MY DISAPPOINTMENT OVER YOUR UNPROVOKED OUTBURST AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF THE NIGER DELTA REGION
Let me begin by thanking you for finding time to stop by at my Abuja residence on Monday, 13th December, 2021, to check on my wellbeing and state of health; a visit that also afforded us the opportunity to discuss matters pertaining to the state of our nation which, unfortunately, continues to drift to very disturbing levels. I am indeed very grateful.
Your Excellency, in the course of our discuss, which was cordial, you did not mention, neither did you show any form of distraught or anger with the Niger Delta Region.
Your Excellency will recall that a summit was organised by a group, Global Peace Foundation, on Monday, 13th December, 2021, the same day you came to visit me, to which various groups and individuals were invited, and Your Excellency happened to be one of the invitees. I was equally invited. But because as Your Excellency knows, I am recuperating from an ailment, and since I have been told by my doctors to take things easy, I asked His Excellency, Ambassador Godknows Igali, a retired Permanent Secretary with the Federal Civil Service, and a former Ambassador, to kindly represent me at the Summit together with Mr. O’Mac Emakpore, a retired Director with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and Engr. Ebipamowei Wodu, the Secretary-General, Ijaw National Congress (INC).
Like I stated, in the course of our conversations, Your Excellency did not mention to me of any grievances you have against the Niger Delta region. So, it was a rude shock to me watching videos, both on conventional media and social media, where Your Excellency, displayed what I will like to describe as unstatesmanly attitude on your outburst, hitting the table with your hands, that the oil found in the Niger Delta region does not belong to the people of the Niger Delta.
With all due respect, Your Excellency, your outburst towards your fellow participants in a Summit, to which everyone present was invited, is to say the least, disappointing, when you displayed a hate attitude against the people of the oil producing States in Nigeria. You openly interjected both Engr. Wodu and Mr. O’Mac Emakpore, each time they tried to speak.
Your Excellency, we have known ourselves for several decades, since 1975, when we served as Federal Commissioners (Ministers) in the cabinet of General Yakubu Gowon’s government, together with His Excellency, late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, late General Murtala Mohammed, amongst others.
Natural resources found in regions, were controlled by the people of the regions in the country an enunciated in Section 140 of the 1960 Constitution. As a former Military Head of State of Nigeria, 1976-1979, and later a democratically elected President of the country, 1999-2007, I am certain Your Excellency knows that the principle of derivation, has always been top on the agenda of our national discourse, before and after the country’s Independence. Infact the principle was very much entrenched in the 1960 Independence Constitution and the 1963 Republican Constitutions; the principle was very well received and implemented by the nation’s founding fathers.
Need Your Excellency be reminded that it was the practice of the principle of derivation that enabled your region, the Western Region, then under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the Northern Region, then under Sir Ahmadu Bello, to reap all the money that enabled them develop far ahead of the then Eastern Region. The Eastern Region did not progress like the other two regions. From the benefits of the practice of derivation principle, the Western Region introduced free education, built universities, the first Television in Africa, among other economic and social infrastructure, including hiring at the time, an Israeli Company, Soleh Bole, to develop roads and other infrastructure.
The implementation of this principle continued until 1956 when crude oil was found in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, in the present day Bayelsa State. When this happened, the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, sent congratulatory message to the then Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Okpara, “welcoming him to the club,” that will benefit from resource found in its area, as a result of the derivation principle.
The sharing formula then, as provided in the Section quoted above, was that 50% of the revenue from the resources is retained by the owning region, 20% went to the federal government, while the remaining 30% went to the distributable pool, for sharing among the regions, including the contributing region.
Your Excellency, as you are very much aware, this was the situation for sharing the fiscal assets of the federation among the regions of the country until the 1966 coup that suspended the Constitution.
The Cocoa House and the Liberty Stadium all in Ibadan, the Western House in Lagos and the Oodua group of companies, one of the biggest companies in Nigeria, are solely owned by the Western Region. One very disappointing thing that happened in the whole of this, was when the Midwest Region, to which I belonged, was created out of the Western Region, the Western Region, bluntly refused to share assets with the Midwest Region on the reason that the Midwest Region did not contribute anything to the Western Region and to its economy. This was unlike what happened in the Northern Region, where the assets of the region were jointly owned and shared amongst the Northern States; so also, in the South East Region. I witnessed the harsh attitude towards us in 1972, when as the Commissioner for Finance, Midwest State, I accompanied my Governor, Col. S. O. Ogbemudia, as he then was, to visit the Military Governor of Western Nigeria, Col. Adeyinka Adebayo, to demand for our share of the assets, the Midwest Region having been created out of the Western Region. Military Governor Adebayo bluntly refused to grant our request. This happened in the presence of the then Ooni of Ife, and Chief S. B. Bakare, a prominent Lagos business man.
Today, by irony of fate, all the thirty-six (36) States in the country, now depend solely on the minerals produced by the Niger Delta. They come every month to share revenue from the region.
Your Excellency, following your argument that resources are placed in the soil by God, therefore, free for all, it will definitely mean chaos and anarchy, as anybody in any part of the world can enter into any land, including Your Excellency’s Ota Farm, to undertake any activity that they desire to do.
By the way Your Excellency, may I ask you, why have you not made similar outburst against the open declaration of the Governor and the people of Zamfara State, that the gold under their soil belongs to them? Where was Your Excellency when people went to the Villa, accompanied by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele, to present gold bar to President Muhammadu Buhari, mined by the government and people of Zamfara State, as their property? Your Excellency probably did not speak because Zamfara State belongs to the North whose interest you continuously hold dear to your heart.
This inconsistency, is what many other elder statesmen like myself, are unable to tolerate. If this country must remain peaceful and united, it must be based on truth, justice, equity, same rules for all. As the saying goes, what is good for the goose, is good for the gander.
Your views represent the continuous arrogant stance and disposition against the people of the Niger Delta. This is inspite of the environmental damages the region is suffering.
Your Excellency did not deem it fit to empathise with the people of Nembe, Bayelsa State, in the recent pipeline explosion which has inflicted untold hardship on the people of the area and caused humungous damage to the area; the aquatic life is destroyed. The people can no longer engage in their major source of livelihood, fishing, can no longer be practiced. There is hunger; starvation is staring at the faces of people, including infants. The soot in Rivers State has assumed an alarming dimension with no hope of abating in the near future. The only thing people like Your Excellency, are thinking of, is how much a barrel of oil cost, how much revenue is continuously accruing to the country from the despoiled and ravaged Niger Delta region. A region where there is not even water to drink. To Your Excellency, the oil belongs to the country, while the sufferings belong to the people of the region.
I am not surprised because your open hostility for the Niger Delta region was equally displayed when derivation went down as low as 0% during your period as Military Head of State. Even the current 13%, which happened reluctantly under your government later, came about after a sustained legal action to force you to implement what was provided for by the 1999 Constitution.
The 2005 Political reform Conference recommended 18%. But the South-South delegate to the Conference led by me, was against it. As we demanded nothing less than 25% for a start. When we saw the hostility against us, we staged a walk-out.
The 2014 National Conference recommended 18%.
Your Excellency’s disdain and insincerity for the Niger Delta region has not in any way reduced. We still remember the fact that as President of the country, in 1999, you drafted the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill as one of your first Bills, but later refused to sign it into Law. You also decided not to pay the full entitlement to the Commission until you left office. You tried to kill the Brass Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), by bringing your proxy, Engr. Funso Kupolokun from retirement to be the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), to pursue the failed Olukola Liquified Natural Gas project; as a result, Chevron withdrew its shares from the Brass LNG company.
Your Excellency, be rest assured that the people of the Niger Delta will always rise to defend themselves and their region.
Please be informed, Your Excellency, that henceforth, together with other groups with whom we are working, the Afenifere of South West, the Middle Belt Forum and the Ohaneze of the South East, we will take critical look at any hypocritical dialogue you want to invite us to, or co-chaired by you, until our rights under the Constitution are recognised and respected.
This also serves as notice that we withdraw from the communique issued by you at the end of the two days meeting.
Thank you and God bless.