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Obasanjo, Clark revive resource control war amid agitations for self-determination

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A FORMER Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in an open letter addressed to Ijaw leader Edwin Clark on December 28, insisted that oil found in the Niger Delta and other minerals located in different parts of the country belonged to the Federal Government.

The exchange between Obasanjo, Nigeria’s military head of state from 1976 to 1979 and  two-term civilian president from 1999 and 2007, and Clark, leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, has revived the debate over resource control in Africa’s most populous country which is currently reeling from agitations for self-determination and secession in parts of the mineral-rich southern regions.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is at the vanguard of the struggle for the actualisation of a sovereign Biafra nation in the territories of the defunct Republic of Biafra in the South-East and South-South, and a Yoruba Nation movement has emerged in the South-West.


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Perceived marginalisation in the allocation of resources is a major factor responsible for the rise in self-determination and separatist movements.

Obasanjo was responding to an earlier open letter where Clark accused him of harbouring hatred for the people of the Niger Delta – the oil- and gas-rich region which produces a large proportion of Nigeria’s revenue.

Clark had, in the letter dated December 22, 2014 and titled ‘My disappointment over unprovoked outburst against the people of the Niger Delta Region,’ accused Obasanjo of having double standards on issues concerning resource control in the country.

Clark penned the letter to Obasanjo after a video emerged of the former president attacking the National Secretary of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) Ebipamowei Wodu at a peace and security forum convened by the Global Peace Foundation and Vision Africa, in Abuja.

Obasanjo had, at the event, confronted Wodu for saying the Ijaw were being treated like second-class citizens in Nigeria even though the country was surviving on revenue from oil and gas found in the Niger Delta – the home region of the Ijaw ethnic nationality.

Noting that “natural resources found in regions were controlled by the people of the regions in the country as enunciated in Section 140 of the 1960 Constitution,” Clark reminded Obasanjo that the principle of derivation had always topped the agenda of national discourse before and after the country’s Independence.

Clark noted that it was the application of the principle of derivation that enabled Obasanjo’s region – the defunct Western Region – then under Obafemi Awolowo, and the Northern Region, under Ahmadu Bello, “to reap all the money that enabled them to develop far ahead of the then Eastern Region (which included the Niger Delta).”

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In his response to Clark, Obasanjo denied the accusation that he hates the Niger Delta region.

Rather, the former president accused Clark of being a sectional leader and advised him to conduct himself as a statesman.

Obasanjo noted that it was ‘a most basic constitutional fact’ that there could not be two sovereign entities within a state, which, according to him, was what Clark’s argument of Niger Delta ownership of the crude oil found in the region amounted to.

“All those who purchase crude oil from Nigeria enter into contractual relationship with Nigeria not with the Niger Delta. The territory of Nigeria is indivisible inclusive of the resources found therein. No territory in Nigeria including the minerals found therein belongs to the area of location and this remains so until the federation is dissolved,” Obasanjo said.

Stressing that his argument was backed by the Nigerian Constitution and international law, the former president observed that if there was a threat of violence to any part of Nigeria, including the Niger Delta, it was the Nigerian military that would be procured or established at the federal level to respond to such threat.

Obasanjo buttressed his argument by citing Section 140 of the 1963 Constitution, with the heading, ‘Mining Royalties and Rents,’ which stated: “(1) There shall be paid by the Federation to each Region a sum equal to fifty per cent of (a) the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region; and (b) any mining rents derived by the Federation during that year from within that Region.”

Clark had, in his letter to Obasanjo, observed that the former president was silent on the issue of gold mining in Zamfara State, where the state government appeared to be engaged in commercial exploitation of the mineral, unlike the situation with oil and gas which were harnessed by the Nigerian government for the benefit of the entire country.

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Reacting to Clark’s observation, Obasanjo said, “The Constitution that affects Niger Delta region affects Zamfara State where gold is found and if anybody at the federal level has remised in implementing the Constitution, then that is a different matter. The gold in Ilesha, Osun State, and the lead in Ebonyi State, all come under the same Law and Constitution.”

With Nigeria depending largely on revenue from oil and gas, the Niger Delta region has been championing the agitation for resource control.

But Obasanjo noted that, before the discovery of crude oil, Nigeria depended on revenue from minerals found in other parts of the country.

“When Tin, Columbite in Jos Plateau and Zinc in Abakaliki and Coal in Enugu were discovered in the early 1900s, the ownership was vested in the Colonial Government.

“Mitigating the hazards suffered by people in any mineral-producing area is legitimate and must be differentiated from the issue of ownership. The mitigation process must go for oil and gas, lead, gold, limestone for cement, etc.

“What developed Nigerian regions in the colonial days and early post-independence days were cocoa and rubber in the West, groundnut and cotton in the North and oil palm in the East.”

Noting that Clark’s letter contained outright distortions and lies which might be due to loss of memory or misrepresentation, Obasanjo insisted that he had always been fair to the Niger Delta.

“On resumption of office as President of Nigeria in 1999, the first meeting I held out of Abuja was a meeting on the Niger Delta Region. Without being prompted, I decided the 13 per cent derivation that the new Constitution granted to oil-producing areas should be paid. If you have evidence of a legal action that forced me to implement it, please produce for me to see or publish it,” Obasanjo said.

“Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) Bill was my initiative for contribution to be made by State Governments, oil companies and Federal Government. The States lobbied the National Assembly to exclude them. They were excluded and what was passed became the law eventually and I implemented it,” the former president added.

Obasanjo disclosed that the Committee for Goodness of Nigeria (CGN) – a political pressure group which he co-convened alongside former military head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto Saad Abubakar and Archbishop of Abuja John Onaiyekan – at its meeting on December 14, 2021, adopted a recommendation of not less than 18 per cent derivation for oil-producing states.

The CGN had, in a communique issued after the meeting, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to implement constitutional amendments before the 2023 elections.

In the open letter to Clark, Obasanjo stressed the need to implement the CGN’s recommendations.

“We believe that the conclusion and the report of the meeting of December 14, 2021 hold the best position for realistic and pragmatic action for taking the country forward as possible actionable amendment to the Constitution before 2023 elections.”

Insisting that every Nigerian has rights under the Constitution, Obasanjo further stressed, “No one should exercise his right against the right of another Nigerian.”

Obasanjo frowned at the tone of the letter Clark addressed to him, noting that some of the language used by the Ijaw leader was offensive and uncouth.

“I totally and completely rejected them,” Obasanjo said, noting that it was time for Clark to change from ‘a tribesman’ to a ‘statesman of character.’ “

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