20 September 2012

Nigeria: President, Governors in Crucial Meeting

Photo: Abayomi Adeshida/Vanguard
From left: Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun; Niger State Governor, Aliyu Babangida and other council members during the National Economic Council Meeting at the State House, Abuja, yesterday.

President Goodluck Jonathan last night engaged state governors, under the platform of Nigeria Governors' Forum, in a strategic meeting, as part of his ongoing efforts to resolve issues that have been raised by the state governors. These include illegal deductions from the federation account, the Sovereign Wealth Fund, onshore/offshore dichotomy and others.

The meeting, which started very late last night, according to a source, was called at the instance of both parties in an attempt to amicably resolve the issues that have become legal matters at the Supreme Court. The apex court has encouraged both parties - the federal and the state governments - to employ out-of-court settlement in resolving the matter that had been brought before it.

The governors of the 36 states had dragged President Jonathan to the Supreme Court seeking legal redress against the federal government over what they called "illegal deductions" from the federation account. The governors had disclosed that the deductions, which the federal government was making, were specifically to offset oil subsidy payments, Excess Crude Account and other unconstitutional withdrawals.

Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and chairman of the Governors' Forum had told journalists in their last meeting in Abuja that his colleagues took the legal option after all efforts to persuade the federal government to see reasons with them on the matters failed.

Another burning issue that was also discussed at the meeting, according our source, was the controversial onshore/offshore dichotomy which the northern governors want reviewed against the popular wish of their southern counterparts.

President Jonathan had viewed with grave concern what it described as "the current attempt by some politicians to heat up the polity by seeking to reopen fresh conflict and controversy over the onshore/offshore abrogation law which was enacted by the National Assembly in 2004".

Speaking through his spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, recently, the president described discussions over the law as "disruptive and outright mischievous". He said that those who were issuing threats and counter-threats over every issue were obviously not just re-inventing a controversy but seemed determined to fuel acrimony and needless conflict.

Governors and other politicians, mostly of northern origin, have been calling for the revision of the law on the excuse that its put them at a disadvantage financially. For instance, Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State recently called for the revision of the onshore/shore law. He argued that the statutorily stipulated 13 per cent derivation paid to oil-producing states from the federation account should only be based on oil found on their shores.

But politicians from the Niger Delta states said that the states were entitled to the payments from oil produced offshore because they suffered the environmental consequences of the exercise.

Also foreclosing further discussion on the matter, the attorney-general of the federation (AGF) and minister of justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, stated recently that the matter had been resolved by the apex court in the land.

He warned politicians and legal practitioners to avoid overheating the polity through debates on the need or otherwise to review the onshore/offshore dichotomy, which partly forms the basis for the allocation of derivation proceeds from the federation account.

Adoke said that the debate, which is being elevated to an urgent national matter, with all the potential to generate acrimonious wrangling within the polity and being made to look as if it was new, had been determined by the Supreme Court a long time ago.

He urged politicians and legal practitioners to respect the sanctity and constitutional role of the Supreme Court as the apex court and end the debate on the abrogation of the onshore/offshore oil dichotomy.

The inauguration recently of the Sovereign Wealth Fund's team management by the minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was also on the agenda of the meeting. Many experts have said that oil revenue would be better managed if the country saves for the rainy day. Even though the fund has taken off, some governors, according to a source at the meeting, still believe that it is illegal. The meeting was still in progress at the time of filing this report.

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