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Niger delta: The big issue

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The basic issue in the Niger Delta is that since the promulgation of Petroleum Decree No. 51, 1969, the Off Shore Oil Revenue Decree (No. 9), 1971 and other obnoxious military decrees by which military dictators dispossessed the Niger Delta of the benefits of its oil and gas resources, successive Federal administrations have been extracting the oil and gas in the Niger Delta and using the proceeds to develop other Regions in the country to the exclusion of the Niger Delta. The activities of the oil companies were reflected in permanent gas flares, massive coastal marine pollution and unprecedented levels of environmental degradation without parallel anywhere in the world. They promoted intra and inter-community strife by means of selective favours. Regrettably, some youth resorted to militancy although the vast majority remained law-abiding. All these engendered tendency towards breakdown in traditional values and confusion among the oppressed people of the Niger Delta.

The Federal Government consistently ignored civilized demands for social justice towards the Niger Delta and remediation of environmental degradation of the area. Rather than show understanding and ameliorate some of the most pressing issues, Federal Government’s reaction was to lay permanent military siege to the Region.

Starting with the Minorities Commission of 1957, there have been numerous studies and reports detailing the intolerable human and environmental disaster in the Niger Delta Region. Some of these include World Bank Report on Niger Delta, UNDP Report on Niger Delta, United Nations Report on Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Technical Committee Report. The recommendations in these reports have so far been largely ignored by the Federal Government.

Several bodies have also been established by the Federal Government over the years, ostensibly to develop the Niger Delta. These started with the Niger Delta Development Board, (NDDB), 1959, to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), 2000, among several others, but all these failed to produce desired results due to insincerity of the ruling elite. It is crystal clear, from the experience of the past half century, that the development of the Niger Delta cannot be left in the hands of the Federal Government.

What is required is that Niger Deltans should be constitutionally and legally empowered to utilize the resources available to them to train their children and develop their land. Niger Deltans do not need the Federal Government to collect their oil and gas money and then pretend to be helping them by using an infinitesimal part of the proceeds for a dubious Amnesty programme.

The All Progressive Congress (APC) – led administration campaigned on true federalism in the country prior to the 2015 presidential election but jettisoned the proposal immediately it got into power. The APC also published its Manifesto on its website, part of which read: “Initiating action to amend the Nigerian Constitution, with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true federalism.”

When concerned members of the public reminded the President of the provision in his party’s manifesto, Presidency spokespersons claimed that it was not President Buhari that made the promise.

The high point of the deceptive stance of the ruling APC was rehearsed on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives in July 27, 2017. Both Houses of the National Assembly (NASS) with APC majority voted against devolution of powers to states in their proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution. The rejection of devolution of powers to states by the APC-controlled NASS effectively meant a continuation of the existing intensively exploitative and inequitable political structure in Nigeria. This is so far the most resounding REJECTION OF CHANGE in the country. As former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar put it in his reaction to the NASS voting the APC had “betrayed its 2015 election promises.” (Emmanuel Aziken, Atiku, Ohaneze, women groups others, slam Senate, Vanguard, July 28, 2017).

Finally, in his New Year speech on January 1, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari said “when all is considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.” (Samuel Ogundipe, Nigeria: Buhari Rejects Restructuring Nigeria, PREMIUM TIMES online, January 1, 2018). Apparently, President Buhari does not want to alter the intensely exploitative political structure erected by his military predecessors.

In view of the rejection of the single most important political demand of Niger Deltans by President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC, the presidential election scheduled to hold in February 2019 presents a golden opportunity for Niger Deltans to take their destiny in their own hands. Of all the presidential candidates, only former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has presented a clear and workable agenda for political restructuring of the country.

But the truth is: Atiku cannot do it alone when he becomes President in 2019. He needs a clear majority in the NASS to implement it. Therefore, Niger Deltans must vehemently reject any APC candidate and vote exclusively for Atiku and his PDP candidates in the National Assembly during the forthcoming National Assembly and presidential election in February 2019.

With political restructuring of the country into a true federal state, federating units and regions would control their resources and pay constitutionally recommended part of it to the central government as it was in the First Republic before the military coup of January 1966. This entails fiscal federalism that would enable the people of Niger Delta to develop their area rather than wait for those who have no stake in the Region to do it for them.

Niger Deltans must scrupulously avoid being sidetracked into selfish or diversionary issues such as lobbying for political appointments, contracts and award of oil blocs to stooges of the oppressor in the Niger Delta.

Military siege to the Niger Delta on the false propaganda of maintaining peace is a ruse. Militancy was never the issue in the Niger Delta. Neither was Amnesty. In this regard, it is also pertinent to state that the “amnesty” implemented by the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was not at all that which was recommended by the Ledum Mittee Technical Committee. In fact, Mittee described the Federal Government version of Amnesty Programme as mere “appeasement”.

In an interview which he granted Jimitola Onoyume of Vanguard newspaper in June 2016, Mr. Ledum Mittee, pioneer Vice-Chairman of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), later chairman of the organization and also Chairman of Niger Delta Technical Committee (Mittee Committee) disowned government selection of one item (Amnesty) out of a body of coherent recommendations in the Mittee Report and treated it as a “stand-alone” solution to the crisis in the Niger Delta while ignoring the issues that the Technical Report tried to address.
Biose, a former lecturer , is the National Coordinator, team Niger Delta for Atiku and Obi

Mittee likened the late President Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants to “a situation where people protest over a bad road, cut a tree to block the road because government ignored them. The government comes to bribe them to remove the tree. So, the road is not repaired but vehicles still allowed to drive through. This is the situation in the region.” The government “equates peace in the Region with flow of oil.” (Jimitola Onoyume, Niger Delta crisis: how government missed it – Mittee, Vanguard, June 13, 2016).

It is difficult to believe that anyone who aspires to the Nigerian Presidency could claim ignorance of these issues. That would be extremely dishonest and untenable.
When by God’s grace, he is sworn in as President of Nigeria in May 2019, President ‘Atiku Abubakar would fashion out a workable programme or time-table to remove the constitutional obstacles that hinder true federalism in Nigeria. Given the general desire for peace in Nigeria, the National and State Assemblies would co-operate with such a programme of action and give it speedy constitutional backing.

And it won’t even be that difficult. It would not take more than three or four pages of legal work to abrogate or amend all the obnoxious oil and gas decrees and transfer the resources to the states or Regions where they are found.

Constitutional experts have observed that the Federal Constitution, 1960, had 44 item on the Exclusive Legislative List and 28 on the Concurrent List. “The Republican Constitution of 1963 had 45 items on the Exclusive List and 29 on the Concurrent. In 1963, the ratio between federal and regional responsibilities was 3:2, whereas the 1999 Constitution has 68 items on the Exclusive List and 30 on the Concurrent.”

Given honesty of purpose and the political will to do right, it is absolutely simple to return power to the states and regions as it was in the First Republic. Renowned Nigerian constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, probably had all the above in mind when he recommended a simple formula to achieve political restructuring of the country. He said: “If I look at the present document, all I need to do is to transfer about 16 powers that are in the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list, and then transfer some powers totally out of the list so that it becomes only for states on the residuary list.”
T
his is the first task that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would lead the country to achieve when he is elected President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2019.

Chris O O. Biose, a former lecturer , is the National Coordinator, TEAM NIGER DELTA FOR ATIKU and OBI


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