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North, South-South, Others Jostle to Protect Interests.

Monday Uwagwu
Pointer Newspaper Online
23/09/2008

IT may not require the deployment of military hardware, or life-threatening ammunition. But neither in its essence, nor the fierceness with which its enabling tactics and strategies are being firmed up makes it any less of a potentially dangerous war of many intense battles as Nigeria’s ethnic and other political blocs go to war over the constitution review exercise.

Though it is formally taking place at the National Assembly (NASS), incredible behind – the – scene anglings have begun as groups seek to protect their perceived interests – real, imagined or potential.
The anglings had been on-going for some months now, but appear to have reached a feverish pitch after the leadership of NASS pronounced to the effect that it was now formally instituting the exercise.

The POINTER checks showed that various interest groups see the upcoming exercise as crucial to the effective protection of their interests in the Nigerian polity and have seen engaging in meetings, formal and informal, to define and streamline them in relation to the exercise.

Our checks which began about eight weeks ago, showed that the meetings have largely held along under geo-political lines directly related to the old regional blocs. A few in-house meetings were equally held by stakeholders within the blocs (regional, federalist structures).

At such bloc meetings, two things were largely the pre-occupation of participants, some of who confided in us. The issues revolve around identifying and streamlining their interests, and raising a team to handle it at both the NASS end as well as extended “public relations with exterior stakeholders.”

Our confidants define public relations, in this sense, as the totality of strategies and tactics taken to market a group (bloc’s) interests before other stakeholders. Over the past two months, some of the meetings held in Enugu, Kaduna, Sokoto, Ibadan and Jos.

Our gleanings showed that following the series of meetings and contacts, the regional blocs have defined and streamlined their agenda and have perfected their delivery mechanism at the NASS, which one source said, would be “Nigeria’s battle ground for the next couple of months that the exercise may last.”

It was learnt, for instance, that the former eastern bloc (except Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, and Cross Rivers which now form part of the country’s strategic South-South), after several meetings in Enugu and other places, has streamlined to work for the creation of at least one state in its area, and a possible return to the fiscal federalism or an enhanced derivation principle. (dp).

The bloc favours the creation of a state from “possibly Imo,” as one of our confidants puts it.
By backing fiscal federalism, the source said the East (also called South-East), is conscious of the fact that its rich wealth in coal and gypsum (for cement production), stands it in real prospect of earning more revenue, sooner or later, from the Federation Account (FA).

The Enugu coal fields, now idle, contain world-grade deposits which require no beneficiation (quality-enhancement) because of its high quality. Part of the rationale for its vote for either outright fiscal federalism or an enhanced derivation principle (dp) is its rich agricultural potential as its wetlands are good for oil palm cultivation and paddy rice farming, especially in the Ebonyi axis.

The stand of the bloc is also in relation to what a confidant said, is the Niger Delta issue which requires, in his view, a much higher dp for the people to benefit. For now, the prevailing dp is 13 per cent of the FA, which pools all of federally-collectible revenue, mainly from crude oil.

The group’s desire is also for a critical review of the subsisting Revenue Allocation Formula, (RAF), which cedes only 20:6 and 26.7 per cent, respectively to Nigeria’s 774 councils, and the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, respectively. The Federal Government has 52 per cent of the FA. The bloc, which comprises Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Abia States, seeks to enhance its national visibility by the creation of the additional state in the area.

On its part, the South-South is angling for a review of the petroleum and oil minerals act and the Land Use Act, as part of efforts at returning ownership of land to the people. It is also influenced by its desire to earn more revenue from the proceeds of its huge crude oil wealth, which is the major icon in Nigeria’s treasury.

Our confidants said the zone, which also buys the idea of fiscal federalism, would however, angle for a significantly higher dp and a critical review of the revenue allocation formula (RAF), where all else fails.
The RAF, drawn up by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, defines the operational guidelines for sharing the FA.

Our South-South sources acknowledged that though the recent creation by the Yar’Adua administration of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was a warm gesture, the bloc “is still far from being satisfied with the reality of the Niger Delta region which requires far more finding for development than the system appears willing to give.”

Aside of the inequity in the RAF, the region, given its marshy nature, is a developer’s nightmare, with projects requiring, at times, far in excess of construction costs elsewhere, as experts deal with the challenge of an unyielding terrain.

Our confidants from the South-South, (which groups Delta, Edo, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Bayelsa States), would not comment on the bloc’s position on the vital issue of state creation but merely said “we know the disadvantage we suffer on that account and we will act to protect the area’s interest. You can be rest assured of that.”

In Nigeria, where the RAF is governed by largely the same variables and the FA disbursed, essentially, on the basis of number of states and local government areas, the Niger Delta is severely disadvantaged because of the sparseness of its states – six in all.

The same scenario applies when the former regional blocs are taken into consideration. The defunct Northern region now has 19 states and the FCT: the Western region (now South-West), five, minus Lagos; the Eastern region (now South-east plus Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers and Rivers), nine, and the defunct Midwest – the only one created via a plebiscite in 1963 – two (that is Delta and Edo).

Technically, the unitarisation of the Nigerian polity and the erosion of the fiscal federalism principle means that while the north has 19 states (states) in the FA, the former Eastern region has nine; the Western region, five, (excluding Lagos), while the Midwest has only two. Experts hold this as inequitable, given resource variations amongst the states and the defunct regions.

The South-West bloc (Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Osun and Ogun) are set to canvass for the creation of an additional state from Oyo State, the enhancement of the dp, a new RAF and greater states say in the management of the proceeds of the Ad Valoren or Value Added Tax (VAT). VAT rose from the ashes of the sales tax, which state governments administered, until the federal government took it over, under the aegis of tax reforms.

The South-West bloc is also understood at a crucial meting in Ibadan, to have mandated its flagbearers, to “actively work for the review of the Land Use Act and the immunity clause.” It is equally understood to be fronting for the creation of more states from Lagos, which, in spite of its demographic and economic allure, “is under-served.”

Lagos, once Nigeria’s capital territory, is home to much of Nigeria’s industrial sector, and the major contributor to the VAT segment of Nigeria’s national revenue till. With an accredited tally of 9.1m, it is equally Nigeria’s second most populous state, after Kano, with 9.3 million, though it has 26 council areas, compared to Kano’s 44. Lagos State government had since challenged the census figures as released by the National Population Commission (NPC).

An insider said the South-West would want either Lagos to be carved up into at least two states, or for it to have a statutorily designated funding benchmark, as the FCT. The FCT has 1 per cent entitlement from the FA.

The northern bloc is said to have finalized strategies to angle for an additional state from Kano and for “strict resistance to any attempt to return Nigeria to the regional federalist structure,” which the West and the East see as a prospect, though remote.

It favours a higher dp and a “slightly adjusted RAF,” having regard to its long-term agricultural potential and the fact that it boosts many strategic minerals and gemstones. The north has rich deposits of tin, columbite and sundry other minerals and is Nigeria’s strategic food basket. A strategic member of the inner caucus of the bloc’s team and member of NASS, told The POINTER that “we won’t allow for the return to the old regional structure for obvious reasons.”

The source would not confirm or deny that the bloc was having some difficulties harmonizing its position on that issue. The defunct northern region, once thought singular in everything, now harbours increasingly autonomy-minded interests in its mid-rib, the Middle Belt region.

The source confirmed that the group was “ever ready for the review exercise and we can always push our will through, though we respect mutuality among Nigerians.” Nigeria’s unique political tradition which gives all states equal number of seats gives the north, which has 19 states, undue political advantage in the NASS. Each of Nigeria’s 36 states elects three senators and 10 representatives to NASS, irrespective of demographic differences.

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