The dangerous development in Nigeria is that government is no longer associated with the organization of this essential commodity of governance: protection. Nigerian governments have virtually told Nigerians to fend for their own protection. My hometown of Okpara with its environs has a population that is more than 20,000 people in Delta State. It has no police station. Indeed, there is no presence of government in the daily lives of its people. That is, the Nigerian state and its governmental agencies are absent from their daily lives. Crimes will be committed in any community and are being committed in my hometown. How are they resolved? Clearly, without the help of any governmental agencies. For as long as such problems of crime are internal to the community, they will be resolved according to respected norms of the community and its standards of fair sanctions.

In the week of April 18th through 25th, 2001, the Nigerian internet community received an ample supply of Bala Usman’s essay provocatively titled “Ignorance, Knowledge and Democratic Politics in Nigeria." It is the text of his presentation at a symposium at Bayero University, Kano, on Tuesday, 17th April 2001.

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.

The second distortion of Bala's message is more serious. His critics suggest that he argues that the Urhobos or the Igbos and Yorubas had no history in the sense of being non-existent before colonialism. This particular falsehood is laughable because the claim itself is an epitome of insipidity. Dr. Usman never suggested that colonialists "created" Urhobos or Yorubas or Hausa-Fulanis the way Muslims and Christians for instance believe God created Adam. One is therefore amused at the extent some critics went to dig up any mention of words like "sobo" (meaning Urhobo) and "Yoruba" before colonialism. Certainly there were human beings called Yoruba or Hausa who spoke those languages before colonialism. The point is not this but that the existence of the Yoruba or the Hausa or the Urhobo as a cohesive ethnic group was the product of colonial intervention in the territories they inhabited which became known as Nigeria.

It is this spirit of inquiry; this permanent search for knowledge and this daily concern for its dissemination to awaken the overwhelming majority of the people to their condition, rights, duties and potential, which, in my view, are some of the most important aspects of his legacies, which this country badly needs now if its democratic system is to survive and grow.

Bala Usman’s article had been criticised on several fronts, especially by Professor Peter Ekeh and Dr. G. G. Darah, but I think there are two strands of his argument that are worth defending and re-examining. The first is that the Nigerian state antedates the ethnic groups in it as we know them today. Secondly, and flowing from this, the Nigerian state is superior to the ethnic groups and therefore have a superior claim to the land and the resources there-in.

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