By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Madam Annkio Briggs is an environmental activist from the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. She is a federal government delegate and member, Committee on Devolution of Power in the ongoing national conference in Abuja. In this interview, she told Saturday Vanguard that Niger-Delta people will never accept a reduction from the current 13 percent derivation on oil resources, submitting that they are craving for more. Excerpts:
How would you assess your committee work so far?
Our work is not easy because of the terms of reference, the type of work we have to do in our committee. It is where the real issues are: the fiscal federalism, resource ownership, derivation, sharing formula. These are the things that we are discussing. These are the things that the north talks about, the things that the south talks about. So, it is hectic.
It does appear that you have not really reached any agreement on any major issue?
Well, these are very controversial issues and the people sitting around the table discussing them are Nigerians but from different parts of Nigeria. We have different passions for the region that we come from and we want different things. The north thinks that the south south, for instance, is getting too much and of course, the south south thinks that we are not getting enough because we want 100 percent resource ownership. We want to take our resources back because the federal government took our resources from us.
The 1999 constitution has seen to that where all the resources of gas and oil found in the Niger-Delta mainly is what this country is using to sustain itself though there are different resources: solid minerals and all that in other parts of Nigeria that are yet to be explored and exploited. So, we have discussed along those lines. We have called on the federal government on, for instance, the issue of item 39 in the constitution which refers to the minerals, oil and gas, solid and all that.
Though we couldn’t get that item into the concurrent list, we have suggested and have agreed that the states that own the resources should be involved in the activities of the exploration and the exploitation of those resources that are in their states. That means that in the not too distant future, when the other resources from other parts of the country will begin to be exploited in the north and in so many other places, the states that own those resources will be involved in the decisions that need to be made to explore and exploit them.
So, the states will have first choices. The states should be involved, the states should be able to bring in partners that will partner with them on their own share of the involvement to explore and exploit.For over 30 years going to 50, we didn’t have and still don’t have those opportunities and yet we are fighting for other states that will exploit their resources in the future. That’s one aspect of it.
Then we also went further to compel the federal government to create funds that they will use to explore and exploit. So, we haven’t just said that they should do something about exploring the resources in other states, we want to commit them to do so. We want to compel the federal government to do so. Even though we have not been able to get item 39 out into the concurrent list, I want to believe that when what we have done goes to plenary, that people will see the sense in it and support it.
Then it will become law while we also hope that out of this conference, we will be able to get a new constitution. If we do, then it will be written into the new constitution. But the important and critical thing is that the states should be able to have access to their resources and have a right to explore them. Now, some people have assumed; I have been asked for instance that you people have reached consensus on resource control, but no, we not have reached consensus on resource control.
Now, on the heels of these issues came the demand from the north that there should be a reduction of the current 13 percent derivation to 5 percent. How do you take that?
Well, that statement is in the document that circulated last week or so at the conference where the north has a document for its delegates in the conference and the map of Nigeria was on front of that document, the north is claiming to own 80 percent land mass of Nigeria and the south west, south east and south south are in 20 percent of the land mass. They also said northern Nigeria is the back bone and strength of Nigeria.
When I looked at it, I laughed and I said, if we produce 90 something percent of the wealth of Nigeria and the north will call itself the strength and backbone of Nigeria, then we that are producing 98 percent of what is sustaining Nigeria, what should we call ourselves? Therefore, that document that says between 0 to 5 percent is just something they have said. But it can never be reduced from 13 percent.
We are definitely going to expect more. Don’t forget that we have demanded for 100 percent resource ownership so that we can pay tax to the federal government. I do not believe that we have agreed to move away from that position. Now, all of us even at plenary have stated that we have been asked to look for 100 percent resource ownership and pay tax to the federal government. So, I know that Niger-Delta people will never accept a reduction on the 13 percent. We all know too definitely that we will not accept the status quo to remain.
We will not leave the conference agreeing to that. That is to say that we will walk away with nothing less than 13 percent. And I think that every reasonable person in Nigeria whether you are from the north or south also knows that we are not going to walk away from there with 13 percent. There must be an increase and that increase must be at a percentage that is going to be acceptable to the Niger-Delta people.
Before the conference began, there was a presidential order of no- go areas. In your own reckoning so far, would say that there are places the conference has not touched?
There is only one place that the president said should not take place at the conference. You can’t come in and say I want to break away from Nigeria.That is what we were told but apart from that, we are allowed to go into any direction, into any area that we want. But then, that is not too much of a hardship because I genuinely believe that majority of Nigerians will not want Nigeria to break up.
When people say that, it is out of frustration and anger. It is hitting your head against a brick wall in certain instances. Like when you look at the issue of resource ownership, when you look at the argument that the Niger-Delta people are getting too much and then if you compare the sacrifice that the Niger-Delta region has made and is continuing to make, we don’t have any hope of being able to feed ourselves, to farm.
Our means of livelihood is been ripped away from us. The pollution we suffer, the degradation in the Niger-Delta is the worst seen anywhere in the world. So when you look at all of those things and you hear people say we are getting too much, my reaction is “leave the oil where it is. Leave the gas. Don’t explore so that we can have a chance to recover. Go and do something else. So, there is no no-go area as afar as I am concerned because we are not going there to break up Nigeria.
So, should we expect a new Nigeria after the conference?
That is the hope. But then, you really cannot predict what a new Nigeria would be until we go back to the plenary, until we know what we are willing to live with and what we are willing to live without.
As a mother, can you share your feelings on the abduction of Chibok girls who have been away for about three weeks now?
I have four children and by the grace of God, they have all, at some point, taken their WAEC exams. I know the ages of my children when they took their exams. They were like about 16 years. But for people who may not have started school the age of 5 or something, if you started school at the age of 8 or 10, maybe you are 18 or something like that. But whatever the age, if even it is 16, to me, I knew what my children looked like at the age of 16. Even at the age of 16, I couldn’t let them out of my sight without knowing where they were per time.
So, as a mother, I don’t think that any mother will do any less knowing that girls who were at that age of 15 and 16, while they were in bed, in their pajamas, night gowns, that men came in and began taking them away from about 9 pm. And this went down till about 3am. Of course, the parents will be highly traumatized. If you are looking for your child, if a child is dead, God forbids, at least, there is a finality about it.
Then you can sit down and mourn that child in one spot. But if the child is missing, it is traumatic. I am in no way or position to say that these children were not taken as being speculated. So, I join everybody in saying that we want these children back in Nigeria from wherever they have been taken t