By Abraham Apereseimokomo Alfred
The above topical subject, in recent times, no doubt, has attracted several illuminating debates, agitations, resolve, submissions and discourses, interestingly in different fora of the public space by an army of very cerebral stakeholders and leaders of thought from a neglected region endowed with the flora and fauna of an amazingly rich environment called the Niger Delta in the Nigerian state since independence.
This paper is very robust and will unearth the alarming degree of ecological damage in the region, nefariously perpetuated by the multinational oil companies in synergy with the self- serving Nigerian state and will also underscore the high level of impoverishment consequently occasioned by this underlying infraction of neglect. This has concomitantly made life expectancy very short in the region under review. What a pain!
By not mincing words, our leaders from the region have always resorted to constitutional means to marshal their points of the dire need of the federal government to address the age-long injustice, servitude and infringement on the management and control of resources by states endowed with these natural resources. It may interest us to know that Zamfara by geo-political structuring of the nation falls in the North East and is naturally blessed with gold.
By this agitation, Zamfara should independently control and manage its gold and can give back to the centre as royalty. It is in the light of this similitude we shall spotlight in this paper that the Niger Delta is naturally endowed with gas and crude oil, and by the principle of restructuring as brilliantly espoused should be justly and fairly treated in like manner to control and economically manage its black gold and gas and can at the same give back royalty to the centre.
This principle is suggested to be practised across board for utmost fairness. This practice if heeded and embraced will engender massive development in the component units where these rich resources are deposited and will in return bring about peaceful and harmonious co-existence of the country. That is when the centre stops robbing Peter to pay Paul. The infraction is unjust, inequitable, anti-people and should be completely discountenanced.
There is need for a conceptual clarification of the reason every resourcefully endowed state, afore-mentioned, in this paper will be giving royalty to the centre in the advent of restructuring. The essence of this is for us not to be at sea in the course of perusing this piece, hence the need of clarification for adequate understanding and comprehension. As a matter of fact, it is an extant law, as statutorily advanced, that every land in the Federal Republic of Nigeria belongs to the federal government. This statutory provision is in pursuant to the Land Use Act of 1978.For our information, the Land Use Act is the principal legislation that regulates contemporary land tenure in Nigeria. The giving to the centre a percentage, in royalty if restructuring is embraced, shall be within the context of the Land Use Act of 1978.
There is no gain say that this selfless venture of agitation for restructuring by well-meaning representatives from the region in question has ushered in a new paradigm in the annals of history of the neglected region endowed with the flora and fauna of a resourceful environment, but unfortunately has never seen any palpable development since oil was discovered in commercial quantity historically for the first time in Oloibiri in 1956, which now falls in the present day Bayelsa State.
In the wake of this agitation for restructuring, it may interest our audience and readers alike to note that this struggle for the total control and economic management of resources by every state where these resources are naturally deposited has been greeted with the use of different phrases, as all these different phases are all meaningfully heading towards restructuring. This is why we have embarked again on a brief clarification, at this juncture. History has it as an account that at different fora or public lectures, some scholars from the region in their papers have coined their presentations by using phrases like “resource control”, “restructuring,” “true federalism”, “fiscal federalism”, ” true fiscal federalism” and “devolution”. They are all saying the same thing, as an advocacy to doing what is just to unite Nigeria.
A supportive account to this allusion was when the Senator Representing Bayelsa West in the 9th National Assembly, Distinguished Senator Henry Seriake Dickson, my amiable kinsman while he was governor of Bayelsa State was one time invited to deliver a public lecture at the “Oduduwa Hall” of the famous Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. The cerebral and eloquent Dickson, the grand advocate of restructuring and true fiscal federalism held the audience spell- bound as his brilliant presentation was greeted with applause from the academia. The academic nay Dickson supports restructuring as the only way out for the unity of Nigeria.
Dickson if engaged any time, any day will never leave your understanding of resource control vague, as he will school his audience to the fullest. The victory of Dickson having emerged victorious to the Senate is a victory for the Niger Delta and other states alike if really there is any in the Nigerian equation aside the Niger Delta that has suffered marginalisation and neglect. The pitiable neglect of the Niger Delta is an infraction that leaves so much to be desired!
The 13 per cent derivation policy is paltry and wholly a big insult to a region ravaged by gas flaring, where you cannot differentiate between night and day-a very sad tale to reflect on! Our very rich ecological and aquatic endowment have unfortunately been taken over by the spillage of toxic oil, gas and hydrocarbon substances while leaving the region helplessly condemned to its fate. What a sad reality!
Farming and fishing, which traditionally are the preoccupation of the peaceful and accommodating Ijaw people of the fourth most populous nationality in Nigeria, settled along the wet land, water bodies, creeks and rivers of the littoral states is completely dashed. Oil spillage, caused by bunkering and weak pipelines laid along these oil-bearing communities, has subjected the settlers in the hinterland to abject poverty. The effect of gas flaring and toxicity of the hydrocarbon have caused untold hardship of sicknesses and diseases.
These are extremely poor peasants, who have no arable lands to farm and cannot go fishing in a polluted river. The only source of water in this area is from the river. It is in the river they bath, wash their clothes, excrete and drink from. It is against this backdrop, some scholars have argued instead of the federal government giving the 13 percent to state under the control of the state governors, the derivation principle should be made 100percent in the control of the oil-bearing communities while taking into cognisance the pains they have suffered.
I am a living witness of this precarious state of the region, as part of my life while growing up was lived in this marginalised region. Yet the government has feigned blind leaving a region blessed with crude oil, which has been the mainstay of the Nigerian state since 1956, to count their deaths every day in agony and excruciating pains in these oil-bearing communities. The shame of a nation! The caption of this paper was curled from the agony that has unfortunately characterised the Niger Delta region occasioned by the infraction of the multinationals and the state.
We can’t continue to die in silence in a country where our birth right has been stolen. You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. This is sheer inequity and broad daylight robbery and must not be allowed to fester, in the real sense of it. Those of us in the enterprise of advocacy will continue to write, speak and stand for the truth until the Nigerian state rights the wrongs and bows to restructuring, devolution and true fiscal federalism. The powers at the centre are too much and as such some of these powers must devolve to the component units.
To this end, this is why our leaders at various platforms in the region have resorted to a seemingly endless negotiation, dialogue and mediation at different fora as the most democratic and constitutionally accepted mechanism to chat a cause of this kind before the Nigerian state while bringing to the front-burner their grievances diplomatically with a view to brokering peace and tranquility, harmony, togetherness and above all to birth a Nigeria where the derivation principle is justly treated to help engender development in the resource bearing states. This is the cry of the Niger Delta region!
Mr Alfred is a University of Lagos trained Philosopher and a Public Affairs Analyst