By Tony Eluemunor
National restructuring, in various hues, has remained the nation’s favourite topic of discussion in 2017. The various geo-political zones have been meeting and churning out communiqués in support of restructuring- termed fiscal federalism or power devolution, etc.
In fact as this article was being proofread on Thursday August 3, 2017, the “leaders” of the South-South geo-political zone, were in Aso Rock Presidential Villa to deliberate with Acting-President Yemi Osinbajo on national restructuring. Yet, if we could pan back to full 17 years ago, yes to year 2000, when this Republic was all of 10 months old, Asaba played host to Niger Delta Governors and national and state assemblies’ legislators. They were invited by the then Governor of Delta State, His Excellency, Chief James Onanefe Ibori…to discuss the same thing that is today generally referred to as national restructuring.
Why did Ibori convene that meeting that early in this Republic? In the Welcome Address “titled WE MUST NOT FAIL OUR PEOPLE”, Ibori provided the answer: “As political leaders of the people of the South-South zone, given the sad and long history of our marginalization, we should see and treat our various offices as held in sacred trust with corresponding obligations imposed by our conscience and oath of office to work for the redemption of the region from selfish exploitation of any form and colour, as well as our people from injustice, in whatever form it may be expressed. We must speak, when we must, and must act, when it is desirable, in the overriding interest of our states and the nation.
“This meeting thereof provides us with the unique opportunity to deliberate on several issues, which bother our people in their struggle for resource control. The solution to them will assist us to define not only the future and fortunes of the zone for the benefit of our peoples and the nation at large but also our place in history as the key political players of the new democratic era”.
What really was at stake? As Ibori explained it in that speech: “I wish to highlight and articulate the position of the people and government of Delta State on some national and local issues, which have characterized our 10-month-old democracy. These include the topical issues of revenue allocation at it relates to the minimum 13 percent principle of derivation. Closely related to it, is the onshore and offshore dichotomy of natural gas and oil production, the land and environmental questions in our country and the equity of remedial institutions in the region”.
Resting his case on an authority as indisputable and unassailable as the National Constitution, Ibori argued that “The economic objectives of the 1999 Constitution are founded on the control of the national economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice, equality of status and opportunity.
“Towards this end, Section 162(1) of the 1999 Constitution established a “Federation Account” to which all revenues collected by the Federal Government are paid. Section 162(2) then enacts the principles of allocation which include population density, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass and terrain, subject to an overriding proviso which states in part: “Provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation account directly from any natural resource.”
“The Constitution has assigned a minimum of 13 percent of the revenue accruing from any natural resources to the Federation Account to the principle. This percentage is not Subject to any administrative or legislative change, except upward review of the percentage or through a Constitutional amendment.
“On the contrary and to the chagrin of the people and government of Delta State, the principle of derivation has been pegged at one percent under a revenue allocation formula different from the 1998 system since the 29th of May to date, leaving an outstanding balance of 12 percent each month of the 10 months in favor of the recipient states.
It is our strong view that we do not need any judicial oracle to tell us that this is a flagrant violation of the provision of the Sections 162(2) and 313 of the Constitution, which every key player in the new democracy swore to uphold.
That was Ibori’s clarion call to the people of Niger Delta to insist on their right. A battle had ensued and Ibori led it from the front. This courageous taking a frontal stance and stance on any matter he believes in is what actually defines Ibori.
The late American President, John F. Kennedy considered courage to be the first and the indispensable virtue; “with courage”, he said, “anything is possible; without it, nothing. Unlike love, which may be an emotion only, courage must manifest itself in action. Unless courage actually does something, and does it well, it is just bragging”.
There is no denying the fact that Ibori’s courage did something remarkable; it brought the issue of resource control and fiscal federalism as well as the need for national restructuring to the fore.
That other Nigerian leaders chose to play the ostrich until the idea of one Nigeria reached the point of being threatened is no fault of Ibori’s. Actually, it is an indisputable fact that he had warned; “Succeed we must. Failure will be disastrous not only to the aspirations of our peoples but the nation as well.” By then, the Fourth Republic was just 10 months old and the then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration was still mocking the oil producing states with the miserly figure of one per cent derivation principle payment.
But as Ibori pointed out in that speech, “Our call is justified even by the history of the principle of derivation, which is not a new factor in our fiscal federalism. In the 60s and early 70s the principle was fully recognized and in use. During the period the percentage weight of the principle was as high as 60 percent. Our nation was not less federal or poorer for it”.
Apart from issues of oil, Ibori also called for a real secular State “founded on the constitutional principle that the government of the Federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion”, Land Use Act review and the federalist principle that will allow each federating unit developing at its own pace, and real and full strength .
It is unfortunate that the national restructuring call Ibori made 17 years ago fell on deaf ears and/or were frustrated by the federal might in those intervening years. Today, an unconscionable blood-letting has enveloped the land as Fulani herdsmen and farmers, various settlersand indigenes clash in numerous locations while whole geo-political zones have threatened to quit the Federation and/or have been given a deadline to leave an other geo-political zones. Youths have picked up arms in defence of their zones and against their country Nigeria. Now, the South-East, South-West, North-Central and the Northern Governors Forum have all met on fiscal federalism. Even the ruling All Progressives Congress ruling party has also deliberated on it.
Unfortunately, now, all sorts of agitation that strain the nation’s unity are on simply because the controllers of the reins of federal power in those intervening 17 years did not understand what Ibori saw clearly in year 2000. Nigeria should not forget this salient fact; that Ibori who celebrated his 59th birthday on Friday, saw further than the other leaders, and was hated, vilified, lied against, hunted, plotted against and railroaded into jail simply because of his fiscal federalism stance on Niger Delta’s behalf – and an unheeded call for a now agreed upon national restructuring.
And Ibori issued a warning in that speech: Restructuring will “assist us to define not only the future and fortunes of the zone for the benefit of our peoples and the nation at large but also our place in history as the key political players of the new democratic era”. Instead of listening to him, the Presidential Villa and most other Government Houses since year 2000 denigrated both the message and the messenger. And Nigeria is the worse for it today!