Resource Control, Zamfara and the South-South
By Okofu Ubaka
It will be difficult to convince Nigerians, especially those critical of the present administration that the botched meeting between the Presidency and the leaders of the South-South region of Nigeria was not as a result of the ruckus generated by the alleged claim by the Zamfara government in respect of ownership of natural resources within the territorial confines of that state.
Though the claim had since been refuted by the state governor, Dr. Bello Matawalle, but some Nigerians especially those from the oil rich Niger Delta have refused to be taken in by what they consider to be an afterthought denial. On its part, the Zamfara government has blamed the misunderstanding on mischief makers who it claims are hell bent on seeing Nigeria disintegrate. Of note in the entire saga has been the disbursement of N5billion to the Zamfara government by the Central Bank of Nigeria which the governor of the state said was a counterpart fund for an investment in gold mining in the state. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and the former had entered into a mining investment deal in the in which the apex bank would get bars of gold from the state’s investment in gold mining in the state.
Although the response by the Zamfara government has not had any impact on most people of the Niger Delta region whose minds were already made up that the federal government of Nigeria under President Buhari is hostile toward the region, there are those who caution that the region should give the transaction the benefit of doubt.
They argue that what the Zamfara government has done was merely latching onto an opportunity to generate additional revenue for the state in such an inauspicious time of economic recession. Zamfara, they reason, had not really appropriated the natural resources of the state to themselves, but had simply invested in the exploration of gold and other mineral resources in the state with a view to maximizing profit, and which is something those in the Niger Delta had failed to do since the 1950s when crude oil was first discovered in Oloibiri in present day Bayelsa state. In all of that time, no state governor in the region has seriously driven any scheme to invest in the exploration of crude oil and other mineral deposits in the region.
To be sure, the extant laws regulating minerals and mining in Nigeria are explicit on the control and ownership of mineral resources whether solid minerals or mineral oil, and none has appropriated ownership right to Zamfara or any state at that but the federal government of Nigeria. The Mineral and Mining Act (2007) vests all minerals in the country to the federal government of Nigeria. S. 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution ( 2011 as amended) is applicable here, and states inter alia that the : control and ownership of “minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria” belong to the federal government of Nigeria. The celebrated case of Attorney General of the Federation v Attorney General of Abia state and ors had also given vent to the control and ownership of mineral resources in the country. In a lead judgement by Wali J.S.C, it was abundantly made clear that the ownership and control of natural resources within the territorial confines of Nigeria was vested on the federal government.
Equally, some persons had wondered what the alleged Zamfara ownership of natural resources in that state has got to do with the flopped meeting between the federal government of Nigeria and the people of South-South of Nigeria. A lot! Government intention was to douse the mounting tension in the region as a result of statements coming from several stakeholders from the region, and not excluding one or more of the governors. It will be recalled that a few weeks after the story of the alleged Zamfara claim to gold ownership broke, several statements were carried by the Nigerian media and credited to the Ijaw National Youth Congress, (INYC), and Governors Nyesom Wike and Ifeanyi Okowa, governors of Rivers and Delta state respectively. They all demanded ownership, appropriation and control over crude oil exploration in the region, in the same way that the Zamfara government was said to be already controlling the natural resources in that state.
In the same stretch, threats were issued to oil companies to tidy up and vacate the region. Videos were also being circulated in the social media of how well prepared militants in the regime were to launch attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta if President Buhari did not address the issue of gold mining in Zamfara, which lately had been a theatre of violence and many had attributed the violence and the spate of killings in the state by bandits to turf wars over gold mining fields.
Expectedly, Nigerians are divided as to whether President Buhari should address the issue of Zamfara’s alleged impunity or not. First, are those who want the President to remain mute like he has been over sensitive issues in the country. They reason that there is no issue there to be addressed, particularly when relevant and extant laws in the country have made it explicitly clear that all natural resources in the country whether on, or offshore, clearly belong to the federal government of Nigeria.
On the other hand are other Nigerians, particularly those from the Niger Delta region and other southern parts of the country, who have continually interpreted S. 44 (3) to mean control only over mineral oils and gas. They believe that, that section of the constitution excludes solid minerals from the control and ownership of the federal government of Nigeria. They had also believed that the exclusion of solid minerals from the control and ownership of the federal government was deliberate, and a ploy to impoverish and dominate the oil-producing states from ‘the hegemonic Northern elites’ that have historically had more shots at the control levers of the presidency than any other region of the country. They therefore want clarity on the issues.