A COMMUNITY GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING RESOURCE CONTROL
By Oronto Douglas
This ERA BRIEF seeks to clarify and present the understanding of "resource control" from the perspective of communities and peoples of the Niger Delta. There is now an emerging A TENDENCY TOWARDS proliferation of views and interpretations of "resource control", an issue that is now sweeping the country like wildfire in a hot harmattan afternoon. (The debate may move to Europe and America should the communities and peoples of the Niger Delta so desire DON'T SEE HOW THIS FITS IN).
BUT What exactly do the peoples and communities of the Niger Delta mean, when they say they want to "control (their) our resources"?
Resource control as a concept has traveled a very long and languid road to its present formulation. In the late 18th and early 19th century it was understood as a struggle by indigenous peoples of the Niger Delta to participate in trade and in the politics of self-government in the region. The principal resource then was "palm oil". The communities and peoples of the area became involved in what would today have been described as a struggle for "resource control and self determination". King William Koko of Nembe, Nana Olomu of Itsekiri and Jaja of Opobo perhaps best exemplify this tendency towards self assertion and a desire not to be under any people or any government especially "foreign".
The clamour and struggle for control and meaningful participation in the palm oil trade may have gradually withered away through a variety of factors including: political brinkmanship on the part of the British (indirect rule, revocation of the charter of the Royal Niger Company, Christianity and divide and favour); military conquests (gunboat diplomacy) and new opportunities (western education), which led to the emergence of a new set of local elites (HOW DID THE EMERGENCE OF LOCAL ELITE AND THE OTHER FACTORS LEAD TO THE WITHERING OF THE STRUGGLE? HOW DO WE LINK THIS TO THE ROLE OF THE PRESENT DAY ELITES' INTERPRETATION OF RESOURCE CONTROL?)
Colonialism gave way of course to "independence" but because the issues raised by the people were not addressed (WHAT WERE THESE ISSUES, WHAT FORM DID THEY TAKE IN BORO'S TIME?) , it returned in Isaac Boro and the declaration of the Niger Delta Republic in the mid sixties. The attempt by Isaac Boro, a former student union leader and ex- policeman to declare a republic may have been propelled by the abundance of oil resources . The federal forces crushed the "rebellion" which lasted only twelve days.
In the early nineties, the Ogonis, led by Ken Saro Wiwa mobilised under MOSOP and demanded for a fair share of Ogoni reaources to be used for "Ogoni development". They also asked for "self-determination" for the Ogoni people. The struggle in Ogoni, which we in ERA participated, is well documented. The case for use of Ogoni resources can be found in the Ogoni bible on the matter, the Ogoni Bill of Rights. The Ogbia Chatter of demand of the Ogbia people of the central Niger Delta was to follow twenty-four months later. Its campaign flourished and its youthful leaders got involved in other human rights campaigns notably those of MOSOP and that of the Civil Liberties Organisation.
Perhaps the most pointed articulation and presentation of "resource control" can today be located in the "Kaiama Declaration" of the Ijaw people. Proclaimed on the 11th of December 1998, the Kaiama Declaration, coined, sharpened and popularised the term "resource control"' and set the tone for the present debate on the matter.
In the immediate aftermath of the declaration, hundreds of civil society groups from around the world authored a supporting position to the Kaiama Declaration: "The world is watching" and had the position published in several medium including the Nigerian Guardian.
Reaction to the declaration in Nigeria was celebratory as well as violent. The media and the people reacted positively to the declaration and it is on record that a good section of the national press published it wholly or in parts. The military dictatorship of general Abdulsami Abubakar and the oil companies replied with violence. Hundreds of Ijaw youths were killed, tens of them arrested, so also was a military curfew imposed in Bayelsa and parts of Rivers and Delta States.
Article 1 of the Kaiama declaration set the tone for the debate asserting ownership of "all land and natural resources within the Ijaw territory as belonging to the Ijaw communities" because they are "the basis of our survival".
Article 2 insist on the "peoples and communities right to ownership and control of our lives and resources" while article 4 advised all oil companies and staff operating in the Ijaw area to withdraw from Ijaw land" pending the resolution of the issues of resource ownership and control in the Ijaw area of the Niger Delta".
And very pointedly in Article 10, the last article of the declaration, the issue of "resource control" was placed firmly and unambiguously bequeated to the present day resource control interpreters. The declaration was then followed by several insistencies and proclamations: " We insist on our rights to self-determination and resource control. This is our minimum demand," an IYC leader later told journalist at the waterside community of Bundu, near Port Harcourt (January 18, 1999).
The IYC's Kaiama Declaration was followed by a number of other "bills of rights", "charters of demands", "Resolutions" and "Declarations", from many of the Niger Delta ethnic nationalities, including the Urhobo, Egi, Oron, Ibibio, Ikwere among others.
In late 1999, Ijaw youths issued yet another report: "Our resources our life, 100 reasons why the Ijaw nation wants to control its resources," in which the Ijaws justified the need for them to control what they have.
RECENT APOSTLES OF RESOURCE CONTROL
The political elites, especially the governors of the South- South States (Niger Delta) became involved in the resource control struggle towards the end of 1999. Four reasons may be adduced for their involvement:
1. The dominant position and view in the delta when they arrived on the 29 of May 1999 was resource control. To take a contrary position may probably have amounted to committing political suicide.
2. They came into office without an ideology or programme, and "resource control' readily becomes a platform to forge one.
3. It was a convenient issue the governors could use to compel the federal government to implement constitutional provisions relating to revenue devolution or allocation, which they (the federal government) were reluctant to let go.
4. "Resource control" advocacy was discovered by some governors to be a good weapon through which they could fight political Sharia.
UNDERSTANDING RESOURCE CONTROL
The term "resource control" is now subject to various interpretations, by politicians, politician-scholars, military-politicians, government and non-governmental organizations, corporate executives, contractors, diplomats and several interest groups.
These diverse interpretations seek not to clarify but confuse the issue so that the communities and the peoples position on the matter is further compounded so as to delay an agreement or a resolution on the matter. Let us examine these variegated views on resource control vis a viz the position of the communities.
The mining industry as a whole and to some extent the logging companies believe that resource control or its agitation by the people of the Niger Delta and beyond are merely a clamour for a return of parts of oil and logging revenue into the regions (states). They advertised believe that once the states have been settled, there will be peace.
The Federal Government
To the federal governement resource control advocacy and its meaning is a call for war or a break up of Nigeria. Government leaders believe that an agitation for control of resources is nothing but "separatist tendencies" that must not be tolerated, but crushed. Government does not favour dialogue on this matter even though its agents preach peace. The federal government sees the setting up of NDDC by the government as a way out of the problems in the Niger Delta.
The politician of the South-South (Niger Delta)
Control of oil and gas resources by the states of the
Niger Delta as opposed to the central government seem to be the driving
force that defines the understanding of resource control here. The governors
of the south-south states are the prime movers of this view and the advertised
objective is to utilize the resources for the building of social infrastructure
for the states. The position assumes that the issue of the federating
units is settled and the states and the local governments are the
other units of
governance in the Nigerian federation and no more. Building a refinery or a power plant by some states is thus seen by some of them as resource control.
Some Scholars, academic-politicians etc
These categories of people understand resource control almost as the oil companies do: improved revenue to the states and local governments authorities. They argue that the center is strong, too strong in fact, and too over centralized. There is the need to take away or devolve the "centers control" of "oil and gas revenues" to the other tiers of government.
Communities and Resource Control
The Urhobo economic summit resolution; the Aklaka declaration of the Egi people; the Oron Bill of Rights; The Ikwerre Charter of Demand and the earlier Kaiama Declaration all affirm total control of resources for and on behalf of the peoples and communities in whose land resources originate.
These resolutions, charters, bills of rights and declarations all sit well in the hearts and minds of the people. It is for this support; drive and reasons that the debate has refused to go away.
The Character of Control
When communities and peoples of the Niger Delta say they want to control their resources, what exactly do they mean? ERA investigation in the Niger delta reveals the following:
(a) "Resources" to the communities and peoples of the Niger Delta is not just "oil and gas". In fact, land, forests and the water came out pre-eminently as prime resources by the estimation of the people.
(b) "Control" is almost always equated and used interchangeably with ownership. To this extent I draw the conclusion that communities talk and mean "ownership and control" in their advocacy for resource control.
(c) There is a burning desire, an almost fierce yearning to regain the use and management of these resources without external control and direction. This is in line with the historical position of the peoples of the region. (See origins above).
(d) The freedom to willingly dispose of these resources, to negotiate its alienation or extraction without reference to a violent and or an undemocratic controller beyond the seas and oceans or behind the forests and the savannahs.
(e) A belief that these resources be returned to the communities and managed at the community levels with little or no outside direction.
(f) Resource control in the simplest sense means survival.
PRESENT AND POSSIBLE FUTURE DIMENSIONS
IN THE STRUGGLE FOR RESOLUTION AND UNDERSTANDING OF RESOURCE CONTROL
The struggle for resource control history has shown will not go way until it is addressed. It may, as we have seen come back in forms more "pointed" than the present. Strategies to resolve the issue must not seek to postpone delay or fraudulently pretend to address when in fact they are dangerously compounding the issue. Clarity of direction is imperative. Let us examine some current strategies by the federal and states government on the matter.
The Suit at the Supreme Court
Although the legal matter over oil and gas instituted by the federal government against the 36 states of the federation is strictly not resource control, in its wider meaning, it is a move towards permanent seizure, control, own use and management of oil and gas resources off shore. The communities and peoples of the Niger Delta living on the coast stand to lose or gain on the matter.
On a pan-delta level, a community understanding of resource control cannot ignore this suit because its outcome may have earth-shaking implications for the continuing struggle for resource control and by extension self-determination.
One can predict possible outcome on this littoral suit:
(a) A victory for the Central Government, may produce
one or more of the results outlined below:
(i) A victory at the supreme court for the central government may help delay the struggle for the actualisation of resource control but not stop its agitation which when it returns full bloom may come with a more daring and imaginative strategy.
(ii) A victory may come with heightened tensions, protests etc which may or may not be crushed by federal might.
(iii) A victory to the government of Obasanjo may help increase consciousness on the issue and help in uniting fellow sufferers. The possible fallouts of all these may include but is not limited to:
- increase in military activities in the region under the guise of protecting federal property.
- increase in human rights violations.
- increases in communal; conflict arising from divide and ruletactics of the oil companies.
- Involvement and use of the Niger Delta Development commission in security issues, especially by the commission setting up security outfit, which may make use of available and willing youths
- Possible stoking of ethnic suspicion with a view to creating inter ethnic conflicts so as to make military intervention justifiable.
- The rise and rise of ethnic nationalism in the area and around it.
- Increase British /American government support for the protection of oil industry activity.
- Rise of ethnic warlords complimentary to the selfish activities of hijackers, kidnappers and hostage takers that have their roots in the oil industry.
(b) If the suit favours the States, the following consequences are likely:
- Obvious increase in revenue to the states of the south-south (Niger Delta)
- A reduction to non-oil and gas producing states of distributable revenue from oil and gas.
- Possible violent agitation for annulment of the supreme court decision by non oil states and by a section of the national assembly.
- Internal pressure on states government of the Niger Delta states for high performance on the development question.
- Internal pressure on non-oil and gas producing states to create goods that would provide revenue to provide services.
- Better and more efficent taxation policies on the part of the federal government and the non oil producing states, leading to emergence of alternative sources of revenue.
- An agrieved federal government reluctance to deploy federal resources into the delta.
ERA, RESOURCE CONTROL, DEFINITION AND PRESENT DEBATE
Present dimension to the resource control debate is interpreted narrowly and understood almost wholly to mean oil and gas resources.
The challenge for the communities, ERA and all other non-governmental organizations working on this issue is to redirect this debate, now almost hijacked and have it returned to the communities and people. Resource control must not be adulterated.
"Resources" from a Niger Delta perspective mean primarily the land, waters, forests, air and all other resources within and around them whether physical or spiritual. A "control" of these is one struggle that most nations have been involved at one point or the other.
Thus RESOURCE CONTROL is now a term used to describe the desire and determination of the communities and people whose resources and or sources of survival have been taken away undemocratically and possibly violently and therefore unjustly.
It denotes a compelling desire to regain ownership, control, use and management of resources for the primary benefit of the first owner (the communities and people) on whose land the resources originate.
Resource control does not foreclose the future spreading of the benefits of resources to the non-owners in a manner acceptable to the vision of a greater humanity.
NEXT STEPS ON RESOURCE CONTROL
I agree that the struggle of the peoples of the Niger Delta is now being "trivialised into the politics of compensation". This is a puerile. Further up however, this is seen as "resource allocation" and "derivation". So that states chief executives of the Niger Delta scramble for allocation or compensation in the form of 1.5%; 3% and very recently 13%.
Increased agitation in the phases above resulted in improvements in accruable revenue to the federating units, such as the states and the local governments. But the communities and peoples of the Niger Delta remain "poor, backward and neglected" as the Willinks commission observed more than five decades ago.
The "neglect" and deliberate refusal of the central, states and local government to offer and put in place a frame work that will make the communities masters of their own destiny may in our view be responsible for the continuing agitations in the Niger Delta. A society that encourages deprivation, oppression and injustice as the Nigerian state does to the people of the Delta deserve condemnation, for the Nigerian state kills millions through hunger and poverty and inefficient and careless management of resources belonging to those it kills.
STEP ONE: ACCOUNTABILITY
The challenge for ERA is to encourage and nurture the movement for accountability in the Niger Delta. The people have to be mobilised so that they can compel local and state representatives to give adequate and satisfactory account of their stewardship.
Presently "elected" officials are involved in the mismanagement of proceeds from the trade in natural resources flowing from the land of the people. Accountability focus must be directed at the states and local levels even as the struggle for resource control is intensified in the Niger Delta against the un-federal Nigeria State.
STEP TWO: RESTORATION
This is the last frontier in the resource control struggle. Restoration is that state when resource use is settled in the hands of the owners and such unchallenged owners are using a great chunk of these resources to repair the ecological damage done to the land, air and waters of the people. It is also the state where environmental and social philosophy becomes firmly rooted in the protection of present and future needs in line with African pristine traditions of communal hood. It is that state of happiness as to be enjoyed by all members of the community in a resource endowed land.
The damage done to social and cultural cohesion in Africa because of resource ownership, extraction, use, control and management can only is repaired if we embark on a restoration programme.
This of course must be preceded by a clear understanding
of control beyond the narrow confines of oil and gas, diamonds and gold
in Niger Delta or the Great lakes region and on to the vexatious issues
of hunger, greed, unaccountable government and social and economic injustice.