How Zamfara’s Gold Mining Exposed Nigeria’s Sham Federalism
By LaBode Obanor
Federalism in the Nigerian context is an exotic system of government bequeathed by the British through its notorious mercenary, Sir Frederick Lord Lugard, when he resolved to amalgamate the then Northern and Southern protectorate to one entity called Nigeria. It is a system, among other things, that contemplates that States in the federating units will retain a significant degree of autonomy. And that State will be able to asserts sovereignty over its wealth beneath its ground. This was the accord reached in 1914 leading to the fusion of the different parts of the unit that is now called Nigeria. That was a century ago.
Since this British political arrangement was made, federalism was never fully practiced in Nigeria. The oil producing south of the country have since given up on the hope that someday there will be full prosecution of this lofty idea or that the nation will ever live up to the designs of the founding fathers.
Now comes the artisanal mining of gold in Zamfara State, a state in the north western region of Nigeria. Mining is now legalized by the State government, all done with zero supervision from the federal government. More worrying is the obliviousness of the federal government in its response to the mining in Zamfara and, of course, its aloofness and carefree approach has led the people of the Niger Delta to scream, foul!
Why is it necessary for the federal government of Nigeria to insert itself in the Zamfara gold mining? Because it did precisely that with Bayelsa and the States within the Niger Delta region. Under federalism, States in the federation are supposed to operate in a co-equal arrangements, contributing parts of their sovereignty to a central authority, instead, the federal government upend this arrangement, operated and continued to operate a unitary system where the federating unit is wholly dependent on the central government for its survival. Now we are in a political duplicity with the Zamfara mining that could lead to regional frenzy.
A glean into history informs us that Commercial Oilfield was first discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, located in the south-south of Nigeria in 1956. This was over 40 years after gold deposits was found in Nigeria. Put differently, gold has been discovered in Nigeria for over four decades before oil was unearthed. Few years after the discovery of oil, in 1971, the Federal Government of Nigeria moved speedily to nationalize the oil industry, in a strong-arm, steamroll approach and ceased control over an obvious State resource. A defiant and audacious attack on the constitutional form of government of which Nigeria was formed under, called the Federal Republic.
Federal ministries like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was formed based on the merger of the Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC) and the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel. The NNPC took complete control over the oil of the southern region of the country. The coupling of these two ministries to one giant petroleum entity made it clear where the government priorities are: Oil, and the southern region has plenty of it. This move completely set aside the mines and steel aspect of the amalgamation, and instead, it focused exclusively on the petroleum part of this veiled fusion.
Since then, the federal government has completely jettisoned gold mining in Zamfara State and other States with deposits of solid minerals and have turned a blind eye on the illegal mining going on there for almost a century. Thus, while the Niger Delta’s oil wealth is being tapped and its ground burrowed for the benefits of the nation, Zamfara is allowed to keep its wealth, build gold mine and store up riches in gold reserves.
The governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, while speaking to journalist, stated: “My administration will subsequently continue to buy gold from our local miners so as to gradually improve the reserve. The establishment of the gold reserve, therefore, is part of the relentless efforts by my administration to diversify the state’s economy by exploring all potentials of the state and maximally utilizing them for the benefit of both the present and future generations.” He stated.
Apparently, it has become lucid that Zamfara is allowed to diversify its economy by asserting full control over its State resources, which is its right under the British arrangement, but the Niger Delta must continue to give up its oil resources for the betterment of the country. In addition, while Zamfara benefits from the distribution of the oil wealth, by way of allocations, it also gets to keep its gold wealth all to itself. This has created an unjustifiable windfall, and it therefore needs to be addressed.
The entire country, including Zamfara, must know that this is nothing but an unjust practice that favours one region over the others. This is an upheaval waiting to happen.
To ameliorate this potential backlash, the federal government must move swiftly to confront this disconcerting imbalance.
In the interest of rightness and fairness, the government of Nigeria must either asserts control over Zamfara’s gold, and continue its faux or sham federalism, or let Zamfara keep its gold and all its reserve. If the latter is chosen, then the federal government must dissolve the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other oil national petroleum parastatals including all subsidiaries and allow the oil producing region of Nigeria keep their oil and restore full sovereignty to the States.
If Zamfara is allowed to build wealth through gold reserve, then Bayelsa and other oil producing States, including States with deposits of solid minerals, must be allowed to do the same.