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Onshore/offshore fixation - The Nation

By The Citizen

The onshore/offshore oil dichotomy debate again came alive at the North-West zonal public hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in Kaduna last week. Again, it was Kano State Governor, Musa Kwankwaso, leading the charge when he attributed the high level of poverty and hopelessness in the North and the spate of Boko Haram insurgency to the dichotomy.

His words: 'I am vindicated on what I said that offshore/onshore will bring more poverty that will lead to insecurity which we found ourselves today. In addition to the 13 per cent derivation, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, amnesty programme with billions of naira, all for the south-south region, this country is building towards one direction … Even the national budget is toward one direction. Offshore/ onshore dichotomy should be abolished'.

His Kaduna counterpart, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, would also join the chorus when he rejected the PIB, under consideration, claiming that it would further alienate other parts of the country economically.

Again, it seems the trouble with the governors is their attempt to link the challenges facing the North with the efforts to redress the age-long imbalance in the revenue allocation to the oil producing states through specific intervention agencies. Going by the logic of the governors' position, that effort has merely translated to an equal or greater injustice to their states as indeed the states in the north - a case of justice to one leading to injustice to another.

We find the zero-sum argument not only baffling but dangerous if merely on account of its failure to properly situate the problem correctly.

This newspaper is on record to have variously identified the failure of governance across the board as the cause of the ravaging poverty and despondency in the land, whether the poverty is of the mangrove swamps or in the Sahel region. Linked to the problem is virulent fixation with petro naira and with it the psychology of dependence that it has bred. To these is the utterly skewed federal structure which, in addition to reducing the states to vassals of the centre, also imposes a fiscal absurdity that discourages industry and hampers states' capacities to harness their resources. Were our Union to be a functional rather than parasitic federation, the whole debate on the dichotomy would have been entirely pointless. In that sense, the debate is nothing but a distraction.

No one denies that the oil producing states have received greater inflow of resources in recent years. However, much of this has been somewhat palliative and remedial - at best to compensate for the years of neglect and the attendant despoliation of the environment brought on them by the activities of the oil-prospecting companies. Even at that, it is still a long way in the journey to right the many wrongs in our iniquitous federal practice.

We appreciate the governors' quest for more funds to fastrack the pace of development in their states. Legitimate as the quest is, we must say that it cannot be at the expense of denying the oil-producing states their fair and just dues, particularly as these were won after protracted struggle.

A more agreeable way is for the governors to press for a slash from the federal revenue pie of 52 percent - to boost states' share from the distributable pool. While the latter is merely a variant of the same tradition of dependency, the surest bet to eliminate the covet-thy-neighbour psychology inherent in the current distributive arrangement, is to navigate the nation along the path of true federalism. That way, states would be allowed to exploit the resources beneath their soil and only pay royalties and taxes to the centre.