The Northern governors and Oil R


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The Northern Governors and Oil Revenue




Mohammed Haruna 

The recent decision by the 19 governors of the Northern States, plus those of Ekiti and Osun from the South-West, to go to the Supreme Court asking it to declare the law abrogating the onshore/offshore dichotomy over oil revenue as illegal, has predictably generated intense media controversy. This controversial decision of the northern governors has come close on the heel of another controversial pronouncement by some of the governors that the next president must come from the North, based on an unwritten agreement within the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party that political power at the center shall rotate between North and South after every two consecutive terms.

President Olusegun Obasanjo and several southern politicians have since disavowed such an agreement. The president has said in effect he knows of no deal stopping the South-East and South-South from fielding presidential candidates. Some southern politicians have even gone one step ahead of the president by insisting that these two southern sub-regions must take their turns first before power returns to the North once again.

Some of these southern politicians have been somewhat disingenuous in pursuing their case. Chief Ayo Adebanjo, an Afenifere chieftain, for example, told New Age the other day that it was wrong to base power rotation on a North/South dichotomy because the country’s independence in 1960 was not based on such a dichotomy. Rather independence, he said, was achieved on the basis of the ethnic nationalities of the country. As such the South-East, he said, “should be given the opportunity first after which the South-South should have its turn”. (New Age, August 30, 2004).

Adebanjo’s position is somewhat disingenuous for at least three reasons. First the South-East and South-South are sub-regions, not ethnic nationalities. Second, it is not true that Nigeria got its independence on the basis of its ethnic nationalities. As Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, the radical historian from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, never tiers from pointing out, Nigerians fought for independence, not as Efiks, Nupes, Yorubas, Hausas, Igbos, Angas, etc, but as Nigerians who happened to be Efiks, Nupes, Yorubas, Hausas, Igbos and Angas etc.

Surely, Adebanjo, who fought for independence alongside Chief Obafemi Awolowo, could not have forgotten that Nigerians were at one with each other in their struggle for independence, whatever their tribe or religion, and only fell back on tribe and religion when it came to sharing the spoils of office after independence.

Surely also Adebanjo would remember that even in sharing the spoils of office after independence, region, and not religion or tribe, was the main basis. At that time Nigeria’s political units were three, and subsequently four, regions and not only-God-knows-many-number-of-tribes. These regions were North, East and West, and subsequently Mid-West.

Not only was Adebanjo wrong to say that Nigeria achieved its independence on the basis of its ethnic nationalities, he was also wrong to assume that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party will continue to rule beyond 2007. Adebanjo is clearly not alone in making this assumption. In this he was in the good company of the northern governors in their clamour for power to return to the North.

That Adebanjo assumed that PDP will continue to rule beyond 2007 is clear from the fact that his party, the Alliance for Democracy, does not have a zoning arrangement similar to PDP’s, at least in the formal sense. In any case, the AD is not in a good enough shape to win the next presidential election. Its members and officials are therefore not in a position to dictate where the next president will come from even if they were to have a zoning formula similar to PDP’s.

As for the northern governors, they must surely be aware that though PDP rules the roost at present, it is certainly not the only party in the country. They also know that the division within the party, especially the well known rift between the president and his deputy, may lead to the collapse of the party ahead of the next presidential elections.

Because Nigeria did not get its independence on the basis of its ethnic groups and because the country, at least in principle, is not yet a one-party state, it should be obvious to all that the zoning controversy is a waste of time. In any case, zoning, it bears repeating again and again, is anti-democratic.

For these reasons alone, it was unwise of the northern governors to have started the controversy. However, as if this gratuitous stirring of the hornet’s nest was not foolish enough, the governors have now provoked an even stronger controversy by leading the charge for overturning the law abrogating the onshore/offshore dichotomy in sharing oil revenue. There are political analysts who do not think the Northern governors’ latest political move is foolish. Writing in Daily Trust last Thursday, for example, Ujudud Sheriff, a columnist with the paper, said the governors’ action was correct and brave. He warned them to expect the most malicious attacks for their bravery and to develop thick skins if they hope to be victorious in the end.

These attacks have since started. Last Sunday, for example, Senator P.O. Ani, the self-styled National Coordinator of a nondescript organization calling itself The 4th Force, took out a full page advert in the Sunday Vanguard to describe the action of the governors as a war against the Niger Delta. “The move by the northern governors to get  the Supreme Court to annul the Abrogation Act,” he said, “is the latest effort by the so-called majority to ensure the total annihilation of the minorities of the south-south.”

As if by sheer coincidence, Dele Sobowale in his Frankly Speaking column in the same edition of the paper, spoke in a similar vein. “Why, but why” he asked in apparent anger, “must politicians court trouble for little gain? Has the rising price of  crude anything to do with this madness, fuelled by greed?”

In the days to come, the northern governors should expect even more vicious attacks in the media, but I am not so sure, like Ujudud Sheriff, that they should brave the attacks and stay the course of their litigation. Or that they should even have started it, in the first place.

No doubt their position that the abrogation of the onshore/offshore dichotomy is unconstitutional has merit. Critics of the constitution may say the document itself is fundamentally flawed, but then it remains the supreme law of the land and, therefore, until it is amended, any law that contradicts any of its principles should be considered  illegal. This must have been why the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Federal Government in its litigation against the littoral states over the sharing of oil revenue, a litigation that was filed by the late Chief Bola Ige, as Attorney General of the Federation, and someone who no one can accuse of being against the primacy of the principle of derivation in our revenue sharing formula.

Clearly what President Obasanjo did in initiating the bill that abrogated this dichotomy and subsequently signing it into law was unconstitutional and a contempt of the Supreme Court. But it was a price he was apparently prepared to pay to break the back of the forces that wanted to impeach him and possibly remove him from office before the end of his first term. By promising to abrogate the dichotomy, and eventually keeping his word, he got the South-South to dissociate itself from the move.

The abrogation was not only unconstitutional and a slap on the face of the Supreme Court, it was also against international law and commonsense. Under international law a country, and not its constituents, is solely responsible for all activities in its Exclusive Economic Zone which is where most offshore oil drilling takes place. By the same token a nation’s armed forces, and not the militias of its nationalities, which are illegal in any case, are the defenders of its territorial integrity. Therefore while the people of the Niger Delta have every right to control onshore oil, consistent with the country’s unity and stability, they should not have a similar right to offshore oil. In any case offshore drilling does not cause the same environmental degradation and depravation of land and property that onshore drilling does.

All of which is to say that the litigation by the northern governors over the onshore/offshore dichotomy in the sharing of oil revenue has the merit that was very much lacking in their insistence that power must rotate back to the North, come 2007.

Even then I think it was not wise of them to have gone to court over the matter. Doing so to me was like trying to shut the gate after the horse had escaped from the stable. It is good to stand up for principle but it is better still to get your strategy and timing right. Because prevention is always better than cure, the time to have fought against the abrogation was when it was still a bill before the National Assembly. Having failed to prevent the abrogation, it should be obvious to the Northern governors that the cure they are seeking may cause more pain than the disease itself. They may get more revenue from the abrogation of the dichotomy, but this would not be worth the disruptions in the supply of oil and the instability in the country’s political-economy that such an abrogation may lead to. In addition, the governors can only succeed in unnecessarily alienating the people of the Niger Delta at a time they need all the support they can get for their objective, if not their method, of regaining political power for their region.

So instead of wasting time chasing the horse that has bolted from the stable, the northern governors are better advised to make the best of the horses that are still in the stable. They may be earning less revenue now than before the enactment of the law abrogating the dichotomy on sharing oil revenue, but they will still be earning enough to significantly reduce, if not end, the poverty of their subjects if only they would get their priorities right and spend what they have efficiently and transparently. They will also spend their time better attracting investments into their own mineral, agricultural and other resources instead of eyeing the resources outside their region.

In short the northern governors are better advised to withdraw their litigation against the abrogation of the onshore/offshore dichotomy for their own good, and possibly, for the good of the country.


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