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SAN urges FG for customary owners’ control

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By Abiodun Okunloye

National constitution needs amendment to enable owners to control their assets.

Mohammed Ndarani, a prominent lawyer in the country, has revealed that the Nigerian constitution must be revised to grant traditional resource owners full autonomy over their natural assets. He disclosed it during an interview in Abuja. Mr. Ndarani cited the limiting and intrusive clauses in Section 44 (3) of the Constitution as one factor obstructing the country’s full ability to maximise its tax revenue. The current situation in which the Federal Government holds exclusive rights to exploit mineral deposits in the country has caused unrest among oil-producing communities.

Eliminating legal and political barriers that prevent these communities from benefitting from their resources is essential. To enable resource control, he calls for removing, revoking, and cancelling Section 44 (3) of the Constitution, the Land Use Act of 1978, and the Petroleum Act of 1969. This would grant those who own the natural resources in their area full authority over those resources. He believes it is unjust to persist in withholding resources from regions rich in oil and valuable minerals.

Conflict and militancy in Niger Delta result from oil exploration methods.

He suggested that with the discovery of oil deposits in various parts of the country, it would be beneficial for the federal government to collaborate with state and regional governments to tap into these resources. This partnership would enable them to extract, market, and distribute the resources, similar to the agreements currently in place with international oil companies. In his view, the current situation in which the federal government claims sole ownership and control of mineral rights, among other things, is unacceptable and causing turmoil.

The conflict and rise of militancy in the Niger Delta Area arise from the methods used for oil exploration. Allowing the owners of crude oil and other natural resources to become shareholders and partners could greatly assist the federal government in overcoming the challenges related to oil and mineral extraction. He advocated for owners’ utilisation of natural resources and emphasised the importance of tax payments to the federal government, reminiscent of the practices of the First Republic.

Constitution mandate the government to oversee the national economy.

This issue is present in various political environments globally; therefore, he must address it in revising or establishing the (new) constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in the AG OF Ogun State v. Aberuagba (1985) 1 NWLR [Pt. 3] 395 @ 415, per Bello, JSC, paras A—C, that the authority to regulate the economy is not solely held by the federation. The control is distributed among all levels of government, including federal, state, and local levels. Mr. Ndarani emphasised that although the constitution mandates the federal government to oversee the national economy, it also grants the state and local governments the authority to promote economic growth within their regions.

If the highest court implements the mentioned perspectives, the systems responsible for generating revenue must be comprehensively and substantially restructured, and the authority to impose taxes must be re-evaluated. This is the reason why regional governments were suggested. Fiscal policy would shift to the regional and state governments, with them paying taxes and sharing a portion of the profits with the federal government. Granting the regions and states the authority to extract and sell minerals would allow them to generate the necessary income under the federal government’s oversight to guarantee a smooth and transparent process.

Related Article: FG to restore economy with strategic reforms

Lastly, the senior attorney proposed a different approach, recommending redesigning and modifying the revenue allocation formula to align with the 1954 Louis Chick Commission findings. Half of the mining rents, royalties, and revenue from crude oil and minerals go back to the regions where they originated. The federal government receives 20 percent, while 30 percent goes into a distributive pool. He emphasised the importance of population-based allocation, distributing responsibilities evenly among regional governments, ensuring continuity in public services at the regional level, and promoting balanced development across the country.

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