BY Emma Amaize, Sam Oyadongha, Simon Ebegbulem, Emma Una, Egufe Yafugborhi, Tom Mose & Chioma Onuegbu
PROMINENT leaders and stakeholders in the South-South, yesterday, called on delegates from the region at the national conference to walk out on the next sitting if the confab was not ready to adapt to true federalism by allowing the regions to control their resources.
Reacting to Monday’s deadlock at the confab over derivation votes, they insisted that the North cannot dictate to the rest of the country and rejected the 18 per cent derivation being proposed for mineral producing areas.
The leaders also ruled out the suggestion of five per cent derivation for the reconstruction of states in the northern region ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts, saying it was a non-issue.
True fiscal federalism
They said that the way out of the logjam was true fiscal federalism and 50 per cent derivation to oil producing states, as practiced in pre-independence Nigeria.
They warned that South-South delegates, who compromise on derivation should contemplate returning to the region at the end of the confab.
The leaders, among them former Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Rowland Owie and Senator Francis Okpozo, who spoke to Vanguard in Benin City, Edo State, warned that peace may continue to elude the country unless the people of the Niger Delta were allowed to benefit from their God-given oil resouces.
Also, former national chairman of the Association of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, ATROMPCON, the paramount ruler of Siembiri Kingdom in Delta State, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu, said in Warri: “It is really disappointing that people went to the confab to turn the truth on its head.”
Senator Opkozo said: “I said it from the beginning that the areas that are controversial, such as revenue allocation and devolution of power, will bring crisis to the conference. Revenue allocation is a sensitive matter which all concerned must handle diligently. The issue is this: every government in this country, states, local government and the federal, depends on the revenue that comes from one area alone.
“Some areas were neglected in the colonial administration, at the time when the groundnut pyramid and others were in existence in the North, as the Federal Government did not tamper with the 50 per cent that was accruable to the groundnut and cocoa proceeds, but when the military took over and by the time revenue from oil was at the peak, revenue due to oil producing communities was drastically reduced to the detriment of oil producing communities in the South- South.
“The economic essentials of the area were also drastically reduced to the barest minimum. Animal farming was reduced because of oil pollutions, fish farming was drastically reduced and the other economic farm lands were devastated to the extent that the economic life of the people was nothing to write home about again.
“The 13 per cent was a mere gift to the people without considering the magnitude of the disaster caused by oil exploration. Even if the oil producing communities did not ask for the 50 per cent that was in vogue during cocoa production, the eye and focus of the non -oil producing areas continued to focus on further reduction of the 13 per cent to nothing. The result is that there is no meaningful attention by the Federal Government to develop the area.”
On his part, Senator Owie said: “The controversy is very unfortunate and I see it as another plot to continue with the marginalisation of the people of the South-South, who produce the oil. I do not think it will be wrong for the delegates to give the marginalised people of the South what they deserve and stop this bickering. The South-South has been of great assistance to the North. We have always supported their political interest, so they should not think we are fools.
“I do not see anything wrong if the people are even allowed to control their resources while they pay tax to the Federal Government. Let us practice true federalism so that all these problems will be a thing of the past.”
HRM Ayemi-Botu, said: “It is really disappointing that people went to the confab to turn the truth on its head. If the purpose of the gathering of the ethnic nationalities was to redefine the destiny of the nation, then, it is clear that the solution is true fiscal federalism, which the Niger-Delta has advocated over the years.”
Chairman, Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri Leaders Forum, Secretary, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, Mr. Edward Okpoko, said: “If you follow the trend at the confab right now, you will notice that the agitation for resource control is being championed by the South- South alone. There seems to be an unhealthy conspiracy against the South -South. I am really surprised that even the South- East and South-West are not showing enough commitment. They are just nonchalant.”