North contributes nothing to national coffers –Dokpesi

After months of deliberations, heat­ed debates and disagreements, the National Conference came to a successful end on Thursday, August 14, as delegates agreed to a change in the draft constitution through a majority voice vote. In this interview, the founder and owner of media giant, Daar Com­munications, owners of Ray Power radio and African Independent Tevelevision, AIT, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, relives the experience at the confab, express­ing confidence that President Goodluck Jonathan will live up to the expectations of Nigerians on the implementation of recommendations contained in the draft constitution. Excerpts:

How would you describe your ex­perience at the confab?

I must say that the experience was quite rewarding. It provided the op­portunity to meet with old friends, col­leagues, and senior citizens who have played a very prominent role in the af­fairs of this country. The simple oppor­tunity to be able to work closely goes a long way to really show that there is quite a lot of hope for this country.

The issue of derivation almost thwarted the whole process like the previous National Political Confer­ence organized by former President Olusegun Obasanjo did. How did you finally resolve the matter?

Let me say that the conference in its wisdom had accepted fiscal federalism and also agreed that Nigeria shall be a federation in which the federating units will contribute to the sustenance of the centre, which is a complete reversal of the unitary system we are currently run­ning whereby the centre collects rev­enue, and dispenses to the states.

This is why delegates from various zones were very much insistent on de­veloping other sources of revenue gen­eration to expand income base of the country as it were by putting focus and attention on development of mineral re­sources.

We must appreciate the fact that alter­native source of energy has been found. The green revolution has brought about alternative source of energy and power. And Nigeria cannot afford to exclusive­ly depend on crude oil.

What was very clear from the statis­tics available is that 72 percent of rev­enue we share at Federal Account Al­location Committee on monthly basis comes from oil producing states. The South-west comes next to them with almost 20 percent or thereabout. The South-east comes next with about eight percent.

The Northern parts don’t contribute a dime and the chunk of allocation goes to them. Recall that in the 1960 consti­tution, there was a provision that all mineral bearing states must retain 50 percent of revenue generation and the remaining 50 percent to the centre. Out of that 50 percent, Federal Government would take its share for administering the centre. But as it is today, only the oil producing states are bearing the whole burden of Nigeria. The Southern states are coming up with contribution in terms of payment of Value Added Tax (VAT) as well as solid mineral re­sources. But there is nothing coming from the North. This issue will be laid to rest if all mineral producing states also partake in revenue sharing by way of derivation. I remember that one of the delegates from the South-south pro­posed that we should give as much as 10 percent of the federation account to rapid development of all these mineral resources because our revenue genera­tion from oil is declining. But we finally came to the conclusion that five per­cent of federation account should be committed to the development of these solid mineral resources over a period of time. We did say very clearly that over a ten years period we should be in that position where it would be 50 per­cent derivation as it was envisaged in the 1963 constitution. At a transitional stage, we cannot start with 50 percent because the economy of most states will collapse.

So, the only fair and reasonable thing to do is to have a transitional provision and that transitional provision was the subject of debate at the conference.

The Northern delegates that was jointly led by Prof Jerry Gana and Alhaji Ibrahim Comasie (GCON) accepted that 18 percent should be that point. Dr Peter Odili was the one who suggested 18 percent after due consultation with Alhaji Adamu Waziri, leader of delega­tion from Borno, Muhammed Kumalia and Bashir Dalhatu. The Southern dele­gates and Northern delegates agreed on 18 percent. So, any attempt to say that there was an issue about 18 percent derivation smacks of dishonesty.

It was also agreed unanimously that the host communities of these min­eral resources should get 50 percent of whatever amount that is generated whether oil or solid mineral resources.

Apart from mineral development fund that was created, a national inter­vention fund was also created to deal with Boko Haram insurgency or any other type of conflicts.

It was national in character. The clear cut position was that five percent of federal account should be commit­ted to this, so that government can im­mediately deal with any such menace. In arriving at that, the current carnage in the Northeast was mentioned. Even the Council of State in its wisdom had already agreed that 32 billion naira should be set aside to deal with con­flicts.

We were acting not knowing what the Turaki committee had recommend­ed. But at the end of the day, the North­ern delegates decided to renege on the agreement that had been reached because they wanted North-east and North-central to be specifically men­tioned, and then any other part of Nige­ria. What we cannot run away from is the fact that a lot of states in the North-west had also experienced these Boko Haram attacks. But they wanted it to be specifically mentioned in the recom­mendation. If you say North-east and any other part of Nigeria, it also means the same thing. This was the point of disagreement.

But by and large, there was an agree­ment, there was an understanding. We all agreed that fiscal federalism should be the order of the day. We need to let the mineral bearing states know how much they would pay to the federation account.

At the present moment, there are lots of mineral resources being ex­tracted from the Northern parts of the country without paying any amount to the coffers of the Federal Government. We must make sure that all these are captured and form part of the monthly sharing. And the issue of Southwest,

particularly VAT in Lagos comes to mind here.

There is no point why revenue is generated through activities like VAT and a percent of it does not remain in Lagos. So, Lagos is right in demanding that whatever is applicable to all other mineral resources should also be appli­cable to VAT, so that those who bear the brunt can have some benefits of it.

Do you see the creation of addi­tional 18 states recommended by the conference coming into reality?

There is a tendency for anybody that is born in the Southwest to want to gravitate towards regionalism. I am an apostle of regional arrangement. I believe the number of states we have at the moment is quite unwieldy and therefore there is a need for us to ag­gregate together. But as far as I am con­cerned, that should come naturally, it should not be compelled by legislation. And the conference was very patriotic in dealing with the matter. Out of the states that were represented, 29 states wanted to retain their identity and keep their states as they are. No one state wanted to merge together. Even those that were together before didn’t want to go back to the old arrangement. Akwa Ibom didn’t want to go back to Cross River State. Bayelsa didn’t want to come back to Rivers State, Kebbi didn’t want to come back to Kaduna. Ebonyi didn’t want to come back to Enugu.

Everybody wanted to have his own state as federating unit. But the Con­ference agreed that any group of states that want to come together should be able to do so by a plebiscite of the peo­ple and the state Houses of Assembly. That is, states can merge and demerge. For the first time, the Conference came up with a proposal that states should have their own constitution.

Now, to go back to your question, definitely, the states recommended for creation will come into being. The con­ference had recommended the creation of those states and the people that are concerned will definitely be looking forward to the creation of those states. Part of the mandate the President gave to us is that we should look into the cause of conflicts around the country with a view to finding a lasting solution to it.

If you go to Borno State, you will see that the Chibok area where we have Boko Haram insurgency is Southern Borno. In Kaduna State, the area where you normally have crisis is Southern Kaduna. These are areas where the mi­norities are staying, and they are feeling that they are being oppressed. So, if we want this tension to be taken off, then it is better to allow them to determine their own future. However, federalism expects that you will be able to con­tribute to the centre, to be entitled to a share of the federation account. That is the essence of federalism. You must bring something to the table. The era of sharing under a federal system has come and gone.

Do you think the president has the political will to implement the recommendations of the confer­ence?

I believe the President is very sincere and honest.

I believe the President is desirous of change for Nigeria. The President is anxious to see a better and rewarding Nigeria for our future generation. His­tory will judge him. I believe he is going to work on the recommendations of the conference. I see a referendum coming.

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