
Need for True Federalism: The way forward, going by the socio-political and economics of the Nigerian nation-state today, is to forge unity and co-operation between progressive forces of the South-South and the Middle-Belt. The reasons for this are not farfetched.
The people of South-South or Niger Delta are ethnic minority nationalities of the South, just as the people of the Middle-Belt are ethnic minorities of Central Nigeria. The Niger Delta is marginalised as the Middle-Belt, both of which are immensely brutalised by the powers-that-be.
The two peoples and regions have economic resources that make them viable. The oil is in the Niger Delta. The solid minerals and farmland are in the Middle-Belt. The two are minority groups in the Nigerian ethnic equation. It is they that have much stake in the Nigerian project. The South-West has all it takes to be a country of their own. Ditto the South-East.
If Nigeria is to remain one country, the Niger Delta and Middle-Belt people are the ones to hold it together. If everyone decides to go back to its tents, the Middle-Belt needs the Niger Delta and vice versa, for obvious reasons.
Whether Nigeria will remain one or not, we need an 8 Zonal or Regional geo-political structure, if we are to have a true federal system of government. The call for restructuring, resource control and state or regional Police are the same with true federalism.
No amount of tinkering by way of constitutional amendments even if it were possible – will give or grant autonomy to the constituent people without total restructuring of the Nigerian polity.
Based on the above firm belief, we in the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement came to the conclusion that those groups calling for the restructuring of Nigeria are those, who have correctly diagnosed the ills of the country. They, therefore, have the right prescription.
Our position of an 8-Regional structure is shown in the attached map of Nigeria.
We love our fellow minorities of the Niger Delta. We hated the days when we were used, one way or the other, to oppress them. But we want them to know that both of us – the Niger Delta and the Middle-Belt – were cheated in the process by the forces using us against each other.
We assert that our much sought-after autonomy cannot come through the arrangement of our oppressors. Why? Because their arrangements are loaded with booby traps and landmines designed to make us fail; to give us autonomy without authority and to exploit the cleavages among and between us to further weaken and divide us.
For the foregoing reasons and, in summary, we advocate for the following 8-Regional structure of government, with amendment of boundaries in existing states, where necessary, to achieve a true federal structure for Nigeria, devoid of institutionalized in-equity and violence:
(1) South-West (Yoruba)
(2) South-East (Igbo)
(3) Edo/Delta and (4) ABC & R = as Niger Delta
(5) Middle-Belt West and (6) Middle-Belt East = as Central Nigeria
(7) North-West and (8) North-East = as Hausa/Fulani & Kanuri
In view of the undue advantage of the North-West & North-East in the Nigerian National Assembly, can the above be achieved via constitutional amendment? This is the question of the moment to which efforts should be geared at resolving.
One way of resolving it in good time is by joint efforts of the people of the South-South and Central Nigeria, between the Niger Delta and the Middle-Belt. The 1999 Constitution is iron-cast and made by the Hausa/Fulani for the Hausa/Fulani. The National Assembly is full of the Hausa/Fulani and many of their acolytes. These forces will prevent and defeat efforts at Constituionalizing the Six Geo-Political Structure. Even if they do support it, they will divest it of power and autonomy.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the great Niger Delta, let us join hands and forces to free ethnic minorities of Nigeria from the stranglehold of the feudal lords and their cronies. That seems to me, to be the way to achieve political stability in Nigeria.