Committee on Devolution of Powers discussed devolving powers to states
Tempers rose on Thursday as members of the National Conference Committee on Devolution discussed the issue of transferring some items from the Exclusive List of the 1999 Constitution to the Concurrent List.
Sharp disagreement among the members arose when the committee, co-chaired by a former governor of Akwa Ibom, Victor Attah, and a former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomasie, was examining the control of mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, and natural gas with the possibility of transferring it to the federating units.
The issue is listed as Item 39 on the Exclusive List of constitution
In the course of examining the issue, committee members from the southern part of the country advocated the movement of the item to the Concurrent List to create an opportunity for the states to be involved in the exploitation and exploration of minerals in the domain.
The position was however opposed by the northern members of the Committee who suspected it was another way of endorsing resource control, which had generated tension at its meeting on Tuesday.
Both regions of the country have 14 representatives in the 28-member Committee.
The southern delegates said 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.
A delegate, Nsongurua Udombana, said moving the item to the Concurrent list would engender economic development of the country. He argued that where the federal government was unwilling at any point in time to develop and exploit mineral deposit in any state, such state could do so if it had the capacity.
He argued that as the law exists now, the state appeared irrelevant.
Also, a delegate from Delta State, Godini Darah, noted that having the item on the Concurrent List would open up the country.
Another delegate from the South West, Niyi Akintola, backed the proposal to have the item shared by the federal and state governments, warning that “the idea of thinking that everybody must wait for others to catch up was wrong.”
But some northern delegates who spoke argued that moving the item would amount to a breach of the Constitution.
A delegate from Yobe, Buba Galadima, said the item must remain in the Exclusive list, noting that the problem largely was that the country’s leaders “do not look at the whole country as their own.”
He added that they “lack the political will to do what is right.”
He stressed, “The legislation is exclusively exclusive; it cannot be concurrent.”
Speaking in the same tone, a former Power Minister from Kano State, Bashir Dalhatu, said there was nothing like true federalism, and insisted that the item should not be tampered with.
An elder statesman from Kano State, Magaji Dambatta, suggested that state governments could participate in the exploitation of minerals in their states, but “the ownership should remain with the federal government.”
Mr. 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 added, “This country has not developed as effectively as it should. The federal government has not shown the willingness to develop the states as the states would want to. We want to move this country forward.”
At the end, the former Akwa Ibom State Governor 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.
Earlier, the Committee had focused on the contentious issue of fiscal responsibility as it concerns resource control, sharing of revenue and the sharing formula.
Repeatedly, Mr. 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, he 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 per cent,” he said.
Mr. Attah asked the Committee members to examine how to make remedial measures to reclaim polluted lands and waters and how to stop further degradation.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
However, Mr. Coomassie who is the co-chairman of the Committee said oil will one day be exhausted in the Niger Delta and that the craze to share oil revenue had not allowed anybody to consider what would happen to the impoverished oil producing communities when the wells dry up.
“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,” he said.
Interjecting, Mr. Attah noted that available information indicated the 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 said the stream that runs from Chad Republic goes through Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, to Niger and to Libya
The former governor also said rich deposits of limestone, high quality gold and uranium were part of what he called the presence of a scandalous amount of solid mineral deposits across the north.
“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,” he asked.
He told 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.”
Mr. Coomasie, who is the Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, in his response warned against the use of intimidation in a bid to win arguments.
According to him, every member should think maturely and make contributions in a mature manner so that the country will gain from their experiences and approach.
“We have been a country for 100 years, now we are charting a new course. We have so many things in common,” he said.
The former IGP said resource control remained 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 lamented 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,” Mr. Coomasie said.
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