Don’t Take The Prosperity We Enjoy Today In Akwa Ibom for Granted
Sir Sunday Udo Akpan will be remembered for his outstanding role in the fight for resource control during the Obong Victor Attah administration. Being the Commissioner for Finance and one saddled with the onerous responsibility of coordinating the fight to break the stranglehold of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo who vehemently refused to cede the oil derivation rights to Akwa Ibom State, as provided for in the Constitution.
Sir S. U. Akpan, now in his 80s, is so excited that Akwa Ibom State is prosperous and developing faster than many states in the federation. His memory is as fresh as when the events related in this piece happened.
Having exhausted all his arsenals on the battle to have President Obasanjo change his hard stance, he decided the State should approach God for help through the Christian leaders. That was how Solemn Assembly was birthed. He is also a devout Christian and a Knight of John Wesley.
He shared with IMA NKANTA and JOY NKERUWEM HANSON, the battle that birthed prosperity that Akwa Ibom is enjoying today; warning that it must not be taken for granted… Excerpts.
When I see the prosperity of our state today, our traditional rulers who now ride on luxurious vehicles, some workers are now getting jumbo salaries, but they don’t appreciate that without the 13 percent oil derivation fund, as a result of abrogation of onshore/offshore dichotomy, we would be suffering today like some states. There are some states in Nigeria, including Abia State, that the State government cannot pay salaries. But we are paying salaries, even our traditional rulers are driving jeeps.
When those of us who knew how this prosperity came about and then we hear people criticizing government, criticizing church leaders, it is borne out of ignorance; these critics today don’t know the role government and the church played to earn the prosperity we enjoy today. They don’t know how God has been so unusually favouring Akwa Ibom. Critics don’t know, if they knew, they would not criticize the international worship centre, rather all of us should go there and worship in appreciation for what God has done for us.
This way, we will be saying that without the Almighty God, we would not have been favoured the way we are being favoured in the nation today. Many criticizing government and the church don’t know how we suffered in state in 1999. How? When Obong Victor Attah won election in 1999 took over governance from the military, there was excitement and hope of a better Akwa Ibom.
That hope was based on the 1999 Constitution that abolished the offshore/onshore dichotomy. We were excited that we will now be getting the 13% oil derivation money as stated in the Constitution in section 62.
So, that was the basis of our excitement – that we will be getting money.
After the swearing-in of Obong Victor Attah, we endured hardship, with the hope that the Federal Government will implement that section of the Constitution, just as they were implementing other sections of the Constitution. But to our shock and disbelief, President Obasanjo said he will not implement section 62 which granted 13% revenue to Akwa Ibom State.
Very unfortunate for me, Obong Attah had picked me as the Commissioner for Finance; it was a difficult time for me because when month ended, there will not be enough money for salary, because what we were getting from the federation account was not enough to pay salaries. I am not talking about capital project but salary for civil servants.
Apart from salary, the military awarded contracts to some contractors and didn’t pay the contractors. Those contractors were expecting Obong Victor Attah to pay. So, contractors, teachers and civil servants were putting undue pressure on Obong Victor Attah to pay them. The pressure on government was terrible, especially as the hope for survival of government was based on the payment of 13% oil derivation revenue but Obasanjo refused to pay the 13% (laugh).
It was a nightmare experience for us in government, particularly for Obong Victor Attah and for me as his Commission for Finance. Then I was asking myself: ‘Why did I accept this job?’
Actually, when Obong Victor Attah invited me to take up that position, I was not in the party, I didn’t take part in the election, I was doing my consultancy job (as a financial consultant). But Obong Attah pleaded with me because he wanted an experienced person in financial management to work with him in that capacity.
I told him, “Sir, after I have retired as a Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, I wanted to have my rest.” But Obong Attah said, “Chief, if you are not coming into Government for your sake, please come in for the sake of your local government area and for the sake of our State.” So, I reluctantly accepted the appointment as Commissioner for Finance, only to meet such frustrations (laughs).
Worst of all, contractors who were left unpaid by the military administration, would not allow me rest. Pensioners would not allow me rest. Labour union leaders were issuing several threats, and at the end of the month what we collected from Federal allocation was half of the salary bill of civil servants. So, we decided to pay some ministries and rescheduled other salary payments to whenever we would receive the next allocation. You can imagine the pressure Government was going through.
Meanwhile, Obong Attah was pleading with President Olusegun Obasanjo, who then set up a Committee headed by Alhaji Ciroma, the Federal Minister of Finance with Bola Ike, the then-Attorney General, to look at the Constitution again and see whether the Federal Government should pay the oil derivation money. I was a member of that Committee, alongside Delta, Cross River, Rivers and Bayelsa States, which were also affected.
Do you know that the Federal Minister for Finance, Alhaji Ciroma, recommended that the same provision of the Constitution says that there shall be a President in Nigeria, the same Constitution says there has to be National Assembly, is the same Constitution that says 13% shall be paid to oil-producing states. So, why don’t you want to implement that one (laughs)? Do you know that President Obasanjo still refused to pay? Rather than pay us, he referred the matter to the Supreme Court. It was President Obasanjo that took Akwa Ibom State to Supreme Court, in spite of what was written in the Constitution, in spite of what his Minister for Finance and his Attorney General said that it was in order to pay us. So, as a State, we suffered for more than a year; there was tension in the State.
It was in that atmosphere that we decided to bring the matter to the public. Obong Attah set up what we called Resource Control Committee to advocate for payment of the derivation money. I was the Chairman of the Committee, we brought in some experts to back us. So, while the case was in the Supreme Court, we started advocating for Resource Control, by mounting seminars in Kaduna, Abuja and Lagos for people to be aware of the oppression we were subjected to by President Obasanjo.
As we were running around the country, advocating for payment of the money it suddenly dawned on me that we should take the matter to God. I said; “Let us also hold a Solemn Assembly to take the matter to God and ask God to help us. That was because we have done everything possible and Obasanjo was still adamant.
I met with some Christian leaders; Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Ossom was the CAN Chairman of Akwa Ibom then (I am very thankful to God that he is still alive). So, we organized a Solemn Assembly at Ibom Hall. We invited all Christian leaders, with Arch Bishop Elijah Mboho and Bishop Idara Ideh, now late. We also had Apostle Prof. Isaiah Issong, Archbishop Udeme Simon and other indigenous ministers in attendance. Almost all the civil servants and contractors were in attendance.
The Solemn Assembly went from praying to weeping. Yes, we were actually crying for God’s intervention over the hardened position of President Obasanjo not to pay the 13% oil money to Akwa Ibom State.
You could see people sitting on the floor and crying. We were in a very difficult situation. We just finished an election and there was no money to run Government. It was a pathetic case. At some point, my children persuaded me to resign from the job as Finance Commissioner, so that I won’t die (laughs) in the process.
The situation was so bad that at the Solemn Assembly, total offering was thirteen thousand naira. I gave it to the Christian leaders for organizing the Solemn Assembly, but they said,“No, we will not take any kobo from it.” They prayed over the money and said,“Take this money to Obong Attah and let him use it in support of the Resource Control fight.”That was how we started the Solemn Assembly in Akwa Ibom State.
Meanwhile, the case was still in the Supreme Court and Obasanjo succeeded in having the Supreme Court to rule against us. The Supreme Court did not even say that the 13% was not payable but that the computation should be limited to oil produced onshore and not offshore. The judgment was called low water mark, because most oil produced in Akwa Ibom State is offshore. So, they knew what they were doing, they knew that the quantum of oil that is produced on land is very little. So, the Supreme Court added to our sorrows.
We now appealed to the National Assembly to reconsider the position of the court. My committee wrote letters to the National Assembly, stating that there was nothing like offshore when it comes to oil production, because you cannot produce oil without passing through the land and that most importantly the location called offshore is within the territory of Nigeria, and Nigeria is divided into States. We argued that if you say that location you call offshore doesn’t belong to Akwa Ibom State, then it does not belong to Nigeria.
But do you know what Obasanjo did after we made an appeal to the National Assembly? He lobbied all the 19 northern governors and instructed their legislators in the National Assembly to vote against our position. This is why I speak about the God factor in the abrogation of onshore/offshore dichotomy. Obasanjo was so confident that the northern legislators will uphold the position of the Supreme Court.
But God was at work in our favour, such that when the matter was tabled, the legislators voted in support of our position. That was the day President Obasanjo knew that in Akwa Ibom, we serve the living God. The majority of legislators vetoed him; they said that they cannot alter what is in the Constitution.
And that was an unusual evidence of God’s answer to our prayers during the Solemn Assembly. Obasanjo was shocked to the marrow (laughs). So, that’s how we got the 13% oil derivation money. We came back from Abuja and organized a Thanksgiving Service.
The prosperity we now enjoy came because of God’s intervention during the Solemn Assembly. Those who criticize the church for supporting Pastor Umo Eno are ignorant. Pastor Umo Eno as governor is an evidence of God’s answers to our prayers and we must not take it for granted.
I want to urge the Fathers in Faith not to relent in their prayers for the State; they must ensure Akwa Ibomites serve the living God, who gave the prosperity we enjoy today.