Oil curse, oil wells and bad blood

 Casmir Igbokwe
First published July 19, 2009
HUNGER strike is a weapon some downtrodden people usually employ to protest some
perceived injustices. To an extent, this form of protest works in civilised societies, as government is often forced to listen to the grievances of protesters. In Nigeria, I‘m not too sure of its success, as our government can always call the bluff of any individual or group who dares it in the name of protest.
This is why I took a special interest in the two-week hunger strike the federal lawmakers from Cross River State embarked upon early this month. Incidentally, rather than the hoi polloi, it was those we call the oppressors that went on the strike. Though some of us don‘t live with them to actually determine if hunger has taken its toll on them, it is worthy to take a look at why the lawmakers went this far.
Media reports indicated that their action was to protest the ceding of 76 oil wells, hitherto in Cross River State, to Akwa Ibom State by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The chairman of the Cross River State caucus in the National Assembly, Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, not only described the ceding of the oil wells to Akwa Ibom as unwholesome and despicable, he also warned that his people had been pushed to the concrete wall and could go no further. The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had allocated the contentious oil wells to Cross River in 2004.
Some weeks ago, the Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke, had lamented the dwindling fortunes of the state occasioned by the RMAFC action. Before now, the state used to get allocations from the derivation formula as an oil producing state.
There have been claims and counter-claims as regards the ownership of the wells from both sides. To the Cross River State Government, the negotiation and settlement of the maritime boundary between it and Akwa Ibom took place between 2004 and 2006. It claims the state was recognised as the historical owner of the maritime territory.
Akwa Ibom, on the other hand, believes that the handover of Bakassi to Cameroon effectively put the territory under it. The argument of the state is that the Bakassi Peninsula had been administered and controlled by Akwa Ibom until
Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime came and changed that in the 1990s.
Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, added another dimension to the problem when he reportedly claimed last week that about 172 oil wells ceded to Akwa Ibom by the Obasanjo administration belonged to his state. He threatened to go to court, even as he reportedly noted that the activities of the commission and the National Boundary Commission had brought division among the Niger Delta governors.
Without prejudice to whatever solution the Federal Government may find to this problem, it is worthy to note that the present altercation amounts to oiling the instruments of another war in the war-wearied region. There is no need for this when there is a big ‘external enemy’ to contend with.
This is what usually happens in a country that depends on one source of income. Everybody struggles to take control of the common till. The oil bearing communities want a bigger share from what they consider ‘their resources.‘ The FG wants to take full control of it. The states all struggle for oil wells. Even in an oil-bearing community, there is usually some fight over which family owns what land and all that.
In all, what should have been a blessing to Nigeria has turned out to be a curse. Even countries that have little or no natural endowments tend to fare better than ours.
The ultimate end to all these crises is for the nation to de-emphasise the rush for oil revenue. Each state of the federation should look inwards with a view to finding another source of revenue different from oil. Cross River, for instance, has a rich cultural heritage. Tourism could be another money-spinner for it. The state is already into it and should explore every means possible to fully exploit the benefits of that sector.
But before this ultimate solution, there is need for the FG to find an amicable solution to the problem. President Umaru Yar’Adua is said to have set up a committee to look into the crisis. Whatever the committee comes up with, it is important to note that a lot of historical injustices might have been done to either of the parties. Ours being a system where laws are made and broken with impunity; where the rule of law takes a back seat in the scheme of things, it is possible that constitutional provisions were not followed in the ceding and re-ceding of the disputed territory. This is where political solution comes into play. Yar’Adua or the committee he has set up should invite the two sister states, discuss with them and then find an amicable settlement of the crisis.
That is if we don’t want our distinguished and honourable lawmakers to die of hunger.

Ikuforiji’s kung fu against journalists
Sometime last week, some concerned Nigerians emailed to me what they considered Adeyemi Ikuforiji‘s weighty allegation against Nigerian journalists. Ikuforiji is the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. What is more surprising to those compatriots is that Nigerian journalists appeared not too keen on defending themselves.The speaker reportedly said that the Nigerian media was not doing its job the way it ought to be done. He allegedly described the corruption in the media as worse than in any other sector; and that Nigerian journalists chose to spare the executive and concentrate on the legislature.

Trying to defend the media here may send the wrong signals. Since the media criticises the ills in the society, it should also be ready to be criticised. But Ikuforiji and his likes should realise that the media, more than any other profession, fought for what he is now enjoying in the Lagos State House of Assembly. Different military juntas closed down newspaper houses at will. Many journalists went into exile. Some paid the supreme sacrifice.
Perhaps, journalists contributed to the bad state of our roads; to the poor electric power situation and to the general rot in the Nigerian system. Ikuforiji, please prove your point beyond reasonable doubt or forever remain silent.
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