BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
Francis Okpozo is a Second Republic senator and a Niger-Delta leader. He is one of those in the forefront of the agitation that the 13 percent derivation must go straight to oil producing communities and not the state governors. In this interview, he warns that the agitation may snowball into another round of crisis in the Niger-Delta if President Goodluck Jonathan fails to take urgent steps towards addressing the issue. He also speaks on the 2015 presidency, just as he calls on the old brigade politicians to quit politics and allow the younger generation of Nigerians take the mantle of leadership. Excerpts:
Looking at the events of last year and style of leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, how will you rate his performance so far?
Jonathan has been trying to quell the Boko Haram insurgency. And he has equally tried to solve the Niger Delta youth restiveness which has helped in oil production in the country. The issues involved in the agitations by the Niger Delta militants and the Boko Haram sect are fundamentally different. Not because I come from the Niger Delta where the militants operated, but they operated because of their demand for better conditions. And these militants did not hide their identity, they came out openly to tell the world how they were being oppressed, therefore they wanted to have a share of the proceeds from oil.
They did not agitate to take all the proceeds from oil, but a portion of it due to the pollution, unemployment and suffering of the people of the Niger Delta. So the Federal Government gave them amnesty and gave a lot of them jobs. The then President Yar’Adua and Jonathan made that possible. But the case of Boko Haram, what are they agitating about? We do not know them and you can only negotiate with people you see physically. You don’t know them, their needs are not specified, so the question, is what do they actually want?
They are not even fighting the Federal Government, they are only killing innocent people, burning churches and killing their own people in mosques. So, any one who is comparing Boko Haram to the Niger Delta crisis is making a big mistake. I commend the action of the President to send the military there to curb their excesses. But I want to inform the people involved in this crisis in the North that they cannot fight the government and I urge the northern leaders to come together and fight these people destroying their own people.
But are you sure that the northern leaders are not be behind the Boko Haram sect for political reasons?
When you are talking of 2015, we have not reached there and Jonathan has not come to say he will be running for a second term in 2015. If he is constitutionally qualified, yes he can run but it is now left for Nigerians to either elect him or reject him in the polls. If the actions of the Boko Haram are politically motivated, that means they are making a mistake because they are not known to be members of a particular political party.
If their actions are actually politically motivated, then they should join a political party and fight Jonathan in 2015 and stop killing innocent people. People should not be masquerading under Boko Haram to cause trouble, if any northern leader is not happy with Jonathan, the person should come out and speak out so that we will know how to solve the problem. Killing innocent people will not find solution to their political needs.
13 per cent oil derivation agitation
The agitation of the people of the oil producing communities for the total take over of the 13 per cent derivation from the federal allocation is well intended. You could remember that there was a meeting of coastal states about six years ago when Obasanjo was in power. The issue of 13 per cent was the subject matter.
All the South- South governors were in attendance, all the military heads in the country were there. When the issue came up, I was the first person Obasanjo recognized to speak and I told him of the failure of his government. I told him why going to take money from allocation B and use it to develop allocation F. Why not spend the money accurately in the areas to which it was allocated.
I told him that the state governments are squandering the money. I spoke of the local governments being made idle because the funds are not going to them directly, the governors are pocketing the money and manipulating the local councils. Then I came to the issue of derivation and I told him that there is a law that established the payment of derivation. The 1999 section 162, sub section 2, clearly states that the money belongs to the oil producing communities, but Obasanjo and his predecessors mismanaged the money. When they saw the decision of the Supreme in 1981, as regards derivation, I was in the government of the then Bendel State then.
Justice Atake, my self and other leaders of the then UPN, took the Federal Government to court, we were led by Chief O.N,Rewane and Alfred Rewane. And we obtained judgment through Rotimi Williams that derivation fund was meant for the oil producing communities. Then the 1999 constitution stated clearly in section 162 that the money is for the oil producing communities. Even when they are talking about joint account, joint account does not affect derivation.
It is between the state and Federal Governments. Because the law did not specify that they should pay this to the oil producing communities, it created a vacuum for the revenue allocation and Fiscal Commission to mismanage the sharing formula of that fund. The 13 per cent is supposed to be given straight to the oil producing communities. It was an arrangement between the governors and the Presidency to share that money to the detriment of the people of the oil producing communities. Obasanjo made it clear at the meeting at Aso Villa that ‘you governors, give 50 per cent of the 13 per cent derivation to the oil producing communities’.
That was not what took us there, but the governors went behind to use their state Houses of Assembly to make another law on how to manage the derivation fund excluding the leadership of the oil producing communities. We had no input. The governors disburse the funds the way they liked and that is why the derivation fund is not felt by the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta. We want our money directly as stipulated by law and nobody will change us from that agitation. If care is not taken, the trouble that will arise as a result of this matter will be very devastating. And we have over N7trillion of that money which Obasanjo’s government, Jonathan and others have to account for.
And in order to maintain peace temporarily in the Niger Delta, let them tell the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission to stop allocating that money to any other organ other than a body that will be created through the recommendation of the oil producing communities known as the Derivation Board; that Board will manage the money at the grassroots, spend the money for the development of the devastated oil producing communities. If oil is discovered in any area, let them apply the same yardstick to satisfy the area. It is not a battle between oil producing communities and Nigeria, it is a battle for what accrues to oil producing communities and nobody must tamper with it.
You predicted victory for Comrade Adams Oshiomhole prior to the July 14, 2012 governorship election. Are you surprised with the decision of the PDP candidate, Gen.Airhiavbere, to go to court?
I am not surprised because he is trying to make himself relevant. Apart from what Oshiomhole has done in the state in the past four years, can Airhiavbere match his records of achievements? He just joined the PDP three months before the election and he has no political experience, his community even said they didn’t know him and rejected him before the election, so who told him he will even win a ward?
The man would have gone back to his house to sleep, he made a fundamental mistake to have even gone to run for the election in the first place. Let him go and rest, Oshiomhole has done marvelously well and anybody fighting him or trying to destroy his name is making a mistake. What are the resources of Edo State that people will say they cannot reward Oshiomhole for what he has done in the past four years? That election of July 2012 is a reward for Oshiomhole for his good work. I don’t think going to court will help Airhiavbere, the problem is the people of Edo State. Even if he wins the court case which he cannot, can he convince the people of Edo State? The answer is no.
Drums have started beating for the 2015 presidency. As a South South leader, will you support Jonathan for a second term?
I will not say any thing until he comes out to declare his intention. If he decides to come out and inform us, we will work for him if he considers us relevant. But before he dcides to run for second term, he should please his people at home. Those who supported him before, he should pacify them, especially in Delta State where I come from. He should please the people of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo, because there are lots of infrastructure wasting in the region. Lots of projects such as the East West Road have been abandoned.
And my advice for him in this new year is that he must unite Nigerians, create jobs for the youths, ensure cordial relationship with the National Assembly. He must ensure that the judiciary is truly independent and he should abstain from any decision that will go contrary to the genuine wish of the people of Nigeria. He should spend money judiciously. He must ensure steady power supply. I have also noticed that employment into local governments under his administration has been marred with irregularities.
Those who don’t have connection don’t get the jobs and it is not good for his name. He should look into that, he should remember that it was Nigerians that voted him into office and not his PDP members. Again, he should reduce the cost of governance, how can lawmakers be earning millions every month; when I was there, my salary was N5,000 a month. Why are our lawmakers stealing every day, taking all the contracts available because they are party leaders? Local governments should be made autonomous, let their elections be done by INEC, not the state governments.