News Column

How Much Is Actually Going to the South-South?

July 22, 2014

Sanusi Abubakar

"They say Nigeria is poor, and I was surprised when the World Bank listed us among the poorest nations in the world. Nigeria is not poor, it only has the problem of unequal distribution of wealth."

-G.E. Jonathan, 2014 May Day Rally, Abuja

The so-called National Conference came, but it appears it does not want to go away. Not just the vexatious issues regarding what the modalities would be in handling its recommendations, many of which are patently shortsighted and even dangerous, but even what it agreed (or failed to agree) upon do not seem to have been put to rest. After months of deliberations, drama and dancing (whenever a group gets its way) we were told that the 492 wise men and women, mostly "representing" sectional and ethnic constituencies that never elected them, would now reconvene, on the 4th of August, to sign onto a clean draft of their conclusions and agreements. What we were looking forward to was how the President would proceed from there, and what our elected representatives in the National Assembly and members at the state houses, finally subject these proposed changes to. It appears we are too optimistic.

Now, maybe some of us were too preoccupied with worrying about the Boko Haram insurgency, or overconfident and satisfied that the National Assembly would not allow things to get out of hand, to pay attention to what could go wrong. We did not pay too much attention to a very shamelessly-biased and lopsided committee charged with a vaguely veiled agenda. Surprisingly, things did not deteriorate or end in chaos. It was a relief that, after all the posturing, screaming and even outright threats of breaking up the country, they finally announced that they have reached some common stance. Who says politics cannot be a game of give-and-take?

But have they? Are the outcomes acceptable to all? Some of the "elder-statesmen", especially those of them with a strong grip on the media, would not have it. To them, nothing short of what they went there to demand for would be acceptable. The most arrogant of them even regard any tempering with their recommendations, even by our elected representatives, as a sacrilege.

Let me examine at least one of their main grievances: revenue sharing.

After spending over 100 days debating, threatening and horse-trading, at our expense and without proper appropriation, Chief Edwin Clark, a tribal champion who has made it his mission to threaten all those who seem to be against President Jonathan's agenda for 2015, is now pleading with the members of the conference to still re-consider his pet obsession. In paid advertorials carried in most of our dailies entitled "An Appeal To The 492 Delegates At The Historic National Conference" (e.g. Daily Trust, Tuesday July 15, 2014), the chief wants his colleagues on that assembly to reconsider their recommendation of retaining 13 per cent of all oil revenue going to his zone, the South-South, pleading for 5 percent more, to make it to 18. This had been rejected by most delegates because it would reduce the share of everyone else. This, he claims, is because "We are in the process of building a new Nigeria" and the nation "will not forgive us if we fail because of our selfish, ethnic and religious interests". This stance, coming from a diehard supporter of a regime whose trademark had been precisely such, seems to me rather funny.

However, it is one Ibuchukwu Ezike, who was at the conference (and represented an outfit called Civil Liberties Organization) who puts the argument for "resource control" more directly. Speaking to The Guardian (Sunday July 20, 2014), he stated his reason which, he claims, is self-evident. "(The) derivation percentage before 2005 was 13 per cent. Now in 2014, we are still retaining 13 percent... It is not acceptable to some of us." He was also quite reasonable and eschewed threatening to break up the country arguing only that "Those of us from the human rights and labour movement... are saying that whatever is coming from an area, the host communities must also benefit," adding that "the committee's recommendation that we still retain 13 per cent is unacceptable, unjust and inequitable". Several versions of this argument are going to dominate the discourse now. After all, these elders and high chiefs are used to getting their way. So we can expect more of the usual blame game. And high drama after August 4, perhaps?

However, the problem is we cannot build reasonable arguments on mere falsehood and pet obsessions. Is it really true that the "host communities" do not benefit? Do they actually get only 13 per cent? These claims fall apart under careful scrutiny; they are assumptions that most people do not bother to check.

From figures available, it is clear that the South-South, with 15 per cent of the population and just over 9 per cent of our land mass, gets over 40 per cent of the statutory and special allocations. This does not include what they get from the oil companies; what they extort from all contractors executing any job in their locality; and others. But please do the math yourself, using figures for May 2014 as an example. Total allocation to states was N208.35 billion, of which the South-South got N76 billion, or over 36 per cent. In addition, the South-South was allocated N51.69 billion to be spent there by the Ministry of Niger Delta; N61.94 billion for NDDC; and another N39.80 billion under SURE-P. If one adds these, divide them by 12 to get a monthly average, and then add this to their statutory allocations, one gets over 40 per cent actually accruing to that zone. These figures are published regularly, so please take any particular month you like, the issue of 13 per cent remains untrue. Let us not continue to assume or believe everything we are told.

Just for the record, the shares for North-Central, North-East and North-West, for that month, were 10.89%, 11.43% and 15.40%, respectively. The South-West with about 20 per cent of the population usually got about 13% of the allocations.

So what is this song about injustice and deprivation they have been continuously playing? Even without adding the amount extorted from the major multinationals and the trillions lost to oil thieves (who in any case need not fear anybody as the government has handed over our maritime patrol and surveillance to them) it is very clear that this propaganda has gone too far.

The conference did achieve something: it has exposed the emptiness of threats to break up the nation. Believe it or not, nobody fears that. It failed, however, because it did not address the criminal endorsement by some "representatives" for the abrogation of on-shore/off-shore dichotomy after they were bribed with peanuts. Only nation states have territorial waters, but not regions or sections thereof. It would appear that delegates to the conference played this down to get some consensus.

But if the resource control champions are not through with us yet, so let the debate continue. The inequalities and regional imbalances are grave enough to get even GEJ worried; giving more to the South-South will not be just, except if we assert our collective right to off-shore revenue. Those who are making all these demands should ask: where have all the monies meant for the South-South been going? Some of them already know; all they have to do is call their well-paid accountants, agreeable bank managers or send an SMS to their banks.

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Source: AllAfrica

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