By Dele Sobowale
“For every folly of their princes, the Greeks feel the lash.” Horace, 65-8 BC.
Soon, for the current folly of their governors, Niger Deltans might feel lashes of hunger and deprivation – if care is not taken. This is not a partisan matter. Governors of APC, Labour Party and PDP are implicated.
I pray that, one day, indigenes of the oil producing Niger Delta states will not open their newspapers, or go online, to read an article with the heading above. Collectively and individually, the governors of the oil producing states in the Niger Delta are, deliberately, or inadvertently, working to give back all the gains which former Governor Victor Attah single-handedly made by fighting for Resource Control during his tenure of office. It was Attah who made it possible for thirteen per cent derivation, without recourse to onshore/offshore dichotomy, to be applied.
Granted, his state, Akwa Ibom, had been the greatest beneficiary of the political solutions worked out at the time. But, every single oil producing state in Nigeria today owes Attah a monument for the incremental billions of naira which had flowed into their treasuries since 2004. But, like all inheritors of great wealth, almost without exception, the governors of the Niger Delta had been spending, and some had been squandering, the wealth flowing into their coffers without thought to sustainability or replenishment. Jets have been bought; palatial governors’ mansions had been built as if the wealth was perpetually assured. By assuming that 13% derivation is secured, they are making the same mistake which Attah himself made in 1999 – before reality, which is the greatest enemy of illusions, woke him up with a rude shock.
In Attah’s inaugural address, on May 29, 1999, to the people of Akwa Ibom, titled COME LET US BUILD TOGETHER, he announced, with confidence, as follows.
“The onshore/offshore oil dichotomy issue has been constitutionally resolved by the 1994/95 Constitution. OMPADEC has been retained and is expected to be community based for effective participation of the affected communities. Besides, the revenue sharing formula, which I helped to fashion out, at the national Conference, though not meeting our target of 30 per cent derivation, promises to place more money at the disposal of the state administrators.” And for a while it seemed as if Attah was on sure grounds.
Then the unexpected happened. Details of what occurred will be provided in a book soon to be released on the eight years of Attah as governor. Suffice to say that the unexpected was a suit by the Federal Government of Nigeria against the states wanting the Supreme Court to determine the outward boundary of littoral states – including Akwa Ibom. The Supreme Court judgment stripped Akwa Ibom of most of its right to derivation from oil wells on its shores. Suddenly the State was gasping for breath. It was down on its knees and was saved from going flat on its back by the political solution which gave the oil producing states thirteen per cent derivation – without offshore/onshore dichotomy. It was that victory which made it possible for Akwa Ibom to become the first state in the Niger Delta to have N1 trillion to spend in 2007-2011 alone. That was about five times what Attah had to spend in the previous eight years.
Why am I focusing on Akwa Ibom more than any other state in the Niger Delta? The answer is simple; it is also the most vulnerable to any future changes in the allocation formula because virtually all the oil in its territory is situated offshore. And right now a thunderstorm is building up which threatens to bring a halt to all the big money the oil producing states are receiving. Akwa Ibom State will receive next to nothing. But, before the explaining the nature of the gathering tempest in the Niger Delta, let me point to a previous evidence that the governors of Niger Delta had been mostly derelict in their duties to their people with regard to the sustainability of revenues. Let me repeat; this is not a partisan matter. Millions of people are at risk and they will not “give a damn” which political party got them into a jam.
Back in 2008/9 when the first Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB I, was first presented, it was clear that the biggest beneficiaries of the bill would be Niger Delta people. The “North” was generally opposed to it and the South West was mostly indifferent. So, the contest, regarding PIB I, was between the Niger Delta and the North. While the North took up the challenge and fought PIB I with everything they had, mostly their numbers in the National Assembly, the Niger Delta left the battle to the Presidency, the Ministry of Petroleum and the International Oil Companies. I was also involved and I knew the bill would fail. Even, when President Jonathan went on a State visit to Turkey in February 2011 and promised the Turkish Head of State that he would sign the PIB before May 2011, I wrote on these pages that it would not happen. There was only one reason for my certainty – all the governments of the Niger Delta abandoned the fight that would have benefited their people for ages.
PIB I went down in defeat in 2011. PIB II had been with the NASS for almost two and a half years. And, it is still bottled up in committees of the NASS. Meanwhile, none of the governors of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, or Ondo States has anybody following the progress of the bill. Collectively, they have ignored it. I had talked to an influential indigene of the Niger Delta urging him to call the governors to act in concert to save PIB II – to no avail. Last week, one of my colleagues called one of the governors hoping to get them to cooperate and work in the interest of the entire people of the Niger Delta. The answer my colleague received was as shocking as it was revealing of why the Niger Delta states might soon find themselves gasping for breath once again. The governor would not work with another governor because they are “political enemies”. Are the people political enemies also?
The 13% derivation, for which Attah fought gallantly, and secured, might disappear and for such incredible and selfish political and personal reasons. The governors Niger Deltans had elected in 2011 are letting them down disgracefully. Fortunately there is still a way out on PIB II. It does not require much money to salvage the situation. Even one governor, or concerned indigene, can fund it. I know that better than anyone.
But, if they fail on that one, the people should start to take cover. The worst is about to happen…Where, for God sake, is another Attah? There must be one there somewhere….