The Niger Delta Crisis: President Obasanjo’s Scorecard and A Proposed Agenda for President-Elect Umaru Yar’Adua
Dr. Emmanuel Ojameruaye
As President Obasanjo prepares to relinquish power on May 29, 2007, an examination of his scorecard and legacy in various aspects of Nigerian life and sections of the country will help the incoming President Umaru Yar’Adua to chart an appropriate plan of action to tackle those daunting tasks Obasanjo could not accomplish. One of such tasks is the Niger Delta issue. To be sure, the issue predates the Obasanjo’s administration. Virtually all past administrations had to contend with the problem in one form or the other. The difference, however, is that under Obasanjo’s watch the “issue” metamorphosed into a “serious crisis” and “low-level rebellion”. The insurgency in the region has reached a frightening dimension, especially during last quarter of Obasanjo’s administration, with increased level of hostage taking and attacks on oil facilities. The question political analysts are asking is “what acts of omission or commission by the Obasanjo’s administration led to the escalation of the crisis”? To answer this question, I have reviewed some of the major speeches of President Obasanjo during the past eight years in order to find out how seriously he took the Niger Delta issue and how faithfully he delivered on his promises to the people of the region. In this paper, I will focus my attention on his two inaugural addresses to the nation on May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2003; his inaugural address to the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) on February 21, 2005; and his address to the Council on the Socio-economic Development of Coastal States of the Niger Delta on April 18, 2006.
When he took the oath of office in May 1999, President Obasanjo was quite cognizant of the festering crisis in the Niger Delta region. Thus, in his inaugural address he made the following promise: “A bill will be forwarded within weeks of the inception of the administration to the national Assembly, for a law providing for 13% derivation in Revenue Allocation to be used for ecological, rehabilitation, infrastructural and other developments. A competent group will be set up immediately to prepare a comprehensive Development Plan for the Niger-Delta Area. Dialogue will be held at all levels with the great representatives of all sections of the oil producing communities to improve communication and better mutual understanding. The responsibility and initiative for resolving the crisis rests with the Government”
How did he deliver on these promises during his first four years in office?
In the first place, it was wrong or deceptive at worst, for President Obasanjo to promise that he was going to present a Bill for 13% derivation because the 1999 Constitution which the preceding military government bequeathed to his administration had already provided for a “minimum 13% derivation”. Section 162 (2) of the Constitution states that: “The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilization allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, the allocation principles especially those of population, equality of States, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain as well as population density provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 13% of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources." Thus the 13% derivation was the creation of the military regime of Gen. Abubakar, not that of President Obasanjo.
Secondly, President Obasanjo actually refused to fully implement the 13% derivation principle during the first half of his administration. His excuse was that the law applied to onshore oil revenue only. In fact, one of his immediate actions when he assumed office in May 1999 was to take the littoral (mainly oil producing) states to the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the 13% derivation principle, i.e. whether it applied to offshore oil revenue. In order words, his immediate action was to seek to re-introduce the obnoxious offshore/onshore oil dichotomy which had been abolished by the provisions of the OMPADEC Decree (and later the NDDC Act). The position of his administration in the case was that the 13% derivation principle should be applied only to onshore oil production - roughly 60% of total oil production. In other words, the administration’s goal was to pay only about 8% of total oil revenue to the oil derivation fund for distribution among oil producing states. Worse still, the administration wanted to continue with the illegal deduction of several “first line” charges - such as NNPC Priority Projects, Funding of JV contracts, external debt service, funding of judiciary and allocation to the Federal Capital Territory - from total oil revenue before the application of the percentage derivation. On April 5, 2002, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment upholding the offshore/onshore dichotomy but declared as illegal the “first line” charges mentioned above. The debate during and after the Supreme Court case intensified the “resource control” issue and laid the foundation for the on-going militancy and increased criminality in the region. In essence, President Obasanjo ignited the resource control debate by taking the littoral states to Supreme Court to adjudicate on the offshore/onshore oil dichotomy. He had a leeway to pay 13% of total oil revenue (not onshore oil revenue only) to the littoral states because the 1999 constitution did not state the type of oil revenue and both the 1992 OMPADEC Decree and the 2000 NDDC Act abolished the offshore/onshore oil dichotomy by implication.
Thirdly, President Obasanjo’s actions after the Supreme Court judgment clearly showed his insincerity with regards to the principle of derivation. Given the devastating effect of the judgment on some littoral states, especially those without onshore oil, and increased tension in the region, a Committee headed by Chief Anenih was set up to find a “political solution” to the issue. The Committee recommended that there should be a legislative intervention through the enactment of another law that would explicitly state that natural resources found offshore will be deemed to be found within the territory of the adjoining littoral state for the purpose of application of the derivation principle. Based on the Committee’s recommendation, President Obasanjo sent a Bill (tagged “Abolition of Dichotomy in the Application of the Principles of Derivation) to the National Assembly. Ostensibly, the purpose of the Bill was to abolish the onshore/offshore dichotomy created by the Supreme Court judgment. But curiously, the President decided to insert the an ambiguous term “contiguous zone” in the Bill which in effect meant that the derivation principle would apply only to revenue from natural resources found in “contiguous zone” of a state. It would appear that President Obasanjo chose to deliberately plant a time bomb or a spoiler in the Bill. However, in order to avoid any controversy or ambiguity, the National Assembly rightfully replaced the term “contiguous zone” with a more appropriate term “continental shelf and exclusive economic zone contiguous” to the littoral state. President Obasanjo refused the amendment suggested by the National Assembly insisting on his vague “contiguous zone”. This lead to a stalemate between the President and the National Assembly and the Bill was abandoned for months. As the 2003 elections approached and tension over the dichotomy issue mounted and threatened the success of the ruling PDP in the Niger Delta, President Obasanjo sued for a compromise by substituting “200 metres water depth isobath” in place of “contiguous zone” and resubmitted the Bill to the National Assembly. Although many people had serious misgivings about the rationale and practicality of the “200 metres water depth isobath”, the National Assembly was forced to accept the compromise and the Bill was passed into law in February, 2004 thus bringing the debate to a “temporary end”. The compromise meant that the derivation principle shall not apply to oil produced beyond 200 metres water depth isobath. In other words, the dichotomy was not abolished in toto. It is not surprising therefore that the passage of the Bill did not stop the agitation in the region. If President Obasanjo has accepted the suggestions of the Anenih-led Committee and the National Assembly and the law passed earlier, perhaps it would have reduced tension in the area. According to Mr. Edwin Egede, even though the passage of the Bill was a step in the right direction, “the demarcation of the relevant maritime zone for the purpose of derivation formula cannot be arbitrary but must be based on established principles of public international law. The derivation principle should be extended to the continental shelf of Nigeria…anything less will be mere political expediency that will derogate from the whole essence of a legislative intervention to achieve an equitable outcome…A resort to 200-metres water depth isobath is a reversion to the depth and exploitability definition of the 1958…which appears anachronistic, especially in light of Nigeria’s ratification of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention”
Fourthly, a few weeks after his inauguration, President Obasanjo sent a Bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to replace OMPADEC. However, it was not until after 18 months, on December 21, 2000 that the NDDC was officially inaugurated “to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region” and “to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful”. Although the NDDC Act provided for generous funding from various sources, the Federal Government consistently refused to meet its obligation to the Commission. It took almost seven years for the Obasanjo’s administration to launch the promised “comprehensive development for the Niger Delta area”. President Obasanjo launched the plan on March 27, 2007, two months to the end of his 8-year rule! A writer in the This Day of April 16, 2007 noted that “because of its timing or its doubtful motive, or both, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan recently launched by out-going President Olusegun Obasanjo did not attract the expected enthusiasm both from its target beneficiaries and their compatriots in other parts of the country.” About $50billion is required to implement the plan over a 15-year period, when Obasanjo, the architect, is gone! The fact remains that the NDDC which he established over 6 years ago has not been able to make a serious dent on the developmental problems and on poverty reduction in the region. The 2006 Niger Delta Human Development Report prepared by the UNDP noted that “The Niger Delta is a region suffering from administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict.”
In fact, because of President Obasanjo’s inability (or lack of political will?) to deal with the Niger Delta crisis, the issue became a topical and decisive issue in the 2003 elections. However, since the other presidential candidates did not offer better policy options for dealing with the problem and since all the Niger Delta states were PDP-controlled, President Obasanjo secured about 92% of the votes cast in the region – the highest of the 6 geographic zones of the country. However, in both his second inaugural address to the nation on May 29, 2003 (which he titled “We will heal Nigeria”) as well as his address to the Joint Session of the National Assembly on June 6, 2003, President Obasanjo did not mention the Niger Delta and made no promise or policy statement on the issue. Apparently, he was set to either ignore the issue or to use force to resolve it. It will be recalled that within six months of his administration, in November 1999, President Obasanjo ordered the Nigerian Army to invade the town of Odi, Bayesla state, ostensibly to “teach a lesson” to the residents of the town and serve as warning to other militant communities in the region. However, President Obasanjo’s veiled attempts to ignore the problem or to use force after the 2003 elections did not stop the agitation in the region. Thus, when President Obasanjo decided to convene the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in early 2005, some proponents of “resource control” decided to take the opportunity of the conference to address the issue. Curiously again, President Obasanjo did not mention a word about the Niger Delta in his inaugural address to the NPRC even when it was clear that the issue was going to be a major agenda at the conference. As expected, the debate over “resource control” almost tore the conference apart. There is no doubt that Obasanjo tacitly opposed the call by the Niger Delta delegates for 50% derivation. After a bitter and divisive debate, the conference ended on July 11, 2005. Among other things, the conference made the following recommendations on the Niger Delta issue:
(i) “an expert commission should be appointed by the Federal Government to study all the ramifications of the (oil) industry including revenue allocation with a view to reporting within a period of not more than six months, how the mineral resources concerned can best be controlled and managed to the benefit of the people of both the states where the resources are located and of the country as a whole”;
(ii) “A clear affirmation of the inherent right of the people of the oil producing areas of the country not to remain mere spectators but to be actively involved in the management and control of the resources in their place by having assured places in the Federal Government mechanisms for the management of the oil and gas exploration and marketing.
(iii) an increase in the level of derivation from the present 13% to 17%, in the interim pending the report of the expert commission. Delegates from the South-South and other oil producing states insisted on 50% as the irreducible minimum. Having regard to national unity, peace and stability, they agreed to accept, in the interim, 25% derivation with a gradual increase to attain the 50% over a period of five years.”
Following the NPRC, there was a lull in insurgency in the region as the militants and proponents of resource control expected President Obasanjo to immediately implement the above recommendations. After waiting for a few months and when it was becoming clear that the President was not in a hurry to implement the recommendations, the militants resumed and intensified their attacks. This time their “struggle” was complicated and became more violent because of: (a) the arrest and detention of Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the “Supreme Leader” of the NDPVF and Chairman of the Niger Delta People’s Salvation Front (NDPSF) in October 2005 on charges of treason. He has remained in detention ever since; and (b) the impeachment of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief D. S. P Alamieyeseigha, in early December 2005. He was detained in London in November on charges of money laundering but he jumped bail and escaped to Nigeria and was subsequently expelled from the DPD and impeached by the State Assembly, an action that was believed to have been orchestrated by President Obasanjo, as payback for championing “resource control” and for supporting the militants. The ex-Governor has remained in detention ever since. Some of the militants have been demanding the release of both Alhaji Dokubo-Asari and Chief Alamieyeseigha but President Obasanjo has refused to bulge. It is also important to state that the President is yet to implement the recommendations of NPRC on the Niger Delta. Thus the oil-producing areas are still getting 13% of oil revenue as against the 17% recommended by the NPRC in July 2005!
In an attempt to reduce tension in the region, President Obasanjo inaugurated the Council on the Socioeconomic Development of Coastal States of the Niger Delta on April 18, 2006 with himself as the Chairman. In his address to the Council, he outlined a 9-point agenda for the region, including the creation 20,000 new jobs in the Armed Forces, Police, NNPC and Teaching for indigenes of the region within three months, commitment of N230 billion for the construction of the long-abandoned East–West (Warri-Mbiama-Port Harcourt-Eket-Oron) road, commencement of the dredging of the river Niger, upgrading of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, Warri to a degree-awarding institution, establishment a federal polytechnic in Bayelsa State by September, rural electrification for 396 communities, water supply for over 600 communities, and the appointment of an officer in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to coordinate the various intervention programs by all the tiers government as well as those of oil companies and development partners. Many people felt that the Council was yet another ruse. Perhaps, they were correct. Almost a year after the Council was inaugurated, there is little to show. There are no indications that the promises are being delivered. It is unclear and doubtful if the 20,000 new jobs promised “within three months” have been provided “within 12 months”. Although work has started on the East-West road, it is probably less than 10% complete and President Obasanjo will not have the pleasure of commissioning it before he leaves of office. In fact, in the 2007 budget, he allocated only “N36 billion for the construction of the much awaited East-West Road”, i.e. only about 16% of the N230billion required for the project.
Due to pressures, he has not been able to convert the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Warri to a university; rather he has established a new Federal University of Petroleum Resources to take off from within the premises of the PTI. The relationship between the university and PTI remains unclear. The university is yet to take off and it is unclear where the permanent location will be. In fact, it is only within the last month that President appointed a Vice Chancellor, Registrar, Chancellor and Governing Council for the still “nebulous” university. Tragically, no indigene of the Niger Delta was among the key officers of the university and its governing council. The Vice Chancellor (Prof. Alabi) is from President Obasanjo’s home state –Ogun; the Registrar (Mrs. Onwuka) is from the South East; and the Chancellor is the Emir of Gwandu. As I remarked elsewhere “The proposed university may prove to be a Greek Gift because the stage now is set for its colonization. This is yet another indication of the insensitivity of the present administration to the Niger Delta crisis and how it treats the Niger Delta people with utmost disdain. Yet, the PDP scored its highest votes from this same region in the recent and past elections! Haba OBJ! So you could not find suitably qualified Niger Deltans to be the VC, Chancellor, Registrar, etc?? How do you want the ND people, especially the qualified ones, to feel about this? Such actions of omission and commission are responsible for the continuing crisis in the Niger Delta region. Why should Engr. Makoju who has woefully failed to improve power supply in Nigeria be made to head the Governing Council?”
From the above analysis, it is clear that President Obasanjo’s scorecard on the Niger Delta is dismal. Due to his acts of omission and commission, the state of insecurity in the region has reached an all-time high and oil production has plummeted drastically. The saving grace for the economy has been the sustained high price of crude oil, which has more than compensated for the significant reduction in oil production. A recent International Policy Report prepared for theUS Government captured the current situation in the region as follows: “Until now, however, insufficient attention and funding have been paid to resolving the conflicts and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta. A ‘hard line’ security approach has failed abysmally with grotesque human rights abuses only igniting more insurgencies and deepening criminality…In the first three months of 2006, $1 billion in oil revenues were lost and national output was cut by one third. The escalating crisis in the Delta region threatens…the security of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy… The only way to secure the Delta is to raise health, education and living standards, ensure free and fair elections, ameliorate conflicts over resources and broadly transform residents of the region into bonafide stakeholders who will benefit from oil revenues”.
A Proposed Agenda for President-elect Umaru Yar’Adua
President Obasanjo will be leaving a daunting task for the incoming president come May 29, 2007. The Niger Delta people, and indeed the entire country, will be watching closely the initial actions President Umaru Yar'Adua will take to address the crisis. A recent poll by NOI/Gallup showed that 92% of Nigerians are concerned about the Niger Delta and believe that the government has not done enough for the area. Therefore, President Yar’Adau must begin with a clear policy statement on the region and adopt new strategies for addressing the key issues and challenges. Among other things, he should do the following:
1. Implement the recommendations of the NPRC cited above within 3 months. In particular, he should address the issue of oil derivation revenue by sending a bill to the National Assembly to increase the derivation percentage to 17% within 3 months, and subsequently increase the derivation percentage by 2% points per annum until it reaches 50%. To lay the ghost of the onshore/offshore dichotomy to rest, the Bill should also amend the 2004 “Abolition of Dichotomy in the Application of the Principles of Derivation” Act by replacing “200-metres water depth isobath” with “continental shelf and exclusive economic zone contiguous”. As the President, he must establish the case why this is an imperative and why there is no viable alternative.
2. Grant amnesty for both Alhaji Dokubo-Asari and Chief Alamieyeseigha and release them from detention with an undertaking by both that they will work towards peace and stability in the region.
3. Implement a Demobilization, Disarmament, Reintegration and Rehabilitation (DDRR) program in the region, including a “job/reinsertion kits/education for arms” swap for the militants and criminals who are willing to surrender their weapons.
4. Establish a special and well-equipped ND Police Force to ensure peace and security in the region. The force should be made up of indigenes of the area only so that they are not seen as an “occupying” force.
5. Ensure full funding of NDDC as per its Act and ensure faithful implementation of the Niger Delta Master Plan.
6. Set up an independent “ND Anti-Corruption Agency” or ND-EFCC to ensure transparency and fight corruption within the state and local government and local community development committees in the area.
7. Establish an Annual ND Stakeholders Consultative Conference to be attended by about 2,000 representatives of the various groups and other stakeholders in the region. The conference will review the performance of the NDDC, the federal, state and local governments as well as other development partners in the region, and offer suggestions on how to improve performance and ensure peace and security.
8. Establish a ND Truth and Reconciliation Committee headed by a respected religious leader from the region to resolve and manage historical, current and latent communal conflicts and promote a culture of peace in the region.
9. Deliver on all the past promises made by President Obasanjo (e.g. completion of the East-West road, 20,000 jobs, etc) and heal the “old sores” in the region (e.g. Ogoni, Odi).
10. Do not convert PTI to a university. It should continue to focus on the training of middle-level manpower for the oil industry. The proposed Federal University of Technology should be relocated to the premises of the Sapele Technical College (formerly Government Trade Center, Sapele) which has facilities for the take-off of the university and enough land for expansion. It should focus on high-level manpower development and research and development for the oil industry. As a specialized university, it does not need too much land like other traditional universities. Furthermore, President Yar’Adua should annul the appointments made by President Obasanjo and appoint new principal officers from within the Niger Delta region. The more the people of the region have a sense of controlling their destiny, the lesser will be the feeling of internal colonization or exploitation by the majority ethnic groups.
11. Appoint a Minister for Peace and Development in the Niger Delta who will oversee the above activities.
Finally, I would like to urge President Yar’Adua to resist any temptation to use military force to pacify the region or to internationalize the crisis by inviting foreign troops or seeking foreign assistance or allow for the establishment of foreign military bases within or near Nigeria. The latter action could elicit negative reaction by the militants and push them into the hands of international terrorist organizations. There are already indications that the West is getting worried and impatient with the events in the region given its significance as a major source of hydrocarbon for the West. The modus operandi of some of the militants (kidnapping of foreigners, bombing, covering of their faces, etc) and attempts to link some of the militants to international terrorist organizations are sources of concern. According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari (formerly Dokubo Melford Goodhead Jr) is “is a devout Muslim with populist views and an anti-government stance …Asari is also an outspoken admirer of Osama bin Laden, with whom he has financial links, and has drawn parallels between his war against the Nigerian government and al Qaeda's struggle against the West”. Even some Nigerian officials are already using the T (Terrorist) word to describe Asari and his associates. The danger with this trend is that the ND region may soon be declared as one of the “axis of terror” with a potential for international “intervention”. Such intervention will cause unimaginable tension and “collateral” damage in the region including possible conflagration of major oil facilities. The fact is that military pacification will be extremely costly and very likely to fail in the Niger Delta region because of the terrain – expansive; poor accessibility; fragile ecosystem; multitude of creeks; about 3,000 small communities and settlements; and about 10,000 kilometers of miles of oil and gas pipelines, about 200 flowstations, gas plants and oil terminals all of which are highly inflammable. In fact, the cost of military option will far exceed the cost of implementing the remedial actions outlined above. For instance, the current cost of the US military operations in Iraq is estimated at about $8.4billion per month or about $100.8billion a year which is two times the estimated cost of implementing the Niger Delta Development Master Plan over a 15-year period, or about the GDP of Nigeria or about five times the revenue of the Federal Government of Nigeria! It is therefore unlikely that the Nigerian government will ever have adequate resources to embark upon a sustainable military pacification campaign in the region. Thus, the best option option to the Yar’Adua administration is to pursue the set of strategies outlined above.
 See Edwin Egede: “Who Owns Nigeria’s Offshore Seabed…..” in Journal of African Law, 49, 1 (2005), pp. 73-93
 See part 2 “Oil and the 2003 Presidential Election” in my book “Essays from America: Political Economy of Oil and Other Topical Issues in Nigeria”. Xlibris Corporation. 2006, pp. 35-52.
 The cost of the Iraq war increased from $53b in FY2003 to $76b in FY2004, $84.5b in FY2005 and $101b in FY2006