Okowa, South-South and Zamfara gold – By KEN UGBECHIE

Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, is the Chairman of the South-south Governors’ forum. He leads a team of six governors of the nation’s oil-rich south-south states. Also called the BRACED states (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Delta). These states represent the breath and life of Nigeria. Not only are they agriculturally viable and vibrant, they produce the crude oil that brings in the cash. Nigeria’s annual budget is benchmarked on price of crude oil per barrel. Not on the price of yam, cassava, rice or fish. For Nigeria crude oil is the big deal.
This, therefore, underscores the relevance and national importance of these states. They are golden states. They lay the golden egg. They bake the national cake. But they are disdained and discounted when national positions are to be allocated. They are snubbed, effectively, when the power brokers and central government oligarchs want to recruit into NNPC and its many subsidiaries and spin-offs, the Customs, DSS, the military, police, FIRS and other lucrative Departments and Agencies. Oh, yes, in Nigeria, there are agencies of diverse glories. Some have their light so dim, you don’t wish your enemy ever to work there. Others glow and glow with manifest rewards and perks for their workers. To think otherwise is to keep deceiving yourself. All government workers are not the same. Some are paid better than others. Period!
And here is a paradox. South-South geopolitical zone gets the fattest FAAC allocation every month, but they top the nation’s unemployment chart, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. The zone struggles with 37.0% unemployment rate, followed by the South East with 29.1%, the North Central with 27.9%, the Northeast with 27.9%, North West with 26.3%, and the South West with 18.0%. Surprised that it’s not any of the northern zones that struggle the most with unemployment? Wait until you learn that the NBS considers engagement in agriculture as employment. This makes it easy to conjecture why the South-south states dither behind in the employment chart.
Their land has been rendered non-agrarian and their waters made unfit for fishing by the activities of oil majors whose drilling proboscis daily scour the sub-soil in search of crude.
But that’s not my worry here. I’m bothered about the fate of the South-south in the Nigerian scheme. The zone that provides most of the ingredients for the making of the nation’s soup does not get as much for its people. Instead, the zone is often scorned. Picture this: while environmental activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and his kinsmen were brutally executed like common criminals for agitating to control the crude oil resource in their backyard on November 10, 1995 by the military junta of General Sani Abacha, and militants in the creeks of Niger Delta killed and hounded by Nigerian government agents for trying their skills in crude oil processing, their counterparts in Zamfara have made billions of naira from illegally mining gold with the same Nigerian government conveniently looking away.
So, in one breath, indigenes of the South-south cannot control their oil resources but in another breath, their fellow citizens are encouraged by Nigerian government to mine and process gold in Zamfara State. And this has been going on for decades until the bandits from hell, of course, came gunning after the billionaire gold miners and their sponsors. This is troubling in a country where the central government bears down heavily on any person engaging in crude oil processing in the creeks of the Niger Delta. This is what makes some Nigerians cry marginalisation and restructuring.
Recently, as if emboldened by the Buhari government, Zamfara State government in full consciousness gave legitimacy to the illegality of any person mining gold by openly declaring its intendment to keep buying gold from artisans (illegal miners). It’s gone ahead to establish the first of its kind ‘gold reserve’ in Nigeria, starting with 31 kg of processed gold.
The Governor of Zamfara state, Bello Matawalle, was even bold to say that the gold was entirely mined and refined by local artisanal miners in the state: “My administration will subsequently continue to buy gold from our local miners so as to gradually improve the reserve. Even though our state, like other states of the Federation, is grappling with competing demands from the public, the resources at our disposal are meagre. We feel it is of utmost significance to invest in the future of our people,” Matawalle said.
Section 44 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) vests the control of any mineral resource including hydrocarbon on the Federal Government. These resources include gold, crude oil, tin, diamond etcetera. Why then should Zamfara State take direct ownership of gold in its soil but South-south states cannot take ownership of the crude oil in their backyard? The same crude oil whose exploitation and frequent spills have sterilized their ecosystem thus making farming impossible and grossly contributing to unemployment in these states. If Zamfara can control its gold, then the South-south states and any other state should control their God-given resources. Fair deal!
At the recent meeting between the Federal Government and South-south leaders including the governors of the BRACED states in Port Harcourt, the South-south made the following demands:
· Immediate relocation of headquarters of oil multinationals to their operational bases in the South-South region.
· Immediate relocation of government -owned oil subsidiaries from Lagos and Abuja to the South-South region.
· Immediate completion of East-West road under construction.
· Immediate privatisation of the two refineries in Port Harcourt and the one in Warri for effectiveness.
· Release of all funds due NDDC plus, henceforth, all NDDC projects MUST be done in consultation with state governors.
· Reactivation of sea ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri and actualization of the Lagos to Calabar rail-line.
· Enthroning true federalism, resource control, fair revenue sharing and State Police as the best ingredients to achieving a better Nigeria.
Of all the demands, resource control stands out. This is what the South-south governors should push for with all their energy. If Zamfara can control, harness and sell its gold, then Governor Okowa and his colleagues in the South-south should exploit and process their crude oil. And if Zamfara government did it without constitutional amendment, then South-south governors do not need constitutional amendment to make cash out of their crude oil.
Nigeria cannot continue to run on the rotor of deceit and sleight of hand. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
The good thing about this proposition is that every state has its fair share of natural resource. That’s the extent to which God has blessed Nigeria. Those who still whine about restructuring should look to Zamfara as perfect example of how to achieve true fiscal federalism by another means. Zamfara has set the pace with its gold, other states should follow suit. May be through this, Nigeria might achieve the desire of many: to make the central government less powerful and less arrogant and reckless in the manner it dips its hand into the national till to pillage and plunder. Okowa and his South-south colleagues should rev the engine. This is a perfect time to achieve resource control.
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