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Oil Is Not for Niger Delta Alone

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Tanko Yakasai, elder statesman and  a  leading political voice in the North, speaks to Chimezie  Enyiocha, reporter/researcher, on the demand by the Northern Governors’ Forum for a review of the revenue allocation formula, which they claim is tilted in favour of the South-South geopolitical zone. Excerpts:

Newswatch: Northern governors recently advocated for the review of the revenue allocation formula said not to be favourable to the north, compared to their counterparts in the Niger Delta who collect huge amount monthly. What is your reaction to this?

Yakasai: I think it is a fair appeal. You see, if you live together, it means you support each other. Historically, when the two protectorates of the southern and northern Nigeria were brought together by the British in 1914, from that time up to around 1950, Northern Nigeria was assisting regions in the south to balance their budget. If you get the records of the revenue of the federal government or the central government at that time and the amount of money the government was expending in the respective zones, you will find that the north was not getting back what it contributed by way of revenue in expenditure profile.

So, the North has been making sacrifices to balance the budget of the South in the spirit of oneness and togetherness. Now, the situation has made it possible for the South to be more prosperous, to be able to generate more revenue than the north. It is only natural that the south should return the favour. Apart from that, the development is intended to improve the living standard of a people. So, people should be the main target of government expenditure. It is intended to change their situation for the better. Where you have one side of the country that is better off than the other, then it is only natural that in the spirit of togetherness that side which is more fortunate should come to the aid of the side that is less fortunate.


Newswatch: You have justified the northern governors’ position. But what went wrong that the North can no longer sustain itself?

Yakasai: Two things. One, the discovery of oil has changed the dynamics of the political economy of Nigeria. What you must understand is that oil is different from farm produce which was the main revenue earner before the discovery of oil. The agricultural products were realised as a result of the effort by the people, but oil is deposited by God and not as a result of any effort by any individual. So it is a commonwealth of the Nigerian people as it is the case in other countries. No individual can claim that he is responsible for depositing oil in any part of the country; it was an act of God, not the sweat of anybody. And, therefore, nobody can lay claim to the benefit of that to the exclusion of others.


Newswatch: Why has the North abandoned agriculture which was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy in the past?

Yakasai: I told you that the discovery of oil has shaped the political economy of this country. It is natural that where you can make easy money that is where you go. If you discover throughout the country, people tend to invest their money in politics rather than in business because you make easy money in politics by getting elected into a political office or appointed. This is the natural tendency in human nature, that where you can make easy money is where you go. I have been saying this for quite a long time now, that since we know that oil is a wasting resource, something that will one day disappear; we should be wise enough to invest the money that we are realising from oil in agriculture which will remain forever as long as there is land, there is rain and there are people to till the land. This is what our government is not doing.


Newswatch: Considering the suffering of the Niger Delta region where oil comes from, such as environmental degradation, are you saying the states in the oil- rich region are not entitled to the 13 percent derivation they receive from the federation account?

Yakasai: What we need is to assess how much is needed to take care of that situation that you have mentioned now. Then work out whether 13 percent is enough to take care of the situation or not. Don’t forget that apart from the 13 percent that the contiguous states are getting for derivation, we also have the Niger Delta ministry which has a separate budget of its own, which is not part of the 13 percent derivation. Also, we have the amnesty programme created by the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua where a large chunk of money is being set aside to take care of rehabilitation and development of the former militants who accepted the amnesty programme and returned their arms.

So, let’s survey the problem, work out how much it will cost and the country should devote whatever amount is needed to ameliorate the situation. What I do not support is to use the degradation in the Niger Delta area for politicians to get more allocation only to loot the money. I am a student of political economy. If you look at the situation before the introduction of derivation in this country, how many banks in Nigeria were controlled by people from Niger Delta area? Go and find out. Today, with the 22 so-called mega banks, go and find out, who are the people who own the controlling shares in the majority of these banks. I can assure you that the majority of shares staked in the banking industry are owned by indigenes of Niger Delta. So, what this will tell you  is that the money that is accruing to the Niger Delta, through one way or the other is now going into the private pockets of some individuals, only to turn them into the richest people to the extent that they now own majority of bank shares in the banking industry.


Newswatch: Do you support the reduction of the revenue allocated to the oil producing states as being demanded by the chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum?

Yakasai: I was a member of the 1994/95 constitutional conference where we recommended 13 percent derivation to oil producing areas and we did it unanimously.


Newswatch: With the high rate of poverty and underdevelopment in the North, do you think the elected leaders from the region have been able to make judicious use of the revenue so far received from the federal government?

Yakasai: There are two factors that made the North to be what it is today; one is the greatest sacrifice the North has made  for the unity of the country by agreeing to split itself into 19 states in the interest of national unity. In 1967, when  Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was preparing for the East to secede from Nigeria, the leaders of minorities from the Eastern Region at that time led a delegation to the then governor of Northern Nigeria, Hassan Usman Katsina, informing him of the preparation by Ojukwu to secede, and that they didn’t want to go away from Nigeria. They didn’t want to go and form part of Biafra because they would be second class citizens in that country. So, they asked for support when they came to meet the governor of Northern Nigeria, I think he was then Colonel Usman Katsina at that time, who said it was beyond his power and, therefore, sent them back to Yakubu  Gowon. Among the delegation were prominent Niger Delta people like Okoi Arikpo, Chief Wenike Briggs. They saw Gowon and Gowon saw to their points and also said okay, we are going to divide the East and give you a state. So, it was in the interest of national unity, that Gowon created a region for the eastern minorities. With the sacrifice the North made, the federal government met the aspiration of this people. Then Hassan appointed a 13-member committee, and I was privileged to be a member of that committee. One person from each province, Shehu Shagari was a member, and he is still alive. So, we decided that in the interest of national unity, we wanted to create that region, Calabar/Ogoja/Rivers and then create Middle belt. Now, the eastern minorities said that they wanted two regions because the Rivers people said they didn’t want to go along with the Calabar/Ogoja people. So, it became necessary to turn the eastern region into three states, in which case, the West will be two and the north will be one. That will be obvious imbalance in the political structure of the country. As a result of that, we in the committee recommended   two set of states, 12 or 14 and submitted them to Gowon who eventually took 12. All the 12 states created in Nigeria by 1967 was predicated on the desire of the minorities from the east to have their own state. That was the greatest sacrifice the north has made in the interest of national unity. And that was the main waterloo of the North because we then lost the opportunity to speak with one voice. We now have 20 governments in the north, 19 states plus Abuja. And there is no way on earth that these 20 people can think alike or speak alike. If we had a single government for the whole 20 governments now in the north, it will be able to prioritise programmes that they would execute.


Newswatch: But why is it that it is  now that a southerner is the president that the North is clamouring for increased revenue?

Yakasai: Don’t forget that most of those northern governors are responsible for voting this southerner to become president of this country. Check the records of the PDP convention, most of the votes Jonathan got are from the North.  There are few states like Kano, Sokoto, which voted for Atiku Abubakar, but the large chunk of the northern states voted for Jonathan. So, it will be a misdemeanour for anybody to think that people who made Jonathan will turn round to destroy him. If they want to destroy him, why should they make him president in the first place?


Newswatch: Some people have linked the Boko Haram attacks to this agitation for increased revenue for the North. Do you subscribe to this view?

Yakasai:  I am happy that you raised this question; it is somebody who is ignorant of the history of Boko Haram that would connect Boko Haram with Jonathan or revenue sharing. But don’t forget, when their leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed during the regime of Umaru Musa he directed his national security adviser, Seriki Muktar to investigate how that man was killed and make recommendations. Seriki investigated, made recommendations. Unfortunately, by the time he submitted the recommendation, Jonathan was the acting president while Yar’Adua was away receiving treatment. And it was the responsibility of the acting president at that time to take care of the situation. Now for anybody to link Boko Haram to Jonathan or the issue of revenue is an exhibition of ignorance and lack of seriousness.


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