A review of Basil Okoh’s “Blood in the Oil”
By Emman Usman Shehu
It appears as a political dispensation winds up, we are in a season of book launches, as a number of them are directly connected with major players in the current system or analysts. Twenty-five journalists and writers launched a book about the out-going Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, titled, “Defining Moments of an Innovative Leader”. Tukur Yususf Burutai, erstwhile chief of army staff, had two books authored in his honour – “Walking the War Front with Lt. Gen. TY Buratai,” and “Duty Call Under Buratai’s Command” launched just last weekend. Hadiza Bala Usman who served as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports from 2016 to 2021, several weeks back published an account of her tenure under the title, “ Steeping on Toes”, which she describes as a memoir to clear her name. There are several others, a growing list to which we now add Basi Okoh’s, “Blood in the Oil”.
This outpouring of publications is welcome especially if it does not end at a book launch. Even if some of these books could be efforts at image laundering or preparing the ground for future political involvement, they provide us an opportunity to know not only the inner workings of governance in Nigeria, but also as in the case of Mr Okoh, a platform to interrogate ideas that may help us move Nigeria further away from its state of crisis and underdevelopment.
Books and development go hand in hand as has been proven all over the world where there is progress. Books provide the platform for ideas to be expressed and interrogated through reviews and counter responses and the entire process ensures there is no stagnation of thinking. Old ways are corrected, refurbished or discarded. New approaches are explored leading to development. For instance, Peter Drucker’s several articles and books contributed in no small measure to various discussions and explorations about business conflict, authority, power, and the place of the individual in society and the group, such that today he is proclaimed as the “Prophet of Management”.
Fortunately Basil Okoh’s prophecies in “ Blood in the Oil” seem to have fallen flat by the timelines in the book. So for now, Mr Okoh should stay away from the Ministry of Prophecy. However, the issues leading to those prophecies demand that we should take a critical look for our own good as a country. Indeed, a salient issue that resonates in this book is the failure of the political class in ensuring the progress of the country. Perhaps the time has come for the intelligentsia to sit up and find a way of getting us out of the hole we have fallen into.
Arranged in eight sections namely – Crisis and Transition, Delta in Political Transition, Russia’s War in Ukraine, China and the World, Blood in the Niger Delta and Agbor, Agriculture, ICT and Communication, these are articles published in newspapers, online platform and seminar presentations. They cover an eight year period, from 2015 to 2023 and reflect Okoh’s prodigious output, his deep knowledge of history, his political affiliation, his passion for his ancestry, his way with words and trenchant language.
As is evident from the foregoing, a substantial part of the book is about the fate of Nigeria , discussed through the themes of governance, politics, agriculture, history and . Sections one and two for me, provide an insight into Okoh’s disposition but also how seemingly salient points can become contradictory because they have been imbued with not totally correct facts. Since this is a book review, I will limit my interrogation to just one or two examples.
A major underlying tone of this book is what I call Attritional Slur Rhetoric (ASR), where by established negative stereotypes are unleashed relentlessly making the attacker look superior over the attacked. What this does is to entrench positions in a way that make it difficult for engagements that can be meaningful. On the political terrain, for instance, Okoh’s predilection for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is unabashed. Over and over he argues that PDP is the most progressive political party in the country and the only one that can make things happen in positive way. Other parties are denigrated in several ways in order to uphold this thesis. Here is a quote from chapter three of section one where Okoh, discusses the issue of direct primaries:
PDP had to go through self-immolation but it did not learn from it’s own near death nor does it now understand fully, the emerging political reality arising from direct electoral primaries. It’s elite have been hoping to bring back yesterday without realizing that new dawns break everyday. PDP will go through difficult rebirth to remain relevant in the emerging direct primaries electoral system. PDP remains the preferred progressive party. (p.13)
By the time Okoh moves into the second section of the book and begins to discuss the political issues in his home state of Delta, it is obvious that at some point he couldn’t stand the manner in which the outgoing Governor Okowa was gaming the system on the platform of the PDP. His beloved PDP.
Truth is the political class in Nigeria has perfected the art of gaming the system in whatever way possible regardless of the political party they belong to. Unfortunately most Nigerians have failed to understand that for the political class in the country, a political party is only a vehicle for, to borrow a phrase from Okoh, “allocating unearned wealth, not for earning it.” As he himself right notes: “ The sense of politics being an avenue to do public good is lost in Delta state. Businesses are not encouraged to thrive in the state because politics guarantees easy money for those who care enough to be part of the conspiratorial consensus….If you are smart or lucky enough, (you get)project funding that can buy an extra jeep or build a nest for the next election. The result is a bloated workforce and wage bill that leads to an ever increasing debt, now counting at nearly N700 billion”(p,293).
But it is not a Delta State thing. It is a Nigerian thing. It is the only thing the Nigerian politician knows how to do well and efficiently. To game the system using any means. Thus party manifestoes mean nothing. They are only to fulfil INEC righteousness. Consequently jumping from one party to the other is no problem, because a party is only a vehicle get at unearned wealth. It is for the same reason that the followership is willing to be on that humongous list of aides.
To keep this thriving industry going, the political class and other elites further manipulate our fault lines rather than consciously working to bridge the gaps. In the lead up to elections the Attritional Slur Rhetoric is fully activated and we keep being reminded of real or imagined ethnic inferiorities, deficiencies and superiorities. After the battle is won or lost, the politicians and their elite conspirators rally round and mend fences as in currently happening and begin to plan ways of getting the unearned wealth at state and national levels. The populace, used and abused, are left in bitterness and more dived than ever.
Of course, this is the classic divide and rule strategy employed by the British colonizer and which we have inherited without qualms and deploy when it suits our aspirations without thinking of the long term effect. Without bothering to interrogate a lot these myths. The long term effect is that we are unable to meaningfully think out of the box and work towards improving the contemporary environment of our country.
We are in a hole. Fortunately it is not a black hole. The sensible thing to do when in a hole is to stop digging. To find the most practical and meaningful way to climb out of the hole. As long as we stick to old ways and perceptions, we will remain in the hole and sink deeper. Changes are going on all around us such that even the oil issue will no longer remain a Niger Delta issue. And there are several other areas like that where the old templates are fracturing. It’s time to think out of the box. In the midst of war, Ukraine is thinking out of the box and changing contemporary warfare with the use of drones as efficient surveillance gadgets and deadly missiles. A quick look at the history of Ukraine shows a country of diversity, ruled by several colonisers and even of recent bedeviled by separatist agitations and corruption. Sounds familiar ? Yet they have now allowed the current challenges to overwhelm them. Instead they have identified their strengths and are harnessing them into a new approach for survival.
“Blood in the Oil” should serve as a wake up call for us too. We need to climb out of the hole by identifying the potentials in our diversity and harnessing them to fulfill our potentials even if it means starting from setting a new world cooking record. The support Hilda Bassey received in setting this new record cut across all ethnicities and lovalities.
Dr Eme Oteri Okolo noted on her facebook that Ms Bassey’s Cookathon has value to Nigeria, to nationhood and citizenship. “ Give us something (apparently) to agree upon and celebrate….National coalition around a positive harmless cause is very important.” And I will add it is a good building block. This is the context win which I see the relevance of Okoh’s book.
Finally, Okoh owes us a novel or collection of short stories in the mould of Festus Iyayi’s “Violence”, a novel of fascinating social realism, the evidence is in chapter 69 where he does a tribute to Edwin Ogidi –Gbegbaje with some captivating story nuggets.
There are a number of typos in the work and also a major blunder in one whole chapter where the current Attorney General of the Federation is repeatedly referred to as Shehu Malami instead of Abubakar Malami. Two very different and unrelated persons though they come from the same part of the country. In future, Mr Okoh may consider publishing fewer articles in a collection. This is rather too bulky and lacks some focus. By having fewer articles, he can research some of his facts properly so that he does not end up with some contradictions, or come across as not knowing the real history behind some issues like ISWAP, BOKO HARAM and ANSARY. On May 12, 2011 Chris McManus, 28, a British contract worker was kidnapped by ANSARU militants his apartment in Birnin-Kebbi, along with an Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara. They were subsequently taken to Sokoto where some weeks later, the Nigerian Army and British SBS (Special Boat Service) undertook a rescue operation which ended with both men killed although some of the militants were captured. The ISWAP, BOKO HARAM and ANSARU origin and threat are deeper than the simplistic thesis Okoh offers.
Dr Shehu is the director of the International Institute of Journalism, Abuja