The Arts

September 16, 2018

Unanswered questions from Obong Attah’s Resource Control discourse

Unanswered questions from Obong Attah’s Resource Control discourse

Book title:  Attah on Resource Control (Revised)

Editor: Dele Sobowale

Year of Revision: 2018

Reviewer: Udo  Ibuot

THIS is a 156 page publication by Obong (Arc) Victor Bassey Attah, former governor of Akwa Abasi Ibom State and chief apostle of the resource control movement. It is a revised version of the original book of essays which was first published by Obong Attah in 2004.

The work opens with a foreword by its editor, Dr. Dele Sobowale, who further explains the necessity for the second edition. It is divided into 19 parts, with Obong Attah’s papers, speeches and interviews with media agencies representing 13 of the parts, while Sobowale and a guest contributor added the other five parts.

The last segment of the work is entitled ‘Achievements’ and is dedicated to photographic representation of Obong Victor Attah’s development strides while in office as governor of Akwa Ibom State between 1999 and 2007.

It is instructive that the leading essay in the work entitled ‘Resource Control as Panacea for Sustainable Peace and Development of the Niger Delta in a Democratic System’ was delivered by Obong Attah in Bayelsa State at the 50th birthday anniversary of former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, on November 13, 2002. The late former governor Alamieyeseigha, often described as the ‘governor general of the Ijaw nation’ was a patriot and key supporter of the resource control movement.

In the essay, Obong Attah indicated that the controversial but later abrogated onshore-offshore dichotomy was not synonymous with resource control. He noted that even after the dichotomy would have been abrogated, the quest for control of resources would continue until all the states in the country were able to participate in the process of resource exploitation and revenue sharing.

Obong Attah’s summation was that the path to sustainable peace and development in the Niger Delta centred on economic empowerment of the youths and insisted that this could be achieved through resource control which depended on getting a fair share of the revenue sharing formula.

Obong Attah’s second major essay focused on the oil industry and environmental pollution. The paper was presented to the World Conference of Mayors at Ibom Hall, Uyo, on July 15, 2001 and captured the former governor’s regrets over effects of uncontrolled exploitation of crude oil and natural gas on the environment.

In particular, Obong Attah noted the fractious relationship between the host communities in Akwa Ibom and ExxonMobil which has refused to relocate its administrative headquarters from Lagos to its operational base in the state. He also observed that despite the degradation of the environment in oil producing communities, there were no sustainable and reliable policies on the part of the Federal Government to develop these areas.

Obong Attah also dwelt extensively on the resource control struggle which he explained essentially as a move to stop the plan by the Federal Government to deprive Akwa Ibom and other oil producing states of their rights. The Federal Government, apparently as an after thought, had sued the 36 states of the federation in its bid to reintroduce the onshore-offshore dichotomy in the sharing of oil revenue.  Obong Attah backgrounded the quest with provisions of the 1960, 1963 and 1979 constitutions as well as General Ibrahim Babangida’s Decree 106 of 1992 which amended the onshore-offshore enactment introduced by General Yakubu Gowon in November 1969.

He also produced extracts from deliberations at the 1995 Constitutional Conference which had rejected the principle of dichotomy in the sharing of the oil revenue and insisted that political solution was the solution to the problem, not litigation that was initiated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The former governor’s interview with Newswatch magazine had considerable display in the book. Though the date of the interview was not indicated, it took 22 pages, thereby serving as the longest and most interactive presentation in the entire work.  In the interview, Obong Attah not only explained the losses the state was made to experience but also his feelings on leadership assumptions in the country, his achievements in office as well as relationship with the former President.

One of the most touching essays in the book is Obong Attah’s discourse on the handing over of 86 oil wells belonging to Akwa Ibom to Rivers State.  In the discourse, he blamed the former President for arbitrarily seizing some oil wells east of Akwa Ibom and giving them to Cross River State and also ceding 172 oil wells to Rivers State.

He explained that he hired maritime experts from the United Kingdom and Norway to determine boundaries between the three states, a move that would have allowed Cross River State to access some wells based on historical ties, but that the former president rejected their findings. He also noted that his suggestion that the problem be resolved through the application of provisions of the United Nations Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, was equally rejected by Obasanjo.

The work ends with two interesting essays. The first, by a guest writer from the oil producing part of Imo State, Pastor Jeremiah Okoroji, JP, who described Obong Attah as the Moses of the resource control movement but asked a rhetorical question: when will Joshua, the successor to Moses in the Bible, come to lead the people of the oil producing areas to the Promised Land.

The last contribution, by Sobowale, entitled ‘economic gains of resource control’ focused in particular on earnings from derivation by two states – Rivers and Akwa Ibom – following the struggle for resource control by Obong Attah. He concluded that governors of the oil producing states were not only wasteful but were also not saving or investing for the rainy day. Sobowale argued that these governors were creating the false impression that they were ‘outperforming’ their predecessors.

It is incredible that Obong Victor Attah could tell the story of marginalization in revenue sharing to oil producing states so succinctly in such a short but compact book. The work reveals the leadership attributes and thought processes inherent in Obong Attah’s persona. His essays do not leave any room for ambiguities as he explicates his views with understanding. Though his struggle to actualize resource control in oil or mineral producing areas attracted sanctions from the Obasanjo presidency, the effort eventually produced a lifeline for greater revenues for the development of the oil producing states.

However, a number of issues derivable from Obong Attah’s work still beg for answers. In particular, it would be interesting to learn about the current status of the operations of oil prospecting firms proposed and reportedly set up by Niger Delta states governments during the era of Obong Attah and his contemporaries. Are these firms still prospecting for oil in the marginal fields? Have they moved to major fields, or have they folded up? Equally, how effective has the local content law helped in forestalling the importation by oil majors of products that are locally produced such as furniture, etc., and in the employment of nationals of the Niger Delta states? The book is recommended as a must read by every crusader for justice, equity and fairness in the country. Indeed, every politician, student of politics or history should be able to learn some lessons from Obong Attah’s strategies and principles enunciated in this work.