“We Must Not Fail Our People”; Ibori Looks Back, Tasks South-South Govs, Legislators, Elders & Leaders

On the 24th anniversary of the South-South Governors, Legislators and Leaders’ summit on March 31st, 2000 at Asaba, Delta state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori has tasked South-South leaders to be Apostles of fiscal federalism and sees it as an unfinished business. The theme of that first meeting; “We Must Not Fail Our People” is very poignant today as it was yesterday. He has reminded them that despite the mission which gained momentum on that Friday, 31st March 2000 and all the associated gains, much remains unaccomplished and new challenges have arisen.

In a press statement signed by Tony Eluemunor, Chief Ibori’s Media Assistant yesterday (30th March) Ibori, Delta state Governor 1997-2007, congratulated the South-South Governors, State legislators and National Assembly members on their elections. To Their Excellencies, beginning with Delta State’s Sheriff Oborevwori, Edo State’s Godwin Obaseki, Cross River State’s Bassey Otu, Akwa Ibom’s Umo Eno, Rivers’ Sim Fubara and Bayelsa’s Douyye Diri, Ibori said the batons from the three sets of Governors before them in this Fourth Republic are now firmly in their hands. This baton bestows on them huge responsibilities beyond infrastructure. The enthronement of true fiscal federalism is a higher calling for which they must respond and take charge, on behalf of, and for the benefit of their people.

He believes that ten months after inauguration, all the rancour, bitterness and disagreements occasioned by the politics of the last election are behind him. Ibori said: “From where I stand, the question is what’s the trajectory of the Niger Delta Region? We must pull together to answer that question to the benefit of Niger Deltans”. The concern for the well-being of the good people of the Niger Delta region prompted Ibori to convene that summit about a quarter of a century ago.

On that day, Ibori said in his welcome address: “As political leaders of the people of the South-South zone, given the sad and long history of our marginalisation, we should see and treat our various offices as held in sacred trust with corresponding obligations imposed by our conscience and oath of office to work for the redemption of the region from selfish exploitation of any form and colour, as well as our people from injustice, in whatever form it may be expressed. We must speak, when we must, and must act, when it is desirable, in the overriding interest of our states and the nation. Succeed we must. Failure will be disastrous not only to the aspirations of our peoples but the nation as well”.

The Asaba meeting was held exactly ten months into the Fourth Republic when the PDP Federal Government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a party Governor Ibori also belonged to, refused to activate the thirteen percent derivation principle. Instead, the Federal Government insisted on paying the one percent bequeathed to it by the outgone Military Administration. Also, the onshore and offshore dichotomy of oil and gas production was still being debated and the South-South was denied its divine right. So, Ibori argued in his welcome address: “Section 162(2) then enacts the principles of allocation which include population density, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass and terrain, subject to an overriding proviso which states in part: ‘Provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation account directly from any natural resource.

Unfortunately, this well-intended provision has been subjected to all manner of interpretations administrative manipulations and needless politicization to unjustly deny the States of the South-South zone their respective constitutional dues from the federation revenue”. He continued: “Your Excellencies and Distinguished Legislators, the people and government of Delta State are unequivocally unable to accept the view that the implementation of Section 162 (2) of the Constitution is a condition precedent to giving effect to the payment of the minimum 13 percent principle of derivation in the interim system of revenue allocation enshrined in section 313 of the Constitution for the allocation Federation Account until an Act of the National Assembly is passed.

The section states that as from the commencement of the Constitution on the 29th of May, 1999, the system of revenue allocation in existence for the financial year, beginning from 1st January, 1998 and ending 31st December, 1998, shall be the approved revenue allocation formula subject to the provisions of this Constitution. This percentage is not Subject to any administrative or legislative change, except upward review of the percentage or through a Constitutional amendment.

“On the contrary and to the chagrin of the people and government of Delta State, the principle of derivation has been pegged at one percent under a revenue allocation formula different from the 1998 system since the 29th of May to date, leaving an outstanding balance of 12 percent each month of the 10 months in favour of the recipient states.

“Our call is justified even by the history of the principle of derivation, which is not a new factor in our fiscal federalism. In the 60s and early 70s, the principle was fully recognized and in use.

During the period the percentage weight of the principle was as high as 60 percent. Our nation was not less federal or poorer for it.

“Your Excellencies and distinguished lawmakers, you will agree with me that the continued withholding of this allocation means the continuous denial of our people the right to development and poverty remediation”.

Ibori then attacked the onshore/offshore dichotomy of oil and gas production: “The time has come for us, of the South-South zone, to have a dream. A dream to translate our patriotism, energy, talents, democratic wits and indeed all that is in us to free our people from every legislative shackle which is not in the socio-economic interest and aspirations of our people. We must speak and must act. The dichotomy between onshore and offshore oil and gas deposits is artificial and not in the best interest of our people. It is artificial because it is unnatural and not unconnected with the expropriation intention behind the Exclusive Economic Zone Act, as we all may recall, the Act was passed in 1978, delimiting the Exclusive Economic Zone of our country and extending it up to 200 nautical miles seawards from the coasts”.

Your Excellencies, South-South Governors, legislators and leaders, the year 2000, the dawn of the new millennium is 24 years ago into the past. Since then, a lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge. Many leaders of today are even unaware of the man-made challenges which faced the South-South zone then. It won the 13 percent derivation principle war and banished the Onshore and Offshore dichotomy, whereby oil revenue from the seas was said to belong entirely to Nigeria and with nothing going to the given littoral states.

According to the statement, “For acting on behalf of the South-South many Niger Delta leaders faced assorted obstacles and paid hefty prices. Four years later, Ibori organized a second summit in Asaba but the powers that be ensured that it never held; Chief A.K Dikibbo, the then National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party was assassinated on his way to the summit”.

24 years after that first South-South leaders’ summit, Ibori wishes to encourage the present Governors and South-South national legislators, and indeed the entire people of the area to address the salient problems; old and new. Among the old are the Land and Environmental questions and a higher derivation principle percentage.

Ibori said in his year 2000 address: “The land and environment are our natural patrimony. Any legislation that is aimed at taking our land rights from us should matter to us at all times at least for the sake of our children and the generation unborn. It is against this note of serious concern that I humbly draw the attention of Your Excellencies and distinguished lawmakers to the Land Use Act, 1978, which vested ownership in the country in both the State and Federal Governments. To the unwary or uninformed, it does not take away the right of the people to use and occupy their land. But for the more informed, it is one of the instruments by which our people and States have been denied the right to their patrimony under and over land.

“This is more serious when we realize that little or no attempt is made to remedy the damage done to our environment through the massive exploitation of our underground and undersea natural resources for a ceaseless period of almost 40 years. We are witnesses to the evils of environmental degradation, impoverishment and displacement of our people from their homesteads, farmlands and fishing streams, poor industrial base, youth restiveness, communal conflicts and violence, high rate of criminal activities, physical underdevelopment, mass unemployment and the associated problems of insecurity that oil and gas exploration have inflicted on our environment and people”.

New problems have cropped up. Ibori could not have, in the year 2000, foreseen that Cattle Herders would seize the bushes of the entire South-South zone, killing farmers, raping women and kidnapping people while the Police remain comatose and the people were frozen by fear.

This brings to the fore calls for state and community policing. Now, the South-South has to go beyond the lip service some of our Governors paid to the establishment of state security agencies and combine forces to raise a South-South zonal self-defence team and seek ways to enforce the law against open grazing enacted by most of our state legislatures. Ibori said that the South-South states must cooperate even in providing social amenities as Delta and Edo states, under him and Gov. Lucky Igbinedion, collaborated in the Onicha-Ugbo to Uromi road construction, through Idumuje-Ugboko, Ubiaja and Ewohimi which sliced over an hour from Asaba to Abuja trip and opened once remote areas to commercial activities.

24 years ago, Ibori threw this open challenge at the summit: “Try we must to change things for the better for our people. This is the least we owe to ourselves and posterity. The Land Use Act must be reviewed through our concerted efforts and those of other patriots so that we will truly and fully enjoy the fruits of our land and environment for our sustenance and those of our children.

“As heads of governments and distinguished lawmakers, eminent sons and daughters of the South-South zone, we have a dream – to correct these pervasive symptoms of the high and systematic exploitation and neglect of our people. We are their hope. If we fail, they fail. We should loathe seeing ourselves being counted among failures by history”.

He thanked all those who were active in the struggle, especially his former colleagues in the region, legislators, and leaders like Chief E.K Clark, Prof Itse Sagay, Prof G.G Darah, Oronto Douglas, Prof Kimse Ekoko of Ijaw National Congress, Chief A. K Dikibo, Prof Omafume Onoge, Chief Gamaliel Onosode, Dr Abel Ubeku, Chief James Obukowho Erhuero, some of them have passed but their roles can never be forgotten. I thank all members of the Delta State Executive Council, especially Prof Amos Agbe Utuama, my Attorney General, who individually and collectively worked tirelessly for the actualization of the objective. There are others too numerous to mention who sacrificed their time to support the struggle, I thank them immensely.

In conclusion, Ibori said: “That challenge still subsists” and wished the South-South leaders God’s guidance as they face the task.