Last Monday, Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State called for the abrogation of the abrogation of the onshore-offshore dichotomy in deciding the oil revenues on which the derivation principle of the revenue allocation formula will be applied. He declared that the North would push for the reinstatement of that dichotomy.
It was more than a decade since the issue of the onshore-offshore dichotomy first reared its head; but it came and went without many people understanding what was going on or why they should worry about it. But there is indeed a lot that they should worry about.
It was the Federal Government that took the matter of the ownership of offshore oil resources for decision to the Supreme Court; and on April 5, 2002, the court affirmed that the Federal Government had powers of control over offshore oil--oil found out at sea. Thereafter, there followed a whole two years of often acrimonious legislative debate and political horse trading. It was a time of unreason and the hour of the true orphaning of the North, as the Federal Government, the littoral states and Northern representatives got enmeshed in a conspiracy against Northern interest, and by implication, the long-term interest, balance and survival of the country. The Federal Government sent the issue to the National Assembly ostensibly looking for a political solution, when there was in fact no major political problem to solve.
In October 2002, the government sent the bill to the National Assembly for an enabling law; and governors of the littoral states actively lobbied members of the National Assembly to extend the 24 nautical miles requested in President Olusegun Obasanjo's bill to 200 nautical miles and they obliged them. The amended bill was passed by the Speaker Ghali NaAbba-led House of Representatives on November 26, 2002; and after further amendments and horse trading, the two Houses of the nation's legislature overrode a 'reluctant' Obasanjo with a two-thirds majority and passed the law in 2003; and a redrafted and corrected version of the bill was passed the following year during the speakership of Honourable Aminu Bello Masari. And all of them were to wise up to the tragedy only after the event.
To begin with, dichotomy is not a very pleasant word to pronounce; and perhaps as a result, the debate was either not properly understood then, or was merely glossed over by the many who had been put off by the repulsiveness of the contrived collocation in the term--onshore-offshore dichotomy--and its full implication was apparently realised only by the promoters of its abrogation. In the real battle to abolish the dichotomy, the representatives from the North were not exactly killed or taken prisoner; they were variously MIA, missing in action, AWOL, absent without leave, IPC, in pursuit of contracts--or, as Kwankwaso indelicately put it, they had 'sold out.'
"The night before (the veto override) there was nothing I did not do to my members in Kano, especially," Kwankwaso said. "I called all our members but to my dismay, they went and supported onshore-offshore (abrogation) and sold out. That is the most unfortunate thing that happened to the North in this political dispensation from 1999 to date. We know what happened. How could that bill get two-thirds (majority) without the support of our members? The unfortunate thing is that because our capacity is so low, even those who did that are (today) pretending to be heroes of the North."
Indeed, some have already come clean with us about the dichotomy. Dr Dalhatu Sarki Tafida confessed that he refused to do anything to defend Northern interest in the onshore-offshore affair because Northern governors didn't lobby him. But the person who played the most crucial and most dishonourable role in the whole affair was perhaps former Speaker Ghali NaAbba. Isn't it time he spoke and told us what role he played and why? Was he also waiting for Northern governors to lobby him, or did a South-Southern governor prove quicker on the draw?
How the mighty are fallen at the altar of cash nexus! The typical Northern politician, previously known for character, has today been reduced by inordinate ambitiousness to the unenviable level of a character who can sell his honour and commitment to community for some miserable political pittance. And for him, it is anything goes; but the future wellbeing of this nation shouldn't be made a hostage and subject to the idiosyncratic indignities of some Northern representatives.
Kwankwaso said the abolishing was unfair, but that was just half correct: it was not just unfair; it was wrong. The distinction is important, because something can be right but unfair, in which case an appeal to some sentiment can lead to magnanimous redress being made. But this one indeed was unfair precisely because it was wrong--in every material particular. He also said the abolishing had worsened the level of poverty in the North, which was true; but that was not the main reason why it must go; it must go because it is illegal. And while the abolishing of the dichotomy had, no doubt, deprived the North of much revenue, the grinding poverty in the region was not strictly speaking a consequence only of its removal. The cause of poverty in the North is the corruption of Northern governors--governmental poverty is a result of their thieving and public poverty a result of their incompetence.
Doubtless, the abrogation of the dichotomy was wrong for many reasons. First, offshore is offshore: it is certainly not onshore; and it is not even inshore--and all the three are different. Second, it is illegal--opposed as it is to the law, as affirmed by the Supreme Court of the Federation. Resorting to pulling the rank of the arrogance of lawmakers over the primacy and learned expertise of its interpreters will not forever wash with this nation. Third, since the constitution of the land has spelt out the constituent local governments of each state, the Niger Delta states should tell us how many offshore local governments they have.
Fourth, if state territoriality extends in all directions without limit as the offshore argument implies, what percentage of the revenues accruing to the Federal Government from its many bilateral air services agreements on the use of air space have the Niger Delta states been collecting from the Federation Account? Because it makes little sense that territory extends out to sea but not up in the air. Fifth, if the fact of pollution and environmental degradation has been used to show the impact of oil exploitation, prove ownership of land and justify need for increased revenue, what impact does offshore drilling have on their fishing?
Sixth, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the Petroleum Act, the Exclusive Economic Zone Act, and the Territorial Waters (Amendment) Act vest the ownership, control and management of the nation's oil and gas in the Federal Government. And the crux of the matter in the dichotomy debate is really so self-evident that it stands in no need for demonstration or proof. Something is on land and another is in water out there at sea--and ne'er the twain shall meet.
In its search for the right revenue allocation formula, this nation has experimented with many criteria--derivation, need, absorptive capacity, population, balanced development--for the sharing of its wealth. The objective has always been to attain that balance required by the egalitarian society that has remained the goal of successive governments in Nigeria.
In the First Republic, the regions retained 50 per cent of revenues earned; and what is really fair today is that the nation should revert to 50 per cent derivation, in which case oil producing areas should retain 50 per cent, but only of what is earned from wells within their territories. Offshore oil belongs to the Federal Government, and this fact cannot be changed simply because some governors were able to bribe their way across all levels of the nation's legislature. Nor should we, because of the fear, allow Niger Delta militancy force an unsustainable arrangement over the head of this nation.
It is, of course, easier not to have done a deed than to seek to undo it, especially after it has created its own new interested parties--the beneficiary state governments, their 'prebendalist' collective and a fawning press. But the abolishing of the onshore-offshore dichotomy must be abolished, and the dichotomy reinstated and made to prevail so long as this nation subsists. And even though states in the northern parts of the country stand to benefit, this is not a struggle on behalf of the North: it is a battle for the long-term survival of Nigeria. As it was before, it would be misunderstood--deliberately in some quarters, inadvertently but no less inaccurately in others--and derided for all it is worth, and made to look self-serving. But as the region did it in the past when it was the benefactor, it must still do it today--indeed even more so--now that it is the beneficiary. But the nation cannot long endure half-poor, half-rich; nor yet with the wild inequality that the next few decades will almost certainly spawn.