Senator Ita Solomon Enang, a lawyer and politician, has been a regular face in the National Assembly since the advent of civilian rule in 1999. He was first elected as a member representing the Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State in the House of Representatives on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and he ran for three consecutive terms of 12 years thereby making history as the longest serving lawmaker from the state. At the end of the 12 years, Enang was elevated to serve the Uyo Senatorial District in the Senate, where he is heading Business and Rules Committee.
As one who has been following several debates and issues in the country, the senator says it is wrong for anybody to try to awaken the ghost of the onshore/offshore dichotomy, which was successfully laid to rest in 2004. In this interview, Enang says such a clamour amounts to treason and would bring about dire consequences for the nation and its people.
By Soni Daniel
Why do you think the northern governors are asking for a review of the oil dichotomy law?
I just think that what they want is to control the resources of the Niger Delta while they are preserving their own resources-solid minerals. They want the onshore/offshore issue revisited so that the Federal Government will take control of the oil drilled offshore of the littoral states instead of allowing the littoral states to continue to derive 13 percent derivation from the proceeds.
But what we in the South-South are planning to do and what we have been working on is to extend the frontiers of derivable resource by ensuring that derivation is paid on oil taken within the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria. It does not matter whether it is within 200 metres water depth isobaths contiguous to a state or it is beyond. And why we were working on this is to ensure that a state like Ondo and Lagos can benefit from oil, which is found in their domains.
A state like Lagos has not benefitted from oil in that the oil found off the coast of Lagos is found within the 200 metres water depth isobaths.
Therefore we want to extend it so that all the states in the North and South that have oil should benefit from derivation.
I have been speaking on the need for all parts of the country to exploit the resources found in their areas to ensure that Nigeria doesn’t discuss resource allocation anymore but discuss resource mobilization. That is why we have a body called Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
The function of that body is to mobilise revenue from oil and non-oil sectors and to allocate these revenues, examine and perfect the fiscal structures in the country.
But what seems to be happening in the northern part of Nigeria is that these states use the entirety of their solid minerals for themselves.
The only money from the solid minerals that goes to the federal purse is the licence fees paid by the licencees. After paying for the licences, they simply exploit the resources and take away the proceeds leaving nothing for the Federation Account as is being done by the oil companies drilling in the Niger Delta. Unlike the oil companies that drill and pay 100 percent of their proceeds into the Federation Account, the licencees in the North take the proceeds from the solid minerals being exploited in that region of the country. And in a bid to avoid bringing anything into the Federation Account, they claim that what they are doing is illegal mining. Why should we continue to tolerate this kind of a situation where a rational man commits an economic crime against the country and comes back to declare that what he is doing is illegal and people take it as normal? It is absurd and ridiculous.
But the contention is that former President Obasanjo refused to implement the Supreme Court judgment, which said that no littoral state, should benefit from offshore oil revenue, that the revenue should go to the Federal Government.
The judgment did not say the littoral states should not enjoy offshore oil proceeds, but simply defined boundary delimitation of the country with another country.
Is this your own interpretation as a lawyer or the content of the apex court judgment?
No, this is the holistic interpretation and what the court said which some of the commentators may not be aware of. When you talk of the boundary of a country within the context of state sovereignty in a continental context, it is the land and the seaward boundary of that state including the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone of that country that you referring to. Therefore, oil that is found within the exclusive economic zone of that country belongs to the federation and by extension is taken from a state which forms part of the federation. And if the maritime delimitation was not a natural extension of a state, then Nigeria and that particular state would not have been entitled to it.
Therefore the judgment of the Supreme Court restricted itself to the narrow issue it was asked to interpret and that interpretation seems to have caused a problem of misunderstanding. And the court made it clear that its judgment was based on what was put before it by the NASS.
That was why the matter was brought back to the National Assembly for redefinition. While our northern brothers are seeking to repeal the Act completely, we are moving to say allow the Act to be, extend the limit from 200 metres water depth isobaths to the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria so that wherever you find oil that is credited to Nigeria, we should be paid derivation on it to bring in more money into the Federation Account to be shared by all the tiers of government.
In other words, it is wrong to accuse Obasanjo of not implementing the Supreme Court judgment on the onshore/offshore dichotomy?
Yes. Obasanjo did not commit any offense. He simply signed what the NASS passed; he did not make executive order on the matter. He brought a bill before the legislature and we debated it and passed it into law.If anybody wants to change what we did to deny the oil-bearing states the little benefits they are getting, they should be prepared for a situation where oil production will begin to go down from the present 2.7 million barrels per day to 700 barrels per day while we are talking about this matter.
And before we begin talking about the review, let all the sections of this country produce something and bring to the Federation Account. Each section of the country should allow their resources to be exploited and bring the proceeds to the table to be shared by all. All the northern big boys who own oil blocks do so in the Niger Delta. None of them has applied for oil blocks in the Chad Basin. They protect their own environment and destroy our own yet are not happy that we should earn something for the sacrifice we have made to keep the economy running. They should be concerned about the degradation and pollution of our environment and the future of our children.
What do you make of the economic policies so far put in place by the Federal Government under Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?
To be candid, I don’t like the economic policies of the finance minister because they are tailored and made from outside and do not take the Nigerian economic environment into account. The economic environment in Nigeria does not respond to the kind of policies that she has introduced. Of course, these policies have not survived in the United Kingdom and the United States. They did not serve France, Greece, Spain and Mexico to mention but a few.
Why does she bring such outdated economic policies then to Nigeria? Why should she bring all the economic policies that have ruined the economies of the advanced countries to come and kill Nigeria? I think they were sent here to collapse our economy so that the economies of those other countries can bounce back.
Are you worried about the rate at which the country is going?
Yes, indeed, I am worried that this country can break up because the more we try to hold one volatile issue down, other people from other parts of the country are trying to bring up the issues thereby heating up the polity. That is why I was forced to say it does appear that the actions of some of these people are treasonable. Treason is any action that is against the interest of the state and one of them is the attempt to revisit the onshore/offshore law, which has since been laid to rest by the court and the National Assembly.