In several pockets of human history, groups and individuals who assume the status of aristocrats have claimed the significant privilege of insulting others. They are so used to the exercise of this privilege that they get agitated when their targets of insults reply. My reply to Bala Usman’s assertions appeared in the internet on April 29, 2001. A week later, I received an email message from an intellectual of Yoruba origin living in the United Kingdom to the effect that those whom he described as “Arewa mandarins” were unhappy with my essay and that they will reply in full force. Since then several other Niger Deltans have responded to Bala Usman’s claims and attacks on the Niger Delta.
By Peter P. Ekeh
In several pockets of human history, groups and individuals who assume the status of aristocrats have claimed the significant privilege of insulting others. They are so used to the exercise of this privilege that they get agitated when their targets of insults reply. Indeed, they expect those whose dignity they assault to calmly play patsy, bowing in genuflection. Apparently, our lordly neighbours in Nigeria assume more than that. They are claiming the privilege of deciding which academics are worthy of their vocation. All of these traits seem to emerge from Bala Usman’s blatant affronts on the Niger Delta and the angry reactions from his peers against those who have dared to challenge Bala Usman’s misconceived theories and assertions.
Bala Usman’s two installments of insults were published from his “Centre for Democratic Development, Research, and Training,” which is virtually the only remnant of the Centre for Democratic Studies that Omo Omoruyi founded and headed under Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime. Although it has received substantial financial backing from the Federal Government of Nigeria, the main achievement of this Centre has been a spate of abuses of various individuals and ethnic groups, mainly those of Southern Nigeria. The authors who publish in its medium are few and unvaried. The latest instalment in this tirade was an unprovoked attack by Bala Usman on the Niger Delta, pinpointing the Urhobo and describing as “laughable” the thought that Urhobo existed before 1938.
This “Ignorance” diatribe was circulated in the internet on April 18, 2001. My reply to Bala Usman’s assertions appeared in the internet on April 29, 2001. A week later, I received an email message from an intellectual of Yoruba origin living in the United Kingdom to the effect that those whom he described as “Arewa mandarins” were unhappy with my essay and that they will reply in full force. Since then several other Niger Deltans have responded to Bala Usman’s claims and attacks on the Niger Delta.
Now Bala Usman’s supporters and defenders have come forward with their defence, at least two of them for a start. A month after Niger Deltans’ reactions to Bala Usman’s claims began to pour in, Sola Fasure’s premier defence of Bala Usman appeared in the Comet of June 5, 2001. It was simply titled “In Defence of Bala Usman.” Nine days later, and published in the internet in the first instance in Gamji and Niger Delta Congress, an angrier defence has come from a more formidable personage in the aristocratic firmament. Using similar phrases – such as “laughable” -- as in Bala Usman’s original essays, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi defended his peer with pronouncements and judgement of doom over the qualifications of the man he saw as Bala Usman’s primary critic, in a field far removed from his banking profession. Apparently doubting its authenticity, his title of ‘Usman, Ekeh, and the Urhobo “Nation”’ uses quotes to support Bala Usman’s abusive characterization of a whole ethnic group in the Niger Delta. These two defences of Bala Usman appear formatted from a common talking point and are remarkably similar in their strategies.
The Defence of Bala Usman
First, Bala Usman’s defenders do not accept in any shape or form that Bala Usman has offended Niger Deltans. Sola Fasure has grievances against Bala Usman. But they have nothing to do with the complaints of Niger Deltans that they have been unjustly disparaged. Instead, he narrates how Bala Usman used his enormous influences during the Sani Abacha military dictatorship to cancel a conference that he was organizing at the University of Ibadan, because Bala Usman disapproved of its French funding. It is amazing to me that Fasure could rate so high the inconvenience of not holding a conference that was cancelled at the behest of Bala Usman and yet brush aside complaints from Niger Deltans that Bala Usman has made grossly insupportable claims about their existence and their ownership of the lands in which their ancestors have lived from times immemorial.
Second, Bala Usman’s defenders support his claim that the Nigerian State owns the Niger Delta. While this support is implicit in Lamido Sanusi’s praise of “brilliant points made by Bala Usman,” Fasure was explicit in support of Bala Usman. He says: “the Nigerian state is superior to the ethnic groups and therefore have a superior claim to the land and the resources there-in.” This is the essence, of course, of the interests of those fighting for the control of the Niger Delta. It is striking that throughout Fasure’s remarkable essay, there is the incredible assumption that the Nigerian State means Abuja. The truth of the matter is, the states of the Niger Delta are part of the Nigerian State and their control of the resources of the Niger Delta would in no way violate Fasure’s dictum. This is an intellectual stance that neither Bala Usman nor Lamido Sanusi nor anyone else can validly argue against from the premise of political science and its understanding of the meaning of the state. No one in the Niger Delta has asked for the control of the resources in the Niger Delta by ethnic groups in the region. What Niger Deltans have asked for is that their states, rather than the central government at Abuja, should control their resources. What is wrong with such reasoning in a federation? Is that not what happens with groundnuts and cocoa? Was that not the position of Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello whose dominant influence led to the construction of Nigerian federalism in the 1950s?
Third, Sanusi and Fasure brushed aside any issues raised by Niger Deltans that did not touch on the all-important matter of resource control and the related issue of the definition of Nigerian ethnic groups vis-a-vis Nigeria. Fasure did take important matters into consideration in these two areas. The banking chieftain Lamido Sanusi was more limited in his angry essay. He was satisfied with issuing pronouncements and further insults. Both Fasure and Sanusi also ignored the important corrections by several Niger Deltans of faulty claims by Bala Usman. Sola Fasure allowed only one item of inaccuracy, which probably inconvenienced him the most. It was in my reaction to Bala Usman. Fasure turns to the portion on the Yoruba in my essay, in which I was least interested, and says as follows: “[Ekeh] tries hard to fault Usman's data on the authorship of the word ‘Yoruba’ and used the inaccuracies he identified to upend Usman's principal thesis that: ethnic identity as we know it in Nigeria today is a recent historical development.” Is this the only inaccuracy in Bala Usman’s essays that Sola Fasure could read from all the reactions from Niger Deltans? Does he accept that the British donated the term “Urhobo” to the Urhobo in 1938? Or is it just possible that Fasure thinks that this inaccuracy from Bala Usman is of little consequence, whereas the “Yoruba” inaccuracy was more consequential?
Various important contributions on this subject included those by Nigerian Publius, the pen name for an Ibibio chieftain [The Guardian May 7, 2001: “CEDDERT and The Misrepresentation of Facts”], Andrew Edevbie [Vanguard, May 24-25, 2001: “Bala and His Rule-Book for Nigerian Politics”], G. G. Darah [The Guardian, May 14, 2001: “Bala Usman: History Will Absolve Us”], and Chris Akiri, [The Guardian, May 22, 2001: “Bala Usman and the Urhobo 'Nation.'”]. These contributions posed important questions with regard to Bala Usman’s assertions on the Niger Delta. It is unclear whether Lamido Sanusi and Sola Fasure accept the various points raised by these authors or whether they considered their contributions as unworthy of their attention. Sanusi’s position that he treated my essay as representative of Bala Usman’s critics cannot help matters when my objections to Bala Usman’s claims do not overlap with those of these writers. Instead of answering these writers’ worthy points of protest, both defenders of Bala Usman took the calculated decision to concentrate on what they perceived as inconsistencies in my scholarship.