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July 22, 2014
No Man's Land
by Imo Eshiet

Ikot Ekpene is a sliver of land sandwiched between two majority tribes in eastern Nigeria. During the Nigerian civil war, it changed hands severally between the federal and Biafran troops like Jamaica did between British and Spanish armies centuries back. It was normal to find Nigerian soldiers controlling the city in the morning and the Biafrans overrunning it before nightfall.

Because it was so hotly contested, it came to be known as No Man’s Land.

The cynical name said everything about the cruel fate of its inhabitants. If the land was up for grabs by anyone with clout, so were the people. As the forces locked horns, the people were wiped out. When elephants fight, doesn’t the grass bear the brunt?

In between, those who managed to stay alive deserted their homes before the city was razed by exploding tank shells and withering artillery fire. By the time the scourging war ended in three years, it had long become a ghost town looted it its marrow.

That, by way of speaking, is the lot of minorities in the country. Let me illustrate further.

Recently, some bloated governor in Boko Haram infested northern Nigeria said, “Oil is not something that anyone owns, and it is sad if some people want to change that law now.” He was making a mockery of the insistent demands by the Niger Delta minorities for the control of resources drilled from their land, swamps and waters.

Since 1956, when the first oil well was drilled in the area, the Niger Delta has been a playground for human vultures, hyenas and tigers. Always seeing it as no man’s land, powerful multinationals in concert with majority tribes in power descended and ripped it off, leaving behind misery, degradation, and squalor. It did not matter that crude oil worth trillions of dollars was daily drilled from it.

The money went to build business empires, skyscrapers, banks, schools, bridges, hospitals, and paved roads elsewhere in the nation. It bought limousines, private jets and yachts for those who have no business gaining from it. Meanwhile, the natives made do paddling along in leaky dugouts.

In addition, massive spills, gas flaring, and other lawless, fraudulent drilling practices left the landowners without farmlands, without drinking water, or leaders, for those who stood up to protest the heist were maimed, raped, and hanged.

So when the leech of a governor mouthed his blah blah blah, he was speaking from the position of one used to picking others clean, of reaping where he did not sow. It was not that he was too dimwitted to know he couldn’t go to Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Iran and claim ownership of the oil there. He simply couldn’t care about what Kenyan elders mean when they say that, “Stolen things bring in misfortune.”

He was speaking as a local colonialist used to raping the minorities without bothering to take off their pants. He could do that and get away with it, for he had the might of crooked law and foul tradition behind him.

Currently dark clouds are gathering as they did in 1966, when the North waged a war of attrition on the East. Besides the infamous bloodletting of Boko Haram, a ragtag organization that calls itself Arewa Youth Development Forum has issued an ultimatum to Southerners residing in the North.

According to the youth, Southerners must be homebound within two weeks. It threatened violence against those who refuse to heed its warning. The threat was read out before the emir of Kano, a former central bank governor fired for alleged fraud by the federal government but reinvented for respectability by local tribal politicians.

Although the emir mumbled something about peaceful co-existence, no one was deceived about his true sympathies.

Yet Nigeria is a mock federal government and citizens are on paper free to live anywhere in the country. It is supposed to be modeled after the United States except that in its own case the federalism is sham. For example where in the US education, the police, land use and zoning belong to the states, in Nigeria the government at the center controls all these and for corrupt reasons.

The Nigerian federal structure has 36 states. Many of the so-called states lack the ability to sustain themselves as cities in the U.S. do. This means the central government every so often doles out money so the states could support themselves.

Thus spoon-fed, many of the states lack the incentives to initiate self-supporting projects. For example, the groundnut pyramids that used to tower above the northern desert ready for export, have since disappeared. What was the point tilling the arid desert while proceeds from sweet crude were flowing in from the Delta?

Politics became the industry. The tribe that controlled the center dictated the tune for the rest of the country. Holding power at the center, in the wit of one rogue politician became a do or die affair. It did not matter if one knew absolutely nothing what to do with the power.

One tribe took center stage and remained there for 38 out of the nation’s 53 years of independence. It had to. More than 80% of the central fund comes from the exploitation of minerals from the tribes at the periphery of the nation. No matter how long and viciously other tribes kicked and clawed at it to make room for themselves, the ruling tribe sat pretty like a boulder. It would remain there at all and any cost.

In this situation, the Swahili proverb that, “A fly does not mind dying in coconut cream,” could not have made better sense.

By the time other tribes managed to shove it off stage, the nation was tottering at the brink.

These squabbling tribes continually contest the statehood of the nation, many trying desperately to shunt the interest of the others. In 1966, the North was howling “Araba,” meaning separation. When a certain European and former colonial power called its attention to its landlocked condition and the petroleum reserves in the South, it swiftly changed the tune to “One Nigeria.”

That stifling, oppressive chant would not cease until the tribe made quite a name for itself sending over two million of the lives of another contending tribe to shallow, miserable graves.

While the country flounders, the powerful tribes are busy trying to out-scheme the others. Like Ikot Ekpene, the Raffia City, during the war, the nation is no man’s land. Everyone flies the flag of his tribe.

Apparently the saying that, "A boat doesn't go forward if each one is rowing his own way,” makes no sense if the rowers are an already foundering boat.


About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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