DELTA GOVERNMENT POSITION ON REVIEW OF 1999 CONSTITUTION –BY GOV. EMMANUEL EWETA UDUAGHAN


The National Assembly deserves commendation for returning to a task most Nigerians desire – the review of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution. The first attempt under President Obasanjo did not succeed for reasons pretty well known by all.

The 1999 Constitution was born under unusual circumstances. It was a document midwifed by the military and handed over to civilians. By its structure military orientation is not often in alignment with popular democratic wishes of the people.

Indeed, a number of prominent voices have faulted the preamble to the Constitution that asserts “we the people” as false. The validity or otherwise of this assertion notwithstanding, I feel having practiced democracy under the current 1999 Constitution, its review should eventually bring this Constitution to align with the aspiration of the people and will legitimately make it a people’s constitution and not a constitution fashioned by the military.

It is also on this note that I am calling on the promoters of Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to step forward with their proposals and make same available to your committee as part of their inputs in building a Constitution that will herald better democratic governance.

The Government and people of Delta State wish to thank the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, especially the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution for the opportunity to send in the State’s submission to the Constitution review exercise. As you commence your retreat, I wish to seize this opportunity to share with you our thoughts on the 1999 Constitution.

Delta Government Position

I want to declare that the Government and people of Delta State remain committed to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble entity under God. The Government and people of Delta State also renew their faith in a Constitution that will promote unity in diversity, brotherhood among the Nigerian people and welfare of all persons based on the principles of freedom, equity and justice as a basis for one indivisible and indissoluble nation. It is the view of the Government and people of Delta State that the 1999 Constitution as it stands, fall short of our collective expectations in many respects by, for instance, not providing enough autonomy for the government and people of the State in the control of their natural resources and sufficient legal framework to promote and sustain our socio-economic aspirations.

Delta State Government believes it has sufficient human and natural resources to create employment, promote development and generate prosperity for her people. However, we are restrained by the overbearing unitary provisions of the Constitution which cripples substantially the spirit and letters of federalism upon which this Nation was built. It is our view that the Constitution needs a radical review in order to enthrone:

True Federalism

Federalism in our view is a system of Government adopted by diverse nationalities who, otherwise would have been on their own, but who desire a central government to pursue common objectives. A federation, therefore, while promoting unity among the federating nationalities, does not promote a union in which the constituents loose their peculiarities and identities. This was the vision of the founding fathers of our federation. Time and time again, it has been made clear to us that any shift from this vision will produce great disunity and less cohesion for our people in the Nigerian Nation. Therefore, the federating states in the federation must retain a measure of independence and autonomy that will enable them to sufficiently define and shape their internal affairs unhindered. Our view on this is that the distribution of the legislative, executive and judicial powers in the 1999 Constitution are strongly skewed in favour of the federal government with States becoming its mere appendages.

Fiscal Federalism

Fiscal Federalism is about allocation of resources to secure the autonomy of the respective federating units as well as the central government in a true federation. Needless to say that the principle of fiscal federalism underlying the 1999 Constitution is inequitable and flawed in that it has left the State of the Niger Delta prostrate. They now appear, as said earlier, to be appendages of the federal government who they go cap in hand to seek help from. As a consequence, the rich gains of a healthy federal competition which endured under the 1960 Constitution have been severely eroded. Worse still, the nationalisation of the natural resources of State and Communities particularly the Niger Delta to support the national economy is too burdensome, if not oppressive. This is particularly so in view of the expropriatiory provisions of the Constitution and other pieces of legislation confiscating, as it were, these resources without compensation and corresponding allocation of the proceeds to them to address the adverse impacts of oil exploration on the people and environment for the past 40 to 50 years.

Delta Beyond Oil

Mr. Senate President and distinguished Senators, fellow Deltans, considering the controversy on the issue of fiscal federalism, I am going to dwell a little bit more on it as it relates to revenue allocation because of the misperception in some quarters, either largely out of mischief, blackmail or sometimes, one may grant real concern. Delta state accounts for about 30% of Nigeria’s crude oil reserve and derives 65% of its GDP from oil and gas and 85 of our revenue from FAAC, yet the cost of building infrastructure is one that has posed enormous financial challenges to us despite the best effort we are making.

We have a land area of 18,050 square kilometres, substantial portion of which is riverine, marshy and underdeveloped. Yet populated by our people who have opted to live in their ancestral land – which in many cases are locations of oil facilities: flow stations and pipelines. Our people are also desirous of development and improvement of their wellbeing from the proceeds of the resources taken from their land.

It is in this difficult terrain untouched by any development or sometimes poor development that compelled us to institute and fund Delta state Oil Mineral Development Commission (DESOPADEC). DESOPADEC was setup to address some of the issues highlighted and it has been getting in line with the law that we created 50% of the 13% derivation with a mandate to complement the state government’s programme of developing the oil producing and impacted areas of the state.

The state government and DESOPADEC tasks have been ardous for good reasons.  I mentioned terrain challenge imposing excruciating cost on infrastructure; the other is the high poverty incidence. We have decided to get to the root of the high poverty incidence by commencing initial steps of developing a poverty map of the state.

In most of these places, we are building infrastructure like schools, hospitals, access roads, bridges, electricity and provide clean water from ground zero.   We face additional pressure on other fronts, arising from the damage to the environment.  Ravaged by oil pollution and its attendant damage to the environment, the main economic activity of our people who are fishermen and farmers were lost.

Unable to fend for themselves, many of our people faced destitution and became restive. We have had to intervene by initiating various social programmes. What I have outlined was the root cause of the crisis in the Niger Delta.

Furthermore, transferring large chunk of funds to DESPODAEC has its consequences – and if I might add, political costs. Clearly, it greatly depleted the funds available to the State government, but our sense of equity and justice warrants that we do everything possible to bring development to the most deprived of our people in our riverine and oil impacted communities.

I am happy that despite the initial misgivings, the state government has not wavered in using DESOPADEC as a stabilising factor to bring development to its mandate areas. We believe the DESOPADEC experiment can only get better as we continue to fine-tune areas of lapses in delivering quality service and making the right impact in the mandate areas.  Commendable as its work has been, I believe we can do far more if more funds are available.

Overall, as a state government, we have not been deterred in pursuing our larger developmental programmes – challenging as it is. Our initiative to diversify the economy of our state has been termed ambitious by some observers. I believe they are correct. It is a staggering ambitious programme, to build an economy beyond oil or “Delta Beyond oil” as we have christened it. To do that and succeed is to completely alter the economic, social and cultural landscape of Delta, if not Nigeria.

In operational sense it means, to utilize the proceeds from oil, which we are fortunate to have to develop non-oil sectors of our economy.  As a plan, it is long term in nature. In my reflections, I wished systematic efforts were initiated towards diversifying our economy long before now. Had that happened, we would today be at a consolidation phase, rather than at building phase.

The risk of a building phase of development is the pressure of managing high public expectation. The public demand on government to finalise project delivery before acceptable timeframe is enormous and sometimes unrealistic. I fear that is the burden we have to bear as we strive to bring desired transformation to our people.

I do not regret that we began this journey; I am rather pleased we had the confidence and willpower to even begin it at all. Future generations will, I am sure, look to this moment and salute our courage. Let me explain what I mean.  To invest in critical infrastructure that has long gestation period far beyond sometime the resources and time limit of an elected government demands a measure of courage and commitment.

For instance, we are building a power plant (IPP) at Oghareki, an International airport in Asaba, upgrading Osubi airport to international standard, building industrial clusters i.e. (koko Industrial Park, Warri Industrial and Business Park, and Asaba ICT Park) nurture Micro Credit to SMES are in themselves long term projects, with benefits not often possible in the immediate time. Or to devote exclusively a large chunk of our revenue proceeds to development of sometimes remote riverine oil bearing communities, long neglected as we are doing using DESOPADEC is no easy undertaking.

But notwithstanding these challenges, I take pride in our infrastructure programme that has seen us construct 252km inter/intra city roads. I am confident that with the dualisation of major roads that include: 148 km Asaba-Ughelli,  33 km Ugbenu-Koko, Effurun-Osubi-Eku, 7.2 km Ughelli Artery, PTI/Jakpa, Old Lagos/Asaba amongst others we are gradually eliminating bottleneck in movement of goods and services and creating major network grid to link all the corners of the state.

This infrastructure growth has attracted high investor interest in the state. In addition to our special economic zone like the Koko free trade zone, which has a committed investor interest in fertilizer and fertilizer blending plants, petrochemical and LPG plants – an investment outlay estimated at 16 billion dollars, there are others like the 40 billion Naira Delta leisure park, the multi-billion Naira OFN/Delta poultry farm, to mention just a few.

Our human capital programme has been remarkable in its results. We are making progress in addressing maternal and child mortality rate in the state. There is a steep drop in maternal and child mortality rate in our public hospitals. New health care facilities are being construed or upgraded, but of note is the progress of Oghara Teaching Hospital as a centre of excellence. With current efforts, in a few short years, Oghara Teaching Hospital would become a centre of note in Africa.

We are investing heavily in infrastructure upgrade and modernization of our public schools for our children, teaching and non-teaching staff. Maintaining this level of investment and keeping to standard, the physical condition of our schools can compare with any in the world in a few short years.

Through our liberal social programme education is virtually free; WAEC and NECO fees are paid by government. We have awarded First-Class Scholarship to 88 First-Class graduates to study to PhD level at any university in any part of the world; we have given bursary awards to 18,000 Delta State students in tertiary institutions; we have given Scholarship to 343 children of deceased civil servants and 99 physically challenged students; we have given financial assistance of N100,000.00 per student to 883 Delta State students in Nigeria Law School. By doing this, we are giving our brightest youths a head start in life. These youths are prized assets, who in future will look back with pride the support they received from their government. In a knowledge driven world, we are positioning our best and brightest to compete and not to be left behind. We are also sending message to our other youths to step up and enjoy similar opportunities. These programmes have eased greatly the financial burden on parents and guardians in the training of their wards.

At the same time, we have invested heavily in public transportation, covering land and marine transportation and I can say that it has greatly smoothened the movement of goods and services for our people. Across the state, public owned transport vehicles are the choice means of movement, because it is comfortable – the buses for instance are air-conditioned and also because of the subsidy it enjoys. With the salutary effect it has in ameliorating the suffering of our people, we will continue to make more investment to boost public transportation in the state.

On the whole, what we are saying is that real action is taking place at the state level, where the impact of government is mostly felt.  So when we clamour for higher revenue allocation, it is targeted at the legitimate aspiration of the people.

In this regard, the Government and people of Delta State wish to urge that all obnoxious laws such as the Petroleum Act, 1964 Cap. 350, LFN, 1990, Interpretation Act, 1964, Cap 192, LFN 1990, and the Land Use Act, 1978, Cap. 202, LFN 1990, which, amongst other enactments vest the resources of the Niger Delta in the Federal Government be declared as unconstitutional and expunged, including Section 44(3) of the Constitution which states that:

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 Federal and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”

Section 162(1) and (10) should be defined to exclude income or derivation to the Government of the Federation accruing from natural resources and expunge the proviso to Section 162(2) of the Constitution to secure full control of the natural resources for the federating State in return for which the Federal Government can derive appropriate tax and royalties. The alternative suggestion will be to raise the principle of derivation from 13% to not less than 50%.

Mr. Senate President and distinguished Senators, fellow Deltans, what I have outlined is an overview, details of our position will be submitted to the Committee at the appropriate time.

In rounding up my speech, we are satisfied we have proposed progressive amendments to the 1999 Constitution with the aim to deepen democracy and ensure effective governance that meets the collective aspiration of our people. I therefore charge the National Assembly to keep in mind the historic responsibility of this assignment and not to overlook the strong wish of our people for reforms that will bring real change to their lives.

Once again, we welcome the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution as you begin your retreat here in Asaba, we wish you satisfactory deliberation.

Office of the Governor

Government House

Asaba.

20th July 2012

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