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.
it was so hotly contested, it came to be known as No Man’s
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?
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.
by way of speaking, is the lot of minorities in the country. Let me
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
the emir mumbled something about peaceful co-existence, no one was
deceived about his true sympathies.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
this situation, the Swahili proverb that, “A fly does not mind
dying in coconut cream,” could not have made better sense.
the time other tribes managed to shove it off stage, the nation was
tottering at the brink.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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