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We Must Not Fail Our People – Ibori

62

(Being a welcome address by Governor James Onanefe Ibori, to the meeting of Governors and National Assembly members of the south-south zone, held on Friday, 31st March, 2000 at Asaba)

On behalf of the people and Government of Delta State, the Big Heart of Nigeria, I welcome you most affectionately to Asaba as brothers and sisters united by a common vision and faith in one indivisible and dissoluble Sovereign Democratic Federal Republic of Nigeria and the aspirations of the South-South zone. I also wish to congratulate Your Excellences and distinguished legislators for  being among the apostles of democracy in our emergent Fourth Republic. As political leaders of the people of the South-South zone, given the sad and long history of our marginalization, we should see and treat our various offices as held in sacred trust with corresponding obligations imposed by our conscience and oath of office to work for the redemption of the region from selfish exploitation of any form and colour, as well as our people from injustice, in whatever form it may be expressed. We must speak, when we must, and must act, when it is desirable, in the overriding interest of our states and the nation.

2) This meeting thereof provides us with the unique opportunity to deliberate on several issues, which bother our people in their struggle for resource control. The solution to them will assist us to define not only the future and fortunes of the zone for the benefit of our peoples and the nation at large but also our place in history as the key political players of the new democratic era.

3) Succeed we must. Failure will be disastrous not only to the aspirations of our peoples but the nation as well. It is against this background that I wish to highlight and articulate the position of the people and government of Delta State on some national and local issues, which have characterized our 10-month-old democracy. These include the topical issues of revenue allocation as it relates to the minimum 13 percent principle of derivation. Closely related to it, is the onshore and offshore dichotomy of natural gas and oil production, the land and environmental questions in our country and the equity of remedial institutions in the region. 

A. Principles of Derivation

4) The economic objectives of the 1999 Constitution are founded on the control of the national economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice, equality of status and opportunity.

5) Towards this end, Section 162(1) of the 1999 Constitution established a “Federation Account” to which all revenues collected by the Federal Government are paid. Section 162(2) then enacts the principles of allocation which include population density, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass and terrain, subject to an overriding proviso which states in part: “Provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation account directly from any natural resource.”

6) These provisions clearly entrench the principle of derivation of not less than 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account direct from any natural resources as an overriding allocation principle of the Federation Account. This is a deliberate constitutional mechanism, intended to ensure equitable distribution of the national revenue among the federating governments in general and states in particular which bear the burden of the exploitation of their natural resources for the common wealth of the nation

7) It is unfortunate that this well-intended provision has been subjected to all manner of interpretations and administrative manipulations and needless politicization to unjustly deny the States of the South-South zone their respective constitutional dues from the federation revenue.

8) Your Excellencies and distinguish legislators, the people and government of Delta State are unequivocally unable to accept the view that the implementation of Section 162 (2) of the Constitution is a condition precedent to giving effect to the payment of the minimum 13 percent principle of derivation in the interim system of revenue allocation enshrined in section 313 of the Constitution for the allocation of Federation Account until an Act of the National Assembly is passed. The section states that as from the commencement of the Constitution on the 26th of May, 1999, the system of revenue allocation in existence for the financial year, beginning from 1st January, 1998 and ending 31st December, 1998, shall be the approved revenue allocation formula subject to the provisions of this Constitution.

9) Thereof, it is clearly the intention of the makers of the Constitution that the principle of derivation is an overriding allocation principle to be constantly reflected in any approved formula and for avoidance of doubt on the part of any organ, authority or persons as to be the weight to be attached to it. The Constitution has assigned a minimum of 13 percent of the revenue accruing from any natural resources to the Federation Account to the principle. This percentage is not Subject to any administrative or legislative change, except upward review of the percentage or through a Constitutional amendment.

10) On the contrary and to the chagrin of the people and government of Delta State, the principle of derivation has been pegged at one percent under a revenue allocation formula different from the 1998 system since the 29th of May to date, leaving an outstanding balance of 12 percent each month of the 10 months in favor of the recipient states. It is our strong view that we do not need any judicial oracle to tell us that this is a flagrant violation of the provision of Sections 162(2) and 313 of the Constitution, which every key player in the new democracy swore to uphold.

11) We need to speak and act together whenever the issue arises in order to save ourselves the embarrassment of recourse to judicial intervention in the implementation of the minimum 13 percent principle of allocation for the disbursement of the Federation Account.

12) Our call is justified even by the history of the principle of derivation, which is not a new factor in our fiscal federalism. In the 60s and early 70s the principle was fully recognized and in use. During the period the percentage weight of the principle was as high as 60 percent. Our nation was not less federal or poorer for it.

13) Your Excellencies and distinguished lawmakers, you will agree with me that the continued withholding of this allocation means the continuous denial of our peoples the right to development and poverty remediation.

B) The question of onshore/offshore dichotomy of oil and gas production

14) The time has come for us, as the heads of governments of the states and distinguished lawmakers of the South-South zone to have a dream. A dream to translate our patriotism, energy, talents, democratic wits and indeed all that is in us to free our people from every legislative shackle which is not in the socio-economic interest and aspirations of our people. We must speak and must act. The dichotomy between onshore and offshore oil and gas deposit is artificial and not in the best interest of our people. It is artificial because it is unnatural and not unconnected with the expropriation intention behind the Exclusive Economic Zone Act. As we all may recall, the Act was passed in 1978, delimiting the Exclusive Economic zone of our country and extended it up to 200 nautical miles seawards from the coasts. It then proceeded to vest the Federal Government with the sovereign exclusive rights with respect to the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of the sea bed, sub-oil and superjacent waters of the Exclusive Zone. This expropriation of our people and government of their riparian natural rights has since been given constitutional confirmation. The 1999 Constitution, like its immediate precursor, preserves the property rights of the individual against expropriation, save the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under, or upon the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria which are vested in the Federal Government.

15) The mission of law is not to rob Peter to pay Paul; it is, in the view of the people and government of Delta State, to create a stable polity founded on Freedom, Equality and Justice; a polity where every subject dreams according to his power of vision and translates his dreams to reality according to his strength and endowments without being denied by forces external to him. This is the vision of Deltans for our State, the South-South zone and the Federation; a dream of egalitarianism.

16) Therefore, any law in our statue books which directly or indirectly frustrates the realization of our dreams for our State through a calculated scheme of expropriations of our natural resources should be seen as repressive and must be expunged from the statue books. This should be one of the fundamental objectives of the governments and people of the South-South zone. But let me quickly add, that in making this charge, I am not less a federalist. These objectives are to be pursued within the shared values of Democracy and Federalism.

C) Land and environmental question

17) The land and the environment are our natural patrimony. God, in His wisdom, has given to each people in this regard the type of land and environment that suit their circumstances to make for sustainable development. As Kwemena Bentsi-Enchili, an eminent scholar of land law, once stated, land matters a great deal to man as it is to the tree; the quality of the land that a man has determines largely his social status in life as it is to the tree. Any legislation that is aimed at taking our land rights from us should matter to us at all times at least for the sake of our children and the generation unborn. It is against this note of serious concern that I humbly draw the attention of Your Excellencies and distinguished lawmakers to the land Use Act, 1978 which vested ownership of land in the country in both the State and Federal Governments. To the unwary or uninformed, it does not take away the right of the people to use and occupy land. But for the more informed, it is one of the instruments by which our people and States have been denied the right to their patrimony under and over land.

18) This is more serious when we realize that little or no attempt is made to remedy the damage done to our environment through the massive exploitation of our underground and undersea natural resources for a ceaseless period of almost 40 years. We are witnesses to the evils of environmental degradation, impoverishment and displacement of our people from their homesteads, farmlands and fishing streams, poor industrial base, youth restiveness, communal conflicts and violence, high rate of criminal activities, physical underdevelopment, mass unemployment and the associated problems of insecurity that oil and gas exploration have inflicted on our environment and people.

19) As heads of governments and distinguished lawmakers, eminent sons and daughters of the South-South zone, we have a dream – to correct these pervasive symptoms of the high and systematic exploitation and neglect of our people. We are their hope. If we fail, they fail. We should loathe seeing ourselves being counted among failures by history.

20)  Try we must to change things for the better for our people. This is the least we owe to ourselves and posterity. The land Use Act must be reviewed through our concerted efforts and those of other patriots so that we will truly and fully enjoy the fruits of our land and environment for our sustenance and those of our children.

D) Remedial Institutions of the Region 

21) The neglect of the South-South region by successive governments of the Federation has long been recognized and given expression to by the establishment of a number of administrative institutions aimed at harnessing resources for its development. These efforts culminated in the Oil Mineral Producing Area Commission Act, popularly known as OMPADEC. It is common knowledge that the Act was intended to channel funds for the development of the area. As it turned out to be, the funds released were not only grossly inadequate to address the development problems of the region; the little that was released not judiciously and transparently applied to create the enabling environment for a sustainable development.

22) While the states of the South-South zone antagonized one another over the equitable sharing of the bones of the oil industry, others relished in the flesh. Consequently, OMPADEC failed woefully to meet the developmental aspirations of the people of the region. It is against this background that the people and government of Delta State were indeed very amused at the scramble among the people and governments of South-South states over the headquarters and the appointment of the Chief Executive of Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) as if both were the end for which the commission was being set up. At all times and in the true spirit of this movement, I thought we should work out equitable formula among ourselves with respect to both matters as well as the funding of the Commission. It is sad that we were unable to speak with one voice and act with one mind. It was convenient for us to forget the principles used in the citing of the headquarters of OMPADEC. We also forget that justice is about treating like cases alike and different cases differently. We the people and Government of Delta State like to see the South-South movement as a forum for ensuring that the NDDC, when functional, is efficiently and transparently run as a truly remedial institution for equitable distribution of resources and creating employment opportunities within the region for our people based on oil production quota of the constituent states. Any other operational principle or criterion of the NDDC is likely to lead to mutual distrust among the constituent states and lead to the undesirable politics of survival of the fittest. That is certainly not in our interest. 

2) The Ethics of National Secularism

23) The people and government of Delta State believe in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution and founded on the constitutional principle that the government of the Federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion. Therefore, all Deltans condemn any disturbance or attack on our people or any person in the country by any individual or group in the name of any religion, belief in worship or teaching. We believe that all Nigerians should pursue the goals of mutual co-existence, as well as religion and ethnic tolerance. There lies the strength of our Nation.

Conclusion

24) I have taken time, Your Excellencies, distinguished lawmakers and eminent sons and daughters of the South-South zone, to highlight the various issues of mutual concern with candour that is characteristic of Delta State as the Big Heart of Nigeria. That is one sure way by which we can accommodate the different idiosyncrasies and aspirations of the diverse peoples of the zone and the Federation. The great values of democracy of transparency and honesty teach us this. In this realization the issues raised above constitute our agenda for the South-South movement. I do not claim monopoly of knowledge in respect of any of the issues. But you will concede to me as I would do to you, a measure of exclusive knowledge of the feeling of my people as the head of their government.

25) Once more, I welcome Your Excellencies, honourable lawmakers and distinguished peoples of the South-South zone heartily and thank you for your attention.

May God bless and grant us success in our deliberations.

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