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Don’t reignite the onshore/offshore oil debate -Sun Editorial

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t is good that the All Progressives Congress (APC) government has accepted to restructure Nigeria. Over time, majority of Nigerians have concluded that there is something fundamentally wrong with the present structure, hence the demand for restructuring.

But, the issue of resource control has continued to generate heated debate and controversy. Though the ruling APC initially was not enthusiastic on the need for restructuring, however, it gave in to public pressure by setting up a Committee last year on True Federalism. The Committee, which was chaired by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State, early this year, submitted its report to the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.

The El-Rufai committee made far-reaching recommendations, essentially calling for devolution of powers to the states. It also recommended that ten items be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List, to the Concurrent list of the Constitution. Perhaps, one of the contentious recommendations in the report is the part that says that while the Petroleum Act needs to be amended to ensure that mineral oil and mining are vested in the states, “except offshore minerals” which should belong to the federal government.

Expectedly, that recommendation, though denied by the President’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Ita Enang, has reopened the onshore/offshore oil dichotomy controversy which had intended to deprive the littoral states of the country derivation entitlements in the revenue allocation during the Obasanjo presidency.  Buhari’s government, buffeted in all fronts by Herculean problems, need not distract itself further by compounding the tasks before it by reigniting a rested matter, its denial of plans to reintroduce the onshore/offshore dichotomy, not withstanding. It bears repeating that resource control is not all about the South-South, Niger Delta and crude oil. It is about the nation and the totality of the natural resources that abound therein. It is about equity, justice and fairness in the distribution of accruals from these resources in the true spirit of federalism.

It is this issue of equity and fairness that is at the core of the recent agitations for restructuring. Any attempt to upset the current sharing formula as it affects oil-bearing states could reignite restiveness in the littoral states. We want to believe government›s assurance that states will be allowed to control resources in their domains. In addition, government should devolve more powers to the states and increase their revenue allocation.

The onshore/offshore dichotomy should not be used to polarise the country any further. This government has enough problems to grapple with now. Adding the onshore/offshore problem will not help matters.

Those trying to revisit the onshore/offshore dichotomy should remember that the issue has been politically settled during the administration of ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

We recall that legal experts had argued that the Supreme Court, in the case instituted by the Obasanjo administration in 2002, against the 36 states of the federation, did not take note of Section 134(6) of the 1960 Constitution which provided that “…the continental shelf of a region shall be deemed to be part of that region”.

That provision is in tandem with Section 140(6) of the 1963 Constitution. Again, the Phillipson Commission recommended 50 percent derivation fund to be retained in the region of the resource, 35 percent to be shared by all the regions, including region of origin. Within the intervening years, there were other attempts at increasing, reducing or abolishing derivation.

Also, Decree No.106 (Cap 2) of 1996 provided that, “For the purpose of subsection (2) of this section, and for the avoidance of doubt, the distinction hitherto made between onshore and offshore mineral producing areas, is hereby abolished”. The Decree 106 was, and remains an existing law under the provisions of section 315 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

It must be pointed out that, the existing law has not been modified or repealed by the National Assembly. Though the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the federal government, that the matter was resolved politically shows that there is wisdom in listening to the views of the people. Therefore, the federal government or the ruling APC should not restart the onshore/offshore dichotomy that was settled politically since 2004.

Rather, APC should be serious about restructuring. The tempers of the times demand that we can no longer wish this away. As we had noted in previous editorials, restructuring should not be misconstrued to mean separation of the country on ethnic/regional lines. The crux of the matter is about a conscious, deliberate effort at addressing the myriad issues that have made governance hard to achieve and undermined our people’s determination to meet their individual and collective aspirations. Ignoring these agitations is simply tantamount to living in denial.


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