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National Conference 2014

By James Akpandem
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Discussions on issues listed under the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists in the 1999 Constitution took priority position on Thursday as the Committee on Devolution of Power continued its deliberation at the on-going National Conference holding in Abuja.

However, initial focus was on the contentious issue of fiscal responsibility as it concerns resource control, sharing of revenue and the sharing formula.

Repeatedly, Co-Chairman of the Committee and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah called Committee members to order as emotions almost took over although that was not the first issue slated for discussion.

After listening to comments and arguments, Attah in his remarks, said as the co-chairman of the committee, he would do his best to be impartial in decision-making but it would be impossible for him to pretend not to come from somewhere.

He cautioned against attempt by anybody to reopen the issue of reintroducing the on-shore off-shore dichotomy or any dichotomy between naturally occurring and man-made resources, 'let us think instead of how to ramp up the derivation percentage over time, remembering that it used to stand at 50%.'

The former Governor urged the Committee to examine how to make remedial measures to reclaim polluted lands and waters and how to stop further degradation.

Above all, he said, 'we have to look at how to assist all other parts of this country to develop their inert potentials and resources. This is the direction in which I thought the discussions were leading us.

'If we follow that way, we would, by consensus, have practicalised the true concept of being our brother's keeper which does not suggest the inequitable pattern of you bring, we share, but rather the one that says I bring, you bring, together we grow.'

The co-chairman drew attention to the fact that oil will one day finish in the Niger Delta and that the craze to share oil revenue has not allowed anybody to consider what will happen to the impoverished oil producing communities when the wells dry up.

He analysed: 'Let me say that the people of the Niger Delta are very conscious of this and indeed this has been their greatest fear. Time will come when the oil will dry up completely, then what will happen to the people of the Niger Delta? No farmland and no fishing in the polluted waters.'

Attah said available information indicate availability of oil in the north; and that it was not quite long ago when gas emissions were confirmed in Kiru in Kano State.

He disclosed that the stream that runs from Chad Republic goes through Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, to Niger and to Libya

The co-chairman also mentioned rich deposits of limestone, high quality gold and even the presence of uranium as part of what he called the presence of a scandalous amount of solid mineral deposits across the north.

Then he asked: 'Why have we not developed this sector and elevate it to the same status level as the oil industry? Time will come - I would rather say that time has come; and this committee has the ability and therefore must chart the way through consensus.'

Presently, he informed the delegates that building a one-kilometer road in the Niger Delta costs not less than N900 million because first, 'you have to dam the water and pump it out; next you excavate and cart away all the bad earth sometimes to a depth of two metres or more.

'Then you backfill with good material which you obtain from a great distance, then you compact and build your road. Even the driveway to your house has to be land filled and built with concrete.'

Co-Chairman of the Committee and former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomasie, in his comments on resource control cautioned against use of intimidation in a bid to win arguments.

He said every member should think maturely and make contributions in a mature manner so that the country will gain from their experiences and approach, adding, 'We have been a country for 100 years, now we are charting a new course. We have so many things in common.'

Coomasie 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.

The co-chairman disclosed that 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,' said Coomasie.

In the course of 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.

While delegates from the south believed moving the item to the Concurrent List would create opportunity for state governments to have a say in the exploitation of such minerals, delegates from the north believed it was another way of endorsing resource control.

During 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 or the regional governments in the exploitation of such minerals without a hundred per cent stringent control by the federal government.

Emotions almost spilled over when delegates from the north were of the opinion 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.

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.

At the end, he advised all 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 already 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.

On Wednesday, all the three sub-committees on National Security deliberated on the memoranda received from the public and other working papers according to the thematic heads assigned to each sub-committee, but due to lack of memoranda from certain government agencies, the committees requested the Conference Secretariat to invite the agencies to either attend their meetings or submit memos to enable the committee carry out their work effectively.

They agencies are: The Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Intelligence Agency (NAI) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

While continuing on their deliberations on the memos received, the sub committees agreed to meet in plenary on Friday (tomorrow), to assess the level of work done by each committee and to review their interim reports.

SIGNED

AKPANDEM JAMES

ASSISTANT SECRETARY, MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS