Nigeria: North Under Attack Over Capital Votes Protest

WITH their push for a rework of the budget, the North’s lawmakers have stoked a huge anger among their southern colleagues and others.

Lawmakers are divided across regional blocks on the alleged lopsided allocation of capital votes in the 2012 budget – as reported exclusively yesterday by The Nation.

National Assembly members from the North maintained yesterday that they would block the passage of the Appropriation Bill, unless the perceived inequity is addressed. Southern lawmakers contended that the Northerners were merely crying wolf.

Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, who represents Ekiti North, accused the Northern caucus of the House of Representatives of playing games with figures. He said while the figures presented could be correct, it would only make meaning when comparative statistics of allocations over five years is released.

He said: “In as much as the budget looks as they have presented it, it would have been more interesting for them to go historical and see what the calculation was five years ago, four years ago, three years ago, two years ago. They should do a time trend analysis to see whether what they are saying here is consistently so over a period of time or it is a case of shifting priorities from one place to another.”

Senator Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom Northeast) described the outcry as an attempt to befuddle issues. “This is a very unpatriotic development at this time. The grumbling by some people about the allocation to the Southsouth is uncalled for and wrong. It is wrong because the analysis is not correct. Whoever is pushing the figure, let him bring out the total from where it is.

“We are even complaining that what we are getting in the Southsouth is not enough, compared to what they are using in building dams, irrigation and building dual carriageway, and constructing railways in the northern part of the country. Is there any railway in Akwa Ibom? Is there any railway in Cross River? Is there any railway in Abia State?

“How many roads are there in the entire Southsouth? Is it not only the presidential initiative project of East-West road? Whereas there is a road from the Northcentral to Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, Maiduguri.”

Enang queried the lopsidedness in the creation of local governments that have statutorily allocated funds to some states.

The former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business said: “Kano State alone has about 44 local governments areas. Lagos State has 20 and each receives allocation. The complaint about the allocation to the Southsouth is most unfair, very unfair.”

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) said: “I will even want the 13 per cent derivation increased to 50 per cent because what the oil bearing states are getting is not enough.”

Hon. Bimbo Daramola, a member of the House from Ekiti State, urged lawmakers to shun ethnicity in discussing grave national issues.

“I want to believe that if it is empirically proven that these projects are ultimately meant to take care of our brothers and for development we can see, and not that it will end up in the pockets of some individuals to fund and fuel corruption, our brothers from across the Niger should appreciate the fact that we have given them that level of concession … Though it has not come to the floor of the House, but it is a fact that if this is all about ensuring that the peculiarity of Niger Delta is well captured and secured, I don’t think we should raise unnecessary dust about it.”

But to House spokesman Zakari Mohammed, who said he was speaking in his private capacity, there should be no anxiety over the matter.

“Things like this are bound to happen in a legislature. People will always raise objections. It is normal. Solutions will eventually come when we discuss the budget on the floor of the House,” he said.

Sani Idris (PDP, Niger State) would not be so diplomatic. He said: “We have the Federal Character Act that stipulates equal distribution of resources across the facets of this country, which means that this should not be an argument, but that we should sit down and ask ourselves if we have been fair to each other about the distribution of resources according to the Act.”

Political leaders from the North backed their House members. Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) spokesman Anthony Sani told The Nation that if members of the House of Representatives felt that their constituencies have been short changed, they have the right to address the imbalance democratically.

“After all, democracy can bring about progress only if there are changes through robust debates,” he said.

But, to an activist, Mallam Shehu Sani, “the rejection of the budget in favour of the Southsouth in terms of capital vote is laughable, especially coming on the heels of the call by Niger Governor and chairman of Northern Governors Forum Babangida Aliyu on the need to re-examine the revenue sharing formula, with the view of reducing the allocation to states in the Niger Delta and increasing same to the Northern states”. “It is ridiculous,” he said, adding:

“It is a kind of conspiracy between the northern political class to give excuse for their nonperformance and betrayal of the people who voted for them. Governor Aliyu and his cohorts should be thinking of how they can harness the human and natural resources of the region to improve the quality of life of the people and make the region less dependent on federal charity that has become a reason for its ridicule.

“Today in the northern part of Nigeria, most resources allocated to the states and the local governments, which ideally should be used to build schools, hospitals, support commerce and industry and revamp infrastructure, agriculture and solid minerals are shared to pro-government traditional rulers, religious clerics and political cronies for narrow and immediate political gains.

“Governor Babangida Aliyu and his likes in the House of Representatives should on behalf of the Northern elite apologise to the talakawa for their perfidious and gangster politics and decades of consistent neglect that has today sunk the region into depths of division, want and menacing insurgency.”

Second Republic lawmaker and radical politician Dr. Junaid Mohammed said the Goodluck Jonathan administration only cares for three states—Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta. “The action of the lawmakers from the North for rejecting the lopsided budget allocation for capital projects to the Southsouth is absolutely justifiable,” he said adding:

“The lopsidedness in the country’s budgetary provision is one of the dangerous trends afflicting this country since the Olusegun Obasanjo era.

Junaid argued strongly against the design of the 2012 budgetary allocation, pointing out that “what they (the core Niger-Delta) are getting is in addition to the 13 per cent derivation”. “Apart from that, another 13 per cent out of the total budget goes to just one ministry known as Niger Delta Ministry, which is 100 per cent funded by the Federal Government.

“Again, another agency known as NNDC is funded by the Federal Government,” he said.

In Kano yesterday, a former Political Adviser to former President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, said: “If it is true that such allocation is given to the Southsouth in the 2012 budget, then the only advice is for the government to readjust the budget, to make it fair for all.”

But Yakasai advised that the issue should not been blown out of proportion, “in such a way that it can heat the polity”.

From the Northcentral, a Second Republic Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Prof. Dakum Shown, backed the caucus. He said: “If the lawmakers are satisfied, they should pass the budget, but if they still feel there is injustice in the distribution of the projects, they should scale the allocation to the Southsouth down.”

A former member of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Allocation from the state, Chief John Mankilik, said: “I read it in the papers and I was surprised at what I saw; it is not a fair distribution of wealth. We are giving the Southsouth too much advantage and it could cause disorder in the polity.”

Afenifere chieftain Chief Ayo Adebanjo and prominent Southsouth activists frowned at the threat by Northern legislators to frustrate the budget’s passage, if the 29.65 per cent capital allocation to the Niger Delta is sustained. They argued that the threat has underscored the urgency of convoking a national conference to discuss the basis for co-existence among Nigeria’s component units.

The Niger Delta Peoples Coalition, of which environmental activist Tony Uranta is secretary, asked the Northern legislators to ponder on the calculations that led to the budgetary projections, stressing that the figures are not in bad faith.

Uranta said: “Our position is simply this – If this nation is truly federal, every component unit should contribute to its purse. If this country is federal, every unit should benefit from resources based on derivation. The Southsouth should own the resources and pay 50 per cent to the centre. That is why Southsouth, Southwest and, to a large extent, Middle Belt, are clamouring for a Sovereign National Conference. We cannot encourage a situation where “monkey is working and baboon is chopping.”

In Uranta’s view, considering the lump sum accruing to the federal purse from the region, the allocation is still inadequate. He urged the Northern legislators to show understanding of the plight of the traumatised zone.

Uranta added: “What is the North bringing to the table? Lagos is bringing tremendous amount through VAT and port charges. If we go back to the past, we should allow the regions to control their resources and remit part of them to the centre.”

Another activist from Bayelsa State, Denzil Ketenbe, said: “The North should look at Nigeria as one nation or else we should go back to the regional arrangement so that each region can develop at its pace. Southsouth had been deprived. It is ridiculous to hear that they want to frustrate the budget. We should look at development the way it suits the country.”

Adebanjo described the position of the northern legislators as “embarrassing”, adding that they want to destroy the country. He said if the budgetary projection is based on the allocation formula that has been agreed upon, for now, it is improper for them to threaten the peace and unity of the country.

To the National President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Mr. Miabiye Kuromiema, the disposition of the Northern Caucus is “shameful”.

In an interview in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital yesterday, he wondered why the legislators refused to consider the gas flaring, environmental degradation and many years of marginalisation of the Niger Delta before taking the “unfortunate” position.

Via The Nation

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