Zamfara gold controversy and echoes of resource control
After a lull, the clamour for resource control is again resonating in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, following Zamfara State Government’s establishment of a gold reserve beginning with 31 kilogrammes of processed gold. Further deepening deep-seated grievances in the Niger Delta region is the purported plan by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to purchase gold worth N5 billion from Zamfara State Government.
Anger started building up in the Niger Delta last August, after a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle in Abuja, after which the latter claimed the president advised him to liaise with South African and Russian mining companies for full scale mining of gold and other precious stones in the state.
Matawalle had also disclosed that the state intended to strengthen artisanal miners and organise them into cooperative groups. He further stated that Zamfara State would benefit from the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI) from local miners and sell it to CBN directly.
Already, gold refinery equipment had been located in Baka Lori Dam of Zamfara State, with the intent to transform the state into a centre of gold business in Nigeria. Considering the Zamfara gold misadventure as a breach of the 1999 Constitution, as amended and other extant laws, a lawyer, Mr. Joseph Onu Silas, had petitioned the CBN, seeking cancelation of the purchase of gold worth N5 billion from Zamfara State Government, describing it as illegal.
In the letter addressed to the CBN governor, Godwin Omiefele, Silas cited provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007 that lucidly states in section 1(1) and (2) that: all mineral resources in, under or upon any land in Nigeria, its contiguous continental shelf and all rivers, streams, and watercourses throughout Nigeria, any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone is and shall be vested in the Government of the Federation for and on behalf of the people of Nigeria.
Just last week, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo Agege, who represents Delta Central, had on the floor of the National Assembly, fired the first salvo against Governor Matawalle and CBN N5 billion gold deal. He stated that whereas proceeds of oil in the Niger Delta are shared by all the federating units, that of solid mineral is not.
“Mr. President, our people are beginning to wonder who owns this gold that is being sold to the CBN. They don’t sell oil in any of the Niger Delta States. I am wondering why a governor of a state should be selling gold bars from Zamfara to the CBN. There are two problems with that. We believe that whatever revenue that ought to come from that transaction belongs to the entire country and not to the state government.”
Due to the outrage caused by Zamfara State and CBN gold deal, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite, had maintained that all mineral resources in country are vested in the Federal Government, but that Zamfara State was exploiting the privilege to purchase the minerals from their people and selling them to the CBN based on the PAGMI initiative.
National Leader, Network for Defence of Democracy and Good Governance (NDDGG) and Kengema Unity Forum (KUF), Sobomabo Jackrich, said a situation whereby Governor Matawale can mine and sell gold and make revenue for Zamfara State, but a governor in the Niger Delta cannot drill crude and sell it to generate revenue for his state, smacks of hypocrisy and double standard.
Jackrich has also faulted the PAGMI initiative, which allows the CBN to purchase all the gold produced by artisanal and small scale miners, processed and refined under the PAGMI for use as part of Nigeria’s foreign reserves. He noted that the import of PAGMI was that the Federal Government had officially empowered artisans up north to go into mining gold and sell directly to PAGMI, which is more or less an agency, that now sells in turn to the CBN.
“As flawed, skewed, tribalistic and nepotistic as the establishment of PAGMI is, it’s even more worrisome and dangerous that instead of the official routine of the CBN buying gold bar only directly from the PAGMI, we are now witnessing the CBN buying directly from the Zamfara State governor, which is against the laws of the land on resource control.
“We commend the boldness of the Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege, for pointing out this grave injustice and imbalance in the system to the whole world on the floor of the Senate, while urging well-meaning Nigerians to lend their voices against this deliberate acts of oppression and provocation.”
But the National Publicity Secretary of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Mr. Ken Robinson, the Zamfara State gold saga has merely exposed the inconsistences of the Nigerian State. According to him, the Federal Government has continued to turn a blind eye to illegal mining of solid minerals in the northern part of the country at the detriment of the Niger Delta, whose oil proceeds are shared among the federating units.
According to him, “We are in a country where the rules differ when it comes to certain sections. And when it comes to certain sections, the rule applies to the letter and that is why we are calling for restructuring so that everybody will run at his pace. What currently goes on is partial, bias and against the people of the Niger Delta.“
He maintained that PANDEF would continue to clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria even though the mindset of the northern political elite, beneficiaries of the present skewed structure and flawed system, would resist any attempt for change.
“Nigeria has experienced several restructuring as it were from 1960 independence,” he said. “Several processes of change have taken place, and so those who continue to pretend and think that this extant structure where these imbalances are promoted with recklessness will continue are only deceiving themselves. If Nigeria refuses to restructure, the country will restructure itself. We are already seeing the signs.”
For over five decades, the national economy has relied almost solely on resource extraction from the Niger Delta. The legal control of the country’s natural resources by the Federal Government had been at the core of clamour for restructuring the country in line with the principle of federalism.
The country’s reluctance to address the vexed issue of resource control advocated by oil-producing states in the Niger Delta, which is home to some of the world’s most valuable oil and gas resources and biodiversity, while allowing Zamfara State to engage in illegal mining gold deposits is now fuelling resentment in the Niger Delta.
THE Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People’s (MOSOP) transition council chairman, Keeper Gbaranor, said allowing Zamfara State to sell gold mined in that state to the CBN is a clear indicator of the discrepancies and inherent contradictions of the Nigerian State.
“But why will a state in the north have total control of their resources and down south, the Federal Government will own the whole resources?” he asked. “That is unfair treatment and that is why we are calling for the restructuring of the country, review of our constitution that will give states, each ethnic group the legal right to maintain their resources. You could see the dichotomy, you could see the oppression that is being carried out in Nigeria, which MOSOP raised at a time many people never thought of these things were happening.
“In the same country, different laws for different sets of people. We will kick against it and we are clamouring and calling on the Federal Government to revisit the resource control issue. Each state should control their resources and then use it for their development. That is why we are talking about restructuring of this country. It was MOSOP that raised the issue of restructuring and resource control. How would the gold in Zamfara be mined by Zamfara people and it is not a national cake, but the oil in Rivers State? Oil in Ogoni belongs to the Federal Government, but gold in Zamfara belongs to their state?”
Gbaranor explained that MOSOP was not oblivious that oil would someday get finished. To this end, he maintained that the challenge for national lawmakers and policy makers was to find a more creative way how to best address past abuses that denied oil-producing communities benefits of the proceeds from their natural resources and promote more and sustainable economic development initiative that would not allow the people to continue to wallow in abject penury when oil is no longer valuable.
“There is a company called Gazprom, which did a feasibility study in 1998 and discovered that in Ogoniland, we have 40 trillion cubic feet of gas deposit untouched. So, with this amount of gas, if it is mined for the benefit of the people, the money could be injected into other areas like agriculture to sustain the people even after the oil is finished. We are saying that any other oil exploration that will go on, the host community must have a share for their self-development and sustainability of life even after the oil.”
On his part, former president, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Charles Harry, observed that Adegbite’s assertion that the gold in Zamfara belongs to the federation and the body language of President Buhari when Governor Matawalla brought gold to him in Aso Rock did not suggest the same thing.
“It is only the oil in the Niger Delta that is Federal Government’s property,” Harry said. “They have been mining several precious stones and strategic mineral resources are being mined in this country by private individuals and for private pockets, as opposed to general good. You must remember the issue of Igbeti marble that the Federal Government over 20 years ago created divisive policy between the federal, state and local government as opposed to that of oil. Having depleted the resources in the South-South, they want to take their gold for their personal use and the Federal Government is turning a blind eye. It must be resisted.”
Harry has suggested an emergency summit of all the oil-producing states where all the state governors, members of national and state Assemblies and other leaders of thought for a firm decision and asking the multinational companies to cease operation until the issue of resource control was decisively addressed. According to him, if that fails, it would not be out of place for public-spirited Niger Deltans to begin agitation from the creeks to stop oil production in Nigeria.
“Oil and gas are wasting assets, and in the present world economic situation, oil is losing its relevance, but gas hasn’t,” he said. “So crude oil, in a few years to come, will be irrelevant to economic activities except for petrochemical, which gas is more important to. So, our future is bleak. We must take the bull by the horns right now and maximise our efforts in the next 20 years. We still have a window of 20 years to use the resources from oil and gas to clean up our environments and create an economic base from which we can move into a knowledge-based economy.”
SIMILARLY, former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Eric Omare, said it was obvious that if oil resources found in the Niger Delta were to be in the northern part of the country, the question of federal control of oil resources would have been a thing of the past.
“And again, it also shows that all Nigerians are not equal,” he declared. “Some are more equal than the others. The laws of Nigeria do not apply in some parts of the country; they only apply in other parts and it is very unfortunate. It strengthens the reason why the people of the Niger Delta will continue to demand for justice to manage our resources. That has been our demand over the years. We have always demanded that in a true federal system, the federal units have some level of control, if not 100 per cent control over their resources, unlike the present situation where all resources are concentrated at the centre.”
Omare emphasised that the country stands to gain a lot if states controlled their resources, noting that all sections of the country would be able to explore their potentials to the fullest. For instance, he pointed out that the northern part of the country could do better in agriculture and should be able to use the proceeds to address their developmental needs.
According to Omare; “The reason why there is so much emphasis on central control of resources is because the oil resources are mainly found in one part of the country. If you have natural resources that can sustain the country in different parts of the country, there will be no desperation for central control of the resources. Those opposed to resource control in the north do so not out of patriotism, it is just for selfish interest.
“It is not because they believe in Nigeria more than any other part of the country. It is simply because they feel that if oil resource is not centrally controlled they will not have access to cheap money, which is the cause of one of the problems we are having in this country. Because of cheap oil money, we are no longer thinking deeply. Every part of this country has resources that can be tapped to take care of their developmental challenges, but because of cheap oil money, they are not thinking.”
A member of the 2014 National Conference, Ann-Kio Briggs, said the Zamfara gold controversy must reawaken the oil producing states to reflect and come to the realisation that they have been treated for decades as second class citizens in Nigeria. Briggs recalled that during the last national conference, when the issue of resource control came up, northern delegates voted against it. She said no one in the oil-producing states should delude themselves that the northern political elite are going to accept resource control and a restructured Nigeria.
“We must call for referendum,” she stated. “People must make up their mind that this marriage has not worked, it cannot work and it will not work. And any idea to continue to insist for us to stay together is foolish.”