Thursday, 21 January 2016

THAT LAW ON SOLID MINERALS

Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Solid Mineral Development
Minister of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi’s  statement the other day, encouraging states to ‘either set up their own investment corporations or go into partnership with the private sector in order to exploit what is available to them in their states’ is a welcome pronouncement from the government at the centre. But the minister also added the prohibitive caveat that states must do this ‘within the law.’ And that law is the issue.

There is the overriding encumbrance, beginning with the 1969 Petroleum Act, enacted by the General Yakubu Gowon-led federal military government, which has taken over the mineral wealth of the federating units  and legitimised the unilateral move  by provisions in subsequent  democratic constitutions. Thus, in the 1999 Constitution, the Second Schedule, Part1 item 39 of the Exclusive Legislative List, ‘mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas’ are firmly under the control of  the Federal Government.  It is, therefore, difficult to reconcile this with Fayemi’s statement that ‘there is absolutely nothing in the law’ to hinder states exploiting their own mineral resources.

There is, indeed, everything preventing them and that is encapsulated in item 39 of the Exclusive List. Fayemi knows this but he certainly spoke the mind of most forward-thinking and patriotic Nigerians by raising the possibility of states and local governments benefitting maximally from their mineral wealth.

The economic exigency today makes it inevitable that the states  should, nay, must seek alternative  sources of revenue  if they are to avoid  failing as states. For how long can a state governor worthy of that title or description go cap in hand for a bailout from the central government?  For, a state is a state in the proper meaning that it can meet its statutory obligations to its citizens. The prevailing  situation, whereby the federal authorities sit pretty on the mineral resources of weakened, desperate -for -cash states and local governments, but contents itself with  granting ‘in its magnanimity,’ handouts  is inequitable,  unfair, and absolutely wrong. That is certainly not how to run a federal system of willing constituents.
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It bears stressing here for the umpteenth time, that there is no state in this federation that is not endowed with mineral and non-mineral resources that would, if transparently exploited and put to the greatest use of the greatest number of the people, transform this country beyond belief.  The details of what mineral is located where are well and widely known; the know-how to exploit them is readily available, technical and financial collaborators even more so. The only obstacle to this sensible way to go is the Federal Government or better still, the false federal structure Nigeria runs. This must not go on.  It is noteworthy that the fiscal federalism practiced in the first republic was a driver of healthy rivalry to develop among the regions; it also helped the economic stability of the regions and the entire country.

Fiscal federalism, in whatever guise it is couched,  remains  a burning issue ;  enough for the 2014  National Conference to, as a beginning to resolve it,  propose major  changes in the  existing  mode of  resource distribution. This is why we again urge the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to consider implementing the conference report.

The sharply declining economy demands, as a matter of necessity, that the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of change does things differently.  The government at the centre is too removed – physically and psychologically – from the generality of the people to appreciate their needs and concerns.  Besides verbal expressions of commitment, there is, so far, little to show that the executive and the national legislature understand the yearnings of the electorate.  This is one reason that, instead of contenting themselves with bailouts from the presidency, state governors must push for the repeal of the second schedule, part 1 (39) of the extant constitution.  The Eighth National Assembly must also do its patriotic part in this matter by repealing that section of the constitution that prevents the federating units of this country from full ownership  of their resources. They will, in turn, take full responsibility for the welfare of their citizens.

All said, however, in order to achieve more rapid economic development and political stability, there is no alternative to a fiscal federalism that will guarantee an equitable generation and allocation of resources. Indeed, Fayemi would be doing the nation a great favour by bringing this to pass in his tenure as minster of solid minerals by, not just speaking, but also initiating the bill for a law to free the nation’s resources. (Source: Guardian)