“We Must Not Fail Our People”; Ibori Looks Back, Task South-South Govs, Legislators, Elders & Leaders

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On the 24th anniversary of the South-South Governors, Legislators and leaders’ summit on March 31st, 2000 at Asaba, Delta state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori has tasked South-South leaders to be Apostles of fiscal federalism and see it as an unfinished business.

The theme of that first meeting; “We Must Not Fail Our People” is very poignant today as it was yesterday. He has reminded them that despite the mission which gained momentum on that Friday, 31st March 2000 and all the associated gains, much remains unaccomplished and new challenges have arisen.

Ibori, Delta state Governor 1997-2007, congratulates the South-South Governors, State legislators and National Assembly members on their elections. To Their Excellencies, beginning with Delta state’s Sheriff
Oborevwori, Edo State’s Godwin Obaseki, Cross River state’s Bassey Otu, Akwa Ibom’s Umo Eno, Rivers’ Sim Fubara and Bayelsa’s Douye Diri, Ibori said the batons from the three sets of Governors before them in this Fourth Republic are now firmly in their hands. This baton
bestows on them huge responsibilities beyond infrastructure. The enthronement of true fiscal federalism is a higher calling for which they must respond and take charge, on behalf of, and for the benefit of their
people.

He believes that ten months after inauguration, all the rancour, bitterness and disagreements occasioned by the politics of the last election is behind.

Ibori said: “From where I stand, the question is
what’s the trajectory of the Niger Delta Region? We must pull together to answer that question to the benefit of Niger Deltans”.

The concern for the well-being of the good people of the Niger Delta region prompted Ibori to convene that summit about a quarter of a century ago.

On that day, Ibori said in his welcome address: “As political leaders of the people of the South-South zone, given the sad and long history of our marginalisation, we should see and treat our various offices as held in sacred trust with corresponding obligations imposed by our
conscience and oath of office to work for the redemption of the region from selfish exploitation of any form and colour, as well as our people from injustice, in whatever form it may be expressed. We must speak, when we must, and must act, when it is desirable, in the overriding interest of our states and the nation. Succeed we must. Failure will be disastrous not only to the aspirations of our peoples
but the nation as well”.

The Asaba meeting held exactly ten months into the Fourth Republic when the PDP Federal Government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a party Governor Ibori also belonged, refused to activate the 13 percent derivation principle. Instead the Federal Government insisted on paying the one percent bequeathed to it by the outgone
Military Administration. Also the onshore and offshore dichotomy of oil and gas production was still being debated and the South-South was denied its divine right.

So, Ibori argued in his welcome address: “Section 162(2) then enacts the principles of
allocation which include population density, equality of states,
internal revenue generation, land mass and terrain, subject to an
overriding proviso which states in part: ‘Provided that the principle
of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as
being not less 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation
account directly from any natural resource. It is unfortunate that
this well-intended provision has been subjected to all manner of
interpretations and administrative manipulations and needless
politicization to unjustly deny the States of the South-South zone
their respective constitutional dues from the federation revenue”. He
continued: “Your Excellencies and Distinguished Legislators, the
people and government of Delta State are unequivocally unable to
accept the view that the implementation of Section 162 (2) of the
Constitution is a condition precedent to giving effect to the payment
of the minimum 13 percent principle of derivation in the interim
system of revenue allocation enshrined in section 313 of the
Constitution for the allocation Federation Account until an Act of the
National Assembly is passed. The section states that as from the
commencement of the Constitution on the 29th of May, 1999, the system
of revenue allocation in existence for the financial year, beginning
from 1st January, 1998 and ending 31st December, 1998, shall be the
approved revenue allocation formula subject to the provisions of this
Constitution. This percentage is not Subject to any administrative or
legislative change, except upward review of the percentage or through
a Constitutional amendment.

“On the contrary and to the chagrin of the people and government of
Delta State, the principle of derivation has been pegged at one
percent under a revenue allocation formula different from the 1998
system since the 29th of May to date, leaving an outstanding balance
of 12 percent each month of the 10 months in favour of the recipient
states.

Our call is justified even by the history of the principle of
derivation, which is not a new factor in our fiscal federalism. In the
60s and early 70s the principle was fully recognized and in use.
During the period the percentage weight of the principle was as high
as 60 percent. Our nation was not less federal or poorer for it.

Your Excellencies and distinguished lawmakers, you will agree with me
that the continued withholding of this allocation means the continuous
denial of our peoples the right to development and poverty
remediation”.

Ibori then attacked the onshore/offshore dichotomy of oil and gas
production: “The time has come for us, of the South-South zone, to
have a dream. A dream to translate our patriotism, energy, talents,
democratic wits and indeed all that is in us to free our people from
every legislative shackle which is not in the socio-economic interest
and aspirations of our people. We must speak and must act. The
dichotomy between onshore and offshore oil and gas deposit is
artificial and not in the best interest of our people. It is
artificial because it is unnatural and not unconnected with the
expropriation intention behind the Exclusive Economic Zone Act, as we
all may recall, the Act was passed in 1978, delimiting the Exclusive
Economic zone of our country and extended it up to 200 nautical miles
seawards from the coasts.

Your Excellencies, South South Governors and national legislators,
year 2000, the dawn of the new millennium is 24 years ago into the
past. Since then, a lot of water has passed under the proverbial
bridge. Many leaders of today are even unaware of the man-made
challenges which faced the South South zone then. It won the 13
percent derivation principle war and banished the Onshore and Offshore
dichotomy, whereby oil revenue from the seas was said to belong
entirely to Nigeria and with nothing going to the given littoral
states.

For acting on behalf of the South-South many Niger Delta leaders faced
assorted obstacles and paid hefty prices. Four years later, Ibori
organized a second summit in Asaba but the powers that be ensured that
it never held; Chief A.K Dikibbo, the then National Vice-Chairman of
the Peoples Democratic Party was assassinated on his way to the
summit.

24 years after that first South- South leaders’ summit, Ibori wishes
to encourage the present Governors and South-South national
legislators, and in deed the entire people of the area to address the
salient problems; old and new. Among the old is the Land and
Environmental question and a higher derivation principle percentage.
Ibori said in his year 2000 address: “The land and environment are our
natural patrimony. Any legislation that is aimed at taking our land
rights from us should matter to us at all times at least for the sake
of our children and the generation unborn. It is against this note of
serious concern that I humbly draw the attention of Your Excellencies
and distinguished lawmakers to the land Use Act, 1978, which vested
ownership in the country in both the State and Federal Governments. To
the unwary or uniformed, it does not take away the right of the people
to use and occupy their land. But for the more informed, it is one of
the instruments by which our people and States have been denied the
right to their patrimony under and over land.

“This is more serious when we realize that little or no attempt is
made to remedy the damage done to our environment through the massive
exploitation of our underground and undersea natural resources for a
ceaseless period of almost 40 years. We are witnesses to the evils of
environmental degradation, impoverishment and displacement of our
people from their homesteads, farmlands and fishing streams, poor
industrial base, youth restiveness, communal conflicts and violence,
high rate of criminal activities, physical underdevelopment, mass
unemployment and the associated problems of insecurity that oil and
gas exploration have inflicted on our environment and people”.

New problems have cropped up. Ibori could not have, in year 2000,
foreseen that Cattle Herders would seize the bushes of the entire
South-South zone, killing farmers, raping women and kidnapping
peoplewhile the Police remain comatose and the people frozen by fear.
This definitely brings to the fore calls for state and community
policing. Now, the South-South has to go beyond the lip service some
of our Governors paid to the establishment of state security agencies
and combine forces to raise a South-South zonal self-defence team and
seek ways to enforce the law against open grazing enacted by most of
our state legislatures. Ibori said that the South-South states must
cooperate even in providing social amenities as Delta and Edo states,
under him and Gov. Lucky Igbinedion, collaborated in the
Onicha-Ugbo to Uromi road construction, through Idumuje-Ugboko, Ubiaja
and Ewohimi which sliced over an hour from Asaba to Abuja trip and
opened once remote areas to commercial activities.

24 years ago, Ibori threw this open challenge at the summit: “Try we must to change things for the better for our people. This is the least we owe to ourselves and posterity. The land Use Act must be reviewed through our concerted efforts and those of other patriots so that we will truly and fully enjoy the fruits of our land and environment for us our sustenance and those of our children.

“As heads of governments and distinguished lawmakers, eminent sons and daughters of the South-South zone, we have a dream – to correct these pervasive symptoms of the high and systematic exploitation and neglect
of our people. We are their hope. If we fail, they fail. We should loathe seeing ourselves being counted among failures by history”.

He thanked all those who were active in the struggle especially his former colleagues in the region, legislators, leaders like Chief E.K Clark, Prof Itse Sagay, Prof G.G Darah, Oronto Douglas, Prof Kimse Ekoko of Ijaw National Congress, Chief A. K Dikibo, Prof Omafume Onoge, Chief Gamaliel Onosode, Dr. Abel Ubeku, Chief James Obukowho Erhuero, all members of the Delta State Executive Council led by Prof Amos Agbe Utuama, my Attorney General who individually & collectively worked tiredly for the actualization of the objective. And all others too numerous to mention who sacrificed their time to support the struggle.

That challenge still subsists. Ibori wishes South-South leaders God’s guidance as they face the task.

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