An environmental activist from the Niger Delta and one of the leaders in the oil-rich region, Annkio Briggs, tells CHUKWUDI AKASIKE that restructuring must include full resource control, among other issues
What is the perception of your people towards the issue of restructuring in Nigeria?
Restructuring is the same thing as true federalism. It is meant to empower the states to be more or less autonomous or semi-autonomous, politically, socially and economically. A state that does not control its security, but has to take directives from the centre before it can protect its people, will always have security issues. The internal security of a state is supposed to be the responsibility of that state.
But some governors appear to be against restructuring.
Governors who are kicking against restructuring are selfish and have sinister motives because Nigeria is a federation, but it is not being run along the lines of a federation. The call for restructuring therefore is a demand that the country run as a federation. The issue of policing, building of universities, hospitals — they should be the responsibilities of the state. The reason the Federal Government is refusing to run the federation the way it should be run is because it is lazy. It is not generating anything.
(Former Vice-President) Atiku Abubakar and some other politicians are now pulling their weight behind restructuring and I ask: what is restructuring to an average Nigerian politician? Restructuring to us in Niger Delta is federalism. Federalism to us in the Niger Delta is ownership of our resources, while we pay tax to the Federal Government the way it was done in the 60s.
As the people of Niger Delta, we believe we are giving too much to Nigeria. Atiku said there are states that are not economically viable. Basically, he wants to come and oversee states that are not viable and take from states that are viable, which are the Niger Delta states and use it to oversee states that are not viable. You cannot continue to insist that Niger Delta must bear the brunt of states that cannot pay salaries. It is no longer acceptable; we are being pulled back in the Niger Delta by states that cannot sustain themselves.
The Arewa Youths are saying that the South should not even imagine running for president in 2019. I can’t even find the words to express how sick that sounds. A group of people gets up in Nigeria today to determine who should run for the presidency, not minding that my region is funding the North. They tell my region that is funding the country that we (South-South) should not dare to even bring somebody for presidency in 2019. What they are saying is that, if there are 50 political parties, no South-South person should have the ticket. Basically, what they are saying is that they have rigged and fixed the election. It does not matter whether the election is held or not, on the day of the election, they will just announce that somebody has won the election.
What aspect of our national development do you think restructuring should emphasise?
Restructuring should address the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of the people of Nigeria. Politically, the country ought to be restructured, where the states decide who their representatives should be. But what is happening today is that we have a country that was amalgamated in 1914. Today, we have a 36-state country with six geopolitical zones. The North has 19 states; the South has 17 states. Looking at that, you have a situation where the North has more senators in the Senate and the South has less. What that means is that, if there is a bill that will be in the favour of the South, like what happened with the Petroleum Industry Bill — there is no way that PIB would have been passed if the North said it should not be passed. In the North, you have 19 states, 419 local government areas, 58 senatorial seats and 191 House of Representatives seats. The South has 17 states, 357 local government areas, 51 senatorial seats and 169 House of Representatives seats. So, if the Yoruba, all the ethnic groups in the Niger Delta, and the Igbo who are members of the National Assembly agree on anything that would benefit their people, and the North say no, the North’s position would be upheld. That is where we are. Politically, that is where the restructuring must start.
We have six zones; all the zones must have equal number of states. You cannot have a situation where census was done and a state like Kano insists that it is more in population and therefore it must have 44 local government areas, but Bayelsa has only eight local government areas. When you have allocation that is shared based on the number of local government councils, you would find how unjust the sharing is. The North, in terms of oil and gas, produces zero. Yet, when we share based on local government allocation, the North gets 54.9 (per cent) of what we bring to the table. We (South-South) that bring 100 per cent get 45.1 per cent. Of course, it is injustice. When you go by state allocation, the North gets 57 per cent of 100 per cent that they are bringing zero per cent of, but the entire South is getting 43 per cent. That is injustice. In the allocation of oil and gas, the South-South brings 91.54 per cent, the South-West, that is, the oil in Ondo State is 3.97 per cent. The oil in the South-East is 2.75 per cent. The North-Central, North-East and North-West brings 0.00 per cent, and yet, they take home more.
Somehow, people are able to overlook this and focus on the Niger Delta Development Commission that the government owes, and focus on Amnesty and the Ministry of Niger Delta. We are saying, ‘Let go of the amnesty. Let go of the NDDC. The Ministry of Niger Delta, let go off it. The North-East Development Fund, let go of it. Let go of every palliative. Let everybody use what it has.’ That is the only justice that we will entertain now and pay tax to the Federal Government.
This data I am reeling out to you is sought from the Federal Ministry of Finance. If you go back to 1900, there are documents that have come out from the colonial office that showed very clearly that between 1900 and 1913, before the amalgamation, the British imperial government was subsidising northern Nigeria with aid. The southern Nigeria was subsidising northern Nigeria with aid in grant and the Lagos colony as of that time also subsidised them twice for those 13 or 14 years. It is all documented. The source is the Annual Report of the Colonial Northern Nigeria 1904. The page is there, the time is there; between 1898 and 1914. These are verifiable facts.
What do you mean by economic restructuring?
There is this agitation that the Niger Delta people should be involved in the business of oil and gas, because they are not involved in the sector at all. Close to 95 per cent of the oil wells in the Niger Delta are privately owned by Nigerians that are not from the Niger Delta. There are very few Niger Delta people that own oil wells in the Niger Delta. This is part of the restructuring that we want.
Who is to blame for this lopsided allocation of oil wells?
You cannot blame Niger Delta people. Let us not blame (former President Goodluck) Jonathan because Jonathan became the president by providence in 2010 because the late Umaru Yar’Adua died. He (Jonathan) later became the elected president in 2011. He was never the president of the Niger Delta. The fact that Jonathan did not take what belonged to the country and give it to the Niger Delta, like some others did in the past, shows that he is a statesman. The people that have been ruling us from independence in 1960 to the military rule did the wrong thing. I truly expected that Jonathan should have done what the others did. That he did not do it does not mean he was wrong. But bear in mind that if Jonathan had attempted to retrieve the oil wells, this country would have gone up in flames. Now that we are demanding the control of our oil wells, they are saying, ‘No, we will not agree.’ It is the same resistance they are putting up now that they would have put up against Jonathan. Those who benefitted from Jonathan’s government were the same people that removed him because all they wanted was the political power to control Nigeria and the resources in the Niger Delta. People that own oil wells in the Niger Delta have never been to the Niger Delta. They have never spent a night in the place where their oil wells are. They have never drunk from our polluted water.
Do you think that secession should be part of restructuring?
It does not necessarily have to be, if we settle for justice and equity. Secession becomes an issue when justice and equity is lacking and oppression and devastation is the rule of the day. We want a Nigeria where nobody is marginalised. Nobody should complain of marginalisation. The richest black woman today is in the South-West and her riches are derived from the oil and gas in my backyard. How did she get it? She has overtaken Oprah Winfrey. If you give the oil to the woman selling periwinkle in my region, she too will be rich. You cannot take away this argument and tell people that they are unpatriotic if they argue in this direction. It is wrong to say that people want to break Nigeria if they argue in this direction. If our survival is going to be based on whether one (Theophilus) Danjuma has oil wells in the Niger Delta, then I would say they should not have the oil wells. Is that selfishness? Well, you may call it selfishness; I don’t call it selfishness. It is my right and it is my survival that is at stake here.
Some say the call for resource control is asking for too much. What percentage do you think your people should negotiate for?
Why should we negotiate resource control? There are other resources in Nigeria and not only oil and gas. Others should also control whatever they have as resources. In terms of percentage, we are saying 100 per cent and we will pay tax. I don’t see why we should not discuss from that point.
Do you think the recommendations from the 2014 National Conference will address the issue of restructuring?
The recommendations will address the issue of restructuring. Why should we have local government areas that are funded from federal (allocations)? The local governments have nothing to do with federal (government). The states should fund the local governments from what they get. There should be no local government allocation. The issue of resource control, which is really the core thing, was rejected at the 2014 conference. The issue of equality and herdsmen were also addressed. The issue of how power should devolve was also discussed. The 2014 confab report in a nutshell, if it is considered, will address the issue of restructuring.
Why do you believe Nigeria is not practising true federalism?
Nigeria is a military government in mufti. The people who are in control in the places where justice and equity should be implemented are retired military men. The President is a retired military man. The Nigeria of yesterday is different from the Nigeria of today and you can never reach the Nigeria of tomorrow except we look at the issue of the Nigeria of today.
Will you push for the Muhammadu Buhari administration to implement the 2014 National Conference report?
Personally, I don’t think that any administration has any choice but to implement the 2014 confab report. If the Buhari administration refuses to implement it and the Northern Elders’ Forum has called on it not to implement it, the Arewa Youths are saying they should not implement it and Buhari himself has said he is not going to look at it, I think that it is the beginning of the crumble. When you have a standstill on an issue, there are people like the Yoruba, the Middle Belt, the South-South and the South-East that are calling for the implementation who would want to react. It seems that it is only the All Progressives Congress government and the North that are not in support of restructuring. But the Middle Belt are saying that they are not part of the North and they are in support of restructuring. It is highly unfortunate that the Yoruba, the Igbo and the Niger Delta ethnic nationalities are being highly oppressed and undermined by the Fulani who are in the minority. Let us have another census and do it by region and we would see who is the minority.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]