Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday, told elder statesman and leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, that oil, like the mineral resources in other parts of the country, belonged to all Nigerians. Obasanjo was responding to Clark, who recently asserted that the former president showed neither solidarity nor respect for the people of the Niger Delta in the face of the terrible environmental, social, and economic devastations they endured to produce the oil on which the Nigerian economy pivots.
Clark had in a protest letter alleged that for openly rebuking those advocating resource control for the Niger Delta at a public forum in Abuja, Obasanjo showed open hatred for the region.
But Obasanjo, while replying the nonagenarian, argued that until he could be legally and constitutionally persuaded otherwise, he maintained his position on the resource control question. He argued that there could not be two sovereign entities within a country, claiming the existence of dual sovereignties was what he understood from Clark’s position on resource ownership.
The former president said all those, who purchased crude oil from Nigeria entered into contractual relationship with the country, and not the Niger Delta, affirming that the territory of Nigeria remains indivisible, inclusive of the resources found therein.
“All those who purchase crude oil from Nigeria enter into contractual relationship with Nigeria not with the Niger Delta.
The territory of Nigeria is indivisible inclusive of the resources found therein. No territory in Nigeria including the minerals found therein belongs to the area of location and this remains so until the federation is dissolved”
“This is the position of the Nigerian constitution and international law,” he declared.
Obasanjo explained, “If there is a threat of violence to any part of Nigeria today, including the Niger Delta, it is the Nigerian military, backed by any other machinery, that can be procured or established at the federal level that will respond to any such threat.
“In principle and practice, the position I have taken on the location of mineral resources in any part of Nigeria is the legal and constitutional position.”
The ex-president noted that his position had always been that equity and justice demanded that those domiciled in the locations, where the resources were found, were entitled to more of the material benefits accruing from the crude oil or other minerals.
He added that he, along with Clark, stood on the same logic with respect to the “criminal” mining of gold deposits in Zamfara State or any other state in Nigeria.
Taking on the elder statesman based on the 1963 Constitution, Obasanjo noted that nowhere in that constitution was it said or implied that minerals located in any part of Nigeria belonged to that location.
“For emphasis and to further buttress the point, the provision is even in the exclusive list – exclusively reserved for the federal government,” he pointed out.
While empathising with Clark’s “frustrations” with the state of the nation, Obasanjo advised that everyone must be guarded and measured in the expression of such frustrations “lest we throw away the baby with the dirty birth water.”
To support his position, the former military general explained that if any mineral was found under the ground at his Ota farm, the federal government would ask the state government to revoke his certificate of occupancy for overriding public interest.
He pointed out that although he could lay claim for development already carried out on the farmland, the federal government would issue a licence to any company that had been allocated the right to mine the mineral.
“It would not matter what I grow on my farm and what development I have carried out. Compensation I could get based on assessed development that I had carried out on the farmland,” he stressed.
He opined that the constitution that affected the Niger Delta also affected Zamfara State, where gold was found, insisting that if anybody at the federal level has neglected the constitution, it is quite another matter.
Obasanjo stated in the response to Clark, “The gold in Ilesha, Osun State, and the lead in Ebonyi State, all come under the same law and constitution. There is no part of Nigeria, whose interest is not dear to my heart.
“And stating in your letter that it is only the interest of the north I continuously hold dear to my heart is that type of buka gossip that, knowing you as I do since 1975, I am not surprised that you echoed.
“I have always stood for equity and justice in our federation and, for me, tribe has to be suppressed for the state to emerge. And until the state emerges, Nigeria will not make the desired progress, as tribesmen will always sacrifice state for tribe. This has always been my position and it will remain my position until I breathe my last.”
He described some portions of the open letter written by Clark as concoctions and outright distortions and lies, which might be due to loss of memory on the Ijaw leader’s part or misrepresentation.
Obasanjo stated that on resumption of office as president of Nigeria in 1999, the first meeting he held out of Abuja was on the Niger Delta. He maintained that without being prompted, he decided the 13 per cent derivation that the new constitution granted to oil-producing areas.
He added that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill was his initiative for contributions to be made by state governments, oil companies and the federal government, although the states, according to him, lobbied the National Assembly to exclude them.
Obasanjo described the language used to describe him in Clark’s letter as offensive and uncouth, saying he totally rejects them.
“I am not inconsistent, hypocritical, ‘unstatesman’ nor am I anybody’s lackey. You use your own yardstick to judge others,” he said, stressing that bad language does not show prudence, wisdom and maturity.
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja