It is time to think about a penance for oil. A time to say sorry, and genuflect for the evil we have done to black gold. It was first the victim. Now, it is no longer just the black gold. It is now a god, a sort of wild, mighty and vengeful deity haunting us.
It is not like the African ancestor, like Ogun or Oya, or some of the goddesses of the sea in African and ancient myths. Not Poseid on the ferocious Greek sea god who raked up storms and tossed martial ships. Our oil is a god that will not wait to be an ancestor before showing fangs.
It is mocking with mordant joy our lack of fidelity to the federal idea. We decided to draw up the exclusive list in our grundnorm and made minerals a privilege of the centre. The power elite did not want oil for the Niger Delta owners. For rape mineral, oil, they dwarfed the rest.
Oil was king, and it had to be beheaded. It was queen, it had to be raped. But no one knew it was a god. They killed it before they worshipped it. Oil also raped the budget. So, all other minerals were left. We scavenged black gold, even though we had the real gold in a number places in huge deposits, including in Osun State and the blood-gurgling effervescence of Zamfara. We had – and still have – bauxite, limestone, kaolin, silica sand, quartz, iron ore, red clay, bitumen, asbestos, marble, gemstone, glass, ball clay, etc. in every local government area.
But we ravished the imitation of gold. Black man, black gold, black god. The black man in Nigeria plays black god to black gold. We punished the locals who embowelled it. Their farms, their pristine fishing waters, their trees, all defiled like the oil. The licensees and licensers were not local giants but greedy trespassers.
No, the black gold was easy and they conquered it. They built corrupt empires of personal palaces, home and abroad, or rode in posh cars and corralled concubines or harangued harems. They left the Niger Delta poor and broken, of course not without local quislings.
Now the god is angry. It has sent its curse all over the land. We are seeing it now in the north where the young are taking over the orgy of rape. It is the tale of two banditries or barbarians. The first banditry was stylised like a bejewelled beast. They asked the white man to come. The idea was hatched in ties and suits and babaringas and agbadas, et al. Officials sanctioned it with soldiers and police. Courts and government agencies anointed it. People went to school to fortify this. Churches and mosques sanctified it and blessed the carpet baggers. They spoke good English, flaunted outlandish accents. It is banditry as refinement and refinement as banditry.
The other barbarians are howling or shrieking, or dressed in half-torn tops, their faces dripping with grubby perspiration, their biceps greasy with soot. Now, in Zamfara, and along the axis of bandits, we have a good number of them, running rampant. They mine as though entitled. It has taken the bandits for us to know that this thing called mineral wealth is rampant in the land. They say they serve god and brandish the holy book, but they serve gold more. All those who enjoyed the flamboyance of oil wealth cannot even travel without trepidation around the north.
The bandits now are like the tenants of Fagunwa’s Forests of a thousand daemons. These are not daemons, though, but demons. They are operating from forests and the list of the forests is like an apparition. Kamuku, Kuyambana, Kagara, Gando, Fankama, Fete, Dumburum, et al. in other places, forests are an asset for wealth and glory. Here forests hoist blood and gore. They are ambushing the rich and powerful.
If oil was left to locals in the spirit of true federalism, all the minerals would have enjoyed the same status. And state governments would have developed the minerals in their own way, enriching their peoples aplenty rather than leaving them to a federal government that only understood how to drill. In Plateau State alone, Governor Simon Lalong told of a man who earned more from mining the state than the state’s total revenue every month. Yet the president said the Nigerian structure is all right.
When many called for restructuring, some thought they were immune in a state of injustice. They are now victims. Frankenstein monster. The foraging of minerals, especially in states like Zamfara and Niger, is only just beginning. The eruption of young men who could acquire jobs and run quiet families is also about to envelope us.
The barbarians of refinement gave birth to the barbarians of savage revolt. It is a tale of barbarians versus barbarians. Who is worse? It is hard to say. The word barbarian has been bastardised over the ages.
We may say they are barbarians. Attila the Hun did not see himself as barbarian, nor did the Norsemen or Magyars in Europe, nor did our ancestors who were displaced and defiled by the colonial overlords. Nor were the Berbers of North Africa whose name was mangled. Definitions may accuse us, just as Nobel Laureate Coetzee showed in his novel “Waiting for the Barbarians,” where the barbarian is more ambiguous in the story of the locals versus colonialists. Or in Soyinka’s Madmen and Specialists.
The best evangelists of restructuring are the bandits in the north. They are not wearing cassocks or wielding tesbiu. They are calling for it by banning the rich from taking ostrich rides on Abuja-Kaduna highway, by kidnapping the wealthy, by taxing farmers and rustling cattle, and ripping open the earth for minerals.
El Rufai’s Napoleon complex
Far be it from me to dabble into definitions of Malam El Rufai as a short man driven by fear. I will not denigrate his gubernatorial “briefness” as OBJ did in his book, My Watch, where he ran the man down with a rhetoric of contempt. I will not compare him to Oscar, the dwarf in Gunter Grass’ novel Tin Drum, who crashed everything in sight by screaming. A public desperado banging his shoes to gain attention.
I met him the other day at Eko Hotel, and he called me a “journalistic terrorist.” I shot back and said he was a “gubernatorial terrorist.” And I am right. But first, a short history of betrayal. He is the serial genuflector, who knows how to bow and betray. First, it was Atiku Abubakar, who could do no wrong. Done with him, he swivelled to Obj on his knees. His “royal briefness” did same to Yar’Adua. His great mentor is now Buhari, who tolerates him like a worshipful pest. He said he retired four godfathers but is too cowardly to name them. He knows his claim is apocryphal. I don’t know of any godfather in Kaduna. We know of Kaduna mafia, but that was a metaphor for northern military oligarchy now expired.
He said he wanted men of the Bridge Club to amass cash to unseat Lagos godfather after a tendentious question from his fellow traveller Muiz Banire. He said he would encourage his folks to woo two million of the five million on the voter register who didn’t vote and win them over. Really? In Kaduna where he earned about one million votes, over 3.9 million persons were on the register, and over 1.5 million did not vote, more than his votes. How could he determine that if they voted, he could not be a former governor today?
He spoke as though Lagosians are morons. There is a reason why they vote the way they do. Is Lagos not ahead of Kaduna in development, far and away? Other than bulldoze his foe’s houses and deploy statistics to divide Christians against Fulanis, he has not made glorious headlines. He was one of the few who quietly plotted to push his presidential candidacy when Buhari was ill. Here is a man who spent fewer times praying for his mentor when he was ill than he spent plotting to replace him. And did I not see him many a time at Bourdillon and Freedom House in Lagos where he paid obeisance to Tinubu, because he wanted something. Now, the same man who paved the way for a platform for him to be governor is now a sinner? He knelt under Buhari, who reached down to raise his hand. Buhari should watch out. Someone he is feeding might bite his fingers.