Rivers state Governor Chibuike Amaechi have asked the National Assembly to discard the Petroleum Industry bill. Excerpts.
DO you think that the Federal Government over-reacted to the crisis, which rocked the Northern part of the country?
No. I don’t think the Federal Government over-reacted because the so-called Boko Haram people are people who have made up their minds to attack and kill, burn and destroy without provocation. When you say your enemies are those who embrace Western education, then you are talking virtually about every sector of the population, not only the educated Moslem population but also northern Christians and southerners who settle in the north.
These people would have posed a very great danger to the peace and stability of lives and property of innocent people in Nigeria. I don’t think they over-reacted. My only criticism to what they did was that once you have taken somebody prisoner, then you are prohibited from killing him without trial.
The question of the execution of the leaders who were arrested alive itself is a great blot on the reputation of this country internationally, that’s where the wrongdoing occurred on the part of the Federal Government. But the action taken in order to nip the planned violent and mass destruction in the north was the right step.
If you are talking about the rights to self-determination and religion as contained in the constitution, do you think the Federal Government has the right to intervene so violently in the so-called crisis?
The Federal Government, in my view, did not intervene in order to arrest or stop the right to practice anybody’s religion. What the government did was to stop a plan, a conspiracy to inflict mass violence and death on innocent Nigerians and the Federal Government has a duty to protect the lives and property of Nigerians and that was what it did by raiding the residences of the fundamentalists who, in my opinion, are irrational and I would say insane and would just simply kill for the fun of it.
I would say the Federal Government did the right thing. I don’t think the action was against the freedom of religion, but in my view, it was an action to protect lives and property.
When you talk about the Federal Government intervention in the Niger Delta, which has been widely criticised by Nigerians and the international community and the intervention in the north, do you see any dichotomy in their reaction to the rights of the Niger Deltans in the control of their resources and fundamental human right to religious autonomy?
Well, the two are not related. The Boko Haram has no excuse. The group has no reason, and it was not provoked into their murderous activities. They gathered together to wreak mayhem on innocent Nigerians.
On the part of the Niger Deltans, they belonged to a country that has relentlessly oppressed them since independence. It is a region where virtually all the wealth in the country has been extracted and used in developing other parts of the country, leaving that part of the country wretched in miserable condition, leaving those who own the wealth of the country the poorest.
This has continued endlessly. The very fact that money from that region could be used in building a paradise like Abuja simply says those who have been receiving the proceeds of our oil wealth rarely know what to do with the money. They simply disregard the interest of those who own the wealth.
They have disdain and contempt for those who own the mineral resources and just left us to remain in poverty and gross underdevelopment while using the money to develop other parts of the country, particularly Abuja. So, there is extreme provocation in the case of the Niger Delta. These are people trying to overcome extreme deprivations.
There is also a history of religious fundamentalism in the North. Don’t you think they have an axe to grind with the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
I don’t think there is any issue. The only issue, in my opinion, is why have you tolerated our type of uprising for 25 years and suddenly, you have woken up. Of course, the maitisine in the 80’s disturbed the tranquillity of Nigeria for a long time and they were tolerated particularly, when the axe fell on Northern Christians and they were massacred.
But in this case, Moslems were also targeted and killed. The Federal Government has tolerated this for long. At regular intervals, churches are burnt, Christians are killed and nothing was done. The case of Gideon Akaluka is a reference point. Even though he was kept in custody, these religious fundamentalists went there and demanded for his release and he was brutally and mercilessly killed. Nothing happened.
The Federal Government never reacted to that outrage. So, the query to the Federal Government now is: why have we tolerated these people for so long? It is that tolerance that has encouraged what has just happened.
The tolerance of killings, violence, the burning of churches in the north has been going on for too long.
Do you see the agitation of these Moslem fundamentalists from Nigeria to operate a Sharia legal system as a constitutional problem?
Honestly, I don’t see it as a constitutional problem. I think they are mad. It’s an act of madness for anybody to think that Nigeria should be governed in the Sharia legal system. If they are Moslems in their own part of the country, they should realise that there are Christians in the south. There are also animists both in the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria. How can you impose Sharia on those people?
What they are saying, in effect, is that people who insist on Sharia are saying that we should not be in the same country together and anybody who insists on that can decide to go his own way. But to think that Sharia could be imposed on all parts of Nigeria that are Christian-dominated, or African Religion- dominated, is a wishful thinking. It’s a mad idea.
As fallout of your argument, do you think we have to sit down and re-negotiate our continued existence as a country?
It is obvious. We never really sat down as an independent state to discuss the terms of our union. The British imposed the union on us. Everything that brought Nigeria together was done by British decrees and proclamations. There was election. We have never really voluntarily sat down to say this is how we want our union. It was done by force. It’s a very funny country.
In 1963, the North issued an eight-point programme in which effect, they were said they did not want one country but they wanted each region to be a country of its own and that we should run a common services organisation like railway, common currencies, coal and so on and that even when customs duties are concerned the region where the duties originated from should be the one to take the Custom duties.
During the Civil War and the aftermath of the massacre of the Bio’s in the North and Constitutional conference to save the country, the position of the north was strictly confederal, but since oil was discovered and once they found that they were in control of the centre and the centre was given the power under the constitution to control the oil and exclusives, the northern love for one country became overwhelming not just for federalism again, but for centralism.
The obstacle to true Federalism in Nigeria today is oil, what my late friend Prof. Omafume Onoge could call “Oil Stupid Cupidity” that is love for oil proceeds, is what is keeping the country away from federalism. If the oil is taken away today there will be a unanimity that you need a low federation where everybody would take care of himself and then there would be a few things for the centre, which we all will contribute.
Oil is really the problem. Let us look at the PRONACO document and see whether we can adopt it perhaps with some minor amendments, so that we can have a commonwealth that is based on ethnic units, which are federating together.
There should be looseness and flexibility in the system. The way the country is being run from Abuja to the extent that the President wants to be involved in local Government activities in Lagos State is such a disaster. It can never work because we are so different. Only a loose federation can ensue Nigeria’s organisational structure.
In the light of your submission, how do you see the Petroleum Bill currently before the National Assembly?
It is one of the most insensitive documents I have ever seen. It’s a document that is created with the intention of exploiting the oil and gas of the Niger Delta, whilst not recognising the existence of the people of the Niger Delta. There is nothing about royalty for the host communities; there is nothing about increasing derivation from 25 to 50 per cent, which was what we negotiated before our independence, which you will find in the 1960, and 1963 Constitutions.
There is nothing about increasing our rights in derivation throughout the continental shelf, as was the case against the two constitutions, what it slated clearly, that a coastal state is deemed to be the owner of its continental shelf. All that has been taken away. There is nothing that recognises the rights of the communities and states to be involved as stakeholders in the running of the Petroleum Industry contrary to what is provided for in the solid minerals Act, which of course mainly applies to the north.
Over their there are provisions for the communities and states governments to be involved. There is provision for the owners of the land and communities involved to be paid rents and compensation annually by the leasee of the minerals to the owner of the land.
There is provision for compelling the leasee to repair any damage done to the land. There is provision for local government to be consulted before they enter into any land. There are numerous provisions that recognises the rights of the community that own the land, the local governments and the state government.
There is none in the Petroleum Act, there is none in the Petroleum Act, and there is none in the Petroleum Industry Bill. It does not recognise the rights of the people of the Niger Delta.
What reason do we have for example for not saying that the states that produce oil should be allocated oil blocks so that they too can operate as Petroleum Companies been the owners of the source. There is nothing like that. There is no recognition of the owners of the oil and gas that is been exploited.
The whole scheme in the Bill is to compress all the 16 existing Acts on the oil and gas into one Act and therefore makes it very effective and to be able to create more wealth and returns for the Federal Government which is in Abuja, without one thought for those who actually own the oil and gas who bear the pains of production, whose backyard has been turned into production zones with pollution, diseases in which all their normal means of livelihood has been destroyed.
The only reference with regard to the people of the Niger Delta is that they would enjoy spin-off from the Industry. Spin-off meaning if you have people working in the oil industry they would go to the market to buy things. So local people will have more to sell. There is no provision for any direct benefit from the Industry. So the bill is a disaster.
Again, I am not saying the bill cannot be passed. As you know the Niger Delta is a minority but is going to be passed against the will of the people of the Niger Delta and with all that the implies.
Then, how would you describe the Land Use Act vis-?-vis the Petroleum Act? Are they an oppressive tool against the people of the Niger Delta?
The Land Use Act is wrong particularly putting it in the constitution as Obasanjo did in 1978. But the Land Use Act itself is not harmful in the sense that it is the governor of a state that is made trustee of all the land. It also recognises the continued ownership by communities of their land. They are deemed to be owners of their land. I recognises existing rights.
What about the mineral resources under the land?
It is not the Land Use Act that deprives you of that. It is a Petroleum Act. It is the Nigerian Constitution. Section 44, paragraph 3 of the Constitution and section 1 of the Petroleum Act. Those are the provisions that take away your rights to the Petroleum bearing areas. It is neutral. In fact, the Land Use Act recognises your rights to that land but the Petroleum law and the constitution says yes you may own the surface but you don’t own anything inside that land.
Do you see this as a conflict and exemption to the general rule of quied quied plantur solo solo cedit?
Absolute exemption. And not only that. You read Section 44. It says that every Nigerian who owns property particularly Land Use and if by chance government decides to acquire such land compulsorily the government must pay an appropriate price promptly. If the persons are not satisfied, he has the right to go to court to seek redress or entrance that right.
It then goes on to say that the rights stated in the Constitution do not apply to land that contains petroleum. In other words, every other Nigerian is entitled to his land as of right and can ask the government to pay him, if his land is to be acquired.
But if you are in the Niger-Delta, particularly South-South, the oil-producing area, you are not entitled to be compensated when your land is taken from you because the minerals in that land do not belong to you even though the land belongs to you.
The people of the Niger-Delta are a minority; from your argument so far, do you think the situation would have been the same if the oil and gas were located in the Northern part of the country?
We are a minority and we are in irrelevant in Nigeria, we are insignificant, we don’t matter. Nobody can try that in the North. Look at the Solid Mineral Act which recognises the rights of individuals, communities, local governments and states in their and because most of these Solid Minerals are in the North.
So they are clear masters in their own that there because nobody would try it with them because they are the ones that take and make decisions. If this oil were found in the North, the regime of Petroleum would be that every state should keep its resources and pay tax to the centre. I am very sure that would have been the order dues.