Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the oil in the Niger Delta belongs to Nigeria and the region cannot claim ownership provided it is part of the Nigerian state.
Obasanjo said that any natural resource discovered in any part of Nigeria belongs to the country and not the region.
He said this while responding to the prominent Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark, who alleged that Obasanjo hates the Niger Delta region.
Obasanjo said Nigeria and the Niger Delta expected Clark to be a statesman and not a tribesman.
The 94- year- old Clark is the leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Ijaw National Congress.
He had served as federal commissioner of information in 1975 and was involved in politics even before Nigeria’s independence.
Obasanjo, 84, in a lengthy letter to Clark, cautioned the Ijaw leader against deploying “offensive and uncouth languages” to describe his personality.
What Clark said
Daily Trust recalled that Clark had on Wednesday, December 22, slammed Obasanjo over what he termed “A disappointing display of hatred against the people of the oil-producing states in Nigeria.”
He was reacting to the former president’s position in Abuja, at a peace and security parley convened by the Global Peace Foundation and Vision Africa.
In an open letter to Obasanjo titled, ‘My disappointment over your unprovoked outburst against the people of the Niger Delta region’, Clark accused the former president of double standards over resource control in the country.
He had said, “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.”
But reacting to Clark, Obasanjo, in a six-page letter, said his position at the occasion was misconstrued, even as he declared that he had no grudge against the Niger Delta.
In his letter titled ‘My response to the open letter by Chief (Dr) E. N Clark’, the Ota farmer said that it remains a constitutional matter that the oil in Niger Delta Region belongs to Nigeria as it “affects Zamfara State where gold is found.”
According to him, the tribe has to be suppressed for the state to emerge, and until the state emerges, Nigeria will not make the desired progress as tribesmen will always sacrifice the state for the tribe.
Obasanjo said, “Let me proceed with the most basic constitutional fact that you cannot have two sovereign entities within a state, which is what your position of Niger Delta ownership claim of the crude oil found in that location amounts to.
“All those who purchase crude oil from Nigeria enter into a 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.
“This is the position of the Nigerian Constitution and international law. If there is a threat of violence to any part of Nigeria today including the Niger Delta, it is the Nigerian military backed by any other machinery that can be procured or established at the federal level that will respond to any such threat.
“In principle and practice, the position I have taken on the location of mineral resources in any part of Nigeria is the legal and constitutional position.”
Recalling his stand on the contentious issue in his long letter to Clark, Obasanjo said, “I have always stood for equity and justice in our federation and, for me, the tribe has to be suppressed for the state to emerge.
“And until the state emerges, Nigeria will not make the desired progress as tribesmen will always sacrifice the state for the tribe. This has always been my position and it will remain my position until I breathe my last.”
He chided Clark for using “Bad, imprudent, unwise and immature” words to describe him.
“Some of the languages you (Clark) have deployed to describe me in your letter are offensive, uncouth and I totally and completely rejected them. I am not inconsistent, hypocritical, unstatesman and nor am I anybody’s lackey.”
Our correspondents report that the Niger Delta has an estimated 38 billion barrels of oil reserves and people in the region have for long been agitating for resource control.
The Niger Delta is the delta of the River Niger sitting directly on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. It is typically considered to be located within nine coastal southern Nigerian states, which include: all six states from the South-South geopolitical zone, one state (Ondo) from the South-West geopolitical zone and two states (Abia and Imo) from South East geopolitical zone.
The clamour for resource control had led to a violent uprising in the Niger Delta, which led to the loss of lives, equipment and billions of dollars in oil revenue.
The amnesty programme initiated by late President Umaru Yar’adua and the 13 per cent derivation being given to the states had to a greater extent calmed frayed nerves but have not resolved the impasse as politicians normally bring the matter to the front burner especially ahead of general elections to bargain for recognition.
For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari had last week in Maiduguri, Borno State said that the discovery of oil in two North East states of Bauchi and Gombe will balance the politics of oil in the country and create stability.
He had said, “I was amazed and even overwhelmed that I was so ignorant when a certain professor told me that only 2.5 per cent of Nigeria’s arable land is being used. I didn’t know that even when I was a governor, a minister, and head of state.
“To be honest, I didn’t know. We were indoctrinated that we are oil-rich and don’t need to work on the farms. This made everybody rush to the cities to drink oil money.
“Now oil has almost become irrelevant, but we thank God that oil is now discovered in Bauchi and Gombe and that will help to balance the politics of oil in the country.”
OBJ was right – Prof Kari
Dissecting Obasanjo’s reply to Edwin Clark, an Associate Professor of Political Sociology, University of Abuja, Dr Abubakar Umar Kari, said the former president did not say anything new or special.
According to him, Obasanjo only restated the position of the law and echoed what many others – scholars, experts and politicians have said.
Going memory lane, Kari said, “For instance, the late radical historian, Dr Yusufu Bala Usman, repeatedly stated at several fora, that it was a huge fallacy, or what he called a “fairy tale,” under the existing Nigerian political economy for any component unit of the country to claim ownership of any natural resource.
“Everything belongs to the federation as a whole. That’s the position of the constitution and all Obasanjo did was to stress it,” he said.
He also said some experts in geosciences have gone as far as showing that petroleum resources in the Niger Delta originated from elsewhere.
“Hence it is quite misleading for anyone to claim exclusive ownership on account of the oil deposits and exploration of same going on there.
“But then, over the years, the Niger Deltans, particularly their self-styled leaders and activists, have promoted the ‘resource control’ propaganda, which has now become a mantra, and which is predicated on the controversial territorial ownership of minerals in their region.
“This contradicts and conflicts with the position of the law. From time to time the Niger Deltans have engaged in agitation over the issue, and have won concessions from the Nigerian State (including the 13% derivation, the onshore-offshore dichotomy, the amnesty programme, etc), but all these do not amount to resource control or ownership of minerals,” he said.