By Comrade Ikpe Obong
The All Progressive Congress (APC) Committee on restructuring headed by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was set up in August 2017. It was meant to come out with the position of the APC on true federalism.
It will be recalled that the APC had promised the masses the Restructuring of Nigeria during its last electioneering campaign. The campaign promise hung on the neck of the party and the government of APC as an albatross following its lukewarm attitude towards the call for restructuring in the country and at a time a near total rejection of the idea of restructuring. It seemed therefore that it was in an attempt to remove this chain from its neck that warranted the formation of this committee especially as the election year was fast approaching.
The committee was saddled also with the responsibility of going through the past National Conferences with particular emphasis on the 2014 National Conference and to make its recommendations therefrom.
On Thursday 25th January 2018 the committee presented its report to the National Chairman of the Party, Chief John Odigie Oyegun with several recommendations. The recommendations included key issues like resource control, returning local governments to States, merger of States, State police, independent candidacy, minimum wage to be States matter, State court of appeal, citizenship, referendum, etc. They were variously captured under the subheads of delegation principle, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, independent candidacy, local government, revenue allocation, citizenship, judiciary, referendum and merger of States.
This report is pregnant with many issues and calls for a close look to avoid unpleasant surprises or possible hidden agenda being foisted on the people and States. It is a last minute or desperate attempt to panel beat the masses into seeing the APC government as one that is now ready to listen to the cries of the people courtesy of the approaching election. Such is the reason we must open our eyes wide enough to see well in order not to be hoodwinked.
We need to look more carefully on recommendations concerning mines and minerals, resource control and labour matters.
Under mines and minerals, it is recommended that all offshore oil shall remain absolutely vested in the government of the federation. It goes further to say that mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological and natural gas should be moved to concurrent list. The question is why raise the dichotomy between the onshore and offshore oil again. This matter has since been laid to rest and no one should resurrect it again under any guise.
It is important that we recall that it is because the dichotomy issue was sufficiently treated and resolved that there was no more dichotomy in onshore and offshore oil, that all efforts of various Nigerian governments were zeroed into only trying to raise the percentage of derivation from oil of the littoral States beyond 13%. One of the controversies of 2005 National Political Reform Conference set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo was the revenue sharing formula and not the onshore/offshore dichotomy which was a resolved matter. Even the National Conference of 2014 set up by President Goodluck Jonathan focused on raising the derivation beyond 13% and not on dichotomy.
The National Conference of 2014, under Devolution of Power recommended at item 39 that mines and all minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas should be retained in the exclusive legislative list provided that “(a) the governments of States where the mining activities take place shall be involved in matters relating thereto.” At this point it became clear that the Conference was enormously concerned that States must participate in those activities even when the item was under the exclusive list. The APC Committee was therefore expected to make it tidier by moving it to the concurrent legislative list. Unfortunately,the Party missed it completely by trying to reverse the hitherto accomplished progress by surreptitiously reintroducing the onshore/offshore oil dichotomy.
The point made from the foregoing is that it is a settled matter within Nigeria that oil found within the territorial waters of Nigeria belong not only to Nigeria but also its 8 littoral States. By taking only onshore oil and gas to the concurrent list as contained in the APC committee’s recommendations while leaving the offshore in the exclusive list amounts to revisiting the issue of seaward boundary and territorial waters. As long as Nigeria exercises its sovereignty over its territorial waters courtesy of its 8 littoral States, any oil found within the territorial waters of Nigeria belongs firstly to the 8 littoral States before it belongs to Nigeria.
Since Nigeria is defined by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) as a federation of States and a Federal Capital Territory it follows that it cannot derive its sovereignty in a vacuum but through the States. In this case Nigeria can only derive and exercise its sovereignty over its territorial waters only through the littoral States.
Consistent with the foregoing, the oil found in waters within the territory of Nigeria from which Nigeria exercises sovereignty over, certainly belongs to the littoral States. The APC committee’s recommendation should have transferred the matter of entire oil irrespective of location found to the concurrent list and not to transfer oil found within the seaward boundary of the State to concurrent list while leaving oil found beyond the seaward boundary in the exclusive list.
Now that the committee has submitted its report to the party with the ultimate intention of forwarding same to the National Assembly for due consideration, the attention of the National Assembly and the States is hereby drawn to this area and to note that: 1. The issue of oil dichotomy in Nigeria has been amicably resolved and laid to rest several years ago. 2. Every oil found in Nigerian waters irrespective of location belong to the contiguous littoral States without which Nigeria cannot exercise its sovereignty upon. 3. It is the belongingness of the littoral States to Nigeria that conveys legitimacy of exercising sovereignty over their territorial waters to Nigeria. Minus the littoral States, Nigeria would have nothing to do with the waters and would consequently derive no kobo from oil found there from. 4. The concern of the Nation had been on how to increase the minimum 13% derivation to the littoral States based on the entire oil found within the adjoining waters of those States. 5. Recommending that onshore oil should belong to the concurrent list while leaving offshore oil with the exclusive list is mischievous as it is grossly inconsistent with the prevailing extant resolve of the Nation that the case of oil dichotomy remains perpetually abolished in the country.
Accordingly, the National Assembly is called upon to respect and maintain the prevailing abolition of the onshore/offshore oil dichotomy and correspondingly transfer the matter of oil found anywhere within the territorial waters of the littoral States of Nigeria to the concurrent legislative list in the spirit of devolution of powers to States, in this case, the littoral States.
I leave the equally controversial recommendation on labour for another day
COMRADE IKPE OBONG, a trade unionist, is the immediate Past Secretary General of Nigeria Union of Teachers. He writes from UYO, AKWA IBOM STATE OF NIGERIA