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Ethnic Minority Conflicts and Governance in Nigeria

Rotimi T. Suberu

Chapter Three

Ethnic Minority Problems and Oil Politics: A Case Study of Rivers State

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1This section of the work discusses ethnic minority problems in contemporary Nigeria, with emphasis on the grievances of the oil-producing communities of Rivers State. The discussion is divided into three broad parts. The first identifies and disentangles the key grievances and demands of the oil-bearing ethnic minority communities. The second part highlights the agitational activities and politics that have developed around these demands. The third part examines the nature and impact of governmental responses to the claims and activities of the affected oil-bearing communities.

Demands of the Oil-Producing Communities

2The basic demands and grievances of Nigeria’s oil-bearing areas, as articulated by their intermediaries or spokespersons, can be identified under five broad themes. These relate, respectively, to the disposition of mineral land rents, the application of the derivation principle to the allocation of federally collected mineral revenues, the appropriate institutional and fiscal responses to the ecological problems of the oil-producing areas, the responsibility of the oil-prospecting companies to the oil producing communities and the appropriate arrangements for securing the integrity and autonomy of the oil producing communities within the present federal structure.

3Perhaps the most logically and legally compelling of the demands of the oil-bearing communities and states involves their claims to mineral land rents. Traditionally, for instance, land rights in Nigeria were vested in the respective local communities. Under the Land Use Decree of 1978, however, ownership of land in any state of the federation is vested in the State Governor in trust for the people of the state. Thus, both traditionally and legally, the Federal Government has no direct claims to land in the states.

4Yet, the Federal Government has continued not only to prescribe how much rent is paid by the oil prospecting companies for land used, but also to collect these rents. The ostensible justification for the Federal Government’s action is the Petroleum Decree of 1969 and the relevant provisions of the 1989 Constitution which vest in the Federation control of all minerals and gas ”in, under or upon the land and territorial waters of Nigeria” (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1989: Section 42). However, these provisions clearly refer to ownership of mineral wealth and not ownership of land which, under the practice of the constitution, remains vested in the states. In essence, therefore, the Federal Government’s retention of mineral land rents would appear to be unconstitutional since the states are clearly entitled to such rents as of right (see Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1980:93).

5Two unresolved problems, however, beset the position that mining rents are legally not the property of the Federal Government. The first is whether these rents should belong to the state government or to the specific oil-bearing communities involved. Although the Land Use Decree would appear to give the states the right to these rents, the oil-producing communities have also asserted an exclusive and intrinsic right to what they regard as rents on communal lands.

6A far more complicated issue relates to the attempt by elements from the oil bearing communities to juxtapose mineral rents and royalties as resources legitimately belonging exclusively to the oil-producing sections. Consider, for example, the following statement by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP):

MOSOP insists that oil royalties and rents are the property of landlords and that the Federal Government must return to the oil-bearing communities all royalties and rents paid to it by the oil companies since 1958. (The Guardian, 17 March 1993:9).

7The constitutional position on the matter is, however, unambiguous. While rents are a tribute to the owners of land — in this case the state governments — royalties are levies on minerals, whose ownership remains vested in the Federal Government. In essence, according to the Pius Okigbo Commission on Revenue Allocation:

The owners of the minerals on which royalties are levied are indisputably, under the existing laws and under the Constitution, the Government of the Federation. It follows that the payment of a part or the whole of the revenues from this source to the state (or community) where the mineral is produced does not derive from a legal right but from political or other considerations. To transform this political act into a legal claim of right as the producing states seem to want is to do violence to reality. (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1980:93).

8A more widely supported demand of the oil-producing states and communities is that a significant proportion (usually put at not less than 10 per cent) of federally collected mineral revenues should be returned to the producing areas on the basis of the derivation principle. Derivation is, of course, a long-standing principle of revenue allocation in Nigeria. The derivation or origin principle of distribution stipulates that a significant proportion of the revenues collected in a locality should be returned to that locality or segment. Derivation has, however, been progressively de-emphasised as mineral exploration replaced agricultural exports as the principal source of government revenues and foreign exchange earnings in Nigeria. This change in the rules for allocating revenues has been denounced by ethnic minority elements as a politically motivated assault by the majority nationalities on the economic rights of minority communities who are perceived as too small and weak to threaten the stability of the federation.

9The following statements by the first civilian Governor of Rivers State and the representatives of the Ijaw community, respectively, aptly capture the intensity of ethnic minority resentments over the perceived abortion or distortion of the derivation principle by the Federal Government:

Derivation as a revenue allocation criterion is not new in this country. It featured prominently when cocoa, groundnuts, etc, were the main sources of revenue for Nigeria. But it has continued to be deliberately suppressed since crude oil became the mainstay of the country’s wealth... simply because the main contributors of the oil wealth are the minorities (Okilo, 1980:3)

.... there have been disheartening contradictions and inconsistencies in Nigeria, a nation that recognised 100 per cent derivation as the basis for revenue allocation in 1950, but reduced it to 50 per cent at independence in 1960; to 45 percent in 1970; 20 per cent in 1975; 1.5 per cent in 1982 and 3 per cent in 1992 as crude oil, found in the Ijaw country, became the main source of national revenue (National Concord, 11 December 1992: B2).

10It is, indeed, the case that during the pre-independence era, the ”principle of derivation (was) followed to the fullest degree compatible with meeting the reasonable needs of the centre and each of the regions” (Oyovbaire, 1985:163). It is also true that at independence in 1960, 50 per cent of mining rents and royalties were allocated to the region of derivation. Subsequently, the proportion of mining rents and royalties allocated on the basis of derivation was reduced to 45 and 20 per cent in 1970 and 1975 respectively.

11As already highlighted in the preceding chapter, 2 percent and 1.5 per cent of the Federation Account were allocated, respectively, to the mineral producing states and mineral producing areas during the Second Republic. Following the overthrow of the Second Republic at the end of 1983, the new Government of General Mohammadu Buhari decided that these proportions should apply to federally collected mineral revenues only, rather than to the totality of the Federation Account. This, in effect, meant a decline in the proportion of federal revenues going to the mineral producing states and areas. Finally, under the Babangida Administration, the proportion of federally collected mineral revenues allocated to the states on the basis of derivation was reduced from 2 to 1 per cent, while the allocation for the rehabilitation of mineral producing areas was increased from 1.5 to 3 per cent.

12From the brief review of revenue sharing arrangements presented above, we may conclude that:

  • The derivation principle has, indeed, been progressively de-emphasized as a criterion of revenue sharing in Nigeria.
  • The progressive diminution of the derivation principle has been accompanied by a corresponding tendency officially to accept the need for the establishment of special funds for the ecological rehabilitation of mineral producing areas.
  • Although both allocations are ultimately informed by the need to compensate the oil-producing sections, the allocation to the mineral producing states on the basis of derivation, and the funds for the ecological rehabilitation or development of mineral producing areas, should not be confused. Indeed, while the former is often transferred directly to the states concerned, the latter funds are often administered by a federally - appointed committee or agency.

13In essence, the case for the provision of special funds for the rehabilitation and development of mineral producing areas has been even more compelling than the demand for the allocation of revenues to the states on a derivation basis. The disbursement of the special funds through an independent federal agency, rather than through the state governments concerned, is designed to ensure that the funds are not diverted to other purposes by the state governments but used to meet the special needs of communities immediately and directly affected by the risks of oil exploration.

14These risks, as enunciated by independent observers and the oil producing communities themselves, include the indiscriminate destruction of marine life by explosives used in seismic surveys; the pollution of water, land and vegetation by seepages and spills from oil wells, tankers and exposed high-pressure pipelines; and the devastation of crops and trees by the intense heat resulting from gas flaring. All of this is, of course, compounded by the naturally difficult terrain -of the oil producing areas.

15As had been rightly noted:

Like in many other oil-rich areas of the world, the regions where oil is found in Nigeria are very inhospitable; they are mainly in swamps and creeks. They, therefore, require massive injection of money if their conditions, and standards of living, are to compare with what obtains elsewhere in the country where possibilities of agriculture and diversified industry are much greater (Asiodu, 1993:36)

16The difficulties and deprivations of the oil-producing communities have invariably brought them into direct confrontation with the oil prospecting companies. Thus, these communities have challenged what they have described as the ”environmental recklessness” of the oil companies. Moreover, the communities have demanded that the oil companies pay reparations or compensation for past neglect and exploitation of the oil-rich areas, and contribute to the creation and expansion of infrastructural facilities and socioeconomic opportunities in these areas. But while many oil companies have been actively involved in promoting and supporting community development projects, others, like the much-criticised Shell Petroleum Development Company, have concentrated on the business of producing oil and limited their ”community relations programme to a few pilot projects in agriculture” (Newswatch, 2 july 1990:18). Indeed, it is Shell’s official policy that ”it is neither feasible nor proper for the company to take over the responsibilities of the federal and state governments in providing and maintaining social facilities” (Newswatch, 2 July 1990:18). The company’s position is strengthened by the fact that the Federal Government owns majority shares in the oil companies, in addition to collecting petroleum royalties and profits tax. In essence, the appropriate nature and scope of oil company-community relations have remained a contentious issue. Indeed, even in those instances where oil companies have been actively involved in supporting scholarship schemes and community development programmes, the representatives of the oil-producing areas have demanded that such scholarships be awarded exclusively to indigenes of these areas, and that ”all community development projects should be fully discussed with community leaders before implementation” (The Guardian, 17 March 1993:9).

17Perhaps the most radical demand of the oil-producing communities in Rivers State involves the agitations for a restructuring of the internal territorial configuration of the federation. Among the Ogoni community, for instance, there have been insistent demands for greater ethnopolitical autonomy in order to give to the Ogoni the ”right to the control and use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development.” (Ogoni Bill of Rights, 1990:4).

18The Ijaws, on the other hand, have called for an autonomous Ijaw federation within a Nigerian confederation. Alternatively, they have called for the politico-territorial consolidation of the Ijaws, presently spread over five states, into two homogeneous Ijaw states. These have been identified as Bayelsa, to be constituted from Rivers and Akwa Ibom states and Toru-Ebe, which is expected to comprise Ijaw communities in the present Ondo, Edo and Delta states. (National Concord, 11 December 1992:B2).

19Generally, the oil producing communities have favoured the creation of more states and local governments in their communities as a means of enhancing the access of these communities to federal resources and of mitigating the disadvantaged political position of many of the smaller minority groupings. These communities have, therefore, been vociferous in denouncing the present tendency to use the creation of states to improve the access of ethnic majority sections to federal largesse, at the expense of a more systematic attention to ethnic minority problems in several of the minority-populated, culturally heterogeneous constituent states.

Agitational and Political Activities of the Oil-Producing Communities

20The activities by which the oil-producing communities in Rivers State and elsewhere have sought to articulate and advance their interests include peaceful domestic demonstrations and representations, mobilization of international support, and violent disruption of the operations and installations of the oil companies.

21Written memoranda now abound by ”community leaders and representatives of the oil producing areas” seeking a more systematic and effective intervention by the Government in the plight of these areas. In recent times, these written representations and petitions have been accompanied by relatively intense organizational mobilization and associational activity.

22The Ogoni Bill of Rights, which was presented to the Government and people of Nigeria in November 1990, represents perhaps the classic example of the use of written memoranda to articulate the cause of the oil producing minority communities. Among other arguments, this Bill emphasizes the precolonial autonomy of the Ogoni ethnic nationality, the immense contributions of the Ogoni to the national oil economy, the ecological devastation of the Ogoni environment by oil exploration activities, the virtually complete marginalization of the Ogoni within the present federal structure and the need for the Ogoni people to be granted autonomous status within the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Ogoni Bill of Rights, 1990).

23The Ogoni campaign has been spearheaded by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Other associations that have featured prominently in recent agitations by the oil producing communities include Dappa-Biriye’s Association of Mineral Producing Areas of Rivers State (AMPARS), the Association of Minority Oil States (AMOS), the Ethnic Minority Rights Organization of Nigeria (EMIRON), the Ethnic Minority Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF), the Nigerian Society for the Protection of the Environment (NISOPEN), and the Movement for Reparation to Ogbia or Oloibiri (MORETO).

24AMOS and MOSOP remain, perhaps, the most outstanding of these associations. Before its proscription by the Federal Government in 1993, AMOS was the most inclusive ethnic minority association, incorporating leading elites from virtually all the southern ethnic minority states. To the litany of demands and goals of the oil producing communities, AMOS also sought to add the quite novel campaign that a future Nigerian president should come from the oil producing areas or should, at least, be sympathetic to the special needs of these areas.

25MOSOP, on the other hand, has been remarkable for its role in internationalizing the struggle of the oil producing communities. Thus, under the energetic direction of Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa, MOSOP has made representations to such international institutions as the United Nations Organization (UNO), the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group (BHRG), Amnesty International, the Green Peace Organization and the London Rainforest Action Group. Indeed, the last named organization staged a peaceful protest on behalf of the Ogoni at the London premises of Shell in November 1992, and was among the international observers that witnessed a mass rally organized by MOSOP in Bori, the traditional headquarters of Ogoniland, during January 1993 (Newswatch, 25 January 1993).

26The discussion so far has focussed on the use of domestic representations and associational activity, as well as international networking, to articulate the grievances of the oil-producing minority communities. In sheer desperation, however, elements from these communities have also resorted to the disruption or destruction of the operations or installations of the oil companies in order to win concessions from these companies. Between January and August 1990, for instance, Shell installations were blockaded at least 22 times, sometimes for several days at a time, by communities protesting neglect and expropriation of their areas by the company and the Government (Newswatch, 15 October 1990:32). Indeed, Shell estimates that over 60 per cent of spills and leakages affecting its installations are caused by sabotage (The Guardian, 28 December 1992:7).

27The resort to attacks on oil company installations has invariably provoked violent confrontations between the oil producing communities and law enforcement agencies. One of such confrontations led to the sacking of Umuechem community in November 1990. The Umuechem ”disaster” led to the death of twenty persons, including a law enforcement officer, the community’s traditional ruler and two of his sons (African Concord, 3 December 1990:23-27). Similar incidents have been reported in various parts of Rivers State, including the Ogoni village of Biara, where the police opened fire on a peaceful protest against Shell contractors during April 1993, leaving at least eleven people wounded and one person dead (The News, 17 May 1993:18-20).

28In sum, considerable agitation, tension and violence have accompanied the attempts by minority oil producing communities in Rivers State to seek redress against alleged neglect by Government and the oil companies. In the next and final section of this chapter, we will undertake a more elaborate examination of governmental responses to the demands of these minority communities.

Government Policies towards Oil-Producing Minorities

29Following Theodore Lowi (1964) and Edmond Keller (1983), it is possible to identify three forms of state responses to the claims and activities of ethnic minority oil producing communities. These are redistributive, reorganizational and regulatory state policies or responses.

30Redistributive policies are state decisions that consciously dispense valued resources to one group at the expense of other claimants to state resources. Reorganizational policies refer to state efforts to restructure or reconfigure political or administrative institutions and relationships in order to accommodate group demands or strengthen the efficacy of centralized state power. Regulatory policies entail the mandatory imposition of sanctions or restrictions on individuals or groups that are perceived to pose a threat to state cohesion and order. We now turn to an examination of the implementation and impact of each of these types of policy responses to ethnic minority ferment in the oil-producing areas.

Redistributive Policies

31In response to the growing agitations among the oil-producing communities, the Federal Government in 1991 announced a new policy designed to give some satisfaction to the development needs and demands of these communities. The policy required the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its joint-venture multinational oil companies to allocate three percent of their total capital investments to community development purposes. This policy was a departure from previous practice according to which the companies voted any amount as they deemed fit for developing specific projects in their communities of operations (The African Guardian, 16 September 1991:35).

32The most important redistributive policies that have been introduced to contain ethnic minority discontent have, however, involved mainly revisions in federal revenue sharing arrangements. Elements of these changes have already been highlighted in this chapter. To recapitulate and elaborate, however, the Babangida Administration, at its inception in August 1985, inherited a revenue sharing arrangement which assigned 2 per cent and 1.5 per cent of oil mineral revenues to the oil producing states and the oil-producing areas respectively.

33The allocation to the oil-producing states was subsequently reduced from 2 to 1 per cent. This reduction was apparently designed to release funds for the development of the new federal capital territory at Abuja, whose special allocation in the Federation Account was increased from 1 to 2 percent of the Account.

34Following intensive agitations by the oil-producing communities and their elected representatives and governments, however, the Federal Government in June 1992 announced the following revisions in fiscal and administrative arrangements for revenue sharing (The Guardian, 7 June 1992: A10).

35First, the statutory allocation to mineral producing areas was increased from 1.5 to 3 per cent of federally collected mineral revenues.

36Second, a statutory commission was established to administer this allocation, thereby putting an end to the practice of disbursing the mineral producing areas’ fund through an ad hoc presidential committee. Named the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), this 12-member agency has its headquarters in Port-Harcourt and state offices in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States. Ten of its members, including the chairman, Chief Albert Horsfall, are from the mineral producing states, while the remaining two sit on the commission as representatives of the non-oil producing states.

37Third, the statutory allocation for the amelioration of ecological problems throughout the federation was increased from 1 per cent to 2 per cent of the Federation Account.

38Finally, the Government committed itself to the establishment of a new national body which will combine the administration of the ecological fund with the extant responsibilities of the National Emergency Relief Agency (The Guardian, 7 June 1992:A10).

39It is useful to note that the increases in statutory allocations to the mineral producing areas and the ecological fund entailed a corresponding reduction by 1.5 and 1 per cent, respectively, of statutory allocations from the Federation Account to the Federal and State Governments. This is in the nature of redistributive policies, which characteristically involve the gratification of some interests or demands at the expense of others.

40The increase in federal allocations to the mineral producing areas and the establishment of OMPADEC have engendered mixed reactions from the oil-bearing communities. To some representatives of the Ahoada Local Government Area of Rivers State, for instance, the Federal Government’s initiatives reflect its ”magnanimous and godly spirit in sympathizing with the lot of the suffering and impoverished oil-producing communities of the country...” These elements then went on to ”advise all those spoiling for agitations, violent demonstrations and confrontations... to give OMPADEC a chance.” (The Guardian, 2 April1993:18).

41On the other hand, the Federal Government has been criticized by other elements in the oil producing areas for doing too little to ameliorate the problems of these areas. According to this view, the June 1992 changes in revenue sharing arrangements fall short of the demands of the oil producing segments and their objective needs as ecologically endangered and economically dispossessed communities. Consequently, there have been demands for an increase in statutory allocations to the mineral producing areas from three to ten per cent of the Federation Account or federally collected mineral revenues (The Guardian. 9 March 1993:28)

42Other critics have denounced the composition and operations of OMPADEC. According to the Ijaw National Co-ordinating Committee, for instance, the present composition of the commission excludes representatives of Ijaw oil producing communities in Ondo, Edo and Delta states (National Concord, 11 December 1992:B2). The inadequate representation of the oil-producing communities is considered by many to be particularly offensive in view of the inclusion of persons from the non-oil producing areas in the commission. Objection has also been expressed to the selection of the members of the commission by presidential fiat. Such a selection procedure, according to Chief J.E. Otobo of Delta State, could reduce the commission to a bureaucracy of ”government agents” who may not be sufficiently sensitive to the plight of the oil-rich areas (The Guardian, 9 March 1993:28).

43The commission’s formula for distributing development projects among the oil-producing communities has also provoked criticisms. This formula prescribes that each community’s share of OMPADEC-sponsored development projects be tied to the size of its current contribution to the total volume of produced oil. Apart from the unavailability and unreliability of the required data, this requirement has the potential impact of marginalizing those communities, like Oloibiri, which were major oil producers in the past, but which no longer produce oil in appreciable quantities (The Guardian, 14 May 1993:24).

44The most damaging criticisms of OMPADEC have come from those who see the establishment of the commission as a diversionary attempt to pre-empt the claims of the oil-bearing communities to exclusive control of oil rents and royalties. Thus, in the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa:

OMPADEC is illogical, an insult and an injury. If you have your own money, why should Government set up a commission to run your money? They are treating us like babies here... OMPADEC is (designed) to bait us and destroy our will to resist injustice (The News 17 May 1993:25).

45In essence, the Government’s efforts to mollify the oil producing communities through changes in the revenue sharing system have hardly achieved their intended impact. Since OMPADEC is a relatively young agency, however, no definitive statement can as yet be made about the value and viability of the commission. Suffice it to add, however, that by the end of 1993, OMPADEC had started to take significant steps to ameliorate the many problems of the oil-producing areas. According to the commission, contracts worth ₦15 billion were awarded by it between January and December 1993 for the execution of over 150 developmental projects in six out of the eight oil-bearing states. The projects included 65 roads, two major bridges, 31 electricity schemes, 35 water schemes, 13 jetties, 20 shore protection and land reclamation projects, three ferries, three school buildings and one health centre. All this is apart from the commission’s supervision of the completion of several projects it had inherited from the defunct presidential task force on the fund for oil mineral producing areas (Vanguard, 14 November 1994:1-2).

46OMPADEC’s impressive achievements were underscored by two developments during late 1994. The first was the decision of the Revenue Allocation Committee of the National Constitutional Conference to recommend not only the retention of the commission, but also the expansion of its financial allocations from 3 to 6 per cent of oil revenues in the Federation Account (Vanguard, 26 September 1994:1). The second was the vigorous and vehement opposition of many concerned indigenes, politicians and traditional rulers of the oil producing states to alleged clandestine moves by elements close to the Federal Government to have the commission abolished, reorganized or downgraded (Vanguard, 28 October and 11 November 1994).

Reorganizational Policies

47A key feature of Nigerian federalism is the decisive role that state and local governments play in facilitating the access of territorial communities to federal developmental patronage. This role has arisen not only from the virtually complete dependence of the states and localities on federal oil revenues, but also from the continuing emphasis on the standard of inter-unit equality in distributing federal financial resources and infrastructural opportunities to the nation’s constituent communities and segments.

48Rivers State is one of the states in the federation where pressures for new governmental units have been particularly persistent and strident. At least three reasons can be adduced for the intense clamour for additional constituent units, especially new states, in Rivers. The first relates to the ethnic diversity and imbalance in the state. The state comprises some ten known nationalities, with the Ijaws alone constituting a demographic, and hence political, majority. Indeed, much of the impetus for the creation of new states in Rivers derives from the determination of the non-Ijaws to escape what they consider to be political oppression and economic domination by the Ijaw nationality (Wali, 1982:121). A second reason for the intense pressures for new constituent units in Rivers derives from the evident marginalization of the state in the historical process of state-creation in Nigeria. Indeed, Rivers is one of the oldest states in the federation, its boundaries having remained substantially intact since it was established on the eve of the civil war in 1967. Thus, while the federation has evolved from 12 states in 1967 to 30 states since 1991, Rivers has largely retained its 1967 boundaries. In a federal system in which the principle of inter-state equality has become the primary distributive principle, the non-fragmentation of Rivers State is predictably resented by all ethnic segments in the state. A final reason for the intense pressures for new states and localities in Rivers is the widespread perception in the state that the creation of such units would enhance the access of groups in the state to federal resources, and thus compensate for the exploitation and expropriation of the resources of the state by central authorities.

49The pressures for new states in Rivers have, nevertheless, failed to sway the federal authorities, ostensibly because of the relatively small size and population of the state, and the intense disagreements among its component groups regarding the modalities for subdividing the state (Rivers Forum for State Creation, 1992:11). Thus, although the Babangida Administration established a total of 11 additional states during its eight-year tenure (1985-1993), none of these new units was constituted from Rivers State.

50Nevertheless, following violent agitations by various groups in Rivers over the Federal Government’s failure to subdivide the state during the September 1987 and August 1991 state-creation exercises, the Babangida Administration in September 1991 approved the creation of a total of ten new local government areas in Rivers. This increased the number of local government areas in the state from 14 to 24.

51But the Government’s seemingly generous gesture in creating ten additional localities in Rivers did little to relieve the grievances of the state’s communities. The Rivers Forum for State Creation eloquently captured the feelings of the majority of the indigenes of the state when it argued in March 1992 that:

Creating more Local Government Areas is a step in the right direction, but not the only step... states must be created (in Rivers State) because of its disproportionate contribution to national wealth... (and) the equally disproportionate suffering of its people (The Guardian, 20 March 1992:11).

52In essence, intense demands have persisted for the creation of new states in Rivers, with increasingly strident demands being made for such specific state proposals as Abayelsa, Port-Harcourt, Rivers-Delta, Oil Rivers and/or Upland Rivers States. Furthermore, most indigenes of the state have denounced a situation in which the homogeneous majority nationalities have each been subdivided into several states, while the oil-producing minority communities remain inequitably and oppressively incorporated into the extant state structure (Saro-Wiwa, 1992:37).

Regulatory or Repressive Policies

53Edmond Keller (1983:261) has observed that the most common form of regulatory policy in Africa is ’banning’. He adds that such banning often involves the statutory proscription of parties or associations and the detention of individuals who are perceived to be seditionists or to threaten domestic tranquility.

54The first major instance of the use of regulatory sanction against ethnic minority agitators in Rivers State under the Babangida Administration occurred with the promulgation of Decree No. 21 of May 1992. The decree empowered the President of the Federal Republic to ”dissolve and proscribe any association of individuals of three or more persons... which in his opinion is formed for purposes of furthering the political, religious, ethnic, tribal, cultural or social interest of a group of persons or individuals contrary to the peace, order and good governance of the Federation.” The decree further provided that ”the leaders of any association formed in contravention of the provisions of the enactment shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of ₦100,000 or imprisonment for three years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

55Among the eight specific associations mentioned as dissolved under a schedule to the aforementioned decree were the Association of Minority Oil Producing States (AMOS) and the little-known Commonwealth of Oil Producing Areas. The other affected associations were CARIA (Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Imo and Anambra), Committee of Northern Elders, Committee of Peace and Unity, Committee of Unity and Understanding, Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba, Middle Belt Forum and ”such other similar bodies or associations, by whatever name called, formed along ethnic, tribal, cultural or religious considerations, who propose candidates for election into any political office.”

56Excluded from this obviously hastily drafted decree was the Ethnic Minority Rights Organization of Nigeria (EMIRON), which subsequently changed its name to Ethnic Minority Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF). According to its founder, Ken Saro-Wiwa, EMIROAF:

.... is a research and human rights organisation properly affiliated with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization based in the Hague, Netherlands and duly recognized by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. It is not involved in Nigerian partisan politics.... does not promote dissension or confrontation (and) has not received any banning orders (The Guardian, 5 November 1992:18).

57AMOS similarly sought, during June 1992, to escape proscription by emphasizing its non-partisan character. Its pleas for ”deproscription” were ignored by the authorities, however (The Guardian, 7 June 1992:1).

58In May 1993, however, a much more drastic legal clamp-down on ethnic movements and agitators was announced by the Federal Military Government. The new law, known as the Treason and Treasonable Offences Decree of 1993, imposed the death penalty on ”advocates of ethnic autonomy who conspire with groups within or outside the country and profess ideas that minimise the sovereignty of Nigeria” (The Guardian, 7 May 1993:1). The decree was promulgated in the wake of rising restiveness in Ogoniland and rumours of the designing of an Ogoni flag in preparation for the declaration of Ogoni autonomy. Thus, the Secretary of Justice for the Federation, Clement Akpamgbo, explained that the new decree was aimed at stopping ”champions of state within a state and republic within a republic and those who must have printed cards and flags in order to proclaim an autonomous state or region.” (The Guardian, 7 May 1993:1).

59The promulgation of the Treasonable Offences Decree was immediately preceded and followed by intensified harassment of Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa. Indeed, as from April 1993, Mr Saro-Wiwa was subjected to multiple modes of official harassment, including detention, confinement to his home in Port-Harcourt, and more detentions. According to The Guardian:

Saro-Wiwa is being victimized for his beliefs and his activism in support of those he calls the unrepresented peoples of the world, especially the Ogonis, his kinsmen, who he says have been unfairly treated in the Nigerian federation and are demanding justice, self-determination and the due recognition of their worth as human beings (The Guardian, 30 April 1993).

60The activities and travails of Saro-Wiwa have entangled the Ogoni population at large in an increasingly violent and fatal confrontation with the government and its agencies and agents. On 30 April 1993, for instance, the Nigerian Army killed one Ogoni indigene and injured eleven others in the Ogoni town of Biara. This followed demonstrations and protests by Ogoni farmers against the laying of an oil pipeline by Shell and its agent, Wilboros Construction Company.

61During the following June, Ogoni youths protesting the arrest of Saro-Wiwa over his campaign for an Ogoni boycott of the June 12 presidential election, provoked the ire of the neighbouring Andoni community, thereby precipitating a bloody conflict between the two rival communities. The Andoni claimed that innocent Andoni users of the Kaa-Bori-Port Harcourt highway were harassed by Ogoni youths, who had trooped to the highway in a demonstration of anger at Saro-Wiwa’s arrest and in a campaign to enforce the boycott of the presidential election. The Andoni responded by ambushing Ogoni fishermen and traders returning from Cameroun. Hundreds of persons, mainly Ogonis, lost their lives in the ensuing Ogoni-Andoni clashes. According to Newswatch (1 November 1993:25), ”The scope of carnage and destruction of properties is even more chilling than the Zangon Kataf case in Kaduna State.” (The Zangon Katab conflict is discussed in the next chapter of the report).

62The Ogoni-Andoni bloodbath once again led to the deployment of the Nigerian Army to Ogoniland, presumably to restore order and peace between the two warring communities. But the Ogonis claimed that the army was used by the Government to ”create a false sense of security in them while the Andonis gained the upper hand.” (Newswatch, 1 November 1993:25). Indeed, peace and normalcy did not return to Ogoniland until the new Interim National Government, which succeeded the Babangida regime on 26 August, deployed a fresh set of evidently more neutral federal troops to the area in September 1993. Saro-Wiwa was also released from detention during this period. Nevertheless, the seeming rapprochement between the Government and the Ogoni could not endure.

63The first indication of renewed official opposition to the Ogoni cause emerged during January 1994 when law enforcement agents disrupted virtually all the activities that the Ogonis had lined up to mark the first anniversary of the Ogoni’s national political rally against environmental degradation, economic expropriation and political marginalization.

64The following May, the Government issued a blanket order for the detention of all leaders of MOSOP. The Government action followed the gruesome murder, earlier in the month, by a group of Ogoni youths of four ”moderate” Ogoni leaders suspected of collaborating with the Government to undermine Saro-Wiwa’s militant advocacy of the Ogoni cause. The four murdered leaders were Chief Edward Kobani, a former commissioner in the Rivers State Government; Chief Albert Badey, a former Secretary to the State Government; Chief Samuel Orage, another former commissioner in the State Government; and Chief Theophilus Orage, an elder brother of Samuel Orage and Secretary of the Gokana Council of Chiefs. All the four murdered Ogonis were originally leading members of MOSOP. But they subsequently had deep disagreements on policy and strategy with Saro-Wiwa and other militant activists in the body. Earlier disagreements between Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders had led to the denunciation of Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP by prominent Ogoni chiefs in May 1993, and the resignation of Garrick Leton and Edward Kobani, as president and vice-president of MOSOP respectively, in June 1993.

65Among the MOSOP leaders arrested over the May 1994 murder of Ogoni leaders were Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr Barinem Kiobel and Mr Ledum Anazor Mitee. They were charged for murder before a 3-man special tribunal, despite pleas by concerned observers and Saro-Wiwa himself that the detainees be arraigned before a regular court of law (The News, 28 November 1994:15).

66The Government’s clampdown on Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP activists is premised on the belief that they must have instigated some members of the militant youth wing of MOSOP, the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP), to kill the four ”moderate” Ogoni leaders. According to the military administrator of Rivers State, Lt. Colonel Dauda Komo:

MOSOP activists carried out the action after its leader, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, had been politely turned away from a privately convened meeting.... The victims did not merit the fate that befell them since they were not against the ideals of MOSOP but against the way Saro-Wiwa has been handling the affairs of the body (The News, 6 June 1994:8).

67In a subsequent statement in October 1994, Mr. Fidelis Agbaki, the Press Secretary to the Rivers State Administrator, accused MOSOP and NYCOP of:

  • attacking police stations and carting away their arms and ammunition;
  • destroying secondary school certificate examination papers for Ogoni, Andoni and Opobo candidates;
  • burning, destroying and desecrating the palaces of Ogoni traditional rulers;
  • hunting, maiming and killing persons alleged to be witches and wizards;
  • mounting illegal road blocks and harassing non-Ogonis on the Port-Harcourt-Kaa and Port-Harcourt-Kano highways;
  • physically obstructing and chasing away contractors handling water, electricity and related economic projects in Ogoniland;
  • chasing out workers of Shell Company and its subsidiaries from Ogoniland, with the consequence that since the Ogoni National Day Rally in January 1993, not a single barrel of crude oil has been lifted from Ogoniland (Daily Times, 13 October 1994:11).

68MOSOP, on the other hand, accused the Government of violently repressing its peaceful movement for restitution to Ogoniland, and of embarking on a systematic campaign of ”genocide” against the Ogoni. Specifically, MOSOP alleged that the Government’s violent military actions in Ogoniland had led to the displacement of over 50,000 Ogonis out of a total population of half-a-million Ogonis; the destruction of twenty Ogoni villages out of a total of 126 villages; the killing of 1,000 Ogoni indigenes; and the wounding of many more Ogonis (Tell, 6 June 1994:24).

69The Government’s reprisals against Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP contrast sharply with the broad sympathy which the Ogoni movement continues to enjoy both within the Nigerian civil society and internationally. For instance, in October 1994, Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP were named, along with two other organizations in India and Trinidad, as joint-winners of the 1994 Right Livelihood Award, often termed the alternative Nobel Prize. The Livelihood Award, which is worth $250,000, was established by a German-Swede in 1980 to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to urgent social problems. The following month, in November 1994, the popular London-based human rights organization, Amnesty International, declared Ken Saro-Wiwa a ”prisoner of conscience.” Saro-Wiwa, Amnesty International declared, ”is an internationally renowned writer, detained without charge or trial since May 1994, chained hand and foot for long periods incommunicado, and without medical care” (Vanguard, 11 November 1994:1-2). The Ogonis also received the special attention of Amnesty International which revealed that at least 50 people in Ogoniland had been killed and about 600 detained for months without charge or trial under harsh conditions (Vanguard, 11 November 1994:2).

70The travails of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogonis are, however, not really surprising in view of Government’s long-standing perception of agitators for the rights of oil producing ethnic minorities as ”misguided elements”, ”mischief makers” and ”selfish miscreants”. For instance, in the wake of the Umuechem massacre of November 1990, Governor Godwin Abbe of Rivers observed in a state-wide broadcast that:

There have been incidents where officials of oil companies and their agents have been held hostage at the pleasure of... misguided elements who parade themselves as patriotic citizens fighting a noble cause for their communities. Such mischief makers have always done so for their selfish interest (African Concord, 3 December 1990:25).

71What the official resort to tough tactics and intimidatory rhetoric immediately suggests is the failure of the redistributive and reorganizational policies of the Government to successfully defuse ethnic minority discontent. Moreover, as Edmond Keller (1983:274) has observed, a reliance on these intimidatory or regulatory techniques not only presents the ”image of a state which is low in legitimacy and desperately struggling to survive,” but also ”in the long run can do more to threaten state coherence than to aid it.”

72The final sections of this project will be devoted to an elaboration of specific policy options for enhancing the capacity of the Nigerian state to cope peacefully, legitimately and effectively with ethnic minority discontent. Before that is done, however, it is useful to examine the fortunes and travails of another group of ethnic minorities in Nigeria, namely the non-Hausa-Fulani communities of southern Zaria.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1996

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