Professor Itse Sagay on Derivation: A Conflict Between Language and Status

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Map of Nigeria numerically showing states typi...
Map of Nigeria numerically showing states typically considered part of the Niger Delta region: 1. Abia, 2. Akwa Ibom, 3. Bayelsa, 4. Cross River, 5. Delta, 6. Edo, 7.Imo, 8. Ondo, 9. Rivers Click to view (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who read Law in Nigerian universities know Professor Itse Sagay very well through his numerous textbooks especially on constitutional law. Personally, I have not come across an author on law like him. My thumps were always up whenever I read any of his books as a student of law. I have had contact with him when I was writing a column on the back page of ThisDay way back in 2003. He was very delighted with my piece: Professor Sagay, Buy the Bride a Single Bed, which I wrote in reaction to his argument on a “double-decker” federalism. Though I was arguing for federalism on behalf of the North in that article, the respect I had for Professor Sagay had to guide my diction such that my rendition easily became exceptionally polite.

But like Dr. Tilde, Professor Sagay too is human. Even as one of the best brains that Nigeria ever produced, the Professor has recently been slipping down from the statesmanship and moderation which his intellectual position heavily demands from him to something less emulating to me. In the following passage, he was quoted speaking like when his student Dr. Tilde abandons caution in defence of the North or his Fulani herdsmen, or like Dokubo Asari in defence of a south-south 100% oil derivation. Listen to my esteemed Professor: “I have been following the debate like others; unfortunately, those who speak on behalf of the Niger Delta on the issue have failed to hit the nail on the head. They should be bold enough to ask their northern colleagues, where does the nation’s revenue come from – instead of caressing the issue rather cautiously.

“The northern part of this country does not contribute anything to the national purse. If the area that produces the resources has just a token of 13 percent, the remaining 87 percent is free gift to the entire nation, particularly the North that has nothing to show for its existence. At the Political Reform Conference in 2005, we went to the Federal Ministry of Finance to get figures and facts about what each of the zones contributed to the commonwealth. What we saw was amazing; the North-West brings nothing, the same with the North-Central and North-East. The South-East and South-West brings minor but the South-South contributes 91 percent.

“The posture of the northern governors is the height of ingratitude and insult on the people of the oil-producing areas because they would have been bankrupt if not for the revenue that has been accruing to them from the proceeds of oil and gas.

“This is a wake-up call on the people of the oil-bearing region. For instance this is the time to come together and fight intellectually for the anomaly in the uneven allocation of oil blocs in the country. You will observe that because of the long stay of the north in power at the centre, they manipulated the process and cornered these blocs to the disadvantage of the south; today, you have all juicy oil blocs in the hands of the north. Now that Jonathan is there, I would not want to sound being immodest by calling for a revocation of the blocs allocated to the northern businessmen, but from the look of things, they have decided to take the entire South for a ride, so Jonathan should ensure that he corrects this imbalance by allocating more oil-blocs to people in the South to make up for the inequity in the sector.” (from a posting made by Bunyi Fatoye-Matory in ‘Yanarewa Yahoogroups, but originally written by one Enyimba Himself enyimba1ofaba@aol.com)” All of a sudden the South-south, emboldened by the Jonathan Presidency and the oil resources from its region, has decided to take the whole North and its people for an enemy. And simply because of what northern politicians and Jonathan have done in the PDP, or for what its governors have said recently on reviewing the revenue allocation formula, every northerner deserve a target of their invectives and unrefined language: “North that has nothing to show for its existence.” Haba, my Professor. This is sinking too much. This must not be your words. As long as such unguarded attacks on the North would come from people like Alhaji Dokubo Asari who are at the bottom of the society’s intellect, they would not even ruffle a feather of a bird in the North, much less stir a concern among its people. But when the cream of our society like Professor Sagay joins in the fray, then there is concern for worry, not for the North but for the country and South-south in particular for some few simple reasons that I will pause to dwell on now. People at the level of Asari may have no idea of the intricate linkages and mutual dependencies in the life of a nation. All they may know is the garbage that the North is a parasite: it brings nothing to the federal coffers, as reflected in the ‘evidence’ of Professor Sagay – “the North-West brings nothing, the same with the North-Central and North-East. The South-East and South-West brings minor but the South-South contributes 91 percent.” we can always pardon Asari. He is not an economist, neither is he a professor, not even in dream. His greatest achievement known to Nigerians is that he was a Niger-Delta gangster.

But Professor Sagay knows that federal purse is not the only wealth of Nigeria and neither is oil even its most important commodity. The North is simply not just a bunch of parasites that produce nothing before, now or in the future. It is not also a portion of the country that owes nothing. It all depends on what economic index one is looking at. I make bold to say that to the ordinary Nigerian, including such Nigerian in the Niger Delta, resources other than oil count more to his economy. Take the daily earning of any ordinary Nigerian in Calabar, Sokoto, Ogbomosho, Maiduguri, Umuahia or Jos. How much of it was the trickkle that reached him from oil?

Let me make it clear that owenership of oil bloc does not concern the ordinary Nigerian in the North or south. Until now, I only knew TY Danjuma among Nigerians who own oil blocs. And if Jonathan allocates all new oil blocs to Niger Deltans I will not object to that. In fact, I will support it because one can argue that they are the legitimate owners of the land above. In any case, what better right does a Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo have over such blocs than a Niger Deltan? Moreover, that does not affect the commission that goes to the purse of the federal government.

My only concern here is that when Jonathan makes that allocation, I can swear by my honour that none will go to reputable people like Professor Sagay. Most of them will go to militants like Asari and Tampolo that the President is so scared of. We are witnesses to bow he is awarding them billions of naira contracts and even conceding the security of our maritime domain to them. These militants are the layest curse of the Niger Delta and Jonathan is incapable of facing them.

The second thing is on the value and nature of oil itself and which people make so much fuss about. No one is saying oil is valueless. In Nigeria it is used in the last four decades especially to finance government projects, institutions and salaries. Most of its revenue however is pilfered by the elite or wasted to the extent that many analysts have arrived at the conclusion that it is a curse. The fact is that with or without oil, Nigerians will continue to exist and run governments in one form or another, as they did before the discovery of oil and as they will do for thousands of years after the now precious south-south oil has finished or the commodity has ceased to be relevant as a source of energy.

I just wonder how the ephemeral nature of oil has escaped the notice of the Niger Deltans. People like Asari speak as if the commodity will be here or relevant forever. Nigerian reserves are not bottomless. Even Saudi Arabia does not think of an infinite reserve. Oil will finish or cease to be relevant within the next 70 to 100 years. Europe is busy renting swathes of Sahara desert in preparation for its future energy supply from harvesting the sun while some people here are speaking of oil as if it will remain forever.

And few of them who are aware of this fact miss the point when they argue that they must be allowed its monopoly in order to develop their region better in preparation for the day when the oil would not be there. Again, foul. They think that what the oil will accord them in the next 30 to 50 years is enough to last them until the end of time. They are not thinking of many generations ahead.

The majority think of now. The few cautious ones think of only one or two generations ahead. Fewer still, whom we have not heard yet since the inception of this debate, think of generations two hundred or five hundred years ahead. They forget that investing in one corporate Nigeria and consolidating linkages with its various peoples is wiser than clinging to a commodity of limited lifespan. A person from Calabar, for example, who cares for generations of Niger Deltans five hundred years from now will dispassionately examine the Nigerian atlas and see the size of the North and its unending natural endowments vis-a-vis those of his zone. He will bring forward in his intelligent mind what is permanent and what is not in the dynamics of human needs and economy. Such a mind would not fail to reach one inevitable outcome: the North that is 3/4 of the entire Nigerian map, with its diverse people, mountains, rivers, flat arable land, minerals, culture, etc, is an asset to this country in the long run and not a liability. Such a wise mind will not fail to align will whoever inhabits that massive land for the sake of his future generations. The role which the North played in making him the owner of his zone will not escape his memory. And when he hears the Asaris among his people generalize that the Northerners are ungrateful when their governor’s call for a review revenue sharing formula or whatever, he would not join them but quickly caution them against using foul language in their objection.

If the shortlived prospect of oil would call the Niger Deltans to caution, the shorter tenacity of Jonathan presidency should lead them to humility. They do not have the numbers to rule the country forever. At most, 2019, Jonathan must give way to somebody. And whatever the intrigues, in a democracy the numbers of the North will not remain irrelevant forever even in a restructured Nigeria. Power has a way of misleading the mind to the illusion of confusing the moment with the future. The indiscrete mind will see the former as permanent and the latter irrelevant. But suddenly, time with its flying nature soon awakes him to the reality of facing the future he ignored and the consequences of his unguarded past.

Perhaps, it is in realization of that awaiting reality that ethnicists like Professor Wole Soyinka revived the clamour for a sovereign national conference. They want a weak future federal government, not the powerful one that Obasanjo or Jonathan has enjoyed. Are they not returning us to the same federalism which agitators against Hausa-Fulani hegemony were happy to desecrate in 1966?

I cannot hold brief for Nigeria, nor am I in position to speak for the North. But some things are pretty clear to me. If what we have said above about the life of nations is true, I think its people should have nothing to fear even in event of a breakup. Many of them would prefer that because they are tired of the underdevelopment of the region as a result of our focus on oil, the laziness it engenders and the corruption of life it enforces. Those that may object to a break up would be those among the elite who partake in looting the treasury, oil magnets and the corrupt among governors, politicians and businessmen.

The ordinary northerner cannot be intimidated by the ongoing noise. He remains calm. He is not afraid of the future as much as he is displeased with the present. However, one thing is sure: When push comes to shove and the country is divided, his condition in the long run will not be worse than that of other regions. In fact, what he needs to succeed would not be oil but a restoration of the system that will ensure transparency in governance, rule of law and equal opportunity. Oil should be the least concern of the North. It can extract it according to need from the Chad and upper Benue basins as Chad and Niger have started doing while the people would focus on more important aspects of life. But I do not think we need to go this far. For me every part of Nigeria is an asset; its diversity of peoples and resources are an asset, not a burden if we will be patient enough to harness them as other nations have done. I have argued this at length in Nigeria Between Marriage and Divorce (see link below)

Let me put everything in a nutshell by way of analogy. The relationship between the parts of any nation is simple. It is based on sharing, as expressed in every living system. How would the brain function without importing glucose which it consumes more than any other organ but of which it does not produce even a molecule? How would the rest of the body function if the brain hoades the information it processes after the sensory organs have come to it, cup in hand, with the raw data they acquired begging for directives that will rescue the body? Can the liver monopolise the food it processed at the expense of other organs or can the heart refuse other organs blood? Any contemplation of these selfish actions means destabilization of the body or even its instant death. Now, is it such destabilization and death that some of us wish for Nigeria?

I think in this art of nature there are templates for us to copy when we form organizations and systems like Nigeria. However, they are templates which cannot be read by opportunistic thugs and criminals but by great minds like those of Professor Sagay. That is why when the great speaks with the tone and substance of the base and lowly, it instigated a deep melancholy in me that I could not contain, but was compelled to share it with my esteemed readers in the imperfect prose that characterize my reflections on the problems of my country as my stammer makes my speech pitifully ineloquent to my listeners. In doing so, I was less eager to point at the error of my mentor than I was saddened by the statements accredited to him. In all my days as a student of law, I always enjoyed looking up to his towering figure. He must not force me to look down upon him in the domain of national discourse when he dwarfs his intellectual might to the level of the likes of Dokubo Asari.

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