By Victor Attah
Of all the Issues that have threatened the stability of this country- religion, ethnicity – there has been none as virulent as oil. This threat has been potentiated by the manner in which this product has been administered and mismanaged.
The effect of this mismanagement has spelt doom for our economy and brought total discontent to the people of the Niger Delta. When militancy and the demand for resource control first started, the rest of the country accused the people of the region of wanting to secede.
But, as I have had occasion to state in the past, it was never the intention of the people of the region to secede. Rather our worry, which till today has not been adequately addressed, was, and remains, the fear that it is the rest of the country that has a hidden agenda toward our oil. The suspicion has been expressed that the rest of the country intends to exhaust the oil and gas in such an uncaring manner as has left the region environmentally devastated, and at the end of the day bid us good bye.
We have therefore sought guarantees that this will not happen but none has been offered. We have sought meaningful participation of the States and local communities in the oil industry and this has been stiffly resisted. What we have instead is a contrivance called Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
The 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended is very clear and states as follows: “Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall rest in the government of the Federation and shall be managed in such
manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”
Why is the National Assembly in such a hurry now to regulate the management of mineral oils only and not the other minerals with which Nigeria is so abundantly blessed?
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, Hon Uzoma Nkem Abomia, was reported as saying that the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) proposed by the Nigerian senate is skewed in a manner that would breed more troubles and restiveness in the Niger Delta region, instead of solution.
I have read such screaming headlines as: “Plateau to explore solid mineral”; “Ondo partners US firm on bitumen exploitation”; “PIB: Nigeria mulls 40% sale of new oil firms”.
There is also a determination to unbundle and completely reorganize NNPC. It has also been reported how “Experts make case for solid mineral policy”. The Hon. Minister for Solid Minerals, Dr Fayemi has been quoted as saying “There is nothing in any law in this country that prohibits States from being active participants in the development of minerals endowed in their States”.
The Hon Minister went on to say “However, the Federal Government must actively encourage States to play a part. If anyone imagines that simply because someone has license (he) can just enter and start operating without some level of engagement with the local authorities; it’s a misnomer. This is not the intention of our constitution. It is the residue of our authoritarian past that is still allowing people to feel that that is what exclusivity refers to.”
Why has this never been so with oil and in what way is the PIB expected to correct this anomaly?
With the industry in a flux and with heightened activity in the solid mineral sector there is a compelling demand for even handedness in the formulation of policies to govern all minerals, solid as well as oil.
The Petroleum Industry Bill therefore should wait and let this country make up its mind about how all minerals in, under or upon land or water in Nigeria are to be uniformly administered for the good of all.
Whatever else we do not do, in the long run, the aim must be to put the country back on the firm compass of true fiscal federalism. There can be no doubt that all these agitations for secession, renewed militarism and even maybe Boko Haram, have their roots in the fault lines of our distorted and fractured federalism.