By Jimitota Onoyume
The controversy generated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s remark that oil in the Niger Delta belongs to Nigeria and not the region seems unending as Niger Delta activists said the ex-President’s children and kinsmen should call him to order.
They also urged Obasanjo to identify the particular treaty that gave ownership of natural resources to the Federal Government.
Elder statesman and Ijaw leader, Chief EK Clark, had accused Obasanjo of displaying hatred against the people of Niger Delta during a peace and security meeting convened by the Global Peace Foundation and Vision Africa in Abuja.
The allegations were contained in his recent letter to Obasanjo, titled: “Outburst Against The People of Niger Delta Region.”
However, the former President, in his reply last Tuesday, said it was wrong and unconstitutional for Clark or the people of Niger Delta to lay claim to crude oil or any mineral resources found in their area.
“No territory in Nigeria including the minerals found therein, belongs to the area of location and this remains so until the federation is dissolved,” he said.
But disagreeing with him in separate interviews, activists of Niger Delta extraction queried the intent behind such a remark, saying Obasanjo’s kinsmen and children should call him to order.
According to the spokesman for Niger Delta Rights Advocate, Darlington Nwauju,” the statutes or constitution support the stand of former President Obasanjo. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) gives government exclusive rights over the resources in the Niger Delta region. However, this does not make it right because of the time-tested principle of “he that owns the land, owns everything on that land.
“It is also true that before the military struck in 1967, the revenue sharing formula for groundnut, cocoa, cotton and palm oil was 50 per cent.
“It is wrong for Obasanjo to still believe that we should continue to live with what the military foisted on us.
“Regrettably, bad governance by regional leaders and the elite has rubbished any argument to demand greater resources for the people of the region.
“The bastardization of the region’s foremost interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is a sad case in point.”
Also, Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition, Zik Gbemre, said:”I am highly disappointed in Obasanjo. If he has nothing to say in his struggle to remain relevant, he should remain silent. He is desperate to be heard all the time.
“I have always defended the federal government of Nigeria as a nation, but for a former President who has ruled this country multiple times to make such a reckless statement, it means there is something wrong with black Africans.
“Tribalism has blinded black African leaders from seeing things the way they are. The oil and gas deposits in the Niger Delta belong to Niger Delta people. God put such resources underneath for the people. They own it all.
“An Urhobo man cannot say we own the land in Abeokuta where Obasanjo comes from. If the oil and gas today in the southern minority states were to be in the lands of the tribal majors, the story won’t be the way it is today.
“Because we are minorities in the Niger Delta, everything is forced on us. The constitution Obasanjo referred to was forced on the ethnic minorities by the tribal majors. It wasn’t on mutual consent. Obasanjo must be very ignorant to refer to such a constitution. I am highly disappointed in him.
“Obasanjo is above 80. At his age, what does he want that he has to be economical with the truth?
“Why can’t he for once be truthful? If Obasanjo has personal scores to settle with Chief Clark, he should reconcile with him quietly. He should not play on the collective conscience of the Niger Delta people to settle petty personal quarrels.
“If the oil and gas in the Niger Delta belong to federal government, why are the operating oil companies seeking freedom to operate from host communities? Why is government paying 13 Percent Derivation?
“It is high time Obasanjo’s children and kinsmen called him to order. One thing, Obasanjo said so because we are not practising true federalism in this country.’’
Chairman Board of Trustees of Centre of Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, Mr Cleric Alaowei, argued that provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which were domesticated in Nigeria, did not vest ownership of natural resources in the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Obasanjo’s reply to Chief E. K. Clark’s letter is unnecessary. The former President relied on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“For us in the Niger Delta, the military decree did not reflect the will of the people. A constitution is supposed to be the reflection of the people’s will but that is not the case with the 1999 Constitution.
“That is the reason people are agitating for the constitution review. Of course, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo should have known better.
“He should have informed the world that his National Political Reforms Committee, NPC, and the 2014 National Conference approved 18 per cent derivation for oil-producing states.
“If the ownership of the natural resources belongs to the central government as erroneously provided by the military, the constitutional conferences from 2005 to date would not have resolved to increase the derivation in the Constitution to address the yearnings of the Niger Delta people.”
“There is a consensus that the natural resources belong to the people whose lands produce them. Obasanjo also relied on international treaties to support his constitutional claim of ownership of natural resources. I stand to be corrected. The provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which was domesticated in Nigeria did not vest ownership of natural resources in the Federal Government of Nigeria. “
“That treaty clearly provided that ownership of natural resources belongs to the people where they are found. Obasanjo should tell us the particular treaty that gives ownership of natural resources to the federal government.”
The Manager, Urhobo Historical Society Headquarters, Mr Ogheneochuko Arodovwe , said:
“It was quite impressive that nature conspired to have the two elder statesmen “quarrel” in public. The two elders traced their management of the affairs of Nigeria to when they first met 46 years ago in Gowon’s government, in 1975.
Nigeria purports to be a federation but in her actions, she is everything but none. The country has continued as a unitary state in line with Aguiyi Ironsi Decree 34 of 1966. This same clause has been disguised and sneaked into Section 44:6 of the 1999 Constitution while the leaders carry about with the toga of a “Federal Republic. I was appalled by the instance cited by Chief Obasanjo in the event of oil being discovered on his Ota Farm in future.
Roughly 25 countries are operating federal constitutions in the world. They include some of the largest and most complex democracies – India, the US, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, Russia, Canada, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Austria, Australia and others. Obasanjo should have mentioned one of them that hijacked the resources of its federating units, siphons them, drops them on the laps of the Commander-in-Chief, and then shares the booties as bonanza to those around the corridors of power as does Nigeria.
The fact that he could so defiantly use his Ota Farm as an example, shows how ignorant our supposed leaders and elders are.
“The Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, Ogoni, Kalabari, Efik, Ibibio among others are the owners of the oil. The term Niger Delta is nebulous and imprecise and has been used as an instrument of deception both by outsiders and their accomplices from within to loot the region dry and do much harm to the people.
“The story of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is just one of such instances.”