The controversy surrounding the alleged sale of N5 billion worth of gold to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by the Zamfara State government is an issue of urgent national importance. While the alleged Zamfara-CBN deal is a test of the commitment of state actors to the provisions of the constitution, it is on another hand a test case for the justification for resource control by federating units.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, whose reaction to the Zamfara State alleged sale of a gold bar to the Central Bank of Nigeria to the tune of N5 billion rekindled the discussion, had viewed the deal as a breach of the Constitution. His reaction identified the tension between the practice of fiscal autonomy operative in federalism, which Zamfara seemed to have demonstrated and the provision of the constitution regarding resource management of the state.
According to item 39 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended): “Mines and minerals including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas are exclusively under Federal Government’s control.”
In the same vein, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007, which was passed into law on March 16, 2007, to repeal the Minerals and Mining Act, No. 34 of 1999 for the purposes of regulating the exploration and exploitation of solid materials in Nigeria, vests the control of all properties and minerals in Nigeria in the state and prohibits unauthorised exploration or exploitation of minerals. The Act further states that all lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall, from the commencement of the Act, be acquired by the Federal Government in accordance with the Land Use Act.
Despite these legal provisions, the Zamfara’s gold mine is reflective of the familiar activities of artisanal miners who make huge prospect from mineral extraction and mining without reprimand from state authorities. This is what popular thinking has termed resource control. In the light of widespread calls for fiscal autonomy and resource control, it is fitting to salute the initiative of the Zamfara government and the singular enterprise to practise resource control.
This is an audacious gesture that ordinarily demands replication in other parts of the country, especially the Niger Delta. In a federal system, which paradoxically Nigeria pretentiously claims to be practising, the decision by the Zamfara State government to sell its naturally endowed resource to the Federal Government would be commended as a genuine practice of fiscal autonomy consistent with federalism.
Thus, if stakeholders and indeed the people do not support Zamfara State in this cause, then they have no right anymore to clamour for federalism. In this regard, Senator Omo-Agege, who comes from the oil-rich Niger Delta, should by this reckoning have congratulated Matawalle on demonstrably pointing out the contradiction in the provisions of the constitution and our national posturing as a democratic state operating a federal system of governance.
There is, however, a pertinent question, in this regard: why has the Federal Government allowed Zamfara to exploit its minerals while others have to wait for constitutional amendment? The big question here is why has refining of crude oil, especially the artisanal equivalent in the oil industry not enjoyed the same treatment? This seeming preferential approach is why the audacity of Governor Bello Matawalle should prompt Nigerians to ask further questions about the lopsided resource control mechanism being bandied by the drama.
How did Zamfara obtain the power to exploit what exclusively belongs to the Federal Government? Will the same government allow Ondo to sell its bitumen? Will they allow Osun to sell its own gold? Or even hypothetically, should uranium be found in Ebonyi State, will that state be allowed to sell it? It would be recalled that Dangote obtained a mining licence for limestone deposits in Ibese, Ilaro. Another private company obtained mining licence for gold in Ilesa and operations were flagged off on March 19, 2020. In the same way, can a state government obtain a mining licence for mineral deposits in its territory?
Responding to queries emanating from this worry, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, in an interview reaffirmed the constitutional provisions on national resource distribution when he condemned as unfair any attempt to bring in federalism on mining revenue. He said inter alia: “When we find minerals in our own place, it has to go to the joint purse where we will share it.”
As it is, Zamfara State has demonstrated with its first presentation of the refined gold bar that it does not believe in any sharing from the proceeds of its gold. Zamfara seems to tell Nigerians and stakeholders that it is increasingly clear that the wisdom behind resource restrictions in the Exclusive legislative list is a sham, and that such an arrangement violates the concept and spirit of federalism. And from every indication this may well be the beginning of more volatile clamour for resource control.
Although Nigerians would not want to be misled by Governor Matawalle’s drama, which seems to suggest that the Federal Government was buying refined mineral product from Zamfara State, it makes good sense to amend the aforementioned provisions of the constitution to reflect civilised values of justice and fairness – in a true federation.