Dayo Benson, political editor
Etubom Anthony Ani, former Minister of Finance during the regime of late General Sanni Abacha, is theÂ founderÂ of Peat, Marwick, Ani and Co, a firm of Chartered Accountants. In this interview, he spoke on the implication of exclusion of Cross River State from the list of oil producing states and how this may affect the relationship between the state and Akwa Ibom. Excerpts:
What is your response to Cross River Stateâ€™s loss of status as an oil-producing state?
The whole thing is very painful. Bakassi was part and parcel of Cross River State. When Bakassi was with us, we were a coastal state. But surreptitiously when Bakassi was ceded to Cameroon, we were said to be a non-littoral state. And it appears that we are neither here or there. And the question to ask is: Are we still Nigerians?
I think there are some problems. The Revenue Mobilization Allocation, and Fiscal Commission, (RMAFC) and the National Boundary Commission, (NBC) have come to involve themselves in the politics of Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. They must be very careful. Because in the case of Rivers State and Akwa Ibom, the NBC adopted the historical parameter. But coming to Cross River State they are using what is called the technical option in the demarcation of the border, specifically, the median, which means they have taken the 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State.
They should be very careful here because of its security implication. They should know that we are sharing boundary with Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe. If we donâ€™t take care, what we are doing now will be used against us in the future. Remember that was what counted for Cameroon in the case of Bakassi. And if we go on the issue of the demarcation of our nation boundaries using such bogus methods, and accept that now, it could be used against us. We should be very careful.
Secondly, Cross River State is a heterogeneous State. Akwa Ibom is homogenous. All the ethnic groups are here in Cross River State, especially Akwa Ibomites. Indeed a greater number of the population are Akwa Ibomites. If you go to places like Akpabuyo, Calabar South, Calabr Municipality, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Biase up to Yakurr Local Government Areas, Akwa Ibomites form about 45% of the population.
The population of Akwa Ibomites in the entire State is about 800,000. You donâ€™t have up to about 200,000 Cross Riverians in Akwa Ibom State. We have a situation where Akwa Ibom is receiving N16 billion every month, and we are receiving only N1 billion a month. If you check the enrollment of pupils and students in Schools and Colleges in Cross River State, Akwa Ibomites constitutes 60%. So we are using our meager resources to booster the people from Akwa Ibom .
If the situation persists, Cross River State may find it difficult to pay salaries, meet financial obligations and sustain its developmental programmes. In the process the security of the State may be compromised especially when people are unable to bear it any longer. The Federal Government must look into this matter very critically, especially the security aspect, to ensure that justice is done.
Why are the oil wells a fallout of the Bakassi issue?
Akwa Ibom never had any Onshore â€“ Offshore oil wells. The interesting thing is that the Supreme Court deprived Akwa Ibom of all the oil wells it had. It was the political solution which was backed by Cross River State that enabled Akwa Ibom to have any oil wells at all. We said the 200 wells which were off-shore should be credited to Akwa Ibom. Whether you call it political settlement or not, the 90 oil wells that were taken from Cross River State should be returned to it. We expect our governor to impress that on the Presidency.
How do you see the deplorable role played by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation, and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and National Boundary Commission (NBC) in the entire saga?
You know the chairman of the RMAFC thinks he is a tin god. I think he has been compromised to do the damage he has done. I understand he had earlier sent his Deputy, Gidado Idris to Cross River and Akwa Ibom States to ascertain the true situation as regards the oil wells. Idris went back with the report that those oil wells rightly belonged to Cross River State. The Chairman of the RMAFC, Alhaji Hamman Tukur has sat on that report and it has not seen the light of day till today. He is depriving Cross River of its rights. I think history will never forgive him. We have also been privileged to hold strategic positions in this country, and we have never made ourselves tin gods, or above the law.
What does this development portend for the relationship between Cross River and Akwa Ibom States?
Cross River and Akwa Ibom states are like Adam and Eve. Akwa Ibom was created out of Cross River State. We are the husbands, they are our wives. There is that mutuality between the two States. Nobody should come and put a wedge between us because of oil wells. Akwa Ibom State today receives the highest amount of revenue from the Federation Account. They receive about N17 billion a month. They should allow us stay with our N2 billion a month to carry out our developmental activities.
What is the role of the Cross River State Eldersâ€™ Forum in the resolution of the issue?
We, the Elders of Cross River State will meet with the Elders of Akwa Ibom State and talk these things out. Between us, we should find a political solution to the issue. As it is now, Governor Godswill Akpabio has been wrongly advised.
Some people are of the view that Cross River State should respond in a militant manner to this thorny issue. What do you advice?
That is not the solution. Militancy is not the solution. Taking to the streets is not the solution. I believe dialogue is the answer. After all, when Akwa Ibom was denied of any oil well by the Supreme Court decision, they got some of our oil wells through dialogue.
I donâ€™t believe in protest. Demonstration will not serve our cause. As a matter of fact, talking in Cross River State is not the solution. The solution is for our governor going to Abuja and other places to drum up this thing. The governor has been doing this. But ultimately, the solution lies with the President and the Vice President. With the way Cross River State has articulated its position, I have no doubt that the Presidency will discount with the deliberate injustice the Chairman of the RMAFC and NBC have meted to Cross River State.
It is a pity that the two Commissions took this step. I expected that they would do something better. Having been deprived of Bakassi, we are now been told that we are not a coastal State. But from time immemorial, we have been a coastal state. The Chairman of RMAFC should not make people believe that he has been compromised in the discharge of his duties. We lost our territory to Cameroon, and we are now been told that we are not coastal. It is a great injustice but there is no need for us to demonstrate. Let’s dialogue, and we will get there.
Are you as an elder satisfied with Governor Imokeâ€™s handling of this issue?
I believe that the governor himself has taken this matter appropriately. The Elders of Cross River State are satisfied. We have been briefed by the governor and we have given him the go ahead. And we have made suggestions as well. The Elders put their position in the media. But we will make out time and talk. We know ourselves. None of them fought for the creation of Akwa Ibom State. We fought for the State.
They didnâ€™t even want the State. Idongesit Nkanga, Don Etiebet, Godswill Akpabio were not there. Chief Omon and I gave them the â€œIbomâ€ name and choose colours for them. Even their colours we choose it for them. They got the State on a platter of gold, and now they are telling us that we are not an oil-producing State. We will know how to talk at the appropriate time. We know them very well.
Do you think this issue can degenerate?
I hope they will not push us to the wall. They are receiving well over N17 billion while we get only a paltry N1 billion. Out of this, we are taking care of over 800,000 Akwa Ibomites in Cross River. We may not be able to use our N1 billion to look after them. That is were the security aspect of it comes in. They should avoid it.
How do you see theÂ Supreme Court judgment that is at the root of this development?
The Supreme Court did not pass a judgment. They used the word â€œIfâ€. As at the time there was no demarcation of boundaries. It was something they said. There was no judgement. As I said earlier, we could go back to the Supreme Court to have the proper judgement. The boundaries they have done now is to deprive us our coastal status. Itâ€™s like we are stateless, we are not in Nigeria and we are not in Cameroon. So where are we? They should not take us for granted.
Is it fair that different indices should be applied in demarcating boundary issues between States with a similar geography?
There is no consistency at all. That is why I warned earlier that what they are doing now could be used against us in the future. They used historical aspect for Akwa Ibom and Rivers State, and the technical aspect, what is called the median for Cross River and Akwa Ibom states? If we apply the median rule between Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe in case of a boundary despite between Nigeria and these countries, a precedent would have been set that it should apply.
So this inconsistency, if not reversed, could affect the Nigerian nation in future. And there is really no reason for this inconsistency. Applying a different rule here and a different rule there. This is why they say, the Chairman of the RMAFC was compromised. It is wrong definitely. Am sure it would be resolved in our favour.
Assuming you were governor, how would you have responded to the challenge?
I will not pray to be in Imokeâ€™s shoes now. Having been Minister of Finance in this nation for four years, I know what am talking about. When there are no funds for you to pay the salaries of your staff, when there are no funds for you to embark on developmental projects, and other obligations, then you are heading towards a failed State.