By Anote Ajeluorou
Nigeria’s minorities, especially those in the Niger Delta, have always cried foul over the marginalization they suffer for being denied full enjoyment of the oil mineral resources from their soil. This is just as their land and waterways are polluted from oil exploration. While their marginalization also spreads to include their exclusion from government’s plum jobs, some of them have cornered certain business niche categories where they play a dominant role almost to the exclusion of even their majority counterparts.
But while the North, East and South-West majorities are busy fighting against each other in their bid to acquire political power by constantly bickering, the minorities have sneaked up on them to acquire certain tools that the majorities will need in their fight-to-the-finish for power. So, while President Goodluck Jonathan’s ascendancy to the seat of power is a bonus, his minority compatriots may have wielded a different kind of power, the real lever that keeps the political barometer in check.
Media and bank ownership and comedy business are areas where minorities of the Niger Delta or South-South are enjoying dominant, almost unchallenged advantages. So sums up Jimanze Ego-Alowes, who has done painstaking study of the subject just published in an expository book, Minorities as Competitive Overlords. His theory is seemingly faultless, as it sheds light on certain assumptions taken for granted and without questioning.
A catalogue of businesses in the media, banking and comedy businesses shows clearly how entrepreneurs from the minority South-South have outpaced their counterparts from the majority areas in the successes achieved. For Ego-Alowes, the success so achieved by the minority players in these fields is largely attributable to the accident of history, particularly the Nigeria Civil War (1967-1970) that exposed the tribal cleavages rampant in the polity.
For Ego-Alowes, the sociology of business since the end of the civil war favours minority people of the South-South, as they stand as a bridge between the big three majority. Knowing that they do not have the might and means to contend for political power, which their big brothers have cornered for themselves, they are content to play complementary roles that bring all parties together in one roof for the continuation of dialogue that should preserve the health of the union.
In appropriating the power of the media and how the minorities have come to harness it for the benefit of all stakeholders in Nigeria’s commonwealth, the author argues, “The media are also power measuring meters. They are projectiles of power and a state’s defence and repair mechanism. This is obvious in free and open societies as it is in closed and communist dictatorships…
“So, at any time (in Nigeria), there is a race; an arms race for power. It therefore follows that there is also a race for the instruments of protecting, preserving and perpetuating that power. And one of the most serviceable and proficient instruments outside the business of actually shedding blood, is the media… In open societies, in peace and democracy, the media are a theatre of war to contending powers”.
In a section titled ‘The Nigerian Sociology of Media History’, Ego-Alowes traces the history of Nigeria media with its ownerships being first in government hand and political heavy-weights. But after independence, things began to shift, as the tribal factor quickly crept into the political menu. This situation bred mutual suspicion among the majority tribes of North, South-West and South-East. It’s this festering tribal antagonism that the South-South media moguls saw and effectively filled with the titles – The Guardian, ThisDay, Vanguard, BusinessDay, ChannelsTV, AIT & RayPower, Silverbird radio and TV.
According to Ego-Alowes, “The media are the boots on the grounds; the frontier soldiers. While the majority-persons’ media are in pitched and fixed positions, the minority-persons’ media position is to bring antagonists to the round table, which is not a self-sacrificial adventure of the minority media, but in their very best interest, to get the talking going on. The minority acquires its greatest power by mediating two or more superpowers”.
It’s this mediating role that media owned by South South minority people plays that endears them to all the contending, majority power blocks, Ego-Alowes argues convincingly in his book. For not being able to contend with the North, the South-East and the South-West, the South-South have contented themselves with the pursuit of justice as the one commanding denominator that would most appeal to the other power-hungry members of the Nigerian commonwealth albeit grudgingly.
According to Ego-Alowes, “The critical position of the South-South is that they do not have any irrational viewpoints or obsessions… It’s just that they do not have the resources to and cost to author and finish the huge project of overwhelming the majorities, jointly or severally…being powerless, the South-South’s best bet incidentally is in justice for all and in openness…
“The incapacity of the South-South to project power, ironically, is a source of power or what we might call the power of the impotent… So, while the big three are the legs of the tripod, the South-South are the ring that connect or brace together. Clearly, connecting and connections are all the media do. Indeed, there may be no greater connection and bracing tissue in the world than the media. The power of connection, of the brace, actually resides in the hands of the non-belligerents that are independent. So, the South-South wins!”
In other words, the author believes that the majority players on Nigeria’s political turf distrust each other and find a ready ally in the media owned by the minority South-South, which ensues that they bring all shades of the argument to the table. So it will be easier, for instance, for them to fight their political wars in neutral papers and TV or radio stations owned by the minorities than in ones owned by contending regional power players.
The author applies the same sociology of business advantage to banking, something the author terms the ‘Golden Deltans’. It will be safer for a Northern or South-Eastern politician, say, to deal with a bank in the hands of South-South minorities than go to one owned by a South-Westerner. They are in safer hands with a neutral banker than with a partisan one from another majority political block.
He argues, “…The three compounded geographical zones – aka Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba – each has a locked in preference and trust for the Big Deltans or South-South minority bankers, alongside or even before their own indigenous players… It is simply sociology of the Nigerian existence (and thus markets) that plays in their financial favours.
“The truth that drives this (thinking) is sometimes not spoken but is there. It is that these three hegemons or geopolitics, aka Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, are jostling for power, influence and dominance… Thus, if you deny your opponent or competitor his finances or financial strength, it will weaken his imperial reach, and strategic flanks.
“It is thus in the geopolitical (sociology) interest of the contending powers of the East, the West and the North to as subtly as they can, take money out of the reach of fellow contenders, or seize it themselves (which could lead to open declaration of war), or better still, put it in political neutrals. The state of existential and or political neutrality is what the Big Deltans or minority clan bankers have if not achieved, successfully projected. Thus Delta is our financial Switzerland!”
The author applies the same rule to comedy business, arguing that while the South-Southern comedians can jibe at all the others without loosing sleep or incurring their wrath, the same cannot be said of comedians from the big, majority blocks; their jokes might cause unease and be regarded as politically incorrect.
Indeed, Ego-Alowes’ book navigates a path often not taken, forgotten or neglected, but which has deep sociological implications to the ordering of society. Jonathan and the South-South may have emerged top gainers from Nigeria’s current political power games, they still hold sway in the sectors that matter, in sectors that have binding powers.
Ironically, they are sectors that their peculiar position, as the dispossessed will continue to occupy. This is so long the majority, contending powers continue to treat them as a conquered people even as they produce the wealth that sustain their inordinate ambitions to be political overlords!