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Majority and Minority Ethnic Politics: The Reason For Nigeria’s Economic Woes. 


Wosu, Benson Ikechi & Oteh, Charles Ozule Department of Geography Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt 08036746545 


This paper examines the geo-politics of size and number in Nigeria and the consequential negative effects in our body polity. The traditional nomothetic factor of regionalism with its notion of nepotistic tendencies has giving way to relative space across the length and breadth of the country Nigeria. Marginalization and deprivation of the minority group has over the years turned to national plague. Human induced sectionalism has created corruption, poverty, unemployment which had consequentially snowballed into the country’s’ socio-economic pitfall. Militancy and Insurgency are by- products of untamed appetite for self perpetrating growth. When common wealth is perpetually plundered into private and individual’s ownership in the name of having share of the national cake, the consequences are usually huge. Oil politics intended against the producing areas has induced laxity in Nigeria’s agro enterprise that brought the country to the limelight among committee of nations. The primordial sentiment of space has inflicted serious economic hardship amongst Nigerians in the mixed of natural abundance. 

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The mischievousness of regionalism in Nigeria polity has revealed that our federalism status is weak. The Nigeria’s geo-political space metamorphosed through the union of distinct socio-cultural entities by imperialism consent in a bid to sustain the colonial interest in exploitation of our resources. The 1914 amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates was perpetrated to rape the country’s natural resource of agro-products. The existence of different cash crops of international value and worth at different geo-political zones blindfolded the colonial sense of judgment to midwife an incompatible union. This unholy alliance and deprivative consent of parties concern is the obvious reason of the tribalistic tendency experienced in our national life. Policies and programs are not formulated based on national interest but on sectionalism basis. Persons and leaders in position of authorities truncate national policies based on regional interest and sympathy. Derivation formulas were initiated by majority influence when their home grown produce was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy (Edu, 2001). 

The Philipson Commission of 1946 recommended fifty per cent (50%) derivations, while Raisman Commission of 1958 maintained the fifty percent (50%) derivations. The Hicks Commission of 1951 actually recommended hundred percent (100%) to the regions of origin. The Willinks Commission of 1963 sustained the order which incidentally took care of the mineral derivation formula of the producing areas as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution of 1963 Chapter xii Section 159 (Okorodudu- Fubara, 1996). 

The politics of the majority against the minority has created space in the equitable distribution of natural resources. According to Karl-Marx (1978) any policy and program which seek to accord equitable distribution without altering the capitalist market structure within which income and wealth are generated and distributed are doomed to failure. In the real sense of federalism as practiced in other developed economies, the regions actually contribute to the center and not reverse being the case in our 

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setting, where powerful individuals control the states and all her national assets. According to Werlen (1993) the issue of space does not potent how far two places are from each other but how the people at both ends think they are apart. The Interest and sympathy of whoever gets to the position of trust uses the opportunity to upturn existing national policies and programs to suit personal ideology. In the view of Forer (1978 P.233) any state where few individuals with seductive utility allowed untamed appetite for acquisition and accumulation become obsession pays a great deal in their national life. The mindless exploitation of the political class within the purview of controlling power within the military or civilian regime had depleted the country’s natural resources for self perpetrating growth, while the regions and country remain underdeveloped. 

Resource Control. 

Nigeria is a country endowed with enormous human and natural resources. The luxuriant vegetation and distinct climatic variations attracted economic fortunes in the 1880’s. The massive efforts of regions actually revolutionalised agriculture to an enviable height in our national life. Regionalism took another dimension when derivation formula was altered due to crude oil production. Apart from different commissions headed by the Western Colonial administrators who gave their consent and approval for derivation formulas, major landmark developmental projects were recorded amongst producing areas (Tell, 2015). The global guest for groundnut produce accelerated local production to what was commonly referred to as Kano groundnut ‘’pyramids’’ in 1950’s. The proceeds of this cash crop translated into marginal growth with people’s oriented projects and developments. Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria remains and reminds one of the remarkable legacies of groundnut pyramid. Palm oil became the first Nigerian export commodity as far back as 1558; and by 1830, the Niger Delta under Eastern region with its favorable soil type dominated in palm oil production that contributed to the establishment of the University of Nsukka. Cotton and Cocoa became the next agro-products of international 

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value in 1856 and 1895 respectively. The Socio-economic benefits of these cash crops brought about monumental infrastructural development in the western region such as; University of Ife, Liberty stadium, Cocoa house and Universal free education in Western, Nigeria (Olulu, 2003). 

Records indisputably proved that seventy two (72%) percent of total national output (GDP) came from agriculture in 1950’s as against 1.1% due to crude oil. Despite the major role played by the minority groups in the economic fortunes of the country, the majority ethnic groups reap the benefits. The impact of rubber and palm kernel were not felt in the Niger Delta region as the core producers of these commodities. Before the advent of crude oil, the contribution of the minority people were beclouded and the glory enjoyed by the majority groups. The same primordial sentiment sets in with the immergence of crude oil production in Nigeria, as the majority ethnic groups deliberately abandoned agriculture which contribution stood at 66% while crude oil grew to 1.2%. In 1966 and 1970 crude oil GDP had risen to 4.8% and 7.5% respectively. The oil boom of 1970’s marked a paradigm shift from agro to petro dollar economy where the country’s annual budget counted on 80% oil revenue. (Tell, 2008). 

Massive revenue accruable to the nation through crude natural resources instigated a shift of the derivation goal post by the dictates of majority ethnic groups against the minority. Derivation formula was circumscribed to lesser units quite insignificant to attract development in a region with pronounced environmental degradation. By majority influence the Nigerian state arrogated to itself the right to natural resources on land, water and beneath sea beds with the promulgation of Decree 51 of 1969 and was consolidated through land use decree of 1978 (Edu, 2001). In 1977 the military junta headed by Mohammad Buhari reduced derivation formula to 25% from the normal 50%. President Shehu Shagari in 1981 brought derivation to 5%. Subsequently, in 1984, it was slashed to 1.5% under the auspices of OMPADEC. However, Babangida’s regime in order to attract the sympathy of the region raised it to 3%. In 1999, Obasanjo’s administration replaced derivation formula by setting up Niger Delta 

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Development Commission (NDDC). These are inconsistent policy regime orchestrated by the majority ethnic groups against the minority in order to ripe-off development in the producing regions (Ibeguru, 2002). 

The funding of all interventionist commissions and agencies in the deprived region of Niger Delta as established by decrees or laws had been quite ineffective. It shows that Federal Government had not been faithful and committed to their commissions. According to Owugah (2000) it became pertinent that the resources that brought wealth to nation are not equitably compensated to the oil producing areas. The people of the oil bearing communities got worsened visa-vise their environment due to exploration and exploitation activities. The Niger Delta Basin Development Commission (NDBDC) and Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) were established in 1976 and 1992 respectively. Their existence have not changed the problems of the region and provision of Section 7(3) of the NDDC does not give hope to the indigenous people of Niger Delta, where the Presidency domiciled the powers to direct, control and supervises the function and performance of the commission (Chuku & Wodi, 2010). 

Government connivance with multinationals. The oil in the Niger Delta is controlled by the multinationals with majority of its workforce at the management cadre from the majority ethnic groups. This seemingly high powered orchestrated strategy and dominance of Nigeria’s government against the interest of oil producing areas took another dimension of what could seen as “call a dog a bad name and hang it”. The agitation of the region against the ills meted to its people was blown out of proportion with the tag of insecurity that saw the region as a hostility and insecure place for businesses. The media control by majority ethnic groups in collaboration with foreign partners painted a wrong picture of Niger Delta to the entire world. Youth restiveness and kidnap is prevalent in the West, North, south and Eastern Nigeria, while Niger Delta’s flight was over blown with an ulterior motive. The agenda behind this 

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masqueraded act was to relocate oil companies from the producing region to Lagos and other majority control states (Tell, June, 9 2008, Vanguard, May, 23rd 2003, Newswatch,). 

The Vice president, Yemi Osibanjo on Presidential acting capacity ordered that all major oil giants with administrative headquarters in other parts of the country should be relocated to the Niger Delta region as a matter of urgency. This clarion call was made during his fact finding tour to Niger Delta states. Unfortunately both arms of the legislature as controlled by majority ethnic groups objected and declined to this order; that it was a mere opinion expressed by the Vice President. In economics theory, location of industry close to the raw material has its economic fortune in cost of production but the politics of the majority has blindfolded the sense of reasoning rather revenue accruable to states hosting oil giants underscores the national economic implications. According to Tell (2016) Lagos state has boosted of making the highest internally generated revenue (IGR) more than other state in the federation, probably because the cost of running an oil company’s administrative head office is deemly cost effective in Lagos that any other part of the world. 

In state creation the inevitable condition remains that all states most have derivative resource contributory to the centre. This theoretical disposition proves beyond reason doubt that such entity does not pose liability threat to the centre, it means that all states are contributory stakeholders to the common wealth of the country. To this wise all parties are to be self sufficient and sustaining in case of eventuality. Apart from manpower and sharing of the proceeds from oil revenue, hardly had most states extensively exploited their resources to contribute to the Federal Coffers. The politics of rob Peter to pay Paul has incapacitated and weakened our productive sense of existence. Since, the fall in oil revenue, the centre and states find it difficult to pay salaries of workers in both Federal and States Civil Service (Edu, 2001). This is an economic implication caused by ethnicity and nepotism. Derivation formulas of 1850’s and 1900’s attest volume of the country’s potentials with the spirit of selflessness. All 

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regions were participatory and agro-proceeds were shared equitably to encourage all asundries. The soil has not rottened, the solid minerals have not been exhausted but greed and self is the clog in the wheel of progress. The current yeaning for diversification of the economy is truly a lip service without divorce of majority and minority dichotomy. Leadership of countries all over the world have been dominated and demonstrated with ballots. The use of ballot signifies democracy, certainly, not short of opposition but the majority will prevails. Best candidate irrespective of region, party affiliation, religion and tribe stands a better chance in election. Unfortunately, Nigeria ethnic disposition does not see election and candidacy from the lens of good candidate with accommodating manifestations but rather where the person comes from; such national space has made leadership a birthright for certain majority ethnic groups in Nigeria which probably may not produce the best material for the job (Owugah, 2000). 

Gas flaring is more deadly than insurgence in the North East Nigeria. The later kills humans and destroys properties, Gas flaring kills humans, destroys properties and the entire ecosystem. The voice of the minority is being treated with kidsglove for over sixty years of oil exploration and exploitation activities, while the insurgence in the North East is treated with prompt attention locally and internationally. The obnoxious politics of majority and minority is reflected in the legal framework of the nation. According to Ajoma (1996) resource ownership and control was foiled amidst public protest in Great Britain in 1917, while Nigeria inherited British Colonial legacy in almost all spheres of her national life. This area had remained contrary as stated in Nigeria Republican Constitution (1979). Lists of mine and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining , geological surveys and natural gas under the exclusive list and in oblique reference affirm ownership and control of mineral resources to the state (i.e: Federal Government). The entire ownership and control of all minerals oil and natural gas in, under, or upon any land in Nigeria and exclusive economic 

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zone (EEZ) of Nigeria shall vest in the government of the Federation (See Section 44(3) of the 1999 constitution). 

The lopsidedness of the legal framework of our constitution as regards resource control remained obviously passive in fashioning remedial measures to the environment, health and welfare of the oil rich bearing communities. The scenario of the Niger Delta environment depicts abandonment despite huge national asset derived from the region. The senseless exploration and exploitation without adequately remediation has greatly manifested poverty. Violence and insecurity in the region is partly borne out of the chemistry chained effects of oil exploitation and exploration. The people’s sources of livelihood have been depleted by pollution without alternative measures. A lot of weak laws were enacted with nonchalant political interferences. Among these are mineral oil safety regulations of 1963, the petroleum Act of 1967. The petroleum drilling and production regulation of 1969, Oil and Navigation water Act of 1968, oil terminal due of 1969 and Gas Re-injection Act of 1979, etc. All that had been mentioned are treated with kids-glove. According to NDES (2002) over severity percent of oil spillages in the Niger Delta region were attributed to the sabotage which attracts no payment or compensation; sixteen percent are facing litigation while fourteen percent are on negotiations at different levels. The insincerity in dispensation of justice questions the efficacy of the laws. In the year 2000 alone, over one hundred and seventy (170) oil spillages were reported by NNPC and more than one hundred and twenty (120) were attributed to vandals and treated as sabotage (Ibaba, 2009). 

In this present day and time, Nigeria Government has not implemented the Gas re-injection Act of 1979. The government finds it worthy to obtain financial gains by imposing monetary sanction on oil companies of 2kobo, 5kobo and 10kobo respectively per 1000 cubic feet of gas flared. This is the cheapest in the whole world and does not in any way deter the multinations to change their operational strategy because it is cheaper to pay fines than embark on zero flaring (Fekumo, 2002). 

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The interventionist agencies established to alleviate the plight and sufferings of the region are lame duck by the policy framework that created them. Inadequate funding has rendered these agencies incapacitated and brings government intention towards the region to question (News watch, 250808). Great potentials in a corrupt system. A once president of United States of America, F.J Kennedy in his goodwill message during Nigerian’s Independence proclaimed by saying “A nation is born today in Africa that has enormous potentials to rise beyond limits in fifteen to twenty years time (The Nation, June 14, 2009: 4). Vigorous pursuit of unified development agenda in all spheres of our national life is key for the nation’s attainment of her peak. The steady decline in nation’s GNP and GDP points to the fact that our resources are not prudently managed as a nation. The spate of unemployment, low per capita income, lack of basic human needs in the areas of roads, food, health care, education, power and security etc, obviously demonstrated lack of vision despite huge revenue. 

According to Vincent as quoted in Tell (2008) Seventy (70%) percent of Nigerian households are poor; mortality rate is one hundred and eighty seven (187) out of one thousand (1000) life births; Illiteracy level stood at forty-one percent (41%); Life expectancy is at fifty-two (52%) percent, while population below poverty line is thirty-four (34%) percent. It goes to suggest that the huge proceeds from oil and gas have not translated into meaningful development. 

In fifty (50) years of commercial export of crude oil to the international market, statistics has shown that over 23.2 billion had been sold with the total revenue of thirty (30) trillion naira or $250 billion (Fed. office Statistics, 2006). 

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Table 1. Estimated crude oil production and revenue from 1958-2006. 

Years Production(million 


Revenue (¥ millions 

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1958 1.9 0.2 1959 4.1 3.4 1960 6.4 2.4 1961 16.8 17.0 1962 264.6 17.0 1963 27.9 10.0 1964 44.0 16.0 1965 99.4 29.2 1966 152.4 45.0 1967 116.6 29.6 1968 51.9 Not Available 1969 196.3 75.4 1970 395.8 167 1971 558.7 510 1972 655.3 764 1973 719.4 1, 016 1974 823.3 3, 724 1975 660.1 4, 272 1976 758.1 5, 365 1977 766.1 6, 081 1978 696.3 4, 556 1979 845.5 8,881 1980 760.1 12, 354 1981 525.5 8,564 1982 470.6 7,815 1983 450.9 7,253 1984 507.5 8,269 1985 547.1 10,915 

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1986 535.9 8,107 1987 482.9 19,027 1988 529.0 20,934 1989 626.7 39,131 1990 660.6 55,216 1991 689.9 60,316 1992 711.3 115,392 1993 695.4 106,192 1994 696.2 160,192 1995 715.4 324,548 1996 681.9 369,190 1997 855 416,811 1998 806.4 289,532 1999 774.7 500,000 2000 828.3 1,340,000 2001 859.6 1,707,600 2002 725.9 1,230,900 2003 844.1 2,074,300 2004 900.0 3,354,800 2005 923.5 4,762,400 2006 814.0 6,109,000 2007 880 6,700,000 TOTAL 23, 183.9 29.8 trillion Sources: CBN Annual Report (2006) and Federal office of statistics (2006). 

According to CBN report (2006) despite the intermittent dwindling of oil revenue over some period, the Bonny Light appreciated in 2001 with $24.53 bpd. The average price of Bonny Light rose to $29.20 bpd in 2003 and $55.43 bpd in 2005. After hovering between $70 and $90 bpd respectively in 2007, the price of crude in 2008 in the international market climbed to $100 bpd. It is worrisome that unbridled and pathological corruption occasioned by 

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ineptitude and ethics sectionalism has depleted our common wealth. The passion of having a share of the national cake is responsible for looting of public funds, contract inflation, over invoicing and other corruptive tendencies that have bedeviled our society. Those who formulated and designed legal framework for the country are the same people who aid and abate corruption. Immunity clause is deemed as a constitutional conspiracy covering the abuse of power by those in authority. Transparency international in 2005 rated Nigeria as the 7th most corrupt nation; and in 2007, the same body ranked Nigeria as the 148th of out 180 countries. The global competitive index survey conducted by World Bank ranked Nigeria 88th of the most corrupt nations out of 117 in the world (Guardian, October 4th 2007, Tell February 18th 2008) 

In the opinion of Maria-Costa as cited in Tell (2008) the opportunity cost of stolen common wealth is enormous. Between 1960 when Nigeria gained independence and 1999 when democracy was restored, a staggering sum of $400billion was stolen and stashed away by a generation of corrupt rulers. Within the space of 39 years, if $400 billion were channeled into industrial and infrastructural development, Nigeria would have looked differently today. In the same view David-West as cited in Tell (2008) lends his credence of the starked rural and urban poverty. The collapse of infrastructures and institutions mark an era with primitive impulses in governance. Over $10 billion was sunk to revive power supply for the last eight (8) years but all to no avail. 

Before the advent of crude oil, Nigerian economy has existed without much ado. The economy survived and flourished on agriculture when the products were obtained from all the geopolitical zones. The issue of corruption was tamed because cash crops were stakeholders’ commodity. Crude oil and natural gas escalated greed. Meanwhile, there are other valuable solid minerals in Nigeria. According to Usman as quoted in Tell (2008), the abundance of varieties of solid minerals ranging from coal, casserite, columbite, limestone, iron ore, tin and marble, etc are hardly given official recognition for its exploration. The productions of these solid 

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minerals are highly below optimal and in most cases undertaking unofficially. 

Decline in oil revenue is a clear call to re-awaken the vital economic sectors in order to diversify the economy. Over 60 years of oil production, essential natural gas had been wasting. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore were all at the same economic stage with Nigeria in 1972. Oil boom of 1973 triggered military’s intervention in governance. Indonesia used her oil produce to develop its industrialization policy that boosted manufacturing to 40% compare to Nigeria 1%. United Arab Emirates (UAE) invested her oil revenue on tourism by creation of Dubai; the diversified tourism potential of Dubai has earned foreign exchange for the country thereby making her economy less dependent on Oil and Gas (Wami, 2006. Evoh, 2002) 

Oil Politics and National Development. Our economic blue prints have being on papers and lip service. Oil politics is a major setback to our national life and development. The untamed and unhealthy politics of oil led to the decline in the production of cocoa, cotton, palm oil, rubber and groundnut etc, thereby rendering millions of Nigerians unemployed. Groundnut in Northern Nigeria provided millions of jobs for the peasant farmers whose subsistence and small scale made a huge yield and sales for them. Cotton production provided gainful employment to many Nigerians of Northern and Western extractions. The value chains of this cash crop (cotton) actually led to the establishment of two hundred (200) textile mills in Nigeria and for export (Ukeje, 2013). Cocoa farmers from Western Nigeria earned money from the cash crop and government derived foreign exchange. Oil politics displaced agriculture and thousands of cocoa farmers out of job. Most beverage related companies in Nigeria depend on importation of raw materials in order not to go into extinction. Palm and Rubber production which employed handful of the Southerners today is moribund. Most companies and others who mainly depend on rubber as major raw material closed down, thereby 

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living an army of unemployed youths in the region. Today cassava that was used as a staple food in Nigeria is now a money spinning product in international market. The high demand for cassava in China and Europe would have attracted other foreign earnings for the country. Cassava is cultivated in twenty six (26) states out of thirty six (36) states of the Federation. Unfortunately, oil politics has remained the clog in the wheel of progress for national development (Ukeje, 2013). 


Ethnic politics actually undermined enormous economic potentials of Nigeria. Mindless political class capitalized on regionalism and sectionalism to rape the economic fortunes of the country. They have infiltrated the constitution with laws made to achieve their selfish aims. The untamed interest of majority ethnic group selfishly altered the primordial derivation formula to the disadvantage of oil producing areas. The primordial sentiment of sectionalism has created poverty, unemployment, and under development in the country. Oil exploration and exploitation without adequate remediation measures to the environment has deprived oil bearing communities of their sources of livelihood. The majority and minority ethnic politics have plundered the country into a mono-economy despite the huge economic resources. The primitive impulse between majority and minority interest is the reason for Nigeria’s economic woes. 

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