Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cross River State "Hungry" Lawmakers

The decision by 11 National Assembly lawmakers representing Cross River State to embark on a 2-week “hunger strike” is regrettable to say the least. The lawmakers decided on this line of action following the delisting of Cross River State by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) as an oil bearing state.

The judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, The Netherlands, on October 10, 2002 that the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula belongs to Cameroun, and subsequent resolution by the National Boundary Commission (NBC) that the disputed 67 oil wells which were between Cross River and Akwa Ibom state actually belongs to the latter, meant Cross River State is now considered a non-oil bearing state.

As a result of RMAFC and NBC decisions, the state ceases to benefit from the 13 percent derivation fund set aside for oil producing states, and it will lose its status as a major beneficiary Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) sponsored projects and programmes.

Despite not been a major oil producer in the Niger Delta, there is no doubt that loss of oil revenue will impact greatly on the state ability to finance major projects. In fact, the Gov. Liyel Imoke was quoted to have said that State will lose between N300 –N500 million monthly as a result.

To show their seriousness on this matter, the lawmakers were quoted as saying “anyone who wanted to monitor the hunger strike to move into their homes”. But the question still remains, if the proposed hunger strike action by the 11 lawmakers was the right thing to do. Also, what is the benefit of embarking on hunger strike? And more importantly, in whose interest?

For me, I consider the action as an “act of desperation”, which can only be attributed to hungry men. Such actions only highlight the delusion that exists within our political class. It is also a reflection of the handicap that has crippled the intellectual capacity our leaders over the years, which has turned us into a nation of rent collectors. Our leaders cannot seem to think of other ways of generating revenue apart from proceeds of crude oil. The questions I will like to ask the lawmakers are, what is the correlation between oil revenue and human/infrastructure development in Nigeria over last five decades? Is there any oil-producing state that is “better off” in terms of development? In fact, the so-called oil-producing states have had the most corrupt leadership in the current political dispensation. What if Nigeria does not have crude oil? And perhaps we should also ask, what Cross River State did with the oil allocation it has received in previous years?

Some will argue that the process through which Cross River State was delisted was unfair. However, for me, this is not the issue. The discovery of Oil in Nigeria has been more of a curse than blessing to us as a nation. Rather than providing revenue for development of major infrastructure for public benefit, it has continuously lined the greedy pockets of very few. Even if the government decides to return the 67 oil wells to Cross River State, I’m yet to see how its proceeds will serve any benefit to citizens of Cross River State.

Sometimes, I pray to God that the oil wells in Nigeria should dry up! While this may sound harsh, I believe it will create an opportunity to for our leaders to start thinking creatively. Let’s not be deceived, most of the world’s biggest economies are not an Oil producing states. A good example is the United Kingdom. What mineral resources exist in the UK? Yet, it is the second biggest economy in Europe. Maybe our leaders have forgotten that Chief Obafemi Awolowo developed in the western region with proceeds from the sale of Cocoa.

To the eleven lawmakers, I will note that there are lots of injustices and issues going on in the nation that deserves more urgent attention. Firstly, the President is yet to declare his much publicised “emergency” in the power sector. Why can’t the lawmakers go on hunger strike and put pressure on Pres.Yar’Adua to declare the state of emergency. Secondly, the government embarked on a genocide in the Niger Delta, killing innocent civilians all because “crude oil”. Some of these innocent civilians don’t even know what crude oil looks like, yet they were killed and maimed under the guise of military action against militancy! However, when this genocide was been perpetuated, no lawmaker from the Delta region went on “hunger strike” to demand a stop to the military action. Can you imagine such hypocrisy? Thirdly, if the lawmakers are really out to serve public interest, why are they not on hunger strike in order to put pressure on government to honour its agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), who are currently on indefinite strike? Within this debate, it is also important to ask these lawmakers what they have done with the funds appropriated for constituency projects. Because as they say, charity begins at home.

Let’s not be deceived, these lawmakers are just bunch of self-serving, over-paid kleptomaniacs. Their past records speak volumes. They have been a continuous drain on our economy. They live on fat salaries and allowances while doing nothing at all or barest minimum at the least. They are so detached from the constituency they claim to represent, and the reality of the society.

These are the same set of lawmakers that only managed to pass four bills in the last 18 months at cost of almost N76 billion per year in salary. If they are really serious about fighting the course, perhaps they can start by donating some of their fat salaries for charitable purposes.

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