Oil bill causes regional split in Nigeria

Dec 17, 2002 01:00 AM

A regional split has emerged in Nigeria over a bill meant to pacify the country's oil states, following a statement by governors from northern states expressing their opposition to the draft law.
President Olusegun Obasanjo had proposed the bill, which would entitle oil states -- located in southern Nigeria's Niger Delta area -- to revenue from offshore petroleum exports. However, he refused to sign it into law after the legislature replaced the phrase "contiguous zone" with "continental shelf".

In doing so the lawmakers extended each state's maritime boundary from 24 nautical miles offshore (contiguous zone) to 200 nautical miles offshore. The bill was intended to end a dispute between the federal government and states in the Niger Delta following a Supreme Court ruling in April awarding control of offshore oil revenue to the central government.
Governors from 19 states in northern Nigeria said at the end of a meeting that they not only backed Obasanjo's stand on the bill, but opposed to the entire draft. "While we support the action of the President for withholding his assent... we reject the bill in its entirety," they said. "The littoral states cannot claim exclusive right over what belongs to all Nigerians."

The statement came on the heels of a similar declaration by a group of influential leaders known as the Kano Elders Forum, led by the emir (traditional ruler) of Kano, Ado Bayero. Under the 1999 constitution, at least 13 % of total oil revenue was to go to states in the impoverished oil region. However, on taking office, Obasanjo limited the allocation to 7.5 % on the grounds that offshore oil belonged to the federal government.
Following objections by the affected states, the federal government last year filed a complaint at the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favour. However, the legal victory created serious political problems for Obasanjo in the Niger Delta, where he had scored a massive victory in 1999.

Governors from the nine states in the oil region boycotted a meeting called by Obasanjo in Abuja to discuss ways out of the current impasse on the bill. They insisted that it should be signed into law before any discussions.
Governor James Ibori of Delta State, one of the oil states, told he was disappointed with Obasanjo's latest stand. "It is a longstanding issue... and we feel that having been resolved by the National Assembly, Mr President should have signed it into law."

Source: UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
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