One Road to Restructuring

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RIGHT OF REPLY: ABDULHAKEEM IBRAHEEM 

And to settle for negotiations is no more than rewarding criminality. For if the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme as implemented by the Goodluck Jonathan administration was any guide, while the militant leaders were obscenely enriched, the basic problems of the region in the areas of infrastructure deficit and oil spill and poverty were barely addressed.” – Eni-B

Eni-B’s “It’s Electricity, Stupid!”, published on this page Tuesday, July 5, 2016 was a very thoughtful piece on the nefarious activities of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). Even the Twitter Senator whose kinsmen (the Ijaws) constitute the majority of the NDA has yet to condemn their activities. Besides corruption and gross mismanagement, the bombing campaigns of the NDA partly explain why Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson is unable to pay salaries even with monthly FAAC and 13% derivation. And yet, Senator Common Sense has refused to donate his salary to assist in offsetting the Bayelsa State Government’s salary backlog just as he promised (yet unfulfilled) same to Osun State Government early in the year even though the senator has N11 billion hole sitting with AMCON. But when it comes to Fulani herdsmen, he delves into a tweeting frenzy. Sheer hypocrisy! Anyway, that is not the purpose of my reaction to your article.

I am glad you mentioned that the militants were obscenely enriched by the Jonathan administration. It was not just that. The damage Jonathan did to this country goes beyond enriching militants, friends, political associates and cronies, far beyond that; unfortunately, this is underreported. A lot of people do not even realise it. The real long-term damage is the damage to institutions. Why do you think the security forces have been unable to get a hold on NDA and bring them to justice? It is simply because the institutions have been destroyed. The army, police, navy, judiciary and all other civil service institutions have been compromised. Professionalism is dead and buried in them. There are insiders in the security forces who relay government’s plans to the militants. That is why the NDA have the effrontery to threaten the government via obnoxious tweets and boast that they are 10 steps ahead of the Nigerian Army. What a shame! How could the Nigerian Navy’s job of protecting pipelines be outsourced to militants by Jonathan? Do we then need the Navy? Now to the meat of my response.

As much as I detest the activities of the NDA and would have preferred that the government deals with them, we also have to weigh the costs and benefits especially when the security forces have been infiltrated and are therefore helpless in gathering the necessary intelligence to bring the economic saboteurs to book. As you said, President Buhari is helpless in this regard because the security forces have failed the nation. In light of this embarrassing reality, your proposition of resource control and payment of taxes to the federal government appear in order. My problem with this however is that it does not address the issue. This is premised on the following reasons.

One, the NDA militants are not necessarily freedom fighters, they are just after the pipeline protection contracts and illegal oil bunkering which Buhari has stopped. That is the crux of the bombing. You think they care about a university, clean-up of their land and all other demands they made? Not true! As you rightly said, government should not reward bad behaviour because it will only get more of it. It will result in a proliferation of militant groups. Let’s assume the federal government adopts the resource control proposition, who then controls the oil resources? The state governments of course. What then is the benefit to the militants, nothing? If the state government controls the oil resources, pays taxes to the federal government but refuses to cede pipeline protection contracts to the militants and allow oil bunkering, do you think they will not blow the pipelines? The point is, what is in it for the militants? That is what matters to the NDA. They just want the “Jonathan dollar-flow” which the Buhari government has stopped, to continue. It is just as simple as that. The freedom fighting rhetoric is a mere smokescreen.

Two, we will be setting a bad precedent if we go with the resource control proposition especially at this time when it will be seen to have been induced by economic sabotage. The implication of this is that anybody can hold government to ransom by bombing strategic assets when it feels disenchanted with the policies and programmes of the government. This is effectively, an invitation to anarchy and socio-political disorder. And trust me, politicians will exploit such an opportunity to a devastating effect. Virtually every politician will have his militant arm and hijack local militia group. Militant groups will be a beautiful bride to be courted by politicians who will use them to settle scores with the government. It means my life, your life and that of every citizen is no longer safe. Is that the kind of country we want to live in?

Three, if at all we want to go with resource control, it is difficult to transition with immediate effect because it will be unpopular with and resisted by the north. Also, it is inappropriate to be seen that federal government was bombed into submission. That will be too bad and a terrible signal, the import of which is that anybody can hold the federal government to ransom. It is sad when the NDA gives the federal government ultimatums and make threats to government and oil firms not to repair damaged pipelines. So sad for our country. Is this how bad corruption has eaten deep, to the extent that the once-revered Nigerian Army will deny that one of its former generals owns a certificate? Is this the way we want to run this country? Jonathan has really done a lasting damage to Nigeria, the results of which have only just begun to manifest.

Playing the devil’s advocate: How to transition to resource control

Were we to adopt resource control, it has to be done gradually as doing so immediately is akin to visiting poor states with fiscal shock which could bankrupt them and will be fiercely resisted by the north. There has to be a transition period of say 4-5 years. During that period, all states would have drafted their transition plans and began gradual implementation in preparation for the monthly Abuja receipts will cease to flow. If we set July 2021 as the date of transition for example, it will enable all states to plan appropriately. That means Company Income Tax, VAT, WHT, PAYE, revenues from solid minerals, ports, immigration, customs duties and levies, crude oil, mineral resources and any other incomes would go to the state government where such revenues are generated and the state then pays a tax to the federal government. For states who want to go into agriculture, the five-year transition period affords them the opportunity to plan and broaden their agricultural and other revenue bases. By 2021, the president/federal government’s role will be restricted to foreign affairs, currency management, internal policing, judiciary and conduct of elections. All states will handle their respective economic affairs.

Calming the restiveness in the Niger Delta

In conclusion, the bottom-line is resource control or not, it does not change anything for the militants. The only language they understand is petrodollars and they will be friends of whoever assures them of it. Simple! Whether it is the federal or state government that controls the resources is irrelevant to them. I will propose instead that government weighs the costs and benefits. Why wouldn’t the government pay the militants say $5 million every month for pipeline protection and save $900 million (600,000bpd x $50pbl x 30 days) every month? The government then nets $895 million ($900m – $5m) every month which will be used to finance critical import needs. The government cannot afford to be pennywise, pound foolish. What I will suggest is done differently is that both the Nigerian Navy and the militants should guard the pipelines together. With that and over time, the government will know each and every militant and institute programmes to wean them off pipeline protection and illegal oil bunkering in the long term.

•Abdulhakeem Ibraheem writes from Abuja