During the early years of the Fourth Republic, almost a third of the Old Guards swinged back in to active politics with the retired general Olusegun Obasanjo in total control, a second coming, now as a civilian, after successfully handing over power as a military junta to a civilian rule on October 1, 1979, which would be short-lived before the juntas striked back again. In what had been a disturbing, national concern, the issue of resource control once again took the helms of debates on the floor of the legislative organs of the Fourth Republic to address the issue on whether the Petroleum Act ran by the regional governments before the Yakubu Gowon military juntas rolled it back in 1969 when the Civil War was about to end should be reinstated. I am republishing an editorial culled from the Post Express April 24, 2001 regarding the hot topic.
POST EXPRESS EDITORIAL, APRIL 24, 2001
PUBLISHER: STANLEY MACEBUH
On May 9, the House of Representatives in Abuja threw out a draft bill, the Petroleum Act Cap 350 Amendment Bill, sponsored by Representative, Temi Harriman (Warri, APP), and thirteen others.
The draft bill was popularly referred to as "Resource Control Bill;"
because one of its major clauses sought to return control of petroleum resources to states, local governments and communities where oil is found and exploited. That used to be the case before 1969, towards the end of the civil war, when the then military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon rolled out the Petroleum Act which vested Nigeria's oil in the Federal Government.
The Land Use Decree of 1978 tightened the federal grip on petroleum resources by changing centuries old southern land laws to be in conformity with northern land laws, with the only difference that land became vested in military administrators of states instead of emirs or obas. In 1998, Decree No. 22 was rolled out by another military dictator to sink the fangs of the Federal Military Government deeper into the nation's
petroleum resources. Because of the clause of Harriman's Bill seeking to return the control of petroleum resources to the pre-war years, the entire draft bill was voted out by 81 votes against 64.
The House of Representatives, in its wisdom, has the right to pass orreject any draft bill. Even if members do either of those out of error, the nation must live with it, for a season, since these are the individuals we chose to represent us till 2003. That conceded, there are a number of worrisome and potentially dangerous dimensions of the draft Bill's rejection which appear not to be in the nation's interest. The near-total division of the House into southerners for and northerners against, irrespective of parties, is dangerous. That can only weaken rather than strengthen the Federation. This is particularly so, when the individual resource control (the right to property) as a basic tenet of democracy, is considered alongside the fact that the state's usurpation of rights of individuals over resources was a civil war policy. Why should the policies continue over three decades after the war? Why should not even a single northern member of the House see those facts?
Equally worrisome is the emotinal throwing away of the baby with thebath water posture of a majority of the House in throwing out the entire draft Bill. It is inexplicable that a Nigerian lawmaker from anywhere would throw out the following proposals contained in the bill:
(a) compel oil companies to cite their respective headquarters in their areas of operation;
(b) raise to 70 per cent, Nigerians employed in the oil industry;
(c) encourage local participation of Nigerians in the various aspects of the petroleum industry;
(d) encourage multi-nationals to invest in gas;
(e) reduce tension and restiveness in oil producing areas through a better spread of the oil wealth;
(f) empower the Federal Government to review allocations not being exploited after five years; and
(g) make the cross posting of Nigerians employed by oil companies to other countries to reciprocate the employment of foreigners in the Nigerian oil industry.
If these clauses are perceived as being against the northern interest, as some representatives claimed, then northern interest would amount to an anti-Nigerian foreign interest, the exploitative interest of most of the oil companies. The throwing out of the draft Bill is a great opportunity lost to grant half a loaf to those who own the ingredients and the kitchen. The rejection for the Bill would certainly not be the end of the matter. Perhaps, Temi and her colleagues did not lobby their colleagues well enough. Perhaps, the timing was wrong. Perhaps, they should have waited until those in opposition to the draft Bill need a favour. That many colleagues of Temi in the APP voted against the draft Bill hints at the dodder-like existence of the political parties in the House.
Temi's draft Bill would likely resurface since it represents a mid-way solution to the problem of Resource Control which occupies the front burner in national political discourse today. A skirmish might have been lost, the major battles remain and what matters is winning the war. Given the democratic underpinning of Resource Control, a more rational approach would be best. The alternative is to make the inevitable national conference raucous or, worse still, allow the Egbesu Boys to impose their kind of solution. Surely, Nigeria has enough statesmen to prevent the agonies that may come after careless intransigence.