Re: The Politics of Oil Blocks and the Northern Elites

In the recent edition of the Economic Confidential, one Ross Alabo-George seemed to have concluded that the poverty in the North of Nigeria is nothing but a creation of the “Northern elites” that have amassed wealth from the oil fields of the Niger-Delta.
In the beginning, Ross asserted that he is “an unabashed capitalist who believes that every citizen has a right to do good business and make profit.” Of course, that is the doctrine of capitalism. Ignorantly, however, Ross did not show any substantiation that the businesses being run by those he described as “uncompassionate” capitalists of the Northern aristocracy are illegal. Ross failed to realize that capitalism, as he claimed to be its disciple, is driven by profit. Capitalism does not have compassion and charity as its core principles. It has always being profit, profit and profit!!! In fact, capitalism is not a free shopping mall.

Ross had submitted that “greed and senseless chase for power by the Fulani aristocrats and political elites of the North are responsible for the extreme poverty of the North.” It is unfortunate that there is poverty in the North but interestingly, poverty is not biologically Northern alone – it is also Southern, Eastern and Western. There is no part of Nigerian that is not being ravage by extreme poverty. If not, is Ross admitting that the Niger-Delta claim of underdevelopment and poverty is a lie? It is indeed, agreeable that greed can be a cause for poverty, but the so called company-ownership theory has no any link with poverty in the North. How does the operation of these companies lead to poverty? Indeed, a mere narration of Company ownership by Ross is the dullest argument I ever read. Ross ought to have tells us whether those companies are involved in bunkering, whether they are not paying taxes to the government or whether they stole public funds to own or set up those companies. It is only when these issues are evidentially proved by Ross that a connection between poverty in the North and the activities of the companies own by the Northerners could be found. This is because, by implication, government is losing revenue that ought to be used for public good. More so, there is nothing new in what Ross has said about the individuals he has mentioned. Is it now haram for a Northerner to operate an oil company?!

If greed is Northern, is greed not also Niger-Deltan? In fact, greed theorists argued that natural resources provide the attraction to covetous individuals or groups to rebel in order to take control over revenues from the natural resources. This is why many have posited that “conflicts are far more likely to be caused by economic opportunities than by grievance.” And this is obvious from the picture and dynamics of the conflict in the Niger-Delta region that the element of greed rather than grievance is more pronounced as various groups and factions emerged making conflicting demands and more often violently clashing with each other over the control of areas where pipelines installation passes through, waterways, etc. This is why we have the Dokubos, the Tampolos, the Ateke Toms, the Boyloaf, the Fara Aidids, etc. Do all these people represent common interest – Mr. Ross?

Ross asked the question – “who impoverished the north?” His vague answer is the Northern Elites. Deprivation in the North is a product of many factors. Whereas the factor of the Northern elites is inexcusable, the deliberate policies of the government that undermine the progress of the North are also palpable. For instance, in the Aviation sector, even more than 60% of those that traveled to Dubai are from the North, there is no originating flight from the North as the traveler is forced to go to Lagos when the same flight would pass the skies of Kano on the way to Dubai. In the Banking Sector, a small farmer in Gamborun Ngala would save in a Bank but that saving is only decided in Lagos. This means that the North finance the business of the Southerners. The dredging of River Niger is being sabotage by those who benefits from the Ports in their area.
One of the central arguments of Ross was that some Northern elites get more revenue from oil than their respective State Governments. Whether it is ignorance or malevolence, as is in this case is both, Ross irrationally failed to realize that it is public funds that is being used to provide services to the citizenry and not private funds. Corporate or private funds can only be used for corporate social responsibility or charity neither of which is compulsory. At any rate, we have the example of T.Y. Danjuma Foundation.

The point that has always been made is the fact that the system of revenue allocation in Nigeria is extremely disproportionate. The horizontal inequality is indispensible. It is that disequilibrium that has created uneven development. In fact, Section 16(2)(a-c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is very emphatic. It states that “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring: (a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development; (b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good; (c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group;.” In spite of these provisions, the system of revenue allocation we have today has negated the provision of the Constitution. What we have today is the concentration of wealth on few States, with less population, less size and a proven legal evidence of mismanagement of resources. It is the concentration of wealth on segment of the society with lack of executive capacity that has led to the outcry of underdevelopment in the Niger-Delta.

Then, who impoverished and underdeveloped the Niger-Delta? The Technical Committee on Niger-Delta led by Ledum Mitee in 2008 acknowledged that “whilst it is true that paucity of funds have affected the development efforts of the region … had available funds been judiciously used, it would have gone a long way to address development challenges in the region… the implications of corruption for Nigeria as a whole are wide and multiple and even more grave for the region” (see page 65 of the report). It further stated that “Unfortunately and sadly enough, governance structures and leadership patterns across the Niger Delta States have compromised the hopes and dreams of the people, distorted the processes of growth and development, undermined institutions, failed to prudently utilise scarce resources and generally improve the living conditions of the people. With no direct commitment and oversight from the Federal level, State and Local Governments find it easy to get away with a culture of bad governance and opportunistic leadership” (see page 48 of the report). For example, the former Chairman of NDDC was accused of embezzling N800million in what was described as “juju scandal” to retain to his seat and command supports at higher hierarchy of power”. Also, the former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha was convicted for massive plundering of his State resources. Similarly, the former Governors of Delta State, James Ibori was found guilty by a Court in London while Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State was convicted for looting public treasury. In the end, the TCND begged the Federal Government “to set in place institutions and mechanisms that [should] effectively contain the brazen abuse and misuse of public funds in the Region…” For now, no any Northern Governor has been convicted. I am not saying, however, there are no cheats among them.

At any rate, each part of Nigeria has its own challenges and should be given the reasonable resources to meet those challenges. The poverty in Nigeria is man-made. Statistical poverty rate by percentages as the one dished out by the National Bureau of Statistics should be distinguished from the real poverty rate in every par
t of Nigeria. Ross’s Company profiling theory, could only be linked to poverty if those companies failed to pay their taxes, are operating illegally or involved in a proven bunkering activities, etc. Mr. Ross, when has capitalism embrace generosity, compassion and charity as parts of its dogma? Mr. Ross’ theory is dangerous and shameless amalgam of facts misused.

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