By Myke Agunwa, Abuja
Leaders from the South-South geopolitical Zone have renewed their call on fiscal federalism, restructuring of the country, devolution of powers, restructuring and resource control from President Muhammadu Buhari.
The zone has been richly endowed with oil and other mineral resources and has benefited less from the proceeds of its rich endowments due to the lopsided sharing formula proviso in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Economic activities in the region are further crippled by environmental pollution, dilapidated aquatic life and poor infrastructure.
In an earlier meeting held at the Government House, Port Harcourt last Tuesday but was boycotted by the Federal Government delegation, the leaders of the South-South insisted on restructuring of the country and true federalism, including devolution of powers to the federating units.
At a resumed meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday, the zone again voiced out their demands for restructuring, true federalism, devolution of powers, State police, resource control which they said is the only panacea for peace and economic stability in the country.
The leaders stressed that the country was not at peace with itself and not working as one region was utilizing the resources in the region to the disadvantage of others.
The leader of the delegation and Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa who stated the position of the region at the meeting said that true federalism must be guided by the principle of derivation, revenue sharing and control of resources by each state of the federation as it was the case in the first republic.
Okowa said that the kind of federation the South-South geopolitical desires is one where federating units are constitutionally empowered to create their own structures like Local Government Areas, manage their elections and control their judiciary.
He said: “We are all aware of the huge endowment of this country. As such, it is imperative to stress that with a little bit of efforts, imagination, hard work, sacrifice and leadership, every state of the federation as of today, has the ability and capability to contribute to the national purse. This should be encouraged rather than the whole country depending substantially on a region of the country.
“What is worse and even more painful in this ugly situation is the deliberate lack of understanding, empathy and the uncompromising attitudes of some Nigerians, who have refused to understand the challenges of the South-South region of the country especially, the degradation of the environment and our waters. As a result, most of the demands of the region have remained unattended to while the resources of the region have been used continually to develop other parts of the country.”
The zone reiterated the call for the relocation of the headquarters of major oil companies, NNPC subsidiaries operating in Lagos and Abuja to the South-South region.
They requested for immediate implementation of the consent judgment entered in the Supreme Court Suit No: SC/964/2016 to enable the South-South region get its share of $55billion shortfall of collection on deep offshore and inland basin production sharing contracts.
The governor also called for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region’s major seaports in Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri in order to enhance the economic development of the South-South region.
They further demanded that the two refineries in Port Harcourt and in Warri be privatized.
“Enough is enough. Let us now privatize them and in doing so, however, allow the states and the region among others, considerable equity in the name of fairness and justice,” he stressed.
On the rot that has hampered the development of the region by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) the region said, “We have resolved and we, as the state governments will no longer allow NDDC to execute any project(s) in any state of the region without consulting state governments. Frankly, enough is enough and we have a court judgment to back our position.”
In his response, the Chief of Staff to the President, Amb. Ibrahim Gambari said the stakeholders meeting which was at the instance of the President, was to find lasting solutions for the problems ravaging the region which became a major point of agitation during the recent #EndSARS protest.
Gambari lauded the governors of the South-South states for their quick response and actions in addressing the EndSARS crisis.
He said that the President has raised concerns over decades of environmental degradation and non-adherence to environmental standards. He pledged to convey the demands of the region to the president.
Also in his remarks, The Deputy President of the Senate, Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege, urged the leaders of the region to avail themselves of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly since most of the issues contained in their demands are constitutional matters.
Present at the meeting were: Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State; Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River; Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom; Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State; and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and several traditional rulers including representatives of the Youth groups.
Others are Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta; Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum; Goddy Jedy Agba, Minister of State, Power; Festus Keyamo, Minister of State, for Niger Delta; Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammad. The Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi was, however, absent.