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We Must Not Fail Our People

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On behalf of the people and Government of Delta State, 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. 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 in the overriding interest of our states and the nation.

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 the future and fortunes of the zone for the benefit of our peoples and the nation at large and also our place in history.

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.

Principles of Derivation

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.

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 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation account directly from any natural resource.”

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.

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. 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.

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 and the percentage weight of the principle was as high as 60 percent. Our nation was not less federal or poorer for it.

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

The time has come for us 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 their socio-economic interest and aspirations. 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.

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, equity 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.

Therefore, any law 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. But let me quickly add, that in making this charge, I am not less federalist. These objectives are to be pursued within the shared values of democracy and federalism.

Land and environmental question

The land and 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 statue 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 in the country in both the state and the federal governments.To the unwary or uniformed, 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.

This is more serious because no attempt is made to remedy the damage done to our environment through the massive exploitation of our underground and undersea natural resources for 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.

As heads of governments and distinguished lawmakers, eminent sons and daughters of the South-south zone, we are their hope. If we fail, they fail. We should loathe seeing ourselves being counted among failures by history.

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.

Remedial Institutions of the Region

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, OMPADEC. The Act was intended to channel funds for the development of the area but the funds released were not only grossly inadequate but also were not judiciously and transparently applied to create the enabling environment for a sustainable development.

While South-south zone states 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 region’s developmental aspirations. 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 (NDDC) 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, but sadly, 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.

The Ethics of National Secularism

Delta State believes 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

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.

Quote

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, equity and justice

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