In the annals of contemporary literary discourse, the term, ‘conflict’ has had a different definition from conflict as espoused by outsiders. While they define conflict as any situation in which people or groups have incompatible goals, interest, principles or feelings in a violent context, humanists insist that the very core of human existence is the presence of conflict, without which the human race would all relocate to heaven. In heaven, there is no conflict. The former purveyor of conflict was expelled long ago and today the angels sing halleluyah in the highest, and expectedly we’d respond with a hosanna in the highest. But we are not in heaven here on earth, and 99% of all our wants and needs are the wants and needs of 99% of nearly everyone around us. As a matter of fact, conflict is the basis of all micro-economic and social disputes today the world over.
Many people believe that every society has historical institutions which create room for tension, mistrust, suspicion and threat. There are also attitudes and actions which create the ambience for conflict to escalate into a full blown crisis. What about our shared economic, social and cultural values? What about the commonality of our experience as a diverse group of people living under the same roof as a nation with our common frustrations and vicissitudes? What about our shared experiences as we drive on the same roads every morning, looking to gain advantage over the other person perhaps in the office, the local assembly or in the market square? Even though we may experience situations of conflict each within contexts that are determined by internal and external influences, how we respond can largely depend on what drives us.
But are there things that should connect in us in such ways that we can connect rather than disconnect and avoid a full blown crisis? Are there things that connect us people of the Niger Delta, with people of the rest of Nigeria? Do we have systems and institution that connect rather than disconnect? Do we have attitudes and economic programmes for instance as an action that helped unite the people of the South-South of Nigeria. Do we, in the South-South have shared values and interest such as language as a shared value?
Where is this taking us? The South-South of Nigeria is peopled by inhabitants of shared values, customs and historical antecedents. The South-South of Nigeria is a region of systems and institutions and people of a common identity irrespective of the plethora of languages. About 90 percent of Nigeria’s income is derived from the South-South, and even though several developmental institutions like the DESOPADEC, EDSOGPADEC, OSOPADEC, and the other DECs, have been established to bring about sustainable and even development, the region is still one of the most undeveloped in Nigeria.
Why is this so? Apart from internally generated problems, external factors play a role as well. Take for example this information from the CIA website. It indicates that the Ijaw ethnic group represents 10% of the entire peoples of the South-South. The compilers say that the Kanuri make up 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, and the Tiv 2.5% of Nigeria. While it is true that the Ijaw ethnic group spread right across the South-South in Bayelsa, Delta and Ondo states, they are actually a part and parcel of major ethnic groups in states like Delta and Ondo States. In the South-South, the Isoko, Urhobo, Ika and Edo constitute a heterogeneous group of people with great influence in and on the affairs of Nigeria. It is from these ethnic groups that Nigeria has derived its income for more than 50 years, and there is nowhere on the CIA website was a mention of this made. As a matter of fact, because Nigeria’s population is a product of speculation rather than fact, I would like to suggest to the compilers to the CIA website that they should kindly realize that these days, population figures, and ethnic configurations are not the only factors you consider in determining the contributions of a people to nation building. A people may be more in number but may have no significant contribution to the development of a country. That fact is so true of a Nigeria that apparently runs on a Pareto principle, and ignores the principle of true federalism.
One aspect of what I think connect us in the South-South are our cultural institutions, not oil. A town in Ndokwa shares a boundary with another one in Isoko land. What ‘separates’ these two communities is a river, which the people cross with boats and canoes. Now, they cross with canoes and boats not just for the fun of it but to meet their sweethearts, in-laws, trading partners and acquaintances. The fact that the Kwale and the Isoko speak different languages has been immaterial to them because the number of inter-tribal marriages in these communities is very high. Therefore, if the people of the South-South can eat the same food, dress alike in spite of differences in language, areas of conflict will be minimal. Let us do more of the things that connect us than those that divide the South-South.
I propose this idea because I know for a fact that the Northern Nigeria Development Company, NNDC has invested over $3million prospecting for oil in the North. Why the NNDC is looking for oil cannot be hard to establish – the North of Nigeria enjoys the sort of cohesiveness that language, custom and religion confer, therefore the consequences of an oil find would not be too hard to imagine. I also know that the world over, countries are looking for an alternative to our oil, and they are near to finding it.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku,