MINORITY QUESTION IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF THE ETCHE PEOPLE OF RIVERS STATE, NIGERIA (1960 – 2015)

ABSTRACT
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society which is made up of about 250 ethnic groups. The ethnic composition is divided into majority group and minority group. Over the years, the minority groups have been held under the domination of the majority group, while the minority groups have been group, while the minority groups have been struggling to fight against domination and marginalization by the majority groups. This is what is usually referred to as minority question in Nigeria.
The problem of minority question in Etche community could be better understood in terms of socio-political and economic marginalization. However, existing studies have focused solely on economic perspective of the marginalization with little or no attention to socio-political perspective which could be insightful in the study of the minority question in Etche. Therefore this work traces the phases of political, economic and infrastructural marginalization of the Etche people between 1960 and 2015.
The work adopted the historical narrative approach to study. Moreso, it utilized the qualitative method in gathering of data from stakeholders such as local government officials, farmers and civil servants within Etche. This narrative method and other data collected were subsequently subjected to content analysis.

The study concluded that some key minority group issues such as domination, marginalization in appointments, and resource allocation, infrastructural development and general well-being of the people. However, the study recommended that the best solution to this problem is equity and fairness in appointments and resource allocation and proper integration of the minority groups including Etche people in the political and administrative structure of the nation. More importantly, the study emphasized in its findings that the dominating forces which include the political elite in Rivers State should ensure that proper allocation of values and the Socio-economic allocation of funds trail down to other minorities in the state. There should be a collaborative effort by the youth and the elders in terms of dialogue with the federal and state governments. Finally, there is the need by the government and all its agencies to be seen as fair and just in the provision of basic needs of life to the communities where oil is being exploited.

CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
1.1              Background to the Study
A level which is quite germane to this work is the Nigerian Federal Structure which could be analyzed in the context of the marginalization between the Federal authorities, the component state governments and the several local government councils in the country. This level of analysis have brought into focus very important issues which altogether translates into the minority question which is, the focus of this study. For example, issues relating to the sharing of federally deemed revenue to the three arms of government, the effect of the federal fiscal policies on the constituting states, the role of political parties, ethnicized political leadership in the unification process between the federal, state and local governments and more so, intra deprivation of allocated resources within the states - that is exploitation of the minority by the Minority groups in a State manifest negatively on the masses bringing sharply into focus questions of marginalization especially among the downtrodden.
As Osuntokun has succinctly noted ‘’the demand by the ethnic minority groups for local autonomy, equal opportunity within the federation was benignly neglected by the British Colonial power in the 1950s despite the request of some political parties at the time, the Action Group (AG), the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), the Calabar Ogoja River (COR) Movement for restructuring the federation by creating more states’’Historically therefore, the imperfections of the Nigerian union has long been recognized. This recognition and its problems prompted all interested groups to demand for the creation of more states during the 1957 Constitutional Conference. In reaction to the development, the British colonial government responded by hesitantly setting up the Minorities Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir Henry Willink with Sir Gordeon Hadow (Deputy Governor of the Gold Coast, 1954- 1957), Mr. Philip Mason (A Director of Studies in Race Relations, Royal Institute of International Affairs ) and Mr. J.B. Shearer as members2
The terms of reference of the Minorities Commission (popularly known as the Willink Commission) among other things was mandated to
(i)                 Ascertain the facts about the fears of Minorities in any part of Nigeria and to propose means of allaying those fears… and
(ii)               If, but only if, no other solution seems to the Commission to meet the case, that as a last resort to make detailed recommendations for the creation of one or more new state
With these mandates and subsequent enquires, it is evidently clear that the Willink’s Commission recognized the existence of both ethnic and religious minorities in its report. However, the beat of independence in 1960 was too strong; hence Nigerians accepted the imperfections of their federal constitution, the results of which has been a lopsided post-colonial Nigerian federal structure. Although subsequent constitutional reviews after independence attempted to address the Minority Question, yet the problem of a defective and unbalanced federation, intensification of ethnic consciousness and rivalries, a subverted indigenous ethos of government and culture continued to exacerbate and manifest in various dimensions especially in the Niger-Delta of which the Etche people of Rivers State belong.
It is indeed in the light of the endemic problems of the minorities that this study has embarked on a case study of the Etche, a segment of the minorities in Nigeria whose experience and peculiarities demand immediate attention by the Nigerian government in order to alleviate those confrontations which has brought untold limitations to their lives and economic development in all ramifications. As earlier noted, the Henry Willink Commission set up on September 25, 1957 by the Colonial Secretary completed its investigation in April 1958.  In a recommendation that affirmed that the minority fears were not unfounded, the Commission proposed the balancing of power within the country so that there would be minimal temptation of the majority to use power solely for its own advantage. While state creation was seen as the panacea to the problem of the minorities, the Commission downplayed this for the reason that it would create further minorities. Instead of state creation, the Commission felt that the interests of the minorities could be best protected at the Federal level by working out some democratic machinery which would safeguard their interest.
Although, the minority populated Mid-West region was carved out from the Yoruba (West) in 1963, the political aspiration of Nigeria’s minorities for the security of their own regions or states was not given any real attention until the collapse of the First Republic in January 1966.It is against this background that the current study takes off its investigation and research on how these issues impacted on the Etche people, a minority group in Rivers State.
In a multi-cultural society like Nigeria, some people have been on the advantaged side due to their population, early contact with the colonialists or their educational attainment. These gave rise to competition and struggle for equality and fairness in the distribution of resources, offices and positions available to the society to which they belong to.3This has been the situation in Nigeria since independence in 1960. The minority ethnic groups have been struggling for equality, fairness and full participation in the management of the affairs of the country.  The majority tribes as noted are the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba. While the minority ones are people of different ethnic groups found in the northern and southern parts of Nigeria.4
At the height of the ethnic minority question is the disenchantment with the structure of the Nigerian federation perceived by the ethnic minorities to be skewed in favor of the three dominant ethnic groups. To the ethnic minorities, the federation is not inclusive and this has resulted in political, economic and cultural marginalization. In comparative historical terms, the three regions, the North, West and East have within them minority populations and each of these has its own peculiar problems. In the South West, after independence the minorities asserted that the government at Ibadan was dominated by the Yoruba and that it would be difficult for a non-Yoruba ethnic group to become the Premier of the Western region. This led to the demand for a mid-Western Region. In the South East, after independence, the minorities expressed fear that the Igbos would over-run them commercially and politically. For this reason, they demanded for the creation of a separate region to comprise of Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers States.5
In the Northern part of Nigeria, the Ilorin and Kabba Divisions complained that the system had been autocratic and that a change to democratic methods was yet to be established. They demanded to be transferred to the Western region. In non-Muslim part of the Emirate, there was strong objection to the operation of Muslim sharia law.6There was a strong agitation by minorities in the North central Nigeria for the creation of Middle Belt region to cater for their interest and self-autonomy.
Reflecting on the problems of minorities in general, David Miller underscores the point that “democracy ought to be willing to include certain basic rights in the constitution, precisely, to protect minorities against unfriendly nature of the majorities at any moment”.7 It is however important to observe that the problem of the minorities in Nigeria does not lie in the lack of constitutional provision and protection of their basic rights. Their problem rather, is a function of certain existential conditions, which negate the implementation of the provision. According to Toyo, how constitutional provisions are translated into practice depends on who is in power and this applies to the federal, state and local government levels and the party in power which is of crucial importance. A political party of tribal loyalists, power sharers, sycophants, greedy opportunists and get-rich-quick gangsters can never translate intentions of the constitutions into practice.8
The common conceptualization of ethnic minorities usually is in contradistinction of in fact the majority group in any given society. For Osaghae, “… ethnic minorities are usually defined in contradiction to major ethnic groups whom they co-exist within a political system. These groups experience systematic discrimination and domination because of their numerical strength and a host of historical and sociological factors”.9These minority groups sometimes take measures in furtherance of their collective interests. Almost as a rule, minorities which are not subjected to domination or discrimination, and instead constitute dominant and hegemonic groups, such as white colonial regions in Africa and Asia, the Afrikaner whites in apartheid South Africa, the Tutsi in post – 1994 Rwanda and the Fulani in Nigeria are excluded from the category of proper minorities.”10
It is against this background that, Osaghae went further to differentiate and categorize a workable definition of the term minorities in the Nigerian context, as in “contradistinction to the three major ethnic nationalities in the country – Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo – as linguistically, culturally, territorially and historically distinct groups which, because of their diffusion and numerical weakness within the modern Nigerian state, have been subjected to subordinate political, social and economic positions in the Federation and its constituent units.11
Arising from the foregoing, we can then see why the mainstay of minority politics in Nigeria has been consistently tailored and tended to the efforts by the minority elites and movements to redress the situation they have found themselves, and improve the position of the minorities in the power structure, resources allocation system and distribution pattern of the country.12
Just like all other minority ethnic groups in Nigeria, Etche people faces these challenges in the hands of majority ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and these challenges are the fundamental national question. The minority question has remained a national issue in Nigeria. The fear of domination, exclusion and neglect by the majority ethnic nationalities form the fulcrum of the national question. These issues have remained a national problem since independence and a fundamental issue in the unity and political development of Nigeria. Ethnic domination and marginalization cuts across all ethnic nationalities but smaller groups complain of domination by the bigger ethnic groups. The Etche people experience domination and marginalization by the major ethnic groups. This study therefore historicizes minority question in Nigeria focusing on the Etche people of River State.
Such ethnic dominations are found in the area of political domination and sharing of social and economic benefits of the country. As Rodney Ciboh pointed out that in December 1984, when grumbling about Northern domination of Muhammadu Buhari’s supreme military council (12 of the 20 members were Northerners) became very loud, the front page report backed with statistical chart to show the “gross imbalance in federal jobs”.13According to Rodney, the report generated much controversy as the Southern-based newspapers drew the attention to the “imbalance in the armed forces” and the unbroken political domination of the northern hegemony which as noted has been largely responsible for the many political compromises and maneuvers, untidy unions and unholy alliances whose motives are far removed from the intended goal of national unity and development.

1.2              Statement of the Problem
Resolving the problems of the minorities in Nigeria has remained a recurring issue in the Nigerian polity. Efforts made by scholars  in this past direction focused mainly on the marginalization of the Odi, (Bayelsa State), Ogoni, Ikwerre, Bonny in Rivers State and other oil producing communities. In effect, no outstanding scholarly work has been undertaken by any researcher on the Etche community thereby necessitating this current work that aims at addressing the issues as it relates to this community and its people especially in the areas of economic marginalization, infrastructural deficiency and development. Substantively, existing studies have focused on economic perspective of the marginalization with little or no attention to socio- political considerations which could be insightful in the study of the minority question in Etche. Therefore, this work traces the phases of political, economic and infrastructural marginalization of the Etche people between 1960- 2015.
The problem which the study hoped to resolve is that of providing and in depth historical account of how the minority question has been manifesting on the Etche people which up to this point is clearly deficient in literature and academic research mainly because of its remoteness. Succinctly, this study on minority question in Nigeria: a study of the Etche people carefully examines categorically the problems of domination, political, economic marginalization and the inquiry into utter neglect of industries and health facilities and a general subjugation of the people within the Nigerian state. The issues mentioned above are visible problems facing the Nigerian state which this study hopes to resolve. Therefore for purpose of clarity, the study raises these hypothetical questions:
1.                  To what extent are Etche people marginalized in Nigeria even with their enormous oil resources and economic contribution to the Nigerian State?
2.                  What are the implications of the minority question on the unity, progress and development of the Nigerian State?
3.                  To what extent have the federal and state efforts made by the government to address these minority issues been oriented?
4.                  Can the Etche minority question be alluded to the question of exploitation by the dominating ethnic groups in Rivers State such as the Ikwerre people?
In sum, the study hopes to investigate not just the unjust failure of the federal governments but to ascertain if there be any marginalization on the part of the Rivers State government. 

1.3              Objective of the Study
      The main objective of the study is to provide an expository account of the minority question in                   Nigeria and its impact on the Etche people. The specific objectives are to:
1                    trace the phases of political, economic and infrastructural marginalization of the Etche people between 1960 and 2015;
2                    assess the socio-economic impact of various challenges neglect and discrimination faced by the Etche people as a distinct minority Ethnic group in Nigeria;
3                    historicize the relationship of the minority groups which Etche is part and parcel of with the majority ethnic nationalities in terms of statutory allocations and other denatures in terms of social economic indices and
4                    draw inferences based on the real situation on ground in order to enhance the socio- economic wellbeing of the Etche people through recommendations which shall be made to effect such changes not just to federal and state governments but to other international governmental and non-governmental agencies;

             1.4              Significance of the Study
The significance of this study among other expected contributions to knowledge are to:
Provide an insight in to how negligence and subjective economic and political considerations have undermined the development that should be given to marginalized producers of natural wealth. The study is also expected to contribute to the question of unity in diversity and as such is an uncontestable and fundamental issue aimed at addressing equitable allocation of resources to engender national development. The study is significant as it would evaluate the nature and level exploitation of Nigeria’s oil by indigenous and foreign domination of the resources of the Etche people as a contribution for feasibility study for future development. More importantly, the study would bring into light another dimension of the minority question; exploitation of minority by minority. Finally, the study would complement existing literature on the minority question for future academic research and to further provide the states, federal government and other international organizations with potential working documents through recommendations that would be sent there at the end of the research.

1.5   Scope of the Study
The geographical scope of this study covered the whole of Etche land in Rivers State and it covered the period between 1960 and 2015 when minority issues and agitations became very visible in the Nigerian socio-political system. In this study, occasional references were made to the Niger Delta region where the people of Etche live, to enable us have a clearer understanding of the subject matter. Reference was also made to the period before 1960 to give a historical insight into the political structure of Nigeria before independence in order to fully comprehend and explain the general trend in socio-political interaction in Nigeria and how it has affected the Etche people.
The period 1960- 2015 was selected for the following reasons. Although the minority issues already constituted a serious national issue before Nigeria’s national independence in 1960, the pre-independence issues were less violent. The period 1960 to 1999 experienced some forms of more serious agitations of the minorities, the repressive method of administration of the country by the military reduced the level and frequency of recurrence of the agitations. As from 1999 to 2015, the agitations became extremely violent to the point of threatening the welfare of the Nigerian State at large. Thus, being that the greatest threat to Nigeria’s security occurred in the post-independence
era, without expanding the socio-political and economic issues involved in the struggle, the period has been perceived a best time of study of the phenomena of minority issues in Nigeria. Limitations to this study were in the area of insufficient quantity of secondary source materials to validate oral information given by people and the inability of the local people to grant oral interviews as they suspect every visitor searching for information as a government agent due to their past experiences. However, these challenges did not water-down the quality of this research as the researcher made efforts to cover such gaps. Another limitation of this work is that it did not cover the Etche people in Abia State as its scope is on Rivers State.

1.5              Methodology
Essentially, the methodology adopted for this study is a historical narrative of the Minority Question and the evaluation of the Minority Question and the evaluation of the origin of the Etche people and how the issue of marginalization came to manifest in its land and on its people. The research has therefore employed the use of Content Analysis primarily based on data collection techniques involving research bulletins, journals and newspaper publications. It also utilized a critical review of extant studies both theoretically and empirically and supporting all available and reliably coded assumptions of former scholars on the national question. All these have been complemented with interviews from stakeholders on the subject matter and other experts,- workers of multi-national companies on the subject matter and from the rural dwellers who actually experience the day to day deprivations, sufferings and marginalization. 

1.7     Ethical Consideration
            This study has taken into consideration every possible effect that this study is likely to have on the general public and has carefully tried to curtail any negative effect thereof.  By this, the researcher confirms the confidentiality of information received from the study through the issuance of the informed consent form which guarantees the protection of the interviewees and the information gathered from them, therefore, information that shall be received through interviews and focal group discussions in the course of this research work shall be treated with utmost discretion and confidentiality. The research work would create a wider knowledge of the minority question and the grievances in Etche Land against the Nigerian state. Therefore, it is these deficiencies stemming from the above problems that have prompted the need for this research.

                                                                 END NOTES
1       Akinjide Osuntokun:’ The Historical Background of Nigerian Federation’
In A.B. Akinyemi etal, Readings in Federalism. Lagos. NIIA 1979) 102
2       Report of the Minorities Commission. Lagos: Daily Times Special Report, August     1958,) 2.
3       J. D. Galadima, The Press, Identity Politics and Conflict Management in Northern Nigeria, Jos, Plateau State,(Selidan publishers, 2010,) 13
4       J. D. Galadima, The Press, Identity Politics and Conflict Management in Northern Nigeria, Jos. Plateau State, (Selidan publishers, 2010,)13
5       J. O. Ojiako, Nigeria: Yesterday, Today, And … , Awka,  (Africana Educational Publishers, (Nig), Ltd, 1981)45
6       J. O. Ojiako, Nigeria: Yesterday, Today And…., Awka, (Africana Educational Publishers), 1981) 45
7       D. Miller, Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Publishers Press 2003)
8       D. Miller, Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford,( Oxford University, Publishers, Press. 2003)
9          E. E. Osaghae, Nigeria Since Independence, Crippled Giant, (London: Hurt and Company, Publishers1998) 45
10       E. E. Osaghae, Nigeria Since Independence, Crippled Giant, (London: Hurt and Company, Publishers 1998) 45
11       E.E. Osaghae, Nigeria Since Independence, Crippled Giant, (London: Hurt and Company, Publishers 1998) 45
12       E. E. Osaghae, Nigeria Since Independence, Crippled Giant, (London: Hurt and Company, Publishers 1998) 45
13       Rodney Ciboh, ‘’ Federal Character, the fear of Domination and Sovereign National Conference in The Sovereign National Conference edited by Okpeh O. Okpeh, p. 64   

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