The northern socio-political organization, Arewa Consultative Forum, has disagreed with the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, the Ijaw National Congress and some civil rights groups over the ownership of crude oil in the Niger Delta.
The ACF spokesman, Emmanuel Yawe, in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday supported the position of former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the crude oil in the Niger Delta belonged to the Federal Government not people in the region.
But PANDEF, the INC and other groups that spoke to our correspondents faulted the former president and supported an elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, who lambasted Obasanjo over his position on the oil in the Niger Delta.
Obasanjo had at a peace and security parley convened by the Global Peace Foundation and Vision Africa a few weeks ago attacked the National Secretary of the INC, Ebipamowei Wodu, over the latter’s outburst.
Wodu at the forum said the Ijaw were being treated like second class citizens in Nigeria despite producing the oil and gas resources that had sustained the country.
Clark in an open letter to the former President on December 22 took a swipe at Obasanjo, alleging that his hatred against the people of the oil-producing states in Nigeria was disappointing.
But in an open letter to Clark released on Monday, the former president faulted the elder statesman’s claim that he hated the people of Niger Delta due to resource control agitation.
Those who reacted to the exchange of brickbats between Obasanjo and Clark on Wednesday expressed divergent views.
PANDEF advised Obasanjo to stop being mischievous and insensitive to issues concerning the Niger Delta.
It said it was worrisome that Obasanjo, who knows the difficult Niger Delta terrain and the effects of oil exploration on the environment there, would be playing the devil’s advocate.
The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, who said this during a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, stated, “PANDEF is saying that former Olusegun Obasanjo should stop being mischievous. The former president understands what we are talking about when we are talking about oil in the Niger Delta. He was here during the Civil War as a commandant and all that.
“So he understands what we are talking about. Unfortunately, he continues to play the role of the devil’s advocate. So, former President Obasanjo should stop being mischievous because that is what he is doing.
“He was talking about people being tribesmen and all that and asking people to be statesmen. He himself needs to be a statesman, because he is not.
“He knows what we are talking about the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, the harsh living conditions due to oil exploration and of course the difficult terrain in the region.
“God has in His wisdom and all-knowing status bless this region with these resources to ameliorate the suffering of the people and the Nigerian state has over the years continue to exploit and plunder these resources to the complete disregard of the people.
“What we are asking for is better attention to the oil and gas bearing communities. That is what the people of the Niger Delta are asking for.
“Some of the problems we have in Nigeria today started during his presidency. So, we will advise and urge former President Obasanjo to stop being mischievous about issues of the Niger Delta and respect the feelings of the Niger Delta people.
“It is sad that he will be talking about constitution and provisions in the flawed military imposed constitution because he is the chief beneficiary of that lopsided constitution, so he could afford to say that.
“If Ogun State is producing oil, will Obasanjo make the kind of insensitive comments he is making?”
But the ACF threw its weight behind Obasanjo, saying oil and other mineral resources belonged to Nigeria and not host communities.
The National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Emmanuel Yawe in a chat with one of our correspondents in Kaduna on Wednesday, said the matter was a purely constitutional one and that the northern body was in full support of the provision of the constitution.
According to him, oil and other mineral resources found in any community belong to Nigeria, adding those against such should seek constitution amendment to the provision.
The ACF’s spokesman said, “Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s argument is based on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“Many communities that have these minerals are against this provision. As long as this aspect of the constitution remains the way it is, there is nothing that can be done. That is the law.
“The ACF believes in the rule of law. Those against this provision should seek a way of amending this aspect of the constitution.”
The Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, called for the review of the constitution to allow communities where mineral resources were found to be their first beneficiaries.
The Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere, Mr Jare Ajayi, who said this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, said the group did not need to support or go against Obasanjo’s position on the matter if what the former President said is in the constitution.
He said, “ If you find mineral resources anywhere in the country, you must obtain licence from the Federal Government before you exploit them and that is why we ( Afenifere) are saying that that part of the constitution among others must be reviewed to reflect the true position of what Nigeria is, Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“Nigeria must be federal true to its spirit. If it is federal, resources found in any location will. benefit the people there first and Nigeria at large.
We cannot continue to pretend to be practising federal system of government. “
The President of the Ijaw National Congress, Professor Benjamin Okaba, insisted that mineral resources in the Nigeria Delta belonged to the people of the area.
He stressing that Obasanjo had always been driven by military mentality which had found expression in the unitary government Nigeria operates as federalism.
Okaba in a reaction noted that Obasanjo as a former Head of State contributed to the unitary character of the country’s federation which had negated the rights and freedom of people and communities as well as their God-given resources.
He said, “If the former president’s idea of federalism is the unitary government Nigeria operates today (with her constitution), then we can understand the avowed tenacity of his likes to have Niger Delta minorities subjugated and balkanized under an anti-people constitution that promotes military tendencies and dispositions but undermine the rights of people and communities to full access to their God-given resources and environment. “
Also, a legal practitioner and Executive Director, Egalitarian Mission Africa, Kayode Ajulo, said Obasanjo interestingly and surprisingly solely anchored his argument on law, “whereas the answer on the ownership of Oil in Nigeria is found in the extant provision of our law, and could be viewed from the socio-political perspectives. “
A group, the Niger Delta Congress said the position of Obasanjo, on Niger Delta, was absurd and illegal.
The group through its spokesman, Ovunda Eni, stated, “Obasanjo spent time emphasising the constitutionality of what has been the forceful expropriation of the land and resources of the Niger Delta, failing to see the absurdity in centering his arguments on legalities which have all been conceived by members of the larger ethnic nationalities of which Obasanjo belongs to, as a means of controlling the resources of the Niger Delta. “
The group added that the Niger Delta people would not accept any document that refuses or limits the right of its people on the total control resources in the region.
A human rights activist, Jacob Okpanachi, said oil indeed was a collective common wealth of the Nigerian nation as stated in the constitution just like iron and steel in Ajaokuta and other mineral resources in Nigeria.
He, however, said, “The truth is that our federalism is not formalized so there is no equitable distribution of common wealth.
“Our political and economic system is not structured for growth so our social order is distorted thus stained with strains of crime and crisis traceable to poverty.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome in a separate interview with The PUNCH stated that Obasanjo as a part of the military juntas cleverly inserted inhuman laws as regards ownership of oil and gas in the constitution.
He stated, “Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has theorised that the oil and gas found in the Niger Delta region belong to the Federal Government, and not to the oil-bearing communities.
“Legally speaking, Obasanjo can be said to be correct, because he was part and parcel of successive military juntas that cleverly and systematically inserted inhuman laws concerning ownership of oil and gas into our statute books. But, does that make such laws right or justifiable? No. I think not. Ex -president Obasanjo should be told in very clear terms that there is such an overriding principle of law which goes with the maxim of “quic quid plantatatur solo solo cedit”. This literally means that whoever owns the land owns everything on top of it. Any extant constitutional or statutory provisions ( such as those apparently referred to by Obasanjo) that run contrary to this commonsensical common law principle are therefore nothing but bad, immoral, exproriatory and exploitative laws.
“Help me inform Obasanjo that Nigeria operates a federal system of government, and that federalism is fiscal and plural. One of the major attributes of federalism is that it ensures that regions, sub-national or federating units develop according to their pace and needs, using the God-given resources that are available to such units. They pay tax to the central government.
“Help me inform President Obasanjo that a law that literally steals the resources of a people, punishing them with destruction of their only available aquatic and agrarian life, even though in the statute books, is a bad, aberrant and obnoxious law.
“Help me tell Obasanjo that in the USA, since oil was discovered in 1859,(a country whose presidentialism and federalism we ape after), oil and gas are not owned by the American Federal Government, but by the surface owners; while oil and gas offshore are owned either by states or Federal Government. Help me remind Obasanjo that before the January 15, 1967 first military putsch led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu Chukwuma, neither the cotton, groundnut and hides and skin obtainable in the North, the cocoa grown in the West, Palm produce produced in the East; nor the rubber and timber that existed in the then Midwest, were said to belong to the Federal Government. They belonged to the regions that took a lion 50% share, while paying tax to the Federal government at the centre. What has changed? Nothing, I believe. “
The Spokesperson for Coalition of 52 Northern Groups, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, disagreed with the SAN.
He said, “In the actual sense of it, crude oil and other minerals located in any territory in Nigeria do not belong to the areas they are found, and for elder Edwin Clark who prides himself as a statesman to interpret Chief Obasanjo’s remarks to that effect, is certainly deliberately disdainful and strange. “
He recalled that the Ijaw were addressing the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as “their son.”
Suleiman stated, “ Every well meaning Nigerian with respect for constitutionalism would agree with Obasanjo that the ownership claim of crude oil by Niger Delta amounts to creating sovereign entities within a state.
“That those who purchase crude oil from Nigeria enter into contractual relationship with Nigeria and not the Niger Delta needs no further explanation and the fact that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government of Nigeria to defend the area and the oil assets therein, is further testimony that the oil is Nigerian collective asset.
“The crude in the Niger Delta shares the same status as the gold and other mineral deposits in being in Zamfara and other northern and perhaps some South-West states. No one would however deny the right to claim for a preferential share by the Niger Delta and those other places across the country where oil and other minerals are domiciled as a matter of fairness and equity.”