On December 28, while many were reveling in Christmas festivities, President Olusegun Obasanjo, as he used to be, was at his desk writing a letter to Chief Edwin Clark, acclaimed leader of the Ijaw nation. Obasanjo’s letter was in response to allegations against him contained in a Chief Clark’s earlier letter titled ‘My Disappointment Over Unprovoked Outburst Against the People of the Niger Delta Region’. Obasanjo did his over six pages. In them, he raised very disturbing issues that affect the stability and unity of Nigeria as they are.
It is immaterial to me what the issue between Obasanjo and Clark is. I am rather more interested in the facts of leadership and national development that his letter has exposed. And, like Pa Bisi Akande’s book, ‘My Participation’, which has forced some active participants and participant observers in the politics of the South West, nay, Nigeria, to expose the depth of their noble and less than noble roles in the growth of democracy in Nigeria, Obasanjo’s letter to Clark brings home the reality of the duality of leadership policies; for the North and for the South.
Obasanjo drew attention to the 1963 Constitution which vested ownership of oil and mineral resources found in Nigeria on the Federal Government. According to him, the 1963 Constitution at Section 140 (1) titled “Mining Royalties and Rents” stated: “There shall be paid by the federation to each region a sum equal to fifty per cent of (a) proceed of any royalty received by the federation in respect of any mineral extracted in that region; and (b) any mining rents derived by the federation during that year from within that region”.
This 1963 constitutional provision is retained in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) at Section 44(3) wherein it reads: “Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.” Added to this is item 39 of the Second Schedule of the Exclusive Legislative list which vests issues of mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas, exclusively on the federal government.
Combined implication of these constitutional provisions is that all mineral resources found within the territory of Nigeria belong to the Federal Government and can be mined only be authority of the federal government through persons to whom government has given the right, through lease, to do so. The law also suggests that land where mineral resources are found in commercial quantity can be acquired by government in accordance with the Land Use Act.
This has remained the guiding understanding in the relationship between the 36 states of the federation and the FCT and the Federal Government, as far as mineral rights are concerned. Further implication of the combined reading of these legal provisions is that no state or region of the federation can lay claim to ownership of mineral resources, of any type, found within its territory. No state can, therefore, mine or extract any such mineral resources as no state has any constitutional powers to do so.
However, in 2019, the Federal Government, through the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI), permitted Zamfara State to control and manage gold mining activities in the state. It also mandated the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to buy gold from Zamfara State. According to information on the PAGMI website, the Federal Government approved what it called artisanal mining of gold in Zamfara. In other words, gold in Zamfara was to be mined for Zamfara State by persons approved as artisanal miners. This gold would be bought from Zamfara State by the CBN. Governor Bello Matawalle confirmed this when he said “For a start, we have purchased 31 kilogrammes of gold, wholly mined and refined by our artisanal miners. We will subsequently continue to buy gold from our local miners so as to gradually improve the reserve.”
Justifying the action, an undated ‘press release’ on the PAGMI website reads: “Under PAGMI, artisanal gold miners will earn more from higher productivity, better recovery rates, mechanization of operations, and better access to reliable geological information.
“Increased earnings for the miners will have significant spillover effects in the local economies as businesses will grow to cater to the increased consumption per household… PAGMI is designed as a broader strategy to address the structural and institutional factors such as rural poverty, lack of alternative livelihoods, and difficulties in meeting legal and regulatory requirements that tend to push artisanal gold mining operators deeper into the informal economy.”
The decision of the federal government to allow Zamfara state to mine its gold through those it called artisanal miners, has severally been described as discriminatory. Many hold the view that the federal government, in making the approval, discriminated against other states of the federation where mineral resources are also found. Obasanjo also noted this in his letter to Clark where he wrote, “the constitution affects Niger Delta region as it affects Zamfara State where gold is found and if anybody at the federal level has remised in the implementation of the constitution, then, it is a different matter.” He adds: “the gold in Ilesha, Osun State, and the lead in Ebonyi State, all come under the same law and constitution.”
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State had taken a swipe at the Federal Government over this. He said, “we cannot apply laws in such a manner that it becomes discriminatory because you cannot mine solid minerals somewhere in Zamfara and you can’t allow Niger Delta to manage their oil.”
This position comes from the realization that the Federal Government had, through its policy on gold mining in Zamfara State, already restructured the law on mining and mineral rights and created a duality for the north and the south.
This discriminatory application of the law points to some kind of amendment of the constitution by presidential fiat. It also creates impressions of favouritism against the government and spurs the people to agitate for restructuring of the country’s legal systems to allow all states to control and manage mineral resources found within their territory. If, therefore, what the federal government has done with gold in Zamfara State works for the state, nothing says it wont work, also, for other states where mineral resources are found.
The reasons listed by PAGMI as necessitating the ceding of gold mining rights to Zamfara state by the federal government including “rural poverty, lack of alternative livelihoods, and difficulties in meeting legal and regulatory requirements that tend to push artisanal gold mining operators deeper into the informal economy” are not exclusive problems to Zamfara state. They are problems found everywhere that mineral resources are also found. Therefore, ss it is said, what is good for the goose, must, also, be good for the gander.