Somewhere, deep within the Chad Basin, in Borno State, a light began to flash on a console. The technician monitoring the console blinked, unable to instantly process what he was seeing.
He looked at the console again and frowned, trying to make sense of what he saw. Then he picked up the intercom attached to the deck and pressed the number for his supervisor’s quarters.
“Sorry to disturb you, Sah, but I think you need to come and see this.”
Three minutes later the supervisor climbed into the cabin, red-eyed and smelling distinctly of Seaman’s Aromatic Schnapps. “Wetin?” he asked.
The technician pointed at the console. The supervisor looked and saw what was going on. “Impossible…” he said, tapping the dials to see if they were faulty. When there was no doubt in his mind as to what he was seeing, he unlocked the steel cabinet under the console and pulled out the satellite phone stored in there. With an incredulous look on his face, he placed a call to his boss in Abuja.
Six thousand miles away, in Langley, Virginia, USA, the head of the CIA was in bed with his wife and their Yorkshire Terrier, Hoover, when his phone rang. It was 3:46 am. He groped for his glasses and put them on, then answered the phone. “This had better be good,” he said into the phone.
“Sorry to disturb you, Sir,” the voice on the other end said. “It’s Nigeria. They’ve just discovered more oil reserves in huge commercial quantities.”
The head of the CIA sighed, his eyes still closed. “And you’re waking me up with this because…?”
“The discovery was made in the northern part of the country, Sir.”
The CIA director’s eyes snapped open and he was instantly fully awake. “When was this?”
“Hours ago, Sir. They haven’t made a formal announcement yet.”
The CIA director was already getting out of bed. “Wake everybody,” he said.
The official announcement came a full ten days later. There was a big press conference starring the Honourable Minister for Petroleum surrounded by a supporting cast of lawmakers, high-ranking NNPC officials, and prominent northern politicians. Conspicuously absent, however, was the President.
They had found even more oil. A lot of it. Prospecting had been intensified all over the Chad and Benue Basins. More discoveries were expected.
Watching from his tiny living room in Ogui Layout, Enugu, Ikebudu Nwokafor got up from his chair and began to dance Atilogu.
His twenty-one year old daughter Onyinye watched him, puzzled. “Why are you dancing, Papa? All the oil we have had all this time, they didn’t use it to help us. Why should this one be any different?”
Pa Nwokafor stopped dancing and smiled at his daughter. “Our people have a saying,” he said, “…that what an elder can see sitting down, a child cannot see even from the top of a Mango tree.” Then he laughed to himself and began to dance again.
In Minna, Niger State, a group of twelve men sat in a tight circle in a living room the size of a lawn tennis court. The chandelier above their heads was made of fine crystals and real gold. There was gold leaf relief art hanging on the marble walls and gold on the door handles. The finest Persian rug that money could buy covered the entire floor from wall to wall, and all the furniture in the room had been handmade by the finest craftsmen that could be found in Italy. In the midst of all this splendour, though, the men were disagreeing with one another.
“It is not that simple!” one of them exclaimed. “Everything we own is tied to the existing fields! And these fields are in the South!”
“We need to tread very carefully,” said the oldest of the group. “Let us be wise in our decisions. Allah rewards those who act with wisdom, both in this world and in the hereafter. Let us not do anything rash.”
One of them, who had been sitting quietly and observing the others until then, cleared his throat and the others fell silent. He was one of the most powerful men in the country. Even among this group, which both secretly and openly controlled almost 75% of Nigeria’s crude oil exports between them, he was unmatched in power and wealth.
“Brothers,” he began, “Change is inevitable. It is how prepared we are for it that matters. Instead of waiting to be swept along by change, we must determine its direction.” He paused and looked around the room. “If I can count on your trust and support, then we will fulfil what is already predestined. Don’t worry, our interests will be protected. Trust me.”
Another wave of violence started soon after. A church was bombed in Bauchi, killing nearly forty people, twenty-five of them Igbo. Furious traders in Onitsha razed all the mosques they could find. A mob of angry youth went on a rampage in Zaria, burning houses and slaughtering non-northerners. A lorry carrying fleeing northerners was intercepted near Benin and brutally attacked, killing everybody on board. All southerners still brave or foolish enough to remain in the North were then given one week to vacate the area once and for all. A similar ultimatum was subsequently issued to all remaining northerners in the South East and South South.
The debate began on Facebook. Somebody set up a page named ‘Must We Continue in This Loveless Marriage?’ Within one week there were over two million comments on it. Muslims and Christians, northerners and southerners, everybody aired their opinion. There was name-calling, insults traded, and stereotypes perpetuated. But there was also intellectual discourse. International news outlets began to monitor the page, and both CNN and BBC News ran feature stories on it. It was heralded as an accurate gauge of the disposition of the Nigerian populace.
Then Boko Haram declared a brand new objective. They wanted an Islamic Northern Sovereign State. Nothing more and nothing less.
In Virginia, six weeks later, the head of the CIA placed a call to his boss, the President of the United States.
“Good Evening, Sir.”
“Hi, Brad. How’s Nancy?”
“She’s good, Sir.”
“And the kids?”
“Very well, Sir.”
“Good. What have you got?”
“It’s almost certain to happen, Sir. Both sides seem to want the split.”
“Without a civil war?”
“Without a civil war, Sir.”
“Not simple at all, Sir. There’s a lot of heavy negotiation going on behind the scenes. It’ll take a while. But they’re definitely going ahead with it.”
The President considered this for a few seconds. “And the terrorist threat?”
“The objectives of its puppet masters have changed, Sir. Evolved. They’ve been reigned in.”
The President sighed. “I see.” He paused. “Should we be worried about this new country?”
“There’s two new countries, Sir. They’re both starting afresh. You mean Northern Nigeria?”
The President shrugged. “Yeah. Whatever. Should we be worried about them?”
The CIA director shook his head, even though the President couldn’t see him. “It’s still very early stages, Sir, but I don’t believe we should.”
“Okay,” the President said. “Just keep an eye on the whole situation. And make sure we’re in position to deal with both governments when they’re announced. There’s a whole lot of crude involved, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you.”
“Yes, Sir. Of course not, Sir.”
“Good. Anything else?”
“No, Sir. Good night, Sir.”
The line went dead.