Afenifere, Odinkalu, Ozekhome Say FG Should Allow Niger Delta Access to Oil

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*As SDP Endorses Ceding Gold Mining Right to Zamfara

· Says it’s panacea to socio-political challenges

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Gboyega Akinsanmi

A socio-cultural organization for the Yoruba, Afenifere, a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu and a constitutional lawyer, Dr. Mike Ozekhome, (SAN) have called on the federal government to allow the south south region access to their oil now that it has allowed Zamfara State to assume exclusive right to solid minerals in the state, particularly the gold deposits.

In separate interviews with THISDAY yesterday, they all agreed that the federal government should extend the same artisanal mining rights to other states of the federation in the spirit of equity and justice.

Odinkalu and Ozekhome argued that such rights “are within the Federal Exclusive List,” which according to them, could only be exercised by the federal government.

Under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the federal government had endorsed artisanal mining of gold with the inauguration of the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI).

PAGM is a comprehensive artisanal and small-scale gold mining development programme, launched in 2019 to foster the formalisation and integration of artisanal gold mining activities into Nigeria’s legal, economic, and institutional framework.

The federal government, in collaboration with the Kebbi State Government, had also inaugurated the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining and Biometric Data Capture and Enrolment Exercise in Yauri Local Government Area.

The programme, in partnership with the Kebbi State Government, will formalise the artisanal mining groups for the much-needed support and capacity building aimed at upscaling their processes, creating more jobs and enhancing incomes.

However, the decision to allow Zamfara State assume exclusive right to solid minerals in the state, has continued to generate controversies.

Leaders from the oil rich south south region were irked by the decision as they wondered why such a gesture was not extended to the region.

As a result of this, the Forum of South-South Governors will hold a meeting on the need to address the constitutionality of the alleged Zamfara government’s action.

Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin acknowledged that what happened in Zamfara “is good for federalism. Federalism is about productivity. Every part of Nigeria should become productive.

“Criminals and bandits have been mining gold all along. Now, the state wants to use it to contribute to the economy. I do not think it is right for us to fight.”

He, however, explained why some people “are angry. People are angry because we do not have access to our oil. As Zamfara should have access to its gold, oil producing states nationwide should have access to its crude oil.

“Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and other states in the Niger Delta want to operate modular refineries. Nobody should stop them. That is what we are talking about.

“Instead of our governors referring to federal exclusive list, we need to take some moves like Zamfara. Is there no gold in Osun? What stops Osun from doing what Zamfara is doing? That is how we can push this federalism.

“Our governors should be able to take initiatives that deepen this federalism. They should not sit down and watch. I think Zamfara has given a leeway about deepening our federalism. This federal allocation culture has spoilt us.”

For Odinkalu, much of the focus in this has been on the laws rather than on equity.

He said: “There are three aspects to the grouse here, I suspect.”

First, he noted that all minerals, solid or hydrocarbons, “are supposedly owned by the federal government. That is what has applied to the hydrocarbons in the Niger Delta. So, there is a question as to what or under what regime the solid minerals in Zamfara are being exploited.”

He also raised questions on revenue regime over the solid minerals in Zamfara.

Unlike the case of Zamfara, Odinkalu lamented that artisanal mining of hydrocarbons in the Niger Delta “has been largely criminalised since the deployment of the JTF in the region in 1995.

“If the federal government encourages artisanal mining in Zamfara, why not the Niger Delta? All of these raise questions not just of law, but more fundamentally of equity and inclusion,” Odinkalu explained.

Ozekhome, simply, said mining is within the exclusive list of the federal government, which according to him, should be interpreted as such.

However, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), endorsed the decision of the federal government to grant Zamfara the right to solid minerals in the state, particularly the gold deposits.

SDP National Chairman, Chief Olasupo Shonibare disagreed with the position of the governors from the major oil producing states.

Rather, Shonibare said Zamfara “is taking the lead in recognising the defective nature of our present constitution. That is what many of us have been propagating since 1998, upon the promulgation of this our defective military constitution.”

He pointed out that the states, as presently composed, “are the federating units in the Federal Republic. They should be entitled to a majority of the revenue from all the resources within their territorial boundaries including mining, oil and all other sources of revenue like value added tax (VAT).”

Instead of fighting this initiative, Shonibare observed that granting artisanal gold mining rights to Zamfara or Kebbi no doubt offered the panacea “to political, economic and security challenges. It will foster stability and the viability of our states in ensuring a greater degree of service delivery.”

Shonibare, therefore, noted that all the oil producing states and other state governors, should encourage their members in the National Assembly to embrace restructuring.

He explained that restructuring should be tailored at reducing the federal legislative list, and the states having the exclusive powers and functions as was vested in the regions by the Independence and the Republican Constitutions.

According to him, it is when we are able to achieve such a constitutional change that we can truthfully refer to the geographical expression we now all occupy as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He said: “We are at the moment the Unitary Republic of Nigeria.”