By OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
THE renewed militancy in the oil rich region in the guise of Niger Delta Avengers and its relentless bombing of oil installations in the face of the current global economic downturn is one major issue now on the front burner of national discourse. While the Federal Government has realised the need to change its tactics by opting for dialogue rather than direct military confrontation with the militants, some opinion leaders are not yet convinced that the proposed negotiation would finally put an end to the incessant agitations. Renowned constitutional lawyer and Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, in this interview, warns the Federal Government not to succumb to the unreasonable demands of the militants in the bid to achieve stability in the oil rich region.
How would you react to the latest demands by the Niger Delta Avengers before going into negotiation table with the Federal Government?
What are their demands?
They are demanding, among other things, an immediate suspension of lifting of crude oil by the Federal Government as well as involvement of member states of the multinational oil companies operating in the region in the proposed dialogue?
You can see that both of them are unreasonable. When you want to negotiate, you put out reasonable things one can comply with. How can they say that Federal Government should stop lifting of oil when the mainstay of the economy is petroleum? If they feel that Niger Delta region is not getting enough of proceed from their own commodity, they can say what should be the case. They can go by what had existed before in the 1960, 1963 constitution. But to so say that Federal Government should have no hand in oil activities is absolutely unreasonable and it means they are not serious. Again, what do they want foreign governments to come and do when the oil companies themselves are here? You can bring up an impossible condition so that nobody will accept it just because you do not want to negotiate. I think that is what is happening.
Inconsistent with these conditions, they had earlier on demanded for the implementation of the recommendations of the last confab and also 60 percent control of resources in the region. In another breadth, they also demanded for the sovereign state of Niger Delta.
I think they are confused. And until they themselves can sit down and come out with rational proposals, I don’t think there is anything anyone can negotiate with them. Two, we have to be very careful; I mean the Federal Government, about who to negotiate with. We don’t want a situation where you negotiate with conditions that will end up putting huge sum of money in the private pockets of militants who will then go and enjoy a good life like Tompolo who accumulated billions of dollars and became a little god running his own private army and living the life of a king of an independent country. We don’t want that situation. Whatever Federal Government does must be done in such a way that the outcome will benefit everybody in the region and will lead to actual development not just money being handed over to a few militants who will just blow it and spend it for themselves, while the situation remains the same, leading to another group of militants coming up again to make selfish demands for their own pockets rather than for the region.
What is the position of the international law on their request for the involvement of other countries in the proposed negotiation vis-a-viz the sovereignty of Nigeria as a nation?
It doesn’t affect our sovereignty as such. We can talk to countries whose companies have interests in Nigeria, but usually it is not in such circumstance. Such talk usually occurs when there is a problem, for example, you nationalize the property of the companies. In such circumstance, their states could step in to protect them. But to say the countries should be involved in the negotiation, to my knowledge, is unprecedented.
But would you suggest that the Federal Government should negotiate with them, if they are genuinely sincere?
If they have reasonable proposals, there is no reason why the Federal Government should not negotiate. For example, if their proposal is to increase the amount of derivation or to increase the level of their involvement in the oil industry, yes, Federal Government can negotiate. If it is about the question of creating autonomy and federalism, the Federal Government can negotiate. These are constitutional issues which could be negotiated. After such negotiation, the matter has to be brought to the appropriate institution, which will look at them and make amendments. If there are reasonable conditions like that, they can be negotiated. But I read one of their conditions where they said government must release Kanu and defreeze the account of Tompolo. When you are doing that, you are making an impossible condition because already Tompolo’s account is frozen based on allegation of corruption. So, if you say it should be defrozen, in effect you are saying the Federal Government should give up the struggle against corruption. Therefore, there is no reason why any other person, including Dasuki, who is now under investigation, should be prosecuted. They should then release all their accounts to all of them. You know how many they are now. We are talking of over a 100 people as at the last count. You cannot do it for Tompolo alone. Since that is impossible, nobody should take them very seriously.
Would you also suggest restructuring as an end to the renewed separatist agitations as some people are advocating?
I have always advocated restructuring. In a speech I made less than a week ago, I touched on restructuring. In believe restructuring will have a positive effect on this country because it will give federating units more powers, more resources, so that they can look after themselves and even contribute to the running of the Federal Government rather than the present type of system we are running, which is almost a unitary system by which the states are bottle-fed. That is why we call it feeding bottle federalism where all the states run every month cap in hand to Abuja to look for sustenance like a civil servant collecting salary every month.
That is totally unsavoury and unacceptable in federalism. So, there is a need to restructure to strengthen the federating units in terms of resources, in terms of powers, so that they can do things by themselves, leaving the Federal Government free to handle those matters, which are essentially central like foreign affairs, defence, currency, immigration, telecommunications and things like that. That will give them more time to handle the affairs, which they are best entitled to handle, rather than going into all sorts of unnecessary time wasting occupations. For example, right now, there is an organization belonging to the Federal Government that is doing lottery in Lagos. That is making the Federal Government looking ridiculous. Federal Government is dissipating energies on so many things unnecessarily. They just need a few important things to concentrate on and leave the rest to the states to deal with.
What modalities would you recommend for restructuring since it appears this government is not ready for restructuring from its body language?
All those advocating restructure should enter into dialogue with the Federal Government. Federal Government is not deaf; they are susceptible to reasoning. Superior reasoning will prevail and I know this government believes in reasoning, believes in superior argument. Such people should have delegations and meet top functionaries of government and present their reasons why restructuring is best, backing it with records, economic history, political history and things like that. I am sure everybody wants good governance, everybody wants development. Even Federal Government wants it more than any other because it is the one running the country. If they do that, I am sure Federal Government will listen to them.
If I got you right, what you are saying is that restructuring can take place without having to organize any confab or propose any constitutional amendment. Isn’t it so?
Of course, it can take place without any confab. We’ve had enough confabs. I even attended one in 2005 and another one just ended in 2014. So, there is no need for another confab. There are enough reports, which can be brought together and element of restructuring can be extracted out of them and implemented provided all parties agree. It is a question of persuasion.