A new vision for South-South in Nigeria:

Prof. Omo Omoruyi

Power equivalence:
'Oil power', 'Military might' and 'Presidential power'

I still recall the assertion of the former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Muhammadu Gambo Jimeta that the north on who controls oil the north would go to war to secure the unlimited control over oil.

Advice to political leaders


his is a follow up to my essay on the Politics of Oil, which has been in circulation since end of January 2001. I am happy it is generating some interests among relevant interest groups at home and abroad and in government circles in the oil producing areas. For the original essay, see the Guardian of January 24, 2001; it is a feature article in the, the and the

This paper is meant to argue that what is good for the 'goose' should be good for the 'gander'; if Sharia is unconstitutional like the resource control, resource control should be politically expedient and be allowed to take root as Sharia is today. If the 'South-South' failed today under President Obasanjo because of its political impotence, the zone would succeed tomorrow, 2003 as the Sharia is today because of the north's political omnipotence. One hopes the political leaders of the 'South-South' in particular and the southern states in general would not be cowed by the unprecedented action taken by the Federal Government in the recent suit filed by Chief Bola Ige at the Supreme Court. Again, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander in President Obasanjo's administration. The action of the Attorney General, on behalf of the President simply confirmed what ought to and should be very obvious to Southern Nigerians that the oil producing states in particular, and the southern states in general must push for the fundamental re-negotiation of the union called Nigeria. That is the only way to make Nigeria into what the Americans would call 'a more perfect union'.

Since the original paper was released, I got many calls and e-mail on various aspects of the essay. One, which seems to be predominant, is the request to me to develop on the theme of POWER, as it relates to Oil, the Armed Forces and the Presidency in the last section of the essay. This is the subject of this essay.

This essay is meant to articulate a VISION or an AGENDA for the political leaders and people of the oil producing states. It is my hope that the current and the aspiring politicians in the 'South-South' or in the 'Niger-Delta' or in the 'oil producing states or areas' should use this VISION as a basis for taking three tough and hard decisions.

(a) How and when to support or join or form parties?

(b) Who to support as a Presidential candidates in 2003? and

(c) What will be the basis for fielding candidates for future elections in the states for all offices: National Assembly and Governors?


The debate about Who Owns Oil is academic as the Constitution is very definite as to who owns oil. The Colonial laws and the successive indigenous government laws made the minerals the 'property' of the Federal Government of Nigeria. We know that a Constitution every where is the political thought in a legal jargon of the dominant elite in a society. In Nigeria the dominant elite is the geo-ethno-military-clique having two wings: the northern political elite and the military elite. It is on record that in the process leading to the 1999 Constitution, the military elite made sure that the views of the minorities as they applied to oil were excluded and the wishes of those who since 1960 conspired to make the minerals a federal property were reflected. That has always been the pattern and the history of 'constitution-making' in Nigeria. I am not talking about what I read; I am talking about what I knew as a participant.

It is sad that the President Obasanjo found it politically expedient to adopt a double standard in dealing with the North and the 'South-South' with respect to the Sharia mania and the resource control respectively. I still recall how President Obasanjo at Harvard on October 30, 1999 told his audience at Harvard that the introduction of Sharia in Zamfara State was 'unconstitutional'. Today Sharia even though the President said that it is unconstitutional, but the same President has since then been allowing Sharia to blossom in most of the states in the north. Reason! The Arewa leaders were able to blackmail and intimidate President Obasanjo, hence Sharia is politically expedient to be allowed in the northern states by the same President.

The same President has to remind the people of the oil producing states everyday that the Constitution does not allow their quest for resource control. Why? This should be obvious to all politically conversant with the power structure in Nigeria's plural society. To understand this, maybe we should compare the impotence of the 'South-South' with the omnipotence of the Arewa in the polyglot society called Nigeria. That the President has to continuously remind the 'South-South' Governors that the Constitution denies them the fruits of their God given wealth is adding insult to injury by reminding of them of their political impotence.

The political leaders of the 'South-South' should see President Obasanjo's action and utterances as an affront on the political integrity of the people of the oil producing areas. The 'South-South' Governors are now facing reprimand from the President for pushing for true federalism. Can the Governors see the fight as a practical political matter? This is your best bet!

One should hope and pray that the political leaders and the Governors of the 'South-South' would pursue the question of Who Owns Oil in Nigeria as a political issue and not as a Constitutional matter amenable to trial and adjudication of the Supreme Court. As I stated since 1980 and have been telling my countrymen since then, if oil were found in Kano or in Enugu or in Abeokuta, the ownership would not be in dispute. The ownership issue would have been resolved in favor of the states as politically expedient like the introduction of Sharia in the north.


For the interest of the Governors of the six 'South-South' states, one should remind them that the use of oil as a political tool is nothing new. Dr. Michael I. Okpara as the Premier of the Eastern Region in whose territory oil in 1964 was located was able to use the oil from the then Eastern region as a political tool.

Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the undisputed political leader of the north appreciated the political situation properly and acted accordingly. The Sardauna wanted Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister of Nigeria, who was his deputy in Lagos to make some kind gesture to the Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. MI Okpara in December 1964. What was the concession? And whey was the concession necessary?

It was stated then that Sir Ahmadu Bello was prepared to advise the Federal Government run by his deputy to concede the oil in the old Eastern Region to Dr. Michael Okpara in December 1964 as a way of stopping him from carrying out his secessionist threat. As Sir Ahmadu Bello was reported to have put it, 'if it is the oil that is making him threaten secession, let him have it and stay in Nigeria'! This was MI 'Power' flexing his political muscle with oil during that election crisis in December 1964. Dr. Okpara technically used his political muscle like the Arewa leaders of today to extract concession from the northern led Federal Government. The northern leaders were prepared because it was politically expedient to do so to give up oil in spite of what the Constitution said about minerals, which at that time was in the old Eastern Region. This was the way politicians in the First Republic ran the country through many compromises characteristic of federal systems especially ones grafted on a plural society.

Mr. President, why would you and the political leaders of the oil producing areas not borrow a leaf from the political leaders of the north and the east of the First Republic and go for compromise and seek a political solution and not a Court judgment? Is it not clear to all that a political solution is the only viable option? It should have been be obvious by now whether the President likes it or not, that eventually all concerned would have to adopt political tactics to the quest for resource control. Politicians know that the solution would not come through the Court in a highly charged political issue. Was that not why the President declined going to Court in case of Sharia? The rational then was that a Court ruling on the matter would not solve the highly charged political issue. What is good for the goose ought to have been good for gander except that the President is adopting a double standard for political reasons.


The political leaders including the Governors of the 'South-South' should elevate the ownership of oil to one of the three domains of power, just as the leadership of the armed forces and the leadership of the Presidency. For those who are debating the issue of who would be President come 2003 in the tradition of 'power shift' or 'power sharing', we should change the debate by introducing new concepts into our discourse. From the way General Obasanjo has been running his administration since 1999, it should be obvious by now that there is nothing called 'power shift' or power sharing' because the concept of power is misconceived. It is misconceived because the ingredients of power cannot be disaggregated and are not disaggregatable. How many of us know that the three elements of power today under the Nigerian politics are not the traditional three branches of government: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary? How many of us know that the three branches are subordinate to the relationship between three variables: (a) 'who controls oil', (b) 'who controls the military' and (c) 'who controls the Presidency'? The knowledge of these two issues is critical to the understanding of the new politics, which should be based on the equivalence of powers beyond the traditional branches of government.

The political leaders including the Governors of the 'South-South' should appreciate that the 'Politics of Oil' is or should be equally as volatile as the Politics of the Armed Forces' and the 'Politics of Power Shift'. For the political leaders and people of the oil producing areas, the approach to the three issues should not be different from the way the majority ethnic nationalities, the Yoruba, the Ndi Igbo and the Arewa approach them. Those who are talking of power sharing should adopt a new approach to the power analysis of Nigerian politics, because there is nothing to share under Nigerian politics. Traditional power analysts and politicians tend to unduly focus too much attention on the sharing of the power in the Presidency. Even taking the traditional notion as given, the Constitution under the Presidential System does not provide a room for a shared power in the Executive. Those who are in doubt should read the Constitution, which says clearly that 'the Executive Power shall be vested in the President'. It did not say that it should or shall be shared with any other bodies or organs in the Executive Branch.

Those who understand the enormity of the power of the President and want it very badly are thinking of another issue in the debate. They are thinking that there should be a periodic power shift from one part of the country to another. Those who are arguing for this kind of power are not thinking of the factors of political parties and the voters' preferences. The problem with this is that the process leading to the outcome tends to be apolitical and undemocratic as the act tends to bypass the inter-play of political forces. When former President Shehu Shagari and some Ndi Igbo leaders recently argue that it would be the turn of the Ndi Igbo to produce the President for Nigeria in 2003, they are victims of the hackneyed notion of power shift. They are talking about power shift not through the interplay of the political forces, but a powers shift, which would be in terms of the President who would be selected and not elected or shifted from the southwest to the southeast or to the south-south as the case may be. This is a very simplistic approach to power in Nigerian politics.

In my vantage political point in government, I fought with this highly simplistic notion in 1992/1993 because it was undemocratic. I have records to prove that power shift can be dealt with through the inter-play of political forces. The two party system, the nomination system, a new electoral and voting system and complex internal and external validation mechanisms produced a balanced ticket from each of the two political parties.

It is part of the history of this country that 'Power' shifted through the interplay of democratic forces in a free, fair and credible election in June 1993 and the country allowed it to elude us. It is now well documented even from the Oputa Commission on Human Rights Violations that the military settled for a power shift and a 'President' in the person of General Obasanjo before the announcement of the transition program in 1999. The power shift of 1999 was by selection, which is now facing crisis of legitimacy all over the country. It is sad the old politicians of the like of Alhaji Shagari are still thinking of the system of selection, which failed the country since 1999. I strongly believe that time has come when power analysts should wrestle with other concepts and new ideas. This is my mission in this paper to adequately arm the political leaders of the oil producing areas and of the southeast with new ammunitions or tools for coping with the reality of modern day Nigerian politics.

I am specifically directing my advice to the leaders of the 'South-South', especially the Governors of the six oil producing states, who want 'resource control' to focus on the oil sector as an alternative power domain equally as critical as the Presidency and the armed forces. This is what I mean by the power equivalence in the quest for power and power exercise in Nigerian politics.

I am conscious of the demands of the people of the 'South-South'. They should be told to learn from the northern political leaders. The northern leaders understand that power in Nigeria is indivisible and non-transferable. Why can't the political leaders of the oil producing areas learn from the Arewa, the northern leaders?

The northern leaders do not believe that power can be shared or shifted in Nigeria. They are right. Hence they hold the view that the three domains of power are one and inseparable and indistinguishable entity. The northern leaders also hold the view that since the three are linked, they would want to control the three and not one or the other. This is a fact, which Nigerians in the oil producing areas should appreciate.

It is a fact that in the past and now or in the foreseeable future, the oil producing areas cannot be President and cannot lead the armed forces. Consequently, they would have trouble securing the right to the ownership of oil. General David Ejoor's memoir (Reminiscences) dealt with this relationship. This is why the oil producing areas and other minorities, the Yoruba and the Ndi Igbo would have a hell of a time becoming the President, the leader of the armed forces and the owner of oil.

I still recall the assertion of the former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Muhammadu Gambo Jimeta that the north on who controls oil the north would go to war to secure the unlimited control over oil. As he put it in the Abacha organized National Constitutional Conference that on the control of oil the north would go to war. I still want to direct the 'South-South' leaders to General Ejoor's book. He provided the reasons why the north would want to cling on to the political power, the military power and the control of the oil sector at all cost. To those who are interested in further insights into the Politics of Oil, the Politics of the Armed Forces and the Politics of Power Shift should read General Ejoor's book, Reminiscences, which still remains classics in the literature on Nigerian military till date from one of its Generals. To the people of the oil producing areas, oil would continue to be a 'doom' in their areas and a 'boom' in the north that controls the Federal Government and the armed forces, unless the 'power equivalence' among the three variables are dealt with in a National Conference. President Obasanjo, as the Head of the Executive and the National Assembly are not competent to deal with the dynamics in power equivalence.


Now that there is a rethinking on the part of the southwest, the southeast contrary to their political leaders in the past, and some northern leaders on the ownership question of oil, the leaders of the oil producing areas should come to terms with a new definition of resources. I hope the political leaders would conceive of Resource as including the ports, sea and air and even industrial plants and businesses all over the country as part of the issues that should be subjected to the practice of local control of local resources. This is not new in all federal systems except in Nigeria because of the way the federation evolved.

There is another way of approaching this matter. All we need to do is to try what was done in the past with the introduction of the states and even local government into the ownership of many industries originally owned by the federal government. Nigerians would recall how the contiguous states were made part of the shareholders in the motor assembly plants in Lagos and in Kaduna. Why should the states in the oil producing states not be shareholders in the oil companies? The six 'South-South' states should be made Shareholders with the Federal Government and the Oil Companies in the oil industries. But today President Obasanjo is not open to this matter. The President even denied them participation in the oil business. These are not constitutional issues.