IT has recently become the obsession of the Northern Governors Forum to canvass the reinstatement of the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy.
The Northern governors claim that because derivation gives what they see as too much money to the Niger Deltan states, they are thereby shortchanged and left high and dry without adequate funds to run their states.
I doubt the Northern governors actually take their latest diversion seriously. It should be abundantly clear to anyone that such a development would be rejected as it could lead to civil war.
The oil-producing states are now used to the money they get from derivation and will not give it up without a fight. Rather than contemplate yielding even a micro percentage of their entitlement to other states, what they are angling for is an increase in derivation that is in sync with fiscal federalism.
The onshore/offshore nonsense was started by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the pioneer of many things that have undone Nigeria. Chief Obasanjo cannot claim to be a true democrat and it is most likely his dictatorial tendency inspired him to launch the onslaught on the Niger Delta in the famous onshore/offshore case of Attorney General of the Federation v Attorney General of Abia State & Others.
One of the arguments upon which the court based its decision was to the effect that under international law, the seaward boundary of a country is more or less the shore.
Upon this meaningless piece of legalism, the Supreme Court denied the littoral states access to derivation from resources offshore. Yet it is clear that a sovereign’s right to exploit resources offshore may only be exercised when it controls a coastline. If there were no littoral states, we would have no offshore petroleum to enjoy.
At any rate, the Constitution did not envisage something as unreasonable and inequitable as the jargon of onshore/offshore dichotomy. Its intendment was to do justice to the Niger Delta in the light of the morally reprehensible fiscal status quo that hitherto held sway. It was to suppress this mischief that a paltry 13 percent derivation clause was therein included.
The case, it is respectfully submitted, was decided in error, and it was as such quite proper for the National Assembly to have reversed the injustice the judgement occasioned by an act of parliament which effectively superseded the Supreme Court’s decision.
A chorus of non-Niger Deltan
commentators have often claimed that before oil, their resources sustained Nigeria. This is utter nonsense. If you divide the Nigeria of that time into the present geo-political zones, the South-South probably remains the most productive part of the country, thanks to oil palm, rubber and timber. It was called the Oil Rivers long before crude oil was discovered there.
It is therefore arguable that the Niger Delta has always been the most productive zone in Nigerian history from the colonial to the post-colonial era!
Equally idiotic, of course, is the fiction that revenue from groundnuts, cotton, cocoa and all that jazz was what was relied on to develop the oil industry. The oil industry was developed entirely from funds of foreigners by way of foreign direct investment and the Nigerian government only became a participant in the industry much later. In fact, it actually relied on proceeds it had obtained from oil as royalties to finance its investments in the sector!
There are resources everywhere and people do not have to hungrily eye the resources of others for their sustenance. Even where natural resources are lacking, people are expected to see themselves as the ultimate resource and forge ahead nevertheless.
That is what made Japan the international success story it is today. The North is a vast treasure trove of solid mineral and agricultural potential. It is the most endowed yet the least productive part of Nigeria. A land plagued by almajiris and terrorists, it represents the biggest threat to the future of Nigeria. Poverty, extremism and disease, cannot remain all we can expect from that part of Nigeria.
As for the future of Nigeria as a corporate entity, it is dependent on the future of fiscal federalism. Derivation must increase and be extended to absolutely every imaginable kind of resource from solid minerals to taxes wherever they are obtained throughout the country. This is where we must progress to or we have no future together as a nation.
Nigeria is not an oil-rich nation. The fiction that we are oil-rich must be abandoned. A nation is oil-rich where, when you divide its earnings from oil by its population the resulting sum is a considerable mount. If you divide our petroleum receipts by 160 million hungry mouths, it becomes shockingly clear how desperately poor we are.
God gives to every people different resources. He knows in His infinite wisdom why He gave the Niger Delta oil, and certainly did not intend for an unproductive nation of millions of people to pounce on it to the detriment of its true owners.
The Northern governors should press the Federal Government to facilitate the development of solid minerals and agriculture rather than seeking more money to share. Those amongst them like Kwankwaso, Suswam, Lamido, Yakowa, and Shettima, who seem to be quite focused and concerned for their constituents would do well to shun the rabble-rousers in their midst and distance themselves from the likes of Babangida Aliyu of Niger State. As things presently stand, the Northern Governors Forum is fast beginning to resemble a platform of failures.
Mr. JESUTEGA ONOKPASA, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos