MS Annkio Briggs, an environmental activist from the Niger-Delta region and a Federal Government delegate to the National Conference, in this interview speaks on the controversy trailing the recommendation of the Committee on Devolution of Powers for the retention of 13 per cent derivation. Excerpts:
How would you assess the three weeks work of your committee on Devolution of Powers?
The Devolution of Powers Committee is a very hot committee. Ironically, it is number one on the list of committees. I don’t know why that is so. But it is a very strong committee because of the issues that we had to discuss.
We had to discuss fiscal federalism, resource ownership. On the list, we called it resource control but we from the South-South call it resource ownership. We had to discuss revenue sharing formula, derivation, etc. And I think derivation is the most critical of them all.
Issues about onshore/offshore, NDDC, Ministry of Niger-Delta and Amnesty were also brought to the table. The issues were used, if you like, by the people who are against our asking for increment of the 13 per cent derivation to 50 percent.
Those issues were used as a platform for what I call now blackmail because if you look at the issue of onshore/offshore dichotomy, this thing has gone to court. It has reached the Supreme Court and the National Assembly also has dealt with it. The Ministry of Niger-Delta is an agency that was put together for the people of Niger-Delta based on the agitation of the Niger-Delta people against injustice, lack of development and environmental degradation.
Then if you look at the issue of amnesty and the Ministry of Niger-Delta, during the late Yar’Adua’s time when there was armed agitation for justice in the Niger-Delta, which in anyway I do not accept to be compared to what Boko Haram is doing. These are two different things. The amnesty and Ministry of Niger-Delta were proposed to the Niger-Delta people as means of trying to calm down the agitation at that time for justice, for the Federal Government to actually begin to address the issues that led to the armed agitation.
In my committee, those were used as a threat to say that if you insist on 50 percent derivation, then we are going to insist on arguing on the offshore/onshore, removing the Niger-Delta Ministry, NDDC and amnesty. But these are things that are backed by law.
Was that why the committee witnessed a lot of stormy sessions?
In that committee, we were talking about the resources that come from Niger-Delta and the pain and anguish we the people of Niger-Delta are suffering because those things are being exploited in the Niger-Delta and that on top of these sufferings, they have nothing to show for it except the 13 percent derivation that we are getting.
So, it was a very stormy session. It was a divide, if you like, right down the middle. It was the North speaking against the South in terms of what they want and the South against the North in terms of what they want. It was very stormy. It was abusive. There were abuses and name calling.
But that is to be expected as far as I am concerned. The point was that I personally want it to be on record that I was able to stand for what my people had shown and indicated and have always wanted which is an opportunity to say what we want.
What is your take on your committee’s retention of 13 percent derivation?
My people want the issue of derivation to rise to 50 percent. Now, what we are actually saying is, it should go up to 50 percent or we control the resources and pay not less than 50 per cent tax to the Federal Government.
So whichever one is acceptable, it is okay by us. But where I found myself highly disagreeing with the rest of my committee members is where they said that the status quo remains. It was not the issue of derivation.
That we wanted 50 percent was never discussed. It was put on the table and withdrawn. I refused to withdraw that position. I refused to withdraw the demand by my people.
50 per cent derivation
My people want 50 percent and as a matter of fact, they have emphasized now that it is either 50 percent derivation or we get our resources 100 percent and pay not more than 50 percent tax to the Federal Government. Now, the fact that I found myself standing alone in that committee does not surprise me and it doesn’t bother me at all.
What would have bothered me was if I was not able to stand on that which is what my people want and I have stood by my people and I have said it. Now, however it turns out and the reaction that may or may not follow it will be determined by my people and not by me.
Are you saying there is still no love lost between the North and the South after the work?
We are human beings. We are in the same committee. We don’t hate ourselves. But we definitely do not agree on the issue of derivation.
I don’t see how anybody can say we agree when I am saying no and the rest of the committee is saying yes including all the other southerners and even South-South people. I am not the only South-South person. There were four others including me. But I am the one from the South-South who is resisting that.
Should the recommendations of your committee sail though without your approval, what will you do?
In committees like this when there is a dissenting voice, that voice must be heard. I think on that basis, I have no worries and fears. At the very least, I will be able to present why I have chosen not to agree with my committee on the issue of derivation.
There are speculations that the conference is subtly promoting the second term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan…
As a delegate, nobody has told me to secretly fight for Jonathan to finish his tenure and then to have the opportunity to serve another tenure between 2015 and 2019.
It is entirely up to the Nigerian electorate to decide whether Jonathan can come back or not. The PDP will decide whether they will give the ticket to Jonathan or not.
Killings and kidnapping
But I, Annkio Briggs, have the sole right to decide for myself who I want to support and I have never made secret of the fact that I support Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as a President of Nigeria not just because he is from the South-South but because he has done a good job as the president of this country since he was elected into office in 2011 till now.
He is turning out to be the best president Nigeria has had. But people don’t have to agree with me. I don’t expect them to agree with me. That’s my own opinion.
If people are canvassing that then we also should be allowed to canvass the fact that what is happening in Nigeria today, the killings and the kidnapping of the little girls and the killings of Nigerians all over Nigeria are being perpetrated to stop Jonathan from being president of Nigeria in 2015; it is being done to even stop him from finishing his first tenure.