Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s claim that Niger Delta oil belongs to Nigeria has been denounced by the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), which says the former president is only mischievous.
In response to an open letter sent by Chief Edwin Clark, an elder statesman from the Niger Delta region, Obasanjo declared on Tuesday that, contrary to allegations to the contrary, oil in the Niger Delta belongs to the entire nation.
In a statement released yesterday in Port Harcourt, PANDEF’s National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said it was inappropriate for the former president, who should be a statesman, to take such a controversial stance.
Robinson said: “God, in his infinite mercy, and all-knowing status, has placed within the lands of Niger Delta these resources to ameliorate the sufferings of the people to make life easier for them. But unfortunately, Nigeria has exploited and plundered these resources with little or no attention to the Niger Delta people.
“Former President Obasanjo should stop being mischievous. What he is doing is just playing to the gallery. He could talk about the Constitution and what it provides because he is a chief beneficiary of this flawed, lopsided, faulty military imposed Constitution.
“If Ogun State was producing oil, will Obasanjo make the comment he is making? Is it not provocative that Obasanjo will say that oil in Niger Delta belongs to the whole of Nigeria, while the gold in Zamfara and Osun belong to the respective states?
“He could talk about 13 per cent and all of that because his state is not oil-producing. If Ogun was an oil-producing state, would he be happy that 13 per cent is all the people get from all that they give to Nigeria?
“When cocoa and groundnut were the mainstay of the nation’s economy, where they talking about 13 per cent, was it not 50 per cent? Why the unfair treatment given to the Niger Delta people?
“The country is aware of how he behaved like a dictator as president and some of the issues we are facing today, he started them. We recall how Odi community was invaded on his orders and he claims to be a statesman. He does not have the standing.”
Also, some regional stakeholders have expressed their disagreement with Obasanjo’s position, stating that, while the Constitution grants the Federal Government considerable power over the deposit in the ground, the people retain exclusive ownership of the land.
Enefa Georgewill, chairman of the Rivers State Coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), told The Guardian in a phone interview that such statements could quell unrest for resource management.
Georgewill said: “The former president’s letter is quite pathetic and a high level of insensitivity to the people of the region who are facing environmental degradation and have been suffering livelihood crisis because of oil exploration. It is pathetic that the former president would say such because it is more like mocking the Niger Delta people.
“Our agitation for ownership and control is an age-long one and anyone sensitive would not play with such an issue. It further reinforces the issue of disregard, disrespect, and lack of caution on the part of former political leaders, even our current leaders.
“That statement only is enough to brew crisis and return the region to the militancy era because there is no other question at the front burner more than the question of resource control,” he said.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Albert Akpomudje, was also irritated by Obasanjo’s letter, describing it as “inflammatory” and “injurious” to the sensibilities of the people in the Niger Delta, who bear the brunt of oil production.
He said: “It is a very inflammatory statement considering the sentiments of the people of the Niger Delta. We don’t expect that type of comment. These are things that should be handled diplomatically, not to injure the feelings of those agitating to keep their oil and pay tax to the Federal Government.”