BY: VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari seeks to perpetuate injustices that Cross River State has suffered over the years, governor Ben Ayade has said.
Ayade said the law failed to address the concerns of the state in spite of the presentation he made to the relevant senate committee.
Ayade stated this while receiving in audience some members of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) led by the state’s representative, Ntufam Eyo Nsa Whiley.
Whiley said they were in the state to sensitize the government and the people on the forthcoming stakeholders meeting with the leadership of the commission to collate views with regards to reviewing the current revenue formula.
He expressed scepticism that the new attempt at reviewing the current revenue formula would herald anything positive for the state, maintaining that he has no faith in RMAFC, as nothing concrete would come out of the exercise.
Recalling how the Senate Committee on PIB that toured the state failed to mirror the grievances of Cross River in the bill before it was finally signed into law by the President, the governor said the experience was enough “for us to express our deep and sincere distrust in the entire exercise and processes of RMAFC.”
Ayade who was visibly overwhelmed with anger said: “As I spoke to the Senate Committee on PIB then, I will choose same to communicate the position of Cross River State, which is that we do not have faith in this exercise, neither do we believe that it will end properly.”
With particular reference to the PIB, Ayade lamented that “as far as we are concerned as a state, we have been reduced to want in body in spirit and in soul,” adding that “there is no indication whatsoever that the review of the revenue allocation will be based on the principle of jurisprudence, equity and fair play.”
He recalled that “when the PIB committee visited, I took my time and articulated in the best of professional grammar to explain to them that producing communities are not as delicate and sensitive as impacted communities. Cross River State bears the brunt of production, but today the PIB is signed into law, insensitive to the oil impacted communities to which Cross River State belongs.
“In the same PIB, 30% of revenue is set aside for frontier exploration, luckily the Calabar basin which they refused to recognize in that category which stretches from all the mountain basins, cutting across the whole of Bakassi, Biase Odukpani, Okuni, Ogoja, Yala is heavily impregnated with hydrocarbon. The geo-coordinates have been issued by myself since 2016 to the federal government. Today we watch and see how the 30% set aside for the frontier exploration will be managed. And we will see what will happen to the Calabar basin.”
Ayade queried a scenario “where Edo, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States; and Cameroon all have oil and Cross River will not have oil? And you sit on this injustice and it goes on year after year after year?”
According to the governor, “the principle under which RMAFC is set out and the way they are operating so far is inconsistent with the provisions of the law that established it. And I would like to have this on record that you have failed to use your mandate judiciously. You have failed to understand that the law empowers you to review the formula not based on obnoxious principles.”
The governor charged RMAFC to do what is fair, just and right, even as he expressed the worry that ”even as we come to articulate our position, if the majority of the people who are satisfied with the present situation, carry the day, we would have spoken in futility and in vain.
“It is clear that the law has taken all our rights and vested them on RMAFC, so no matter how we shout and scream, the buck stops on your table. Even the stabilization funds that are now being shared among all the states, that was not the spirit and intent of the stabilization funds. The basis for everything that the Constitution had envisaged to balance the financially disadvantaged states is being taken off and that is the role of RMAFC.”
Urging Whiley to be a good ambassador of the state, Governor Ayade enjoined: “Luckily we have our own son with a very rich Curriculum Vitae and if you are there and this revenue review is done without a specific focus on Cross River State, with an improved interest of Cross River State, balancing the injustice, then it will not be fair to us. Because we cannot continue to build prison yards when we can build farms and factories.”
He announced the setting up of an adhoc committee to collate and articulate the position of the state at the South-South meeting with RAMFAC.
The committee, which has a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Barr Efefiom Ekong as chairman, has as members, His Royal Majesty Etim Okon Edet, chairman Traditional Rulers Council, Chief Gersh Henshaw, Prof Mike Okom, Stella Odey-Ekpo, Pastor John Ewa, Comrade Ben Ukpepi, Dan Obo, Betty, representative of the market women amongst others.
Earlier, the state’s representative in RMAFC told the governor that “The essence of this visit is nothing more than to know where we stand and how we stand and where we can improve in the sense of the revenue that accrues to Cross River.
“What my colleagues in the 36 States and I are doing is a directive of President Mohammadu Buhari to go round and sensitize their own states’ indigenes to know that it’s time for their revenue formula to be reviewed.”