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 'Resource Control Requires Constitutional Amendment’

Says Senator Fred Brume

/logo_min.gif - 1122 Bytes The Guardian Online - http://ngrguardiannews.com
Sunday,July 1, 2001

 Resource Control Requires Constitutional Amendment’

SENATOR FRED BRUME is ordinarily a complete gentleman. His looks indicate an aversion for controversy. But when recently, his comment on resource control agitation plunged him into a misunderstanding with his constituents, Brume had no place to hide. Granted that he has expressed “regrets” over the developments, the dust over it is still slow in settling. Last week, he spoke with ABIODUN ADENIYI in Abuja. Excerpts:

 You are presently embroiled in a controversy over resource control, arising from your statement criticising the clamour for it. What exactly is the problem?

 Thank you. The situation on the ground as I see it is that having been marginalised and neglected for so long, we in the Niger Delta of which Delta State is one now need an infusion of capital for development so that the neglect of the past can be remedied. That is the crux of the matter. We need more capital, more funds flowing from the centre to the Niger Delta. And then of course we need an atmosphere of peace for such funds from abroad and from within Nigeria to come there and participate in the development of the Niger Delta. That is the problem or should I say the issue as I see it. And then the question of resource control comes in. People are agitating for resource control. Well as a general goal perhaps, there may be nothing wrong with wanting to control your resources. But we must weigh it on a scale to try to size up what we will be getting through this resource control agitation vis-a-vis what alternatives are already on the ground by which they can get this development capital —these funds from the centre. And I say that already there has been this debate for many years and in the 1994/95 constitution which was not implemented until under the 1999 constitution, there has been a provision of not less than 13 per cent resource derivation revenue. By that I mean the principle of derivation, that for mineral-producing areas, not less than 13 per cent of what the federal government gets as revenue will be returned to the area for its development. We only started implementing this principle last year and even then not completely fully yet. Even this principle which provides for not less than 13 per cent is yet to be formally done up and passed into a Revenue Allocation Act by the National Assembly. We have to do that, beginning from the recommendation of the Fiscal Mobilisation, Allocation and Revenue Commission — which has to make a recommendation of what not less than 13 per cent is really equal to which the president will now work on and then pass on to the National Assembly. This is yet to be done, but yet we know that already on the basis of the ad hoc implementation of the not less than 13 per cent derivation principle, sustained funds are already flowing into the oil-and-gas-producing states. What I say is that this provision is in the constitution. It is already there. It is part of the laws of this country. It is for us to implement it. It can be 20 per cent, 30 per cent or even 50 per cent. On the other hand, the resource control which we are agitating requires constitutional amendment because, by resource control, you are to mean that the national resources in an area, the mining rights, the responsibility for granting the mining right — whether for minerals or for petroleum and so on — is that responsibility which is already an exclusive federal responsibility by our constitution, if you are to change it to now become the responsibility of a state or a local government or anybody else, you require constitutional amendment. And to get constitutional amendment, you require two-thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly. That is two-thirds of the legislators. Not only that, you require at least two-thirds of the states of the federation to agree. And I tell you that if you are on the ground and you know the inclination of the people in this country, you are going to struggle and for many years before you will be able to effect such a constitutional amendment — if at all.

Whatever way, are you going to control your resources by taxation of the companies that operate in the area? That also is an exclusive federal responsibility. To change it also, the taxation law from federal to state or to local government, you require again constitutional amendment. What are your chances of getting constitutional amendment? Very, very slim given the present mood of this country. It’s therefore like chasing a mirage, chasing a balloon. Because of this agitation many Nigerians begin to look at the people agitating for this with distrust. They wonder “what are these people after”? Only recently we gave billions of naira to them and we are doing so under the derivation principle. This matter is being developed. We’ve not arrived at it yet and they are now talking of resource control. Do they want to secede from Nigeria? What are they looking for? Because of the sentiments this has created, the rest of the country, like I tell you I come from the Niger Delta, are feeling more alienated from us. This is why the governor of Cross River State, Governor Duke, remarked a week ago that even the normal relationship we used to have with his fellow governors from the northern part of the country is now becoming affected because people are wondering what are these people looking for. Is it something other than money that is needed for their development, for the repair for the ecological damage of the past? Is it something else? Actually, the law of the land already allow the state government, the local government or even an individual to invest in any company that is operating in any of the mineral exploration and exploitation activities — whether oil or gas. So people are wondering. And because they are wondering and becoming distrustful, our share of national cake is being called more into question by people and I fear that at the end of the day, unless (caution) is brought into the whole thing, we could be losing more whereas what we are even chasing is not something that is attainable under normal constitutional lawful arrangement. That is the crux of the matter.

The problem is that a lot of our people feel that no matter how justifiable or how strong your arguments are, the point is they want resource control and they try to be emotional about this. If you are advancing arguments why they should not be passionate about it, they see it as if you are being anti-people, that you are opposing them. Sir, don’t you think that you should have been more restrained in airing your views?

 Thank you very much. I anticipated that when I came out with the statement of the true situation we are in, I was going to find reaction for the very reason that people somehow believe that resource control is the El-dorado. It is, as one paper or some people put it, they say it is synonymous with our well-being,the survival of our people. That is the way it has been couched and as a man who loves his people, how long can they continue to dwell in cocooland? How long can they continue to dwell in something that is not there? How long can they continue to live under an atmosphere of misunderstanding of the real issue? If this continues, at some point in time, there will be an uncontrolled violent reaction. They will be looking at somebody to blame and as far as I am concerned, my thinking was that this matter should now be opened so that our people can start to learn the truth. So that we can place our priority right, so that we can chase the things that are at least immediately feasible. As an individual, I will have nothing against resource control but on balance when you weigh against the real situation we have on the ground, what do you have to gain? I can play safe. Can say let everybody go like that provided that I am secured in my position but God knows my desire to truly serve my people in the best way that they can benefit. I would be denying them of that opportunity, I will not be faithful to myself, I would become part of a lying scheme. Where people do not understand, it is different. But I’m advantaged, I’m here in Abuja to interact with different people. I see their attitudes and I know the constitution. Therefore I am in a more knowledgeable position to counsel my people. But because somehow the masses believe something that is not there, will I therefore be doing any good if I keep my mouth shut and say that we all should go along until we walk ourselves into the desert or into the river? This is why I’ve decided to come out. But as you will see from even the public notice that I am releasing today, I am making it clear that I am not in anyway against resource control. In fact, I am in support of resource control provided that on balance it will and must be beneficial to all Deltans and Niger Deltans and indeed to all natural resource-producing Nigerians. I am in support of it but on balance, it should truly benefit us. That’s my position. And of course that whatever we do, we must do it within the context of a democratic federal Nigeria which is governed by the rule of law and by the constitution.

It is also said that you are probably opposed to resource control as it were, because the Delta State governor who is believed to be championing this cause did not support your candidature for the NNDC top job. How would you react to that?

That is absolutely balderdash. That is absolutely untrue. It has nothing to do with any personal differences with the state governor. As a matter of fact, the position that I am now coming out with today I have personally and privately initiated it a long time ago. I have stressed — even at South-South governors’ meetings and other meetings — that we should look at what is already in the constitution. We should look at the not less than 13 per cent resource derivation revenue. This is something we can get now and there’s still plenty of room to get more there. I have stressed it and I am not against the Delta State governor in anyway. He is a son to me. At very least, he is my younger brother and we have teamed together to try to move forward the position of Delta State. But where there are slight misunderstandings, it is more from or sometimes the circle of people beating drums to him. Where these differences of understanding become much, then it has come to the surface. But as a person, he has been quite dynamic, a courageous governor and I have nothing against him in person. And in fact this is why I said that I apologise for the confusion and inconveniences caused by my alleged utterance and promise to work for the progress and development of people of Delta State together with the state governor. The ultimate test is the progress and development of the people of Delta State. If I happen to notice that there is a pitfall ahead, if I don’t mention or say it to him, I am doing a disservice not only to the people of Delta State but also to him. Any such stories gaining ground are just figments of imagination. Perhaps people who say that don’t understand that what I am saying is what I believe in, what I have analysed and it has been inside me and I have tried my best to get people to understand. And I can tell you this: If it were today that we had to pilot the Niger Delta Development Commission bill through the National Assembly, it would be a difficult task to pass because the attitude of people has changed very much. They have become negative towards those of us from the Niger-Delta, from South-South.