Ogoni: what after the abrogation of the oil dichotomy bill?
There are a whole lot of misconceptions, sometimes elevated as truth, but when you probe into these issues deeply you’ll discover they are not the truth. That’s the way I see this Bill that President Obasanjo recently signed into law. People seem to believe that this Bill abolishes the onshore/offshore dichotomy. I don’’t think so. What they have done is that they have taken the depth of the sea bed as a criterion. If your coastline is very deep, it belongs to the Federal Government, if it is shallow, then it belongs to the state and the state can therefore get something from that. But if your state is unfortunate and has a sharp coastline, the state gets less.
It is different from the arrangement put in place by military decree which stipulated that for the purposes of sharing offshore/onshore revenue, a certain percentage went to the states in view of derivation principle. It was that military arrangement that President Olusegun Obasanjo was not comfortable with that made him take the matter to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said the offshore belongs to the Federal Government. People rose against that decision and Obasanjo now began to talk about a political solution which resulted in the recent development. What I am saying is that this might bring to the region a little more than before, but it does not address the problem of the Niger Delta.
I’ll address another misconception. There is this feeling that the 1999 13% arrangement meant increased revenue to the Niger Delta. It’s not necessarily so. 13 per cent must have heralded increased revenue to the state governments but not to the Niger Delta people. Before 1999, the position was 10% to be shared among states on the basis of derivation. Then, 3% was for OMPADEC for the development of oil producing communities. The reason given for the OMPADEC’s 3% then was that, there was the feeling then that the money that goes to the state does not get to the actual communities that harbour oil. OMPADEC was to be the direct channel to such communities.
In 1999, they now merged OMPADEC’s 3% with the 10% that went to the state and arrived at 13%. The states now got more and the communities got zero. This was part of the reason the agitation for resource control increased. It is against this background that I am of the view that the law cannot change the lifestyle or expectations of the people because even the NDDC is not getting the 3% but that would have been something if they were getting it.
There is yet another misconception which is that a lot has been done to solve the problems of the Niger Delta but it is not true. I’ll give you an example. Sometimes, oil companies build roads to link their oil wells to their flow stations. I don’t see that as developing the community. How many members of the community use such roads? And what is the priority of that particular community? So, that particular community might not be excited over such roads. And sometimes such roads become a source of conflict to such communities which ultimately impoverish the people further.
You find two problems in the Niger Delta and these two problems are always treated as one but that shouldn’t be. The first one is the problem of the Niger Delta and its terrain and because of years of neglect, you require to do something more to lift the standard to meet with other parts of the country. This problem was even recognised before independence (through the findings of the Willikins Report). That was ever before oil was discovered in the area.
The second problem is oil- the hazards of oil pollution and dislocation of the eco-system by oil itself. Most times, they treat the issue as if it is the same. It is not. There are parts of the Niger Delta that are quite devastated because of oil pollution. We need to understand that there is a political Niger Delta and a geographical Niger Delta and both have different problems. Wherever you now find oil you treat it as Niger Delta. It is not necessarily so. They have different terrains.
When you treat two problems as if they are one, you can’t solve same. You have to deal with each of the issues differently. There is nothing wrong in setting in a place different initiatives for different problems.
The increased revenue in my view should be spent in such a way as to reflect its impact at the local government level. There must be need for a proportion of whatever resources are available at all levels of government to be directed at the local level –– the actual communities.
If you observe, you’ll discover that when funds are released from the federal level, there is a trickle down until it disappears just before it gets to the grassroots. From the federal to the state and from state to the local government councils and then it disappears and nothing gets to the communities.
We should look at ways of making the local communities the centre of development and activities. The communities themselves should be able to decide what their priorities are. Having thus decided, they can now ask for funds to execute such projects. Both the local, state and federal governments at each level should then give such communities such funds that are needed. The local community knows what it needs, it should develop itself and ask for funds from government. You create jobs at the community level this way.
By Emma Amaize, Kingsley Omonobi, John Ighodaro, Osaro
Okhomina & Simon Ebegbulem
Friday, February 27, 2004 - Vanguard