Viewpoint - December 30, 2021

Obasanjo, Niger Delta & Oil: Is Nigeria’s Sovereignty not hypocrisy?


By Jimoh Ibrahim, CFR

Is Obasanjo still reflecting and holding the brief of the political community of papacy and the Holy Roman Empire who went crying against the legitimacy of legally sovereign states?

We are saying so because not until the 17th century were they stated just one of many political organizations in a world that included overlapping sets of empires, feudal fiefs, religious communities, and tribal chiefdoms.

At least the Pope is no longer in charge! Sovereignty comes with the incredible opportunity to birth the state to which Obasanjo celebrates.

The condition comes with ownership of everything. He wants us to believe Nigeria is a sovereign state claiming oil ownership in the Niger Delta area.

There cannot be two sovereign states within a state, as Obasanjo posited. If this is true, is Nigeria the owner of Obasanjo library too!

Nigeria is also the owner of Boko Haram, not only the oil in the Niger Delta region. We left the stage of religious wars, and the principle of sovereignty, therefore, involved a good deal of struggle and bloodshed.

What we now call the ‘wars of religion’ in Europe – conducted between the newly formed Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic papacy – were in part fought to determine which kind of political community would dominate Europe.

At the heart of this endemic warfare, the burning question was to whom populations and territories owed their loyalty: their local lord, the Pope in Rome, the Holy Roman Emperor, or their state’s monarch?

The oil in Niger Delta region cannot be subject to the local lord, or the papacy of Niger Delta region living glamours in Abuja. Still, unto Nigeria, all thing belongs- Congratulations Nigeria.

What is more, the centralization of political power in the hands of a single sovereign marks the beginning of the modern state, which is defined by its exclusive right to sovereign authority within its territorial jurisdiction.

So, who is blaming Obasanjo? Yes, people like Obasanjo will up their dancing shoes for the peace of Westphalia – sovereignty was formally established as an institution of international society.

Westphalia reinforced a principle first enshrined in the Peace of Augsburg (1555) that the sovereign’s religion would also be the religion of their subjects – in Latin: cuius regio, eius religio. Second, Westphalia declared the legal equality of all sovereign political communities.

But is Obasanjo not disappointed by the failing sovereignty? Is the principle of sovereignty not creating a society based on ‘organized hypocrisy’? Apologies to Stephen Krasner.

It is a society shaped by institutions – like sovereignty – to which states pay lip service, but regularly ignore when it comes to dealing with weak and vulnerable neighbors.

Does the ownership of oil exclude the Nigerian state from looking into the terrible economic conditions of the North-eastern state with an outstanding poverty ratio of 76% comparable with Ekiti state of 16%?

Or is the failing sovereignty created to make the Niger Delta region suffer from what God created for them?

Which Sovereignty is Obasanjo talking about? Vatellian sovereignty describes a state’s ability to determine its domestic political structures. Could the Nigerian State lay claim to such, or interdependence sovereignty, representing a state’s ability to control the flow of ideas, goods, and people across its borders?

Does Nigeria have absolute rights to such control? Or international legal sovereignty, which describes the recognition granted to a sovereign state by other states in international society (and what are we doing with such).

And domestic sovereignty, which represents a state’s ability to control the populations and territories over which it claims jurisdiction.

Again, was this done rightly with the 19 years of Boko Haram insurgency and not too successful military counter-insurgency?

Is the deployment of the military to solve political problems in the northeast not an apparent failure of the Nigerian leadership declaring war on a region that has been friendly in the last sixty years, rather than opportunities for domestic socialization.

As the Democratic Republic of Congo, Is Nigeria claims international legal sovereignty, but cannot exert sovereignty in its other forms, making it a quasi-state.

I know that Obasanjo will understand that some countries without sovereignty are doing better.

For instance, in Taiwan, which does not have full international legal sovereignty, but does possess some degree of Vatellian, interdependence, and domestic sovereignty. Suppose Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States are to be critically assessed today, Baba Obasanjo may probably change his mind about state sovereignty and Nigeria’s ownership of the Niger Delta oil.

But for his unequal bias nature of the state of Nigeria, let’s make Baba happy by saying the sovereignty of yesterday only traveled (don’t ask me to where?). Still, the good news is that it may soon return.

Ibrahim is an outgoing Doctoral candidate in Management Science, University of Cambridge.

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