BY Festus Ahon
Dr Akpo Mudiaga-Odje is a human rights activist and a constitutional lawyer. In this interview, he speaks on the raging issue of resource allocation to the Niger Delta region, the inclinations of the President towards the region and the permutations of a second term for President Jonathan. Excerpts:
It’s been over eight months now since Goodluck Jonathan assumed the leadership of this country as President, are you satisfied with the pace of development in the Niger Delta region?
Indeed I wouldn’t use the word satisfied even though we are encouraged by some of his policies towards the Niger Delta. But we want to see a very significant spate of development in the Niger Delta. We want to see an extensive development of the Niger Delta. If the President happens to come from that area, it doesn’t necessarily mean he should be partisan in dispensing public resources.
God has already given us that edge economically by putting the resources that can sustain this nation within the territory of the Niger Delta. So I see no reason why government will not comply with the 30% derivation and give room for infrastructural development for our people.
My belief was that the late President, Umaru Musa, may his soul rest in peace, did very well by setting up the Ministry of the Niger Delta. Now we are expecting the ministry in collaboration with other Niger Delta agencies to now harmonize and significantly develop this region which has suffered for over 50years of oil exploration and even despoliation.
Today one of your sons is the President of this country but then not much work is being done on the East/West road?
That thing beats our imagination hollow; that with the resources we have, and indeed with the contribution we make everyday to this nation, the Nigeria state cannot concede to allow us develop, just to create a road, East-West road to link us to civilization, it pains me.
I want to use this opportunity to call on the President that he should triple his effort not double it to ensure that, that road is completed so that he could liberate the people of the Niger Delta from backwardness and the state of poverty. Indeed, East West road, is just a minute aspect of the problem; the development of the region is in the master plan, that is the real challenge and we believe that he should do this with pragmatic speed to enable us have a sense of belonging in this nation.
Some Northerners are of the view that the 13% oil derivation should be reduced. What is your reaction to it?
No state in the Niger Delta has ever received 13% derivation: quote me. Since May 29, 1999 till date, no state of the Niger Delta has received a full 13% derivation. From June 1, 1999 to September, 2004, President Olusegun Obasanjo was paying 13% derivation, but left offshore. So for Delta State which has 75% onshore and 25% offshore, Obasanjo was only paying 13% of 75% onshore.
In September 2004, Obasanjo created the Excess Crude oil Account into which he paid the excess money above the bench mark of the budget.
For example, the budget now is based on $72 and it is now $111. The $39 excess times 2.46 million barrels is being paid into what they called Sovereign Wealth Fund or the so called the Excess Crude oil Account. $72 times 2.456 million barrels is now being paid into the account for 13% derivation so what we get is 13% of $72 and not 13% of $111, the actual price in the international market. So how could you say now that we are receiving 13%.
In other words, we are receiving less than 10%. And you are telling us that you want to further reduce the derivation. Government should not even waste its time in listening to such agitation. As we speak now, no state from May 1999 till date has ever received 13% derivation in full because of the manipulation of government towards appropriation, the resources of the people of the Niger Delta.
And again, remember our leader at the bar and one of the finest lawyers of our time, Femi Falana drew attention to the fact again that government receives money paid for the crude oil in dollars but they pay the money to us in naira; further reducing 10% percent again to about 8%. You can see what I mean. This is exactly the voodoo and policy of government that have manipulated against the people of the Niger Delta for over 50 years.
So what is your view on the Excess Crude Oil as a legal Practitioner?
It goes without saying it is unconstitutional. There is no where in the constitution where that word is mentioned. If there is, I beg someone to tell me in my little knowledge. There is no where like that. Section 162 says pay all revenue into the federation account. So it is an aberration.
Do you support another term for President Goodluck Jonathan?
There is no question about this. He has the right to do so. The question that may arise is the nature of the tenure, whether it will go beyond eight or nine years as the case may be. He has the right to go for two terms and if we go by the Supreme Court judgment, it means he will spend eight years.
Even if he wins the election if he contests, he will spend eight years because the constitution does not envisage him to get more than what he actually intended to get. So if you look at the judgment that sacked the five governors at the Supreme Court and you apply it, he is entitled to eight years and nothing more. So he is entitled to have a second term if the people desire to vote him.