Human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, has faulted former President Olusegun Obasanjo over his theory that the oil and gas found in the Niger Delta region do not belong to the oil bearing communities but to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Ozekhome argued that legally, Obasanjo can be said to be correct because successive military juntas had cleverly and systematically promulgated “expropriatory and inhuman” laws that took away the ownership of oil and gas resources from the people of the Niger Delta.
The legal luminary, however, observed that the presence of such laws on the statute books does that make them right or justifiable. He reminded Obasanjo under a just legal system, whoever owns the land owns everything on top of it.
According to him, any extant constitutional or statutoryprovisions( suchasthose apparently referred to by Obasanjo) that run contrary to this principle of common law are therefore nothing but bad, immoral, exproriatory and exploitative. “Nigeria operates a federal system of government, and that federalism is fiscal and plural.
One of the major attributes of federalism isthatitensuresthatregions, sub-national or federating units develop according to their pace and needs, using the God-given resources that are available to such units.”
Theypaytaxtothecentral government. “Help me inform President Obasanjo that a law that literally steals the resources of a people, punishing them with destruction of their only available aquatic and agrarian life, even though in the statute books, is a bad, aberrant and obnoxious law.
“Help me tell Obasanjo that in the USA, since oil was discovered in 1859,(a country whose Presidentialism and federalism we ape after), oil and gas are not owned by the American Federal government, Ndubuisi Ugah but by the surface owners; while oil and gas offshore are owned either by states or federal government,” he said.
Ozekhome recalled that before the January 15, 1966 military putsch led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, neither the cotton, groundnut and hides and skin obtainable in the North, the cocoa grown in the West, Palm produce produced in the East; nor the rubber and timber that existed in the then Midwest, were said to belong to the federal government.
He said that at that time, mineral resources belonged to the regions which took a lion share of 50 while paying tax to the Federal Government at the centre.
“The 1960 independence Constitution and the 1963 Republican Constitution had actually activated true fiscal federalism, after the 1957-1958 Willinks Commission Report which had identified and validated the fears of minorities within the Nigerian space.
“The Niger Delta region has been repressed, suppressed, marginalized and neglected. Respected Obasanjo, more than any other person,knows this very well, having had the rare privilege of governing Nigeria both in khaki and agbada.
The poor people have had to pay with their sweat, sorrow, tears,blood, pains and pangs, over their God-given wealth. The wealth has become a curse rather than a blessing,” he said.