Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Niger Delta, state and people

THE emerging currents after the military incursion into the Gbaramatu communities in the Niger Delta tends toward believing the state's propaganda, that it launched the attack to deal with "criminal elements" in the Niger Delta involved in kidnapping of foreign and local people as well as sabotage of oil facilities in the region and who had also lately fell some officers and men of the of the occupation force in the Niger Delta, known as Joint Task force (JTF). According to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Nigeria, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, "No responsible Government will sit quiet and watch an unwarranted attack on its armed forces without any provocation".

Those who tend to believe this state's line in the misadventure in the Niger Delta are guilty of not only what Wole Soyinka calls partial amnesia with regard to Nigeria's history, they are also largely ignorant of the contradictory dynamics of the country, the specific character of the Nigerian state whose surviving logic is embedded in violence. At this juncture, let me ask the following questions: What is the geo-political and economic importance of the Niger Delta? What is a state? Is the Nigerian state really a state? What is the meaning of a people? Next, I shall proceed to answer these questions which I have posed.

The Niger Delta belongs to the South-South geopolitical zone in the unconstitutionalised six zones in the country which include the South West, South East, North West, North East and North Central. In specific terms, the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria comprises Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers states. The 1958 Willink Commission report which expressed the problems of the minority, considered Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States as the actual Niger Delta. The discovery of more oil wells in the region has altered the classificatory paradigm to cover the presence of hydro-carbon. Hence the Niger Delta, in strategic energy terms, refers to the oil producing areas (OPA), namely, Akwa Ibom, Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. To be sure, Niger Delta has over 40 billions of proven hydro-carbon reserves, being the reason for its importance to international actors in quest of cheap source of energy and a parasitic local ruling class dependent solely on revenue accruing from the oil resources. As is well-known, Nigeria relies on earnings from oil, over 85 per cent of the GDP, to stay living. For the country, oil is the river between. Fundamentally, oil has come to shape the character and content of the Nigerian state. This is elaborated in what follows.

Scholarly, the state has been articulated by political scientists and statesmen alike in different ways. Its origin is hypothesised in the contract theories of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacque Rousseau in western philosophy. In African folklore, there are equally sundry narratives on the origin of the state. The crux of the matter is that the state arises out of the desire for collective freedom by the people, a condition which state of anarchy or 'war of all against all' cannot guarantee. For the purpose of this write-up, I shall highlight both the liberal and political economy perspectives of the state.

In the liberal standpoint, the state is underpinned by the doctrine of the separation of power in which the various arms of state have relative autonomy in their sphere of influence. The state is impartial and above all serves the interest of the competing groups within a society. It does not serve the goal of capital, it is classless. It is an embodiment of the whole society ala Hegel. Indeed, Marx Weber identifies three components of the modern state, namely, its territoriality, legitimacy and coercive force monopoly. The state has always tended to be authoritarian scorning its base origin in Shakespearean terms. It is the reason while checks and balances have been introduced to reign in its excesses in the context of constitutionalism.

Historically, the Nigerian state does not exhibit the neutral pretext or pluralism of the liberal state pretending to be umpire of the contending forces nor the service role of state-building. It bears through and through, the authoritarian content of the colonial state, its parent. Its territoriality defies logic as many nations are packed into a political space so-called Nigeria by Lugard's mistress. The process of colonial disengagement placed power in the hands of an ethnic feudal elite to whom power is warfare. The end in view for the British was to secure enduring neo-colonial future relations (for a full account of this read Peter Smithers at and Professor Kunle Lawal's The United States and the Decolonisation Process in Nigeria, 1945-1960.). Its post-colonial existence was illegitimately brought about, and the post-colonial Nigerian state has only one asset, the monopoly of coercive force which successive regimes have deployed to fulfil the goal of accumulation of the local elite and their metropolitan counterparts. For this reason, the political economy approach best captures its dynamics. Its highpoint as an approach is that it focuses exclusively on the social relations of production.

In the words of Ralph Miliband (1969) the state in a class society "is primarily and inevitably the guardian and protector of the economic interests which are dominant in society. Its 'real' purpose is to ensure their continued predominance, not to prevent it." The political economy view of the state is that the state is the instrument of oppression of the oppressed class in society. In Karl Marx's precise words, "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." The diverse ways in which oil has shaped the political economy of the Nigerian state has been described by Teresa Turner in his 1978 article, "Commercial capitalism and the 1975 Coup" as one involving the multinationals, compradors and state elite. The Nigerian state by virtue of its sole reliance on oil is a rentier state.

According to Hazem Beblawi, the Nigerian State is characterised by "a windfall wealth of unprecedented magnitude." This is the singular incentive for Nigeria's continuous existence and simultaneously underlines its elusive nature. The state collects rents from sale of oil and is merely distributed through the bureaucratic mill from where it is appropriated, misappropriated and stolen outright. Local content to the production process is absolutely nil, a fact that explains while the country has continued to import refined oil products into the country to the detriment of the country's current account balance. It is the struggle for this oil rent that has turned the contest for political offices in the country into 'a do-or-die affair'. In this primitive accumulation continuum where do the people lie? First and foremost, let me answer the initial question: what is the meaning of a people. People as a political category constitute the materiality and spirituality of a state. The state is an empty shell without the people who animate it. And when a state has diverse demography, it is the duty of the state institutions and agencies to ensure harmony and 'the rightfulness of the units' not as a partisan dispenser of oppression.

This done, it wins for it, consent and legitimacy, a tonic for its continuous existence. As the state alienates the people, it breeds resistance with negative consequence on state's sovereignty. The Nigerian state has failed in all these while its mainstay is authoritarian exertion. Its current assault on the peoples of the Niger Delta stresses the point being made. By definition it is not a state in the liberal sense but rather a rogue state.