Resource control tears c’ttee apart
Debates over resource control yesterday almost tore the Committee on Devolution of Power apart at the National Conference when delegates discussed the contentious issue.
Though the committee was discussing issues listed under the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists in the 1999 Constitution, the issues of fiscal responsibility as it concerns resource control, sharing of revenue and the sharing formula took a centre stage with delegates talking in highly emotional manner.
While examining and transferring items from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List, disagreement erupted on Item 39 of the Exclusive List which deals with Mines and Minerals, including oil fields, oil mining and natural gas.
Delegates from the South said moving the item to the Concurrent List would create opportunity for state governments to have a say in the exploitation of such minerals, but delegates from the North believed it was another way of endorsing resource control.
In the course of the debate, delegates from the South insisted that what was required was not transfer of ownership of minerals to the states but involvement of the states in the exploitation of such minerals without a total control by the federal government.
But northern delegates stood their ground, arguing that unlike other items on the list, any attempt to shift the item from Exclusive to Concurrent would amount to a breach of the constitution.
The co-chairman of the committee and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, who moderated the session, quickly stepped in and repeatedly explained why delegates should be guided by the need for a comprehensive development of the nation using available resources instead of holding each other in suspicion.
He also assured that he would be impartial in decision-making, though it would be impossible for him to pretend not to come from somewhere.
Despite his assurances, Attah took side when he cautioned delegates against reopening the issue of reintroducing the onshore/offshore dichotomy.
“Let us not even consider such a thing as the reintroduction of onshore-offshore dichotomy or the other dichotomy between naturally occurring and man-made resources,” he said.
He added that instead delegates should think of “how to ramp up the derivation percentage over time, remembering that it used to stand at 50%.”
In his comments however, the co-chair and chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), former Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Coomassie, cautioned against use of intimidation in a bid to win arguments.
Coomassie said resource control remains a settled issue “as contained in the constitution,” explaining that government’s over-dependence on oil, “which is the bone of contention,” has led to the stagnation of other revenue-yielding sources.
He said federal monthly allocations to Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States were far more than what all the states in the North earn within the same period.
“We should look for compromise. I know what my people in the North want. But I will leave that for other members to say. We have to be very careful of what decision we take, we have to be careful about our opinion, we must not try to intimidate anybody,” the ACF chief said.
At the end of the meeting, Attah advised members of the committee to return on Monday with a suggestion on how the monopoly of control of mineral resources by the federal government could be extended to the state although the federal government would always grant the required license for the mining of such minerals.
Other items the committee moved from the Exclusive to Concurrent List included Bankruptcy and Insolvency; Registration of birth and deaths; Commercial and Industrial Monopolies; Labour Matters; and Evidence, finger prints identification and criminal records.